How to play Vampire: the Masquerade, First Edition

edited October 2012 in Story Games
We truly live in an age of wonders. Seconds after I snottily yell at people that high school is full of immature people treating each other like garbage and you can't put that at the feet of a set of game rules, I can run over to rpgnow and pick up, for less than $25, the original Vampire the Masquerade 1st Edition rules and the Player's Guide. These books are both from 1991. They are the Brain Damagy-est of all Brain Damage books. They supposedly support railroading and vicious GM domination of the players. Let's put on our bike helmets and find out together, shall we?

The Players Guide is a scans of images, the worst kind of gaming PDFs there are. But the original text/submissions have clearly been lost in the intervening 21 fucking years. Along with your own reliable memories of what was in these books, what you said to that girl and what she said to you, what really happened under the bleachers at the big game, and which play you did your junior year and which one you did your senior year.

So, 1991. George Bush was President. The first Gulf War begins. President Lech Walesa of Poland visits the United States. Jeffrey Dahmer and Mike Tyson are arrested. The USSR is dissolved.

And here we are sitting down to learn how to play this new game of Vampire.

The first fifteen pages of the book are in-character setting material from DRAKKULA wut, this is actually pretty great. Anyway, next.
This is a game of make-believe, of pretend, of storytelling. Though a game, it is more about storytelling than it is about winning. If you've never done this kind of thing before, you may be confused by the whole premise of a storytelling game. But once you catch on, you'll find that it isn't all that strange.

You, along with some of your friends are going to weave wondrous tales. Stories of monsters and creatures of the night. Tales of peril, horror and sinister, shadowy evil. And at the heart of it all are Vampires. These stories are of a more grim and dark nature than the fairy and dark nature than the fairy tales that you might remember (though those too were rather grim if you think back), and they will capture your imagination and involve you far more deeply than any play or movie. This is because you're inside the story and not just watching it. This game is your opportunity to truly
experience horror, not just watch it.

This storytelling game provides a way to experience a terror of an all too immediate nature, for it allows you to experience the horror from the other side of the mirror. The horror of Vampire is the curse of what it is like to be half-beast and half-angel, trapped in a world of no absolutes, where morality is chosen, not ordained. The horror of Vampire is the stirrings of the Beast within and the cravings for warm blood.
Perhaps the greatest risk of playing Vampire is seeing yourself in the mirror. To play this game, you must bear witness to the madness within you, that which you strive to master and overcome, that which you cannot bear to face.

Unless you are willing to face the reflection of your own imperfections, then this game is not for you.
Awesome, this game sounds great. I have a clear picture of what the goal of this game is. There is simply no way you can get through that section without knowing what the GOAL of the game is. I still don't know what to DO, but I have a clear picture of what the game is headed.

The next page or two contains some stuff about why stories are important/cool, but we're nerdy reading types in high school, whatever, we already know stories are great. Let's get to how to play.
Vampire is not only a storytelling game, but a roleplaying game as well. You not only tell stories, but you also act through them. Roleplaying is a type of interactive storytelling. As a player of Vampire, you will take on the persona and role of a character which you create, and then pretend to be that character during the course of the story. One of the players is the Storyteller, who creates and guides the story. The Storyteller describes what happens as a result of what the players say and do. It is the Storyteller who decides if the characters succeed or fail, suffer or prosper, live or die.

Ultimately, the life of a character is in the player's hands, for the player decides what the character says and does. The player decides what risks to accept or decline. Everything you do when you play your character has an effect on the world. Characters are central to a story, for they create and direct the plot- without characters you can't have a story. As the story flows, it is the characters who direct and energize the progress of the plot, not the decisions of the Storyteller.
Welp, so much for that "storyteller is a brutal overlord" theory. What's interesting is that it's the CHARACTERS that direct the plot, not ANY of the players, especially not the Storyteller...

More to come!
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Comments

  • edited October 2012
    I know this is nit-picky and not really interesting, but it does directly contradict itself there.
    It is the Storyteller who decides if the characters succeed or fail, suffer or prosper, live or die.
    OK, so the Storyteller decides who lives and who dies.

    And then the very next sentence.
    Ultimately, the life of a character is in the player's hands, for the player decides what the character says and does.
    Wait what?
  • edited October 2012
    I think in context of the whole thing the contradiction is a bit less. The player decides on a macro level where the plot goes. "Ultimately" whether his character lives or dies is in her hands. She chooses what direction the plot is going and what situations the character gets into. The Storyteller resolves how those situations end up. (The rules also help.)

    Kind of like D&D sandbox play. The player decided to send their character into the dangerous monster-filled area. The DM rolls the dice that determine whether they do in fact die. The player is "ultimately" responsible in that situation. At least that is how this setup considers it.

    But you're right, there is some contradiction there. I think in the context of the rest of the book it works.

    By the way, if anyone can figure out how to make blockquotes stand out a bit more, I'd appreciate a primer in whisper or just in the thread.
  • edited October 2012
    (Obviously some cross-posting is involved here, but I'm sure we can handle that as old forum hands.)

    Rock on, Jason! I'm all for first-hand analysis of historical rpg texts. A couple of observations:

    Regarding the goals and purpose of the game, you say that it's made very clear in that introduction. For the sake of clarity, I'll say how I understand that text: it seems to say that the game is about cooperatively creating stories which are experienced from a first-person viewpoint, as characters in it. Fair enough.

    As for who is the brutal overlord here, I find that the text you quote is remarkably honest about being the exact sort of game people tend to accuse Vampire of being. Check it out:

    "The Storyteller describes what happens as a result of what the players say and do. It is the Storyteller who decides if the characters succeed or fail, suffer or prosper, live or die."

    And then:

    "Characters are central to a story, for they create and direct the plot- without characters you can't have a story. As the story flows, it is the characters who direct and energize the progress of the plot, not the decisions of the Storyteller. "

    The only way I can interpret these superficially opposite sentiments as a comprehensive theory of how the game is played is as follows: the game is about character-driven stories where we are most interested in the internal states of the characters. The Storyteller actually decides everything about what happens in the external world, effectively, as he has total control over resolution systems ("decides of the characters succeed or fail"), but the other players get to decide whether their characters feel sad or glad about the events. Characters "direct" the plot, the text says, but by "plot" it evidently merely means declaring actions, not outcomes: a character can try to do things and they can feel things, but it's the Storyteller who decides the external consequences, and he also decides the environment in which the character acts. The "plot" that the Vampire character directs consists of what this new millenia would term "color narration".

