Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In Retrospect-- Vampire: The Masquerade

If you ever come upon the revised edition books for Vampire: The Masquerade at a reasonable price, buy them if you can. These are some of the most beautiful and well-done books to grace the industry. The revised core rulebook itself far surpasses its predecessors, which were published first in 1991 and then 1992.

The Storyteller's Handbook alone is worth its price because of the advice it gives to those running not just World of Darkness games, but any genre of roleplaying.

Funny thing is, I've only played Vampire maybe three times, about 15 years ago. But I still miss each of these books. The last time I saw them they were sitting on the floor of Half Price Books in West Des Moines, Iowa. They glowed amid all of the other used books I had brought down, as if resonating a final warning: You'll regret selling us. 

And I did regret it, and I do regret it.

Yet at the time I was broke and needed the money. But I can never, ever, ever, ever, recommend selling your RPG books to Half Price Books or any other used book store. You'll get low-balled every time. Just keep them or sell them online

But I digress.

See, I don't even like playing the game and yet I still like these books and miss them.

Vampire: The Masquerade was the only RPG that I bought in the early-to-mid 1990s (when I still in high school) that I fell like I needed to keep out of sight from my mom. It was so dark and edgy and I loved it. I loved how the rulebooks read more like stories. The artwork was, at times, surreal, fantastic, and horrifying. And all of this got better with the revised books. There was only one catch:

I didn't like playing a vampire.

Don't get me wrong. The game has a lot going for it, drawing upon the well spring of the literature and philosophy that came before it. Here was, basically, Anne Rice's vampire novels in RPG form. You had strong dose of the questioning of the human condition, mixed with bargaining with the social contract, mixed with a gothic-punk background on the verge of apocalypse. What's not for a 15 year-old boy to like?

Yeah, the whole playing a vampire thing.

Yes, as a DM, I play the bad guys all the time, but this seemed different somehow. There were no real "good guys." There were just worse-than-human guys (The Camarilla), and then there were guys even worse than that (The Sabbat). There's something about playing a character who drinks human blood that I find... well, I guess just don't have the taste for that (pun intended).

Also, my high school friends at the time weren't too keen on playing vampires either. We were stuck on D&D, Middle Earth Role-Playing, or Star Wars.

In college, I played a little bit of vampire, maybe two or three sessions, before I bowed out. I would have liked to put together a World of Darkness game with vampire hunters. That seemed cool. I had no problem with Hunter: The Reckoning (never got to play though). I also got tired of the angst (but that could have been the group I was with).

Some players have told me to just skim over the blood-drinking part. Or they would get even more philosophical. "Well, you eat meat, right? That came from an animal right? So, basically, humans are cattle and vampires are the hunters. That's it."

But vampires aren't really human, are they? That is, of course, the central question to a standard Vampire: The Masquerade game. I loved how vampires could lose their humanity whether by brutal acts, hunger, or having flame waved at them.

 They are monsters. And I prefer to fight the monsters, not play one. It's another reason why I don't LARP. But I do enjoy the comedy of it all: This is a game where humans pretend to be monsters who deceive themselves into thinking that they are still human. In the game, humans who become vampires at first think they are free of the social contract because of their new found powers and abilities. Yet they quickly discover that they are bound to an even worse social contract: the Masquerade and the Camarilla.

I do, however, have to give credit of Mark Rein*Hagen and the rest who designed the game and later supplements. They really played upon the zeitgeist of the 1990s. It seemed that we all were, at first, so optimistic about the Cold War ending. But then reality set in. Cities seemed to become more violent. Popular music shifted from M.C. Hammer and Michael Jackson to grunge, rap, and industrial. The 24 hour news cycle ramped up and the world seemed more uncertain than before on the eve of the new Millennium.

Maybe that wasn't their intention. Somehow, the The World of Darkness is supposed to be even darker than the real world. If that can be possible in the d20 Dark Ages. Doesn't every teenage feel that the world is coming to an end at some point?

In any case, I sold all four of these books about seven years ago, and I've regretted it since.


What are your experiences with Vampire: The Masquerade or other World of Darkness settings? How did you deal with your character needing to feed on human blood (other than drinking from animals, which can only go so far, if I recall)? Did you play the game new to the hobby? Or did you segue from D&D or another game?


  1. I still play Vampire:: The Masquerade. It's my go to game to introduce new players to roleplaying. The modern setting, the noir elements, and the thrill of playing a sexy predator fits most new players better than a dwarven fighter killing goblins. I tend to prefer 1st Edition, however, when the world was still rather open, and before the rules started to get a bit complicated (better, maybe, but more complicated for people who are still figuring out what these funny pieces of plastic are for).

  2. Maybe that's why, it seemed, back then more people were playing RPGs, just not D&D. I think Vampire did introduce a lot of people into the hobby who otherwise wouldn't have joined precisely because playing a dwarf (or elf, or whatever) wasn't all that appealing. Maybe that's another reason why TSR kept loosing the market share in the 1990s?

    As for the rules, I do remember the earlier rulebooks, before the revised edition, being more "rules lite." I'd flip through the corebook, looking at the various clans and thinking. "Okay, this is really cool, now what do I do with it?"

    (All this talk about Vampire makes me want to try it again...)


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