Interview with Nathan and Bob 25 Years of Vampire

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Nathan and Bob of the podcast, 25 Years of Vampire:The Masquerade A Retrospective were willing to do an interview with us about their show. If you are doing a WoD podcast and would like to do a similar interview, please let me know. I think it is interesting to get into the heads of those of us who are podcasting and writing about these games and why. Please click the link below to listen to the interview. You can find their podcast on their website and on iTunes.

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Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands

 

An Interview with Chill and Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary Developer Matthew McFarland

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According to the Onyx Path development Blog the Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary edition is nearing completion, and rumors about that the Monsters Sourcebook for Chill 3rd edition is nearing completion.  Given these exciting developments it only made sense for Victor Kinzer and Simon Eichhörnchen to ask Matthew McFarland who is leading development on both of these projects to talk a little bit about these projects and he graciously agreed.

Victor: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.  For anyone who isn’t familiar, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history developing games?

Sure! I started writing games professionally in 1997. White Wolf Game Studio had an all-call for writers, and I sent in the first bit of a novella I was working on. That novella is thankfully lost to time, but it did get me a job writing on Giovanni Chronicles IV, and then I slowly infiltrated the rest of the World of Darkness lines and eventually got a full-time job as Dark Ages developer.

I left White Wolf in 2004, and went to grad school to become a speech-language pathologist, because while you can have steady work in the RPG industry, it was a little too unstable for me as a new dad. In 2012, my wife Michelle Lyons-McFarland and I started our own small press games company, Growling Door Games, Inc. We published two single-book story games (curse the darkness and A Tragedy in Five Acts), and then 2014 we obtained the license to publish a new edition of the classic horror RPG Chill.

Simon: What was it that attracted you to the projects you’re working on now?

Right now, I’m working on a couple of freelance projects for Onyx Path Publishing (which licenses the World of Darkness from the new owners at Paradox)[Editor’s Note, The World of Darkness is a property of White Wolf, AB a subsidiary of Paradox Entertainment Inc.], including the Beast Player’s Guide for Beast: The Primordial and the second edition of Hunter: The Vigil. Can’t talk much about Hunter; that’s Monica Valentinelli’s show, and I’m just a writer. Beast is very much my show; the game was mine pretty much from the ground up (though of course I had a really awesome team of people helping to put it all together), and I’m excited about the Player’s Guide. It’s a chance to flesh out the areas of Beast that I don’t think came through as well as we wanted in the core book, and also follow the time-honored tradition of adding new cool powers, new “splats”, and new toys for players to use.

Outside of Onyx Path, I just finished up writing a sourcebook for Chil called Monsters. It’s a bestiary book, in a way, but it’s also a look into the world of Chill and how the organization dedicated to fighting the Unknown, SAVE, approaches creatures that don’t fall into easily understandable categories (vampires, ghosts, werewolves, etc.). Monsters is the first book in a good long while that I’ve written entirely myself, and it was fun flexing those muscles again. (Monsters should be available for sale in August, by the way.)

Victor: The Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary is the first new edition of the game since 1997.  Can you talk about what your approach was to updating Changeling to the world of the 20teens?

The 20th Anniversary Edition games were meant to keep the feel of the old games, but to update the world around them and (in the case of Changeling) become the revised edition they never got. As such, our approach was to look at what made Changeling awesome. We tried to keep the whimsy, but also the tragedy. One of the greatest explanations of Changeling I ever heard (from a friend and player in Atlanta many years ago) was that it’s like someone pointing a gun at your head and saying “be happy.” We tried to keep that notion, that dreams are hard to maintain in the face of the crushing pressure of the “real world,” but they’re all the more important because of that.

The other thing we wanted to do give changelings a little more magical “oomph.” I’m not a believer in “game balance” as it’s usually defined (that is, given a featureless white room, could two characters stand an equal chance of killing each other), but I do think that changelings in previous editions were a bit too fragile. We changed magical mechanics a bit, and brought in the notion of Unleashing (originally from Dark Ages: Fae) so that changelings have the chance to court disaster with the power of Glamour.  

Victor: One of the major focuses of Keep is inclusivity in gaming, so we have a few questions about the Gallain.  In a blog post about your early playtests for Changeling, you said the theme for the edition is  “powerful nobles hiding in freeholds and staying young while the changelings outside freeze”.  In previous editions the various groups of Gallain were presented with either less oppressive nobles or no specifically noble kith.  Since C20 includes all the Fae how are you including the non European kiths in the theme of this edition?

That’s one theme of the edition, and it definitely resonates more with the European Kithain than the Gallain. The Gallain are in the book, but they’re not the focus of the game (they’re in the Appendix and while there’s enough to play them, it’s severely truncated due to space constraints). I know that’s a roundabout way to answer the question, but the answer is that Gallain don’t get included in the same way, except perhaps insofar as to note that even the “commoner” Kithain, who are the bottom class of that particular system, still get to participate in that system. Gallain don’t, necessarily (which might not matter, depending on where they are).

Simon: Part of any good story is compelling antagonists. Changeling’s ultimate enemies, the autumn people, the people who disbelieve the fae out of existence, are a powerful metaphor for the destruction of culture. With that in mind, how do you go about creating autumn people that speak to that kind of horror while at the same time being sensitive to real world colonization experienced by the cultures reflected by the Gallain?

What’s scary about the autumn people, to me, is that they don’t have to confront the fae to destroy them. They’re not aggressive (necessarily), they’re confirmation bias made manifest. They’re a form of privilege, if you will, because they don’t see what they don’t need to see. I think that’s pretty relevant for the Gallain and their cultures, too (though of course, not all Gallain use dreams and Glamour the same way as Kithain).

Simon: Given that the Inanimae can reflect how different cultures perceive their environments how do you see the Inanimae fitting into the 20th Anniversary of Changeling?

One of the notions that the book brings up is that during the Mythic Age, everything dreamed, including the world. Bearing in mind that, like the other Gallain, the Inanimae don’t get a lot of space in Changeling 20th, I think the takeaway is that part of ignoring dreams and Glamour is ignoring the natural world. That’s something that people (both in the World of Darkness and in the real world) do at their peril, but it’s hard, and again, what makes autumn people scary and frustrating isn’t that they go out of their way to ruin the world (a la Pentex) but that they can blithely ignore the problems.

It’s easy to imagine an Inanimae looking at a changeling and saying, “well, sure, whine all you want, but people still write books, using paper that they make from the mulched-up bodies of my family.”

Womb of the Earth by Lydia Burris


Victor: When I first started playing the World of Darkness I was in a community of gamers where Changeling was incredibly popular, but in more recent years I’ve discovered that a lot of White Wolf fans feel Changeling doesn’t fit into the broader World of Darkness.  Where do you think this sentiment comes from, and did you make any changes in C20 you can tell us about that help the fae interact literally and thematically with the broader World of Darkness?

So, personally, I never had any trouble making Changeling fit into the greater World of Darkness. I used to do a lot of crossover (still do, for my Chronicles of Darkness games, where it’s much easier), and what it boils down to is that themes unique to one game might not work for all the others, but there are themes that are intrinsic to the World of Darkness as a whole. The death of creativity and passion is strongest for Changeling, of course, but tell me you couldn’t make that work for Vampire, too. Hell, “our way of life is dying” is perfect for Werewolf as well as Changeling. “Discovery and passion are intoxicating but dangerous:” Changeling and Mage.

Mechanically, of course there are some things you have to work around (not everyone has the same Traits, for instance), and if you’re doing crossover, you can’t just throw any old characters together and think they’ll work. I happen to think that’s true no matter what game you’re playing, though.

Simon: Throughout the CtD line the three major Gallain groups, the Nunnehi, the Menehune and the Hsien, are either excluded from or not a part of the Dreaming. Has this dynamic changed at all in C20?

