Vampire: The Masquerade and How to Agree to Play the same Game

Veröffentlicht: 31/01/2019 in English, RPG, Urban Fantasy, V:tM, White Wolf, WoD
Schlagwörter:, ,

In one of my former articles a discussion arose that Vampire: The Masquerade offers a multitude of approaches in how it can be played in regards to genre, style and theme. It’s an aspect of the game that Martin Ericsson discussed and explored in his panel „White Wolf – 50 Shades of Darkness„.

The conversation I had was focused on the aspect that it does occasionally appears as difficult if not impossible to agree beforehand and that thus the game might turn into a disappointment.

In this article I’ll address the topic and aim to provide aides.

  • Different Ways to Play
  • The stance of Vampire: The Masquerade
  • How to Play the Game
  • Talking about It
    • Mind the various legitimate ways to play V:tM!
    • Communicate directly, not through the game!
    • Talk about it before the game (in moderation)
  • Take a Note from V5 (Approaches)
    • First Note by V5: Chronicle-Tenets, Convictions
      • What does the System actually Do?
      • What is the Consequence of the Analysis?
      • How can previous Editions be Adapted?
    • Second Note by V5: Coteries
      • How can previous Editions be Adapted?
    • Third Note by V5: Relationship-Map
      • How can previous Editions be Adapted?
  • When Things goes Awry! Because of different Styles of Play!
  • Conclusion

Different Ways to Play

Vampire: The Masquerade can be played distinctly different ways. It can be approached as a:

  • Crime Story
  • Action Spectacle
  • Drama with varying Focus
  • Horror Story
  • Urban Fantasy

Even those broad categories and genres hold a great variety of focus within themselves.
A crime story will be different considering the vast differences between for example True Detective, NCIS, Brooklyn 99, Ms. Marple, Tatort or other shows and sources.
A horror story will be different considering the vast differences between for example Mother, Psycho, The Ring, Night of the Living Dead, Saw, Human Centipede or other shows and sources.

You will find a narration including vampires for almost any and all approaches and genres.
Player might draw their enthusiasm from vastly different vampire story that they’ll encountered before or along side Masquerade. Storys which they enjoy and hope to see them reflected in the games they play.

The stance of Vampire: The Masquerade

The Vampire: The Masquerade core book is wide open for the perspectives and interpretations of the reader. People can read the core and supplements thoroughly and reach fundamentally different conclusions in regards to the core and focus of the game – from other people who did read the books equally thorough.

Artikel: Spielweisen - Cover V5, Jodie Witthaker in der Dr. Who Folge Kablam,

V5 Cover, Psychic Paper in the Doctor Who episode Kerblam, „The Dress“

I personally like to draw a mental comparison to the Psychic Paper as used in Doctor Who as well as the famous picture of a dress.
To summarize those briefly. The Psychic Paper does display the information to the viewer that’s expected. Different onlookers with different expectation will see different things. The Dress (Wikipedia) has people disagreeing in regards to what colors it actually has.

Thus I reached the conclusion that Vampire: The Masquerade doesn’t enforce one definite way how it has to be played. The actual message is: „Play as you like!“.

It is reinforced by stating outright that the players don’t need to settle on „Gothic Punk“ as described, that they might have their own interpretations, that they might focus on Gothic or Punk and that they are free to forego Gothic and Punk both for something else entirely.

How to Play the Game

The freedom to play the game in such different was comes with the challenge to find and agree to a style of play within the group.

In my experience a lot of groups are formed form player who knew each other before deciding to play the game, who are in synchronicity with each other and benefit from the good fortune to simply be able to without having a discussion.

Sadly, it’s not always that easy.
Groups might find it difficult to gage what each of the players actually expect in regards to the shared game experience. It might even lead to situation in which one or more players notice that they have different exception mid game and several session in, resulting in conflict.
Occasionally a big conflict. For everyone involved has an informed opinion in regards to the setting and the right way to play, often times leading to disqualifying other opinions as „misinformed“, „infantile“, „malicious“ as well as with other negative attributions.

Talking about It

A catch all solution frequently brought about in tabletop rpg discussions is:
„Talk to one another!“

I personally do believe that humans are usually have it well within their skill set to talk to one another and that thus the solution isn’t that good. I will still share some thoughts of mine

Mind the various legitimate ways to play V:tM!

The mindfulness won’t help you to find a common way to play.

Minding the various legitimate ways to play can help to not react negative or aggressive towards people who engage in those. It is very likely that your fellow gamers don’t want to hurt you, aren’t malicious and have an honest interest in playing.

Communicate directly, not through the game!

Trying to address a problem or dissatisfaction by actions taken during the game will not work, according to my experience and opinion.

Neither the other player nor the storyteller can know whether a character action taken within the game is an action in reaction to the setting or a commentary, flag towards an issue the player as as a person would like to address.

Two examples:
) A character aims to free another character by the means of violence. They face resistance, get hurt and suffer humanity. The player can’t differentiate whether it is a natural consequence of trying to free another character form the clutches of hunters or if the storyteller wants to communicate that they despise the violent approach taken.
) A character opposes a NPC ardently and acts to the surprise or everyone. The storyteller can’t differentiate whether the characters actions are a consequence of the players understanding of their character or whether the player tried to express a critic.

