Lore of the Bloodlines – Review

I was a backer of Lore of the Clans, a supplement for V20 and one of the stretch goals was Lore of the Bloodlines. I must admit I was not very excited for this book. Yes, there were various writers I liked that were going to write for it, but I found myself underwhelmed by a rehash of various bloodlines that had lots of information already in various books. How wrong I was.

First, the art done by Mark Kelly, Sam Araya, Felipe Gaona, Michael Gaydos, Key Meyer Jr. and Glen Osterberger, is freaking amazing. Seriously, I think this art compares to if not surpasses the iconic art of Tim Bradstreet. I know… that is a bold statement. See the image below.

By Mark Kelly Instagram @grimventures

Who’s here?

Lore of the Bloodlines looks at 9 bloodlines from Vampire: The Masquerade. Those 9, in the order they are presented: Baali, Daughters of Cacophony, Gargoyles, Harbingers of Skulls, Kiasyd, Nagaraja, Salubri, Samedi, and True Brujah. As noted, most of these bloodlines have had a lot written about them in the past. I wasn’t anticipating much that was new or exciting. From the Baali onward though, there were new plotlines, story hooks, and mechanics that changed my mind. The history of each bloodline is presented by new unreliable narrators. The Kiasyd are presented with a new history that ties them more powerfully to the Abyss (an element that has received significant investment in V20 materials, in particular V20 Dark Ages and Tomb of Secrets), as well as presenting a different story about their Fey connection.

You shouldn’t take these stories as definitive, nothing in the WoD is a definitive history. This is another view point that you can use to add to your stories. That is the fascinating thing about the V20 books, they look at material fans are familiar with, turn it on its head, and present a view that doesn’t discount anything previously written but it does adjust it in a way that makes you question The Truth.

Mechanics

Each bloodline has new merits and flaws that fit with their storylines. These bloodlines also have a new combination discipline or two, and potentially new versions of Elder powers. Each of these new mechanical elements is directly tied into the story hooks provided in the ‘fluff’ elements of each section. I particularly enjoyed the Salubri chapter because it tied in directly with some of the material from V20 Dark Ages. In fact, the way the Salubri are described in Lore of the Bloodlines is probably one of the best presentations of the modern iteration of the clan I’ve ever seen.

Part of me wants to give you a bloodline by bloodline breakdown, but I honestly feel like I would be taking something away from the book by laying out too many reasons you should purchase it. Lore of the Clans is a great book, and a fantastic complement to V20. Lore of the Bloodlines takes that model and does it one step better. It you’ve read everything on these bloodlines (as I have) you’ll still gain a lot here. Seriously, this is my favorite supplement for V20 so far.

From an author

I asked Matthew Dawkins, known by many as The Gentleman Gamer, for a quote. He is the author of the Harbinger and Kiasyd sections. If you had one element of what you wrote you’d tell readers to look for, what would it be?

I try to seed plot hooks into every paragraph of my RPG content. Whether I mention an interesting character you can add to a chronicle, an event you can reference or take part on, obscure knowledge to cite, fables to make your in-character observations more authentic, or myths and treasures for your characters to pursue. Both my chapters will have plentiful options for you to take up, ignore, or just enjoy the reading of, as you make your way through the book. More than anything, I want people to read about Harbingers of Skulls and Kiasyd and want their next characters to be from those bloodlines, or want to set their next chronicles with a heavy involvement from one, or both odd lineages.

At the moment the book is only available to  Kickstarter backers. It should be out for purchase in pdf and print on demand in the near future via Drivethrurpg.

Credits

Authors: Matthew Dawkins, Eloy Lasanta, Andy Peregrine, Neall Price, Eddy Webb, and Rob Weiland

Developer and V20 Line Developer: Eddy Webb

Editor: Jess Hartley

Art Director: Michael Chaney

Layout and Typesetting: Becky McGarity

Interior Art: Sam Araya, Felipe Gaona, Michael Gaydos, Mark Kelly, Ken Meyer Jr., Glen Osterberger

Cover Art: Mark Kelly

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.

The Curse in MES Werewolf: The Apocalypse

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Buy The Book Here!

My Boss is Great, Scary, but Great

I love my boss, but he scares the crap out of me at the same time. Our meetings are usually only 10-15 minutes. We’ll be sitting around the table, running through power points, and he’ll drop in. “Mark, you’ve got 2 minutes today, 1 up, 1 down, 1 action,” is a common opening for him. We’ve trained for this, over and over again, generating quick highlights outside of our regular reports. He reads everything, it seems like, and there is no point in covering the minutiae. In fact, if you try, he’ll often scoff and glare. For some reason… his expression is enough to stop any of us mid-sentence.

I make it sound like he’s mean, or an asshole, but none of this is true. He listens with the time he has, he takes action, and he does everything he can to take care of those who work for him. He sent one person’s wife overseas for experimental surgery when she got cancer. She’s fine now. This is the type of man that will literally drop everything to help, but he’s never around physically for long. He’s got too much going on.

What would it take for me to leave this job? I’m not sure I would, even for triple my salary and 20 weeks of vacation. It’s weird working for someone like our boss, but he’s loyal to us, and I feel like he’s the best type of alpha leadership everyone asks for. That makes a lot of the odd behavior worth it.

Buy the Book

From W20

What is The Curse?

In Mind’s Eye Theatre Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Curse is a reaction that humanity as to the innate Rage which the Garou emit. Humanity is always uneasy around the Garou, instinctively cowering in fear or trying to leave their presence as soon as possible. The curse has less impact if a Garou had not gained Rage in the last 24 hours.

