In my post about Vampire and My Humanity, I stated categorically that whenever I play this re-visiting of Vampire, it *has* to be Vampire: The Masquerade, as opposed to the newer Vampire: The Requiem. But why be so fastidious? In the end, aren’t they just about the same, i.e. games in which you take the role of a vampire, using a game system engine that’s about 95% similar? Just play whichever, right? Well, no.
This is all subjective, obviously, but to me, Vampire: The Masquerade (VtM) has a few qualities that set it apart from its newer counterpart and, while I surely would play Vampire: The Requiem if given the chance, if I’m calling the shots or have any influence on the matter, it’s VtM that I’m gonna go for always.
Before we move on, let me make this very clear: this is not a slight against Vampire: The Requiem *at all.* I like the new game, I like what they did with it and the new World of Darkness, and I want White Wolf to continue to have great success with the game line. This isn’t about dissing Requiem, but about extolling Masquerade.
First and foremost there is an emotional component to my predilection of VtM. I got the game in circa 1991 after spotting it at my local comic/games shop without prior knowledge of its existence (ah, the days before the Internet) and it blew my mind. I used $20 that I didn’t have to buy it and read it cover to cover in two nights. This was completely unlike D&D and I was reeling with the possibilities of an “adult” roleplaying game, to the point that I almost stopped playing D&D because it felt childish. It would be a few years before I actually got to play it, but nevertheless, this game etched itself into my psyche and has never gone away.
Related to the emotional component, there’s not just mine towards the game, but also the game towards itself. VtM was published by White Wolf when they were a small company (in hobby game industry terms), just a bunch of scrappy designers staking (no pun intended) a claim in the market that was dominated by the fantasy giant of Lake Geneva, WI. Vampire was edgy, belligerent, pushy; it said “fuck” a lot, smoked like a chimney stack, drank hard and partied harder; it listened to loud music, be it punk or metal or goth, especially goth; it was sexy and sexual, messy and complicated and it didn’t call you in the morning but certainly bought you a drink the night after. And frankly, my impression was that so did White Wolf. That attitude won me over like a freakin’ devotee. It threw its hook out when I was 17-18, with all the bullshit that entails, and I bit and was reeled in. In many ways I’m still hooked by that line.
The goth component was one that took me a while to fully understand, mainly because in Puerto Rico, at the time, to the best of my knowledge (meaning, within the incredibly small limits my world had at the time), there were no goths. At the very least there was no gothic scene, no general sense of what a “goth” was beyond Winona Ryder in Bettlejuice. So it wasn’t until I moved to Miami and some of my friends introduced us to the goth scene (especially The Kitchen Club, still going today though just not the same) that I fully understood that one aspect of VtM. Needless to say I totally got into goth, even if I didn’t dress the part, and embraced the dark ennui and woe-is-me-ness of the game and loved every bit of it.
If I had to reduce it all to one word, I’d say what really grabs me about VtM is its passion. VtM translated the enhanced perception of reality that a vampire has into words and fed them to me every time I read it or played it. A vampire either has passion for something or it dies a slow death more painful than that brought by the rising sun. And as a player/Storyteller of the game, that’s exactly how it made me feel about it: you either have passion for this game or just drop it and go raid a dungeon. There was no middle ground, and I welcomed that.
Also consider the very name and the tagline. The word “Masquerade” said a lot to me about the vampires I would play: they used masks, hid behind false faces, mingled with the populace in a danse macabre. Masquerade sounds playful, but its also full of deceit for no one is whom they seem. Yeah, I got immediately who these vampires were from the name. Then there’s the tagline: a game of personal horror. That line speaks volumes, conjures scary images, hides under the bed while you sleep at night. There is a promise in that line that this game will reach into your gullet, pull out the nasties that make you weep like a child when no one’s watching and make you face them. There is passion in that tag line. One of my biggest let downs with VtR was that the tag line was just too generic: a modern gothic storytelling game. It fits the toolkit approach of the new game, but it’s too bland.
As I said in my previous post, Vampire was also my first game in which the main thrust of the system was featuring the story. Stats like Nature/Demeanor, Humanity and Willpower all highlighted that there was more than just cool abilities. But as I also stated already, I knew this, but didn’t grasp it fully. If VtM has one major flaw, is that it tries to do too many things and loses sight of its core question: will you keep your Humanity or succumb to the Beast? It also got bogged down with the metaplot that increasingly took over the line, to the point where it drove people away from trying the game, and forced the reset of the game and the entire World of Darkness. VtR has a bit of setting flavor but it doesn’t make the same mistake as before.
Even with its faults, maybe even because of them, I still love Vampire: The Masquerade. It’s like that first car you bought with your own money; it doesn’t matter how beat up it is, it’s yours and you always have fond memories of it, even as you drive a newer model. Vampire is intrinsically tied with a time of my life when I was dynamic, reaching new boundaries then breaking through them, stretching my proverbial wings, rebelling against anything and everything, a time when I was an emotional and hormonal mess, a child becoming an adult who behaved like a child. In wanting to play VtM again I’m not looking to go back to this time (though maybe tap a bit into that energy), but rather revisit my old haunts; it’s the equivalent of visiting your old high school when at your parent’s house for the holidays or some such. Maybe I’ll see new things I missed the last time, or maybe I’ll just have a good time with that which was so much fun once in my past. Either way, it’s something I’d like to do.
Because I have evolved in a lot of ways, including what excites me about games these days, I can’t help but look at Vampire and think, how could I do this game with elements that resonate with me today? At the very least I would redo a character sheet that puts Humanity right in the middle of the page, with all other stats arranged peripherally, but I’m also thinking more essential changes, like putting Humanity as the core stat and making everything else revolve around that, have the game be an inverted relationship between being human and being a beast. But that’s something for another post.