Home > Gaming > Why I Love Thee, Vampire: The Masquerade

Why I Love Thee, Vampire: The Masquerade

In my post about Vampire and My Humanity, I stated categorically that whenever I play this re-visiting of Vampire, it *has* to be Vampire: The Masquerade, as opposed to the newer Vampire: The Requiem. But why be so fastidious? In the end, aren’t they just about the same, i.e. games in which you take the role of a vampire, using a game system engine that’s about 95% similar? Just play whichever, right? Well, no.

This is all subjective, obviously, but to me, Vampire: The Masquerade (VtM) has a few qualities that set it apart from its newer counterpart and, while I surely would play Vampire: The Requiem if given the chance, if I’m calling the shots or have any influence on the matter, it’s VtM that I’m gonna go for always.

Before we move on, let me make this very clear: this is not a slight against Vampire: The Requiem *at all.* I like the new game, I like what they did with it and the new World of Darkness, and I want White Wolf to continue to have great success with the game line. This isn’t about dissing Requiem, but about extolling Masquerade.

First and foremost there is an emotional component to my predilection of VtM. I got the game in circa 1991 after spotting it at my local comic/games shop without prior knowledge of its existence (ah, the days before the Internet) and it blew my mind. I used $20 that I didn’t have to buy it and read it cover to cover in two nights. This was completely unlike D&D and I was reeling with the possibilities of an “adult” roleplaying game, to the point that I almost stopped playing D&D because it felt childish. It would be a few years before I actually got to play it, but nevertheless, this game etched itself into my psyche and has never gone away.

Related to the emotional component, there’s not just mine towards the game, but also the game towards itself. VtM was published by White Wolf when they were a small company (in hobby game industry terms), just a bunch of scrappy designers staking (no pun intended) a claim in the market that was dominated by the fantasy giant of Lake Geneva, WI. Vampire was edgy, belligerent, pushy; it said “fuck” a lot, smoked like a chimney stack, drank hard and partied harder; it listened to loud music, be it punk or metal or goth, especially goth; it was sexy and sexual, messy and complicated and it didn’t call you in the morning but certainly bought you a drink the night after. And frankly, my impression was that so did White Wolf. That attitude won me over like a freakin’ devotee. It threw its hook out when I was 17-18, with all the bullshit that entails, and I bit and was reeled in. In many ways I’m still hooked by that line.

The goth component was one that took me a while to fully understand, mainly because in Puerto Rico, at the time, to the best of my knowledge (meaning, within the incredibly small limits my world had at the time), there were no goths. At the very least there was no gothic scene, no general sense of what a “goth” was beyond Winona Ryder in Bettlejuice. So it wasn’t until I moved to Miami and some of my friends introduced us to the goth scene (especially The Kitchen Club, still going today though just not the same) that I fully understood that one aspect of VtM. Needless to say I totally got into goth, even if I didn’t dress the part, and embraced the dark ennui and woe-is-me-ness of the game and loved every bit of it.

If I had to reduce it all to one word, I’d say what really grabs me about VtM is its passion. VtM translated the enhanced perception of reality that a vampire has into words and fed them to me every time I read it or played it. A vampire either has passion for something or it dies a slow death more painful than that brought by the rising sun. And as a player/Storyteller of the game, that’s exactly how it made me feel about it: you either have passion for this game or just drop it and go raid a dungeon. There was no middle ground, and I welcomed that.

Also consider the very name and the tagline. The word “Masquerade” said a lot to me about the vampires I would play: they used masks, hid behind false faces, mingled with the populace in a danse macabre. Masquerade sounds playful, but its also full of deceit for no one is whom they seem. Yeah, I got immediately who these vampires were from the name. Then there’s the tagline: a game of personal horror. That line speaks volumes, conjures scary images, hides under the bed while you sleep at night. There is a promise in that line that this game will reach into your gullet, pull out the nasties that make you weep like a child when no one’s watching and make you face them. There is passion in that tag line. One of my biggest let downs with VtR was that the tag line was just too generic: a modern gothic storytelling game. It fits the toolkit approach of the new game, but it’s too bland.

