Dungeons & Dragons is the first game most people think of in the tabletop RPG genre, and it has found a massive new audience online. It’s common for players to burn out on a game if they play it for too long, and people who are looking for an alternative to D&D should check out Vampire: The Masquerade, as it has a much greater focus on roleplaying than the other tabletop RPGs that are part of the fantasy genre.
Vampire: The Masquerade casts the players as undead, who are trying to survive (and thrive) in a world where no one knows they exist. Vampires must drink the blood of the living in order to survive, which acts as both their sustenance and their drug of choice. The undead in VTM are like super-powered drug addicts, who must walk a fine line between upholding the secret of their existence, and not succumbing to their dark side.
Related: Vampire: The Masquerade Companion Review: Expanding The Darkness
Characters Over Combat
There are lots of different ways to play D&D, but the rules as written are intended for groups who balance roleplaying with combat and exploration. The bulk of a character’s powers are tied to their efficiency in battle and their ability to deal with hazards. Difficult social situations can be resolved with a single dice roll, as the Deception, Intimidation, and Persuasion skills are designed to quickly deal with problems that can’t be solved with a sword.
Vampire: The Masquerade is all about roleplaying, to the point where combat rules barely exist, and battles can be resolved in a few dice rolls. The players aren’t likely to be exploring dungeons in modern times, which means that most of the conflicts in the game are about wars of words. The people who are frustrated with D&D’s lack of focus on roleplaying will be right at home with Vampire: The Masquerade. The aim of the game is to create an interesting character and unleash them upon the world, not the acquisition of magic items and treasure.
The focus on roleplaying also makes Vampire: The Masquerade easier to stream online, as Storytellers don’t need to worry about maps or moving pieces across a board. Vampire: The Masquerade players only need a character sheet and dice for their games. The current pandemic situation doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, so streaming might be the only way to play tabletop RPGs in the near future.
Contemporary Over Fantasy
Vampire: The Masquerade has books full of lore that discuss the various clans and factions that are part of the history of the setting. The older editions of the World of Darkness franchise have even more content, as numerous supernatural beings had their own game lines, including Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Mage: The Ascension. It can be a lot to take in, so Storytellers should gradually introduce the aspects of the setting to the player, rather than dumping the history of the Camarilla into their laps.
One aspect of Vampire: The Masquerade that makes it easier to get to grips with than fantasy tabletop RPGs is its setting. The vast majority of Vampire: The Masquerade games use contemporary cities as their setting, with many Storytellers choosing to use the city their currently in. This makes it a lot easier to get players invested in the world, as they’re already living in it, and likely won’t need much explained to them about day to day living. This gives the Storyteller time to focus on the unique aspects of the World of Darkness, as the players are already familiar with the location of the game. The Storyteller can tell them how their existing world has changed, rather than describing a whole new place.
Personal Horrors Over External Threats
The transformation from human being into undead monster brings a number of changes. On the plus side, the player is now immortal (but not invulnerable) and has access to a number of supernatural powers that are akin to magic. The downsides tend to outweigh the positives, as the player needs to feed on the living to survive, they instantly incinerate under sunlight, and they now have to compete with the personification of their dark side, which was birthed in their mind when they were turned. The Beast is always waiting to take control of the player’s mind, which it can do whenever they enter a frenzy. It doesn’t take much to bring out a vampire’s dark side, but when it does, everyone better run for cover.
All of these elements combined lead to characters who must learn to cope with their new state of being. This involves the exploration of personal horror, as the player must cope with their new addiction, and try to live with the means by which they procure blood. A player’s humanity is a trackable stat, and maintaining their connection to the mortal world is just as important as any mission or scheme that they’re currently undertaking. The players will have to face a number of threats in Vampire: The Masquerade, ranging from curious mortals, vampire hunters, other undead, and even werewolves, but the greatest threat will always be the person they see in the mirror.
The content in Vampire: The Masquerade is meant for adults, and the developers did a phenomenal job of making sure that the material is presented in a respectful way. The core rulebook also has a fantastic section on dealing with problematic elements appearing in games and outlines ways for players and Storytellers to ensure that specific themes are ignored if they will cause distress for anyone at the table. These are often dealt with in a “Session Zero”, which has become a standard element for most tabletop games.
Keeping The Secret
One of the most interesting aspects of Vampire: The Masquerade is the need to uphold the Masquerade. This means that players cannot reveal the existence of vampires to mortals. As such, the players have access to a number of supernatural powers, but they have to be careful about how they use them or risk the wrath of every vampire faction in the world. Smiling Jack warned the player about screwing up in the age of cellphone cameras in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, and that was back in 2004. A lot has changed since then, as mobile devices are far more common, and there are now people actively looking for vampires. The Second Inquisition is a powerful faction of human vampire hunters, and they are using the Internet to track down and murder and undead they find. Vampire: The Masquerade players always have to be careful about who they trust with their secrets, and how they go about using their supernatural gifts to achieve their goals. If they don’t, then they’ll find themselves hunted by their own kind, or by the Second Inquisition.
There are many different types of D&D and Pathfinder campaign, but most people stick to the pre-written ones, as these fulfill the player’s desire for epic fantasy adventures. Vampire: The Masquerade adventures aren’t like that. In Vampire: The Masquerade, the goal of the adventure might be to just survive another night in a dangerous world. This might sound like an overly dark notion for a game that you play with friends, which is why vampires need to form a coterie of fellow undead and look out for each other. The World of Darkness can be a grim place, but there are many ways to find happiness on its streets. For some players, it’s about acquiring power and wealth, while other players simply want to keep their Beast at bay. A lucky few characters might regain something that was lost on the night their heart stopped beating, and those are the kinds of stories that are worth telling. There are countless tabletop RPG sessions that end with a hero slaying a dragon, but how many of them end with saving a soul?
Next: Vampire: The Masquerade: Clan Salubri Guide
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Scott has been writing for The Gamer since it launched in 2017 and also regularly contributes to Screen Rant. He has previously written gaming articles for websites like Cracked, Dorkly, Topless Robot, and TopTenz. He has been gaming since the days of the ZX Spectrum, when it used to take 40 minutes to load a game from a tape cassette player to a black and white TV set.
Scott thinks Chrono Trigger is the best video game of all time, followed closely by Final Fantasy Tactics and Baldur’s Gate 2. He pretends that sorcerer is his favorite Dungeons & Dragons class in public but he secretly loves bards.
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