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.
Does this sound familiar?
You’ve spent time and effort to decorate the game-site to properly mimic a classic nightclub. The coordinators have provided snacks and drinks. The storyteller has worked his ass off to provide a solid backdrop, NPCs, and plotlines. You have eager and excited players.
And yet, has your game has done stale. Does your harpy sit in the corner reading Cosmo. Is the city is united and anything that disrupts that status-quo considered a horrible emergency? Do players complain that the game is stagnant and boring until the typical ten o’clock monster arrives?
If your game suffers like this, you need a proper bastard.
The World of Darkness is a universe of shadows, monsters, and horror. We delve into this universe and take on roles that engage in unspeakable villainy and skullduggery. Vampires are despicable creatures that do all of the horrible things our conscious prevent us from doing in the real world. Our characters lie, blackmail, murder, and torture. It is often hand-waved, but the very act of feeding for a vampire is a Freudian rape dream given form.
More than two thousand years later, we still study the Greek Tragedies because of how they examine human suffering. According to Wikipedia, the term catharsis has also been adopted by modern psychiatry to describe the act of expressing, or more accurately, experiencing the deep emotions often associated with events in the individual’s past which had originally been repressed or ignored, and had never been adequately addressed or experienced.
Our game can either be intense, exciting, and a healthy catharsis or it can be a dull replication of a video game where we use our game guides and skills with math to kill faceless opponents.
How then do we play utter bastards without being complete and utter douchebags in the real world? How can we have epic games without becoming jerks?
The trick is to play that ethical bastard. You will torment your friends and they will love you for it. Follow along with me. I’m not just the president of this essay, I am a loyal customer and I will show you how I try to follow these steps with my own character.
Mental Preparation for Playing a Bastard: Separating the Creation from the Creator
If we were playing Chess together, would you feel bad if you put my King in check? Of course not! Would I be angry? Hell, I’d give you the proper high-five and buy you a drink.
The first step to being a proper bastard is to separate our characters from ourselves. Characters can reflect an aspect of our real personalities. We create these characters so that we can explore an aspect of the world performing actions that we would never do in the real world. However, the first step to playing a proper bastard is accepting and understanding that what happens in the game is not reflective of our personalities. If appropriate to the story, our characters should lie to our friends, oppress the weak, express racism, and even murder our enemies.
We need to be able to cognitively process the difference between a player and a character. Characters will attack our influences, kill our retainers, hold boons over our heads, and in general be a pain in our asses. A proper bastard accepts that difference and in the real world strives to be a good sportsman.
Allow yourself to get over that part of you that says don’t be mean to people. To be a proper bastard, you have to indulge in the aspects of the human condition that we strive to overcome every day. A bastard will embrace his vanity, his pettiness, and other traits humanity has spent centuries trying to overcome.
A really good example of this is the character Laertes played with awesomeness by Mario Medina. Laertes is an albino centuries old monsters that will eat your face. Mario is a friendly, loving friend that rarely says a bad word about anyone and will bust his ass to make his friends happy. Mario is a really good role-player and thus he can separate his feelings in the real world. I learned a lot from him about separating my personal feelings and that of my character. Mario can love you as a person and then eat your face as Laertes. A fine example of bastardry.
The True Goal of All Bastards
A Bastard will always have ambition. A Bastard might want to rule their clan, become the most important harpy in the world, seize praxis, become Justicar, or even to win the coveted rose garden contest against Mercer Island because they cheat every year. All of these lesser goals serve but one ultimate purpose.
All proper Bastards want more than anything else to prove that their superiority over the world and their enemies. Lex Luthor is the calendar pin-up for Bastard Magazine and really it is a tragic story He should have been the greatest hero of the world. Luther can cure cancer with a cell phone, tick tacs, and a hair pin. Luthor could have fed the world and ended poverty. What’s the problem? That horrible villain Superman.
