Vampire: The Masquerade is a tabletop role-playing game in which players take on the role of vampires living among us humans in modern times. They struggle with each other and against other supernatural threats, all the while maintaining the fiction that vampires do not exist, which is the “masquerade” of the title.
When the game debuted in 1991, the game had interesting mechanics, allowed players to be the villains, and refreshing and counter-intuitive setting choices. Vampires, for example, were forbidden from killing other vampires, which cuts hard against the gamer grain of, “I kill it and take its stuff.” The game was a monstrous hit, generating a second edition within a year of its release, and even supplanting Dungeons & Dragons as the best-selling role-playing game for a time in the 90s.
However, the game has generated an intimidating amount of material in its 25 years of unlife. It has gone through three editions, a twentieth-anniversary edition, a reboot, and a second edition of the reboot. The property has also passed through a number of different companies, including Icelandic video gaming giant CCP, creator of Eve Online, who then sold it to fellow Scandinavians Paradox Interactive.
Where is a hungry young player, anxious to slather on gaudy make-up, put on some fangs, and gird themselves in black to begin? You should start with Vampire: The Requiem 2nd Edition, which is the second edition of the reboot mentioned above.
Why start there? For three core reasons:
Vampire: The Masquerade was famous for its detailed world, intricate mythology, and the trundling legion of books that White Wolf Publishing pumped out to describe it.
Requiem 2nd has distilled 25 years of cryptic myth and game lore into a single book. One book. Just one. That’s all. You can find said single volume here.
And in those dozens of tomes, the world of vampires grew increasingly dense and complicated, with prophecies, sects, and vampire clans with damnably confusing names (“Wait, are you a Brujah, True Brujah, or Brujah antitrubu?”)
Requiem 2nd gets back to the game’s roots. You’re a vampire in a human world. What will you do to survive?
Line Developer Rose Bailey said of the process, “What are you willing to do to make it through tonight? What are you willing to do to make it through tomorrow night? And what are you going to do so that a thousand nights from now, you can still live with yourself? I went through the past history of White Wolf Vampire games and hand-picked the elements that most fiercely drove those decisions.”
You are a vampire, and you belong to a vampiric clan. Your clan grants you affinities, powers, and even hindrances. (The sensual Daeva fall in love with mortals, the bestial Gangrel frenzy with ease.) All these clans are fighting fang and nail for power in their city while fending off threats from without, such as wizards, werewolves and the enigmatic Strix. The world is dark, deep, Machiavellian, and horrifying, yet elegant.
The game is everything that made Vampire: The Masquerade great without the confusing mythology.
The rule set for the game is simplicity itself.
Your character has Attributes (qualities inherent to your character’s person, like intelligence, strength, or beauty) and Skill (something you learned to do, like how to drive a car, speak Arabic, or shoot the waddle off a turkey at 100 yards). To do anything, you add your Attribute to your Skill, roll that many 10 sided dice, and hope to get at least one 8,9, or 10. If you do, you succeed.
The innovation, however, which makes Requiem 2nd the best place to start playing Vampire is Condition Cards. They are a literal deck of cards, which you can and should purchase here and use in game. Condition Cards describe a dramatic state your character is in, the mechanical effects of the condition, and how to solve it. For example, the classic vampire power is that of Domination (Essentially, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Now take off that helmet and dance the can-can!”) With the cards, if your character dominates another player’s character, you hand them the condition card “Dominated”. The card tells them they must obey your last command to completion, or take damage which breaks them from their reverie.
The cards simplify play by reducing the time spent looking things up in the book, and makes play more horrifyingly vampiric, and players obey the cards.
Rose Bailey said of the cards, “The Condition System is a simple way of ensuring an event in the story now has consequences later. Players get an incentive, in the form of experience points, for referencing roll results and power uses from earlier scenes — kind of Chekhov’s gun, turned into a game mechanic.”
Check out a free demo PDF of the game!
Have you played a game of Vampire? What clan are you? Let us know below!
Feature image courtesy Onyx Path Studios.
All other images courtesy White Wolf Publishing, or Onyx Path Studios.