Let’s face it, vampires are sexy. Anne Rice proved it in Interview With the Vampire and the rest of the Vampire Chronicles; Laurell K. Hamilton has made a fortune off it with the “Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter” series, and Stephenie Meyer is currently cashing in with the Twilight saga. We all want to be beautiful, immortal, and powerful, and if all it costs is our souls, lots of us would be lining up to get in on the deal.
That’s where role playing games come to the rescue. With a few friends to play along and some rules to keep any of them from ruining the story too badly for everyone else, we can be that sexy, angsty godling who yearns for the sun and can never see it. Let’s take a look.
White Wolf’s System
Ok, the one major downside of any role playing game (RPG) system is that you probably have to learn some rules before you play. Screwing around with books and dice and sheets of paper where all your character’s data is kept just isn’t sexy. I don’t want to spend my evening bouncing plasic dice, I want to seduce people and charm them, drink their blood and make them my slaves! I want to be that enigmatic beauty that handles things by subtle innuendo, and when that doesn’t work, I want to bounce the bad guy’s dripping head off the concrete like a jock in the end zone with a football.
Relax, it’s not as bad as you might think. The dice just give you a standardized way to judge how good the character is at the things she does. Yes, we all want to be stupendous at everything, but really, why is Spider-man cooler than Superman? Because he struggles. Superman is too super to be really cool.
White Wolf uses a system of ten-sided polyhedra dice to rate abilities. Every ability has a rank from one to five (never mind the exceptions, those are for experts!) and each rank grants one die to roll when trying something difficult. The goal is to roll as many high numbers as possible, so more dice means better odds of success. It’s also open-ended, to a roll of 10 is not only a success, but allows a reroll which might yield another. There’s a free PDF synopsis here.
Don’t sweat all that, though; if you’re not interested in dice, just tell the Game Master, called a Storyteller in the World of Darkness system, to handle all that for you. You can just sit back and enjoy the game.
For the record, GURPS got permission to do a conversion of Vampire: the Masquerade. Personally, I like the GURPS version, and recommend it if you already know anyone who plays GURPS.
Honestly, though, the dice shouldn’t matter. That’s not what a good game is about, and the World of Darkness is all about the story.
The default setting for the game is White Wolf’s World of Darkness. While the game is usually set in the modern world, all of history is available, and in fact the best characters are often built up in a series of mini-games across long stretches of time. A very old vampire might have been born a mortal in ancient Egypt or Babylon, and have memorable sessions in Classical Greece, Imperial Rome, Byzantine Turkey, Medieval France, Rennaissance Spain, Colonial Massachusets, and the Civil War Old West before settling into an urban role in any modern city. On the other hand, most new characters are more likely younger vampires new-made, which is appropriate for someone new to the setting and the system.
The World of Darkness is just like the real world we live in, but with vampires, werewolves, mages, and all sorts of other supernatural entities secretly inhabiting and affecting the world of mortals. You get to play the vampires, and possibly even the other creatures. For now, let’s concentrate on the vampires.
In this setting there are thirteen “clans” of vampires, each with very different attributes, and many associated exclusively with one political group or another. The default for new characters is to play “Camarilla” vampires, and to choose from those clans. These include such clans as the Nosferatu, horribly ugly and often living on rat blood but phenomenally strong, with an affinity for animals and able to hide by sleight-of-mind powers, or the Ventrue, who are resistant to damage, supernaturally charming, and able to glamour humans, but whose diets are very restricted, such to only young female virgins. Other clans represent classic vampires of other sorts, so there’s likely one for everyone. Each has it’s own specific disadvantage and three Disciplines, or powers. Every power is available to more than one clan, but each has a unique combination. (Later versions have bent that rule, but it’s a general guideline still.)
The single most obvious difference about the World of Darkness rules is they are full of admonitions to throw them out the window if they interfere with the story. This is a game where the tale is the point. Your character is an undead killer, dependent on the blood of the living to survive, but one of her main attributes is her Humanity. This is a guage of how much of her human spirit is intact, and how much she remains in control of her “beast”, the darker nature of the vampire. Any wantonly or unnecessarily cruel act is likely to cost points of Humanity, which makes the character more like to Frenzy, or lose control. A vampire in a frenzy is under the control of the Storyteller, and will do whatever the Beast of her nature demands, which usually means killing people and drinking their blood. That can cost yet more Humanity, leading to more frequent Frenzies in a downward spiral.
This system makes strong use of a game trick they cal “The Embrace”. That’s the term they use for making someone a vampire, but they make it a special pre-game session in which the Embrace is actually played out. The character begins the story as a live, breathing human, and plays through the events leading up to and immediately after she was turned. Was it a gentle courtship and loving tutelage of one intended for eternal partnership? Or was it a brutal assault and cruel abandonment, left to figure out the rules and necessities on her own?
Obviously, there’s a rich vein of angst to be mined here. In a lot of ways, this is a more girly game than most, but good players of either gender will recognize the opportunities. The game has plenty of chances to tear thugs to shreds, or even to fight werewolves, but it will truly shine when the players delve into the vampire politics, the scheming and plotting of beings who live (and hold grudges) for centuries.