The Way of Fist and Fang
Cinematic Martial Arts in Vampire: The Masquerade
The Way of Fist and Fang
by C.J. Carrella
taken from Pyramid number 6, March/April 1994

Note: Page references "V" and "MA" refer to GURPS Vampire and GURPS Martial Arts.

"If you came here to laugh at me, get it over with and then get out of my face. You guys think it's so funny, go look for Mark. He's not laughing anymore.

"All right, fine. It's just that all your Brujah friends have been giving me crap. Hell, one or two of them called me out. They think I killed Mark, and I'm making this up. And I'm just a miserable Caitiff, so my word's not worth dip in this town. If it wasn't for what the Tremere Elder said, I'd probably be getting a suntan on some roof.

"Oh, you didn't hear? A warlock's bought it, too. Same way it happened to Mark, it seems. What's the matter, not so funny anymore? All right, here's what I saw.

"Mark and I, we were cruising through the Rack, nothing unusual. He and I went way back, and we liked hunting together. Then Mark spots Deirdre, she's one of his Herd, and she's got a new friend with her, this Oriental chick, looks like she's sixteen or so. Runaway's my guess. She looks pretty scared, out of place, with a leather dress two sizes too small and fish-net stockings with a run on the left one. We all get together, and the Oriental girl - Katrina, she says her name is - she invites us over to Deirdre's place. Turns out she's Deirdre's new roommate. Mark gives me the Look, and I nod. So we're all set for the evening, we think.

"At first, I thought I was gonna be with Katrina, but Mark's gotten interested, and he hands Deirdre over to me. Now, Mark and I are - were - friends, but you don't contradict a Brujah. So I walked with Deirdre. Neither of us knew it, of course, but Mark saved mye life - my unlife, fine. I still think about how close it was; if it had been the other way armound, I wouldn't be here, either.

"We're walking over there, until we get to the mouth of an alley and Katrina kinda trips and falls to her knees. She's dosed on something, I think, and I'm about to say something to Mark - you never know what kind of crap you can pick off some junkie's blood - but he's bending over her, real solicious-linke. She's on her knees, and I can't see her hands, and it's starting to look funny to me.

"She was fast. Mark's got Celerity up the ass, but he never saw it coming. She moves, and sticks this wooden spike in his chest. He staggers back - it wasn't all the way in - and she slams the palm of her hand on the mini-stake, rams it right through his heart. That did the trick. Mark keeled over.

"'Freeze', I said, using my Dominate. She wavered a bit, but she didn't stop! Next thing I know, she's on me. She punched me, right in my face, and it hurt, hurt more than it had any right to; felt like fire. 'Go away,' I yell at her, and this time the Domination works - for a few seconds; she moves a few paces, then stops and gives me a grim smile. 'It's all over, Cainite,' she tells me. Then Mark saved my life again, for the last time.

"Deirdre wasn't in on this. She had removed the piece of wood from Mark's chest while Katrina was pulping my face. I feel bad for Deirdre, because Mark came out in a Frenzy, and hje broke her neck as soon as he could move again. He was a frothing berserk Brujah at his best, and charged Katrina, ready to tear her apart, all his Disciplines pumped up. For all the good they did him.

"Katrina was ready for him. She pivots on her left foot like a dancer, and lands a kick right on his chest. Mark flies off his feet and hits a wall six feet away. He's in a half-crouch, screaming in pain, and the girl steps over and kicks him away, right on the throat. He gets slammed into the wall - I swear I saw him make a dent on it. She never stopped, she was like a whirlwind. Celerity or Potence be damned, he never had a chance.

"What did I do? I ran, baby. I tried Dominating her a couple more times, but it didn't work. So I ran. Last thing I saw before I turned the corner was Mark, falling to his knees, a broken mess, and she was still hitting him. Call me a coward if you want, I don't care. She was more than human, but she wasn't Kindred. And she didn't grow fur and fangs, so I figure she wasn't a Lupine, either. Mage? Maybe. All I know is that if I hadn't run, I'd be where Mark is, a smear on the pavement. I still got her mark on me. See this bruise? It hasn't healed right. Like a burn. And I know she wasn't Kindred. I've got enough Auspex to know that.