As I said in my previous post, Vampire was also my first game in which the main thrust of the system was featuring the story. Stats like Nature/Demeanor, Humanity and Willpower all highlighted that there was more than just cool abilities. But as I also stated already, I knew this, but didn’t grasp it fully. If VtM has one major flaw, is that it tries to do too many things and loses sight of its core question: will you keep your Humanity or succumb to the Beast? It also got bogged down with the metaplot that increasingly took over the line, to the point where it drove people away from trying the game, and forced the reset of the game and the entire World of Darkness. VtR has a bit of setting flavor but it doesn’t make the same mistake as before.

Even with its faults, maybe even because of them, I still love Vampire: The Masquerade. It’s like that first car you bought with your own money; it doesn’t matter how beat up it is, it’s yours and you always have fond memories of it, even as you drive a newer model. Vampire is intrinsically tied with a time of my life when I was dynamic, reaching new boundaries then breaking through them, stretching my proverbial wings, rebelling against anything and everything, a time when I was an emotional and hormonal mess, a child becoming an adult who behaved like a child. In wanting to play VtM again I’m not looking to go back to this time (though maybe tap a bit into that energy), but rather revisit my old haunts; it’s the equivalent of visiting your old high school when at your parent’s house for the holidays or some such. Maybe I’ll see new things I missed the last time, or maybe I’ll just have a good time with that which was so much fun once in my past. Either way, it’s something I’d like to do.

Because I have evolved in a lot of ways, including what excites me about games these days, I can’t help but look at Vampire and think, how could I do this game with elements that resonate with me today? At the very least I would redo a character sheet that puts Humanity right in the middle of the page, with all other stats arranged peripherally, but I’m also thinking more essential changes, like putting Humanity as the core stat and making everything else revolve around that, have the game be an inverted relationship between being human and being a beast. But that’s something for another post.

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  1. JJ
    February 4, 2010 at 9:32 AM

    Wow, did you get in a time machine and steal some pages from my journal? Man! I had many of the same reactions point-for-point. I was finishing college in ’91 and purchased it from my local comic shop (sadly no longer there, Bowling Green can’t keep a comic/game store even with all the college students there).

    I didn’t purchase it on whim. I had first purchased Ars Magica (first game ever ordered from an ad in Dragon Magazine a few year earlier) from Lions Rampant who later joined with White Wolf Magazine to create White Wolf Game Studio. I bought VtM on the basis of the quality of Ars Magica and the magazine and because one of the original designers of Ars Magica also did VtM: Mark Rein·Hagen. That gave me plenty of reason to buy the game.

    But I couldn’t predict my reaction. Read it cover-to-cover like you and was hooked. I couldn’t get enough. It wasn’t my first ‘adult’ game in the sense that I considered Ars Magica adult in its seriousness and level of detail. But, yeah, VtM was a kick-in-the-balls adult game. I could get into the idea of goth even though I couldn’t get into the dress, but I started reading Anne Rice and couldn’t see much goth in that.

    I was hooked for the same reasons you mentioned, the storytelling aspects: Nature, Demeanor and Humanity. Sadly, as mentioned before, I couldn’t find a group that wanted to play that way. It quickly became goth superheroes.

    Thanks for sharing this love-letter with us.

    Now when do we play? 🙂 Do you think it could be played troupe-style with rotating storytellers or even with Polaris-style scene rotation?
    .-= JJ´s last blog… The Lost Lake of Eagles Peak =-.

  2. JJ
    February 4, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    I was just thinking of the one word that describes the game to me: tragic. It is about something lost or something that is being lost: Humanity.
    .-= JJ´s last blog… The Lost Lake of Eagles Peak =-.

  3. February 4, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    I like all the things here you’ve said about the original Vampire: The Masquerade, but I think the game system itself didn’t really live up to that promise. It wasn’t “The Hunger”. It was possibly “Interview with the Vampire” and that’s how we tried to play it. But “Blade” and “Blade II” were waiting in the wings (heh) and that’s the direction they took the franchise.

    As a stand-alone book it’s good. Everything White Wolf published that added to the World of Darkness made it worse. Especially Werewolf: The Apocalypse. 🙂
    .-= Stuart´s last blog… The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois RPGs =-.

  4. February 4, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    My first exposure to VTM was the promotional pamphlet that they sent out a few months before the games’ release. As a fan of vampire films and fiction (at that time, Anne Rice’s stuff was still huge, and I had grown up on the UK’s Dracula films from Hammer, and Lost Boys hit when I was 17), I was hooked just by the promo!

