Has it really been 20 years?
Obviously it has, since the 20th Anniversary Edition of Vampire: the Masquerade is coming. I’m definitely interested, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which the time I spent playing that game both on the table and in live action. This pending milestone, plus my current re-read of Niven & Barnes’ Dream Park, has me thinking back on those times I donned a suit for a purpose other than a job interview.
Masquerade was a fun and engrossing game world, but it wasn’t without its flaws. A diverse set of clans for power specialization and fluff flavors coupled with an intriguing take on old vampire legends made it appealing right out of the box. The premise of it being based on ‘personal horror’ was fascinating as well, to me: what does this change, these powers, mean on a personal level? How hard will you fight against these new instincts, this new society, to hold on to the person you were? How far will you go to make a place for yourself among the other creatures of the night? These questions, to me, were far more important to me than any number of filled-in circles on a character sheet, especially in retrospect.
There’s a part of me that wonders if I left a good amount of this really juicy storytelling material unexplored. When I first became acquainted with the game I was still developmental in both my abilities for telling tales and my maturity in handling character beats. To put it another way, I was all about the circles. As time went on I did delve into some of the deeper issues but more often than not, real life found a way to upset the pace I was setting for myself in an ongoing Masquerade game.
Then came Requiem. I haven’t played it anywhere near as much as Masquerade, although I did get a great taste of it when I met Will Hindmarch. The questions are still there, but the answers felt odd, in a way. There felt like there was a clean disconnect between who a character was after becoming a vampire, and who they were before. Maybe it’s just me, but the pitch and timbre of the ‘music’ of Requiem felt a bit more avant-garde than that of Masquerade.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great stuff in Requiem. I adore the fact that they did away with cookie-cutter villains, letting player factions and politics become the crux of the drama in gameplay. The change to clans felt a bit odd to me; while I acknowledge it adds potential diversity through bloodlines, it also seemed like an overcomplication of an aspect of the game that didn’t need fixing, in my humble opinion. The obliteration of the Cainite history, and most history for that matter, felt like the least-welcome change. Traditions, tales and lore added depth and a sense of weight to the condition of the players: You are a product of all that has come before you, and it’s up to you if you follow in those bloody footsteps or strike out on your own. In Requiem, any ties to your past or your lineage is tangential at best. There’s less pressure on the player… fewer questions asked.
I’ve long felt that the perfect vampire game (at least in the World of Darkness) lies somewhere between these two settings. The Cainite history, august lineages of the clans with their centuries of infighting, betrayal, absorption and breakaways and deeper personal questions from Masquerade coupled with the faction politics and cagey-yet-social nature of the Beast from Requiem seems like the best of both worlds. Then again, that could just be me. Either way, the characters continue to be the focus of any decent story, and when it comes to the World of Darkness, they’ve been fascinating for 20 years and hopefully will continue to be so for many more years to come.
Header image courtesy Highmoon’s Ponderings