"Yeah, well, good luck to you. Count me out. You go talk to the Tremere if you want; maybe they'll help you. 'Cause from what I heard, Katrina wasn't alone when she finished off that warlock. She's got friends, and they're hunting us. Hopefully you and your friends will take care of them, but I'm Banking for the next few days.

"The streets just got too dangerous for my taste."

The Gothic-Punk world of Vampire: The Masquerade is full of supernatural beings and races, from the undead and werewolves to fairies and reality-bending mages. Martial artists with superhuman abilities could easily fit in this setting. GMs wishing to incorporate some of the cinematic martial arts rules found in GURPS Martial Arts should think carefully about the intended effect of those rules in the campaign, however.

Outlined below are some applications of the Cinematic Rules, each of which will have a different impact (no pun intended) on a GURPS Vampire campaign. The second part of this article gives some ideas to incorporate Cinematic Martial Arts into the Storyteller System rules.

Martial arts powers might be effective only against mortals, and largely useless against the Kindred. In that case, they may give mortals a bit of an edge, but even martial artists will still remain the largely helpless prey of the Kindred. On the other extreme, they can be extremely powerful equalizers, making an equivalent-point cost martial artist the full equal (and perhaps the superior) of a Cainite.

Before choosing any of the options below, or making his own changes, the GM must decide whether to allow cinematic martial arts at all in a Vampire game. Under the wrong circumstances, the cinematic rules will turn a campaign into a pastiche of chop-suey movies and cheesy horror flicks - good for laughs, but certainly against the Gothic-Punk genre. Used correctly, however, they can add a greater dimension to either a Kindred-dominated campaign or to a vampire-hunter setting. The discipline and inner development of some martial arts might serve Cinites as a way to hold on to their Humanity. Maybe the ascendancy of a vampire's Chi could lead him to Golconda.

Option #1: Kindred Supreme 

While Cinematic Martial arts powers are powerful abilities, they may not be in the same "power level" as Vampire Disciplines. In other words, while Trained by a Master characters with Power Blow and multiple attacks may hold their own against a vampire with Potence and Celerity, they are as vulnerable as all mortals to other vampire disciplines, and cannot inflict aggravated damage with their bare hands.

This option makes martial artists only slightly better prepared to resist the powers of Cainites. Vampire hunters with the Trained by a Master advantage will be dangerous foes, but no more so than mortals with automatic weapons (on the other hand, martial arts skills are a lot easier to conceal than Uzis!). Martial arts powers will not play an important role in the campaign.

Option #2: Kindred Redux 

This option puts Chi powers in the same ranking as Vampire Disciplines. The inner powers of mortals can, when properly developed, fully match the Gifts of the Damned. Trained by a Master characters would be the fearsome opponents described in the introduction, able to hunt the vampires during the day, and their equals even at night. This option is explored fully in this article, both for GURPS and the Storyteller System. The GM should make these powers hard to find and learn; otherwise, the Kindred would have been destroyed long ago.


Outlined below are some additions and changes to the cinematic skills found in GURPS Martial Arts. The changes depend on which of the options above is used. Any cinematic skill that is not mentioned is used as described in the book. Use these suggestions as guidelines to alter the abilities found in other supplements, or as inspiration for the GM's own Permutations:

Blind Fighting: Martial artists with this power can fight characters using Obfuscate as they can any other invisible foe. Furthermore, with Option #2, they can resist the effects of Obfuscate (roll a Quick Contest of Skills between the two).

Body Control: Option #1: Has no effect on vampire Disciplines. Option #2: This skill can resist any vampire Discipline or Thaumaturgy ritual that directly affects the character's body, such as Quietus and Vicissitude; it won't prevent the Embrace, however.