There are 5 stages to this version of The Curse. Introduction, 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and 90 minutes. Introduction raises the anxiety of all normal humans in the room. 5 minutes leads to stuttering and stress behaviors, like avoiding eye contact or hair pulling. 30 minutes leads to early panic attack behavior. In 60 minutes, humans and wolves become hostile to the Garou, and 90 minutes causes full Delirium. Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers double the time before they cause these effects in humans, and the same for Red Talons with wolves.

What does this mean, mechanically and story-wise for Werewolf LARP using these rules? It is hard, almost impossible to be a Garou and interact successfully with human society. This is part of the reason Garou retreat into their Septs and focus so much on their own communities. The easiest way for a Garou to effect the normal world is to use Kinfolk intermediaries. That will require a lot of trust, and trust issues run deep in people with a lot of pent up anger (from personal experience). When crafting a backstory, it is possible for a character to have spent time in either human or wolf society, but they would have to have a lot of control over their Rage. That’s not easy, but it can happen. Garou can be great leaders. Rage and anger can be fantastic motivating forces from a leader in a team. Garou have to be careful how much they interact with people, but they can still be leaders to humans if they do so in a backroom leadership sort of way.

How do you build The Curse into your games?

 

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.

A Red Rose on Marble: Review of Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition

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Introduction

My first experience with Vampire was a LARP at the local State University in my hometown. I was 15 or 16 and I’d been talked into making a character by a friend. By that point, the first edition of Laws of the Night was out, and for a long time I didn’t realize that was effectively the 3rd edition of LARP rules for Vampires in the World of Darkness. When the Revised table-top rules came out, I played with friends and dove head first into the various games. At the time, the only 2nd Edition game I can remember reading was Werewolf, and even that I quickly replaced with its Revised version. So, I ‘grew-up’ with the Revised rule-set for the World of Darkness as my standard and even though I occasionally picked up an older Clanbook, or supplement, the game for me was highly polished and well crafted. That was largely my vision of the WoD until recently.

Martin Ericsson has mentioned his desire to recapture the spirit or essence of the first and second editions of Vampire and I had to admit, I didn’t know what he meant. So, I decided I would do my due diligence as a fan and seek out a copy of the game, as written in those early nights. A friend was generous enough to send me a copy of 1st Edition Vampire: The Masquerade a few months ago and I’ve slowly worked through it while reading about a dozen other gaming books.

My first impression was that it reminded me of quite a few books I loved that were written in the late ‘80s and early 90’s. For example, I was a big Robotech fan, and Palladium’s style was distinctive. V:TM, as different, transgressive, and progressive as it was, still has the vibe of a role-playing game of its era. That is not a negative critique. In fact, some of that vibe is part of its charm. It feels like a bit of a relic, but a relic that is still potent and possibly dangerous. 1st Edition Vampire is like its namesake, a being willing to sap your time and energy. It is a lovely monster able to see into your inner darkness. In some ways, I think it does this much more effectively than the Revised or even 20th Anniversary edition does. Why?

There are a few reasons, but they weren’t really easy to put my finger on at first. There is a lot of similar basic content from edition to edition, and though the rules were tweaked a little here and there, the core Storyteller System is the same. What’s different then? I think answering that question is complex, but I’m going to try and lay out a few of the elements I’ve noticed between the two.

party-conflict_orig

The Center of Conflict

In Revised, we are presented with a centuries long conflict between various clans of vampires. These vampires are split into two larger sects and several smaller, and arguably, equally important groups. The 13 major clans are embroiled in conflict with the Antediluvians, Caine, other Clans, and occasionally other supernatural elements of the World of Darkness. What is missing in this equation? Humanity. The central conflict in Revised is intra-Vampiric. Brujah versus Ventrue, Camarilla vs Sabbat, Inconnu hiding from the Jyhad (the ancient fight between elder and younger Kindred), these conflicts are between other Vampires.

In 1st Edition Vampire, these conflicts are only hinted at. They exist in the background. In 1st edition the central conflicts are, The Beast vs Humanity, Humanity vs Vampires, and Anarchist vs Establishment. These themes are present in Revised, but they are less central to the writing. To be clear, I’m talking only about the core books here, the 1st and 2nd edition adventures frequently focus on Vampire vs Vampire conflict, often conflating Kindred conflicts with mortal ones in a very confusing way. Dark Colony is a great example of this. As a setting, New England is Gothic and during the late 80’s early 90’s had a ton of Punk elements. However, the story lines presented in Dark Colony focused on ‘Armies’ of vampires in conflict with one another. This, in an area of the US where there were at most 100 vampires across New England. I think I’m exaggerating that number too, I am pretty sure it was closer to 40.

Buy at Own Risk

Buy at Own Risk

That being said, the 1st edition Core Book lays out a human focused world. Yes, you are a vampire, but you need to remember your humanity because you have to live with humanity. Based on demographics, you interact with humans more than you do with vampires. Kindred society is written as a slightly intangible element of the unlife of the Kindred. Considering the population density of vampires to humans was suggested to be around 1 to 100,000, that makes sense. Humanity is incredibly important for feeding, for social life, for a sense of belonging. The fight against the Beast is a constant one, because you are constantly surrounded by those whom you feed upon. In Revised, humanity fades into the background. Are they important? Yes, but not in the visceral way in which they are presented in 1st edition.

Story Goals/Motivations

Players and characters have multiple goals and they are presented with several options in all versions of the game. However, keeping in mind the central conflicts we discussed above, the goals of vampires in 1st edition are different from those in Revised. In 1st edition we are presented with several goals that players may focus on. All of them are based on some element of how vampires deal with humanity.

Humanity

Staring on page 129, Vampire 1st edition examines Humanity, the importance of clinging to a version of human behavior that is, honestly, unrealistic. Why is humanity put on a pedestal by vampires? There are a few reasons that I can see for this. Vampires have to contend with frenzy and the closeness of their Beast. The Beast is a visceral manifestation of the inhuman desire for blood that lives just below the surface of the Kindred mind. That’s one explanation at least.