We don’t get into the cosmology of it very much, due to space. Nunnehi and Menehune still deal more with spiritual expressions of Glamour than Dreaming-based expressions, though.

Victor: I’d like to talk briefly about another one of your upcoming projects, the Monsters sourcebook for the Chill Role Playing game published by your company Growling Door Games.  Can you tell us a little bit about Chill, and the Monster book specifically for anyone who isn’t familiar with the game?

Chill is an investigate horror RPG in which players take on the roles of members of SAVE (the Eternal Society of the Silver Way). SAVE is an organization dedicated to protecting people from the Unknown (the supernatural in general), which feeds on humanity’s fear, misery, pain, and sometimes just flesh and blood. Our first sourcebook, called SAVE: The Eternal Society, delved into the history and current state of the organization.

Monsters, like I mentioned earlier, is a bestiary book, but it’s also mostly written in-character, from the perspective of a SAVE researcher working on a classification system for monsters. It was a lot of fun to delve into how SAVE saw these creatures when she was writing it (in the 1980s) and then add commentary from a more contemporary agent. There are a lot of fun “Easter eggs” in the book that refer back to the Chill core book and to SAVE, and I think it will be fun for readers to see these characters’ stories as they read about these monsters.

The second edition of Chill presented adversary books in this format (Lycanthropes, Vampires, Apparitions), and I was always impressed with how skillfully the in-character information evoked the horror of the setting. I’m trying for something like that: Fun to read, evocative for players and Chill Masters.


Victor: I saw you comment online a few months ago about tweaks you were making to the Monsters in the book to remove some of the invisible bias that was present in previous editions of the game.  Can you talk a little bit about how you approached this and in general how you approach making those kinds of revisions to RPGs with established fan bases who may be resistant to any changes in their favorite games?

As far as making changes to games with loyal fanbases, I’ve always found that if you try to please everyone, you please no one. I love the 2nd Edition of Chill, and our edition draws very heavily on that one. I’ve always been very clear about that, and while I do get fans of the first edition sometimes who complain that our version isn’t enough like that one (the first edition drew more inspiration from pulp-horror and Hammer films), for the most part folks grasp what we’re doing and are with us.


I think the comment you’re referring to was in noting that there were quite a few creatures in previous editions that presented as female, and were said to “tempt” or “deceive” men. If you look at how female-presenting creatures appear in horror generally, you see a lot of that, so it’s by no means unique to
Chill or to RPGs, but since one of the big themes of Chill is that fear becomes manifest in the Unknown, I wanted to address that. I play a lot with the notion of unreliable narrators in Monsters, talking about SAVE making assumptions that it really has no business making, and members letting their own biases creep in. The kind of meta effect of that is that we wind up hanging a lantern on some of the sexist implications of previous work; Dr. Garrett, the narrator of Monsters, notes that female-presenting creatures are consistently described in certain ways that male-presenting or genderless creatures are not.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands

How Not To Be *That* Gamer: Five Easy Tips

Remember back in the mists of time when you were just learning to play a game, hunched over a table at your Friendly Local Game Store? Trying to absorb the reams of information your friend was pouring into your brain? When you didn’t know what a con save was, or a bluff check, or a dump stat? Maybe this is the first time you had ever learned that dice came with more than six sides, or that there was more than one LOTR-type elf.


Remember when the know-it-all world-weary grognard ambled by and told you everything your friend was telling you was wrong and there is Only One True Way/Edition/Faction? Remember the crushing look of defeat on your friend’s face, and how that one person soured your affection towards the game?

Remember when you really, really wished you could jump in the TARDIS, distract yourself with a phone call, take your own place at the table, and tell that person to take a flying leap into the Pit of Despair?

That happened to some people near and dear to me this week – and someone needs to bring this up, so we as a community can stop this travesty from happening. New players are the lifeblood of our culture, and we have GOT to stop inflicting our own pet peeves and biases on new people, so they can enjoy developing their own.


Here’s a brief checklist of how not to be *That* Gamer:

 

Point the First: If you see someone explaining a game to someone else, and the party of the second part looks confused – mind your own damn business. Let the person doing the explaining do the talking, unless you know them. In that case, ASK IF YOU CAN HELP. Do not, repeat, do not, just assume that everyone wants to hear your opinions.


The one caveat to this follows: If it is a game you love, if there is a natural break in the conversation (Point the Second will address this), you can politely say “Oh, you’re talking about Warbling Mongooses! I love that game! It’s really fun. Welcome to the community. I’m *Name*. Let me know if you’d like a game or if you have any questions.” Then walk away unless invited to comment more – but wait for the invitation.

And for the love of spice, remember to introduce yourself. There’s nothing worse than being approached by a random person that you will likely run into again, but you can only remember them as “that guy in the Metroid T-shirt” or “that lady with the purple hair”.

If you mention this game, and I can hear you… I’ll probably say how much I love it. It’s an awesome game.

Point the Second: Do not interrupt someone explaining a game to a new person, particularly if your interruption involves some obscure bit of trivia that is not relevant. This creates a lot of confusion and, frankly, makes you look like an ass.

Example: “Oh, Warbling Mongooses? You know, in the second errata of the third edition, they ruled that female mongooses can only warble in the contralto register on the second Thursday of a month without an R in it.”

 

If there is a natural lull in the conversation, you can politely (that word again, I know) ask if you can contribute something to the explanation. Be prepared to accept “no” as an answer.

 

“Hey, I heard you guys talking about Warbling Mongooses. New player? That’s great. You’re lucky to be starting now, the rules are so much simpler after the second edition – no more twelve hour game sessions! After you’ve learned the basics, let me know if you’d like to play a game or two. Always glad to meet new people.”

Be positive or be silent.

Take Notes Folks

Point the Third: So, the grizzled veteran (GV) and the eager young convert (EYC) are sitting at the FLGS table, playing a hand of Warbling Mongooses – and the new person looks like they are getting the hang of it. DO NOT walk up to the table and start pointing out how the new person (or the veteran, for that matter) are playing it wrong.

 

WRONG:

GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: (as GV is opening their mouth to correct their student) Oh hey, you can’t play that, it’s the wrong phase. Contratenors can only be played during waxing crescent. You shouldn’t be playing contratenors anyway. Mezzosopranos are so much better! I’ve got a wicked Mezzosoprano deck that just beats faces all day long. Oh, by the way, if you play that baritone in the next move and follow it up with a second tenor, you’ll win in the next turn.

RIGHT:
GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: *silence*

GV: No, wait, you can’t play that during this phase. See the moon phase icon on the card? You have to match that to the indicator on the table.

EYC: Oh, right. Yeah. My bad.

*Game continues*

 

Most people learn best from one source at a time. If you aren’t that source, wait until you are asked for assistance or a natural break in the game to add a comment. No one likes to be told how to win – part of the joy of gaming is figuring out your own win conditions.

 

Point the Fourth: So the EYC has become a convert to Warbling Mongooses, and you see them playing with their GV mentor. They are doing okay but still making some mistakes, maybe not playing with an optimal deck. You are at your FLGS and see them playing. You approach the table, and:

 

“Dude, that deck sucks, and contratenors are always weak against basses and contraltos. You should be playing mezzosopranos and second bass against that match up. Have you seen my deck? I’ve put like $1,000 and ten years into my deck! It kicks so much ass! Make this play and this play and this play and you’ll win right now.” *

 

*Change the subject of the sentence (sub a particular faction of minis in a popular war game in for the Mongooses) and this is a faithful transcription of what I heard. I wish I was exaggerating.

 

Shut up. Shut up right now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not use your love for a hobby as a brandishing weapon about how much disposable income and free time you have. Go home and rethink your life if you think this kind of behavior is even marginally acceptable.

 

Repeat after me: Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once.

 

Instead, after the game is over, you can walk up to the table, introduce yourself, and offer to help.