Hand of Death: Using Option #1, this attack does no damage to vampires (the technique has no effect on undead flesh). Option #2, on the other hand, assumes that the attacker's Chi can also unbalance and ultimately destroy the Unlife that sustains vampires: effects are as per p. MA32, but the damage is aggravated. Vampires can heal this damage as any other aggravated wound (see p. V82), giving them a little more time than most mortals, but not much more!

Invisibility Art: Option #1: Vampires with Auspex can automatically sense characters using this skill. Option #2: Vampires with Auspex add their Power Level to their Vision roll in the contest of skills to spot the invisible character.

Mental Strength: Option #1: The skill is useless against Vampire Disciplines. Option #2: The skill resits Auspex, Dominate, Obfuscate and Presence; at a high enough level, the martial artist will be effectively immune to those powers!

Pressure Points: Option #1 (predictably): the Undead have no normal pressure points, to don't bother trying it. Option #2: This is mind over matter, grasshopper; the attacks work as described on p. MA33; vampires who spend 1 Blood Point will recover from any crippling injury on the next turn, however.

Pressure Secrets: Option #1: As Pressure Points, above. Option #2: The attacks don't inflict impaling damage on vampires; however, whatever damage the martial artist inflicts with his hands or feet is aggravated: the attacker's Chi is literally "burning" the Kindred.

Combining the Powers 

Once a GM allows cinematic powers in the campaign, a question will automatically arise: wouldn't vampires, with their prolonged lives and occult knowledge, know of these powers? Won't several Cainites have mastered the ancient arts? Vampires wouldn't necessarily have come into contact with Eastern mythic powers, however. The Kindred are overwhelmingly Western in outlook and knowledge (the Japanese vampires, the Gaki, would be a different story, of course). Also, most vampires tend, naturally, to concentrate on their inborn powers. Still, over the centuries, some Kindred would definitely have been exposed to these arts.

If Option #1 is being used, GMs could allow vampires with cinematic powers, because they won't be unduly powerful, and will largely affect other mortals. The GM should make two rule changes, however. Vampires with Celerity and Trained by a Master will get the highest number of attacks allowed by either Celerity or the Chambara Fighting rules (see p. MA47), whichever is higher, but not both. Also, a character with Potency and Power Blow will double his basic strength with Power Blow, and then add whatever bonuses he gets from Potency or burning blood (see pp. V105 and V77, respectively). Killing-machine PCs are still an uncomfortable possibility, though.

Option #2 raises even more problems; a Trained by a Master Cainite will be a terrifying fighter, able to destroy beings of higher Generations single-handedly. If they existed, they would have probably won the Jyhad by now. GMs should probably rule that the Chi energy of the living is needed to perform the extraordinary feats masters of the arts can do. This would A) keep the vampires out of the Chi game, and B) make the Embrace a horrible experience for Trained by a Master characters. As they are drained, instead of the ecstasy most unenlightened humans experience, they feel their Chi energy ebbing away, and are left hollow, destroyed beings, able to remember their glorious connection to the Way of Things, but forever unable to feel it again. Vampire disciplines would be a poor recompense for all they have lost.

A corollary of this rule gives Golconda a whole new dimension. If Chi powers are related to the living, maybe a way (or The Way) to regain one's humanity consists in developing one's Chi again. A reborn human who gained Golconda this way would then become an unstoppable force, a master of both Blood and Chi. Not that getting there is going to be easy.

Campaign / Adventure ideas 

All the rules above are meaningless without some good hooks to introduce cinematic martial arts to Vampire, or vice-versa of course. The ideas below are just the tip of the iceberg, and will hopefully inspire the GM to come up with his own. The primary question is, of course, will the mixture make the campaign better and more interesting= If it doesn't, don't do it.

The Easy Way: The PCs are a bunch of tough martial artists, and there's all these mean vampires sucking people's blood. Let's go beat them up. Good for the Beavis and Butt-Head school of roleplaying games, maybe, but not very satisifying to anybody else.

