Ah, this is a tough one for me. I really dig almost all of the “Core 7” clans. The only one I’d say I’m not a huge fan of would probably be the Tremere. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think they’re an interesting bunch, but I’ve never seen anyone play them as anything except “mysterious and secretive.” As a player, it gets rather frustrating when you need to “drag” a fellow PC into the action, or who refuses to tell you remotely what the hell they’re up to. As a GM, it’s even worse. Tremere players, in my experience, tend to be the “brains” of any coterie, so a number of times they’ll be the ones putting in the leg work for various research that needs to be done—figuring out what any given Kindreds mortal identity is, or what the mysterious vase that was presented to the Prince actually was, for example. So, when they put the time in and they make their rolls and you tell them the information, you kind of hope they’ll share it, because other characters might have additional information, or be better able to make sense of that knowledge. Like, the streetwise character in the coterie might recognize the name as a “gang enforcer” or another one’s grandsire might have been embraced in Hong Kong (and might have more information about what the vase means); after all, basic background research is often step 1 to figuring out what the hell is going on.
The problem is, pretty much every Tremere I’ve played with will keep that information to themselves, in an attempt to…I don’t know, “hoard secrets”? Play up the “I know more than you” mystery man? Worse, sometimes the bastards will just LIE to fellow characters for reasons I, as a Storyteller, cannot imagine. I’ve had to take a number of them aside and go “you told the party X, but you know the truth is Y. If you want to lie to them, you can, but I want to make sure you just didn’t forget/misunderstand what I told you.” But still they’ll keep their secrets for no good reason. And when they do try to pull off the “manipulative bastard” thing, it’s so naked and obvious that the other players are just confused by it, before eventually going along because, hey, it something to do and we’re all friends playing a game after all, right?
Anyway, this post isn’t supposed to be about my LEAST favorite clan, but instead my favorite. And while I do like pretty much all of them, there’s one clan that will always be near and dear to my heart—the Gangrel.
Ferocious predatory warriors. Isolated loners wandering the mean highways and byways. Brave explorers always seeking new horizons. Furry Fetishists.
Honestly, the “stereotype” of the Gangrel doesn’t really interest me. I mean, sure, it did when I was in my early teens and first getting into Vampire—something about being the baddest dude in the room, who didn’t give a toss about anyone else, and was free to come and go as he pleased was really appealing to my 14 year old self. Go figure.
But it’s more than just raw nostalgia that explains my love for the Clan. Sure I’ve played them in a number of Chronicles, but I’ve also seen other people play them in some of my own, and the one thing that always comes up about a well role-played Gangrel, more so than any other clan, is their individuality.
See, each clan can easily suffer from various stereotypes and clichés. Tremere are “mysterious and secretive,” Brujah are all hyper violent bad asses, Malkavians are “crazy” and hit people with fish, etc. When these show up in a game, they utterly suck and it can ruin the game for everyone else. A bad Gangrel can be almost worse than the rest of these yahoos. Because unlike everyone else, a bad Gangrel has absolutely no reason to be involved in any game. Ever.
Like every Clan, Gangrel have three “Clan Disciplines.” In their case, these are Fortitude (Preternatural Toughness), Animalism (speak with and control animals), and Protean (shape changing—grow claws, meld with the earth, become bats, etc.). So, with Fortitude they’re hard to hurt or threaten, with Animalism “hunting” becomes “sitting on this log until my prey flies into my mouth” and Protean…oh, dear me, Protean. They can grow nasty claws that are among the most deadly weapons in the game, they can bury themselves in the earth where you can’t find them, and they can just fly away if things become really annoying.
So, they can’t be threatened, don’t need to be around people to feed, and if you mess with them they can either gut you like a fish or just fly away and you’re never going to see them again. If and when the game gets too rough, or threatening, or just confusing, the Gangrel player feels perfectly entitled to just pick up the ball, and go home. Even worse is when they play up the “wandering loner bad ass” and have to be dragged into the story—seriously, I’ve had players who specifically requested that I find a way to force them into the game, because otherwise their character was perfectly content to sit in the woods being all…Gangrely? I guess.
Is this as bad as a Fishmalk or a Wareador? I’d say yes—I’d always rather have players that are DOING something than those who sit around and wait for the game to come to them.
So, yeah, bad Gangrel suck. But good Gangrel? Oh my god, good Gangrel are AMAZING. See, let’s say someone is playing a “bad” Toreador—they’re all maxed for melee and Celerity and are all “my art is DEATH!” And then you have someone playing a “good” Toreador—they’re good with Appearance and Charisma, have plenty of social skills and are really good at something artistic—painting, writing, sculpting, whatever. Or they’re a Poseur, and are good at Law or Finance or something else. Point is, a “good” Toreador often ends up still being really obviously a Toreador.
Gangrel are different. I’ve seen a handful of “bad” Gangrel in my time, but most of them I’d slide into the “good” category. I’ve seen the Gangrel as ambitious drug dealers/social climbers, as pulpy supernatural romance writers trying to uncover the “truth”, spiritual priests hoping to unroot the evil that plagues their city, as stripper/hitwoman who are just in it for the action, and a number of others. Yes, I’m simplifying these down to their “concept”, but when I see a good Gangrel I see a character who is defined by more than just what Clan they are. They have a history and goals and dreams that have nothing to do with their lineage.
And I think it’s because the Clan is deliberately a group of individuals who are left to their own devices. The other Clans can expect their sires or their elders to provide them the “push” they need to get involved, but Gangrel HAVE to be self-motivating, and have their own reason to hang out with this coterie and get themselves involved in the Jyhad. Of course, the rule of “play the person, not the Clan” can easily apply to anyone else, and I’ve had the fortune of playing with/running for some really good players that made their character really come to life. But it just seems like the Gangrel have almost always had that certain something else that made them a tad more three-dimensional than the others.
Also, Protean is just really, really fun. I mean, come on, you get to be all Wolverine “snikt, snikt” AND turn into a bat. I can’t see any scenario where that’s not fun.