This essay was written for the Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle in the Mind’s Eye Society.
I wish I could take credit for everything in this article, but I can’t. These ideas and concepts were developed over years of role-playing with my friends. I only take credit for the words and the blame for not describing everything as awesome as my friends have portrayed these concepts. Special thanks to the Bastard Squad: Clay Turner, Rob Bennett, David McGrath, and Mario Medina.
I used my own character often as an example only because I didn’t want to surrender any of their secrets. Trust me, their characters are often much cooler than mine and I steal ideas from them all of the time.
Feel free to add a comment at the bottom of this essay.
The response to my Masquerade Essays has been amazing. Frankly, I’ve very surprised by how many people were interested enough to start reading them. I mostly wrote these essays as a way to amuse my friends and express my various opinions about the game in which we all love. A number of you have written me and expressed your own thoughts, stories, and opinions. Some domains have printed out my essays and given them to new players to teach them how to be bastards. The highest praise a writer can ever receive is when a reader feels an uncontrollable urge to share a story or an opinion.
The Delightful Guide to Ethical Bastardy has generated more questions than all of the other essays put together. Like any writer, I want to please my audience and so it became clear that I needed to write a second essay; a sequel that expanded upon the bastardry and showed others how to get involved. Could I dip into the well a second time? What was it about this concept that attracted so much attention and interest?
I left this topic alone for a couple weeks as the game distracted me a bit. A couple of friends warn me that sharing too much might cause backlash as fellow players learned all of my moves and started to use this knowledge against me. Could I write myself into a corner?
I have a dream of a bastard chronicle where the players and storytellers reach for the stars and if we stumble a couple of times long the way, that’s a small price to pay.
A bastard’s work is never done.
A game system always has a defined victory condition. When you play Chess, you must maneuver your opponent into checkmate. The ultimate goal of a bastard chronicle is not win, but to have an epic story. This goes against the gamer’s instincts to kill your enemy, loot the body, and count your gold.
The Bastard strives to live in an epic chronicle that seems counter to the standard mindset of playing a LARP. He accepts that his character might die.
This comic below, from the Order of the Stick is the best example I’ve ever seen of this theory.
Sometimes, your character will win. Sometimes, he will fail. Always, your character story will be awesome.
I have a friend that knows every rule and plays to win every chronicle. The first two years of any chronicle, he will sit in the corner at every game and collect XP. He’ll avoid any conflict and in general try to kill any story until he has completed his build. Then, once he feels secure, he will rise up and win the remainder of the chronicle. This friend is always bored and his games slowly lose players.
Vampires might have all eternity to plot and plan. Humans have a very narrow time span in which they have the freedom to play games like this. We need to see a return on our investment if we want to keep casual players in the game. To keep playing, we need our stories to be awesome.
Playing a Heel: Dealing With the Booing
As any professional wrestling fan can tell you, the Heel is the villain of a story. The crowd loves a good heel. The crowd loves the heel so much that they boo them and sometimes throw garbage at them. This was the number one reason cited by my readers as to why they were afraid to play a bastard. The fear of out of character retribution and anger was so strong that many players simply accept a weaker game.
This is a hard truth about our game. When you play the bad guys, people will get angry with you. They will cheer any setback you might have. Some will consider you too aggressive. Some will boo you on their g-chat. Some storytellers will get angry with you. You might be accused of being a bully.
The mature players will understand the contributions that you make to the game and will be able to separate your in-character persona and your real life personality.
As your character’s star rises, your OOC popularity will increase slightly and you might find yourself the center of weird amounts of attention from people that have never really talked to you before or that you will suddenly be the target of countless hours of advice from players that usually sit in the corner and do nothing at games.
As your character’s star falls, players will actively delight in your character’s adversity. Some players will talk trash at Afters. Some will post ‘funny’ g-chat message status as a passive aggressive swipe at your character. At a glance it might just seem like these players are actively being dicks. In reality, they are just getting into the spirit of the drama.
Professional wrestling has a term for this sort behavior. Kayfabe is the illusion (and up-keep of the illusion) that professional wrestling is not staged. Wrestlers do NOT actually hate each other. They understand that the drama in the ring is part of the illusion used to delight fans. The fans even know that the performances are faked, but the drama of the moment sucks them into the illusion.