To me, the Beast is simply the reflection of humanities capacity for inhumanity. Humanity has a beast, all of us have the ability to let slip an anger that cannot be contained, to harm others, to demean others, to lose empathy and murder. The Beast is a mechanic that brings those elements of our character as a species to the forefront. Vampires are monsters because they inherently lose their empathy for other human beings. They have to lose that empathy, if they don’t, they struggle to feed. Feeding from animals will only sustain you for a short time.

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Not Following Humanity

This is why Humanity is so important, it represents holding to a higher ideal than real people are capable or even cognizant of, so that the Vampire can attempt to retain their empathy. What if they don’t care about being empathetic to their cattle? In 1st edition the vampire’s choices are Wassail or Golconda, they either embrace their humanity or they descend into complete and utter depravity. This binary is less pressing in later books because of all the various Paths and Roads of Enlightenment that are offered. By removing the central question of humanity or oblivion, one of the central themes of the game is drastically shifted away.

Golconda

This search for enlightenment is presented directly after the section on Humanity. Golconda is presented as a common story line for players to seek. This changes in later versions of the game. This mystical state of being is relegated more and more to rumor, and even the Iconnu that have supposedly reached the state are represented as having probably fallen victim to falsehood by elder Cainites. In Revised, Golconda is played down significantly as a goal for the Kindred, its not impossible to reach, but it doesn’t feel like something you would have in most story lines.

In 1st Edition though, the search for Golconda, presented as difficult and rare, is still something that is achievable and there are specific, if seemingly limited benefits from this state. The vampire no longer experiences frenzy, as they have recognized the Beast is a part of who they are. If you ask me, they realize that the Beast is simply what makes them human, and by accepting that, they return to a state closer to normal people. The other two benefits of Golconda mentioned are a reduced need to feed and the ability for elder vampires to gain sustenance from humans and animals, even if they have the Methuselah’s thirst.

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Diablerie

Between the sections on Golconda and Diablerie is another section, which I’ll touch on last. It’s peculiar to 1st edition and I think that peculiarity makes it special. That being said, Diablerie is the clearest element of Vampire on Vampire conflict in 1st edition. Young vampires hunger for the power of their elders as it brings them closer to Caine and closer to great power. The Diablerist in Revised has a significant social stigma attached to them, and though this is mentioned in passing in 1st edition, it does not appear as strongly in 1st. Diablerie is a valid path for the players, though it might keep them from attaining the last goal we’ll look at.

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The Rebirth

When I came across the Rebirth I actually sat slack jawed for a few minutes. For me, the condition of vampirism presented by White Wolf had always been one of eternal torment. I had no inkling that in the 1st edition of the book the idea of returning to humanity was presented as a central story idea for player characters. “It is possible for a Vampire to escape the curse and become mortal again. Though it is exceedingly difficult, it is a major theme of the game and something that will direct the ambitions and thoughts of many characters.”

Holy… a major theme??! Not even close for any game I’d ever played in. I had never heard of this being a theme of Vampire: The Masquerade. By the time Revised came around it is basically impossible to turn a Kindred into a mortal once more. Yet, at the start, Rein – Hagen and the other writers had intended for Vampire to have this strong kernel of hope as an element of the game. This again is an element that makes humanity important. Wanting to be human again is a theme in a lot of vampire literature, so it makes sense, but it was removed as an element of Vampire through the years. I can’t even imagine wasting time fighting over who was in charge of undead politics if my characters knew this was possible. I can see most of them spending their nights, at least for their first 50-100 years, trying to be Reborn. Of course, this Rebirth isn’t easy, it requires killing one’s sire, or an antediluvian perhaps, sacrificing oneself, performing an arcane ritual, or even reaching Golconda. As a major theme of the game though, it changes things drastically.

Goals in Revised

Revised provides different goals. Kindred in revised are focused more on Vampiric politics, fighting against or for the Elders, and though Golconda is mentioned as something that some Vampires strive toward, it isn’t as immediate of a goal as it seems in 1st edition. The Rebirth was removed as a plot motivation early in Vampire. Which makes sense if you are focusing on the theme of eternal horror that Revised Vampire seems to express better than its earliest incarnation.

convention-of-thorns

That is one area in which Revised provides something that 1st doesn’t capture well. In Revised, the idea that you have become forced into a society of monsters in which you will never escape is visceral. This is the battle of humanity in Revised. Camarilla society may espouse the values of Humanitas, but most Kindred lose their connection to those whom they feed upon. Killing becomes commonplace, normalized, and this disconnection, this lack of empathy is a central element the Beast can play upon. Manipulating younger vampires becomes natural to Elders, it’s how they survive, and being a childer to one of these elders is a curse. Imagine being forced to work for an abusive boss, now imagine you can never quit, never find another job, and never get promoted. That is one of the core horror elements that Revised develops excellently. It’s simply a different horror than 1st edition Vampire.

Other Elements

Introduction

Both editions start off with a story that explains the world of Vampire. Revised presents a narrative, a sire explaining the world of the Kindred to their childe to be. 1st is written as a note from a vampire to a human associate where they explain the hidden world of Vampires. The story in 1st has shades of Interview with the Vampire, and in some ways so does the story in Revised. Each is quite obvious in its exposition. Revised though, is accompanied by well crafted background images, art, and evocative pages. 1st is accompanied by a bit of Tim Bradstreet art, and pages that evoke a worn well crafted letter or journal. Both are awesome, but different. Revised speaks to a slightly sexy, exciting, powerfully impactful game were you play the Monster in the Dark. 1st speaks to a gritty, personal, slightly unfinished game that has a ton of hidden lore where you play the monster who wishes they were still human.