Why hate Superman? He has perfect invulnerable hair. Petty? Sure. He’s an alien in human form, but has magical superpowers. What does this guy do with all of his powers? He shows how much better he is than us by solving our problems for us. That’s right! Superman is just a big show-off taking our women implanting them with his alien seed. Superman could fix the world’s problems, but he doesn’t because he’s too busy hanging out with Batman and banging Lois Lang. Luther can’t get around to solving those problems because he has to best Superman first for the good of the human race.
My main character in Masquerade is a character named Julius Titus. He was there from the start of the Camarilla as the Prince of Barcelona. Julian believes that he was in progress to serve as a member of the Inner Circle until the Camarilla’s war with the Assamites blocked his political aspirations. Julian spent years defending his city against the Assamites, but by the time the Treaty of Tye and the Convention of Thorns happened, others were able to take advantage of the time lost and secure their position. Before Julian could counter attack, the Sabbat swept over Spain and conquered it. Julian believes that fate robbed him and seeks out the chance to prove his superiority.
This simple and petty motivation propels Lex Luthor and Julian into conflict and story.
Bastard University: How to Be a Proper Bastard
If you want to prove your superiority, you have to educate yourself on how the world works. This is not something that you can fake. You need to understand boons, standing, the Protocols, and the basic fundamentals of the game. This is a game where there is a right and wrong answer and the proper Bastard always puts himself on the right side.
Here are some of the guides you can use to get started:Protocols of the Camarilla: This is the settings document that combines dozens of books into one short essay. Read it and memorize it.
Read your clan book and view the Camarilla Timeline. Know the basic materials that your character would understand.
To the Pain
Killing an enemy does not properly humiliate them into understanding that you are their superior. A Bastard will kill when it is required, but only in an emergency or after they have completely won the battle.
How many times did Doctor Doom utterly defeat the Fantastic Four? He captured them and tortured them, but he never killed them. I think he let them go. I think he wanted to have Reed Richards in the world to defeat him over and over again and then only pretended to let them go.
Why? The Fantastic Four were his special friends and what would the world be without those special friends? Playing this way extends the story for as long as possible. There is always a special thrill every time Doom shows up in the comic ready to bring more pain to the heroes. There’s a reason that the heroes freak out every time he reappears. Extended conflict brings more drama and excitement.
Julius Titus follows a scaled increase of conflict with his enemies. It might be possible for him to kill an enemy in a dark alley the first time heated words were exchanged, but then how would that prove to his ego that he was the superior vampire? The kindred of the Camarilla have created a complex social system with rules that actually allow you to keep track of who is winning and who is losing. His methods of social warfare are actually straight from the source materials. The basic elements of social warfare in the Camarilla are strongly encouraged from the top down to keep all vampires in line.
Basic Elements of Attack in Social Warfare:
1. Put your enemies in debt to you. Find out who they owe and collect your boons.
2. Soil their reputation via negative status or making them a mockery. If your enemy walks into an Elysium make certain that the harpies are pointing and laughing. Be creative. Some of the things that I’ve seen that really work include:
- Create a terrible and catchy nickname. I once discovered that a rival fed from bunnies and I had a field day with that one.
- Satirize your enemy. I’ve seen characters name a douche company after an enemy or create actual video games that feature an enemy. It might seem silly, but it worked.
- Accuse your enemy of random crimes. Wait for your enemies to make mistakes in Camarilla dogma and then pounce on them. This is why it is very important to know the social rules.
3. Take that which belongs to your enemy. Take his ghoul. Kill his influences. Take his prized possession. Demolish his favorite building.
4. Bloodbind your enemy. Make him serve you. There is nothing greater than forcing your enemies to serve you.
The standard fear to this style of game Is that the other guy won’t play by the same rules. If your enemy doesn’t play the game, it only benefits you. A Bastard always protects himself from the random thug. That’s why we have bodyguards.
My own personal experience with his method has been positive with occasional bouts of random violence or player complaints. The benefit to Masquerade is that there are social rules and ways of resolving conflicts that don’t always end in killboxes. If your enemy skips steps, you are free to strike out at him without social consequences. Besides, if your enemy moves straight to trying to kill you, they have tacitly acknowledged that you are the superior vampire and they have to kill you to win.
