Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Let's Compare Editions! Part 4 -- Derangements

Let’s Compare the different editions of Vampire: The Masquerade

Derangements are probably best known to players of the various editions of Vampire for their role as the defining Clan Flaw of the Malkavians. They have long been a source of debate, discussion, and often intense arguments among the various players and Storytellers; debates that have had few, if any, "winners." Ultimately, how one handles such a delicate issue is best left to the individual Storyteller, as their word is final for any give Chronicle. Having said that, each Edition has their own way of handling this thorny issue.

And thorny it is. Before we proceed, I feel I must put my own cards on the table, so to speak. While I did major in Psychology in College, I do not possess any advanced degrees in this field, and am incapable of speaking about actual Mental Health issues. Secondly, I am approaching this strictly from a "game mechanic" point of view--the actual DSM V definition of various conditions matters little to me, for this discussion. Thirdly, I have very little experience with Malkavians in game. Most Storytellers I have played with straight up banned them due to their "disruptive" tendencies, And most of my players have shied away from them.

Which is a damn shame. I do feel that Derangements can and should be an excellent tool for
Roleplaying. Now, I'm using something of a colloquial definition for "Roleplaying" in which "a players makes a decision for their character based on what the player feels the character WOULD do, with no consideration of it being 'right' or 'effective' at them succeeding at the game. Such choices are generally sub-optimal at best, or actively negative or dangerous at worst." An example: the coterie are brought before the Prince, who begins lecturing the characters for their many failings. One character is an angry, rebellious character who always has to have the last word. "Good role-playing" would have that character interrupting and arguing with the Prince, no matter what the consequences may be. "Bad role-playing" would be to sit there quietly and take the abuse, knowing that the Prince (and the Storyteller) is making a public lecture so he doesn't HAVE to really punish them.

Of course, a character who "talks big" but always folds when push comes to shove SHOULD keep his mouth shut, then complain about it later. What is and is not "good role-playing" often varies troupe to troupe and character to character. But, here's the thing, Derangements help encourage role-playing, because they provide an excuse, often mechanically based, for performing these "poor" choices. And good characters make mistakes. They make bad decisions, they do stupid things. Just like real people do. Now, characters often DO commit stupid actions, but these are often provoked by the players understanding that they are in a game, and as such expect to be able to act with a certain degree of impunity. Derangements help to ground that decision-making into the reality of the game.

Having said that, how has Derangements changed between the Editions?

Well, 1st probably has the most extensive treatment of Derangements. It begins with this useful tidbit from page 126.
These Derangements are not meant to be all-consuming and hamstring the player into role-playing in a tightly constricted way. Rather, they are meant to add some drama and a little bit of reality into the game. A character doesn't need to exhibit the Derangement 100% of the time. People can slip in and out of it, and it may only surface in particularly tense moments. The Derangements does not have to rule the mind of the character; it only need influence it
 A useful bit of advice, and something I think is often forgotten in most discussions of Derangements.

Now, 1st also has a system for overcoming Derangements. They were not intended in this edition to be a permanent part of the character, aside from the obvious Malkavian flaw. Each derangement had a value that was the sum of two dice (so, 2-20). Once a player had spent sufficient Willpower fighting their Derangement, they were, to some degree, "cured." A character generally acquired one as the result of a botched Frenzy roll, and there are three random tables based on the type of Frenzy--Madness, Rage, or Terror. Each table has 9 entries (10 always being "Invent New Derangement.")

2nd, in contrast to its usual "let's reprint 1st" approach, lists only 10 Sample Derangements. These are: Multiple Personalities, Fantasy, Regression, Perfection, Overcompensation, Obsession, Paranoia, Amnesia, Manic-Depression, and Delusions of Grandeur. Also, unlike in 1st, there in no method listed for overcoming or being "cured" of a Derangement.

Revised begins playing up the more serious elements of mental illness. Whereas earlier editions emphasized that the Derangement influenced a character, Revised states that "The insane, however, are only responding to a pattern known to them, stimuli that they perceive in their own minds. To their skewed perceptions, what's happening to them is perfectly normal -- to them." This view is far more medically accurate. One of the rules I was taught at school is that the definition of insanity is "a perfectly reasonable and rational response to a stimulus that does not exist." In addition, Revised plays up the difficult role-playing that comes with a Derangement, stating "Derangements are a challenge to role-play, without question, but a little time and care can result in an experience that is dramatic for all involved."

Like 2nd, Revised offers no method for overcoming a Derangement. Their list is, however, far more vampiric-focused than previous ones, including such conditions as: Multiple Personalities, Schizophrenia, Paranoia, Megalomania, Bulimia, Hysteria, Manic-Depression, Fugue, and Sanguinary Animism.

V20 keeps most of Revised's language intact, with one small change. One of the experiences that can cause a character to gain a Derangement is "being buried alive as part of a Sabbat ritual." Does this mean that in V20 all, or most, Sabbat have at least a Derangement? That would be an interesting take on the Sect...ah, well, something I'd need to keep an eye out for when we get to the discussion of Setting. Otherwise, the situation is more or less the same, with a slightly altered list. V20 uses almost the same list, but adds Obsessive Compulsive, and finally corrects Manic-Depression to Bipolar Disorder.

So, given all these changes, which is "best?" I've tried to avoid overtly commenting on which Edition I prefer through these posts, and I would like to keep it that way, at least until we reach the end of this series. But, given how much this subject has changed over the years, I feel like some sort of final comment is needed. Obviously, the correct answer is "whatever your Storyteller says"--such a subject is best handled with the players and storytellers discussing the issue openly and calmly, and coming to an agreement away from the game.

