Rebuilding Vampire: A Need For Hope/Redemption?

Something came up in the comments to my previous post, Rebuilding Vampire: Humanity, brought up by Mick Bradley about whether there should be the glimmer of hope/redemption for a vampire. He made this point after I had stated that, in my view of the vampire myth/game, the story of the vampire is one of an inevitable downward spiral towards transformation into a beast that will destroy all that he used to love, with the dramatic caveat being how long can that be staved off. Considering his feedback led me to consider the vampire myth and ask for other people’s opinions on Twitter (and I got good replies – see the comments for links).

The older vampire myth centers on this being a creature of darkness that embodies all the evils of mankind; it’s a morality figure meant to teach people what not to do. It is the “other,” a monster devoid of any human quality, something to be utterly destroyed, no questions asked. There is no concern for who the vampire is or was, only for what it is and what must be done to end its evil.

More modern interpretations of the myth put the vampire in the protagonist chair, and we start to look at who the vampire was before becoming undead, as well as the struggle of the vampiric life. The vampire becomes a hyper-human, a creature that’s more human than human. I don’t think it would be too pretentious to say that it becomes a metaphor for the human condition, a reflection of what excess can and will do.

It is in this latter form of the myth that Vampire: The Masquerade lies, with the vampires as the protagonists, exploring what it means to be a monster that is a pinnacle of humankind that is doomed to lose its Humanity. This is where the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles lie, where a movie like The Hunger lies, where a show like Forever Knight lies (and dare I say it, where the Twilight series lie as well). This is also the aspect of the myth that I am looking to explore and build a game around. [Note: the vampire-as-antagonist angle is already covered by the game Annalise.]

I write all that to ask the following question:

Does there need to be present a possibility of the vampire achieving hope/redemption from its nature for the game to work?

VtM had Golconda as a goal for vampires that wanted to find a way to overcome/find balance/make peace with their Beast. Yet, considering how rare it is described as being, and how as the editions go by it becomes less defined and more left to Storyteller interpretation, it always struck me as a concession to a segment of the population rather than a cohesive part of the myth.

So, if we put the monster as the protagonist of the game, does there need to be the hope of finding a way to achieve salvation/redemption from the new nature, or is it enough to have the tragedy of the inevitable fall and the struggle to stave it off for as long as possible?

Sound off, please.


  1. Copying replies from Twitter:

    @RDonogue said:
    @Highmoon No. Not Even a little. It’s plague. Plague gets no redemption.

    @MadBrewLabs said:
    @Highmoon I think if you have a story where a vampire is the protagonist, then yes, there must be some hope to have the audience invest in.
    @Highmoon However, if they are the antagonists, then you don’t need that glimmer of hope.


  2. I stick by my comment. I believe this should be a tragedy along the lines of Polaris. What remains to be seen is how long can a player stave off the Hunger of the Beast. Whether Golconda exists can be used to spur play along, but I don’t think that it should ultimately make a difference.

    I can understand why we played the way we did. Back then, my players would never have been interested in a game like is being proposed. They would very much have taken Mick’s approach and walked into the sunrise. In order to keep playing I adapted and it became an occult super-powered slugfest.

    Now, seeing it with fresh eyes, I wonder at the stories that can be told of this tragedy.
    .-= JJ´s last blog… Elric Explored – Part 5: Magic =-.


  3. @JJ
    My feeling is pretty much set on the vampire’s story being a tragedy. I posited this question to make sure I did my due diligence in seeing if I was missing something. There seems to be some idea that being on the role of protagonist means there must be an element of hope/redemption, but I’m still not convinced. Or rather, I can dig it, but it can only be a part of what I’m doing if it fits within the vampire myth.


  4. @justin
    And that right there is the one crucial piece of information that I’m struggling with: darkness only has substance. when it has light to be the contrasting element.

    The issue then is, in a vampire story, what is that light? Because the idea of there being something that can un-vampire you doesn’t really appeal to me. I think once you are a vampire, you are a vampire, period. The best outcome would be to reach that balance with/control over the beast before all your Humanity is lost.

    How does that sound?

    In VtM, was Golconda meant to be that glimmer of light? If so, then the glimmer of light can be almost unattainable, as long as its shimmer can be seen. If not, what was it?

    And thanks for dropping by. 🙂


  5. Hey Daniel,
    I think that always should exist the hope of redemption, you know, once the vampire was a human and hope is part of this being…

    …but hope does not mean that the redemption actually exists.