There was an Anarch in Seattle refusing to play by the social rules when Julius Titus served as harpy. This Anarch simply decided to do things his own way without acknowledging or accepting the rules of the Camarilla. It would have been very easy to kill this anarch and many expected that the Prince would bloodhunt him. Instead, Julian went to the Malkavians and offered boons to the Malkavian that could prank this Anarch the best. It might have been the worst thing Julian has ever done to another vampire. There were a number of pranks, including a new video-game titled The King of Doucebags, and by the end of the night the matter was mostly resolved. More importantly, the other residents of the city resolved to never be in a position where pranking would be allowed on them without social consequence from the harpy. Most vampires would rather die than be humiliated in such a fashion.
Some players will simply refuse to play through such consequences. Do the best you can for the sake of the game, but in the end it is a matter of choice and not every player will follow these rules. In those cases, you should simply kill the character and move on.
It might be tempted to always align with your real world friends and fight against the world. The best roleplay that a true Bastard can have is through frenemies. All vampires are in time rivals and partners. We need our allies, but they are also potential rivals. A true Bastard takes that risk and pushes the envelope with our frenemies and allows low levels of conflict over land, feeding territories, boons, or status. This allows for exciting local games and keeps just enough conflict in the game to allow for more fun.
Julius Titus has two important frenemies. Jadus Arkanian is an old friend that fought in the Assamite War with Julian. There has been many turns between them where they help each other and occasionally sabotage each other and try to set their homes on fire. There is a price for having someone crazy on your side.
Avi the Malkavian is the sire of Jadus and is angry over Julian’s influence over his chider. Avi and Julian hate each other, but they also need each other to keep Olympia running. Avi managed to acquire boons over Julian and has used it thus far to keep a slight advantage in their war over Jadus and Olympia.
Jadus and Avi are played by two of my very close friends Dave McGrath and Clay Turner. At the last game, Julian beat Avi with a brick for disobeying him. It turned out Julian was wrong and Avi wasn’t poking the foreign prince and that only played into the drama.
You might think that I have an advantage over these two characters. I’m an MC 14 member of the Camarilla, but really I need every advantage I can get over these two monsters. They are clever, devious, loving, and frighteningly creative. Every game I have a little fear of what evil they are going to unleash upon me and how they are going to make me suffer like crazy.
Allowing yourself to fight your friends gives you a deeper chance to roleplay and increases the overall fun of games and decreases the chance of things going stagnant.
Everything Has a Cost
A Bastard does nothing for free. A Bastard will charge boons for as much as he can get away with. He will charge boons to friends and enemies. He values his boons so much that he is fearful of losing said boons and so will always offer boons when he is in a bad situation. Allow no deals to be completed unless they are resolved with a boon.
Some players don’t like to deal with boons because it is complex and they don’t understand the values of boons. Do not let this dissuade you. Boons are the currency of the kindred world. A vampire that doesn’t use the boon system is the equivalent of a vampire hobo. You don’t want to be a vampire hobo do you?
This is a true story with some of the names removed that actually happened in this chronicle. Some of the details and side deals have been eliminated to protect the guilty. I’ve also combined a couple of Malkavian Princes into a single entity for ease of telling the story.
Jadus Arkanian is the Malkavian Seneschal of Olympia. He typically makes rude and biting comments on the Malkavian Madness Network. Recently, he offended a number of elders in a line of Malkavians by referring to them as “rectal blisters and race traitors.” This single Ancilla was engaged in a social-political battle with a number of Malkavian elders and holding his own. He used status, boons, and the Protocols of the Camarilla to socially humiliate his enemies. And let me assure you that there is nothing more humiliating than having Jadus mock you on the Malkavian Madness Network.