The Other Jyhad: Elder Kindred are not the only forces loose in the world. Mages, mummies, Lupines and spirits all vie for power in the World of Darkness. Why not secret societies of martial artists? Maybe a group of Secret Masters, their lifespans extended beyond belief through the appication of Chi, are also fighting a secret war among themselves. Their agents, able to invisibly sneak into places and kill without trace, battle each other out of sight of most mortals. Some of the Masters want to lead humankind to a utopian future of inner peace; others wish to manipulate the world for their own ends.

Eventually, those two wars are going to affect each other. If the Prince of a city discovered the existence of rival bands of powerful human assassins, he might try to manipulate them into fixing the local Anarch problem, for example. The Assamite Clan (vampire assassins) will most likely have some connection to the Secret Masters. Maybe these powerful humans are other tools of the Antediluvians in the Jyhad, and their squabble is but a piece of a larger puzzle. Either side will try to use the other to their advantage. Tentative alliances will often end in betrayal - the living and the unliving rarely treat each other well.

PCs can bleong to either Jyhad. Maybe they can be from both, a mixed team of Cainites and martial artists working for one of the Secret Masters, or for an Elder Cainite who is involved with both groups. Or perhaps the Inconnu and the Secret Masters know each other well, and are carrying their own conflict. PCs who stumble into this convoluted mess may end up being persecuted by both sides. Or a mixed party of Anarchs and ronin martial artists have decided to get away from these ridiculous conflicts and lead their own lives - easier said than done, of course.

The Thousand Steps of Golconda: A party of vampire PCs are approached by a Kindred acquaintance. He claims that he has met a teacher, and through the use of Chi techniques, he is learning to breathe again! These breathing exercises seem to be making him more human-like; he can even expose himself to the sun for longer periods of time, and claims he can go on for days without losing Blood Points. He takes them to meet this teacher, who will gladly teach the PCs the breathing exercises - for a price, to be paid in deeds, not money.

As it turns out, the price this teacher asks is the total destruction of the local Tremere Chantry and the return of several mystic documents. PCs may find this suspicious - Golconda was never supposed to involve mass murder as a prerequisite - and they will eventually realize that his acquaintance is actually using Tremere rituals to simulate his new abilities. He and the fake teacher (who is a martial arts master, as well as a Thaumaturgist of some power) are simple thieves and con-men, trying to make the PCs do their dirty work for them.

The Society of Leopold Wants You! This is a way to introduce a cinematic Martial Arts campaign to the World of Darkness. The Society of Leopold, a modern-day version of the Inquisition, discovers that a group of martial artists (the PCs) are able to perform extraordinary feats (at least one or two PCs should have the Trained by a Master advantage). The Society tries to recruit, bribe or blackmail the PCs into joining the war against the vampires. If the society is persuasive enough, the PCs may become dedicated vampire-hunters.

The Society will misinform them as to the power and influence of the Cinite threat, however, and the PCs may soon realize they have bitten off more than they can chew. They can either try to work out a deal (in the convoluted world of vampire politics, at least one faction will decide that they are worth more dead than alive), and join the hidden wars of the Kindred (which may allow vampire PCs to join the campaign). Alternatively, they can grimly carry on with the struggle. To give them hope, maybe they can link up with other enemies of vampires - the Lupines, for example.

Shurikens from the Shadows: Sombedoy is killing off Cainites. Six neonates, four Ancillae and one Elder have all been destroyed under mysterious circumstances. The PCs can be Archons sent to investigate, and/or local Kindred trying to protect themselves. The investigation reveals that the victims were all trying to take control over a Japanese consortium that has recently begun to buy a lot of real estate in the city. Not only did the control attempts fail, somebody destroyed all interlopers.

As it turns out, the Japanese consortium came prepared to deal with all contingencies. Somehow, they are aware of the Camarilla, and have brought their own creatures of the night to deal with it - a Ninja clan. These elite Ninjas are not only masters of all cinematic powers, but are well-versed in vampire strength and weaknesses. The party is going to have a hell of a time getting rid of them.

