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Vampire Retrospective: Todd Cash

Posted on November 17, 2011 by spikexan

The Vampire Retrospective Project continues today with an essay from Todd Cash, one of the more prolific RPG reviewers here at Flames Rising. Todd tells us about his first experiences with Vampire, moving on to other games and now looking to start up some old characters once more.

Just the vampires…

    I wouldn’t be gaming today if Vampire the Masquerade failed to exist. It sounds more melodramatic than the situation really is. I started gaming in 1987 with TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes and Top Secret. I loved comics and horror movies, wanted to be the heroes I read about, and found that outlet through gaming. While there were great horror games on the market, my exposure to them was limited (they didn’t advertise in comic books and Waldenbooks didn’t carry them).

    My love for the hobby waned as I waded through high school. I still had the itch to tell stories, but my medium changed. I found myself writing more and gaming less. Most of my friends at the time didn’t even notice. They were much more content driving around with me at night rather than huddling around a table (we were such fools!). My problem rested in the fact that my super hero games tended to focus more on the secret identities of the characters rather than their heroic identities. My best friend at the time knew how to handle his football player-turned-super hero in a brawl, but not so well at a wedding. There were hassles at work, kids to be raised, and, yes, great battles against villainy midst it all. I wanted to tell very personal stories, but my friends couldn’t get past the comic book coating.

    My Junior year welcomed in a new home, new friends, and new vampires. My friend Scott and I spent our Spring Break in Nashville. During the trip, we wandered into a comic store that happened to sell role-playing games. I picked up the Vampire Player’s Guide. We hung out in our hotel room that night and I devoured the book. It soon became evident to me that I was needing another book, so I called the comic shop and asked if they had it in stock. They didn’t, so I ordered one promised to be in stock at the week’s end. I don’t recall much of that Spring Break beyond reverse engineering the Player’s Guide so Scott could create his character, a Gangrel hitchhiker on the run from his malevolent sire. Yes, in hindsight I was telling stories of television’s The Incredible Hulk where both David Banner and Jack McGee where both of them were monsters. It was okay.

    I had my super heroes on tap again and, without the spandex and origin stories, they were cool again.

    The game became an excellent outlet for our writings. Vampire did hold to the traditional GM and players dynamic; however, it truly opened up the idea that everyone at the table were contributing towards a story. Games before that did not do this well or, generally, at all. I kept a journal devoted solely to the game (my evil idea book, according to my friends), created fictional calendars (villains keep a timeline), and started setting scenes to music (I can still hear a song from an Australian rave and picture a parking complex’s rooftop battle perfectly). Scott aimed his love of photography at interesting places and faces to populate our World by Night.

    As I entered college, my gaming group grew for the first time in four years. Leaving the corebook to this game out was a conversation piece more than an embarrassment. New friends liked flipping through its moody pages. It came at such a perfect moment. The Crow flew at the theaters while bands like Nine Inch Nails challenged everything the Grunge bands offered. Girlfriends first wanted to sit around and watch, then they wanted to play. Friends of friends just wanted to watch these games we wouldn’t shut up about. I recall nights at my friend Sean’s house where more people lingered around not playing. Few games warrant a cheering section where taunts like “bite his ass” or “you can’t trust him” fill the air! Vampire could capture this, not the werewolves or spell-slingers.

    Just the vampires.

    Scott and I used to talk about the lure of the game. He attributed it to the simplicity of the vampire. “Anyone can get behind the idea of a vampire,” he’d say. Werewolf, needlessly complicated, became Captain Planet with claws. Another game already had wizards . . .

    I began attending game conventions, ran my own brick and mortar game store for a little while, and kept writing. All the while, a modest green game (now in a binder with sheet protectors) directed my hobby. Characters nearly a decade old marked friendships equally old. With these new introductions though, came exposure to a myriad of other wonderful games, games I’d harshly compare to Vampire. Most didn’t do so well, but sometimes a game about zombies or cowboys or investigators of That Which Will Get You Killed would come along and raise the bar a bit more.

    By the time I put the game behind me, I was forever a gamer. I knew exactly what I liked in a system, how much setting I needed to make me want to explore it further, and what a quality game needed to be quality. While Vampire is a genius model for the hobby, even the best ideas eventually becomes the cornerstone of something better (one hopes). It was time to move onto the next great idea.

    Of course, twenty years have passed and she’s suddenly back in my life. Friends I haven’t talked to in over five years suddenly want to hang out. Old characters, no doubt hidden away in folders somewhere, find their ways into conversations. I find myself itching to try her out once more. I’ve already got a few players whimpering like puppies for me to give her a go. I shouldn’t be surprised. Scott explained it so perfectly in our apartment more than fifteen years ago.

    Anyone can get behind the idea of a vampire.

    Todd Cash – 2011

    If you are interested in submitting an essay for the Vampire Retrospective Project please review the Submission Guidelines and let us know if you have any questions.

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