Untitled vampire game

I generally play D&D (O or A 1e, if you’re curious), mostly focusing on creating and overcoming challenges for myself and other players. But after spending a few weeks watching lots of vampire movies, I thought I might play a game that would help me explore characters, situations, and emotions common to the genre. I didn’t want to spend any money so I made my own.

The rules are as follows:

% Vampire game for two

Premise

One player is the vampire and one player is the victim. The vampire wants the victim to willingly surrender. The victim wants to be loved — not necessarily by the vampire, by anybody.

By the end of the game, the victim will have surrendered to the vampire, or will have fled from the vampire. If the victim offers, the vampire will always feed on the victim. If the victim flees, the vampire may or may not feed on them anyway.

Process

First scene

The vampire and the victim talk for 10 minutes. By the end of this first conversation, the victim must know the vampire wants them in some abnormal,scary sense. Then the victim leaves.

During this first conversation, try to establish, without directly saying it,what the vampire’s weaknesses and limitations are — can they go in the sun? Are they afraid of holy symbols? Similarly, but more explicitly, establish some social ties for the victim. Only one of these ties can be even remotely satisfactory.

Then spend 5 minutes describing the activities of the vampire and the victim after their conversation. Does the vampire sulk, or do they follow the victim? Does the victim have any additional sources of support not discussed in the past 10 minutes? Do they have any habits that leave them vulnerable to attack? Do they research the vampire?

Second scene onward

Players switch characters.

The vampire and the victim talk for 10 minutes. Quickly establish the reason the victim returned to the vampire. Continue developing the characters, their relationships to each other and the world, and the vampire’s powers and weaknesses. At the end of this and future scenes, the victim should decide to surrender to the vampire or not, and to flee or not. If the victim will neither surrender nor flee, spend 5 minutes describing the activities of the characters between conversations, then switch and play another scene.

Resolution

If the victim surrenders to the vampire, the vampire will feed. Describe how this will happen, what this means for both of them. If the victim flees, describe the precautions they take, if any, and the effect these encounters will have on their life going forward. Finally, the vampire should decide if they will feed on the victim anyway.

Future options

Maybe add a third player and rotate between all three? Maybe add scenes between the victim and the other people in their life — possibly the victim begins play secure in their life, and the vampire has to destroy their security to get close to them.

Considerations when writing these rules

It had to be a two-player game, since it was just my partner and myself playing, and it couldn’t have a dedicated referee, since my partner wanted to play a game with me as a fellow player. It couldn’t be very mechanically complex, because my partner doesn’t care for heavy rules.

I thought it would be difficult to know when to end a scene, so I decided to put strict time limits on them. 10 minutes just seemed like a workable number. Since the game would be (I expected) extremely dark, mostly the tale of a vampire isolating their victim socially and psychologically manipulating them into giving up their life, so the players switch characters regularly, to avoid getting too personally invested in either of them.

Actual play

At my partner’s choice, I was the vampire and she was the victim. We decided our setting was Edinburgh, a city she knew well but still felt “exotic”, in the late 1800s. Cobblestone streets and foggy alleyways, very classic. We decided we were probably both fine with whatever content or themes came up in the game. I had an explicit veil, but I can’t remember what it was now.

My partner voiced the concern that there would be no reason for the victim to surrender to the vampire, and that every game would end the same, with the victim fleeing. I had the exact opposite concern, which tickled me.

We agreed that our characters had bumped into each other on the foggy street (an accident, on the victim’s part at least) and began play with the vampire helping the victim to their feet. We established quickly that the victim was a poet, living alone, with no important social ties. The vampire meanwhile was very well read, well traveled, and tired. The vampire spoke about a desire to rest — after one has seen enough wonderful things, one may want to see ordinary things as wonderful, instead. The vampire offered to walk the victim home, and we decided that the remainder of the conversation would be that walk, ending when they reached home.

The victim was much more forward and relationship-hungry, or maybe just horny, than I had expected. She wrote poems about longing and “little deaths”, and was very open about her desire for a relationship and passion. The vampire, my partner decided, looked young and attractive, and so it seemed that the vampire would conquer the victim through romance and sensuality.

The 10 minute timer went off surprisingly quickly. We spent most of the first conversation world-building, essentially, and I had forgot to establish the crucial fact that my character wanted to feed on the victim in some unnatural and scary way. I kind of half-assed a very quick sentence about using people, draining them, and burying them, and then my partner said, “But I want to live!” and we closed the scene.

