This is How I Roll: Vampire: The Masquerade

I was thinking of a Halloween appropriate RPG to review, something to embody all the macabre of the season. It's dramatic because it's marble

To me, the first thing that came to mind was the World of Darkness setting.

From its inception, WoD has captured the dark, angst ridden, heroin chic culture of the 90s. And nothing exemplifies 90’s zeitgeist more than Vampire: The Masquerade, a, quote” Storytelling game of personal horror.”

Yes, that is what it says…at least in the back of the 2nd edition cover. I tried 3rd edition, even the new Vampire: The Requiem – more on that later. But, like the obstinate D&D fan, I have an edition that I prefer, and shun the other incarnations.

Also, 16 year old me and 26 year old me would have very varying opinions of what qualifies as a good game. Now, I think V:tM is anachronistic. Then, I was artisty and very serious. Vampire, to me, was the greatest game in existence. After this review, I’d imagine 16 year old me would quote “Hollow Men” or something at me, because she’s a pretentious little jackass.

Anyway.

Ahhh Vampire: The Masquerade, the game that consumed my life for about 4 years. The first game I ever GM’ed, or made mix tapes to, or wrote fan fiction on. To say it was an obsession would be an understatement. I had a book, filled with story ideas, which I carried everywhere. You know, in case a wave of inspiration would hit me during a trip to the drug store. I’d GM on Friday. Saturday, and the subsequent week, I’d mull over what do next session. Then the horrific cycle could begin anew. The games had all the convoluted melodrama that a 16 year old outcast could pack in them. They were like listening to Smashing Pumpkin’s “Adore” on repeat, then watching The Crow…then crying.

But that’s what, in essence, the game is about. Angst, drama, emotion turbulence. You’re a “Kindred” a vampire whose lineage traces back to the first murderer, Caine, of Caine and Abel fame. Who, according to the Book of Nod (i.e. Vampire bible) met up with Lilith in exile. If you don’t like Judeo-Christian overtones, this is not the book for you, because it is rife with them. The whole concept is of this other world, a history that casts a dark shadow over ours.

You are a predator, a monster with a human face, holding onto the fledgling threads of humanity as your inherit nature plunges you into darkness. But, you don’t like this dichotomic existence…or you’re not supposed to. You hide your abilities, try to integrate into human society, hence the “Masquerade”, always bemoaning the fact you can’t fully be part of anything. This pity party is collectively known as the Camarilla.

They are a sect of Vampires that believe in masking their presence among the human population, in an attempt to co-exist with their food source. It’s reasonable, since there are more humans than vampires, and would be pretty fucked if the population decided to go all Van Helsing on them. Also they’re afraid of elder vampires waking up to eat them…but I’m not going to go through the whole story.

For those that don’t like that flavor of gameplay there is an opposing group, the Sabbat, whose main goal is to blow shit up and ruin people’s day. It’s of a less dramatic, more hack n slash variety. But this playable option is also a later addition to the franchise.

Vampires are divided into Clans, each of which have different philosophies and inherent powers, along with a specific weakness in their blood. You can be a picky eater, only choosing to drink the blood of certain people, or you can have a short fuse, or you can’t be seen in mirrors. The list goes on. Along with this you have powers, or “Disciplines” that are reminiscent to vampiric powers of legend. You can be faster, stronger, have dominion over people, even transform into animals at will.

The rules system is beginner friendly. Character creation is divided into a series of dots that you use to pump up your attributes and skills, so beginning characters essentially start off even. Rolls are d10, usually a combination of an attribute or skill.

Dice pools can sometimes be less daunting for a beginning player, since there’s no arbitrary numbers or modifiers to add to a single roll. You raise or lower the target number to roll above, then you count up successes. It’s straightforward.

The rules aren’t perfect though. Combat can be tedious. Vampires are pretty resilient, and can regenerate as long as they have a good amount of blood in their system. Also you can “soak” damage, which means that even if an attack damages you, with the exception of certain things like fire, you have the potential to absorb it. While that might seems great for your character, it goes both ways. Not only that, but rolling for an attack is fine, but rolling for damage can be disappointing. Especially since you can roll 10 dice, and have them all come up as successes, but can still only roll one success for damage. Yes this has happened to me, apparently my character had the shittiest shotgun in existence.

The new World of Darkness rulebook, is better than second edition. Combat is more intuitive. You can’t split up your dice pool for more attacks, and damage and attack are the same roll. While the old rules never took away dice, except in the advent of a 1, the WoD system is all about adding and subtracting dice for a roll’s difficulty. Also, the infamous botch, which was so easy to achieve in the older rules, is now made more difficult. It’s only possible if you have only one die and said die turns up as a 1.

Vampire: The Requiem, which uses the above system, abolished the Caine genealogy, keeping it intentionally vague. The 13 Clans were replaced by 5 equally clichéd archetypes- mostly Anne Rice rip offs with a Dracula thrown in. Sure, they took some of the names, and you can see the vestiges of the original 13, but it isn’t the same. They diversify through Bloodlines, a sort of offshoot from the parent Clan and Covenants. Covenants are sort of like the secret societies vampires enmesh themselves in the ward off the tediousness of existence. These represent political and social ideologies that vampires, regardless or Clan or bloodline, identify with.

I feel like all the extraneous stuff makes it overly complicated, but whatever. I liked the original Clans, you had your stereotypes neatly packaged. Wanna hate on The Man? Be a Brujah. Wanna be The Man? Be a Ventrue.

Also Requiem can’t capitalize on vampire culture, despite-or maybe because of- phenomena like Twilight and True Blood. Vampires have never been this popular, even in the 90s with award winning classics such as Interview with a Vampire or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But now its a different breed of vampire: Byronic heroes with their fangs filed down. Less horror, more sparkles. They kept in all the supposed sex appeal of being an animated corpse, but left out the tortured existence aspect. Instead vampirism is glamorous, like a designer handbag.

For me, the halcyon days of Vampire: the Masquerade are over. V:tM was so packed with purple prose and poetry, it was like a High school literary magazine. The quotes that I thought were so insightful and clever, are now, a decade later, embarrassing.
It encapsulates an angst-ridden period in my life. It was for those that weren’t quite nerdy enough for D&D, and saw role playing as amateur theatre. I’m not saying everyone played that way, but it was an easy style to adapt.

This isn’t to say, it’s not a great game. Because it is. The history was extensive and mostly cohesive, especially since the writers had to have a knowledge of world history to revise it in vampiric terms. The concept was original, the rules were fun, and it pioneered for a new type of roleplaying. A storytelling game, an adventure that consisted of intrigue and action without a longsword and 20 orcs.

But, I’ll leave V:tM, or at least my version of it, in the past.

Posted on October 26, 2010 at 09:24 by Adrienne Ryan · Permalink
In: Reviews · Tagged with: , , , , ,