    This is actually exactly the way I've understood Vampire to work. Do you think that this is what the text is attempting to convey, Jason, or am I simply reading too much into what is after all just the introductory section? The book will no doubt provide us with more material to aid our understanding, so we both might be jumping the gun here.
  • One of the players is the Storyteller, who creates and guides the story.

    Case closed.
  • Your interpretation of the introductory bit makes sense, Jason - I can see how that might be what it means. My D&D sandbox works exactly like that (insofar as direction of play is concerned; resolution is not by GM fiat): the player decides that his character is going to go to Paris, and this decision then sets up the environment and material the GM is going to present. It's a challenging mode of play, as the GM can't really prep much in advance when the players might just decide that hey, we'll switch tracks and stop interacting with the NPCs and places we've done so far, and instead just go to Paris.

    But by all means, do proceed in your reading. I'm sure you'll find some remarkably interesting snippets for us to mull over in there. Regarding block quotes, they've been fucked since the forum software upgrade; somebody would need to write in some better CSS for them. My inclination would be to suck it up, or perhaps manually change the font color for the entire block quote.
  • edited October 2012
    Your mention of the rules is very important to a lot of the flaws of this style of game.

    Lets look at these three sentences here:
    One of the players is the Storyteller, who creates and guides the story. The Storyteller describes what happens as a result of what the players say and do. It is the Storyteller who decides if the characters succeed or fail, suffer or prosper, live or die.
    This is unambiguous. The Storyteller, not the group, creates and guides the story. They describe the results of what the players do, and they decide if the characters succeed or fail. The rules don't adjudicate, the storyteller decides.

    I think that the emphasis in books like Burning Wheel and Apocalypse World saying, in short, "Do not do this! The dice decide. Follow these rules." are as a response to this style, and a conscious effort to break the kind of habits that this sort of permission creates. As someone who often ends up in the GM role, the kind of responsibility that this text tells me to take up is immense. If it's my job to decide everything then the ultimate success or failure of every situation is in my hands. If the game sucks, its always my fault.

    That caused a lot of anxiety for me when I started playing Vampire back in the day.

    RE: Blockquotes, I have no idea. I'm trying italics for this post.
  • I don't think "color narration" matches what that text says the characters are doing. The characters "create and direct" the plot by their decisions. The consequences are decided by the Storyteller, but the only consequences that matter are consequences of character decisions. This is exactly, exactly "playing to find out what happens", if we must take some piece of indie game jargon today back in time 21 years and try to fit it in here.

    Their decisions create the events of the story. I do think you (mostly) have the Storyteller role right (more on this in the Storyteller section, which does indeed close the case - in my favor - forever.)
  • edited October 2012
    Jack, here's what the rules are for:
    In Vampire, unlike in pretend, there are a few rules to help you roleplay. They are used mainly to avoid arguments, "Bang! Bang! You're dead - No I'm not!" and add a deeper sense of realism to the story. Rules direct the progress of the story, and help define the capacities and weaknesses of the characters. These rules are described in the following chapter.
    So I do think the rules provide some "direction" to the story, but you're right, the players, including the Storyteller, direct it much more - remember that the characters' decisions create and advance the plot, though, so it's not all on the Storyteller. You don't have to decide what "direction" to go in, the characters and the rules will do that for you. You handle consequences, environment and other aspects of situation.
  • Actually, how about we don't gang up on Jason any more until he gets an opportunity to show us the lay of the land. This is an interesting topic to be sure, but we're in danger of never getting to the good stuff at the end of the book (I assume that it's laid out intro-setting-chargen-resolution-GMing or something like that) if we get stuck on the introduction.

    Also yes, playing to find out what happens. I'm cool with that.
  • edited October 2012
    The Storyteller section clears up a lot of this. Here's what Vampire: The Masquerade, First Edition, said about the role of the Storyteller in 1991, on pages 20 and 21, right up front:
    The Storyteller's primary duty is to make sure the other players have a good time. The way to do that is to tell a good story. Unlike traditional Storytellers, however, you don't sim­ply tell the story, you create the story and then you let the players live it out in the roles of the primary characters. It is a careful balance between narration and adjudication, between story and game. Sometimes you must set the scene or describe what occurs (such as when the characters were asleep), but mostly you must decide what occurs in reaction to the words and actions of the characters - as fairly and impartially as you can.

    As the Storyteller, you are going to have to create and guide stories for the enjoyment of the other players. You are in charge as a umpire or coach, yet you are also an entertainer ­you must balance your two roles. Most of this book was written to help you do just that. Not to make being a Storyteller easy, because it never will be, but to make you better at it.
    The bolding is mine.

    MOSTLY what a Storyteller does - the majority - is that you decide what occurs in reaction to the words and actions of the characters. This is the main thing a Storyteller does - describe how the world reacts to the words and actions of the characters.

    And what authority does the Storyteller have (versus the responsibility of being an entertainer?) The authority is that of an umpire or coach, neither of whom have significant control over how a baseball game plays out. A coach gives advice and analyzes the overall situation of the game. The umpire makes sure everyone follows the rules and nobody gets hurt. But their contribution, certainly compared to the decisions and skill of the players, do not determine the outcome of the game. It's the players play that determines the game.
  • edited October 2012
    Yeah, I'm going to go over the introductory material, skip a lot of the world stuff (though I may summarize it a bit because I think the mechanics also support my position) and then get to the more detailed "how to play" stuff at the end. Feel free to discuss as I go, it's cool. (Also I have a bunch of other stuff to do today so won't get to finish it all up.)
  • I hope this isn't too terribly off-topic, but I want to respond to a bugbear I have about BW and AW (which I should mention are probably my two favorite RPGs ever, BTW) is that there's no 'GM Fiat' in them.