    I also knew the company, because a few of the artists had been customers of mine when I managed a games and comics store in Atlanta a couple of years earlier, and I remembered them excitedly talking about getting their first gigs with the publisher of (what was at the time) White Wolf magazine.

    The game came out — the first edition softcover (with lyric quotes from such pathetically un-hip choices as Gordon friggin’ Lightfoot’s “Sundown”, later replaced by more edgy fare in later editions) and I was itching to run it, but only one of my friends was interested. (Interestingly enough, that friend is now my wife. True story.)

    That changed at GenCon 91. White Wolf made a huge effort to push the game (cheesy plastic fangs as a giveaway!) that it was impossible to ignore. The other members of my college gaming club became so enthusiastic, by the end of the Con I had scheduled a campaign to begin in the coming semester, had filled all of my open player spaces, and was turning people away.

    I ran that Vampire game for the next 3 years.

    By 1993, I had decided to go ahead and jump into game design — something I had dabbled in since I was 12 or so — largely because of the influence of VTM, which convinced me that games could be designed to appeal to adults (and, to be honest, I was pushed from behind by several friends — all of whom were players in my Vampire game).

    So yeah, a big influence on my life — connected to my career choice and even my marriage! I’ll take this public opportunity to offer heart-felt thanks to everyone involved.
    .-= Gareth-Michael Skarka´s last blog… Game Changer =-.

  5. February 4, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    @JJ
    I have a feeling for many of us in the more-or-less same age range, we’ll find we have parallel experiences and reactions (look at Stuart’s and Gareth’s comments and you’ll see what I mean). I also like your one-word summary, and I think it very much relates to the one I chose; the end result is similar, as it should be as that is the crux of the game.

  6. February 4, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    @Stuart
    Your description in your blog post of wanting “The Hunger” and getting “Blade” resonated with me tons when I read it (it was after I had finished writing this, but as you can see, there are parallel brainwaves going on).

    Yeah, as I write above, the problem with Vampire (and really, it’s with the Storyteller/Storytelling Systems as a whole) is that they want to push story to the front, but use an engine that tempts too much with the nifties (to borrow Gareth’s term): the skills, talents, Disciplines, gear, spells, etc. Not being an RPG historian, I venture to think that this is a product of the time in which it was created, where most, if not all RPGs, still followed the D&D model of creating a person with all its permutations to be puppeteered in the make-belief world (what some today called Simulationism, though I’m not gonna go into that lingo). Character sheet layout does nothing to highlight what is the central stat of the game either. This is why I said that if/when I play VtM again, even if I don’t do any kind of drift of the rules, I *will* do a new character sheet that highlights the central-conflict stat of Humanity.

    I am also a *huge* fan of Changeling, and to me they do and do not both exist in the same World of Darkness, but that, I think, is a whole different post for another day.

  7. February 4, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    @Gareth-Michael Skarka
    Thanks for sharing that, Gareth. It is well-known that Vampire had a big impact in our industry due to exposing RPGs to a new and different demographic, but there’s also the impact it had on those who were already gamers. Whatever happened to the line later, whatever people may think of White Wolf then or now, I think it’s important to recognize this.

    True story too: while in Puerto Rico, the one person who seemed like she would play the game with me was my girlfriend in college. When I moved to Miami, the one that jumped in with both feet and continues to this day to hound me to play again was my girlfriend, now my wife. Conclusion: Vampire gets you chicks. 😀

  8. February 4, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    Yeah, I always felt like there was a bit of laser-sharking going on with White-Wolf. It wasn’t enough to be a Vampire… when you could be a Vampire-Samurai-Wizard-Ninja-ThePunisher!!!!1! I thought Werewolves were cool on their own. I didn’t understand the wacky level of stuff they decided to pile on top of them.

    Maybe if they made all vampiric powers come with an equal disadvantage it might have been better. So if you want make a “powerful” vampire with lots of nifties his disadvantages are far more likely to drag him down, and he’ll ultimately fail (0 Humanity etc). The decision to build a “tougher” or “weaker” Vampire is part of the strategy players choose.

    You’re definitely right that the Humanity stat should have been front and centre all the time. I think there’s a really good game buried in there, but there’s a lot of the Storyteller system that needs excising. 🙂
    .-= Stuart´s last blog… The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois RPGs =-.