 

“Hey, I’m *Name*. Saw you were playing Mongooses and having a little bit of trouble – that was a tough match. I’ve been playing for forever and I might have some extra cards that could help you out. Interested?”

 

Again, be prepared to accept “no, thank you” as an answer. Sometimes people don’t want help. It’s not your place to ram it down their throats. That being said, I have never seen a sincere offer turned down. Often, the new player will ask the person making the offer for advice or suggestions. Voila, there’s a bit of camaraderie to add to the community. Good for you. You get a gold star and/or a cookie.

 

For new players that tend to be a bit on the defensive side (like me): This is the time where you get to mind your manners as well. If someone is legitimately offering to help you, not trying to wave their more-gamer-than-thou card in your face, the least you can do is give them a polite answer.

Unrelated Clouds

Point the Fifth: Thou shalt not condemn anyone’s choice of faction – or means of choosing a faction – especially when they are just getting started! There’s no faster way to crush a tendril of interest than to be told everything they find intriguing is bad or stupid.

 

We’ve all heard of the, poorly named, “girlfriend method” – where the person picks their faction (or equivalent, say, their Commander for M:tG) based on what they think is pretty.

 

There’s not a damn thing wrong with this. In fact, my gaming mentor specifically mentions this method to all people he introduces to his gaming drug of choice. It’s simple logic: you’re going to have to be looking at them while you are playing them, so you might as well choose something you find aesthetically pleasing.

 

Most people get into a game by choosing a faction they loved (or one that was handed to them), using it to learn the game, and then upgrading to a “stronger” faction when/if they decide to become a more competitive player. For example, I learned to play Commander using a prebuilt 2013 Commander deck that I would never willingly choose to play again. Now I’ve built my own and I love it, despite its flaws.  

 

They may never progress beyond a casual player, but they at least will enjoy looking at the models/cards they have chosen. If they ask for advice, and they might, especially if their mentor/teacher shows that your opinion is worth listening to – then you can provide your opinions in a constructive way. “I really love playing contraltos/sopranos, because I love tricksy combos, but if you want a more aggressive, straightforward deck, you might want to look at…”

 

No one, and I mean no one, decides to walk into a game store and become a world-champion player of anything the first time they play it. Let the neophytes choose their doom in whatever manner they choose. It’s no skin off your nose.

 

Bonus Point the Sixth: Compliment a game well played, or a clever play, or a well-painted miniature, or a cool playmat. Say something nice to a new player; don’t cross the creeper line. When you are meeting a new player for the first time, be friendly, offer a compliment, but nothing you wouldn’t say to a stranger on the street.

Also Unrelated, but a cool picture

For those of you in the socially awkward demographic, an example:

 

“That’s an awesome *insert fandom* T-shirt/hat/lanyard/patch!” “That’s a really pretty playmat!” “I haven’t seen that variant of that model before – that’s cool!”

 

These are okay. Any comments on a gamer’s appearance that you wouldn’t say in front of a judge are NOT okay.  Just keep that simple rule in mind and you’ll likely stay out of trouble.

 

Also, as a side note: remember and respect personal space. You’re at a FLGS, not squeezed on a Tokyo subway. Give people room to breathe and to not feel like you are cornering them or pinning them against a table. Be aware of your presence.  

 

I know this sounds like a lot of “mind your own business”, and that sounds antisocial. It’s not, really. You want new players to feel comfortable in your gaming locale of choice, and it can be intimidating as hell to be in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers. If that new player walks into a store to laughter and people having fun, gets greeted by smiles and open acceptance – well, a good first impression works wonders, as they say.

 

Remember, everyone was new once. We should always be open to inviting new people into our hobbies and our gaming dens – and we need to police our own. If an LGS isn’t welcoming to new players, or tolerates behavior that ostracizes players, vote with your feet and your dollars and go somewhere else. We are all responsible for our community and the members within it.

 

May all your 20’s be natural,

 

Georgia

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a courier and personal cook while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.

Vampire The Masquerade Prelude


Yesterday we saw the first releases of content from the new White Wolf. Like expected, they tackle some heavy themes. Though I’m only a chapter into the Mage The Ascension: Refuge, I’m enjoying the setting of modern day Sweden and the refugee crisis that is impacting that country. We’ll do a full review of that piece of interactive fiction soon, and I’m already impressed. Both of these games are called preludes, and the style of story should be familiar to many RPG fans. These are introductory stories for new characters being brought into the World of Darkness. White Wolf is  slowly peeling back the shadow curtain, giving us a glimpse into their vision for the One World of Darkness.

All images used are from the game and are the property of White Wolf and our use of them here is simply to help those on the fence decide if they will purchase the product, or not.

Vampires

This is a review of Vampire The Masquerade: We Eat Blood or All Our Friends are Dead. The first thing that hit me was the art style. I’m not art critic, but the image style helped sell this game to me. There is an ambiance it provides a subtle sense of depth and horror, you seem to get a sense of the distorted perception of reality that the narrator, Case, is experiencing.

From the start, the interface for the story is a series of text messages boxes. You have choices of specific responses, much like more advanced RPG dialogue trees. Some of these responses are truncated, but many of the options are pretty clear or fully developed. This creates a surprisingly deep immersive story. You’ll interact with several different individuals throughout, but you’ll mostly talk with Izzy, your close friend, possibly lover (if I read some of the sub-text correctly). The texts back and forth between Izzy and Case set the the scene. You start riding a run-down bus headed from somewhere to somewhere else. There was an event that led to your embrace, but this truth is only slowly revealed through play.

My first death happened during one of the first choice sections of the story. You can choose who you will feed from, and choosing the ‘goose-faced bus driver’ was a terrible decision and I saw the cracked screen and blood droplets that would begin to signal a common sight for me while I was working through the story. In fact, near the end, I was dying much more frequently than not. It might have been interesting to have a few more ‘fail-forward’ story arcs. Of course, that requires more content as well, so there will always be limits in this format.

Themes and Story Elements

There are a lot of subtle horror elements in the story line. There are elements of body horror, images are  slightly askew, hunger and a desire to feed are described vividly, pictures on screen alter with blood during feeding, and there is a bit of splatter horror. If you make it through your first feeding, if you are successful, the story really starts. My goal is to avoid spoilers from here, but I will talk about certain elements I thought were interesting or impactful.

 

The setting is the United States, particularly Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles, though, at times, this feels slightly forced. This may have been due to the decisions I made, but I could easily see this story being set anywhere and it might have been interesting to leave the exact locations a bit more obscure. Some of the NPCs in the story may appear in earlier White Wolf books, I’m not sure, but there appears to be at least one Anarch character from the original LA By Night book. I’ll let you determine who that is yourself.(Editor’s note… I was wrong about Alonzo, not the same character.)

 

You Are What You Eat

White Wolf has gone on record saying they would like to elaborate on some elements of Vampire that focus more on what the Kindred get from mortals. One way they have chosen to focus on this is to have the conditions of feeding impact the disciplines a vampire will have access to. The characters in the story reference this, and this reference is something I find intriguing. See the image below.

 

Elders dismiss the “You Are What You Eat,” concept, which makes me wonder if there will be some form of mechanic in the 5th edition rules based on generation or on length of time as a vampire that will allow for some impact? Perhaps you’ll be able to retain the ability for certain disciplines longer the older you are? This is complete conjecture, but it is an interesting idea and I’m looking forward to how it might be implemented. At the very least, it gives me some plot hooks to build into games.

 

The Beckoning

This is referenced very briefly, and may be a plot line only applicable to a specific clan. That being said… this sounds cool. Something is pulling elder vampires away from their territory leaving a power vacuum. Whatever sort of story element this offers in game, I’m excited to hear more about it. The brief reference in this story is a great hook. It’s got me interested.