Guardian Angels: This New York-based organization would be easy prey to the Sabbat that control the city. But maybe somebody has been teaching the courageous youths patrolling the streets more than basic self-defense techniques. Maybe the Sabbat is now avoiding conflicts with the red berets, after losing a number of vampires. The Sabbat will eventually organize a lethal response, and will search for whomever is handing down these martial arts secrets.

Integration Notes for the Storyteller System 

Storytellers might want to introduce some of the ideas above in their regular Vampire Chronicles. Some of the martial arts abilities from GURPS Martial Arts can be converted into the Storyteller system, allowing a few select mortals to withstand the power of the Kindred. These abilities work best in a Hunters Hunted Chronicle. It is recommended that Kindred characters not be allowed to possess any Chi-based power (use the "Chi is life energy" theory, above).

Trained by a Master 

This is treated as a Background and purchased normally, and reflects years of training under the rare teachers who know the secrets of Chi. Before purchasing Trained by a Master, however, the character must have Brawl 4 and the Knowledge of either Philosophy 3 or Theology 3, and the level in Trained by a Master cannot be higher than the character's Brawl or the Knowledge chosen, whichever is lower. This represents the physical and spiritual teachings that are necessary before being able to perform superhuman feats.

The Trained by a Master background also limits what martial arts abilities can be purchased. The maximum level a character can achieve in a martial arts power is determined by the Trained by a Master level.
lAn adept in the secrets of Chi. Can learn any of the basic techniques listed below (all Level One abilities). Also, the character has a highly developed combat sense; add one die to any defensive action.
llYou have attuned yourself to the Tao of combat, and can perfomr incredible feats. The character has one extra action per turn. This costs a Willpower point, but the effect lasts for the entire Scene.
lllAs above, but can have two extra actions per turn; the character has to spend one Willpower point for every extra action.
llllThe martial artist can sense attacks from behind, and defends at no penalty.
lllllA true master of the art, lethal in combat. Add two dice to any defensive actions, and can have up to three extra actions per turn.

The Paths of Chi 

Characters with the Trained by a Master background can learn to channel their Chi, or inner strength, in several ways. Each of the Paths outlined below must be purchased with Freebie Points. Each Path costs 7 Freebie Points per level bought. It costs your current ratingx7 to improve a Path through experience.

Dim Mak

This Path teaches martial artists about the human body's natural flow of Chi energy, and how best to disrupt it. The attacker is sending his own energy into the target's, altering the balance in her body. Paralysis, internal injuries and even the dreaded Hand of Death, the touch that kills, can all be inflicted on the martial artist's victims.
l Pressure points: You can temporarily paralyze limbs by applying pressure at the right nerve clusters, temporarily shutting off the flow of Chi to the affected area. First, a Brawl attack with +1 to Difficulty must be made. On a successful hit, instead of damage, Brawl+Perception is rolleyd against the target's Stamina+Willpower. Each success paralyzes the targeted limb for one turn.
ll Chin Na: This advanced version of pressure points causes massive internal injuries by striking the weakest points in the body and severely disrupting or reversing Chi flow. Attacks are at +1 Difficulty, but they do three extra dice of damage, which may be soaked normally. Against Vampires and Lupines, these attacks don't do extra damage, but cause aggravated wounds, by infusing them with "burning" Chi energy.
lll Touch of Exquisite Agony: By hitting the right nerve clusters and sending waves of negative Chi through the body of the victim, a martial artist can inflict lethal amounts of damage in one blow. Attacks are at +2 Difficulty, but they inflict 1 die of non-soakable damage in addition to normal damage, all of which is considered aggravated.
llll Blinding Touch: By successfully hitting the target (+2 Difficulty), the martial artist can inflict blindness by shutting down the Chi flow through the optic nerves. Instead of damage, the attack rolls Brawl+Perception against the victim's Stamina+Wits. Each success blinds the victim for one turn.
lllll The Hand of Death: This technique can kill a man, no matter how strong, with but a touch. The touch can be delivered in combat, or even casually. Only someone with the Trained by a Master background will ever suspect what has happened (Trained by a Master characters must roll Perception with a difficulty of 9 - their Dim Mak level to realize they have been attacked).