I would argue that trying to differentiate that might lead to added stress because it can be misunderstood and an inability to keep play and reality apart.

Essentially I would compare it to try to communicate with one another in a language neither party understands, using Google Translate. It might look like it works, yet very likely it doesn’t.

Talk about it before the game (in moderation)

I would propose that it can be a good idea to use movies and series, that everyone has a certain degree of understanding or knowledge about, to create reference which style of game is preferred.

For example you could talk to one another how you relate to Interview with a Vampire, Blade, True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Castlevania or other creations to get a feel for the play style.
If you find a work of reference you should discuss what you like about the work in question. It does make quite the difference if you fancy Interview with a Vampire because of the portrayal of the eternally torn Louis or if you are more enticed by the chuzpe of Lestat to break all the rules and Louis clearing out the Parisian theater of vampires with a scythe and fire in a vengeful motion.

As a storyteller, try to paint a vivid picture, using references, how you imagine the setting and where you see the focus of the game.
As a player, talk about whether you like to play cooperatively of competitively and whether or not – as well as to which degree – you like (player-)character whether (player-)character interactions.

I personally would strongly discourage to try to use role-playing game theory to find a common ground. Don’t fill questionnaires to determine who’s a powergamer, storyteller, butt-kicker, method actor, specialist or tactician and to which degree.
It will only irritate everyone involved and the results will be usually. It might even create more dissent if prejudices towards player types like the „powergamer“ are voiced.

Take a Note from V5 (Approaches)

I believe the 5th edition of Vampire: The Masquerade (V5) noticed the struggles and implemented three approaches addressing the need to find a shared style of play:

First Note by V5: Chronicle-Tenets, Convictions

Upon first observation the Chronicle-Tenets, who apply to the whole game, as well as the Convictions of the characters, who are anchored in humans referred to as Touchstones serve to model the humanity system of V5.

This observation if reinforced by the „humanist“ example for  Chronicle-Tenets:

  • You shall not kill, save in self-defense
  • You shall not torture or rape
  • You shall not hurt the innocent

V5 - Humanity Graphik

If a character acts in contradiction to one of the tenets and can’t mitigate it with convictions their humanity will suffer Stains. Those can result in the character losing a part of their humanity.

A very noticeable innovation of V5 is that it suggest to discuss and agree upon the Chronicle-Tenets during „Session 0“. This may result in the group agreeing to Chronicle-Tenets that bare little to no resemblance to the Humanist tenets or humanity.
Despite this you might conclude from the presentation of the system within the book that it doesn’t appear to easily accommodate Path and Roads from previous edition. If you are engaging in the fandom you will find a noticeable crowd of people who do consider it a challenge to fit various Paths and Roads within the system.

What does the System actually Do?

The system portrays a consensus in regards to the style of play.

I reached the conclusion by abstracting the system, removing the term „humanity“ and observe what it is and what it does.
It starts with three tenets or differently put principles, which apply to and interact with every player character .
Players who decide to have their character act in violation of the principles will experience challenges to their character. Those challenges can reach to minor like the threat of reducing a trait, to medium as in reducing the trait and get very severe like the removal of the character from play.
Players have the opportunity to employ their characters Convictions to mitigate the effect of having the character violate one or more of the principles. Thus they can interact with the principles in a playful way. They do as well communicate their interaction to the storyteller by creating the Convictions of their character.
Storytellers can upon reaching the opinion that Convictions are used by a player in detriment to the play remove the Convictions by eliminating the linked Touchstones. Which will furthermore result in minor to medium consequences to the player.

Every player is informed about the Chronicle-Tenets, the principles.
Every player who decides to act in contradiction of the principles experiences reaction.

Another noteworthy aspect is that the system focuses on player characters.
It doesn’t interact that much with storyteller characters who will likely don’t track Stains. Thus the system doesn’t offer a world simulation as it was possible within the former humanity. Though it is advised, in my opinion, to outfit storyteller characters with touchstones and maybe convictions.

What is the Consequence of the Analysis?

The system can be used to coordinate and communicate a common ground for the question how to play.

I would highly recommend to discuss the Chronicle-Tenets. Even if it is a foregone conclusion that the Humanist tenets will be applied, it will enhance the understanding of everyone involved.

I would highly recommend to examine the Convictions of the characters under the result from the analysis and engage in a conversation with the player how it will effect play.

The touchstones weren’t a focus in the analysis, but examine the touchstones of the characters and talk to the players how and if they would like to see them in play.
There will be players who will be happy to have their character visit their touchstones every play. There will be players who won’t be happy to have their characters Touchstones mention. There will be players who don’t particularly think about their characters Touchstones yet react emotional if one if hurt or killed of.

Another item, that I think should be discussed, is whether it is possible to regain humanity, create new Convictions and acquire Touchstones and if so how.
The core book is very vague about this aspect, but especially if a players likes to literally play around transgressions, morality, regaining it should add to the satisfaction of everyone involved to clear things up beforehand. Especially as repeatedly acting against the Chronicle-Tenets can be perceived as moving away from the play style.