 

Masquerade Meta-Plot

 

Most of the early story takes place focused around Case, Izzy, and their transition into vampirism. As you dive deeper into the story, elements of the Vampire meta-plot begin filtering in. We are granted a few references to the Book of Nod, mentions of a few of the great clans, one magical one in particular, and references are made to the Anarchs. All in all, this is a prelude and we are not force fed information on the World of Darkness and this is great. This is a hint at some of the awesome story elements that we will see in 5th edition Vampire and the other new products in the One World of Darkness.

 

This Prelude and the Mage prelude are a great way to get reacquainted with the World of Darkness. Are you ready for it?

 

Vampire the Masquerade: We Eat Blood And All Our Friends Are Dead

iTunes, Play Store, Steam

$4.99

Author: Zak Sabbath

Co-Authors: Sarah Horrocks

Martin Elricsson

Music: Lola Zaza

Audio: Björn Iverson

Game Design: Martin Elricsson

Editor: Karim Muammar

Producer: Jon Svenonius

Programming: Stefan Svebeck

Art Direction: Anders Davén

Technical Artist: Staffan Norling

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Narrative Dissonance and Humanity in the World of Darkness

World of Darkness

Who is the true, underlying villain in the original “big five” games of the World of Darkness?  I can’t really think of a more loaded question related to White Wolf’s flagship IP.  At first glance, it seems as though every game has its own villain: Werewolf has the Wyrm; Mage has the Nephandi, and in some editions the Technocracy; Wraith has, well, everyone; and Changeling has humanity itself.  Some editions of Changeling shied away from the Humanity-as-villain narrative, but whether the enemy was the Shadow Court or uncaring nobles, those foes can be traced back to what humanity’s abuses have done to the Fae.

If you look closely, the theme of humanity-as-villain is central to most of the game lines, with Vampire being the one exception.  In Wraith, Oblivion historically is a more productive force than it is today.  Every description of harrowings talks about how they were once a critical part of attaining transcendence, but over the centuries have become increasingly dark and twisted.  When you look at how Oblivion has manifested in the other dark kingdoms, such as the Dark Kingdom of Ivory, where there is no great human administrative infrastructure, the “sins” of Oblivion seem less cosmological and more the result of humanity’s relationship with their darker impulses.  This is hardly the only game where we see these tropes.

Mage is an even more acute example.  As the Technocracy-as-villain narrative has been intentionally subverted over time, we have seen the horror of Mage shift, holding up a dark mirror.  Mage is a game about a human being displaying enough hubris to believe they have the power to change reality and the wisdom to do it properly, and then act on that belief.  In many ways, the greatest enemy in Mage are the main characters, and every time you spend experience you are giving that villain more power.  While some view mages as a class of “others” like vampires or werewolves, they are arguably the most distilled expression of human existence in White Wolf’s canon of work.

When the villain lives in the mirror, the villain is humanity.

PentexartIt’s a little harder to see this theme in Werewolf. When you trace the Wyrm’s story, it doesn’t take  long to see the paragon of destruction as a victim, and that leaves the Weaver as the real villain. No matter how much emphasis you put on pattern spiders, or the Weaver’s other spirit minions, her greatest avatars are humans.  Pentex is seen as doing the Wyrm’s work, but they function as a strictly controlled and organized corporation.  I can’t think of anything more Weaver-like or symbolic of modern human advancement than the corporation.

That leaves Vampire, the largest and most financially successful game in the World of Darkness.  This is where these themes fall apart.  Humanity isn’t the primary villain in Vampire; Humanity is idealized in the system as its primary morality trait.  The hierarchy of sins for Humanity, which acts as an in-game guide to which actions will send a character into a crisis of morality, reveals a collection of scolds that elevate Christian moralism more than they reflect anything true about innate humanity.

The humanity dynamic is obviously inspired in part or whole by the challenges faced by Louis in Interview With the Vampire. The Embrace, the struggle with shame and guilt, and many of the social/political themes of Masquerade draw heavily on Anne Rice’s early work, and as a standalone piece inspired by and inspecting some of the questions Rice posed in her books, Masquerade holds up very well.  The problem is that White Wolf then published 4 more games that present a much less flattering view of humanity, and the new White Wolf has publicly stated they want to engage more fully with events from the real world.  In a world where Duterte not only exists but has a non-antagonistic relationship with America’s President, I have a hard time envisioning White Wolf engaging with real world events and political themes while presenting Humanity as a glorified ideal to which Vampires cling.

Are Paths the answer?

Vampire provides an alternative to Humanity in the form of the Paths of Enlightenment, which serve as alternate moralities a vampire can use to hold their beastly hunger in check.  In my personal experience, the Paths of Enlightenment become a way to get around tracking morality far more often than they prompt players to meaningfully inspect themes of self justification, which is how they were originally framed.  The burden of calling for morality checks falls on the ST, and in a Sabbat or Independent game where five players each have a different path of Enlightenment, knowing when a given player has violated their path is cumbersome enough that it is often ignored.

It is also wortTuskegee_University_sealh noting that the current relationship between speculative fiction and the idea of “The Other” is very different than it was in the early 90’s when the first edition of Vampire the Masquerade came out.  Vampire swept several issues related to humanity’s less savory tendencies under the rug.  Vampires aren’t sexist, because why would you care about gender when you are an immortal entity with no sex drive?  Young vampires wouldn’t enter the early days of their unlife with that perspective, though they might shift their views on gender after their first run in with a 500 year old female Tremere – assuming they survived the encounter.  

Additionally, our conversations around prejudice have become more nuanced. Claiming vampires become nothing more than ravaging beasts if they victimize people, regardless of their races, genders, sexual orientations, etc., while allowing humans to take similar actions with no repercussions creates some messy narrative dynamics.  A Kindred held to the sins of the path of humanity would fall to their Beast long before they got around to internalizing the “more enlightened” philosophies that allow them to resist that fall if you allow vampires to demonstrate the kind of monstrosity mortals have perpetrated during the Tuskeegee Syphilis Trials, or the Trail of Tears. As many players have pointed out, we shouldn’t minimize these horrors by pretending that only supernaturals are responsible for such acts in the World of Darkness.  In 2017 it’s hard to ignore these reflections of humanity and if we try to play Vampire without them the game ends up being reduced to little more than the urban fantasy escapism that the new White Wolf has said they want to avoid.

The Future

downloadWhite Wolf has announced that Vampire 5th Edition is slated for 2018, and they are planning on making some pretty dramatic changes to the systems, including changes to what the Beast represents.  If the Beast changes, then the relationship between the Kindred and their morality could change as well.  Personally, I’d like to see a core morality mechanic that emphasizes the creeping alien nature of immortality.  I would like to see a mechanic that accommodates what happens when a genocidal despot or a mass murderer styled after the likes of Dylan Roof is embraced without invoking a Path of Enlightenment that exists only in Vampiric society.  I want to see an edition of Vampire that joins the rest of the World of Darkness in forcing us to stare into the mirror to find our horror instead of allowing us to pretend that some alien other is the true monster in the night.

This may be a tall order, and I know that, like all changes to an established and loved product, a large swath of fans would protest a change to Vampire this drastic.  However, Twenty years of thematic development in the rest of the line and the goals laid out by the new White Wolf necessitate some shifts.  I can’t pretend to know exactly what this change would need to look like, but I think while Vampire 5th ed is in development it’s important to talk about our future hopes for the line, because White Wolf has reached out to their fans and by all indications is really listening to what we have to say.  Instead of just posing a solution, I would like to ask the question: “What morality dynamics would you like to see for Vampire 5th ed, and how can the game more acutely focus on the horror of the human condition instead of the evil of the alien vampire other?”

 

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Is She Hot? The Question Female Gamers Dread

As a female bodied gamer, character creation can be difficult sometimes. No, I’m not talking about the sexist view that women are bad at math, or that complex rules are too hard. I am talking about the answer to the question that I feel most female gamers or female presenting gamers dread. This loaded six word question that means something different when it is asked of a female presenting gamer.