This is the same sort of thing that happens in a LARP. We know that everyone is just playing fictional characters, but we buy into the illusion of the performance. It takes a strong will to allow others to see you as the bad guy and get the proverbial trash thrown at you. Ignore the less mature players and concentrate on the awesome and if it gets to be too much, take a break for a few days and ignore your email.
The Superfriend Paradox: Playing with Frenemies
The natural urge of the gamer is to gather in herds for protection against predators. You must fight this instinct. The best enemies in the game will always be played by your friends.
This has been the question asked most about the article. How do you play against your best friend? I can only really answer anecdotally with my current character,
One of my best friends in the world is Clay Turner. He plays Avi the Malkavian and serves as my character Julius Titus’s greatest enemy. Our characters hated each other from the very first game. Some of the things we’ve done so far to each other include:
- Destruction of property
- Stolen Paramours
- Acquired Boons
- Caused Scandal
- Loss of Status
- Assaults on the mind
- Forced bloodbounding
- Physical Abuse
We play hardcore against each other, strike without mercy when there is weakness, and then we carpool back to the city and laugh about what a good time we experienced. This conflict intensifies and changes just like a proper wrestling feud between a face and a heel. Sometimes we change positions. Face and Heel become just another mask to use and play.
Our conflict reached a new level at the last FGotM. This game drew an attendance of seventy-five players to our stage and we both knew that we needed to bring it or the other would blast us out of the water.
My character Julius Titus had just been socially attacked by Justicar Pascek and his Archon has not so subtly threatened the surrounding Princes about going to the event. Julius Titus also just exercised his right of destruction as Prince of Olympia to execute Jadus Arkanian for unspecified crimes against the Camarilla.
Avi the Malkavian is the sire of Jadus Arkanian and he was less than pleased. Jadus was the special glue that kept us from murdering each other. The tension was thick. I was really curious as to what would happen next. Would we finally kill each other?
Avi reacted in typical Malkavian fashion. He arranged a dance competition with a young toreador and declared that this was a war for the soul of Art. The Toreador as a clan were naturally confused by this. How could Avi possibly best this lovely young Toreador dancer? A good portion of the game piled into the small performance room and waited. Clayton started off strong, but let’s face it, Clayton Turner isn’t a hot girl with years of belly dancing experience. During the middle of his performance, he stopped and fell to his knees. Avi broke down and started weeping and screaming the name of his dead childer. The room was silent. Everyone was stunned.
The Storyteller quickly ran to me to run through my frenzy and derangement tests. Would Julian frenzy in front of his guests? Would Julian finally have the excuse to kill his enemy? Julian avoided the trap by turning to the Toreador clan and announced. “I wish the clan of the artisians to explain to me why this performance was art. Or I will execute Avi for sedition.”
Everything was unscripted. We had no idea what was next. The toreador gathered and then returned with a verdict that it was considered performance art. Clayton Turner had prepared for this and twisted them before the event with the challenge. The Toreador had been made important by this competition and they were not about to let it drop.
Avi had managed to escape revenge this time and then he turned it around and somehow managed to score a boon over Julian’s childer Connor the Stoic and the wheel of hate continues. This sort of thrill you can’t experience killing NPCs or players you barely know. How will Julian free his childer? How will get gain revenge for this slight?
I have no idea, but it will be a hell of a lot of fun.
It’s Never Sunny in the World of Darkness
Inspiration can come from any source. The best example I can think of is a cable sitcom called It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The main characters are, according the wiki, dishonest, egotistical, selfish, greedy, unethical, lazy, manipulative, deceitful, maniacal, diabolical, hypocritical, immature, vengeful, antagonistic, and arrogant, and are often engaged in controversial issues. Episodes usually find them hatching elaborate schemes, conspiring against one another or others for personal gain, vengeance, or simply for the entertainment of watching each other’s downfall. Their tactics often rely on inflicting emotional and sometimes physical pain on individuals both deserving and undeserving.
Doesn’t that sound like a good vampire game to you?
Watch this show. You will see a group of characters stuck together making everyone around them live through hell. That is the best sort of game.
We don’t care about that monster of the week or the plot of doom. We care about characters. This is how we get invested in these character’s stories and really isn’t that the point?
You can’t learn everything you need to succeed from a single essay or rant. Try new things and even if you stumble a bit, see if you can do better the next time.