How can previous Editions be Adapted?

Previous edition have a fixed hierarchy of sins for Humanity, Paths and Roads. Those do apply to just the character and not the whole group.

To make use of the system as in V5:
You might chose to go for one aspect for the whole group. So that everyone is on Humanity, a certain Path or a certain Road.
You might discuss the sins in detail with your group. Being on one page regarding their interpretation and changing those that the group deems fit.

Second Note by V5: Coteries

In V5 the character creation concludes with forming and describing the coterie the characters will form. It is something that has been assumed in previous editions as well, yet the aide only went to the extend of noting about a dozen barely fleshed-out reasons to work together.

V5 - Coterie / Klüngel / The Monster(s) Graphik

V5 in contrast offers 15 Coterie Types which are described in detail.
Opposed of just stating „You work together to protect the domain“ it offers several types who protect the domain for a variety of of reasons, threats, motivations and thus for different sects.

Next to that forming a coterie is rewarded by supporting the group with befitting Coterie Backgrounds as well as shared backgrounds.
The backgrounds specific to a coterie are Chasse, Lien and Portillion, which describe the shared domain and hunting ground of the characters

Players are assigned dots to spent on the Coterie Backgrounds, just those, and hence have a personal investment in the coteries creation and design. With the option to adding ones own character background dots and having the option to buy points with flaws.

In my experience the detailed description and shared investment are an excellent base for agreeing on a style of play, further more connecting the characters and actually pointing out the benefits of coteries. In my humble opinion it is quite superior to „Ya’ll working together, somehow, go figure“.

How can previous Editions be Adapted?

One might take inspiration from the detailed description in V5 while skipping over the suggested backgrounds.
One might as well give every player a dot or two, so that they can build shared backgrounds for their coterie.

Which should emulate V5 quite well.

Third Note by V5: Relationship-Map

V5 suggest that the players should draw a relation-ship map of their characters.

V5 - Relationshipmap - Beziehungsnetz

Example of a relationship-map from V5 core

Every character gets noted down and connected by a line to every other character. The line contains a brief statement of the characters deposition to the connected character.
Characters havens and other aspects are noted down in black.
Characters human contacts are noted down in blue.
Characters vampire contacts and interactions are noted down in red.

It thereby creates a very visual representation of the group and their interaction, offering details about the character.
It might as well be used to spot signs of PvP. If for example a player expresses that they don’t want to play with open cards, a character isn’t really that connected to anyone or distinctly negative attributions are jotted down it can be taken as an indication. Which might be especially helpful if the players aren’t aware of the tendency.

Spotting PvP isn’t a problem in itself, though I do believe it is important to know if it’s happening and to which extend.

How can previous Editions be Adapted?

Take a paper and draw the relationship-map. That’s all.

When Things goes Awry! Because of different Styles of Play!

I might not be the most qualified person to offer advice.
The last time I experienced conflict within a V:tM group in which I played thanks to different styles of play, things went South, a lot. The span of 2 to 3 years saw friendships ending and a lot more drama than need or even healthy for anyone.

I got a few ideas how to avoid things getting this unfortunate:

) One should address it sooner than later. Procrastinating it will only increase the impression to have „shouldered it“ or even more so to have „suffered through it“, increases the demand to be „compensated“ for the investment.
Which actually, is a really bad idea.

) One can try to assimilate the style of play. Considering that ones fellow gamer aren’t in any debt or need of thanks for ones assimilation. Especially if one didn’t communicate that they assimilated.

) One can start a conversation how both sides might find a working compromise. In this situation it is important to specify the precise parameters. The mission statement „We will try to find a common ground“, which is likely spoken in the sincerest attempt to solve the issue, will not work. Neither side will have an actual idea where the common ground is and consequently both sides will experience frustration; likely towards each other as everyone is sure to do their utmost.
Politics and marketing speech have trained us to think such a vague statement of intent is a solution, it really is not.

) One can decide to part ways and look for another group. Which is done most ideally before the conflict escalates.
The group who lost a player, will continue to play in peace.
The player, who found a new group, will play in peace.
If one manages to part ways before one or several escalating conflicts, one might even remain friends with the players in the group. Continuing to talk with each other, meet and maybe play games – other than Vampire.


Vampire: The Masquerade can be played successfully and to everyones satisfaction using varying ways to play.

The only thing required is (sensible) communication, there are various helpful approaches and mindfulness.

WoDNews Kopfgraphik (Personen auf Kreuzung)

  1. […] Maskerade und die gemeinsame Spielweise in das Englische übersetze. Die Artikel-Übersetzung, z.B. Vampire: The Masquerade and How to Agree to Play the same Game, veröffentliche ich aktuell auf meinem Blog […]

Kommentar verfassen

Trage deine Daten unten ein oder klicke ein Icon um dich einzuloggen:

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Abmelden /  Ändern )


Du kommentierst mit Deinem Twitter-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )


Du kommentierst mit Deinem Facebook-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )

Verbinde mit %s