 

Question: What Does Your Character Look Like?

Yes, when a male presenting gamer is asked this question it means exactly what it means, no hidden subtext. Does Valeros have brown hair or black hair? What armor is Harsk wearing? What instrument is Lem carrying today? All of these are perfectly normal questions with normal answers. However when this question is asked of female presenting gamers, it usually does not just mean ‘What does your character look like’ but another question instead.

 

Real Question: Is She Hot/Attractive?

How much skin is Seoni showing? What size are Feiya’s breasts? Is Alahazra’s Charisma high? These are a few of the many subtext questions asked of female presenting gamers. Everyone at the table wants to know if our characters are sexually attractive, and if their characters can get with ours. A fantasy takes over in their minds where they feel if they can befriend our character and get with them, that they can get with us in real life. I know many relationships have come about from first starting an in game friendship (including my own!) but that relies on attraction between the parties being mutual, instead of one sided.

 

Perils of Attractive Characters:

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

Take for example my character Kita. Kita was a Sorcerer in the Pathfinder rules set, so it was beneficial for Charisma to be my highest stat. My first PFS module was The Overflow Archives and I was excited to play in a game at my local gaming shop. In the module there was a section with some fey characters that you could either talk to or fight, and I chose to talk. It was then the party at the table realized my character had high Charisma, and even though they were annoyed I chose to talk instead of fight I was suddenly much more popular. One of the orcs gave me a ride on his shoulders in a flooded part of the dungeon. I got healed almost instantly when I was hurt by the party Cleric.

After the game was over, the Orc player asked me to coffee. I told him I don’t drink coffee so I’d have to decline. Then it was lunch at a restaurant I luckily did not like, so I said no again. Then he asked where I’d like to eat and I walked away, and have not returned to that gaming group. At no point did I learn anything beyond this player’s name, and they knew nothing of me other than my name and that I played a cute female character. They didn’t even ask if I was in a relationship or anything else before making it clear they were looking for a date.

 

Freedom of Unattractive Characters

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Ragin Jane Scarlett, the Woman With No Neck

Conversely to the above, I once played a pirate in the Skulls and Shackles adventure path named Ragin’ Jane Scarlett. She was a Barbarian and guard of her male friend and partner in crime Thomas Stringer. It was often said of Jane that she had no neck, just muscle. She was gruff and unattractive, and had no romantic interest or motherly feelings, and was nothing but platonic towards her adventuring partner. They formed a strong pirate crew and made terror on the high seas for those unfortunate enough to cross them.

No one at this group asked me to coffee, no one flirted with me in character as a veil for out of character. The only ones who made passes at me were a couple NPCs that I scared into submission. It was freeing and refreshing. I’ve played several more unattractive or not specifically attractive tabletop characters, including just playing men instead.  I find that most GMs and players leave alone male characters when it comes to their looks and don’t bring it up as often if at all.

 

Attractive/Unattractive Characters and LARP

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

At one point in my LARP career, I played an attractive Brujah named Gianna (not pictured) who was a prostitute in her mortal life, inspired by Ros on the Game of Thrones show. Gigi, as her coterie and bloodline called her, wore short shorts that I shyly wore to game with tights under. I posted a selfie in the shorts after game, proud of wearing them. Almost instantly there were comments from the other players about the naughty thoughts they had and what they wanted to do with me. I did not ask for a review of how I looked or how nice the shorts and tights made my butt look. I deleted the picture because of how uncomfortable the comments made me, but I and many female presenting gamers deal with these comments constantly. Some can’t even post pictures of new Pokemon slippers without commenters asking for nude pictures.

I currently play Rook (pictured above), a Nosferatu that I have written about before. Once when visiting a game, I showed up already in costume. No one flirted with me in character because they found me or my character attractive. I looked unattractive with a gaunt face and giant cloak. I enjoyed an evening being able to be unharassed. Once the game was over, I stood up straight and revealed that my body is in fact female. I had several people whom I did not talk to all game tell me that the RP with me was good. They were all male presenting with surprised looks on their faces that I was female bodied. Up to that moment they disregarded me because they couldn’t see my female body, and I loved it.

 

The Answer: It Doesn’t Matter!

When I’m asked what my character looks like, I sigh.  I am always ready for them to follow up with “Is She Hot?” when I fail (on purpose usually) to mention their attractiveness. I tend to ask them why it matters and most of the time I find that it doesn’t actually matter. These are my experiences, and yours may be different. I feel that if you ask your female presenting friends you’ll find similar patterns of behavior towards their characters. When they play ugly or unattractive characters they will be treated normally. Female characters that are attractive are targeted by others who want to push their fantasies on the character. Perhaps keep this and the follow up article in mind next time you want to ask “Is She Hot?”


Anna uses she/her pronouns and is an avid LARPer.. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community. She’s a console gamer, and is the proud owner of two loving cats. She can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Pimenov Bloodline

prisma-grigori

Grigori seen in Maine circa 2001

Pimenov

I finally remember that peculiar smell that wafted into my nose as I was burned alive. It’s not something you expect to forget… but when you’ve lost your mind, and at least one body like I have… things are a little different.

We should never have left Siberia, or at least, we shouldn’t have tried to find the homeland of our grand-sires. Tatiana… Nicolai… Henri… gods, even that fool Kirov, all of them dead because of my fool need to know where we came from. The truth is, even if our blood did descend from Carpathian madness… we were nothing like them and nor are my new childer.

Grigori Pimenov took over an inn by devouring the blood and soul of Andrei, but worse, he became Andrei instead of staying Grigori. At the same time, Grigori became Vassily, an old beggar that would only slip through the streets late at night. It is hard to use I when remembering these things… my mind was shattered into these different bodies. Vassily forgot who Grigori was, Andrei was content that his inn was the best, no one could challenge him and all of them forgot they were one.

I’ve been thinking on this for a few years now. Do I call myself Grigori again, now that my mind has been brought together? Or do I choose a new name? Vassily was never a name I wished to keep, but it’s been with me the longest. It was the first I retrieved from Sofia. I don’t even remember all the different names any longer. Adam, or Mattescu, or Cecelia… names just fade away to reveal a scattering of simultaneous memory. Like a land of dreams, they all sit like a fog until I peel back the layers. The stories I know; the tales I could tell. When those around you see you as safe, as one of them… they tell you everything.

Pimenov Bloodline:

The Pimenov Bloodline are likely descended from the Tzimisce. Stories from Vildergohm (deep in the Carpathian Mountains) assign that clan to Grigori and his brood. However, they have been tainted by madness in a way that no other Tzimisce (other than perhaps the Eldest) are known to be afflicted. This madness comes from their mixture of the Dementation discipline, Auspex, and Vicissitude. The question comes up, who taught them Dementation? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Their particular mix of these three disciplines gave rise to some interesting usages. The Bloodline tends to stick together, with sires often embracing at least 3 companions… or perhaps splitting themselves into 3 personalities. There appears to be some similarities between the Blood Brothers and the Pimenov and it’s unclear if they are related in any way. Modern sightings of the bloodline place them in Washington, DC, Seoul, and southern Germany.

Disciplines:

Auspex, Dementation, Vicissitude

Bloodline Weakness: Pimenov are all afflicted with a Derangement that functions similarly to the Malkavian clan weakness. Due to their particular power set, forms of dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple-personality disorder), fugue, or other memory related Derangements tend to be the most appropriate.

Combination Disciplines:

Multiply the Mind:  Auspex 4, Vicissitude 4, Dementation 2: Multiply the Mind allows a Pimenov to create separate bodies for their various personalities. These bodies exist as completely separate beings from the time of their separation. Each personality continues to carry the Curse of Caine. A would-be diablerist cannot lower their generation without finding and devouring every personality.