    The dice decide everything in Apocalypse World and The Burning Wheel? Well except for:
    *What happens when the roll fails. Sure, there are guidelines but the GM ultimately makes stuff up. In BW, you're supposed to 'fail forward' and make it interesting, but the balls in your court based on your situation and players as to what is interesting. In AW, you may pick a move, but how the MC interprets it is still up to the MC. If you Separate the PCs, you still need to place that in the context of the fictional situation.

    *Who are the bandits attacking the town? The nobles trying to steal the crown? Sure, the PCs will often have an impact on this, but those are still human making shit up. And the GM is going to be making a lot of calls here, even if they use the circles system or ask lots of questions like AW says.

    *Lots of other things, like the look and feel of the world in either game. What kind of strange creatures are in the world? What's the sorurce of magic or the psychic maelstrom? Are gods real? If so, what are they like?

    And from what I've seen, the best World of Darkness games, like Vampire and (although I may be alone in this opinion) Werewolf: The Forsaken, provide different but existent tools to guide the game and make it easy to make GM judgement calls. They could be written more clearly and better organized for use, however.
  • The differences in use of GM decision-making are mostly in the reasons and limits. The traditional rpg will state that the GM has wide powers of decision-making because it's his job to bring the fun and this requires wide executive freedom to mess with things. This is completely different from the itemized GM responsibilities of your average proge design like say Apocalypse World. Of course not in all ways (it's still the GM making decisions), but in some pretty important ways that matter: the AW GM cannot pre-empt procedures arbitrarily to save a game, nor is it his sole responsibility to ensure that the game succeeds. He does not use authority when he executes one of his responsibilities, he merely fulfills a responsibility assigned to him by the rules and the group.

    I for one would find a game where dice decide everything to be a... dice game. I mean, evidently it can't be a roleplaying game, unless dice have learned to speak all of a sudden. Of course you need to leave room in your game design for individual players - possible GM included - to make choices.

    All this I write to clarify that "GM fiat" does not mean "the GM does things". It means "GM uses ill-defined supreme authority bestowed upon him by the virtue of his position". By this definition Apocalypse World is, indeed, fiat-free, and everything the GM does in the game is done at the behest of the constitutional process and not because he feels like it today.

    As for whether Vampire involves GM fiat in this sense of extraordinary powers outside of the system, I'll be interested in Jason's take. It seems to me that he's setting up an argument for the Vampire Storyteller being merely or mostly an umpire whose primary responsibility is to introduce a situation, let the players make choices and then bring on the consequences. If this actually proves to be the case with the game's GMing advice, then this could just be the biggest misread of a roleplaying game since the dramatization of D&D. Elaborate GM-designed campaigns with preplanned themes and plot arcs are considered almost a Whitewolf trademark, after all.
  • I have an idea! Let's take paragraphs that are entirely self-contradictory, not to mention frustratingly vague, and bold the parts that support functional play.
  • edited October 2012
    The key bit for me about that "Storyteller decides if the characters succeed or fail" / "the life of a character is in the player's hands" text is not that it can't be reconciled for a group that's running smoothly. It's that, for a group that's not running smoothly, it gives no help in resolving the argument. "See, look, I'm right!" "No, look, I'm right!"
  • edited October 2012
    In Vampire, unlike in pretend, there are a few rules to help you roleplay. They are used mainly to avoid arguments, "Bang! Bang! You're dead - No I'm not!"
    I love this. To me, it says that if you already happen to have a system of your own for avoiding such arguments, you don't need the rules! Personally, I'd be stoked to play a game with all the inspirational flavor and input material of Vampire without the rules. I quite like VtM as a source of world and character fodder.
  • edited October 2012
    Yeah....the other half of that sentence, "realism", can equally be replaced with consensus if you're all on the same page about what "realistic" is in that context. i.e. we've all read Dracula and Anne Rice novels and know that's what we're after. I think by the time Second Edition rolled around in 1992, "freeform Vampire" was explicitly stated as a potential structure for the game group. I know "rotating Storytellers" was (something else that militates away from Storyteller-as-dictator.) I can't remember if any of this was in First Edition in 1991 though.
    for a group that's not running smoothly, it gives no help in resolving the argument. "See, look, I'm right!" "No, look, I'm right!"
    Yes, definitely. This is describing what play is supposed to be. It isn't really talking about what happens when something goes wrong. (Actually there is very little about that in any game, compared to providing exemplars/instruction for good play.)

    And Deliverator, my lad, I don't see anything contradictory between "telling a good story" and "deciding what the consequences of character action are". Virtually all stories are about the consequences of character action are. All the target stories for Vampire were.

    Thark, the organization of the book is definitely really rough. I'll talk about that at some point, remind me if I forget.

    A lot of the "railroady" stuff that people remember from that time period was based around module play. (And indeed, if you looked to modules for examples of how-to-play-this-game, not an unusual or incorrect thing to do, you could bring that into your normal gameplay.) This wasn't the fault of 90s games, though. Railroading modules and their impact hit the hobby way, way before the 90s.
  • edited October 2012
    MOSTLY what a Storyteller does - the majority - is that you decide what occurs in reaction to the words and actions of the characters. This is the main thing a Storyteller does - describe how the world reacts to the words and actions of the characters.
    Cool. So, as Storyteller, my rationale for describing those reactions is what? "Be as fair and impartial as you can." Okay, got it, just like an umpire, that's a perfect analogy.

    Oh, but wait! My overall job is to make sure everyone has fun, by telling a good story. So if being an impartial ref makes for a good story, great! But if it doesn't... what do I do?

    Okay, the text says it's not easy, but the book will make me better at it. Still reading...

  • Sure, Apocalypse World totally makes that easier. But it's still the GM making choices. I see a distinction between AW and BW as opposed to, say, Some hypothetical game that literally is a list of skills and says the GM does whatever. I'm saying Vampire, Travller, Call of Cthulhu, all have similar game-specific principles. Apocalypse World is really good at explaining it, though. Definitely more so than Vampire.
  • edited October 2012
    Okay, back to the text. So some of us will be Storytellers...but what do the rest do?
    Most people who play this game will be players, assuming the roles of the central characters in the story. To play Vampire you need to create a character, and then you need to roleplay that character. Being a player does not require as much responsibility as being a Storyteller, but just as much effort and concentration. You begin the game in the role of a Vampire ­one newly created and as yet unfamiliar with the world of Vampires. You must be both an actor and a player.

