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Author Topic: Old School Review: Vampire the Masquerade  (Read 1635 times)


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Old School Review: Vampire the Masquerade
« on: March 17, 2007, 05:26:15 AM »

Vampire: the Masquerade is an iconic name in RPGs. Say what you will, it is a game that defined gaming in the 90's and redefined the term RPG. Equally as controvertial today as it was when it was released, Vampire: the Masquerade is both remebered fondly and reviled in equal measure.

It's the game given responsibility for maturing the RPG hobby. Introducing mature themes and being among the first RPGs to considered it to be more then just a game, but as a tool to explore and create meaningful experiences.

What is Vampire: the Masquerade?

Vampire: the Masquerade is a game where you play a vampire. A Vampire embroiled in the politics of the night. Whether a Methusalah (and ancient, powerful Vampire) is breathing down your neck, or a Werewolf; you're in for a rough night.

As a Vampire, you a direct descendent of Caine. The same Caine who killed Abel. As the first muderer he was cursed by god and has indirectly shared his curse with you. With the curse comes great power as well as great torment. You are forced to feed from the blood of mortals, if your skin ever feels the warth from sunlight, you will not feel it long as your unliving corpse will be reduced to ash in seconds.

The Power comes in the form of disciplines. Developed and practiced by all vampires, they are powers inherent in their blood. It 's what makes them the ultimate predator. Disciplines are the edge they have over Mortals  and even one another.

There is a war going on among Caines children as well. Two major sects of vampires have emerged. The Camarilla and the Sabbat. The Camarilla follow the traditions (they hide from mortals, do not "breed, and do not consume souls). The Sabbat say fuck all that, they're Vampires and they're going to enjoy it. Over it all looms a prophecy that Caine's direct descandants will rise from their slumber and consume all their childer and bring an end to all vampires on a night called Gehenna.

How do I play Vampire: the Masquerade?

You start by adjusting to the setting. A world like our own, however ancient and powerful beings stalk the night in secret; you're one of them. Your GM (called a Storyteller) should let you know what kind of game he/she will be running. Get a character concept ready. Pick a clan (Kind of like a character class/family) that fit your character and chronicle out of the 13 available.

There are three types of Clans. Camarilla are the traditional good guys. Sabbat are your Monsterish bad guys. The Independents fall somwhere in between. The calns cover different vampire archetypes, from you Lost Boys punk rockers to your Nosferatu recluse. There's even a couple new ideas like a Vampire Mafia (the Giovanni) and the Faustian Tremere. A classic game is played as a Camarilla Coterie (group) with Sabbat as the "bad guys".

Filling out the character sheet is easy. It's like a lottery ticket. The 2 major sections on the character sheet are attributes (Strength, Apearance, Intelligence etc.) and Skills (computers, Brawl, Drive, Occult etc.).Fill in the bubbles. 2 Dots is you average joe, 5 dots is the maximum for most characters. You have a certain number of points alotted to Mental, Physical and Social attributes and skills and you can prioritize them based on your character's concept.

Afterward you fill out your characters Backrounds and Disciplines. Backrounds are character advantages your character has gained before play. Like Resources (general wealth and the amount of things you own) Retainers (Mortals who help you during the day and whatnot) and Herd (a stock of Mortals you can feed from with no hassle). Backrounds are rated one to five and are unique in the fact the give your character a history before the game has started.

Disciplines is where the fun is. Disciplines are your supernatural abilities granted by your Vampiric nature. Every classic Vampire ability is here. Turn into a bat? check. Superhuman Strength? Check. Disapearing? Check. Also included are Clan Tremeres Blood Sorceries and Giovanni's Necromancy. The Disciplines are wide and varied, giving players more than enough Vampire powers to satisfy. Some disciplnes work for free (like awe) and others have resource expenditures (blood or wilpower) to activate.

Buy your Virtues, spend your bonus points (extra points used to customize your charcter where you need/want to). Fill in your Derivitive stats (Willpower, Humanity/Path) and you're ready to play.

The system is pretty easy. You create dicepools for actions by combining a relevant skill and attribute (like say Intelligence+Computers) and roll the dice. On most rolls the target number is six (meaning you succeed if roll a six or bette on a die). Count up your successes on the dice, the number of successes determines how well you did(One being barely successful and five being better than you coul've ever hoped for) Internal penalties subtract dice from your pool (like being hurt) external penalties add to your success threshhold (ie requiring 2 or more successes) and difficulty/complexity of the action change your targe number (ranging from 2 to 10, 2 being shuffling your feet and ten being brain surgery).

Combat uses the same system. Attacker rolls his relevant combat skill (usually dexterity+brawl, weaponry, or firearms). The Defender then rolls a readied defense (usually dex+dodge). If the atacker wins he gets to build a damage dicepool (usually Extra successes+Weapon damage, and for melee: Extra Sucesses+Weapon Damage+Strength). After damage is determined the defender get to soak rolling his soak pool (usually stamina or stamina+armor) subtracting successes from his damage before applying it to his character sheet.

What Sucks about Vampire: the Masquerade?

When the Combat Dice come out, they stay out for a long time. Four rolls for each turn in a combat makes every punch a story in its own, however, the time adds up real quick. This is not a game where you'll want to be fighting hordes of enemies. Unless you have a few hours to spare on a single combat, keep the numbers in the fight as low as possible by using extras to fill out the ranks.

Also, character concept is a must. There are no assigned classes, so the player has to figure out what they want to be for themselves. While not nearly as bad as universal sytems like Gurps and Tri-Stat but there is still near endless variations in Vampire concepts available. Character creation also takes time 30 minutes to 1 hour each at least. Expect a group to take a whole session.

As the focus is on the story, there is not much in the way of character balance either. It's really easy for a powergamer to take advantage of the ruleset to make very effecient killing machines. The Storyteller absolutely has to work with players on their characters.

As a benefit and a weakness, the game has parts that aren't well defined. Like Obfuscate is left up to the Storyteller's discretion on when it works and when it possibly fails. It lets make dramatic decisions in gae, but makes the powers seem cheap or usueless if handled innappropriately .

What Rocks about Vampire:the Masquerade?

Variety. In Vampire: the Masquerade you are given an immense sandbox to play in. Your games can range from strictly political intrigue to introverted angst and melancholy. Or you could play blood guzzling superheroes/villians. Splatterpunk hunting games, and Setite (a Snake themed Vampire Clan) starred Indiana Jones adventures. You can do a mish mash, mix and match or rotation of any of the above as a Chronicle (campaign).

Equal focus. The system is equally focused on mental, physical and social tasks. This lets you focus on what the fun parts of your chronicle are. If the players are having more fun talking in the tavern than going to the dungeon as long as your having fun, no-one gets penalized. Combat only nets you 1 bonus XP a session (where a session averages about 4 xp) for combat.

Storyteller (GM) freedom. Vampire: the Masquerade gives it's Storytellers immense freedom briging their ideas to light. NPC's are easy to manufacture, as all you need to assign them is a dicepool (1-3 weak, 4-6 strong, 7-9 very powerful, 10+ Uber). Powers are either automatic (like obfuscate or command)  or easy dicepool modifications (auto successes, easier target numbers, additional dice in your pool etc.).

 I could fire up a Vampire: the Masquerade game today and I'm sure I'd love it. Nostalgia not withstanding, Vampire: the Masquerade was and still is a great game. Taken on it's own Merits, the setting is currently unparalelled in it's gravity and appeal. The ruleset, while not perfect, was intrinsic in providing the dramatic and entertaining results I remember from my years of playing the game. All RPG players should have a copy of the game on their shelf. Strictly a classic RPG.
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