Thursday, November 5, 2015

Let's Compare Editions! Part 9 -- Examples of Play

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

Pretty much every role-playing game contains some section which serves as an "Example of Play." These short vignettes serve to show the rules and mechanics "in action," and can serve as a wonderful learning tool for the reader. For some, particularly those new to RPGs in general, these can help to give some idea of what, exactly, one is supposed to do with this bizarre book you find in front of you. For veterans, they help to show off what makes this particular game different or unique from the other games you might be familiar with.

Some use a simple example of a round or two of combat. Understandable, as combat is often the trickiest and most complicated part of any given RPG. But even at its most basic, some form of narrative inevitably is involved in these examples. After all, even a battle against orcs in a dungeon implies some sort "dungeon" and "adventurers" who feel the need to battle these particular "monsters." Of course, most games, particularly those that value "Storytelling" as Vampire does, require a bit more of a narrative to explain who is in conflict, what they're fighting over, and what each participant hopes to gain from the conflict.

And it's in this narrative that we can see a change in, for lack of a better term, the core theme of each of the editions of Vampire. I doubt the various authors gave these Examples terribly much thought. After all, they're core goal here is to show the rules in action, and aid the novice Storyteller in understanding how all these moving part intersect. But it's almost because the narrative takes a back seat in the writing that certain ideas and concepts become revealed. Whether intended or not, the various Examples of Play are revealing more than just the rules, but also examples of how the game "should" be played, and informing the reader that "these types of scenarios you can expect to see in your Chronicles."

I honestly don't know if the various Examples actually came from the authors own experience or their own games. Well, I know the 1st ed one did, as it's a scene from Ashes to Ashes. But, I have no idea of the origin of the Examples in 2nd or Revised. Unsurprisingly, V20 uses Revised's Example.

Our point of view character is Elucid a Nosferatu, though he will soon met up with the Brujah Travis and the Gangrel Malcolm. Elucid heads to a meeting the city's anarch community in an old abandoned brewery. The characters are present for a speech by Juggler, who seeks to unite the various anarchs under his leadership. The meeting is interrupted by Sheriff (not THE Sheriff, just Sheriff), who gives the group a stern talking to, with threat of immolation of the entire building if the dare oppose him. His thuggery bushes Elucid to the limit, and a fight erupts between Sheriff, his deputies, and the anarchs. The fight eventually makes it way to the roof, where Sheriff's cronies light the place on fire, as the battle spills over to the rough of a neighboring building. The battle eventually breaks the skylight, and attracts the attention of not only the customers, but a powerful Elder as well. Elucid is able to resist the Dominate attempt, and the three characters escape together into the sewers.

Our point of view character is Clarissa, a Toreador seeking her missing sire. She is joined by the Malkavian Ian, a friend along more for the company than anything else. They head into the Shadowlawn Memorial Cemetary, where they meet Dre, a Brujah who claims the cemetery as his turf. The three argue briefly, until Dre allows the other two the freedom to explore, though with him keeping an eye on them. Soon, they come upon Sheriff, Michael (also a Toreador), and a ghoul. Dre must hold his temper, as the two Elders desecrate his hommies grave site. Michael presents Sheriff the bloody ring of Clarissa's sire, which drives her into a frenzy. Battle is soon joined, and while the characters are able to gain a temporary upper hand, Sheriff is able to make a quick get away. They have all made powerful enemies this night, and are left with more questions than answers.

Our point of view character is Jillian, a Toreador seeking her missing sire. After languorously feeding from a member of her herd, she heads to a night club to meet DMZ, a Gangrel gangsta. They speak about recent happenings, until the Nosferatu MortyxX creeps up to them, with fresh information about strange shipments in the barrens, potentially from the Sabbat, and Jillian's sires scarf. They head to the barrens; while Jillian and DMZ bicker, MortyxX blatantly grabs a whore and drains her. They then attempt to sneak into the abandoned tenement building, attracting the attention of the ghoul protectors. Between the Gangrel's claws, the Toreador's Presence, and the Nosferatu's Obfuscate, the coterie makes short work of the ghouls.

So, what are the actual differences between these Examples and what, if anything, can they tell us about the editions they are part of? For me, the main difference is between how the characters relate to the factions within the Camarilla and who their enemies are. In 1st, the characters are clearly aligned with the Anarchs. They may not all agree with everything the Anarchs stand for, and they might even like the leadership of the Anarchs, but it is the only "home" they have. In 2nd the characters are still "Anarchs," but more so because of their own personal desires and goals set them inherently at odds with the Prince and the Elders. In both cases, their immediate foe is Sheriff, the "enforcer" for the Prince and the imposer of the Elders will.

Once we get to Revised, the situation changes. The characters have no explicit position in the "War of Ages." Only one character, DMZ, seems to take the Anarch movement seriously. In fact, Jillian's internal monologue states this explicitly. When MortyxX reveals his true face and straight up murders a mortal, she thinks about how such an act is far more rebellious than all of DMZ's "talk." The Anarch/Elder struggle is no longer of much importance,  Instead, their foes now are ghouled minions of the Sabbat. This is part of the general change in the core conflict of the game over time, as it morphed from one of age, with the neonates raging against the Elders, to one of faction. 

There's also a relatively humorous element in these, as the authors try to handle "street" culture. I always appreciated how inclusive Vampire has always tried to be, encouraging inclusiveness in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and socio-economic background.  But it can also seem tone deaf in some of these situations as well, as individuals who are clearly not from a given group attempts to play a member of that group. Most blatantly when it's a white male suburbanite trying to play a black gang member. But, they're trying, and trying to do it in as honest a way as possible. I'm certainly in no real position to judge, and what works or doesn't work for any given troupe is one thing, but it sure sounds odd when written up in these Examples.

Also, what's the deal with the names in Revised? To an extent, I get it. I mean, the '90's were weird, and the internet was just taking off, but who could ever take DMZ and MortyxX seriously? Among fellow players, their names would quickly morph to "Dee" (for those who are trying to be nice) or "Dims" (for those who aren't). And MortyxX? Yeah, he'd be "Morty" five minutes into the first session. 

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