    As an actor, you speak for your character and act out whatever you wish your character to do or say. Whatever you say, your character says, unless you are specifically asking a question of the Storyteller or are describing your actions. By announcing and describing to the other players what you are doing, you become a part of the ongoing story. You try to do things which allow your character to succeed, so as to "win the game." This strategy element of the game is essential, for it is what so often creates the thrill and excitement of a dramatic moment.

    Often after describing the actions you want to take, you will need to make dice rolls to see if you succeed in doing what you have illustrated with words. Your Character Traits, descriptions of your strengths and weaknesses, dictate how well you can do certain things. Actions are a basic part of Vampire, for they describe how characters change the world.

    To be a good player, you must become both an actor and a strategist - balancing the personality and survival instincts of your character. You try to "win" the game by employing your character's strengths and working around your character's weaknesses.

    To some extent, you are also the Storyteller and may add ideas and elements to the story which the Storyteller may accept or reject as she sees fit. In the end, it is the story, not the character, which is the most important.
    This is actually way more contradictory than the role-of-the-Storyteller stuff, but what leaps out at me is:

    * Your job is to get your character to succeed by roleplaying them. You, like they, will want to play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. What this means is you are not holding your character at arm's length and watching them play out a tragic story. You are to battle as hard as you can to avoid tragedy and achieve victory. In crucial situations, the player's investment in their character's success is what makes that situation dramatic.

    * At the same time, you're in collaboration with someone who is going to be portraying the environment and determining the outcome of what you do (in direction with the rules). In the end you're going to have to let go of that devotion to your character and see it as a audience member.

    This hard, hard, HARD identification between player and character is unusual for games, not just in the present day, but throughout the history of the hobby. In fact (looking ahead), there are around two more pages where the game urges you to recognize parts of yourself in the character you create, and opines that when you roleplay you are always playing some element of yourself. So that last sentence about "the story" being more important is really the outlier here. That second bullet point of mine is by FAR the weaker of the two.

    The "winning" aspect of Vampire comes up again next and it gets refined. But "how to play", as in, how I decide to announce what my character does, is pretty much done at this point. I make that decision based on the character's goals and abilities.
  • Gosh I love this, JDCorley. Thanks.

    I don't get what the haters are on about. (The haters in this thread, not of Vamp more generally.)

    (Of note: if you like this kind of retrospective, and also you're into weird twitter, know that in a couple hours @vinceness is going to start a retrospective-spine of another infamous tweeter. Following him on a Sunday night is like watching an awesome behind-the-scenes documentary.)
  • I looked ahead, and the multiple-Storyteller and freeform-play structures are not in 1ed., though freeform play is mentioned as part of a spectrum of Storytelling styles, with "default" Vampire being more structured than that.
  • That emphasis on winning is pretty interesting. I can get behind the idea of a challenge-oriented game where established fiction matters deeply, as my own D&D campaign is like that, but here there's also the added ideal of character immersion. I wonder how that's supposed to play out in practice. Maybe I should play this game sometime. The fluff of Vampire certainly is good, I dig that part.

    All in all, though, I think that David has a good point here: the fact that we can parse a coherent game out of a text that buckshots every imaginable rpg buzzword of the time at the reader just means that we're reading with an agenda. Similarly of course a game text that doesn't quite say everything you need to understand it gets a pass with me if it was intended for a historical context where that missing information was widely known and acknowledged. Jason's quotes remind me more of the former end of the range, as it does seem to me that this game text has already managed to throw in lures for every possible type of goal a roleplayer might have had at the time. We've got telling stories, theatre, competition, character immersion and so on. (This, by the way, is the major cornerstone of what I think the tradition of trad-type rpg design is really all about: writing non-committal game texts that everybody can interpret in the way that makes them the happiest.)

    I guess what I'm saying is that we'll want to see more of what the book tells us, especially concrete steps of play. I mean, we'll understand what the book really means by the storyteller deciding everything or the characters really determining direction of play once we see what kind of play the game encourages in its play examples and GMing advice.
  • edited October 2012
    I actually was kind of surprised by the "here's how you win" stuff in the section above. I had recollected Vampire as having the normal "you don't really win this game" kind of thing that most RPGs had. As it turns out, this is refined a few pages later. (See what I mean, bad organization.) I'm skipping a bit over a page here, it is basically about the stuff I outlined above - you are your character, your desire should be to work to have your character achieve their desires, put something of yourself in your character, etc.

    Gonna try some new blockquotin' tips people have whispered me for this next section, "Winning and Losing"
    There is no single "winner" of Vampire, since the object is not to defeat the other players. To win at all, you need to cooperate with the other players. Because this is a storytelling game, there is no way to claim victory for yourself. In fact, it is a game in which you are likely to lose, for it is difficult to do anything to slow your character's inexorable slide into chaos. The whole idea is to hang on as long as possible, to eke out the most drama from the ongoing tragedy.

    The only true measure of success in Vampire is sur­viving. If the character has some other great overwhelming drive, such as revenge, accomplishing it is also a measure of success. Additionally, stories have conclusions that either benefit or harm the characters. If the characters learn that a presumed serial killer is really a Vampire and manage to halt her rampage, then they "win." If they never even find out just who was behind the murders, much less manage to stop her, then they lose.

    In order to aid victory, the characters must usually become friends. They look out for one another and have a modicum of trust in each other. The world in which Vampires exist is so dangerous that you need someone you can trust for survival. It is an evolutionary adaptation.
    This makes a lot more sense, instead of talking about winning or losing the game, Vampire asks you to shift that to winning or losing in terms of relatively smaller goals along the way, and in terms of teamwork.