  6. The tension of nihilism vs morality is key in most of the modern vampire interpretations you’ve mentioned as inspiration. I don’t know if you _need_ the explicit possibility of redemption of their undead state to fuel that. It might even weaken the theme.

    Just spitballing here — but I’m going to suggest the best way to portray this in game is going to be similar to Fate’s compelling of Aspects. As your actions slide more towards the Beast end of the scale, the Storyteller gets more points they can then use to compel your Beast Aspect in play. You’d need some way to resist and some kind of reward for resisting. The obvious (perhaps too obvious?) way would be to have the player make a resisted roll based somehow on his Humanity score (and maybe with the ability to spend Willpower to enhance/reroll.) Perhaps the reward is to move towards the Human side of the scale or to regain Willpower. Wraith’s Shadow mechanic also sort of filled this niche. But, just anecdotally, that seemed to fall apart a lot in play.

    On the subject of redemption — a related thought: A “cure” for vampirism might make for an interesting plot hook — like the Cure in the last X-men movie (or in the much better Joss Whedon run on Xmen that inspired it).

    Of course – being “cured” isn’t really the same thing as being redeemed. You can still be a douche. You’re just not a bloodsucking douche anymore. But that distinction would probably be lost on the overeager.

    (In one of the later seasons of Buffy, Spike was cured for a while by having a microchip that shocked him whenever he tried to eat somebody. So – kind of “cured” but still a monster. Although eventually, in Whedonesque fashion, the comic relief element morphed into actual redemption. YMMV.)
    .-= Mike Lafferty´s last blog… The Heavy Lifting =-.


  7. Two things:

    I brought up “redemption” as a concept mostly due to my exposure to Angel and the Whedon/Greenwalt take on vampirism. But no – I’m not asking, expecting, or suggesting that you write a game where a vampire can obtain the kind of thing that this thread is calling redemption. I’m not even sure that my use of the word “hope” was useful because apparently when I brought in redemption and hope everybody thinks I’m trying to turn vampires in sparkly-flower-shiny things. This is not my intent.

    All I ever meant to suggest is that if you’re putting together a game that is about the loss of humanity and the onset of monster-ness, then saying “in the end, you WILL be nothing but the monster, and you will have destroyed everything you once loved, cared about, or found meaningful … but let’s see if you can make that process drag out for as long as possible” then to make a person like me have any interest in it at all, you’d need to leave room for the possibility that I might still be able to do something good that will get left behind.

    FWIW, I played the guy in Lion in Winter who said “When the fall is all that’s left, it matters.” It is one of my favorite lines. And I believe it in my bones, actually. It is in many ways the thematic underpinning of VAM. In Polaris, in VAM, in so many other things, maintaining your integrity, your selfness, your essential being in the face of certain and inevitable defeat/doom/tragedy … yeah, I’m all about that.

    But the thing you guys are discussing doesn’t read like that to me. The difference, I think, is that I’m not seeing where there’s any thematic room for “when the fall is all that’s left, it matters” to apply. The fall already happened. Now, all there is is to try to “survive” as long as possible while you watch all the things that mattered get destroyed.

    You wanna put my character in to a hopeless no-win situation and see how much emo integrity I can maintain before my inevitable descent into monsterness? Cool. But at least point me at something powerful and dark that maybe I can try to destroy so that maybe some other people don’t have to suffer my fate.

    That’s what I meant by hope and redemption. Give me a reason to CARE about keeping my humanity. Otherwise, there’s not enough to tug on the strings, at least for a guy like me.


  8. My first published story (As Black As Hell by Baen’s Universe) was about the non-death redemption of a vampire – to a degree. She doesn’t seek it but she gets it nonetheless. The story is not well written in a technical sense (it was my first) but it people like it. You can find the story free on the internet now as Baen has an open door policy.

    John Lambshead


  9. @Mick Bradley
    I’m wondering if we’re all saying the same thing but using different words. I like the quote you used and I think that the loss of Humanity _is_ the ‘fall’ from your quote. Becoming a vampire only triggers the fall, but it is _not_ the fall in and of itself; it’s a long way down. When I talk about the end state I’m looking at the mechanics that push a character toward an specific outcome: becoming the Beast.

    How the vampire carries herself during the fall is extremely important and these actions are what impact the loss or retention of Humanity. I never watched Angel so I’m not getting the reference there, but I’m imagining a vampire that wants to ‘do good’ as a way of staving off the Beast. I’m thinking that even without Golconda there could be a way to slow if not postpone the slide down. There may come a gripping story point which leads a player to speed the fall, but again, I see this in player’s control as much as dice and Willpower points will allow.

