Vampire: The Masquerade is a tabletop role-playing game (tabletop RPG) created by Mark Rein-Hagen and released in 1991 by White Wolf Publishing as the first of several Storyteller System games for its World of Darkness setting line. It is set in a fictionalized "gothic-punk" version of the modern world, where players assume the roles of vampires, who are referred to as "Kindred", and deal with their night-to-night struggles against their own bestial natures, vampire hunters and each other.
Several associated products were produced based on Vampire: The Masquerade, including live-action role-playing games (Mind's Eye Theatre), dice, collectible card games (Vampire: The Eternal Struggle), video games (Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2), and numerous novels. In 1996, a short-lived television show loosely based on the game, Kindred: The Embraced, was produced by Aaron Spelling for the Fox Broadcasting Company.
Vampire was inspired by RPGs such as Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest and Nightlife, as well as the writings of Joseph Campbell and vampire films such as The Lost Boys. Rein-Hagen felt that hunting vampires, as a game premise, would get boring so he came up with the idea of a game where the players played vampires instead of hunting them. Rein-Hagen specifically stated that he purposefully did not read Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles until "very late" in the development process but admitted she was probably an influence on the vampire films that inspired the game. He wanted to go beyond what Anne Rice had done by creating individual vampires, with a whole secret vampire society and culture.
Some of Vampire's central themes of the power of belief developed out of Rein-Hagen's religious upbringing. Inspired by a comic book given to him by White Wolf business partner Stewart Wieck, Rein-Hagen developed the idea that the cursed character of the Biblical Cain was the original vampire. In an "Ask Me Anything" interview on Reddit Rein-Hagen referred to the idea of Cain as the progenitor of all vampires as a "big turning point". He commented further: "I was trying to shy away from religion. After that... I went all in. The game and the world became about religion and belief. My father was a Lutheran minister, and I think that played a huge role in not only Vampire but the whole WoD series. I was always fascinated by what made people believe so strongly when I didn't seem to believe at all. Talking about that theme, the power of belief, fueled the second half of Vampire game design."
Vampire was notably new in many respects. It was conceived as a dark, moody urban fantasy game with a unique gothic feel that harkened back to TSR's Ravenloft. It would also be the first of a series of linked games sharing the same game world. Its simple cover photo of a rose on green marble set the tone for the game and differentiated it from other games on the market. Its content was also novel, as the game focused on plots, intrigue and story as opposed to more straightforward dungeon scenarios. While the RPG industry in general had been trending towards a more narrative approach, Vampire was one of the first games of its kind to center on these things.
Horror games had traditionally been a tough sell in the RPG industry, but Vampire included elements that made it a dark superhero game rather than purely a horror game. An extensive list of broad supernatural powers, called disciplines, which included superior strength, speed and toughness, as well as other powers such as mystic senses, mind control and blood magic, gave the player characters a more superhuman rather than horror feel. The 13 clans added late in the development process provided a much needed character-class-like system based on vampiric archetypes which proved very popular with players.
For its mechanical elements Rein-Hagen turned to Tom Dowd, co-designer of Shadowrun (1989). Vampire's system of "comparative" dice pools drew on the mechanics innovated by Shadowrun changing only the type of dice rolled; ten sided rather than six sided. Skill values that determined the number of dice rolled had been used in games like Champions, but rather than add the result of the dice in total, Vampire compared the result of the dice with a fixed value to determine the degree of success or failure. Skill levels were relatively low, ranging usually from one to five, and were represented with dots rather than numbers, which was the standard of its contemporaries. Players could easily figure their dice pool and roll against the assigned difficulty rating. This system was a boon for the narrative style of play that emphasized story over mechanics, as it was easy for new players to quickly grasp, but often provided unexpected results, such as a higher skilled character being more likely to fumble.
The game uses the cursed, vampiric condition as a backdrop to explore themes of morality, depravity, the human condition (or appreciation of the human condition in its absence), salvation, and personal horror. The gloomy and exaggerated version of the real world that the vampires inhabit, called the "World of Darkness", forms an already bleak canvas against which the stories and struggles of characters are painted. The themes that the game seeks to address include retaining the character's sense of self, humanity, and sanity, as well as simply keeping from being crushed by the grim opposition of mortal and supernatural antagonists and, more poignantly, surviving the politics, treachery, and often violent ambitions of their own kind.
Vampire is based on the Storyteller System. In addition to the general Storyteller rules, it uses a number of specific mechanics aimed towards simulating the vampiric existence. A vampire has a blood pool signifying the amount of human blood or vitae currently in their body; this blood can be spent to power abilities and perform supernatural tricks. These tricks simulate many of those portrayed in film, such as turning into animals or mist, sleeping in the ground or having unnatural charisma and powers of hypnotic suggestion.
Close to the central theme of the game is Humanity. Vampires each have Humanity scores, measuring how closely in touch with human nature they are; as Humanity decreases, vampires become more susceptible to the Beast, the feral side of the vampiric soul that is driven entirely by rage, hunger, and hatred of God and humanity. Brutal, immoral actions risk lowering a vampire's Humanity score. If the individual's Humanity drops to zero, the Beast takes over and the vampire is in a state of constant frenzy known as Wassail.