    Putting survival as the first/overarching priority is straight up a bad mistake when combined with some of the other mechanics, but that's because it actually puts too much in the hands of the players, not because it makes the Storyteller a monstrous tyrant. It gives the players power (and here, the priority) to just straight up opt out of the game. More on that when I talk about the mechanics.

    Edit: Blockquoting works. What you do to get the color is put "rel=blah" in the initial blockquote tag.
  • Hey, the Live-Action section! I forgot this was in here. There's a whole two pages about it later. Haha, enjoy:
    Vampire was designed to allow for the easy inclusion of Live-Action roleplaying. It includes instructions and hints on how to run parts of the game using Live-Action roleplaying, where players physically play out the actions of their characters as an actor would (though without weapons or combat of any sort and always within the home). These periodic episodes will be played when the characters are at "home base" or in situations where inter-character roleplaying is at a premium.
    "Also I do not know what 'at a premium' means."

    This is kind of cool. "Hey, we're back at the haven/nightclub/whatever. Everybody LARP coming in." (turns on 90s music....why is everyone looking at me like that? You listen to GOTH stuff?!? Oh man, I don't know how to play this game.)

  • Putting survival as the first/overarching priority is straight up a bad mistake when combined with some of the other mechanics, but that's because it actually puts too much in the hands of the players, not because it makes the Storyteller a monstrous tyrant. It gives the players power (and here, the priority) to just straight up opt out of the game.
    This is interesting about Vampire. It was quite a surprise for me that the one time I played the game (nWoD Vampire to be exact, one session's worth) my visceral reaction as a player was to immediately question the big hole between the expectations of the GM and the natural character viewpoint of the neonate vampire: why does my character care about vampire socializing, again? Why is he taking a mission from this more important vampire to do something? I'd never gotten how questionable that whole premise is from just reading about the game, I needed to actually sit down and run through the character generation before I realized that there was nothing on that character sheet to explain why my character should give a fuck about vampire politics. Understandably my character was then quite lukewarm about running into the GM's trapped warehouse.
  • edited October 2012
    For literally the next 175 pages, the system and setting are presented, so I'm going to pull out a few things from it that are of interest to how the game is played:

    * Player characters are very powerful. The sample character rolls 6 dice for Intelligence + Streetwise, an automatic success on all average tests of finding out something on the street. This is not even the biggest die pool that the sample character has. NPCs must make a concerted effort to oppose them, or have superior knowledge that plays on their weaknesses, which means that the players have more opportunities to cut them out through lying or manipulation or figuring out their weaknesses and murdering them first.

    * The basic system requires either simple tests (just roll your dice and see if you get 1 or more successes) or no rolling at all. Everything else, including the entirety of the combat rules, are "Complications". The advice on when to use Complications is hilarious (and dumb):
    There are a number of different ways to complicate the rolls, some of them are discussed below. For troupes heavily into roleplaying, simple rolls and automatic successes are enough. Generally, you use a complication if you or the players want a break from the roleplaying, if you want to roll a few dice, or if you want to make a game out of the scene. Complications can add drama to the story and create a depth of passion and focus.
    It's goofy as hell, but also note that players can choose when to use Complications and not just the Storyteller: Teamwork is one of the "basic" Complications listed.

    * The famed messed-up botching rules really only start to be significant at super-high and super-low difficulty numbers. This is ably explained here. Although they became Internet-famous, the situations in which these difficulty numbers would be used were relatively minor. Super-low difficulty numbers just used the automatic success rules. There were some situations where stacking difficulties could get you up to that Difficulty 9-10 range if you weren't careful, though, so that was more of a problem. And note that the base rules, sans Complications, virtually never got there. You kind of had to choose to throw yourself into that pit.

    * Not only are there sample characters, but even the art in the system section of the book tells a story of a Vampire girl who becomes god-Queen of her ancient city, but is torn down by a revolt, sleeps for centuries, travels the world, sees her former vampiric lover reincarnated (she thinks) and so she Embraces him, and he goes through Neonate Problems, then ends up killing her and....becoming human again! It's pretty badass. By the way, becoming human again is a perfectly normal thing to have as a goal in this version of the game.

    * Not only is there a sample character but there are two pages of things the game asks you to do with his character sheet to help understand the game. Roll for him jumping across rooftops. Roll for him sneaking up on someone. Did you succeed, fail or botch? And so on. It's pretty cool. Also I think this addresses Eero's earlier point of how the system connects to what you as the player do. You essentially practice thinking up things to do and figuring out what on your sheet helps you to do those things, and practicing the simple-test system to get a feel for the probabilities. It's cool.

    More soon.
  • This is interesting about Vampire. It was quite a surprise for me that the one time I played the game (nWoD Vampire to be exact, one session's worth) my visceral reaction as a player was to immediately question the big hole between the expectations of the GM and the natural character viewpoint of the neonate vampire: why does my character care about vampire socializing, again? Why is he taking a mission from this more important vampire to do something? I'd never gotten how questionable that whole premise is from just reading about the game, I needed to actually sit down and run through the character generation before I realized that there was nothing on that character sheet to explain why my character should give a fuck about vampire politics. Understandably my character was then quite lukewarm about running into the GM's trapped warehouse.
    You got it exactly. The breadth of motivation is another reason that Vampire is an anti-railroading marvel. (It's supported by the Nature/Demeanor mechanics too, btw.) This is also a reason that campaign design is so important to a successful Vampire game and why it's given so much space (and VERY SPECIFIC space) later in the book.

    Any of the editions of Vampire can be played perfectly well and successfully without ever interacting with vampire politics - and this is actually supported with significant campaign design and supplemental support. So someone who doesn't communicate "this is what THIS GAME is about" is messing up, big time. There is nothing mechanically invalid about making a character that doesn't give a shit about vampire politics, and if the game is not about that, then it's not even a bad character design decision.
  • I think you are making way too many excuses for the text, so that it reads the way you want it to read, Jason.

    Is there a definition of "story" in the book anywhere?
  • edited October 2012
    Only as a period of time. Other than that, the closest thing to a definition of story is what I found above: setting the scene, describing what happens, but "mostly" reacting to what the characters say and do (which is "the plot" of the story.)

