Reading Vampire the Masquerade by Mark Rein-Hagen

I mostly stopped buying games when I stopped playing them.  Reasoning that if all they were destined for was to fill my shelf it would be better to abstain.  But a friend proposed we’d start a Vampire group, playing second edition with just what was in that basic rules book. It sounded fun, and an acceptable investment in time and money, no need to read all the many sourcebooks in the franchise in order to prep the game.  So I bought the book second hand, with a price tag that was probably a bit higher than what it cost new. Let’s see if it was worth it.

The bookvtm2e

At 272 pages US-letter format the basic book for Vampire the Masquerade is one of the
thicker gaming books I’ve looked at in the last couple of years.  Most of the indie and OSR titles I’ve read have been comfortably shorter than 100 pages.  It took me two days to make my way through the text, and even then I skipped past the detailed descriptions of skills and special powers.

There are several (mostly high contrast) black and white illustrations, by a number of different artists, throughout the book.  The text is for the most part a very pleasant read, although a bit verbose in places. The few typos I caught were missing spaces between words.

The setting

It is the modern day 90’s, but darker and more polarized than the real world. And there are vampires, as the game’s title suggests.  The players all play vampires belonging to a certain sect of vampires that have decided that hiding from the humans they feed upon is the best way to live in safety, hence the ‘Masquerade’ from the subtitle. The vampires have set up a strict hierarchy with old and strong vampires at the top, and young and weak vampires at the bottom.

Most of the oldest vampires are dead, missing or in hiding, but it is suggested in the descriptions that soon some of them will rise again to feed upon the younger vampires, just as the vampires in the story feed upon humans. With this and other looming threats the world is full of potential conflict and struggle. Perfect for a roleplaying game. The players can fight other vampires in the sect for power, or against competing sects, or against werewolves, inquisitors or a number of other threats.  Or they can focus inwards and fight the hungry beast within themselves pushing the game into a more melodramatic or philosophical direction.

The rules

The rules are traditional.  The characters have stats and skills, which are added together to build pools of D10s. The pools are rolled, the more dice that exceed or meet the difficulty level of the task the better.  Also the vampires have special powers, called disciplines, that allow them to do various superhuman feats.

Much of the game centers around blood, taken from humans or other vampires, and spent to temporarily increase stats, fuel the special powers or heal wounds.

The form

My copy is from 1992, celebrating its 25th birthday this year.  An old game for sure. But it doesn’t feel that old when I read it. The text describes playing the game in tightly framed scenes, just as in most indie titles. But it retains the role of a sole GM participant, the Storyteller, who prepares each game and campaign, controlling all NPCs and acting as a judge and arbitrator when it comes to the rules.  The players are not expected to bother about anything else than running their own characters.

Conclusion

The setting is good.  Even if there are few specific details of what it is like in any particular place, there are good descriptions of the rules and mechanics that the vampires use to set up their societies under that of the humans’. There is enough information in the book to allow for years of gaming.

The rules are acceptable. They do little to support the feel that the game is supposed to have, and as we learn from the many sections of GM advice it may well be necessary to ignore or break the rules frequently. But the rules do contain enough mechanics to resolve most of the situations that might come up in the game, should one really want to.

The form is excellent. There are long descriptions, especially for the GM, on how to think when a game is set up, how to interpret the setting information to build a campaign of one’s own, how to run the game, and many other things.  When it comes to introductory text for tabletop RPGs I think this is one of the top five presentations that I’ve seen, if a bit verbose at times.

Will I play it?

Yes. It looks like I will. Both my friend and I have read through the book. Started thinking of what we will do with it and are looking for players to make a proper gaming group.

 

www.drivethrurpg.com/product/2310/Vampire-The-Masquerade–2nd-Edition – The game is long out of print, and has been superseded with at least two new editions. But it can be bought in PDF format from DriveThruRPG.  Or found on EBay for those who desire physical copies.

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