Font

Both editions use a different font at times, but the main font in Revised is small, maybe 11 point at the largest. Its readable, but at times almost too small. 1st edition is larger but overall the font styles seem similar between editions. This is a subtle thing though, the font for Revised is very late 90’s and the font in 1st is clearly early 90’s and they obviously fit into the era they are from. Maybe I’m the only font geek that would care, but this is something that set the tone for the book for me.

Art

The art in Revised is polished, beautiful, well drawn. I could go on and on about how awesome it is. Bradstreet is amazing, an artist that everyone should appreciate and admire. Bradstreet’s art in 1st edition, though? Iconic, but not the art I was really drawn to while I was reading through the book.

No, ironically the art that interested me the most was the single image story that was placed throughout the book. This story tells a tale of a woman who becomes embraced, proceeds through torpor, conflict, and power to the modern age. She then follows a similar predatory path to the one in which her existence began. She embraces a man that resembles her sire. Ultimately, she is killed, and the man she embraced is freed from the Curse of Caine and he returns to his mortal life. This story is compelling for the humanity lost by the woman in question as she proceeds through her unlife, and just as compelling for the way in which she steals the life of the man she embraces and the way he fights to regain that life. I’m not sure who the artist for that story is, it doesn’t look like Bradstreet’s art, but I’d love to give whomever they are credit.

My favorite Bradstreet Art - Check out his website

My favorite Bradstreet Art – Check out his website by clicking the Nosferatu

Character Options

1st edition Vampire assumes the 7 Camarilla clans are the only options for characters. This reduces the amount of conflicts possible with this rule set. Revised provides us with the 13 clans from the beginning, including the pillar Sabbat clans and the Independents, whom were only hinted at in 1st edition’s core book. This limited set of options focuses the story more on the nuances between Kindred and humans. Of course the conflict between Brujah anarchs and Ventrue bluebloods is present, as are other elements of conflict between the Camarilla clans. However, it doesn’t feel like powerful creatures fighting against one another is the central theme of the game. In Revised, the camera lens is firmly on the world of the Kindred, in 1st, the story is shot from the shoulder of the vampire, as they gaze upon the herds of humanity on which they prey.

When I read 1st edition I could see why people wanted to play this game so much. I wanted to play Revised when I read it as well. Vampire: The Masquerade has changed a lot over the years, and if you ask me, one is not better than the other. They are simply different. I can respect the desire of the new White Wolf to try and recapture some of the themes in 1st edition. Those themes are important. Humanity should be important to the Vampire. Humanity sustains them, humanity is the essential element which they must draw upon to survive. Finding ways to refocus the camera on humanity, will have an interesting impact upon the games that people craft together. I look forward to 5th edition Vampire, if it finds a way to capture the essence of 1st edition, and the skillful hand of Revised and the 20th anniversary edition, then it will be a wonderful game to add to my collection.

This article was written by Josh (he/him/his) the admin of this spectacular website. Consider donating to our Patreon if you would like to support other columnists.

*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

darkestdungeon.com

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.

Know When To Say When – Is It Burnout or Bleed?

 

The misery of a year that is 2016 is drawing to a close, and as we all search the horizons of infinity for a glimmer of hope that 2017 will not takes its cues from its predecessor, it is a good time to take stock of our individual states of mind regarding our shared hobby.

2016-into-2017

 

This is an exercise in self-assessment and metacognition, a study in ourselves and our reactions. I recommend undertaking this effort in a comfortable and sober state of mind, possibly discussing it with your closest gaming associates or the people who can offer you an outside perspective.

For the purposes of this article, we will be using bleed in the pejorative sense; that is, the state of getting too wrapped up in/involved with in-character (IC) issues or problems, to the point where it is negatively affecting out-of-character (OOC) quality of life. Nordic-style or play-to-bleed is another cooking vessel of aquatic life forms entirely.

bleed

It’s a Thursday night. Your local once a month LARP is Saturday. What are you feeling?

A) Woohoo, game this weekend! I’m SO ready!
B) Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.
C)Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?
D) Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go.
E)Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

prisma-grigori

I’m ready!

If you answered A, please pass GO and collect your $200….unless you are ready to maliciously wreck the game for someone else. We’ll get to that in a moment.

If you answered B, you’re in the same boat as 90% of all the LARPers I have ever met. 5% of the remainder are super-organized and the other 5% will be panicking as they are 30 minutes late leaving for the game site.

If you answered C, you might be getting a little worn down. This might be because life is kicking your ass (and we all feel like we are wearing that Kick Me sign from time to time) or it might be because it is time to do a little self-diagnostic on your enjoyment/investment in the game.

If you answered D, you are definitely getting a little singed around the edges. Is something lacking in the game, the setting, the environment, or your gaming group, or are you/your character just in a neutral phase?

If you answered E, you may actually be burnt out or experiencing an undue amount of bleed.

A – Game is this weekend, yay!

Are you happy to be going, to be portraying your character and spending time doing something you love? If so, fantastic.

Are you happy to be going because you know you are going to be ruining someone else’s plots/plans…and you’re looking forward to enjoying their suffering?

The second answer is not categorically a negative one, believe it or not, as long as it is your character who is going to be enjoying wrecking another character. Part of the inclusivity of the hobby is being able to differentiate between player and character – but you knew that already, or you wouldn’t be here.

This is where you check your investment – does your entire life revolve around the game? Are you okay with that state of affairs if that is the case? Do you need to take a step back and reassess your investment and involvement? Are you living for the game, or is it a fun activity you enjoy with great enthusiasm? Have fun, but keep things in perspective.

B – Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.

jp

I’m ready!

As I said earlier, this is the area where 90% of the gamers of my acquaintance fall. The spectrum is basically spread out between “oh gods where is my everything” and “everything is here, in its proper place, repaired/polished/updated, and I’ve communicated with my DM/ST in triplicate.” If you are one of the people towards the neater/more organized end of the spectrum, please write a blog post and share your witchcraft with the rest of us.

You’re looking forward to the game, but you are keeping your other priorities in mind and in balance. This is a good place to be. Do you want to be more involved with the game? Do you see an opportunity for improvement, and want to help? This might be the time to reach out to your ST or DM and ask if they need any help, or let them know you are willing to volunteer.

C – Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?

This is the beginning of the singed edge. You may be going through a phase where life is interfering with your ability to game as much as you would like – and it happens to all of us. Maybe your work or class schedule changed, maybe you got involved in a new hobby that requires more time, or family/friends issues demanded priority over your gaming hobby. All of these are perfectly normal, perfectly respectable reasons to have slightly detached from the game, and a healthy, supportive gaming crew will work with you to make sure you can come back when circumstances change.

On the other hand, you might be in a low phase with your gaming experience, such as recovering from a loss of a character, or the completion of a huge storyline. This is either a recovery phase or a spot to take stock of your away-from-game commitments and responsibilities, to see if you need to reprioritize your involvement.

Have you reached a point where you are obsessing or brooding over your character’s frustrations and taking them on as your own? This is a potentially toxic level of bleed, but it can be handled if you recognize it early enough to take a step back and reevaluate your level of involvement with the character. It’s way, way too easy to fall into the trap of 24/7 role-play, especially in these days when it’s more work to get truly away from instant communication than most folks realize – and no one wants to snub their friends because they need a break from being in character all the time. Some people end up blurring the lines between player and character, and that can be incredibly awkward, frustrating, embarrassing, and frankly psychologically damaging – the bad kind of bleed.

Alternatively, this may be the spot you are in if you are in the process of returning to an ongoing game or campaign after taking a break, voluntary or otherwise. If that is the case, I recommend speaking to your DM or ST one-on-one and getting a general feel for the game state, to see how you can best reintegrate with the group. You can also look at this spot as a chance to debut a new character and start fresh.

D – Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go play.

work

I lied, I’m not ready.

If this is your feeling one random Thursday, you might just be having a bad week/month and don’t have the social energy to get into character and deal with plots and connivery and such. That’s cool – as a truly devoted introvert, I feel you. Stay home, cuddle your pets/sweetheart/favorite fuzzy blanket, watch TV or murder pixels or read a book. Do whatever makes you feel better.

If this happens two months in a row, it’s time to reassess your involvement in the game. Have you been doing too much role-playing? Especially in an Org game, or any other avenue that can lead to 24/7 play, it can begin to feel like an endless pressure to be in character all the time, and that’s exceptionally draining. Have you had an in-character crisis that has ended badly and you need to take some time to deal with the emotional fallout? That’s okay too. Are you frustrated because your character can’t seem to accomplish anything and you are beginning to feel like you are just going through the motions? This is a time for a calm and rational discussion with your DM or ST, which brings me to my next point.

This is going to be an unpopular statement, but hear me out – this can also be a sign that you are not a good fit for the game. There are times where personalities just do not mesh, or personal issues (and we’ve all got them, anyone who says otherwise is lying) prevent us from fully joining in with the game or group of people. Maybe, especially in a horror setting like Vampire or anything Lovecraftian, there are events in your own life that make the setting uncomfortable for you, despite your ardent desire to play. Maybe you are part of a group where the expectation of involvement/commitment/investment is WAY higher than you can afford, financially or temporally or emotionally.

social-contract

Make Friends, not Vassals

If you have made friends in your gaming hobby (and I sincerely hope you have!) see about hanging out with them away from a gaming setting, to just BS and be friends without character sheets or dice involved. Grab a beer or a coffee or see a movie or try a new restaurant. Be friends, not only friends-who-game-together. Maybe they have some insights that can rekindle your enjoyment in the game. Maybe you’ll discover that they also have a passion for watercolor paintings of bonsai or collecting esoteric cheeses – whatever your non-gaming passions are.

E – Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

You’re as burned as Anakin Skywalker after the duel on Mustafar.

This is where communication – and for the sake of clarity, I am going to reiterate that all of this is meant to be taken and performed out of character – is truly crucial. If literally everyone in your game is having a fantastic time, constantly and consistently, and you always feel like your own experience is lacking, TALK TO YOUR FELLOW PLAYERS AND YOUR DM/ST. Ask them, away from game and in a neutral setting, if there is something that needs to change about your playstyle, or if there is a fundamental misunderstanding about a key part of the game that you have missed, or if you joined the game with X expectations and are seeing Y results.

Part of being a responsible, emotionally mature, and informed player is realizing that sometimes the problems are not external, but internal. Sometimes, players just do not fit, and it’s unfair to the rest of the group to consistently be asking them to bend to your will and preferences. Want to do a fade-to-black (FTB) when a scene is getting too intense? I am 100% right there with you and will speak up for you if I see you getting uncomfortable. Invoke FTB every single time heightened emotions get involved? I will be less sympathetic.

What it comes down to is this – if you have left multiple game sessions with headaches and grumbles, truly having not enjoyed yourself, and you have reached out to try to make things better and not seen any improvement, maybe you need to reconsider if you are a good fit for the game. It is a sign of maturity and good self-awareness to realize when, despite best intentions, something is just not going to work. Like the old commercial said, “Know When To Say When.”