    And no, no excuses anywhere. I looked back. I just got done finished saying there's a big problem in what the players are supposed to prioritize in Vampire, did you not see that? How hard do I have to smash it in order to satisfy? Should I have been meaner about the "at a premium" thing?
  • I think Jason's being quite fair. I mean, I at least obviously read him as someone who's internalized the way the writer writes, so of course he's going to understand and interpret the text constructively. You should see me explaining Sorcerer, it's exactly the same; I'll note the places where the author didn't know how to phrase himself as clearly as we do today, and I'll make excuses for where the text just plain doesn't match up with the culture of play. At most the degree of interpretation is different, but I'm completely biased to be saying something like that.

    Very few roleplaying game texts are so completely streamlined that there is no contradictory material in them; this is a pretty unique virtue of modern progressive design in fact, post-Forge designers know that we'll laugh at them if they actually include bullshit pro forma rules or advice they don't really mean. But it was a different world in the '90s and everybody was writing roleplaying games as part of a historical tradition of aping prior successes. Even a game that obviously was very unique and that the designer played in a very powerful, exact manner would have been written in an ambiguous and standardized manner, repeating verbiage from prior works.

    Against this background I'm totally cool with a pretty large degree of interpretative reading. The important part is not whether every individual paragraph accords with the message, but rather how the game one would actively construct out of the textual mess actually plays. For this purpose introductory explanations are often not as important as mechanical procedures, for instance, as the latter actually actively inform what you're doing at the table, while introductory prose at the very best just puts you into the correct frame of mind to interpret the rest of the material correctly.

    That being said, if this thread really ends with Jason triumphantly proving how Vampire never was supposed to be a railroad clearinghouse, I'll promise to read the book myself to confirm it.
  • Since nobody agrees with me on what railroading is anyway, I doubt I'm going to prove that to anyone's satisfaction, Eero...but I will show you that the place where Storyteller "force" happens most significantly is in campaign design. In other words, the Storyteller CAN make your character care about vampire politics, by saying, beforehand, "This is a campaign about vampire politics, you will make characters that care about it." And to some people that's an unreasonable request! It certainly isn't without it's downsides.

    So in order to satisfy the unquenchable Story Hyphen Games Dot Com lust for Two Minute Hates of Vampire, here, I'll go over why the the priority on survival and the mechanical system combine to make a big, big mistake.

    The needs of a Vampire for survival are pretty simple, and most are directly laid out in the system:

    * They need a place to crash that is free of sunlight and nosy mortals.
    * They need a source of blood, preferably human blood.

    And there is one more that's strongly implied in the setting material:

    * They need political clout or allies sufficient to keep vampire politics from murdering them.

    There are Backgrounds that can be purchased at character creation that directly solve all these problems: Resources, Herd and Status. Furthermore, the experience rules are such that the Storyteller controls whether or not you will ever gain more of these Backgrounds. You can't buy them with experience. So if your goal in this game is to survive, first and foremost, before "becoming human again" or "bringing down the corrupt Vampire power structure" or whatever other goal is concocted by the players, then you should put all your character creation points into those three things and then ruthlessly avoid doing anything risky no matter what the Storyteller does.

    And every single vampire has a power to help them avoid being forced into risky situations! Brujah can super-speed away and punch out a wall, Gangrel can sink into the ground and wait a few days, Ventrue could tell people to fuck right off, Tremere could do whatever they thought up, Malkavians and Nosferatu could disappear, etc. etc.

    This is BAD DESIGN. You literally can, and according to this text, should design yourself out of playing Vampire. And according to the Storyteller advice, which is all about determining the consequences of character action, and tailoring results to the Traits of the character, the Storyteller should reward you for your successful checking-out with absolutely nothing happening to you.

    Now, if you are more interested in other goals than in mere survival, then the Background system makes more sense and is not a big mistake. And if (as in nWoD), you can buy up Backgrounds later, you can adjust your priorities still further. It's the combination of the prioritization of survival and the early, guaranteed access to mechanics that can ensure survival that makes this really bad design. If you didn't get access to these until later in play, or if there was another priority other than survival, then this would not be a problem (other than still being priced wrongly but whatever.)

    AND this problem is exacerbated in the Player's Guide with the addition of Merits and Flaws, Merits that can be used to improve the safety/luxury of your Haven, improve the availability/nutritiousness of your Herd, and improve your protection from vampire political fallout/murdering. DANG, this is BAD!!

    Grr, bad Vampire! Bad design! Let's all glare at it! Good thing I have on this bike helmet!

    I'll find some more later if you want, it's cool by me. But I'm gonna get back to going over How To Play.
  • I'm not asking you to smash it, but the stuff you've quoted is a poorly-written mish-mash of different GMing methods.

    -- entertain your friends
    -- fair and impartial umpiring, with rules to avoid arguments
    -- "guide and create the story" (I mean really, wtf).

    It seems like first and foremost the role of the Storyteller is to host and entertain, using the tools provided by the book (rules, colour, situation ideas). Which is fine, but I just wrote that out better than Mark did 21 years ago. But if that's the case, then the rules are a tool for the Storyteller to decide what happens, and if we're supposed to abide by the rules and have the Storyteller as an impartial umpire, then that's not the same thing as entertaining us. And all tehse references to "story" are particularly confusing without a definition. Isn't story what the main characters do? Why am I supposed to mostly react to the players if it's my job to create all the events?

    I mean, I get your point. The book at least tries to say the Storyteller is there to introduce situation and respond to the players. But those contradictory passages don't magically make perfect sense, even after you interpret them. They're still poorly written and contradictory.
  • If Vampire has a problem, it's lack of clarity. The only white wolf book I've ever read that talked about railroading super positively it was the 2nd Edition Mage Player's guide. It told you to be a good player and railroad yourself by not using your powers to, for example, turn vamp into lawn chairs.

    Interestingly, this is diametrically opposed to what Vampire 1e says about advocating for your characters interests.

