What is Vampire for us?
First of all, it is about emotion – fear, desire, hunger, hatred, revenge, but also about love, longing, pain, shame and relief. While Vampires are dead in body, they are still driven by primal emotions. Fear of the Sun and fire. Hunger for blood. Lust for power. Lost memories of mortal loves. Pride of deeds and shame of failings. Vampires are not empty shells – after all, they need some motivation to do their daily routine, to keep playing their political games and to survive.
But as emotions clash, conflict is inevitable. There are always more Vampires than valuable domains. Influences are contested, beloved ghouls are taken over, and even the tiniest of offense can blossom into century long revenge. What is sacred to one Vampire is utterly repulsive to the other. What is normal to one is the most heinous scandal for others. There is no acceptance and no kind empathy. Kindred experience their emotions stronger – their love is devouring but empty, their hatred is burning but vain, their glory is majestic but selfish. Material or influential rivalries are common, but the real conflicts are personal and ideological. Lies, broken promises, treasons and opposing religious or political views are the fuel of real bitter clashes.
And what is conflict for the individuals, is war for the communities. Clans compete with clans, sects fight sects, bloodlines rival bloodlines, coteries and packs fight each other. But war is never black and white. There is no evil versus good, only shades of grey, shifting moralities, and at the end, only survival and victory matters. In our game, the Camarilla and the Sabbath are not distant ideological enemies but actual neighbours and un-life at the borderlands is never simple. Divided loyalties, secret promises, ancient treasons and new alliances are what make up Hungary – here having a common past with the enemy is not rare and not that of a big deal. The web of war and intrigue weaves the entire country and every Kindred in it.
Whatever happens, every Vampire is a monster in a way – there is no silver lining, there are no nice guys at all. There is no altruism, no selflessness. Everything is tainted. Love is hunger and lust. Leadership is pride and control. Promises are just elaborate lies, wars are just glorified massacres, and ceremonies are only good enough to keep the crumbling façade of humanity up a little longer. They try to pose as moral, honest, religious or humane, but deep inside, they are predators, beasts, who just want their daily blood.
Among such circumstances, only a hierarchy can keep things running. No matter if it is the Ivory Tower of the Camarilla, the religious mumbo-jumbo of the Sabbath, the Pyramid of the Tremeres or the Family of the Giovannis – some system, some order is needed. When order fails, beasts roar and hell gets loose. And the hierarchy of monsters is the hierarchy of violence, oppression and fear. The stronger ones rule. The stronger ones command. The stronger ones decide. That strength can come from age, mortal power, group cohesion, magic or martial proves – the only important thing is its existence. The rules are not enforced by social contract, moral, divine code or willing understanding, but by sheer force and fear.
As monsters have to co-exist and hierarchy needs to work to overcome conflicts. The Kindred are extremely ceremonial. They use elaborate formulas, titles and habits to vent out tension, solve problems without violence. The Traditions of the Camarilla, the Code of the Sabbath, the instinctual dominance rituals of the Gangrels are all serving the same purpose – to give form. Names and ranks, rituals and celebrations all exist to avoid conflicts, to please the beast and to enforce hierarchy.
While ceremonies and hierarchy keep the beast in bay, we heavily focus on intrigue. If physical violence is rare and unwanted, the best way to solve problems, defeat opponents and win favours is by intrigue, plotting, treason, alliances and secrets. Puppeteering mortals, using influences, sharing vile rumours, backstabbing allies, balancing between trust and suspicion is the quintessence of our gaming experience. We like it juicy, dirty, dramatic and strategic.
But fearing revenge and reprisal is right and Vampires aim for survival. They do not like to make their own hands dirty if there is any other solution. They use pawns, blood bonds, dominance, coercion and bribery to get things done and use each other alike. They have only one unlife and they do not like to risk it. A Vampire with a sword fighting personal battles with the enemy is cool – but also soon likely to be dead. We like our game to be less heroic and more grim. Use others and stay out of the fray.
Aside from these, Vampire is also about the story for us. If there is no story to tell, there is no need to listen. Vampires do not meet for pleasantries, they meet for purpose. The story has to be personal in a way that every Vampire can feel being affected, even threatened by it to be involved, be motivated. We have a story to tell, full of drama, suffering, relief, might and awe, but we want the players to be part of it, not just be the silent audience. Like stones raise waves in lakes, these big background stories have their own plotlines, like the roots of a tree. Every player can be emotionally or mentally involved in one of the many small plotlines which meet to form bigger and bigger story-arcs, and eventually tell the whole story.
That is the pattern of the Jyhad – the Methuselah influence the Elders, the Elders the Ancillae, the Ancillae the Neonates, all come from top to down without the Vampires in the system seeing the levels and puppeteering threads. Just like this, huge background events influence smaller local events, which influence the Vampires by emotions, conflict and struggle. That makes everybody involved on their own level, with different responsibilities and duties.
We strongly believe in drama, and in the free will of the character – we aim to find the balance. The players are not actors but decision makers on their own character level who are capable of reacting to changing events and finding creative solutions. However, we have our own imagination of World of Darkness reality and background world which means characters have limitations and have to comply with the setting. To serve the story and keep in game reality in check, insights and influences are often required, players are entitled to know to effect of their actions, but at the end, they are who make the decisions. Neither can drama can overrule the character and use is at a mere puppet, nor can the character can outplay the drama and make the game a personal playground where reality does not matter any more.
Our game is based on narration – rules and game-mechanics are for setting guidelines and solving simple problems, but the main rule is always the rule of the story – drama and plot comes first. We use as little actual hard rules as possible, trying to focus on emotions, characters, intrigue, story and fun instead of numbers and system solutions. To us, the storyteller is really a story-teller, and not a rule-master. We use indirect methods to tell the story, like external motivation, NPCs, dramatic effects, and in game rewards and punishments.
While the World of Darkness for us is mostly political and emotional, we indeed have mystery in it too. Ancient secrets and forgotten prophecies shadow the present, and while we like to keep our game “simple” and avoid oddities just for the sake of it, we also like to maze our players with unheard events, mystical problems and wondrous sights. What is beyond the knowledge of the average Vampire is to be feared and awed, not analyzed and laughed at. We believe in the principle of “less is more”. If we keep mystery mysterious, the players will enjoy them and will be emotionally involved.
The game, after all, serves the players’ (and organizers’) entertainment, fun and self-expression to the limits of other’s joy. We always prefer the many over the few, the good drama over the safe solution, the emotional involvement over the shallow external view.
And finally, Vampire is for Vampires. Yes, there are some connections. The Giovannis have their Wraiths. There are Werewolves in the forests. The Umbra is within reach. There are different magical teachings. There are infernal sects venerating demons. All true. But these are for background, rare and peculiar things, not the foundation of the game. Keep them where they belong – in the occult section of the Kindred libraries.