Posted by: markfender | June 12, 2013

Vampire: the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition

I seem to be on a ’90s kick recently. So here’s some more pivotal crap from then.

vtmI have played Vampire: the Masquerade more than any other role playing game, both as a player and as a GM. I wore many Vampire T-shirts back in the day before I stopped wearing black T-shirts. I watched Kindred: the Embraced when it originally aired (and found the show after it, Profit, to be be a far better vampire TV show, but that’s a subject for another time). I owned an ankh. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Vampire: the Masquerade is an important touchstone for how I interact with gaming.

I can honestly say that the initial subject matter didn’t interest me much. Play a vampire? What am I, a goth? (Answer: No). My first character was just your typical dark superhero with a trenchcoat and a katana (In my defense, I was playing a lot of Shadowrun at the time. And I was 14). The game was horribly pretentious. It looked down at most other role playing games and proclaimed itself the second coming of the medium. And yet, it wasn’t really wrong. Its explosive success led to the setting-focused games of the ’90s, even going so far as to “force” TSR to adopt more of a setting focus than they had previously (Birthright and Planescape being two good examples of games that would never have existed without White Wolf’s influence). It brought people into the hobby that would have previously never stepped foot into a game store. It acknowledged that women might want to role play too, a heady idea for the time. Hell, it got the aforementioned Primetime TV show. I don’t recall D&D doing that.

The reason I grew to adopt it was its focus on politicking. There weren’t any rules for politics (just like there weren’t any rules for social interaction, despite its snobbish emphasis that that was “real role playing”) but the setup of powerful people exercising control over their lessers, intricate family lines, and easy ways to influence mortals to be your pawns created the perfect setting for my continual quest of recreating the dinner scene in Dune. It was the Amber Chronicles without the baggage (and rules). It was Dune. It was Dangerous Liasons. And it took place in the modern world, which provided a cachet that other RPGs didn’t necessarily have. I never really bought into the “beast within” play of the game. The horrors of being a vampire occasionally showed up as metaphysical questions and vampire weaknesses were certainly played up for restricting players, but I was far more interested in the game as a political landscape (But this also means I wasn’t all that interested in the “dark superhero” version that a lot of people began complaining about either).

However, I hated its rules. I’ve always thought it was badly done Shadowrun. Where Shadowrun had distilled combat into two rolls, Vampire managed to make it into four. And people have always seemed to hate varying target numbers. I didn’t mind them all that much. It’s another dial to turn. Now, you have to be very, very careful turning that dial (which White Wolf wasn’t), but, as a general rule, it can work fine. (It’s interesting to note that White Wolf’s Vampire: the Requiem managed to reduce combat to one roll with fixed target numbers, whereas Shadowrun 4th also turned to fixed target numbers, but made combat into four rolls. One step forward, two steps back.) Vampire’s rules never worked for me. And yet, I was able to stomach them enough to continually play the game. So, I’m now realizing that I’ve spent most of my role playing time playing a game I don’t enjoy for the game aspect. Boo.

Despite the presence of vampire T-shirts in my wardrobe, I wasn’t a very good White Wolf consumer. I just checked my shelf to see which Vampire books I owned and I don’t have any. I must have sold them (I kept the Dark Ages line though). What I recall owning wasn’t that much – the 2nd edition corebook, the player’s guide, the three Sabbat books, and the clanbooks. I never bought into the Revised edition that eventually redid all the clanbooks. Revised got too metaplotty for me and I frankly didn’t care. I have no idea who these super awesome Vampire NPCs were and I really didn’t care. I wasn’t reading the game for the story and I felt that the books I owned were good enough to run the game into the Long Nights. So I missed out on the whole end of the line and whatever apocalyptic doom scenario happened at the end. I have no idea.

And then White Wolf published their new World of Darkness games, including Vampire: the Requiem. Which I actually like more. It’s a much more toolkit game to do whatever you want with it and that appeals to me a lot more than reading up on some metaplot. Plus, I felt the basics of vampires was handled better in the new game. I liked the five Covenants a lot more than the Camarilla/Sabbat breakdown of the last game (in fact, as I was running a Dark Ages: Vampire game at the time Requiem came out, I adapted the Covenants into the old game, seeing as how the Camarilla/Sabbat hadn’t formed yet). But there are some aspects of Vampire: the Masquerade I miss.

White Wolf published this fancy new edition of Vampire: the Masquerade for the 20th anniversary. So I thought I’d read it and see what’s up with the old game again. Can it reawaken the torpor I feel for the old game? Will I reach a Golconda-like state regarding its place in my gaming life? Can I come up with another convoluted metaphor?

So, get excited. I’ll be comparing the rules changes to Dark Ages: Vampire as that’s the last edition of the old game I still own. Plus, it was the most recently published version of the old rules before this 20th Anniversary edition, so they should compare fairly well. I’ll probably be making reference to Vampire: the Requiem as well, both for things that are better in that game, as well as things that never translated over. For reference purposes, I’ll be calling it Reqiuem with the 20th Anniversary being called Vampire.

These are the final days. When will you rage? (I may have gotten my White Wolf games confused.)

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