  9. February 4, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    @Stuart
    I have brought out a scalpel already, dude. The excising began a few days ago in my mind; soon it’ll move to the book (figuratively speaking).

  10. Nube Negra
    February 5, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    I started when the 2nd ed came out. That was an eyecatching book!
    For me it was
    1) the art and design
    2) the “this is not your dad’s rp”
    3) the hints at a deeper story, the metaplot
    4) the look, did I already mention that? Tim Bradstreet, Josh Timbrook, Tony Harris, Lawrence Allen Williams, Ken Meyer, etc…
    Haven’t played it in years, but I remember for about 2 years straight we were playing it twice a week, sometimes 3! Magic and Vampire, did we have time for anything else back then?

    Somebody mentioned Ars Magica. That also was brilliant, very evocative, one of the first RPGs I ever read. Go Tytalus!
    Now somebody owes me a penny…

  11. Mick Bradley
    February 5, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    @Stuart

    Hey, you mean that if you’re playing a preternatural being like a vampire then the more powerful you become, the more you are constrained by your nature and the less free choice you have?

    I love that. Somebody ought to work that kind of thing into a game.

    Oh, and Daniel: 🙂

  12. February 5, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    @Mick Bradley
    I know you’re being facetious, Mick, but you actually bring up a great point: What Evil Hat did with the inverse relationship between nature and Fate points for Dresden Files is just brilliant because it friggin shows the conflict without any obfuscation. It’s not the first to do it, and it’s not the first time that I have seen the conflict explained, but for some reason this time around it made it click very loudly. Add to this the recent Canon Puncture Game Advocates episode on Sorcerer, a game which also uses Humanity as a central stat. These provided a nice broth for my ideas to stew in. It’s not that Vampire doesn’t have this already in the system, it just has it not central enough, which is what I would seek to correct.

    I don’t know if in Vampire the conflict is one of Nature vs Free Will, as it is in Fate Dresden, unless we define Humanity’s essential characteristic as its Free Will. In Vampire the question is not “Will you lose your Humanity?” but “How long can you stave off that inevitable loss before you destroy all that you held dear?” I don’t think they’re that far apart, these two central conflicts, though.

  13. February 5, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    @Nube Negra
    Luis, that’s the same edition I got, 2nd (and maybe we got it at the same store, Metro Comics?) and yeah, I perfectly understand the eye-catchiness of that book. The art was just grab-you-by-the-throat awesome (that’s why I put that illustration by Tim Bradstreet above), especially because it was all black and white. When they moved to color later on, ironically, a little something of the atmosphere was lost for me.

    I find it interesting that you latched on to the metaplot, especially with the core book. I obviously could see the implied setting and liked the elements that they gave you to craft stories in their world, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. As time went on (especially once I started running my Vampire chronicle here in Miami) I started getting more into the metaplot, but there came a point where it was too much. We spent more time trying to figure out how the metaplot affected our game, rather than playing our game, and that’s where it lost me. Mind you, I followed it to the end, to Gehenna, but by then it was more out a sense of “I’ve followed it this far, I might as well know how it all ends.” It’s kind of like the X-Men; there was a point where there was too much background to know to understand the comics, so I stopped buying. We all know what happened thanks to the extensive metaplot.

    But yeah, for a few years there, for me as well, Vampire was all there was. Good times.

  14. Mick Bradley
    February 5, 2010 at 4:20 PM
  15. Nube Negra
    February 5, 2010 at 6:51 PM

    And the Book of Nod. Now that was an awesome prop, and a very good read. As for the metaplot, I meant the story of Caine, the 2nd and 3rd generations, the beginnings of the Sabbat, the Chicago by Night Methuselah war… not neccesarily all the later stuff that fueled an endless stream of novels and supplements. Which is not a slam on White Wolf, just not my thing.
    As for power creep: it’s everywhere! Lots of super-powerful villains and antagonists with plot-derived abilities (Samuel Haight, the Abomination, Helena and Menele, hell, frickin’ Huitzilopoctli/Shaitan). And players start at the bottom, so it’s no wonder people were power-mongering/diablerizing their way to the top. All in the name of a good story (of course 🙂

  16. JJ
    February 5, 2010 at 8:13 PM

    @Daniel M. Perez
    I started with the soft cover of 1st edition (long gone now – only two copies of 2nd edition left) and there was not a lot of meta plot in that one. By the time 2nd ed was around, all the splat books and stories were well established.
    .-= JJ´s last blog… Elric Explored – Part 4: Twilight Civilizations =-.