I will leave you all with this final thought –

We’re all part of this hobby, one giant dysfunctional family, and there’s always going to be situations that make us uncomfortable, people we don’t like, and constraints that we have to work around – be they psychological, financial, temporal, or otherwise – but we’re all here to play a game, and those challenges can actually strengthen us as people.

The biggest difference between our giant dysfunctional family and the other type is that you can always choose to walk away from this family if you realize it’s no longer the right one for you. We will miss you, but there’s always a seat at the table if you decide to come back.

2016 has been a bitch of a year. Let’s make 2017 our bitch.

In loving memory of Carrie Fisher, everyone’s favorite Princess,

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x) Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary 54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO's Documentary 'Bright Lights', USA - 10 Oct 2016

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x)
Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary
54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO’s Documentary ‘Bright Lights’, USA – 10 Oct 2016

May the Force be with you!

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.

*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.

Beast the Primordial: Subverting the Monomyth

Beast the Primordial Logo

One of the most persistent tropes in modern speculative fiction is the Hero’s Journey, or the Monomyth.  The monomyth varies from telling to telling, and it can be found in a wide swath of modern media.  The basic manifestation of the Hero’s Journey takes a protagonist from “normal life” into a fantastic setting where they are faced with conflict, personal struggle, and ultimately, they achieve triumph/glory over a villainous foe.  In most tellings, a glorious return home completes the journey.

RPGs, from D&D to Exalted, use the Monomyth as their central narrative.  White Wolf didn’t start with a substantial investment in the monomyth, and arguably the World of Darkness, and even moreso the Chronicles of Darkness, often explicitly subvert or at least de-emphasize the monomyth.  It’s not hard to find player troupes that missed that memo and run heroic arcs with their Sabbat packs, Wraith circles, or throw themselves at the hero’s tale intrinsic to Changeling while ignoring the tragedy that’s clearly designed to subvert that narrative in the core text.

A Group of Japanese Yokai Feeding on a VictimFor all of the subversive ways the World and Chronicles of Darkness play with the Hero’s Journey, I’d never seen a game completely reject the validity of that story model until Beast the Primordial.

Beast devotes almost two and a half pages to the topic of how and why the game subverts/deconstructs the Monomyth. In Beast you play a monster of myth manifested within the soul of a human being.  Beasts are driven to feast on human terror in uniquely personal ways. The primary antagonists of the game are “Heroes” who are driven by the same supernatural cosmology that creates Beasts to seek and destroy them.

It’s easy at first glance to think that this game is just a dark twist on the narratives common to our modern media, but the game does something much more compelling as you work through it.  There is no monolithic enemy in Beast.  Hero’s arise as stand alone phenomenon, every bit the cosmological constant Beasts are, and the culture of the Children (Beasts’ name for themselves), is incredibly loose and comes with no great political force to oppose. There is no Sabbat, no Technocratic Union, no Hierarchy, or corrupt guilds to stand against. The game emphasizes family, and the connection Beasts have with other supernatural creatures in the Chronicles of Darkness.

The fundamental conflict of Beast centers on the complicated task of finding your place in a world when that world finds everything you represent abhorrent.  Heroes in Beast are clearly forged in the mold of the broken and corrupt heroes of Ancient Greece as opposed to the bright eyed perfection of classic Superman comics. They are deranged, driven, and while they may save a few humans from Beasts who have been pushed out of control by their hunger, it is a rare person who would say that is worth the collateral damage they cause.

Why is this  framing so powerful? It seems due to the fact that the game forces the player to truly grapple with the experience of being the “other”.  While that theme runs through many of White Wolf’s horror titles, Beast takes the metaphor further by casting the Beast’s greatest enemy as humanity itself.  Heroes are twisted, deranged, and supernaturally powerful, but they are fundamentally human.  It is the Beast who is not.

If you want to pick up Beast and give it a try one of the most important narrative considerations should be how comfortable you are with demonizing humanity.  There is a sidebar in the Heroes chapter that asks, “What about the Heroes that listen to reason?”.  The answer is that these heroes do exist, but they generally don’t hunt Beasts.  The book continually states that the Heroes that should appear in a Beast game are the narcissistic, driven, cruel ones.  I have seen a few people talk about having problems with this dynamic because it creates an unrelatable villain, and the book specifically states than Heroes should not be relatable enemies.  

Heroes, at their core, are quintessentially human. So shouldn’t they be relatable?  Modern storytelling has moved farther and farther in the direction of understandable antagonists, and messy flawed protagonists.  Beast seems like an obvious attempt to dive directly into that dynamic, but when you step back and look at the game as a model that inverts a classic storytelling trope the problems with this lens become apparent.

Beasts are not good guys.  You are not playing some gritty but relatable anti-hero.  Despite the few words in the opening about how Beasts were outcasts, and “different” before their Devouring, this game is not some glorified revenge fantasy.  The narrative that runs through the book emphasizes the constant struggle to keep existing while humanity continues to reject you, because you are fundamentally wrong.  If you view this game through a lens where humanity is intrinsically good then a lot of the intended themes quickly fall apart, and I’ve seen this specific logical crisis in a great deal of the negative responses to the game.  

A Beast's Horror Standing Behind ThemBefore playing this game you should really know your players, and you should spend some time making certain they are prepared to play true monsters in the night with none of the glorified romanticism that comes with games like Vampire or Changeling.  You’re not flipping the tables so you can play a Beast anti-hero. There is no good guy in this story.

Not every player will be able to get into this particular narrative headspace, and if even one or two players approaches this game with the wrong intent it could derail your whole chronicle.  That said, approaching the game with this tilted perspective opens up new story possibilities.  As a litmus test, if you dislike the writing of Thomas Ligotti due to the lack of a moral compass, even the inverted one present in more mainstream horror stories, this may not be the game for you. That particular form of nihilism is required to dive into the darker corners of Beast.