System:

Creating a new body requires the expenditure of a permanent point of willpower, this willpower may not be repurchased through XP until the personality is reabsorbed. The new body must be fed within 5 minutes or experience frenzy. Each personality is considered 1 generation higher than the primary and this increases by 1 for every personality. For example: primary is 7th gen, first split is 8th, second is 9th, third is 10th. The new body has only the memories imparted by its particular personality and fabricates memories to fill out an entire life. Separated personalities may learn different disciplines apart from one another, but upon recombining the reformed Cainite will retain average rating of any discipline, rounded down. If any portion of the Pimenov is diablerized the primary Pimenov may still reacquire their knowledge through the subsequent diablerie of the diablerist. Each recombination requires a decision by the player to determine what path the various personalities will follow. This should be a storytelling moment. All Pimenov personalities may ghoul, and embrace. Any bonded beings are bonded only to their distinct personality, if that personality is reabsorbed, the bond dissolves as if their domitor had perished. The Pimenov can reabsorb any of their personalities at any time by being in direct physical contact and spending a point of blood. The merger takes at least 3 rounds. If a personality is sent to final death, it’s memories can also be reabsorbed if a significant portion of that body’s ash can be recovered and eaten.

This power costs 28 XP to learn.

GUEST REVIEW MET WEREWOLF 2016


So a quick history: White Wolf published a LARP (Live Action Role Play) variant of their Old World of Darkness (oWoD) series in the early and mid-90s dubbed Mind’s Eye Theater (MET). By Night Studios (BNS) recently acquired the right to make new LARP materials from oWoD and have set out to create newly revamped systems that are based today  incorporate more recent societal themes. This is a review  of their newest book in this reimagining, Werewolf:The Apocalypse.

                                                                   The Story

werewolf-cover

All Images Used are the Property of By Night Studios, White Wolf, and their Respective Owners, they are used here under fair use, any concerns please alert us ASAP

In the original setting, the world ended around 2000. To allow for the game to be more modern, BNS had to work from the point where the world would have ended, forward, and continue to build the world. This was a monumental job that could have fallen flat if they had gone in the wrong direction. Instead, they hit it out of the ballpark.

The story moving in to the current era is plausible, interesting, and makes for a large amount of story hooks for any storyteller. The feeling of something akin to an Apocalypse happening was preserved. At the same time, the authors moved both the game and the setting forward. I feel the most impressive thing they did was characterizing the cyber generation, especially in a game historically defined by hatred of technology (and sometimes progress). The inclusion of two political factions (The Concordat of Stars and the Sanctum of Gaia) working both together and against one another while fighting the same war also adds a new angle that storytellers can use if heavy meta-politics are their players’ jam.

Most importantly to me, some of the tribes have moved forward to become fully fleshed out, living groups of people. Black Furies accept all women and cubs of both genders born to the tribe, the Wendigo aren’t solely just angry native people, and in general, the setting incorporates globalization of our culture in a very appropriate and respectful way. I’m not saying that if you hadn’t dug deeper in to those tribes I mentioned before you wouldn’t have found life and spark, but this is an area where I feel the previous LARP books did a disservice. I feel like BNS went above and beyond to truly give new players a glance in to a living, breathing cultural organization of people, especially ones with more sensitive themes.

Mechanics

If you are familiar with rock-paper-scissors, you can play this game. Mechanically not much is changed from BNS’s MET: Vampire: the Masquerade (VtM). You have test pools determined by your sheet, you throw rock-paper-scissors, you compare your results and then things happen. Some elements are new, but if you are familiar with the other book, this book is an almost seamless transition. It’s also obvious that this is BNS’s second book, because concerns with MET: VtM have either been corrected or elaborated upon (backgrounds, etc.).

The only mechanic that is truly new, and I feel makes the game stand out from its companion, is the Quest System. Players develop a Quest, work together to determine requirements, and then, regardless of success or failure, collectively create a shared narrative. This emphasizes player cooperation and agency, while reducing storyteller stress. It’s a great example of a system promoting positive play and I am very impressed with it. I have heard a lot of Vampire storytellers that want to incorporate it in to their game and I look forward to that.

Relevance to New and Old Playersrokea

I would like to preface this section with the fact that BNS talked with the community at large about what they liked and disliked about Werewolf, and it’s pretty obvious that they took those suggestions to heart in their development of the new book. They made a lot of changes to make the game more palatable, easier to run, and easier to play.

My old group of players has an adage. “Forget what you knew before, read through the book and that’s what you have.” There is a lot of difference between the original Werewolf and this one. But these changes aren’t bad, especially considering the backstory of the book. If you like Werewolf, you’ll definitely find the old Werewolf you love deep inside the heart of this book, as well as a whole new world to explore

For newer players, this book is a great introduction to the genre. With the inclusion of definite mechanics and story hooks that allow for inexperienced players to play as Kinfolk (the human relatives of werewolves), and Cubs (newly changed werewolves), and also to become actively involved in the story, even as low powered creatures (I’m looking at you Den Mother), even the greenest oWoD player can truly become involved and captured by the system and story. Don’t try and read the whole thing in one sitting though.

Storytellers are given a lot of information and a lot of meat to sink their fangs in to. The Umbra section alone could be an entire 5 year chronicles. This makes the book great for someone trying to run a game, especially if paired with its sister book, Vampire the Masquerade. There are 750+ pages of pure information to sink your teeth into and you have all the time in the world to get to know it.

Art:

This needed its own section. The art is amazing, representative, evocative, and while the style may be slightly strange at first, it meshes well. There are depictions of strength and serenity in both genders. It’s some great stuff.

skin-dancerBut… it’s not perfect.

My major gripe is that there are firmly more depictions of men than women (by a factor of maybe ¼ from a quick count through the book) and there are a few ‘sexy poses’ that women are in that you don’t see the men paralleling (I’m looking at you page 735). There’s nothing wrong with sexy, but similar poses could have been employed in some of the male images. Also the bewildered and bored look that the two women in the Pentex scene respectively have (page 610) hurt my soul a little bit compared to the businesslike and serious look the men have.

These seem like petty gripes, but I hold BNS to high standards in regards to being open and accommodating to the community, and art is one of the major ways that the gaming community has majorly failed to do this in the past.

Overall, the art is stunning, and despite these issues the full color renderings of them make me want an art book with more.

Portability:

So there is one Were-Elephant in the room I’d like to address. The original LARP books were small and portable. This book is not. While the 750+ pages are absolutely glorious and give you all the information you could ever need, it’s also a monster of a book. There are ways around this (printing and creating subsection binders, e-readers, etc.), but those are hoops that the consumer has to jump through themselves. Also, the size does seem to mess with certain e-readers and PDF readers, so a B&W option of the pdf at some point in the future would be appreciated.mourning

Final Verdict

This is an amazing book. It’s a great re-imagining of Werewolf that addresses and deals with a large amount of the issues that the community was vocal about. It’s obvious that the two years of work that both BNS and the community put in to it have paid off and I feel like this is definitely going to revitalize a once dying subset of the LARP community. They have taken a part of oWoD that I loved but was always hesitant to suggest due to problematic issues in the original source material and morphed it in to something I would suggest to most, if not all, of my LARPing friends to try out at least once.

 

 

Will Martin has been LARPing since college and has found no reason to stop yet and is quite fond of being able to watch the age where the art of gaming has become more self-aware and critical of itself. This is accented by his job working in Public Health with a focus on underprivileged communities. Currently he is the head Storyteller for a yet to be named Werewolf LARP out of Washington DC, run through Underground Theater.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

HOW THE DARKNESS CAN LEAD US TO THE LIGHT

Preface to this article. I started this in the hours after I left The Grand Masquerade, and finished working on it after reading extensive responses in the community discussing our interview with White Wolf and the Keynote and Q&A at The Grand Masquerade.

gmlogo

What is the value of darkness? Darkness teaches us to value the light.