    Again, I agree that “When the fall is all that’s left, it matters.” In my mind, that sums up what Humanity in V:tM means to me.
    .-= JJ´s last blog… Elric Explored – Part 5: Magic =-.


  10. @JJ

    All this conversation is doing a nice job of helping me clarify where my real sticky points are. I guess what I’m really asking with all this is – WHY does the struggle to maintain Humanity matter to the player and to the character?

    If the answer to that question is “the player wants to stay in the game as long as possible, and the character wants to survive as long as possible, because survival is an instinct in both human and beast” … well, fine – but then I submit that the game is about Mortality, not Humanity.

    I want to believe – as both player and character – that if I’m going to go down the slide no matter what, dragging everything I once was and once cared about with me, that maybe I can’t get myself off that slide but I can slow down long enough to safely toss one or two things I once cared about off the slide into some sort of safe zone.

    I can’t save myself. Fine. Can I save ANYTHING else that matters? Because if I can’t, then all I’m doing is trying to survive just to survive – which, like I said, is a Mortality issue, not a Humanity issue.

    In any other “inevitable ragnarockian” scenario I know of, including Polaris and DRYH, there is something meaningful that you can try to preserve so that it might outlast the inevitable destruction. Note – I’m not saying the attempt to preserve must be successful – but it should at least be attemptable. Call that hope or redemption or something else – but in order for your game to be about HUmanity, I think something along these lines has to be baked in pretty solidly.

    Oh, and on a side note – I’d like to think I could be trusted to effectively portray my character’s inner demon/beast/shadow AS WELL as my inner human. I would not want a GM or other person to take that opportunity away from me. But I also realize there are many valid and well-reasoned arguments for why it might be a good idea anyway, much as I might not like it.


  11. @Mick Bradley
    Here are my answers to your questions:

    * “WHY does the struggle to maintain Humanity matter to the player and to the character?”

    To me as a player Humanity is the tangible metric that gauges my struggle against the Beast. It’s a gauge by which I can direct the flow of my character. I don’t see it as ‘how well I’m doing or playing the game’, but instead ‘where am I at on the fall’. As a character, as Humanity drops, more bad stuff happens as I start to lose control, and I have to ask how does my character react to that? Are there story elements that would work well to slow or speed the fall?

    “I can’t save myself. Fine. Can I save ANYTHING else that matters?”

    This is the crux of the stories that I want to play. I don’t know the answer to this until I’m in character and am challenged to preserve that which I love. I get the feeling Daniel’s Joy and Sorrow Traits will come into play here.

    * “Note – I’m not saying the attempt to preserve must be successful – but it should at least be attemptable.”

    I think we’re on the same page here: “When the fall is all that’s left, it matters.”

    * “I’d like to think I could be trusted to effectively portray my character’s inner demon/beast/shadow AS WELL as my inner human.”

    I have no doubt you can do that very well. For myself, the aspect that makes this a game more than anything else is having to react to the unexpected. The dice may betray me and I have to live (and role-play) with that. The Storyteller may present an option I never would considered and I’ll have to roll (role) with that punch.
    .-= JJ´s last blog… How I learned to stop worrying and love Ars Magica =-.


  12. @Mick Bradley
    Catching up after the weekend now.
    Quickly: I did not see Buffy or Angel. Run by me very quickly what you mean with ““redemption” as a concept mostly due to my exposure to Angel and the Whedon/Greenwalt take on vampirism.” What was so specific there that does/does not match the more general vampire myth?

    Also, just saying, this game should ideally work just fine for dark creatures of the night vampires as for sparkly oh-so-beautiful vampires; they’re both on the same road, they just look different.


  13. well, not to answer for Mick –but if I recall correctly the short version is a bit like this: — vampires in the Buffy/Angel Whedonverse lose their soul when they are created and are essentially nihilistic and evil with a capital “E”.

    However, two of the protagonist vampires (Spike and Angel) do regain their souls. Angel’s soul is returned to him as a curse — an act of revenge by a group of gypsies he had wronged. With his soul returned, he again has a conscience, is wracked with guilt for his past acts and attempts to atone for past misdeeds by fighting the forces of darkness – which often included other vampires.

    Angel’s curse comes with the whammy that if he ever feels a moment of true happiness – he reverts to being a soulless vampire again. So — yeah — whole lot of guilt tripping there.

    In his spin-off series a prophecy regarding a vampire with a soul who is restored to full humanity serves as an ongoing plot point/motivation.

    Spike was a bit more complicated. Well, a lot more complicated, actually.

