This essay was written for the Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle in the Mind’s Eye Society.
Feel free to add a comment at the bottom of this essay.
A few months ago, I bought the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon series on DVD. I felt like I must have been an idiot child for loving this cartoon so much when growing up. What did I see in that horrid unicorn?
When I heard about the Camarilla’s new Old World of Darkness chronicle, I imagined that playing it would be the same sort of experience. I had played it for years and I loved it, but it felt dated somehow like a booty call with an ex-girlfriend with whom I had broken up because we hadn’t much in common any more. I remembered the emptiness of the old chronicle where my Tremere had Necomancy and gods walked the earth and the Justicars were crazy. I was still having fun with my sexy new girlfriend known as the New World of Darkness. I found the rules to be superior and I loved the complexity of the universe.
Like many things in my life, peer pressure prevailed. This time, I didn’t end up lost in Oregon at 4 am trying to find my hotel. I discovered what might be the best chronicle I’ve ever seen and I think the fun has only started.
The dirty secret in any LARP is that Storytellers have a limited control over our chronicle. Storytellers can inspire and guide us, but in the end, we the players have the choice to either make a chronicle epic and awesome or dull as dishwater.
We can weave stories that we will remember to our graves. Or we can mimic World of Warcarft and grind our way to a hollow success.
Proper Character Creation
The first shining moment of hope for me that this chronicle would be different was the Masquerade Elder Creation guide.
It was a moment of pure inspiration. How many times did I play a character that lacked some of the backgrounds needed to really flesh out a character? How often did I grind to a vague success for my build and then miss out on awesome role-playing due to the lack of backgrounds?
I admit that I was puzzled. Would the storytellers and players actually follow these guidelines? Would the players demand a better chronicle?
The old mantra often heard in the Camarilla is that you can role-play with a combat character, but you can’t engage in combat with a role-playing character. Could the Camarilla change? I began to wonder if this was true. Could you create a proper character and still be awesome? Would the world accurately reflect the rich detailed social structures I’ve always imagined from the books?
The Masquerade Elder Creation has a list of suggestions that I think every player should follow in character creation. Here are a few I want to highlight.
Derangements and Flaws
The most interesting characters in fiction have flaws that actually hurt them and make them suffer. If we want to be awesome, we need those derangements and flaws. Select flaws that actually are a pain in the ass. Select a derangement that changes the way you role-play your character. Yes, this might actually place your character at a disadvantage. That’s OK. This isn’t an MMORPG. We want adversity.
Characters should have a good spread of abilities. Yes, many of those abilities have nothing to do with combat. They add flavor to your character.
Humanity / Path of Enlightenment
If you are going to play a monster, buy down your humanity. No, don’t save it for sucking down to another generation. Make your stats reflect how you intend to play. If you intend to be on a Path of Enlightenment, study your path and memorize it. Make sure you can delve into it. Most of the Paths have crippling requirements.
Why is this important?
Character creation is the foundation of any chronicle. If we make poor characters without souls, our game will suck ass. If we make awesome characters, then that awesome is magnified.
The best stories are about characters dealing with bad things that have happened to them.
If you want to have an awesome character and a thrilling chronicle, then you have to accept that bad things are going to happen to your character. There are consequences to every choice and some of them will negatively impact their character. This is where the real fun comes from.
If we want our chronicle to excel we need to move past our childish instincts to avoid negative consequences for our characters.
In fact, we need to not tolerate this sort of behavior in our game and it drags down the fun for all of us.
We need to accept that bad things will happen to our characters and that our plans for our characters or our games will sometimes change. In the space of a chronicle, your character might lose status, owe boons, or lose a position. Your allies might die, your character might get bloodhunted, or bloodbound to your worse rival. If you plan through these challenges, it will be the best role-playing of your life.
Players that refuse to bend or accept these sorts of consequences are bad for the game. Players that can’t role-play through consequences suck out any fun in the game because they can’t wrap their head around the fun that is to be had. They only see victory or defeat. Don’t be the player that appeals every bad thing that happens. Don’t be the player that assumes everyone is cheating because he was outsmarted. Don’t be the player that freaks out when things don’t go his way. We all know people like that. Don’t be that guy! No one likes that guy and we all secretly make fun of him when he isn’t around.
Here is a secret. Consequences are not a defeat. Consequences are merely an opportunity. Don’t surrender your character! How you manage a consequence can determine a character’s future. Every major success I’ve ever had in the Camarilla has come from managing a consequences and leveraging it into a better situation.
