Like all good romances, my love affair with Vampire: The Masquerade began with forbidden longing.
It was back in 1991, or maybe 92. I had gone to the Mall with my stepmother so she could do some shopping. As she went off to buy…whatever it was that women buy (clothes? I assume it was clothes), I was left to wander the mall on my own. I quickly made my way to a shop at the local Gamekeeper outlet. I’m not sure about most of its other locations, but the Gamekeepers near where I grew up had a nice variety of board and table top games, and were the default “gaming” store. I guess they kept In business by selling one of their incredibly expensive Chess sets once a month, since they were generally pretty empty.
Anyway, they had one shelf/magazine like rack where they kept the roleplaying books. I was checking out what new Dungeons and Dragons stuff was out, when I noticed an odd green covered book on the very top, hidden almost behind other books. I pulled it out, and was startled by what I saw—a beautiful image of a rose on a green background, with the title “Vampire: The Masquerade.”
Now, way back then, Vampires weren't as cool or hip as they are today. There certainly wasn’t anything like Twilight or the Vampire Diaries to make Vampires “safe” or “family friendly”—they were horror monsters, through and through. And definitely something that I, at that young age, should NOT be reading about, let along playing a game about them.
I hurriedly put the book back, and glanced around the store sheepishly to see if anyone had seen my “transgression” (hey, I was raised devoutly Catholic—horrible guilt was my bread and butter!). The staff seemed to not be paying me any attention, but still being afraid I had committed some transgression, I picked up some D&D book, probably one of the “Complete” ones, but I don’t really recall. After assuring myself that no one was watching me, I gently lifted the Vampire book out, and as subtly as possible checked it out.
It was weird, and mature. They had some odd poetry on the back that I had never heard of, and violent and sexy (which, to my young eyes, was even more alarming/alluring) pictures. There was an odd little “comic” that seemed to reappear, about a man who gets turned into a Vampire by some ancient seductress, and his struggle against her. It was like no game I had ever conceived of before.
Of course, I didn't buy it. My parents barely tolerated my “D&D phase,” they certainly wouldn't tolerate me bringing home a horror game that had THOSE kinds of pictures in it. But I was still fascinated by it, and every time we went back to the mall, I made sure to check it out.
Until one day, it was gone. I wasn't even sure if I remembered what it was called, just what it looked like. I was too afraid to ask the staff about it, since I was still convinced that I was too young to even be LOOKING at such a thing. After enough months went by, it faded away like a dream.
It was probably a year or so later that I was back at the mall. Old enough, this time, to go with my friends, and actually having my own money from mowing lawns around the neighborhood. I saw, something, that looked familiar in the store. It wasn't the same book—it was hardback, while the one I remember was soft. It didn't have the odd comic running through it, and the opening narrative had changed. But it was the same cover, I thought, and it seemed right. Free from direct parental oversight, I grabbed the book and, rather brazenly I thought, brought it the register.
My friends were pretty sure they wouldn't sell it to me, since you clearly “had to be like 18 to buy THAT”, but they rung me up without a second look. This naturally made me “cool” for, most likely, the first time in my entire life. Of course, I still made damn sure to hide the book in my backpack amongst my math homework and literature text books—couldn't risk the parents seeing such a thing.
I read the entire book cover to cover the next day. And then again. I was hooked, I was in love. The world, the characters, the concepts of role-playing that were, to me, revolutionary. It was the game I had been waiting for since I had first played a thief sneaking into an Ogres lair to try and steal some treasure.
I had always been something of an oddity in my gaming circle, focused more on character than on combat. When I had to play multiple characters, I made sure to give them different voices and different goals, and different histories. More than once the game ground to halt, as the others were confused as to why my fighter wouldn't share his healing potion with my wizard; when I patiently tried to explain that my fighters village was burned by elves, and he’d be long dead in the ground before giving his last healing potion to a “damned elf,” well, they acted like that wasn't an explanation at all.
Vampire was the first game I played that seemed built for me—a focus on character and story, rather than combat or power fantasy. As I got older and my gaming group changed and matured, at least somewhat, I tried to get a number of my friends to play, but they took that attitude that if they wanted to play vampires, they wanted to play “monsters” and not deal with the annoying and restrictive Humanity thing. Needless to say, I was bereft.
These same players finally got excited about Werewolf, and occasionally they’d bend the rules to let me play a Gangrel in a few of the games. It was nice, to an extent, but not really want I wanted from the game. Eventually in late High School I got to play in a couple of “real” vampire games, but they all seemed to descend into some kind of weird “Storyteller processing his issues”/”power gaming maniacs” that I had felt was the antithesis of Vampire. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to play what I felt was a true game of Vampire till after College, and it made me realize that despite my dreaming over all those years, this game could really be as amazing as I dared to hope.
But still, no matter how many revisions or changes the game has gone through, or how many different historical era’s they try to cover, or how many horrible, horrible By Night books they published, just looking at the classic 1st/2nd Ed cover can bring me back to being that young man in the game store, utterly enraptured and tantalized by the possibilities the game promised.