I think Vampire: the Masquerade was the first RPG I really cared about. I kidded myself that I really cared about Ars Magica, but I was only in love with my perception of the game, not the game itself.
To be honest, I probably didn’t love V:tM, but I played it and ran it for long enough that it wore a big comfortable dent in my heart.
I started University properly in ’96, and V:tM Revised came out in ’98. This means that I spent my first year and a half at Uni’ playing 2nd Ed and growing more and more frustrated with the groups Storyteller. He continually got the rules wrong, played favourites, and had story arcs that made no sense.
I also spent some time watching another, more ‘mature’ group play. They focused on the story, didn’t use character sheets, and handwaved the rules. I wasn’t allowed to play, only watch, because I was “too immature and childish” (in truth I totally was, but being told that at the time was hard pill to swallow).
So when Revised came out, presenting a perfect onboarding opportunity, I bought it, and a shit ton of the supplements, read them thoroughly, and ran it and ran it and ran it.
I was a shit storyteller to begin with. At first I thought a story would magically write itself. I thought that as long as we all knew the rules and had characters, then the magic would happen we’d all have Gothic-Punk fun.
It took maybe three attempts at running a campaign before I started thinking about maybe prepping some set pieces and defining a world and I dunno having things that happen for a reason other than to move to the next encounter.
For someone studying Creative Writing at degree level, I was surprisingly bad at narrative design.
Now that I look back, I see that one of the things about Vampire: the Masquerade that captured my imagination was the dichotomy inherent in the setting: Gothic-Punk. Sadness and Anger. Ephemeral Beauty and Aggressive Utility. Romanticism and Ideology. Convention and Anarchy.
You could do a lot with that. The main social conflict is already set up – controlling tradition, and its associated support and power, vs rebellious freedom, and the marvellous options it provides.
As a player, I enjoyed playing the monster; revelling in the bacchanal of vampiric life, flicking two fingers up at authority.
As a Storyteller, I enjoyed telling stories in which new vampires struggled to hold onto themselves and their Humanity, whilst forging a new path, separate from the psychotic anarchists and the sociopathic status quo.
I had a mix of players, and that was great. No one leant to any great extremes on the scale, and some enjoyed shifting their position on it as play progressed.
Some wanted to play Vampire to be dark heroes in a darker world. Some to be tragic victims of their uncontrollable desires. Others to be monstrous weapons pointed at the heart of evil. Some wanted their characters to find that elusive balance and just be. Some wanted to supplant the cold inhuman predators at the top of the food chain.
And then there’s the metaplot.
The classic World of Darkness often assumed that the supernatural had a hand in most world events. It became an inevitability that every organisation would be run by a Camarilla, Technocracy, Glass Walker or similar conspiracy. Humans were never at the top. They were pawns or cattle.
This was kind of fine. Nothing was kind of immediate. Sure, there were Sabbat vampires fighting with the Germans in WWII, but they were bad people. Nazis were the bad guys, and the Sabbat were the bad guys. They were both the bad guys.
Then 9/11 happened, just as White Wolf were preparing to publish New York by night.
They immediately delayed production and took a long hard look at what was happening in the world, what they were planning to publish, and how they interacted.
In the end they published NYbN as originally planned, with references to the irl tragedy in the foreword. The book steered clear of the controversies of real world outrage, and the gameline did not suffer as a result.
The publishers and gameline developers recognised the bad thing, considered it, and made an informed decision to avoid it. They were respectful, and no one was offended.
All of this is to say: I have a few opinions and observations about the current controversy at White Wolf/Paradox and the new V5 edition.
It’s worth noting that the last Vampire product I bought was the V20 edition. I’ve read Requiem properly, and skim read the V5 playtest rules. So I’m not basing any of this on a detailed read of the books in question.
Yes, here’s my detailed opinion about something I’ve not read. I’m that guy…
- What the fuck, guys!? I mean, c’mon. Really?
- How can you fuck up an IP like this?
- I really understand that, as a publisher trying to revive a previously insanely popular and relevant brand such as Vampire: the Masquerade, you want to keep as many people happy as possible, and to appeal to as broad a fanbase as you can. I understand that any bad press will negatively impact sales. Therefore WW will be doing everything they can to get in front of the problem, mitigate any damage, and repair any bridges.
- I don’t think they’re neo-nazis. They might be edge-lords, but again I don’t think that even edge-lords as stupid enough to believe that they can revive the brand by targeting the cash rich, empathy low edge-lord demographic. They know that they need to shift a fuck ton of units, and are probably mortified that all this bad press is derailing the fairly expensive IP train before it pulls into money station.
- Reading the comments of Facebook and Twitter, responding to WW’s statement today and their earlier initial statement, I can see that a significant proportion of respondents are the absolute worst dregs of humanity, more concerned with getting their sweaty hands on the books they’ve paid for rather than how an actual living breathing human being may be feeling.
- I find that I do not want to put myself in a place where I want to be associated with, or potentially interact with, these bottom feeding CHUDs, and therefore have no interest in V5 or the other WW owned properties like Mage, whereas previously I was cautiously excited.
- I am saddened by this, as some of the ideas I’ve seen in V5 look nifty. And I kind of wanted a set of the dice.
- A lot of the vitriol seems to be directed at named individuals. I find myself wondering how people know which individuals to attack. Has the author of the 1488 sidebar been identified? What about the author who wrote the section implying that suicide victims are weak willed? Do we know who they are? Who wrote the section on the atrocities being inflicted on Chechnya’s LGBTQ communities? I mean, the core book contributors are listed as: Developed, designed, and written by Kenneth Hite, Mark Rein-Hagen, Matthew Dawkins, Juhanna Peterson, Martin Ericsson, Karim Muammar, Karl Bergström, Jennifer Smith, Jason Andrew, and Jason Carl. I don’t see Kenneth Hite getting any shit, and he was the Lead Designer.
- The original games attracted a wide range of players, including those that wanted an outlet to express their sexuality and/or play alternative orientations. If that’s an established section of your fanbase, why would you possibly want to alienate them with a half-cocked flirtation with extreme right wing ideology?
So, in summary: I don’t give a fuck if you have to wait an extra three weeks for your book. If this is the worst thing you can imagine happening to you, then maybe take a moment to reflect on how good a life you lead, and how you’re not being tortured in a death camp whilst some prick on the other side of the planet asserts that reference to your suffering and violation of your human rights makes a role-playing game better.
Also, if you want to check out a vampire game by Kenneth Hite that is really good but doesn’t have any moral or ethical questions hanging over it, then maybe pick up a copy of Night’s Black Agents from Pelgrane Press.