    I have not read WoD game, however, so Railroading may be in one of them somewhere.
  • A lot of the "railroady" stuff that people remember from that time period was based around module play. (And indeed, if you looked to modules for examples of how-to-play-this-game, not an unusual or incorrect thing to do, you could bring that into your normal gameplay.) This wasn't the fault of 90s games, though. Railroading modules and their impact hit the hobby way, way before the 90s.
    This, though, this is pretty bad. I mean come on, so it's okay for me to beat my kids 'cause my dad beat me? Diablerie: Mexico was a shit product, and actively detrimental to having fun playing Vampire, but if you want to just remove it from the discussion as a stupid mistake they tried not to repeat, then just say so. That's cool. I played it, it was crap, it didn't get the spirit of the rest of the game at all, I thought. But don't make excuses for it just because other stuff at the time was bad. If it's bad, it's bad, period.

    However, if Diablerie: Mexico IS responsible for a lot of the railroady reputation, I wouldn't be surprised. I don't think there's a lot of rails in the rulebook or the stuff you've quoted, either, frankly.

  • Also, are you crossposting this in FATAL & Friends?
  • edited October 2012
    Haha, I'm not! That could be cool, though.

    And yeah, Diablerie: Mexico was really super bad. I don't own that anymore. I think it may have been the first gaming product I ever got rid of. What I'm saying is that D:M is part of a super-long history of shitty railroaded modules. If we want to get our hate on for those, I'm all down for that in another thread. But that ISN'T Vampire's fault. It's not even Dragonlance's fault. I have Champions modules from 1980 that have "no matter what the players do..." in it. It was in the hobby from the very beginning. The Storyteller advice in Vampire said "don't railroad". Then they made a Vampire module that railroaded everything.

    A lot of the contradictions get worked out/clarified over the course of the book, as I pointed out above. The players control the characters and therefore the plot, but the environment the plot occurs in is in the hands of the Storyteller, as well as inciting incidents that may get the characters to get a plot moving. The Storyteller also handles the consequences of the character decisions.

    Story is mostly consequences of character decisions. Plot is character decisions and goals. That's not really contradictory. (It might be wrong, and confusing to someone who came in with other definitions of what those two things were, but not contradictory.)

    And "entertain your friends" is straight up defined as service to the story, so that's not contradictory either.

    It's not perfect and it stumbles around a bit, and I've pointed out where it does.

    But it certainly isn't the Epitome Of Horrible Gaming That Intentionally Hurt People And Harmed The Hobby that many say it is. It has a lot of really, really good things in it, and if you read it and played it the way it said to, it pretty reliably produced great gaming once a couple of bumps got ironed out.
  • edited October 2012
    But it certainly isn't the Epitome Of Horrible Gaming That Intentionally Hurt People And Harmed The Hobby that many say it is. It has a lot of really, really good things in it, and if you read it and played it the way it said to, it pretty reliably produced great gaming once a couple of bumps got ironed out.
    Right, but which part of the text are you supposed to rely on in order to 'play it the way it said to'?

    The text contradicts itself in multiple places, just in the pieces you've quoted in this thread. If you went into those quotes and changed where your bold tags were, you would get a very different game out of it.

    As someone who had fun playing Vampire, I know you can have fun with it, but I think where it failed was that the text didn't explain itself very well.

    This was the early 90's. The internet was in its infancy. We didn't have AP's or pod-casts to show us how other people played, and Vampire attracted a lot of new people to the hobby. A lot of those new people did not come from established play-cultures that would have provided them with the tools necessary to filter the often confusing text to produce good results.

    I know I didn't.



  • edited October 2012
    And "entertain your friends" is straight up defined as service to the story, so that's not contradictory either.
    Do we have a different idea of what contradictory means? It straight up says right there on page 20 the Storyteller's primary duty is to entertain and telling a good story is a tool to do that, which is the reverse of entertainment "as service to the story."

    Your definitions of "story" and "plot" make sense in this context though. If that's what Mark Rein dot Hagen was trying to say it would have been nice if he'd just said that in a clear and concise manner.
  • edited October 2012
    It doesn't say telling a good story is just a tool, it says the way to make sure that the others have a good time is to tell a good story. So the first time entertainment is mentioned it is immediately defined as telling a good story.

    And Jack, as you can see, yeah taking any one or two sentences can be really problematic. If you look at the whole thing it gives you really strong direction. The essays in the Player's Guide do even more.

    Okay, I'm gonna skip to the Storyteller's section and maybe return a little bit to the setting/system as we go on.
  • Thanks for making this thread, Jason. You're doing a really interesting and valuable thing. I've had some of my best and worst gaming playing Vampire, so I'm very interested in this discussion.

    One thing this thread exposes is how difficult it is to pin down what "The Game" is, in this context. Is it the text? Is it a particular reading of a text? Is it an instance of implementation of that reading?

    Jason, you're a champion of the "Everyone plays wrong" school of thought, so I find it interesting that you're promoting such an apparently literalist approach in this thread.
  • If you look at the whole thing it gives you really strong direction.
    I think this sentence here is the crux of the disagreement over just how bad this text is—and particularly in the context of its era, when, as others have pointed out, general Anglo-American tabletop culture was definitely not about "strong direction."

    I mean, I look at the parts you've quoted and I think, "Looking at the game text as a whole, you have the very definition of an incoherent mess." I'm willing to forgive some of the organizational problems, and even some of the math issues. I'm even willing to say, yeah, the GM clearly has to give the campaign some firm direction at the outset, and if he doesn't that's his fault and not the game's (even if I kind of suspect the text doesn't make this as clear as it could). Although, I will admit it's tough to have any respect whatsoever for a design that, as you yourself said, actively militates against engaging in a horror-tinged struggle for survival, even if there are other cool things about the game. Still, if I'm reading as generously as possible, spending your CP simply protecting yourself from conflict/harm was commonly an option in games of that era that simply had to be house-ruled away because it was so obviously "playing wrong" in most campaign styles.

    Because all of those detail sort of issues can be left to individual play-groups to sort out if the game does, indeed, help them get on the same page about the goal of the game and the role of the players, including the GM. (JackFractal makes a good point that the text was especially bad for newbies, however, who didn't know how to reconcile the contradictions.)

