Vampire and My Humanity

Yesterday I was supposed to be studying for a Psychology test but I could not concentrate. In letting my mind empty for a few moments to see if I could get in the study zone, it instead wandered over to my past, to the late 90s, to Vampire: The Masquerade. This isn’t out of nowhere; recently I’ve been talking to Rich Rogers of the Canon Puncture Show (the GM in my recent Lady Blackbird game) about Vampire: The Masquerade. He was also a huge fan of the game and ran a long chronicle around the same time I did. I told him it would be fun to revisit that game with the tools and techniques we have learned since for more story-driven style of play and he agreed. We’re kicking it around and maybe we’ll do something with that in the future (maybe Megacon, if I manage to go?).

Vampire. That game still has a hold on me even though I haven’t played in about a decade. It was my first foray into personal stakes in a roleplaying game, even if I was crude about achieving that, if I ever did. I always understood that Vampires were far more than blood-fueled superheroes, but try as I might in my games I could not shake this off my mind, I could not plan and play the game without seeing little red hearts over the characters a la the Zelda video games that emptied as they used their powers and refilled as they fed (and I will give almost all the credit to my players for being stellar and rarely, if at all, behaving in this manner). I always also wondered, why are all these powerful, immortal beings hanging out with each other like high school girls? Which is funny because we get this image of the vampire as being this lone-wolf creature and here we have a game that asks you to thrust 2, 3, 4, however many player character vamps into a (more or less cohesive) group, or coterie.

Of course, the answer, at least for the cliquish aspect, has to do with Humanity, that which the Vampire is losing as it becomes the immortal being that subsists on the life of others.

See, I now see this very clearly; it is stated in the book, I’m sure of it though I can’t recall pages right now; to many this was probably self-evident right from the start. But for me, this was a revelation, one that took a few years to dawn. Or rather to be fully comprehended. It was when I grasped the implications of that gradual and unstoppable loss of Humanity that I also fully understood the game’s tagline: A Storytelling Game of Personal Horror.

Which is really interesting when I put that next to a comment by Mick Bradley (also of CP) on the same thread discussing re-playing Vampire:

In general, I have no thematic interest in vampire stories. The archetypal metaphors that those stories tend to represent have been explored so much that I just don’t socket into them. Sexy-cool brooding loners who are also the ultimate Machiavellian power-trippers … yeah. Doesn’t grab me at all.

It is fascinating to me because this is not at all in tune with that realization I pointed out above about the essential conflict at the core of a game of Vampire. And yet, that’s precisely what I, and many others, did at the time: play our vamps as sexy beasts full of libidic ennui that served as avatars making up for our own social and sexual shortcomings. So why do that?

I imagine because that is part of the myth of the vampire, that it is a creature that looks human but is über-human, and as a teenager/twentynager dealing with a lot of social, mental and physical turmoil, getting to play this part is just heavensent. The Machiavellian power-trippers part also figures as a part of this.

And this is precisely why I am very much intrigued by the idea of going back to play Vampire: The Masquerade now, as a 35-year old. I want to let go of the idea of the vampire as my avatar, and explore the world through those clothes instead. I am older, more experienced, more damaged than when I was in my early to mid twenties, and that’s a whole lot of data I can use to inform and extrapolate my character in-game. I’m also not as afraid as I was back then to let myself go a little and truly dig into the “personal horror” part of the game; heavens know I have experienced horror in my life that I can tap into through that characterization/exploration.

In a few words, I am intrigued to play Vampire: The Masquerade again because in the process of getting older I have come to understand personally the concept, with all the joys and pains involved, of my own Humanity, and a game where the primary conflictual conceit is that you are, and, however slowly, will lose your Humanity resonates with me now in ways that it never did 10-15 years ago.

But I don’t want to run this game, I want to play it. And it can’t be Vampire: The Requiem, it has to be Vampire: The Masquerade. But that’ll be another post.