If the narrative darkness above sounds appealing there is still the question of game mechanics.  I have seen consistent complaints that Beast is overpowered compared to the other games in the Chronicles of Darkness.  After reading Beast I understand where that perception comes from.  While the “powers” that Beasts purchase aren’t necessarily overwhelming (though they are powerful and a lot of fun) Beasts come with a barrage of innate abilities you don’t have to pay for.  They have a special realm carved out of the Primordial Dream, they have the ability to transport there from a variety of places in the real world, they can buff other supernaturals they are allied with, and they automatically sense other supernaturals. There’s a system to create custom powers, which even though they must be purchased, is something you don’t often see, and these custom powers can become more unique when based off supernaturals a Beast is associated with.

Reading Beast, I felt like I was constantly stumbling over new powers, and it was a little overwhelming. However, I believe all of this power is important to further the fundamental themes of Beast.  Unlike Mages, Werewolves, or Vampires, who might have driving goals, or grand schemes which their powers help them fulfill, Beasts are just trying to survive. More importantly, their power is a trap.  

 

Hero Fighting a Dragon

Satiety, which is the Beast’s supernatural resource, is complicated and dangerous.  If you gorge yourself on the fear of your victims your inner Horror becomes fat and contented and you suffer penalties to your rolls.  If you are starving, then your powers are buffed by your deep hunger, but your Horror (your Beastly soul) can easily run out of control and you are left with no resource to buff your powers. You may think this is a simple matter of maintaining balance between these two states, but as a primordial being you reject such equilibrium and grow uniquely vulnerable if you maintain the stasis between these two extremes for long.

If we look back at this system, and think about the themes of the game, it becomes immediately apparent that a Beast’s power reinforces the anxiety of their existence.  Beasts have profound power, but every method of engaging with that power is toxic in a different way, and the more they leverage their supernatural strength, the more attention they draw from Heroes who want nothing more than to stand over their broken bodies.  Even Wraith, which plays with a similar dynamic by having very shallow experience costs, but pairing PCs with a dark shadow that will abuse their drive for power, still comes with a set of enemies players can secure satisfying victories against.

When a Beast defeats a Hero all they gain is a brief rest before the next Hero finds them.  As long as the Beast isn’t allowed to break out of that cycle, and Heroes are powerful enough to be a threat, no Beast can truly be overpowered, because their strength is a mockery more than an actual benefit.

Beast the Primordial is probably one of the most complex games in the of Darkness lines, both in terms of systems and due to its rejection of familiar narrative territory.  The lack of a unified enemy, and the fundamental rejection of the Hero’s Journey are daring moves that align Beast with experimental narrative ventures like Dread or Bluebeard’s Bride as opposed to other games using the storyteller system. Game mechanics are fairly complex (satiety is no blood pool), and to be honest, I have a hard time imagining keeping track of all the different things I would be capable of as a player without a substantial cheat sheet.  

Madness on the Outskirts

By Lydia Burris http://www.lydiaburris.com/

Several sections of Beast drive the inverted Monomyth narrative in less than nuanced ways.  This is most acute in areas that were re-written based on player critique during the kickstarter.  Several players felt the game was too dark, that Beasts had no reason to exist, and that the relationship Heroes had with the Integrity stat was messy in toxic ways.  To the dev’s credit they listened to the fans and made changes, but they did so very quickly and some of the text dealing with the themes introduced during the rewrite feel somewhat rushed.  This is especially obvious in the reminders that only Heroes with low integrity hunt Beasts, though the fact that the devs made certain to leave high integrity Heroes in the world is significant, and I hope we get to hear more about them in the upcoming Beast Conquering Heroes.

Ultimately, Beast takes some profound risks, and in doing so creates a dynamic new corner of horror role-playing than many of us never knew existed.  There are areas of the game that need some judicious application of the Golden Rule, such as the persistence of the “Beasts Teach Lessons” idea among the Children, without any coherent Beast society to perpetuate this culture.  That said, some of my favorite White Wolf games have tapped into incredibly messy, yet fascinating narratives because they were willing to take risks, and they also required fairly liberal use of the Golden Rule to manage their rough edges, so Beast is in good company.  Finding a large enough group of players ready to discard any heroic impulses and embrace the endlessly powerful anxiety of Beastly existence is a tall order (and may well resign Beast to my eternal bucket list alongside Promethean), but I do feel it’s a unique game that breaks new ground not just for the horror genre, but gaming more broadly and it’s well worth exploring.

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.

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.

WHO’s THE GM? SOCIAL CONTRACT 4

Social Contract 4: Who will be running the game if a Game Master (GM) is needed?

tabard

Welcome back, once again! This week the topic is all about that very important job. The job that not everyone wants to do. The one that for some people is shrouded in mystery and veiled by a screen. Of course, this is the role of the esteemed GM or Game Master. However, whether you refer to them as DM, GM, Storyteller, Judge, or any of the other long list of names it all comes down to the same thing. They run the game for the group. From setting up the plot, creating interesting situations on the fly, to not flipping out when things go off the road, the GM is a role with many hats.

Of course, that is, if a GM is even needed for your game. In these days GMless games are gaining in popularity and merit a look as well.

So, this week we shall break down what one is really getting themselves into when they sign on to be a GM, from a one-shot, to a campaign. As with other weeks I will intersperse examples in italics. Looking over the duties of a GM, what all is really needed? What exactly does this position entail?

Judge

judge

Like the esteemed Judge Reinhold , the GM must make quick and fair decisions on the fly with a strong regard for the rules.

This doesn’t mean they have to know all of the rules and I will tell you a little GM secret, listen closely now, we don’t know all the rules.

