Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Screen – Part 16: Vampire; Sucking Out The Best Bits

Supplimentary to Part 15, one of the games that I have run, but would like to run again, is Vampire.  It’s an itch that comes and goes without needing to be scratched*, so it’s not necessary that I act on it.  But it is something that takes up some thought regarding what I’d do the same and what I’d do differently to this story that occurred some years previous.

 Things that I would keep:

  • Tim and Karen’s character relationship:  It may not have been the pale imitation of love that a vampire can best hope for in an eternity of cursed unlife– but damn if it wasn’t some of the best role-play I’ve been privy to witness, let alone run.
  • New Haven:  Unlike the city in Connecticut, this was a fictional metropolis that was setting and stage for Vampire intrigue.  Being that it was a place cobbled out of my imagination and a map from Grand Theft Auto 1, the freedom in creating the various players, industries and ruling classes of the city were mine to chop and change.  I didn’t feel beholden to existing supplemental material nor geographical or econimical constraints of a real location.  Also I found that a fictional city can cement the World of Darkness atmosphere better than the preconceived notions of an actual city.
  • Renfield’s:  Despite a name that would be in the top 5 tourist spots for savvy vampire hunters, this Elysium – a sanctuary for vampires to be vampires as well as the place where everybody knows your name – served well as a preparatory setting for new players to settle into the complex ‘lifestyle’ of the undead. Its proprietor – not actually named Renfield – also served as a guide for the players as well as being one of my favourite Non-Player Characters.  He was also very, very close to stealing limelight from the players – may have done so on occasion – and is my touchstone whenever I think about who a game is meant to entertain.

Things I would do over:

  • If there had to be one sin I was guilty of, it was not introducing character death for some of the more outlandish actions of the players.  Granted their characters were punished, and granted these actions were spurred from the best of intentions but fair is often as anathema to vampires as sunlight itself.    I should point out that not every action would have resulted in death as the players could morph into wordsmiths of political proportions to justify certain actions, but draining another vampire dry for power’s sake should have sent them running for the border.  This was my fault as I wanted to keep them in New Haven for story’s sake.
  • Playing out Tim’s relationship with his ghoul and eventual childer.  There were so many ways I could have handled that better.  It was a matter of finding time for that interaction to happen with three to four other players on top of various politics and palace intrigue, but it boiled down to not finding a way to introduce that non-player character into the story.

There are probably others.  I hope that’s true of both categories.

What occurs to me, in typing this, is that the strengths were in location and setting.  A holistic approach to story interaction.  The weakness was in Non-Player Character depth, not least of which how they reacted to player actions.  I relied mainly on what the city was providing for NPC’s, which propped up the power-play story, but not so much how they felt, what they wanted and, most important, how to translate that to the players’ expectations.

I’m following another blog, this one by screenwriter John August, who provides the following advice:

http://johnaugust.com/archives/2009/setting-is-not-story

And the link title should pretty much explain its relevance to my thinking.  I’m happy with the location, less so about non-player-character depth and, on reflection, they are lessons that I’m applying The Adventures of the Colt Apollo, I’m happy to note.  But while I’m pleased with the effort that went into Vampire way back then as a whole, I wonder that the reason this game returns to my thoughts is that I want to do a better job of it?

Of course all this could be the result of hearing too much about Twilight and wanting to do a proper vampire tale.**

As I see it, I can spend a lot of time describing scenery, mood and setting – fixed elements that are rarely influenced by player action unless they’ve got powers/weaponry of landscaping scale – and the best outcome I can expect is an ‘oooooh’.  But if I bait a non-player character with that level of care and detail, then player participation will be the catch of the day.

*Kate Vernon was recently announced to be attending this year’s GenCon.  Aside from Battlestar Galactica, she had appeared in one episode of Kindred:  The Embraced– the Love it/Hate it Aaron Spelling TV adaption of Vampire the Masquerade.  I loved it because I’d never heard of the RPG and was also young and vampire-obsessed (Now I’m old. The end) and, as those who read the previous installment will know, if I love it, I try to adapt it in role-play.  So imagine my delight when I discovered that there was already a game for this series.
Of course, having purchased most of the books, I can say that the TV series is a pale shadow of the World of Darkness, and I too can laugh at it’s foibles, but there are some quality performances by Brian Thompson, Mark Frankel and, one of my favourite actors, Patrick Bauchau.
Despite the sometimes ‘two ships passing in the night’ relationship to the game, remembering Kindred gets me started on ideas for Vampire games and so, in a roundabout way, Kate Vernon is the reason for this nagging round of ideas.  Somewhere, she cackles at my plight…
 **One of the ideas I toyed with was a Vampire Hunter game where hard, grizzled, undead-hunting veterans with five o’clock shadow, trenchcoats and hats would stake sparkly pretty-boys who complained too much about how hard it is to be strong, immortal, invunerable, the idol of women (and men) everywhere and who could go shopping betwen 9-5…
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