  1. For my part, following Angel and Spike – especially Spike – around for all those seasons provided me with all the catharsis I might ever need in terms of exploring the humanity struggles of vampires. Spike pulled it off so satisfyingly well for me that I don’t seek more exploration of HIS type of vampire.

    Plus, I played Dracula in the stage play back in my theatre days. Even then, it never really tugged on any of my strings. I’m not sure why.

    For some reason, for me, exploring the human condition and the uber-human condition through fairies, werewolves, and humans caught up in that world have always been far more appealing than doing it from the vampire angle. I think in the final analysis, it’s the machiavellian thing I can’t embrace. I like playing characters that GET manipulated, but I don’t have an interest in playing characters that DO the manipulating.

    But that’s for me. I totally grok and support your ability to socket into that as a vampire.

    Plus, nothing’s stopping me from playing a non-vampire in your Vampire game, right? I could be a garou or a fae or a mage.


  2. @Mick Bradley
    I have not see Buffy as I can’t stand it, so I don’t have a common framework for the Angel/Spike reference, though I kinda sorta know the general idea.

    I think Dracula explores a different side of the vampire myth – how does this creature affect the Humanity of the humans it comes in contact with – a side more properly captured in a game by Annalise (which I also want to get).

    I’ll get more into this in my subsequent related post on why I feel it has to be The Masquerade over The Requiem, but fae to me explore a very different theme, dreams gained and lost, and the effect on that on our Humanity (Humanity does remain a central core), a theme best exemplified by both Changeling: The Dreaming and The Lost. I don’t socket at all with werewolves, so I can’t speak to that.

    You keep going back to the Machiavellian aspect, because as I wrote above, though that’s a phase pretty much all Vampire players go through (it’s the Vampire equivalent of hack-n-slash gaming in D&D), I then go on to point how it is not an essential part of the Vampire theme exploration. I find this very interesting because in your mind, vampires are intrinsically tied to the Machiavellian power-tripper aspect, which in turn is something that we know, from other conversations you and I have shared, that this is a subconscious hot-button issue for you (not to play psychologist here in any way). There’s obviously something there that warrants more exploration (whether in a game or over a beer).

    And you can only play another supernatural if they are also a brooding loner. 😉


  3. As a V:TM player from 1st edition on, I locked in on the Humanity aspect as the central theme in the game (it has it’s own stat after all), but could never get my players to lock into that. I did have a short lived chronicle in which we (three players total) played ourselves becoming vampires (a spin off of the Villains & Vigilantes playing ‘yourself’). The group imploded and we never got past origin (too much non-game drama).

    After V:TM I discovered Mage: The Awakening. That became my personal superhero saga (before Aberrent). But I still love me some V:TM. I think the idea is a good one, to revisit an old game and find out why you loved it in the first place and see what really makes it tick. It’s was lead me down the path to the Old School revival.

    If you ever decide to explore this over Skype, drop me a line. Love to go exploring with you guys.
    .-= JJ´s last blog… Elric Explored – Part 2: Planes =-.


  4. You’re entirely right about the machiavellian bit pushing my buttons – and yes, I can’t explain WHY I tie vampires so heavily to that notion, I just do, and even though rationally your logic about it not needing to be that way is spot-on, emotionally the tie is still there.



  5. @Daniel – My experience lines up with yours. I realized early on that I was running a gothic superhero game and went with the flow. We had some truly emotional moments, but it was often the exception, not the rule.

    @Mick – No offense, but like Arnold’s no TV and trying to play PTA, I’d rather you sit out of a Vamp game. Fair?

    @Daniel + JJ (+ Wifey) – We should explore this, guys. I know two locals (one being my wifey) who would love a Vampire game closer to its stated intention.
    .-= Rich´s last blog… This Was Over Before … Before It Ever Began =-.


  6. But I don’t want to run this game, I want to play it. And it can’t be Vampire: The Requiem, it has to be Vampire: The Masquerade. But that’ll be another post.

    And that’s a post I’m looking forward to, because that’s how I feel about Mage.