One hour after the Hand has been applied, and ever hour afterwards, roll the attacker's Perception+Dim Mak (Difficulty 6) against the victim's Stamina+Willpower (Difficulty 7). If the attacker scores more successes, the victim loses one Health level. This damage cannot be cured through normal means. Vampires can heal this as any other aggravated damage. If the victim successfully resists the Hand of Death three times in a row, he has manage to shrug off its effects. A character with Dim Mak can try to reverse the process; he needs to score more successes by rolling Perception+Dim Mak (Difficulty 7); one success will remove the Hand for one day; thre successes will stop it permanently (or until it is applied again).

The Path of Outer Strength

A character with this path can use his Chi to greatly increase his strength for short periods of time. Breathing exercises and the focusing of one's will on the physical world are developed to the point that the character can perform superhuman feats of strength. Each level in this path will raise the character's effective Strength by one. This requires the expenditure of one Willpower point, but lasts for one Scene.

The Path of Inner Strength

This Path is developed through meditation and breathing techniques that allow the character to focus his mind and frees it from distractions. Pain is less effective against followers of this Path. A master can protect his mind from attack, and is not easily deceived by illusions.
l Meditation: The character can concentrate on the task at hand, be it combat or study, and ignore all distractions. The martial artist will gain one extra die on any action he performs over a turn by speinding a Willpower point.
ll Ignore Pain: By spending a Willpower point, the martial artist can ignore injury penalties up to Wounded, and then is only at -2 until reaching Incapacitated, at which point she collapses. This ability lasts for one Scene.
lll Mental Strength: The character can resist any Domination attemt, or other mind-controlling spells, rituals or Gifts. Roll against Willpower+Path of Inner Strength (Difficulty 7); each success will cancel out a success in any of the above powers.
llll Resist Deceit: As above, but can be used against illusions or emotion-control powers, such as Obfuscate, Presence and Chimersty, and the Path of Invisibility.
lllll Close the Mind's Gates: At this level, even Auspex can be resisted, and the martial artist can completely obscure his mind, aura and emotions. Works as above, and will defend against Auspex, Dementation, the Mind Sphere of Magick, and any Discipline, Thaumaturgic ritual, Chi Power or Garou Gift that adversely affects, senses or probes the mind in any way.

The Path of Invisibility

This is the art for which the Ninja are legendary; the ability to elude perception and detection, to walk past guards and crowds unnoticed and strike victims by surprise. Followers of this Path learn to move silently first (a minimum of Stealth 3 is required before learning this Path), and then concentrate on dampening all emanations from their bodies, from sound to emotions to, eventually, all sensory output. Masters are almost impossible to detect until they strike. Vampires with Auspex have the greatest chance at spotting these characters. Use the rules for Auspex vs. Obfuscate found in Vampire.
l The character adds one die to all Stealth rolls.
ll The character needs to roll Path of Invisibility+Stealth (Difficulty 7); each success adds one to the Difficulty in spotting the character (i.e., a character in hiding has a much better chance of not being detected).
lll You can be in plain sight, but your Chi causes victims to never quite glance your way, or to ignore your presence. Immobility or slow movement (walking speed at most) is necessary to prevent attracting attention. People must roll Wits+Alertness (Difficulty 8) to notice or pay attention to you, as long as you don't make any sudden movements.
llll As above, but even if you have been discovered, you can once again "vanish" by causing a distraction or temporarily blocking line of sight between you and the victims (stepping behind a wall or throwing a smoke grenade will do). Once the target's eyes are no longer on you, he needs to spot you once again, even if you are still in plain sight.
lllll You have mastered the art of reducing all sensory input, to the degree that you seem not to exist. By spending a Willpower point, the martial artist becomes truly invisible for a whole Scene, until he does something to attract someone's attention. This powerful ability works exactly as the Obfuscate power Unseen Presence.