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Vampire Retrospective: Michael Holland

Posted on October 4, 2011 by Flames

Our first entry in the Vampire Retrospective Project comes from Michael Holland, who is one of the Moderators on the White Wolf forums. Michael tells us about his first discovery of Vampire: the Masquerade.

It is not every day that a game like Vampire the Masquerade comes along and changes everything. For the most part, the list of revolutionary role playing games is a very short one. In 1974, Dungeons & Dragons served as the veritable genesis of the table top role playing game phenomena. In 1977, Traveller successfully brought the subgenre of the science fiction role playing game into its own space so to speak. The work of H.P. Lovecraft had always been a major influence on role playing games, but in 1981 Call of Cthulhu took us deeper into the realm of horror than we had ever gone before. Like its predecessors, Vampire the Masquerade was a revolutionary game but even more important than that it was evolutionary in how it was going to change not only gaming but the gamers who played the game.

“Do you want to play Vampire the Masquerade with us tonight?”

That was the question that changed gaming for me and inevitably changed a lot more than that. Of course my response was a very simple one, “What is Vampire the Masquerade?” The year was 1995 and somehow living in a small rural community in Indiana I had overlooked the existence of this game altogether. Go figure. I began playing role playing games in the mid-80s and like many others I cut my teeth on Dungeons & Dragons. So like many other dungeon delvers the monsters in the game played a very specific role and up until that point vampires had always been considered monsters. Why would I want to be one of them?

It was explained to me that this game was more about telling a story set in the modern nights, a place called the World of Darkness, and less about slaying monsters and stealing their loot. In my mind I began gravitating towards the kind of game play I had experienced playing Call of Cthulhu and the more I learned about how it worked the more I became intrigued. I wanted to know more but we had very little time so I decided I was going to play a vampire who knew very little about being a vampire.

My character, Clauvius, had a very, very bad night. After being chained to a motorcycle and dragged through the streets of Chicago by a pissed off pack of Sabbat I ended up getting into an “altercation” with a very nasty Nosferatu. Yeah, Clauvius had a rough start but I had a fantastic time. It was not long before I owned my own copy of the core book and I began devouring every bit of information I could get my hands on.

Despite the moments of extreme violence in that game (directed mostly at Clauvius’ ignorant vampire butt) something in the game spoke to me on a personal level. The game was not just about the moments of violence in our lives but also about everything in between. I was encouraged to think about the character as more than just stats and gear. The troupe was collectively telling a story and the monsters were not just monsters anymore. They became characters.

The effect the game had on me was profound and in that respect I was not alone. Vampire the Masquerade spoke to a lot of people in a very deep and meaningful way. The game was based around the concept of personal horror but in a lot of ways personal horror is about everything else that is important in our lives. What do you value most in your life? What would you do if you lost it? What would you do if it was turned against you? How far would you go to get it back? These very personal questions can lead to some of the most epic moments in our lives.

Vampire the Masquerade engaged us in very personal, gritty stories about vampires struggling to survive from night to bloody night. They were a lot like us or maybe it would be more appropriate to say they were real reflections of the players who created them. The investments we made into bringing these characters to life made them a part of us. Once I made my first trip into the World of Darkness I found there really was no way to leave it behind. No matter where I went I was going to take it with me and I was going to find others who did as well.

In September of 1998 I was serving in the military and was stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi when Hurricane George reared its ugly head. We were not allowed to evacuate but instead were forced to shelter on the base. The storm surge hit its highest point in the United States in Biloxi and as the person who was placed in charge of a room full of soldiers and their families I can tell you we were pretty scared. I turned to one of them, one who I knew was a gamer and I asked him, “Do you want to play a game?”

We started telling a story about a different group of people in a different place far from the storm raging outside. Soon others joined us and even more watched and listened to the story unfold. We were sheltered for five days and except for sleep and a few other responsibilities we spent most of our time telling stories in the World of Darkness. The game helped us through and despite the different roads we have taken I am still friends with the people I got to know during those stories.

The story is unique but the experience is not. Vampire the Masquerade has enriched the lives of gamers across the world and even altered the way people think and act outside of the gaming culture. People do not think about vampires now without feeling the influence of this game whether they realize it or not and quite frankly the world will never be the same.

Michael Holland – 2011

For more details on where to submit and what Flames Rising is looking for, please review the Vampire: the Masquerade Retrospective Submission Guidelines.

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