We don’t and that is okay. However, we DO need to understand them enough to interpret situations as they arise. Interpreting dice rolls and understanding WHEN to call for rolls is a large portion of a GM’s roll (ha!). This will be largely influenced by the game being ran.

D&D has a different way of handling things then say, Burning Wheel. In D&D, by the book will tell you that you need to roll for just about everything, if there is a CHANCE for failure. However, with that in mind, this works well for the D20 engine and that is an important thing to keep in mind. Many times I have heard the following conversation from groups:

I don’t like game X because it uses the X system and that system is bad.hero

This is a very basic way of determining if a system is good or bad. Look, I personally am not a fan of Hero System

That is MY personal preference. However, I can APPRECIATE what it does. With six editions under its utility belt it does what it does well and has a rabid fan base. The system allows you to create just about any kind of character you can think of. That is its goal, and in that, IT SUCCEEDS!

Why the short diatribe on this? Because, from a GM standpoint it helps to run a game you overall understand and feel comfortable with, as well as making sure it is something you ENJOY! When you enjoy a game, learning the rules and helping others to understand the rules will be easy. You will enjoy teaching the game to the group and that enthusiasm will show in the game in other ways as well.

So, know the rules. Use the rules. Know when not to use the rules, as well.

For some groups part of the first session (besides character creation) is going over the basic concepts for the game, usually rules and setting.

My friend Metal put together a powerpoint presentation for our group to go over and explain Hero System as none of us had ever played it, or even looked at it before. This allowed us all to understand how to make a character and get used to the game system.

So again, know the rules in depth. Not all of them. You never will, and that is okay, however, know them and understand them enough so that you can use them and discard them as needed.

Gameworld

Aside from knowing the rules, the GM will have to create the world and situations the players encounter. Some games have established settings and some don’t. This is really your first question. Will you run a pre-printed setting/module, run your own game within the established setting, or run your own setting all together?

This question isn’t really as daunting as it may at first seem. From a creative standpoint you will know if a published adventure or settings grips your imagination or if the rules make your imagination swim with possibilities.  In either case, the GM needs to make the world feel real and tangible to the players. They make the PC’s the center point of the story and have their actions produce consequences that will affect the world they inhabit.

This short section helped us setup the next, which is time spent prepping the game.

Prepping for the game

prepping

You have decided on the date, the time, the place, the game, the world, and spent time reading and learning the rules. Now you need to get the plot outlined and ready to run the game. How much is too much?

Let’s discuss that, shall we?

Before looking at this further I want to share something about how I prep for a game. I do this to show one way of doing things. There is no right or wrong way. Find what works for you and use it. For me it starts with the end; more specifically, a scene. I take that scene and figure out how to use it in a game. I then work backward from there. From that scene, I look for a good theme and mood to apply to the whole game.

The mood and theme help me to direct the story I want to tell and give me a focus to come back to once the game starts. KEEP THAT IN MIND!

NO AMOUNT OF PREP WILL SURVIVE THE PLAYERS. ALL OF YOUR HARD FRAUGHT WORK WILL COME TO NOTHING. In fact, Victor wrote about this a couple of weeks ago in his convention game write up

Keeping things honest here, I was the person who ran the Changeling game he mentions. I will come back to how I could have planned that better. (SORRY FOR THE FRUSTRATION ON THAT, VICTOR!). He also mentions that the Numenera game went off the rails when the GM’s plan for the plot escaped them.

So, to keep this at a minimum I plan a skeleton of a plot and have certain scenes that will happen. I think of these as set pieces rather than hard and fast things that have to go off as planned.

So, really the “prep” for a game will depend on your style. Different people plan differently. Like I mentioned above, I tend to have an overall framework for the story I want to tell. This goes for convention games as well. By not over-planning, I allow the players to really engage the world, and no matter what they do, my story can continue and hopefully the players all have a grand time.

Other GMs I know will have pages and pages of story and plot, and playing will be more reminiscent of the old classic Call of Cthulhu adventures.

This is a true “railroad” game.

cthulu

This is not a slight on CoC adventures. I LOVE Call of Cthulhu. However, it is a different game than what I normally run. Those who do run games like this have a very hard and fast plot that will happen no matter what. Players will find that they only a few real choices. Again, this is fine if that is the game your players have agreed to play.

My friend Ray ran a Star Wars game that was very much railroad in style. Now, we understood this going in, and to Ray’s credit, when we asked to have more freedom as a group, he gave us that freedom. He had full on handouts and backgrounds for all the NPC’s we would be interacting with, and a very detailed knowledge of the worlds we visited. It was impressive.

On the other hand; unlike my skeleton plot points and Ray’s handouts, there is my friend Bob.

Bob is currently running our group through a Burning Wheel game. Bob will let an idea sit and percolate for a long time. Like a year. He will jot down notes as they come to him. From there, he will then do a character creation session to get the players roles set up for his story. With that done, his real prep is complete. The week to week prep is really just noting 4 scenes he wants to try to work into the game. It takes him all of 5 minutes. It is truly amazing to see him do it.

As you can see, these are very different ways to prep and set up a game. All of which are perfectly legitimate ways to work the GM magic. The point here is to know how much time *you* as the GM will need to put into the game from getting the basic ideas running around in your old hamster wheel onto paper and all the way to getting to that climactic showdown with the adversary and the aftermath.

So, to GM means putting in extra time and effort and keeping up with the ongoing story. It is a demanding role, to be sure. However, it is one that is also incredibly rewarding. Next week we’ll wrap this whole thing up with a discussion on how to make sure the topics covered in the game are not offensive, while still being true to the theme and mood that the GM is trying to bring to the game.

As always please comment and let me know your thoughts either bad or good. Let’s get a good discussion going, and of course, thanks for reading!

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*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.