  17. Karlo Yeager
    February 7, 2010 at 8:52 AM

    Daniel, I loved what White Wolf did with their Storyteller Series (thank you, Mark Rein-dot-Hagen!), and – like you – immersed myself in characters that were flawed or damaged in some way to push the envelope. . .

    Y’see, the beauty of VtM was that at its core, the powers, the lures of being quicker, faster and *more* worked in complete opposition to Humanity – the one, vital, piece of self that you as a character knew would inevitably lose. The question remained: how soon? How long could the character skate on that razor’s edge? Given the fact that the more Humanity lost increased your chances exponentially of losing yet more Humanity, well – if you didn’t want to create character trees a-la-Athas, you’d better shape up, buck-o. . .

    I had some truly moving moments playing VtM – moments I can still remember vividly, that spoke to that same loss: to the fact that boundaries have been crossed which cannot be undone.

  18. February 7, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    @Nube Negra
    Yeah, I liked the basic building blocks of the implied setting (Caine, the generations, the Camarilla & Sabbat, the Clans) but I definitely liked it better when it was just that, implied. Which is not to say I didn’t go for it; I bought into the metaplot hook, line and sinker, and let that creep into my game more and more until it became all about the metaplot, not about my group. The power-creep and the uber-awesome NPCs are all part of the metaplot problem. Which in turn, yes, led to player munchkinism, as you note.

    The Book of Nod was an awesome book, though, I agree with you. I should tell Sam Chupp to drop by and get his deserved props.

  19. February 7, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    @JJ
    I have a copy of 1st edition that I, admittedly, had very rarely looked at before. It’s hard to know now if 1st would’ve had the same impact on me as 2nd did, though I know it certainly did for many people out there.

  20. February 7, 2010 at 9:36 AM

    @Karlo Yeager
    That right there is the essence of Vampire, and it is in the book for sure, even if it can be obfuscated (ha ha!) by the cool powers and the skills, talents and whatnots. That is the essence I want to pull out and highlight with a million-watt spotlight.

    And I think I have the basic building blocks in place.

  21. The Last Rogue
    March 31, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    I am Masquerade devotee myself and am thinking about getting back into the game. I am seriously torn between the two versions — leaning towards running the Masquerade story in a Requiem world. . . I cannot picture no Tremere. 🙂

  22. March 29, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    This is an incredible blog and I think exactly pinpoints what made Vampire so important to so many people. It was much more than the sum of just being a game and I’m happy that we are able to try and rekindle that fire to so many people with whom this game has meant so much.

  23. March 29, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    @Shane
    Thanks for dropping by. And yes, I am super excited that this is the approach for V20. It’s just perfect.

  24. moiraesfate
    March 30, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    Wow, that was an incredible article. And I feel the exact same way, just different circumstances.

  25. thomasvye
    March 30, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    So many people feel the same way – can’t be a coincidence! :)) VtM is just very very special.

  26. Wifey
    March 31, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    SO… the chick that VtM got you wants to know: WHEN ARE WE PLAYING AGAIN??????

    • March 31, 2011 at 6:06 PM

      The revised character creation docs were just posted, so yeah, let’s do this. Let’s see what certain South Beach vampire has been up to for the last 10 years.

  27. Chad Valdes
    April 7, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    Greetings Daniel,
    Got directed here from V20 site and didnt realize at first it was your blog. This is a great post. My group just finished a year long VtM game that was amazing. Especially since it had been so long. Again gratz on the mention on the V20 site. Keep up the good work.

    Chad Valdes

  28. Chad Valdes
    April 8, 2011 at 1:34 AM

    @Daniel M. Perez
    Oh I forgot to mention, usually use Zenaficus on other forums (including Fear the Boot), and I too live in S.FL. Used to be Miami, but now in Hollywood. 😉

    • April 8, 2011 at 4:16 AM

      Oh great! I didn’t know you were local (or if I did, I’d forgotten by now). 🙂

  1. February 7, 2010 at 11:53 AM
  2. March 3, 2010 at 10:35 PM
  3. July 25, 2010 at 1:09 AM

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