Thursday, January 5, 2017

Revisiting a Classic 1 - Vampire: The Masquerade (First German Edition, 1993)

Vampire: tM was one of those formative DMing experiences for me, something that would define my campaigns for years to come and it's up there with my all-time favorites, the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, HackMaster 4e and Cyberpunk 2020. Now, 20 years later, I want to find out how much of it still holds and what changed. It's been one off those things I wanted to do for a long time now and I gotta say, different (old?) eyes see different things.

First things first:

An unconditional recommendation! [source]
I never was part of the huge V:tM-hype of the 90s. I was lucky enough to get the books early (I think around 1995) and the whole goth-thing wasn't much of a thing then. It left me to form my own idea what the Vampire Universe looked like. It had been decidedly less Anne Rice, black lace and mascara and way more Punk with a good dose of Rammstein, Industrial, Stephen King and lots of German after-war decay. I also took a good deal of inspiration from the dirty 90s aesthetic of b-movie horror films like The Prophecy* and anime movies like Ninja Scroll (if that makes any sense). And we had the Weltschmerz going, but, you know, puberty and shit, so no surprises there.

Good times. But it was different enough to make me avoid the whole Vampire fanboy crowd at conventions and what not. We played a bit, I collected a good bit more of it (Dark Ages, Werwolf Wild West, Hunters, lots of Exalted ...) and at some point (D&D 3e is to blame for that, too ...) we just stopped playing in the old World of Darkness (oWoD) and moved on.

What we played back then was a mix of Urban Fantasy I still enjoy and revisit regularly, in gaming and in other media. If I were to name four sources that would inspire me today to DM a bit oWoD, it'd be ASP (lyrical goth-industrial?), Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch's latest and, imo, one of his best), What we do in the Shadows (great Vampire-Mockumentary!) and Leipzig (more punk, old buildings and decay than in the west, odd and very inspiring).

Anyway, let's get to the book proper.

Cover ...
Präludium: The Damned

It's the part I skip normally and I'm not sure I actually ever read the prose introducing readers to the mood the game is supposed to generate. Or at least, every time I start reading something like that, I end up skipping pages because it bores (or annoys!) the hell out of me. Most game designers aren't authors. And why should they? Well, I read it this time and ...

... it was okay? It starts with telling us that the Vampire is nothing more but an old symbol, a mirror of ourselves. Okay, fitting enough. Then we got a page with some nice artwork (see next picture below) and another page with a letter in a very bad cursive typeset. It starts the personal description of the World of Darkness as seen from an old Vampire with the initials V. T., from the next page on in a decent font from then on.

As I said before, I never gave it the time of the day. Reading it 20 years later, I see nuances I didn't see before (I was pretty ignorant and opinionated back then, being 17 and all that ...). I appreciate now what they did there. We have an unreliable narrator, going through all the aspects in the game from a, well, storyteller perspective. The text is sprinkled with little idioms in Latin, French, Spanish and English, given the impression that it's written by an educated person from the 19th century.

Great artwork!
It's heavy on the information about the world, which is good, and the reader doesn't get a lot of information about the writer other than how old he is in the context of the game world. You might think it's a Vampire from an Anne Rice novel. I thought exactly that. It's only in the end that we get a few subtle hints who is writing and you actually only get it if you know your Vampires, as it goes never beyond using initials: the writer has to be Vlad Tepes, Dracula himself. Nice touch there.

Book 1: The Riddle

This one starts with another prose text, this time about someone becoming a Vampire. Again, nothing special and a bit over the top for my tastes.

Book 1 comprises the first 3 chapters of V:tM and focuses on what a role playing game is, how the oWoD is structured  and what a GM (narrator) does. No hard rules until chapter 4. I think that's a good concept. Assuming that a reader most of the time will be a (potential) narrator and not a player, it's good to get into the philosophy behind the game, the game terms and the position of the narrator in establishing the campaign, before talking about the game mechanics or character creation and player stuff.

I'll keep the details for another post and leave it at that for now (read on with Part 2). I like this old book. It's well done and not at all overwhelming. Well written, too. And I can already say that it's going to get better than that. The mind-set behind the whole rules is, if I may say so, very much what we regard as "old school" nowadays and lots of advice I found so far here by rereading this, is advice you will encounter in one form or another all over the rpg blog-o-verse cyclically and on a regular basis.

More when I get there. One last thing. I mostly write about D&D, DIY and the OSR, so I guess most readers come from those corners. So I'd be interested what experiences you guys had with Vampire and what your impressions are. Feel free to comment, I'd be happy to hear about it.

You know what I mean ... [source]

* Got to see that one again ... It has Christopher Walken as an Archangel, so there's that. But Viggo Mortensen as the devil!? Young me wouldn't know ...

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