The venerable Vampire: the Masquerade roleplaying game has slowly crawled back into the limelight after more than a decade in obscurity. There is a new edition, the successful L.A. by Night stream, and new computer games on the horizon. This raises the question, is this something you should check out?
Vampire came as a breath of fresh air into my circle of friends in the late-90s as a decade of AD&D has left me fatigued with dungeons, monsters, and loot. Vampire’s brilliant, provocative artwork, references to bands like the Cure and the Sisters of Mercy, and punk attitude appealed immensely to me as a young student. This pretentious game of gothic-punk vampires probably saved roleplaying games as a hobby as far as I was concerned, and we played with gusto and renewed enthusiasm.
The three-four year-long chronicle, shared with another Storyteller, came to a natural end after long nights at the Succubus Club and seeing the final night of the Prince of D.C.
Sometime later, the Dungeons and Dragons in September 2000, and that was the end of Vampire for me. The idea of playing Vampire: Requiem, a version of the game without the metaplot, never appealed, and I felt we had played the default chronicle to the fullest and was at a loss of what to do next. A contradiction, for sure, but that was how it was.
Fast forward 20 years of dungeons, monsters, and loot, and the fatigue is overwhelming. I have picked up that a vampire fad has come and gone in the meantime. Is it time to finally quit roleplaying games? Should I return to Vampire? Would that be nostalgia, and can Vampire be relevant today? Perhaps something entirely new is the best course of action.
Setting Up a New Vampire: the Masquerade Story
According to Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoire of the Craft, interesting stories emerge when two or three ideas clash into something exciting. This time around, it was the Night Manager and the House of Cards, but with vampires. Not necessarily Tom Hiddleston as a politician hanging out with Kevin Spacey, but more the imagery as both tv-series are beautifully shot. I figured both the Cure and the Sister of Mercy are still touring (both sounding really good I might add), so I can go back. Nostalgia be damned!
Ok, so something simple. Perhaps ten chapters (as sessions are called in Vampire). An extended prelude, simple murder mystery, and the embrace of the new coterie (the group of vampires). Some of the players in my group have quit, and others have returned since we last played Vampire, so the default vampire story is perhaps required to get this going. The new chronicles do not have to be anything fancy.
Rules? What Rules? A New Edition?
As a returning Storyteller, I face two choices: which edition of the game and which city? Technically I never ran the Storyteller version of the game. I ran GURPS Vampire.
There are two or three viable versions of the game available. The revised version from the 90s was available used fairly cheap until recently. These books now cost an arm and a leg. Fortunately, this version is included in the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition (2011), which still is costly, but offers a tremendous value for money with all thirteen clans. This update and reprint were eventually recognized as an edition in its own right by White Wolf.
Then there is the new version, the fifth edition (2018), which reverts to the original format, which means only seven clans. The new book is gorgeous with photos in addition to more traditional art, and a surprising break from old books. The book looks terrific, but I question its utility as a game manual. They have created a coffee-table book, not a game manual.
I decided to try the new version after reading up on character generation and skill resolution. The finer points of the rules update are lost on me as of reading this, but everything seemed clear. The selling point was actually the availability of an excellent Storyteller screen, which makes any problems with the new layout irrelevant and reinforced my determination to mostly wing it as rules are concerned with this new story.
All character stats seem easy to convert if a conversion is required at all.
GURPS is an excellent system, and I enjoyed it immensely back in the day, but I am not qualified to winging anything with GURPS, so my old books will remain on the shelf.
Somewhere By Night
The second big choice for a Vampire game is which city to use as a setting. It was tempting to go back to the classic Chicago setting, especially with an update coming out from Onyx Path.
Another book coming this year is Modiphius Entertainment’s Fall of London (2020). London is a city near and dear to me, Graeme Davis’s write-up in A World of Darkness (1996) is excellent, so London seems the obvious choice.
Outlining the Story
A considerable part of the appeal of a Storyteller game after decades of D&D and Pathfinder the fact that Vampire: the Masquerade requires technical preparation (stats, treasures, maps), it is 99% figuring out what the story is – what is the next five scenes. Also, an enjoyable Vampire chronicle is not supposed to be an open-ended sandbox, it is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. This idea appeals to me very much at this point.
My story hook is a simple murder mystery, leading to a vampiric conspiracy, and ending with a hard choice and a boss battle. Prep would be the deciding who did it, creating a list of uncooperative and mysterious NPCs suitable for London, creating a list of locations and figuring out two or three possible strong endings.
The rest is impossible to prepare, and I should not even attempt to try. The players are responsible for the middle part, and ensuring the coterie reach one of the possible endings (or one of their own inventions) is, and probably should be up to them.
Yes, I think I got this. Time to put the pieces together.
- Create Fantasy Roleplaying Game Adventures
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- Creating Fantasy Roleplaying Game Campaigns
- How to Write the Perfect Starter Adventure
- Malicious and Unstable Magic: Chaos Taint, Nightmares, Planar Breaches, and Other Afflictions
The Reading List
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The old Chicago by Night 2nd Edition (1993) and D.C. by Night (1995) are also available. Both are excellent books and highly recommended for games set in the 90s. They are possibly the two setting books that have provided me with the most mileage over the years. A modern chronicle will require at least light updates.
A World of Darkness (1996) offers a brief guide to the whole world if you do not find any resources of your city of choice, or you just want a big picture. There is a bias, of course, with more pages devoted to the British Isles than entire Asia, but it is a start and an otherwise excellent book.