I’ve had two characters become bloodhunted in fifteen years and both times I managed to roleplay my way through the situation. One character became a Prince. The other character killed someone on the Red List. I didn’t complain or try to appeal one of the wackiest plotlines I’ve ever seen. I went through it and came out the other side. If I can do it, so can you.
Weakness is Strength of Character
Great characters have weaknesses. Superman had kryptonite, reporters getting into trouble, and a weird homo-erotic relationship with Lex Luthor. The best stories involve Superman in a bind. If you want epic stories, you have to have real weaknesses.
Batman won’t use guns because of how his parents were murdered. That is a character flaw that actually puts a crimp in his style. He has to invent all sorts of crazy ways to fight crime just because he can’t pop a bat-cap in the Joker’s ass.
We need to select enemies and causes for our characters. We need to find things they love or hate. We need to have all of the little details that can be used against us to breath life into our characters. Some of this comes from proper character creations, but a good portion of it is simply letting the world of the chronicle touch you.
The secret to weakness is caring about things outside of your control. Allow your character to love an NPC or care about an old building where he had a wonderful night. Allow your character to succumb to weakness and allow other characters to have power over them. Create bonds of meaning between characters.
I made a character that was Prince in Spain named Julian Titus. I did a bit of reading and learned about the Brujah war with the Assamites and the gold paid to the Brujah in the Treaty of Tyre. I knew that the Assamites would be joining the Camarilla. I gave myself an impossible goal and an intolerance for Assamites and I had more fun bashing my head against that windmill than the last three years of Requiem.
It has worked to my disadvantage, but it has generated a great deal of role-playing. My character is paranoid and as a result, I have personal guards and my fears have generated role-playing for other characters. The players of the Assamites had someone to work against socially and politically and their enjoyment was increased and their IC entrance into the Camarilla felt like a victory to them.
I allowed my character to be weak and it has been awesome. I knew this position wasn’t going to work and it is possible that eventually the Assamites might kill my character. I will still have won.
Being a Proper Bastard: Accept and Play Stereotypes
The World of Darkness only really works if we all play our stereotypes and right now I think we are failing as players. In the real world, racism and intolerance should never be encouraged. The World of Darkness is supposed to be a dark mirror to our society gone incredibly wrong.
I think we missed an opportunity with the Ravnos at ICC. Players want to play Ravnos want the full effect of the persecution against their clan and the loneliness of being the last of a dying clan. When the Justicar was poking at them, a lot of players stood up and defended them ICly. No one wants to be the bad guy, but I think we failed the players of the Ravnos and robbed them of a wonderful experience due to political correctness.
What is a Brujah without a temper? What is a Tremere without a dark secret? What is a Ventrue without a bit of stodginess? What happens to the world when no one wants to play the stereotypes?
We need to play to the stereotypes as much as we can so that the system works. If the Ventrue Prince is always nice to the Anarchs, then what is the point? What fun is it to stick it to Man, if the Man keeps inviting us out to the dinner?
Yes, playing to a stereotype will put us in a disadvantage at times. It might even make you enemies. Enemies generate good role-playing.
Win the Story Not the Game
A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Characters struggle and compete. Characters fight, love, hate, and laugh.
A game is simply winning a system through math. I’m not opposed to math. I enjoy math, but it shouldn’t be the focus of your experience in this chronicle.
Sometimes you have to kill characters. It should always happen at the end of a story. A player character death should always be after a struggle or conflict. This means letting your enemies live and giving them multiple chances. It means going after boons, status, and other targets first. It means going for the pain rather than the kill at first.
My friends tease me about this sometimes claiming I’m always trying for the moral high ground and sometimes it gets my characters killed. Some players simply don’t know how to play this way. We need to not play to their level. We need to expect others to play to a higher standard. Sometimes, you need the Joker to get away a couple of times. Accept the loss and the risk that they might kill you. You don’t kill a character because you afraid of his build or you don’t like him. You kill a character because they killed your best friend and the story has progressed to that point. It is a risk, but superior players should be able to manage this.
Once the story demands it, you kill characters using math. When the story turns bloody, make certain that you have offered other consequence first. Sometimes, you can extend the story. Once the offers are refused, you owe it to the other players to treat them with respect and to be brutal. A character death should be an epic event and you need to help that story end well.