One of them, a Prince, emailed over the Prince’s list complaining about Jadus directing it to Julius Titus. Julian took offense at this and compared their standing. This Prince had less standing and conceded the point and apologized and offered a boon. Julian then heard the Prince’s case against his Seneschal. This Prince accused Jadus of threatening the lives of a number of Princes of the Camarilla. This Prince and Jadus had equal standing, but he deferred to the Prince and promised to execute Jadus, but of course, he would want to see the email.
The Prince said that he couldn’t show the email since it was on a special forum. Julian asked a Malkavian elder with greater standing what was said and was told that Jadus had merely been insulting to the Prince. Clearly, unacceptable behavior, but not worth execution. Julian brought up that the Prince had lied to him and charged him another boon.
Said Prince still wanted Jadus punished. Julian said he would need to see the email and it was explained that this insult happened in a dream. Julian shrugged and said he would do so for a boon. Said Prince offered the boon and registered it.
Julian showed the Prince what he intended to announced. Simply that Jadus had insulted this Prince in a dreamworld. The Prince replied back that would be horrible as if Julian announced that that he would get into a heap of trouble with his clan. Julian pointed out that his harpy was a Malkavian and that if he didn’t do this he would be declared a boon-breaker. The solution was clear. The Prince paid Julian yet another boon to not do what he had paid him to do before.
And in the end, Jadus offered a boon to Julian to punish him.
The moral of the story is that Malkavian are crazy and that you charge for everything. Players will complain and some might call it Thug Politics, but this is how the system is designed. Bastards have a responsibility to enforce the setting.
Embrace the Sin Bastard Style
A real Bastard is usually someone that would make an excellent hero if it weren’t for a tragic flaw. Take a look at the seven deadly sins and decide which ones properly reflect your character. Embrace that flaw. Vampires should be racist, backwards, and unhappy people. Elders are designed to be the antagonists in the game. Neonates are the heroes still keeping in touch with the modern world and their humanity.
Julius Titus considers Ravnos to be lying thieves and murderers. He thinks poorly of the Jews and will privately never really trust an Assamite. He was embraced during a different time and even though he is an educated scholar, Julian is not from an open society such as ours. I tried to make my character almost a hero type with serious flaws such as pride, jealousy, lust, and greed.
Know Your Limits
You should always be aware of the line between good taste and madness. I’m just as guilty of that as any other person. Here are some tips:
1. Never pick on a real life flaw. If your enemy is played by someone that is short, skip the short jokes.
2. Discuss the current story with your fellow players and explain why you are taking steps.
3. Give players space if they need it.
4. Always give new players a second chance and a way to roleplay.
Taking Your Lumps
Every villain is going to have a bad day. A vote for Royal Harpy won’t go your way, your rival becomes Prince, or that Anarch brings five of his friends and decides that your mouth has finally written checks that you can’t cash.
A true Bastard takes his lumps, deals with the consequences, and is truly awesome despite the outcome. The state of Bastardness is accepting that your awesomeness is independent of success as long as you play it well.
This story isn’t something that is owned by any one person. It is an organic creature that all of us contribute to on a regular basis and we have a joint ownership of it.
Don’t quit if things don’t go your way. Fight the unwinnable battle. Be awesome. Turn a defeat into a victory. Or at the least make it memorable and plot your revenge.
What you shouldn’t do is throw a fit out of character. Don’t threaten to quit. Don’t get mad at the other players. Take a loss in stride and plan for a better move.
The guys that come back from a fall are the ones that are always the most respected. The wheel always turns and the true Bastard can take his lumps and then prepare to dish out some more.
Conclusion: A Bastard to the End
There is also a secret benefit to playing a Bastard. All characters eventually die. When you roll the dice, eventually you will pull a snake-eyes. Secretly, you feel a little OK when your character dies. When I lost my character Sorrow, I didn’t feel bad. I had killed characters and made them weep. There’s a cathartic release in a bastard getting his own just desserts.
The trick is to toe the line and not go over the edge. If you follow my advice, you should do OK for yourself. Just remember no one is a real good-guy in the World of Darkness. We’re just different shades of Bastard.