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A Look Back at Vampire: The Masquerade’s Various Incarnations

A Look Back at Vampire: The Masquerade’s Various Incarnations

With the sleeping giant known at Dungeons & Dragons once again awakening, it was only a matter of time before other RPGs returned with new editions. Game publisher Modiphius scored the coup of the summer by announcing it would be publishing a new edition of one of the most influential RPGs of all time: Vampire: The Masquerade.

For the uninitiated, Vampire: The Masquerade was a shock to the system when it was released in 1991. It changed so many things about RPGs during its run; how games were played, how they looked, who they appealed to and more. Vampire never truly went away, but the new edition certainly looks poised to bring some new blood into the hobby. To celebrate, we decided to look at the various editions over the years and how they influenced the hobby as a whole. We won’t be able to cover everything in a single article (sorry, fans of Kindred: The Embraced!)  but we hope this article sparks fond memories and piques curiosities of gamers who never got to experience it the first time around.

1991: First Edition

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The first edition of Vampire: The Masquerade was released in a softcover rulebook in 1991. The book’s hook at the time was revolutionary. Other RPGs had been doing “evil” campaigns for a while, but the struggle between the bad things players had to do to survive and hanging on to their humanity was a new concept. Most evil games assumed players would revel in cackling villainy, but Vampire made it clear that drinking blood to live was bad and that characters should feel bad for doing it. Players were divided into clans, which functioned like character classes, but also offered a social dynamic as part of the game world. Some clans were allies while others bickered like siblings. The game was also set in a world like ours, only darker. What would become the World of Darkness was riff on media the time, such as Interview With The Vampire, The Hunger or Near Dark. Many of the ideas seen in modern urban fantasy like The Dresden Files or True Blood can be traced back to the setup for this game.

This edition of the game is remarkable for just how much of the world is shrouded in darkness. If focused on official settings in cities around the American midwest including Gary, Indiana, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and finally coming into the city that would be its home setting for many years: Chicago, Illinois. Many elements that would be commonplace in later editions like the Sabbat and the ruling structures of cities were still in flux. The game also blossomed on the nascent Internet where fans shared their stories, house rules and theories on discussion groups and dial-up forums. The surprising popularity of the game pushed While Wolf to do a reprint of the main book but they decided to change a few things in the process.

1992: Second Edition

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This is the edition that most players had their first experience with. As the first game changed a lot about presentation and art, the second edition pushed those boundaries even further. Fantasy art T-shirts weren’t new, but when White Wolf started selling shirts with Tim Bradstreet’s iconic Clan art, the company couldn’t keep the shirts in stock. The edition marks the development of Vampire as part of the World of Darkness by establishing a pattern the company followed for the rest of the decade. They would release a new game in softcover and then, a year later, a second edition with a sharper focus based on fan feedback and external development. Vampire was still the head of a gaming phenomenon and you could see it in the dozens of products released by other companies trying to capitalize on the new market.

The marketplace truly exploded in 1993 when the company released the Mind’s Eye Theatre rules for live-action roleplaying. Thanks to the modern setting, finding costumes and locations that fit the game were much easier than games set in medieval fantasy worlds. The rules also were a simplistic adaptation of Rock-Paper-Scissors, allowing people of any experience level to come out and play. 

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The LARP scene was where Vampire was able to bring in all sorts of demographics outside the stereotypical expectations of a tabletop RPG. These LARP could include dozens, if not hundreds, of people creating stories, developing characters and bringing in new players to join them in a little bit of dark fun for a while. Ask a gamer of a certain age what they think of when they think of LARP and they will tell you black trenchcoats and goth clubs instead of foam weapons and elf ears.