The actions taken during gameplay are expressed using ten-sided dice. The number of dice used correspond to the player's current skill level, often based on two different skills that together represent the player's ability. For example, to land a punch, the character's dexterity and brawl skill are combined. The resulting number is the number of dice rolled to perform the task. It is up to the story teller to set how high a dice roll must be to be considered a success (usually 6 for standard actions).
Vampires in World of Darkness
Vampires in the World of Darkness make use of several familiar tropes of vampires in myth and legend such as immortality and a powerful thirst for blood. They are truly undead as their hearts do not beat, they do not require food or drink, they do not age, their skin is cold and pale, and the only sustenance they require is blood. Despite their undead status, vampires of this world are thinking, feeling beings capable of thought, emotion, and empathy (though this capacity may diminish with age, or through a desensitization caused by immoral actions, referred to as "loss of Humanity"). Other tropes or weaknesses are described as mere legends or superstitions, such as a vampire's victim becoming a vampire simply from a bite. Though they are typically not repulsed by garlic or holy symbols, there is a system of merits and flaws that can affect characters in this way, though they are not animated by some demonic spirit according to in-game lore.
Sunlight is fearsome and deadly to vampires of this canon, and at most, they can tolerate a few seconds of exposure before perishing. A wooden stake through the heart is not deadly to these creatures but will immobilize them until it is removed. Arguably their biggest weakness is what is known in-game as the Beast. The Beast is a savage, carnal predatory drive within all vampires. The Beast seeks only to satisfy its base urge to survive. Anger, mortal threats, hunger, or bloodlust are some of the things that can cause the Beast to rise. The Beast is capable of taking over the vampire's conscious mind, forcing them into a frenzied state where they take violent, often deeply regrettable, actions that they perhaps otherwise would not. One of the major themes of Vampire is characters' battles to strike a balance between their violent, predatory nature and being morally responsible before their humanity is eroded by this powerful force within themselves. This theme is summed up in the axiom, "A Beast I Am, Lest a Beast I Become."
Vampires may enter a deathlike sleep called torpor. Torpor may be caused by near-fatal injuries or may be entered into voluntarily. In-game, the level of the vampire's humanity determines how long they sleep for. Though they cannot die of old age, vampires in this setting can die. Fire, sunlight, decapitation, supernatural powers, or succumbing to a clan weakness can cause the vampire to reach what is referred to as Final Death—to truly die. Torpor allows the vampire release from their existential pain but it also may make them vulnerable. Vampires in this state, if not well hidden, may have difficulty defending themselves and are vulnerable to destruction by vampire hunters or Diablerie by other vampires.
Characters in this world refer to the supernatural blood in their bodies that sustains them as vitae. Vampires gain vitae by drinking blood. In-game, this accumulation of vitae is called a blood pool. This represents the amount of vitae the player has available to expend to fuel supernatural powers, to heal wounds, or to increase their physical strength, agility, or stamina. Characters can replace lost Vitae by drinking more blood.
A vampire's vitae can inspire false feelings of love and foster dependency if drunk by others. This addiction to vampiric blood is called the Blood Bond. The vampire performing the bond is called a Regnant and the one being bound is called a Thrall. In most cases, a victim must drink three times from the same vampire on three separate nights to become bonded. Once bonded, the victim feels something akin to a very twisted sort of love for the vampire and they become the most important person in their life. They also become more susceptible to mind control by that vampire and are willing to do anything, even risk their own life, to aid their regnant. Mortals, animals, and even other vampires and other supernatural creatures may be bound. The Sabbat practice a different form of group blood bonding by incorporating ancient Tzimisce Blood Magic called the Vaulderie that inspires loyalty and sodality among the sect. It will also instantly break conventional blood bonds if performed correctly by a trained vampire, typically a Pack Priest. They can also be negated by extended amounts of time depending on how far the Bond has gone (steps one, two or three), willpower and the extended absence of the regnant in order to do so.
Vampires may create more of themselves by draining a human to the point of death and then feeding the victim some of their blood. The creator vampire is known as a sire, the newly created vampire a childe and the creation process is referred to as the embrace. Very little vitae is required to trigger the metamorphosis but the victim must be freshly dead. It does not work on corpses that are more than a few minutes old.
A vampire's relative power is limited by something called their Generation, which is set at the time of their embrace. Generation is the vampire's distance from the race's mythical founder, Cain, who is alleged to be the first vampire. For example, a ninth generation is nine generations from Cain. Should this ninth generation vampire embrace someone their progeny would be a tenth generation regardless of how many times they do this. Generation is largely a fixed trait but characters can lower their generation by committing diablerie—the consumption of the soul of a vampire of lower generation. Attitudes towards diablerie range from criminalization to an act of liberation. Regardless, diablerie is a serious act not to be taken lightly.