    – Ryan


  7. @JJ
    See, I could very clearly *see* the Humanity stat, but I didn’t really comprehend in its fullness what it meant. How that stat is at the core of the game. That stat should be right in the middle of the page with all the other dots around to the side, cause that is what is important, not how many dots of Celerity you have. This took a while to understand, and when I did it truly was a moment of eureka!


  8. @Daniel M. Perez
    I remember early ‘story’ modules stressing Humanity, this soon gave way to the Machiavellian politics. Early on it was about playing ‘new born’ vamps and how they transition to their new existence. Maybe that was too emo and was soon changed to power games. Then came Werewolf. I think powers took hold in most of the games. I loved Mage – my favorite in WoD – but Wraith was more back to that internal exploration.
    .-= JJ´s last blog… Elric Explored – Part 2: Planes =-.


  9. @JJ
    I’d have to go back through the early “adventures” for Vampire and see how they frame the stories to know for sure (thankfully something I can do at home, as I have about 98% of all VtM books published), but I’m not gonna be surprised to find that to be the case. The political aspect of the vampire clans/courts is appealing, and I think it was a slippery slope down into the chasm which eventually led to the reset of the WoD.

    I think the paradigm of playing a newly-born vamp can work, because it puts you as player as close as you can identify with this creature then sets you off. There is also the advantage of this stage being ripe for moments of personal horror as the character, still unsure of its new undead “life,” seeks solace in the patterns it had in life, only to find that there’s no going back. This is powerful mojo; I tortured my wife’s character with this to no end. The danger of the neonate is precisely what you described: it loosing itself in the new existence and simply going out just for kicks without exploration or consequences for confronting, or not confronting, its Humanity.

    I can’t speak about Werewolf or Wraith as I played/owned neither. Never played Mage, either.


  10. Holy Crap.

    Daniel, everything that we’ve both played in up to this point, you’ve been a vampire, and I’ve been a werewolf.

    You play the plans/schemes/machinations guy who flirts with both darkness and light, and I play the barely-leashed killer beast striving to keep the rage in check.

    With all the connections and disconnections that go along with those archetypes.


  11. @Mick Bradley
    Damn, Mick, that is an amazing revelation! How did you come to it?

    Which in turns makes me fascinated by the fact that we have then both played beasts, just two different aspects of it.

    You. Cracked. Me. Up. In public. 😀
    Well, done.

    @Mick Bradley
    We do have that destiny laid out in front of us, it seems. But if Kashyyk is gonna try to slap around Palpatine (nee Obi-Wan), then we’re switching to d20 Star Wars Saga Edition. 😉


  12. @JJ As you know from our APs, I Skype game often, sir. I’m sure we could sort something out…

    @Daniel – Honestly, I don’t know what I would say that’s different. I could write a post about some of my war stories, games we played and stuff I planned. But I realized early on that we were playing gothic superheroes and I never shied from that. I immersed myself in that fantasy and had no pretense about the trappings of the text except when it suited the desires of the players. I dunno… maybe you said what I’d say and better? I’ll think on it.

    @Mick – So far, I’ve also wanted to beat the snot out of all of Daniel’s characters that I’ve seen. Plus, I have a tribal tattoo on my chest for the Galliards (3/4 moons, bards, lore keepers and storytellers, natch). I guess we’re both Garou. You’re so a Ragabash, dude.
    .-= Rich Rogers´s last blog… This Was Over Before … Before It Ever Began =-.


  13. @Rich Rogers

    On the nose, dude. The one actual garou I played was an orphaned Fianna Ragabash named Conor McBride. He was an Aussie in the vein of Russell Crowe. The other players were mages, and we were a punk band called Fool’s Gambit. We went around playing gigs in pubs and clubs and getting into various kinds of supernatural trouble. Fun stuff.


  14. @Mick Bradley
    Both, but more on the side of serious. Actually, hold it, cause I’m gonna write a post about this specifically tomorrow and we can continue that thread there, and keep this one about Vampire, the World of Darkness, and our feelings.


Comments are closed.