Posted on December 13, 2011 by Flames
The Vampire Retrospective Project continues today with an essay from Adrian Stagg, a reviewer over at DriveThruRPG. Adrian tells us about discovering Vampire at age 15 and how the World of Darkness has influenced his games and more.
The Vampire in the background.
Since I was fifteen, there has been a vampire lurking in background. Green marble and red rose, the book was to change very much how I approached role-playing and really, certain aspects of my life. I had been playing D&D, WEG’s Star Wars, Shadowrun and a dash of Cthuhlu before I discovered Vampire: the Masquerade. Compared to the other games, it held a slightly different allure. It challenged my perceptions of what a character should be, what a character should want, and above all – what a Storyteller needed to do to make the play experience a memorable one. In previous games, I had seen myself progressing through a Games Master evolutionary stage from vengeful adversary to a verbose monologuer, but aware that there existed a hallowed ground for the Storyteller.
It wasn’t until I cracked open my copy of Second Edition that I had tools at hand which made sense. The
Storyteller, I was soon to discover, should be an invested part of the character creation process, someone who helps the player to find their own voice and set their own goals. In later years, I would suddenly realise that this is the fundamental building blocks of project or research work – gather your stakeholders together, find out what they want and then try to work out a way so that everyone wins.
There have been some days when the cut-throat nature of the Vampiric Jyhad and internal organisational politics has held a horrifying alignment. With this came the realisation that a role-playing group could be a team which took pride in their creation. The World of Darkness was a flawed, dark and twisted place – a fitting reflection of our own world and we came to appreciate that the characters we populated this world with needed to be the same. They could be essentially ‘good’, striving to make their own small mark on the world, but they were prone to pettiness, cliquishness, arrogance, vanity, rage, envy and weakness (something reinforced daily on a high school campus).
Moreso than a reflection of the world, the population became a reflection of our group. Like the denizens of the World of Darkness, we nurtured small dreams kindled by teenage enthusiasm and naiveté, and I would say that many of us have needed to reinvent that dream (sometimes several times over) in the almost two decades since we started playing. It was also at this time that I discovered another foundation of roleplaying games – community.
It sounds foolish now in a hyper-connected world of online forums, chat. Skype and online play, but in 1993 in a small, ultra-conservative town it was hard enough to find Dungeons & Dragons players, let alone anyone up for a hard-hitting game about Vampires and Humanity. After fruitless attempts to progress my game, I looked further afield and was rewarded with a group of players; the youngest of which was five years my senior.
I helped to craft a World of Darkness with them, and they poured their life experience into the game (and my mind). By the time I was ready to leave High School, the play group had not only given me a couple of years of extraordinary play, but had shown me the their own trials of balancing work, study and the bills. I almost felt as though a strange Masquerade was being performed by the greater world, especially as most of my peers looked dewy-eyed at the thought of university study, living by themselves and ‘moving to the next phase’ (whatever that was meant to convey).
The skills they taught me during these years are still with me. They taught me ‘how the world works’, certainly not something covered in classes.
As we explored the frailty in the World of Darkness, a valuable lesson came to the fore. Previously, we had created invincible characters which sprang, whole-cloth, from the ground. They feared nothing and approached danger with carelessness. There seemed to be an expectation that weakness was not part of the hero’s identity – but Masquerade challenged this. It was a damned imperfect world, so perfect characters were out-of-theme. Suddenly, it was okay for your character to have flaws (as opposed to Flaws). The dilemmas for me didn’t stop there. Vampire’s approach to alternative history, their unvarnished approach to portraying societal issues (religion, politics, sexuality, violence, poverty, culture) forced me to evaluate my sometimes narrow-minded and prejudicial views. It is perhaps an indictment that this intellectual stimulation came from an RPG, rather than my formal education.
The truism here is that the nature of the game leads to questioning and reflection, and this doesn’t suit everyone.
So whilst the Vampire has been lurking in the background all this time, I’ve revisited it upon occasion and always walked away with something new, or more often things which were forgotten. It has always brought a wry smile to my face that it was a game line about Sex, Blood and Rock ‘n’ Roll which actually taught me about my own values and built the skills I take into my professional career today.
Vampire, to me, has always lived to its tagline of ‘Personal Horror’, and often the dark corners which have been illuminated are not my characters’ but my own.
Adrian Stagg – 2011
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