 What is the value of difficult literature? It teaches us things about ourselves, as human beings.

What is the value of media that addresses dark themes? It can teach us about a side of life we do not witness. It can teach us about lives unlike our own at every level.

These questions and answers are at the core of what the World of Darkness can teach us, if we let it. I want to preface this article with this, we need to be sensitive to everyone involved in discussions surrounding themes in WoD games. Player comfort and safety, and consent to address dark, mature themes are essential. That being said, I might pose more questions than answers here and I want to help encourage a healthy dialogue.

I would hesitantly say the goal of role-playing in the World of Darkness is to generate an understanding of the dark things that occur in our world, and to find ways to address that darkness and ways to change our world. Vampire is essentially a game of immortal parasites that dominate and leech off humanity. By playing one of these monsters we can see the dark aspects of our society reflected back to us. If I play a woman in these games, if those games are run by a sensitive storyteller, I can hopefully begin to understand some of the layers of systemic sexism inherent in the real world. I will never be an expert on that experience, and such a thing should not be played for *shock* factor, but it can have deeper impacts. These games may be one stage in understanding, perhaps a strong first step into embracing feminism and striving to make the world a more gender equal place. By addressing gender inequality, in a place that is safe (with fellow gamers that I trust to respect my consent) I can find tools to identify actions or thoughts I take that tacitly support the sexist world we live in.

self-reflection

Some players don’t want to play games that address societal faults. They enjoy other aspects of Vampire’s mythology, they like the clan politics, or monster’s hiding in the darkness of society. Whatever it is about Vampire, they like the game, they enjoy spending time in the World of Darkness. This style of play is totally understandable. Not everyone looks to games as literature. Like enjoyable fiction, sometimes you read something because the story is fun, it makes you smile, perhaps it makes you excited. The World of Darkness can be played in both ways.

white_wolf_publishingWhite Wolf’s new leadership says they want to create books that address the first style, they want to write books that address the darkness in the World of Darkness. They also want to support players that choose either style of play. Are these goals incompatible? I, for one, don’t think so. White Wolf wants to create books that can be used to run games that are fun, or self-reflective, or both. They want to engage writers that are looking to explore elements of the world that they know intimately. By doing so, they can hopefully create a true reflection of the power of their experiences. At the same time, for those gamers who wish to play for fun, they will have materials that are truer to life, alive with those experiences and that will reflect in the games played. By providing the best material, all of us gain.

I personally think we, as people, have to challenge ourselves if we wish to grow. We can use a lot of various media to work this growth. We can read works by great authors, we can watch great movies, and we can play great games. Great games allow us to learn skills we can apply to our world. There is academic evidence to suggest that gamers either have more or gain empathy skills from gaming. At the same time, I believe gaming can be used as an effective method to perform inter-cultural dialogue. Gaming, in my humble opinion, can be a force of individual and cultural benefit. Sometimes the method to that growth is through the darkness of the world. Yet, darkness is not the only element of the World of Darkness.

Iconoclasm, Punk, and Anarchist mentality are also themes in Vampire the Masquerade. Why? Because they are methods of challenging the status-quo. In the World of Darkness, we see a world run by the patriarchy (in this case immortal or with powerful magic), entrenched in systemic racism, mired in conflict on every side, we have a world beset by severe income inequality, and a devastated ecology. At the same time, many Vampires have tossed mortal concerns around gender roles, Avatars choose Mages regardless of social status, Werewolves exist of every race. These characters have the ability to challenge the systemic problems of the world.the_players_guide_to_the_sabbat

These themes, though changed to some degree, have not left our world since 1991, when Vampire first addressed them. I would argue, as others have, that White Wolf games were essentially subversive at heart. They sought to dismantle the constructs of the world we live in, by making some of the worst aspects of our world stark. I wouldn’t say these elements were eliminated in later editions, but they were tempered, they were certainly more nuanced. Understanding the underlying reality of those themes is important in our modern world, we need to understand how to challenge the status-quo, how to stand up against oppression, and how to advocate for positive change. The World of Darkness can help teach us effective methods of doing so.

At the same time as investigating darkness to understand light, we need to be cognizant of individual player buy-in and acceptance of the topics being addressed. How do we work with darkness, even playing elements of the darkness with respect to real player backgrounds? Consent. Consent is integral to running White Wolf games. If your players want to play a game that only peripherally touches on the darkest themes in the World of Darkness, LISTEN to them. If a woman at your table says stop, stop. If a man in your LARP asks not to run a scene with rape involved, listen to them, fade-to-black, ask for feedback and adjust where appropriate. If you have a player that wants to explore their gender identity, find ways to do so with respect and with their investment.

One way to do this well is to ask for feedback ahead of time before you run plots. For example, I recently asked my players if they wanted to move our Dark Ages game a few years in time in between sessions. I did this to get a feel for what they wanted. They didn’t want a time jump, they still have things they want their characters to learn and do. This helped me to develop the next 5-10 game sessions (give or take). This wasn’t an issue of dealing with dark elements, but it is a good example of how to work with your players to give them an experience you enjoy facilitating and that reflects their gaming interests.

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I will do this with other aspects of the game, as well. If I wanted to run a plot where the characters have to kill an entire family (a possibility in the Medieval era), or a plot where children were killed, I would check with the players to ensure that such a plot would not be a surprise and would not cause any trauma related triggers. I ended up running a side scene with one player where I had initially planned to have his ghoul betray him. Both characters are young, both around 12, one a vampire and the other his childhood friend who he had ghouled. The ghoul felt his friend was putting himself in danger, and though he was betraying him, it was for his best friend’s safety. However, the emotional intensity of the scene between player character and NPC changed my mind. There was too much power in keeping their bond strong, in ensuring that no betrayal occurred. I knew some of the needs of this player, and I know a bit of his personal history and I’m glad we chose the route we did. This scene created a powerful resonance for my player, who thanked me for the scene later. There were still very dark elements of this scene, horror, danger for friends loved and loved deeply, but it didn’t cross over into a territory that would have hurt my friend.

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During Grand Masquerade, fans made it clear that they want more representation in White Wolf game products. They want sensitivity in dealing with dark storylines and themes, and they want players to feel welcome playing games in the World of Darkness. Particularly in LARP, because of concerns for player safety in the LARP community. From my perspective, White Wolf is listening, but I think we are in a sensitive era in the gaming hobby, and this has caused some strong emotion to boil to the surface. This emotion is not a negative thing. This emotion is a call for us all to take these concerns seriously and ensure that darkness is not simply inserted for some misunderstood shock attempt.

wod-gypsiesIn our recent interview with White Wolf, Martin Ericsson, Lead Storyteller of the new White Wolf, stated his interest in re-investigating one of the most controversial of books ever produced by White Wolf, World of Darkness: Gypsies. However, Martin’s comments about wanting writers to write about topics they know should illuminate some of his deeper thinking. He mentions perhaps calling the new book, Opre Roma. This is an alternative name for the Romani anthem Gelem, Gelem and has been used as a rallying call by Roma movements for equality and representation in Europe. Some have expressed concern about rewriting a book that has a lot of negative implications and has been fairly accused of othering a people that have experienced severe and consistent discrimination.
That being said, if White Wolf can investigate the history of the Roma in Europe, using the lens of the World of Darkness to show their common humanity and to help understand how they have been persecuted over the years, isn’t this something that could be beneficial? I think we can see that there is value about writing what one knows, and if White Wolf can engage a writer or writers of Roma descent who are interested in producing a book that encourages understanding of the Roma, I’m all for giving it a try.

The World of Darkness has had 25 years to make an impact on role-playing. I think it has done so. I won’t say that White Wolf is the only reason that we now have deeper themes in gaming, but their emergence into the world of gaming 25 years ago helped to create the gaming landscape we have today. White Wolf is waking up from torpor, there are a lot of great ideas hiding in the darkness still and we have much to learn before we can step into a world that is more light than dark. For now, let’s strive together to learn about ourselves, our world, and each other by looking at the darkest element of our lives. Let us examine the darkness and find it within ourselves, and root it out.

