by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Roleplaying is such a wonderful gift, such a treat for the mind. But there’s more than video game Roleplaying (strange, I know)! A month or so back I received a preview copy of one of my all-time favorite tabletop RPGs, Vampire: the Masquerade: 5th Edition. The group that I play with has used older books, opting to forgo the revision of the White Wolf games (Vampire: the Requiem). There were too many changes not only to the game mechanics but the story that we as a group agreed that we did not agree with. Since I have not had a chance, unfortunately, to sit down and have a few play sessions, I want to focus less on the mechanics and more on the story and the clans. Whereas games like Dungeons and Dragons focus more on the high fantasy style of game, the beauty of Vampire: the Masquerade, is that it’s typically set right in the modern world, the Modern Nights, if you will. This is certainly not a requirement, but the main story for VTM is in the current era.
Never before has this been more relevant, however. One of the things that make it so fascinating is that we are present, in this real life, surrounded by monsters. Monsters in politics, in our homes, in our schools. Rapists, bigots, hate-mongers, racists. Violent criminals, and people using our taxes for their own personal gain. Colluding with powers both foreign and domestic, crooked cops, unfaithful significant others. So many monsters already exist in our world, why delve into a modern fantasy for more supernatural monsters? For me personally, roleplaying is an escape from a world that is unfair, from a childhood that was less than kind. For someone that has dealt with their share of monsters, in a modern fantasy, I can feel significantly less helpless. Your Vampire, in Vampire the Masquerade, whether you want them to be or not, is a monster. You don’t have to be a monster, but if a normal person were to come upon you, you probably are one. I mean, you drink blood, and are undead.
Our own world is crumbling around us it seems, sometimes. Being able to play and interact in a similar world and actually have an impact on it, is what appeals to me in Vampire: the Masquerade. It seems like the Final Nights are upon us, and the apocalypse, known as Gehenna is already coming. It is whispered the most ancient of them, the Antediluvians are waking up, and the Sabbat (the more violent, anti-Masquerade faction, who reject humanity and revel in their monstrous nature). The Sabbat are leaving behind the West and heading to the Middle East, to fight what they believe to be The Gehenna War. Whether it is true or not, remains to be seen, but that is what is being whispered. There seems to be even more of the Thin-Blood than ever before (14th or 15th generation vampires, who do not experience the curse of Caine the way other Kindred might). The typical Vampire is a 13th generation or lower, and the further you get away from The Third Mortal (Caine), the thinner the blood gets, and the less powerful they are. They even seem to have their own type of Thaumaturgy (Blood Magic) in these Final Nights, Thin-Blood Alchemy. Unlike the ritual Blood Magic, this gives them a taste for the Disciplines (powers) of other Kindred, and possibly more. There seems to be way more content for the Thin-Blood characters now, compared to previous editions.
This is a major change and an interesting one, for players that might want a more gritty, dark roleplaying experience, without wild, insane powers of the lower generation vampires. The Thin-Bloods do not age like Vampires and straddle the line between the day and night lives. Should they diabelerize a vampire of the 13th generation (or lower, potentially), they will join the clan they stole a life from, and become a member of the 13th generation. It’s been said that the Camarilla has dangled this in front of the Thin-Blooded caitiff (since basically all Thin-Bloods are clanless; I have not come across any 14th generation Ventrue, for example) to get them to do their bidding without resorting to more permanent or violent means. Should that Thin-Blood wish, they can track down their sire and slay them (or try to) to reject the “curse” and go back to being a mortal being again. Now, this is a fascinating update to the Vampire: the Masquerade gameplay. Sure, there are still lots of D10 (10-sided dice) to roll, and many of the checks and requirements of these seem to be a little on the high side (lots of minimum 6s), this version I was reading was the Alpha test.
There are little changes here and there, such as clan weaknesses. One I noticed right away (since I have played quite a few Tremere in my day), that Tremere is no longer one step closer to a Blood Bond than most. When a Vampire is Blood Bound, a powerful, mystic bond is in place. Accepting the Vitae/Blood from another Vampire is seen as an acknowledgment of their superiority or mastery over you. In the earlier editions, Tremere underwent an initiation/ritual where they consumed the blood of the seven elders of their clan. This put them just a little closer to being Blood Bound to someone above them. The Tremere are no longer defined by the Blood Bond. In fact, they can no longer Blood Bond other Kindred, though they themselves can still be Bound to others. They can bind mortal sand ghouls, but in order to do so, the blood must be consumed more times than normal. Not all weaknesses/banes were changed though. The Ventrue remain the same. They were my first choice to read through since the Blue Bloods was my first clan. I am disappointed the clan sections no longer contain what one clan thinks of another (stereotyping them) because they were interesting reads.
Final Nights (Thoughts): This is a huge step in the right direction after Vampire: the Requiem. There are still some holdovers from that setting that I don’t agree with (the Potence Discipline’s working is a fine example of that), but the same dark story is here, only moving forward, slowly. That’s the way it should be though. It’s been said time and again that Vampire: the Masquerade caters to people who want to kill, towards racists, skinheads, bigots, and other less desirable types of people. But that’s utter nonsense. Those kinds of people are already going to do what they want. Sure, there’s death in VTM. A lot of it, honestly. But it’s how you deal with these deaths, what they mean, and the story wrapped around it that matters. Just because you’re playing a Monster, doesn’t mean you’re going to become a Monster, or that you should be one away from the game. That’s been the accusation leveled at D&D for decades though, thanks to a few people who cannot distinguish fiction from reality. VTM 5th Edition is a gorgeous, dark story and for those craving something different, or a return to the Nights, definitely should.