But, ignoring the obvious, what do I think is best? Well, V20 and Revised score points for being more medically accurate, as well with their more interesting take on "vampire specific" Derangements. But, even taking that into account, I have to say I prefer 1st.

Vampire has always billed itself as a "Storytelling Game of Personal Horror." That's a hell of a statement, and something that I'm still trying to wrap my head around. But after reading through 1st's take on Derangements, I think I'm beginning to understand it better. The horror in "Personal Horror" is derived in seeing what horrible and disgusting acts YOU perform, of confronting the monster that lies within us all. But for that to work, to a certain extent the player can not be in full control of the character. If a players can comfortably draw a line and say "no, I would NEVER cross this" and never does, then there is no Horror. The Horror comes from crossing these lines, sometimes against your will, and sometimes, even more horrifically, because of your will.

It also brings the genre of Vampire back to Horror, rather than the "dark superheroes" it often ends up being. Yes, it has vampires, and werewolves, and witches...but the mere presence of these troupes doesn't necessarily make it a Horror game. Horror games are, arguably, about the lack of control, and as such most have some kind of "sanity" or "fear" mechanisms. As the players experience increasingly horrendous and terrible events, their sense of self is gradually (or violently) torn away until they go mad. In Vampire, as a game of Personal Horror, it is not the events you witness or experience that shakes you to your very core, but instead the acts that you perform that does it.

Now, much like Call of Cthulhu, for a character to survive long enough for a campaign to exist, then there has to be some method of clawing themselves back to an at least somewhat neutral state. In CoC, you do this by gaining sanity for defeating the soul-sucking monstrosity from beyond the stars or spending time in the tender care of a Psychologist or in an Asylum. A vampire, obviously, can't check themselves in to a mental health clinic; though I will point out that another player can role-play out such sympathy and aid, and roll a relevant Social Attribute + Empathy to assist another character. Sure, the use of "spend willpower to overcome your Derangement. Do it enough time, and you can 'cure' yourself" might be overly "gamey" and far from realistic--I doubt "suppression and denial" are valid techniques for overcoming real mental issues. But, they do work for a game--they allow the character to participate in and commit horrendously horrific acts and tear themselves apart, but then, over time, to overcome and resolve them, only to set themselves up for the next round of horror and torment.

So, why the change? Unlike most of the significant changes in Vampire which occur between 2nd and Revised, this change happened following 1st. Truth be told, I have no idea. It was more or less the same creative team that worked on these editions, and these individuals were in charge of the company, so I can't imagine it was "corporate" decision. And surely the Derangement mechanics weren't the controversial element in a game where you play undead, blood sucking monsters. Maybe it was because the system in question was a bit clunky. It certainly isn't the most elegant take on such emotional stress that I've ever seen. But that seems insufficient for the radical change that did take place. It might have been simply a matter of math--perhaps the frequency of botching in 1st led to players acquiring far more Derangements than the designers intended. Or maybe they felt that the loss of Humanity was sufficient to track the emotional turmoil be inflicted upon a character.

Personally, though, I don't think that was the case. I think it was the players. I think that few, if any, truly wanted to play through such trauma, or focus on Personal Horror. I mean, it's rough, and its not fun. Now, plenty of people certainly enjoy seeing their characters go mad in Call of Cthulhu or other Horror games, so I think it was more than that.

Sleep all day, party all night.
When I first got into Vampire, I had the hardest time convincing my friends to give it a shot. They didn't want to deal with Humanity, or "feeling bad." They wanted to be monsters, they wanted to be the bad guy, and freaking enjoy it. They didn't want to be Michael, seeking to escape for the horrid state he found himself in, they wanted to be David, undead, evil, and damn proud of it. At that's true for many of us.

I mean, look at where vampire fiction has gone over the years. Compare, let's say, Twilight to Lost Boys. In Twilight, the vampires aren't scary, and there is nothing about their lives that isn't appealing. They're all young, and thin, and beautiful, with awesome abilities and seemingly limitless wealth. Becoming a vampire in such a world seems to be one step next to living in heaven, after all.

Well, aside from the whole "having to keep going back to High School"--seriously, don't be embracing no teenagers, damnit!

In Lost Boys? Being a vampire is horrific. Yeah, they look cool on the outside, drive kick ass motorcycles, have an awesome "clubhouse," and seem to be young and cool forever. But it's all a sham. A...Masquerade if you will, to conceal the true nature, one of relentless hunger and need.

The "cool gamers" mock Twilight because of its romance and "sparking" vampires, but it's what most of us want in our game. Or,screw it, let's say Underworld--we want to be the beautiful, the popular, the powerful, the rich. We want the freedom to cast away chains and commit any act we see fit to, because we can justify it as being necessary. We want to play as the Ubermensch, for our Will to be the only thing holding us back.

And Derangements and emotional trauma tell us this is not true. That we are not in control, that being a monster is not freedom but a cage. That embracing the allure of false power and and wealth is a trap that will surely doom us, and the only true freedom comes from fighting the Beast within, not accepting its lies. Whether it's suppressing and overcoming your own emotional trauma, helping another overcome theirs, trying to do the right thing when the wrong one would get you what you want more quickly or easily, or striving for Golgonda or to reclaim your lost mortality, it is the struggle against yourself that is the essence of Personal Horror.

Should this be the defining element of Vampire? Well, no, perhaps not. Giant gun battles in the middle of the highway are plenty fun too. But the more I think about, the more I feel it needs to be an element in the game,

Vampire: The Masquerade is a game, and as such bears little to no resemblance on the real world. For more information on Mental Health concerns please see the following sites:


National Alliance for Mental Illness

Call 800-950-6264

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