    It's the mind-boggling stupidity of the impossible and outright contradictory demands it places on both the GM and the PCs that condemns VtM1E.

    Matt
  • Jason, you're a champion of the "Everyone plays wrong" school of thought, so I find it interesting that you're promoting such an apparently literalist approach in this thread.
    I do think everyone plays wrong - I'm really trying to stay away from the much more obvious and powerful argument that Vampire must be a successful game text because so many game groups, including complete newbie game groups, had experiences with it that ranged from great to terrible-but-not-harmful with it for just that reason. Thanks. Okay, more this afternoon.
  • edited October 2012

    I do think everyone plays wrong - I'm really trying to stay away from the much more obvious and powerful argument that Vampire must be a successful game text because so many game groups, including complete newbie game groups, had experiences with it that ranged from great to terrible-but-not-harmful with it for just that reason. Thanks. Okay, more this afternoon.
    And I'm glad you're just sticking to actually commenting on what the text says this time, because it's pretty frustrating to see you try to deflect actual arguments by basically saying "McDonald's has fed so many customers, so any faults it may have are irrelevant for just that reason."
  • I'm really trying to stay away from the much more obvious and powerful argument that Vampire must be a successful game text because so many game groups, including complete newbie game groups, had experiences with it that ranged from great to terrible-but-not-harmful with it for just that reason.
    I think that’s very important observation.

    The game is clearly a mess that contains multiple contradictory pieces of advice on how to run it, and yet, it was a huge success.

    I think it may have been a huge success because it was a big mess with multiple contradictory pieces of advice on how to run it.

    In college, I took some courses on video-game design. Our final project was to build a game as a class. We all pitched game ideas. My friend and I worked really hard on ours, we had a full design document, clearly defined goals for players, and we’d worked out all the rules. It was very clear what we were going for.

    Our game wasn’t picked. In fact, none of the clearly defined games were picked. The game that was picked was the one that was the least defined. It was very hazy, the people pitching it had no clear idea of what they wanted to do, just a vague setting.

    They were picked, I believe, because their idea was vague enough that it didn't shut down any options. Because it was undefined, people could project their own dreams onto it. A more concrete idea, a clear design, shuts out other ideas.

    Dogs in the Vinyard tells a particular kind of story. It is clear in its goals. It says “play this game to do this one kind of thing”. A lot of modern games do this. By offering a clear viewpoint, by constructing a clear design, they invalidate other play options. Trying to run a dungeon-crawl with Microscope is basically impossible, but you might be able to do it (badly) with Vampire.

    Most of the games talked about on this forum take a clear stance on how you should be playing them, and by doing so they also take a clear stance on how you shouldn’t be playing them.

    Vampire doesn’t. In its incoherence it allows people to project the kind of game that they want to play onto it. It might not support those games very well, but it doesn’t explicitly forbid them.
  • Vampire doesn’t. In its incoherence it allows people to project the kind of game that they want to play onto it. It might not support those games very well, but it doesn’t explicitly forbid them.
    It always seemed to be a toolkit game to me; lots and lots of options that would drive you crazy and make your game suck if you tried to use them all at once, but which let you build exactly what you wanted if you took a more selective approach. A lot of what I remember from the book (in 2e at least, when I first picked it up) was suggestions on how to choose what was going to be in your Vampire game and what wasn't. Things like having only four different clans in the city, or all the characters being the same generation, etc..

    It'll be interesting to see how much of that was in the first edition, or if they ramped it up in second edition to try and do more to prevent kitchen-sink debacles.
  • It always seemed to be a toolkit game to me; lots and lots of options that would drive you crazy and make your game suck if you tried to use them all at once, but which let you build exactly what you wanted if you took a more selective approach.
    I can sort of see that, but if it's a toolkit its one that is fantastically poorly labeled. It's the kind that has a toothpick, a piece of cheese, and teddy-bear all in the section marked "Hammer".
  • It always seemed to be a toolkit game to me; lots and lots of options that would drive you crazy and make your game suck if you tried to use them all at once, but which let you build exactly what you wanted if you took a more selective approach.
    I can sort of see that, but if it's a toolkit its one that is fantastically poorly labeled. It's the kind that has a toothpick, a piece of cheese, and teddy-bear all in the section marked "Hammer".
    Thinking of game texts as toolkits seem to have been a pretty common mindset at the time VtM 1e came out, although I may be misremebering through the fog of time.
  • Weren't Gurps and Hero most popular from about 1993-2000ish? Just like the WoD? That might support the 'toolkits are popular' idea.
  • A lot of the "railroady" stuff that people remember from that time period was based around module play. (And indeed, if you looked to modules for examples of how-to-play-this-game, not an unusual or incorrect thing to do, you could bring that into your normal gameplay.) This wasn't the fault of 90s games, though. Railroading modules and their impact hit the hobby way, way before the 90s.
    However, if Diablerie: Mexico IS responsible for a lot of the railroady reputation, I wouldn't be surprised. I don't think there's a lot of rails in the rulebook or the stuff you've quoted, either, frankly.

    Railroading was not the only way to run scenarios in the '80s. There were good early examples that could have been followed in the 90's but were not. Some games took the tac of presenting what wargaming and strategic siNmulations had already done: present a scenario.
    That is to say, a situation ripe with tension and drama. The players make a few crucial decisions and the results play out. FGU (Daredevils, Bushido, and elsewhere) published wonderful scenarios with colourful maps, interlinked NPCs, and a few agendas. Players had to make some quick choices and see the results of their actions. No railroading there, but a problem was dumped on your lap and you had to deal with it then and there. The scenario packs for Runequest had a similar wide-open quality. And the ones that die-hard Gloranthaphiles got printed in the 90's kept some of that quality (including contributions by Jonathan Tweet).Tonnes of scenarios waiting to be opened up. Turning to D&D, good dungeon crawls with thoughtfully prepared encounters, random or prepped, were not railroads. You had to go in with a good plan, improvise, and maybe still get creamed. So you learned and got ready for the next bout.

    Now, it is a shame that the rules in FGU games really didn't allow full enjoyment of the scenarios from their games. Neither did Runequest's.

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