    His character starts as a villain in his first season or two on the show. Eventually, he is captured by an X-Files/Dept 7 type government agency and implanted with a microchip in his brain that prevents him from feeding on humans — and he turns to fighting the forces of darkness pretty much as an outlet for his violence urges and need for excitement. Later, he (re)gains a soul voluntarily through a painful ritual after (arguably) being (possibly) redeemed through his own actions as a result his changing sides (thanks to the microchip). Spike’s character arc and whether or not he was truly redeemed seemed to differ from episode to episode in the later seasons of Buffy — and the series’ writers seemed unsure of how to handle him.
    .-= Mike Lafferty´s last blog… The Heavy Lifting =-.


  14. @Mick Bradley
    First of all, thanks a lot for continuing this conversation even when I couldn’t join you to add some stuff myself (I could read the replies on my iTouch, but replying in such a tiny medium would have been maddening, and the weekend was just busy).

    Mick, I like JJ’s answers to your questions a lot because they vibe with what I would’ve told you in turn. Let me add a few things based on some thoughts I’ve had and parts of the whole I have yet to write about.

    I like how you create that distinction about Mortality/Morality – it helped solidify things in my head when you finally distilled it down for me/us. I’m interested in a game about Morality, so now we know what to stay away from.

    Up to know, because of the limitations of breaking things down into elements, not to mention dealing with only one concept (albeit the central one), it has created the impression that the fall is all there is to my idea, and this is not the case. I *want* each character to have something they are willing to fight for, to fight the external and the internal threats, something they are willing to more speedily damn themselves to make sure that thing is not corrupted/destroyed. This is their Joy. I’ll write more about this later, but know that such a thing is there, and it has that specific purpose you want: “slow down long enough [on the slide to damnation] to safely toss one or two things I once cared about off the slide into some sort of safe zone.” I’m very clear that, if this isn’t present, then this is just a masturbatory exploration of pointless nihilism.

    Also know each character has also a Sorrow. I’ll let you think about what that could be (I have a pretty good idea already).

    On the issue of the Beast:
    Understand this is still a bit mercurial in its shape, so every back-n-forth we have about it helps me sculpt it more and more.
    Let me ask you, did you listen to Canon Puncture’s Game Advocate show on Sorcerer? I know you own the game, but I want to reference something Jesse Burneko said there. He recalls a situation where the the sorcerer wants to hide, but the Demon decides to do something else, so the sorcerer has this option in game of hiding and letting the Demon do whatever, or revealing his position to order the Demon to hide. (Arnold references it as well in the comments.)

    With that in mind, that’s how I’m slowly envisioning the Beast here. It isn’t a separate all-the-time NPC, but sometimes it does things that are beyond your control (thus done by the GM) and you have to deal with those consequences. I’ve no problem at other times letting you, the player, roleplay the constant fight between the human and Beast sides of the vampire psyche, but there are times when it will be beyond their control.

    Does this explain it better?

    Go back to the post on Humanity and read the last comment I made, in reply to Sam Chupp, to see some new thoughts on the mechanical aspect of the Beast in play.


  15. @Mike Lafferty

    Yep. What Mike said.

    There’s probably not much relevance for your design with all this Buffyverse paradigm stuff, it was merely my best reference-point because of my familiarity with it and because it is the only vampire-related paradigm to which I’ve been exposed that I’ve every actually liked. But since it isn’t a familiarity that you share, there’s no common language to use as a basis for clarifying concepts.

    But yes, if you care to really get the gist of what Mick Bradley thinks makes for a good vampire paradigm and a good “human soul-vs.-inner demon” conflict, then you’ve got a whole lot of Buffy and Angel DVDs to watch. 🙂


  16. @Mick Bradley
    I’ll probably have to rely, then, on the second-hand version, as I have tried watching those shows and I don’t really like them (actually, it’s a Whedon thing, with Firefly being the exception, but I’m not gonna get into that here and now).


  17. Dan

    Wondering if you’ve got thoughts on whether you’d stick with Storyteller or branch out into something else?

    My personal inclination is that something less traditionally “crunchy” — I’m thinking Fate. YMMV
    .-= Mike Lafferty´s last blog… The Heavy Lifting =-.


  18. @Mike Lafferty
    This is becoming its own system, drawing on the themes and lessons of VtM but incorporating elements from newer, focused, games. Fate, unsurprisingly, has already inspired me.

    Next time I play VtM I know I will make some adjustments to the game but nothing too drastic; I will play VtM as it is, maybe only enhancing some parts already there.


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