The World of Darkness expanded for six years. Vampire spun off a sister game line called Vampire: The Dark Ages which shook up the setting for long time players. The modern day had come to be dominated by two factions made up of different clans vying for control of modern-day cities. The Camarilla were the vampires seeking to quietly control humanity by hiding their existence by the titular Masquerade. The Sabbat viewed vampires as superior and wanted to rule humanity as such, out in the open. The historical setting dropped players into a time before those organizations came together, where clans intrigued with one another in a world that felt very much like Game of Thrones with fangs. White Wolf saw how fans reacted to expanding the backstory of their game and responded accordingly with the next edition of the game.

1998: Revised Edition

When Vampire: Revised Edition came out in 1998, it seemed like White Wolf was at the top of its game. The core book brought all the main clans back into a single book and many of the rules and ideas that had been scattered along the way were cleaned up and included. This was also the time when White Wolf leaned into its setting as a living thing outside of the tabletops and LARPs that had supported it for years. Novels featuring signature characters added faces to the forces weighing upon the Camarilla and Sabbat. It gave the setting an international, interconnected flavor. Players who had started as scheming neonates in the dingy back alleys of Gary could jet off to the headquarters of a clan in Europe, or match wits with the high ranking members of organizations that blew into town such as Sabbat Archbishops or Camarilla Justicars.

Much of Vampire was predicated on Gehenna, an apocalyptic event where the ancient clan founders would rise from their crypts and destroy all the vampires in the world. After a few years of themed releases for all their game lines, White Wolf did something nobody thought they ever would; they blew up the world. Each major game line came out with a final book for players to use to finish their games. These books offered several ways to tell these stories, ranging from quiet, introspective character work to big gothic superhero punch-ups worthy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gehenna ended the original Vampire: The Masquerade line in 2005. In 13 years, Vampire had become a cultural phenomenon not seen since the original Dungeons & Dragons. It spawned comics, novels, video games, TV shows and several game lines. It seemed like it had said everything it needed to say about vampires and settled into a well-deserved torpor.

2011: 20th Anniversary Edition

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In the eight years between Vampire: Revised and the fourth edition of the game, the World of Darkness was not completely idle. White Wolf released a reboot of the setting featuring several familiar aspects remixed in different ways. The focus for this version (which still lives on as Onyx Path’s Chronicles of Darkness) was on personal stories where the characters at the table were the center of the story rather than part of a giant conspiracy. These games took a cue from the indie storytelling games of the era, many of which were influenced by Vampire’s focus on story over rules. White Wolf, as a company, was sold to CCP Games with the intention of turning the World of Darkness into an MMORPG. That project never came to fruition, but in 2011, a Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition was released by Onyx Path.

Onyx Path was made up of several staff members and freelancers who worked on the original game line as well as developers who grew up playing those games. The anniversary edition did even more to collect as many elements as possible from the original Vampire lines and put them into one book. The game came out before the true Kickstarter boom started, but the success of the limited edition leatherbound edition encouraged Onyx Path to go that route with anniversary editions of several other World of Darkness game lines, including a 20th-anniversary edition of Vampire: Dark Ages. What was meant as a one-off nostalgia edition quietly expanded into a game line that pulled the best from the old books into a collection for fans of old that was easier to manage while offering new fans a way see what all the fuss was about.

2018: Fifth Edition

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The latest edition looks to blend elements from the previous ones. The art direction catches the eye with stunning graphics. The setting looks to put players in roles as movers and shakers of international politics of vampires. The rules are a blend of classic concepts with modern indie-style mechanics. We’ll know more about the new edition as the summer wears on, but fans who can’t wait can check out the previous editions via DriveThruRPG to enter a world of eternal night.

Did you play in the World of Darkness? Tell us about your character in the comments!

More Vampire: The Masquerade Goodness!

Images Credits: White Wolf, Paradox Interactive, Onyx Path, 21st Century Fox

Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He’s worked on dozens of different tabletop games ranging from Star Wars and Firefly to his own creations like CAMELOT Trigger. He can be hired as a professional Dungeon Master for in-person or remote games. His Twitter is here. You can watch him livestream RPGs here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.

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