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of  any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

THIS ONE IS ROOK: HOW GAMING HELPS ME EXPRESS MY IDENTITY

 

The Neonates and Ancilla of Atlanta sat around sharing their life stories. Florence, the young Harpy turned to the Elder Nosferatu in the room.

 

“What about you?” Florence asked the Elder who was roosting in a chair across from the conversation.

 

“This one is Rook.” Said the Nosferatu. An awkward silence followed where Florence expected more, and Rook said nothing else. The conversation resumed between the others shortly after, leaving Rook to observe.

In the above scenario within By Night Studio’s Vampire: the Masquerade, I play Rook. Rook is a genderless Nosferatu Elder, and one of the most challenging yet rewarding characters I have ever played. Almost everything about Rook is alien to my personal life, with one key exception.

 

While writing this article on my laptop I have my phone and my tablet next to me and I have music playing from my gaming console on my TV; to say I am connected to my technology is an understatement. I am only 26 years old, though my birthday is this month, so I’m basically 27. As a feminist, I believe in equal rights for everyone regardless of identity.. I am also genderfluid.

 

Rook, on the other hand, has a flaw called Archaic. If a character has this flaw, any technology less than 100 years old is foreign to them, and they cannot use it. Rook is over a thousand years old, so I am challenged to think far beyond my own scope in terms of taking actions and reactions. Rook very firmly has distaste for young vampires, with the stereotypical negative attitude that is associated with older people’s attitude toward teenagers. Rook is also genderless, as when Nosferatu are turned into vampires they are disfigured, and Rook’s disfigurement made determining Rook’s physical sex impossible, so Rook’s gender slowly left them.

 

Compared to the other character I play in the Underground Theater organization, Rook is completely different than I am. The other character I play, Jacquelyn, is much more an extension of myself. Dressing as Rook takes just as much time as Jacquelyn, despite the simple costume, partly due to all the face makeup that I put on to provide a ‘corpse-like’ appearance. I like to jokingly refer to myself as Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars when I’m putting the makeup on, due to the similar appearance.

 

I am Rook on the left, and Jacquelyn on the right.

I am Rook on the left, and Jacquelyn on the right.

 

Rook’s costuming is very simple, as you can see. I only wear a large black cloak to gatherings, and carry only one accessory: a red rosary. If I have to describe them in their Obfuscated Mask it is always something very simple and timeless, and still an androgynous/agendered appearance, and the rosary is still present. I also pose myself in certain ways to play down my feminine bodied curves. My bust line is large and binding would be a bit unsafe for me, so I have to use other methods to pull off a genderless appearance. I’ll push my shoulders forward, hunch, and keep my arms out in front of me to keep the cloak from hanging off of my bust line, giving me no clearly gendered appearance one way or the other. Catching myself in the mirror and not seeing the curvy lines of my own body or my normal skin tone really helps me to stay in character as Rook.

 

There are small parts of Rook that are extensions of myself. Rook is a bit protective of their family and those they consider family, and I am as well. I have stuck up for friends against all sorts of people who would bully them for various aspects. I will very typically make myself the voice who isn’t afraid to speak up. I will call people on negative behaviors, bad attitudes, creepy behavior, and the like because much of the time those disparaged people don’t feel they can speak up. I take this attitude into Rook by having them stick to their guns when it comes to the people they would defend, even to the detriment of their reputations. In VtM, having a Catiff offspring is seen as a failing of your character, and mine embraces (pardon the pun) the fact with pride. Rook has an openly acknowledged Catiff grandchilde and doesn’t really care how other people feel about it.

 

My favorite vampire meme

My favorite vampire meme

 

As I mentioned above, Rook is genderless. This is slightly different than being genderfluid, but this article isn’t about the differences between the two. The short version is that genderless is no gender at all, while genderfluid moves between various genders. Having Rook express a gender identity close to my own internal one in such an external method is super empowering for me. My body makes it difficult to express anything through presentation other than female, so having a chance to embody a non-female character is awesome.

 

A lot of people do misgender Rook as a female, due to my own body and their knowledge that I present as female, but I usually just handle it in character with in character language. I’m still waiting on the day when someone decides they have to hit on me in-character as Rook. I have an image saved on my phone for this exact purpose, because my character will have no qualms about flashing the whole gathering in character and pausing game a moment to show them all exactly what is going on underneath the robe.

 

The aformentioned picture. Sexy!

The aformentioned picture. Sexy!

 

I have had antagonistic characters purposefully misgender Rook, and I have had supportive characters ask Rook if they would prefer the ‘zir’ set of pronouns. Being able to have these experiences in a safe environment was very helpful for me should I have these experiences out on the real world, because I already know what my reaction would be. I haven’t had anyone be purposefully mean to me out of character about being genderfluid; due to my use of female pronouns with a female body most people likely don’t even realize I am genderfluid. I live in the South, so being super ‘out’ about being Genderfluid is pretty hard due to a lot of misplaced hatred.

 

I first started to experiment with my own gender through gaming. I played a lot of tabletop before I started LARPing. When I got to the Deadlands: Weird West setting at first, I played a saloon girl who ran away with a cowboy, a pretty typical role for a female character in a Western. After that character was finished, I moved on and started playing male characters in the setting, because of how things were for women in that time period. I found playing the male characters more freeing, more in tune with how I would want to be able to live in that time period. At first my male characters were caricatures of other characters from fiction. I played a Huckster based off of Gambit/every smooth talking gambler ever, and I played a doctor based off of House.

 

After time whenever I wanted to play a male character in other settings they quit being as two dimensional and started being fleshed out. To be fair almost all of my characters got more well rounded as I grew up and matured, but I quit looking at the male characters as something wholly different than my own psyche, just different permutations and variations on personality traits I as a person had. Having the safe space of gaming to experiment with these thoughts is an amazing tool.

 

For me gaming is as much a tool as anything else. To me, entertainment is what happens when you watch something you’re not participating in. I am entertained when I watch a video online, but with gaming I am enriched. I regularly describe the best gaming sessions as ones where I felt awful. I discovered another character’s wife changed to a wall, having her venom enhanced blood siphoned from her. I willingly went along with an antagonist to be tied up and flayed alive. Those two events were polarizing, and the best game sessions I had as that character. Were they ‘fun’ in the traditional sense? No, but they were so engaging and enriching that I will never forget them.

 

 

With Pride week in Chattanooga just having finished up, October being LGBTQ* History Month, and National Coming Out Day coming up in a week on the 11th, this time of year often makes me think of how far we’ve come as far as LGBTQ* issues and gaming. Most games wouldn’t let someone portray an LGBTQ* concept in an offensive way, or let players harm or make uncomfortable others due to their LGBTQ* status. If I wanted to I could make a male character in any of the games that I play in regularly and it would be received well and everyone would try their best to use character-appropriate pronouns and language. If I wanted my local gamers to use different pronouns with me I wouldn’t have to worry about it not being received well. I know not every gamer has that comfort and I know it can be hard to find in some places, but the fact that this is more and more the norm than the exception gives me hope for the future.

 

Every time I miss a game (and Amber’s amazing zucchini)  I am sad I will not be able to express myself in an accepting environment, and enjoy the freedom that comes with it. Even putting on the costume and makeup to take pictures for this article was enjoyable, despite the face scrubbing I have to endure afterwards and the warmth of wearing the robe during the day. Playing Rook has given me the freedom to experiment with my own gender expression, and that has been amazingly refreshing.

Anna is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire she treks out to the woods to beat up her friends with assorted plumbing supplies and birdseed. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community, and is the proud owner of two loving cats, and another that’s kind of mean but loves her anyway (probably). She can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.