Motivations and more surrounding the embrace differ from clan and sect. In some sects, such as the Camarilla, the creation of new vampires is tightly controlled. Among the Sabbat or the Anarchs the norms are much looser. Individual clans, especially the Independent Clans, have different norms, rituals and restrictions surrounding the creation of new vampires. Some only embrace a certain ethnic group, such as the Romani with the Ravnos or within certain mortal families as with the Giovanni. Others simply look for certain qualities such as the ability to survive, use intelligence, curiosity or artistic talent. Some create other vampires for power, others for companionship and some are created as fodder for the endless, ancient conflicts, known as the Jyhad, that are central to gameplay.
Myths and origins
Vampires in the World of Darkness believe that their race originates from the Biblical figure of Cain. Cain was said to have been cursed by God with a vampiric state for murdering his brother. The vampires of this canon believe themselves to be descended from this Biblical progenitor.
It is said that Cain was able to pass on his cursed state to others, thereby, making them like himself only somewhat weaker. These first childer, known as the second generation, were said to have been made to keep him company, and they in turn made the third generation. The third were supposedly numbered thirteen and are the semi-legendary founders of the thirteen original clans. According to in-game legend, all of these vampires lived in peace under Cain's rule in the legendary city known as Enoch, or the First City. When God caused the Great Flood, however, the city was destroyed and Cain disappeared, leaving his Childer to fend for themselves. The third generation eventually rose up and slew their sires. Cain, upon discovering this, cursed them. Cain's curse is supposedly the reason each clan now has its own weakness. These myths are collected in an in-game document of dubious reliability known as the Book of Nod. Those who study the mythical vampire origins are called Noddists. According to Noddist mythology there are claims that Cain will return at the end of time to judge his descendants: the Antediluvians and all vampires descended from them. This event is known as Gehenna, the end of all vampiric races. Others claim that Gehenna is simply the wakening of the Antediluvians who have returned to feed on the blood of their descendants.
Differing interpretations of the myths divide vampire society. The Sabbat, for example, take the myths quite literally and believe that it is their purpose to defend vampires from the depredations of the ancients. The Camarilla is more dismissive, either claiming that Cain is nothing more than a myth or metaphor or outright suppressing the myths and their study. Contentions between the different societies surrounding the origins of vampires and Gehenna are important in-game motivations for the Jyhad that color the character's understanding of their world. Regardless as to whether or not the myths are true in the context of the game the myth of Cain represents important themes presented in the metaplot such as sins of the father coming back upon his children, the threat of apocalypse, questions of faith, conspiracies, and war of ages.
Golconda is a fabled state of enlightenment that offers vampires a release from their struggle with the Beast. Different editions have gone into different level of detail as to what Golconda is but all agree that it is an elusive and mysterious state and there is very little information in-game or out as to how to achieve it.
In Vampire: The Masquerade, the Masquerade refers to an organized conspiracy primarily orchestrated by the Camarilla to convince the general public that vampires do not exist. The Camarilla believes the Masquerade is the cornerstone survival strategy for Kindred and fear that without it the kine would rise up and exterminate all the undead.
Prohibitions against exposing the existence of Kindred existed prior to the 15th century in a set of ancient laws known as the Traditions. The First Tradition reads:
"Thou shall not reveal thy true nature to those not of the Blood. Doing such shall renounce thy claims of Blood."
This stricture was not consistently nor as strictly enforced until the Inquisition of the 15th century required it. During this period vampires were destroyed in large numbers by vampire hunters which largely prompted the formation of a sect known as the Camarilla whose primary purpose was to promote and enforce the Masquerade as a means of survival.
The Masquerade is largely enforced through self-policing, but it is primarily the job of the Prince in Camarilla controlled cities to enforce it. Princes may use any means at their disposal to ensure vampire society stays hidden and that those who break the Masquerade are duly punished. Punishments for breaches have a range but are usually draconian in nature due to the seriousness of the Masquerade. Final Death, often by means of a ritualized "Blood Hunt" by other vampires, is not uncommon. When breaches do occur, the Camarilla takes great pains to repair them. This could include anything from erasing a mortal's memories using supernatural powers to manipulating mortal pawns in order to keep events out of the media.
The Masquerade is one of the main in-game points of contention between the two major factions of vampires in the World of Darkness. While many vampires see the pragmatism in the Masquerade some do not agree with it. For example, the Sabbat do not uphold the Tradition that justifies the enforcement of the Masquerade but behind closed doors even they take some steps to contain breaches.
In-game around the early 2000s, the intelligence agencies of the world discovered the SchreckNET's existence, they in response formed what is known as the Second inquisition. Utilizing the knowledge of the Society of St. Leopold, which had been canonized under the Vatican, they've killed hundreds of thousands of vampires the world over. In reaction that had forced a secondary level of masquerade measures in the game world, Vampires now use everything from burner phones and disposable email to use of carrier pigeon and information dead drops, sometimes using hypnotized or ghouled humans to pass information. Also the Camarilla Sect have become more of a closed off society, only accepting notable kindred, leaving most recently embraced to be slaughtered or adopted by the Anarch Sect, who have adopted tenets of the Camarilla's masquerade to protect themselves.