Then we debriefed for a little bit. It was interesting, to me, that we had pretty much just role-played dialogue, with no accompanying actions, and all in first person. (This is directly contradictory to my usual style, which is third-person, and somewhat abstract; I don’t say exactly what my character says unless I have a neat turn of phrase in mind, or it’s another player’s preference to hear exact wording.) We reviewed the rules and described the characters’ interim activities. The victim, overcome with longing, threw herself against the door like a Disney heroine coming back from a wonderful date. Later she wrote a letter to her sister, describing the events and her feelings about them. Finally, she did a little “Twilight”-style research montage, learning about the vampire and vampirism in general. The vampire meanwhile watched her through the whole night. We decided, since the vampire’s threat was a little weak, that the victim would go to meet the vampire the very next day. Excitement would overcome any qualms.

The next scene started off a little rocky. My partner forgot that we were switching characters, and so the first two minutes of conversation was very strange indeed. Once we realized the error we reset the clock and started over.

The victim walked to the old ruined abbey where the vampire said they sometimes spent time. The vampire saw her and approached. They talked, flirting a bit and discussing the poem the victim had written for the vampire. The poet wanted to be great and to be remembered. The vampire told the poet that everyone would remember her work if she were found dead, an exquisite corpse, under mysterious and terrifying circumstances. She further wanted to write more poems, and the vampire told her she could only write great poetry if she had interesting experiences. She said she was afraid of losing her sister, but the vampire said that sacrifices were necessary for art, that great pains make great art. Finally, she was afraid of pain, but the vampire said it was a good pain. At the end of the scene she surrendered to the vampire.

We decided that the vampire would turn her into a kind of thrall, keeping her around, maybe for a long while, but not making her an equal. Her body would be found (before she rose again) and people would wonder about the case, but her poems would not surge in popularity, nor would she write any poems while in thralldom. Eventually the vampire would grow dissatisfied.

Reflections

My partner has only played a few games, ever; I am much more experienced, but not with this sort of game! It was very different and very cool. I think she’d be down to play many more like it.

I was a little disappointed at some aspects of play. We probably needed stronger story beats, or maybe conversation topics, to hit on the first scene. As it played out, it felt like we had a scene going in a certain direction and then the vampire comes out of nowhere saying, “I want to eat you! Grrr!”, which is just not very compelling. I also think we should have given the victim a few more ties to life, or made the vampire more horrible. The game was too easy; it was a forgone conclusion that the victim would surrender.

I think I should have done more to establish my expected tone, which was darker, grimier, and meaner than the game we in fact played. I had wanted to play a game about manipulation and despair. In fact we played out some sexy fan-fic. Nothing wrong with that, but it wasn’t what I was hoping to explore.

I’m curious what in the procedures of the game could make the grimier outcome more likely. Or is it a problem at all? Maybe the same game could be an exploration of abuse and an opportunity for foreplay? I’m not sure.

Even though we didn’t delve into the themes I was interested in, we both had fun. I would play again, maybe starting as the victim, and reacting less positively to the vampire’s attention, so that we would actually be interested to see why the victim kept returning to the vampire, and whether they surrendered to the vampire at the end.

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5 responses to “Untitled vampire game”

  1. Awesome post! I very much enjoyed reading it. A compelling concept for a game. Also, kudos for making your own game.

    Just curious (this is not criticism, just genuine curiosity), did you have a particular reason for not having a randomization mechanic? Is it about the feel of the game you wanted, or something else?

  2. Hi! I appreciate you considering the dialogue at Discord and jumping into the recommendations. It’s a fun post.

    I also respect your initial interest at the Discord, which was to gain a clearer view of whatever I might be thinking these days. If posting in this way is supposed to be the best route there, then I might as well try to validate the claim.

    Let’s start with something fundamental: when “something is” or “something happens,” and for convenience let’s focus on the first moments of play. I’d like you to put aside all cases of we decided, in terms of working-it-out or preparatory agreement, and instead, to look at some time when you played something and your partner played toward/about/to that same something (in fact, whoever first, that doesn’t matter).

    It’s a really easy concept. “The goblin is charging at you with his javelin.” “I strike [at] the goblin!” That’s it, merely operating frm and toward something the other person said, in this case the goblin, nothing more. In your description of the first part of play, I think I see it occurring in the dialogue here:

    The vampire spoke about a desire to rest — after one has seen enough wonderful things, one may want to see ordinary things as wonderful, instead. The vampire offered to walk the victim home …
    I kind of half-assed a very quick sentence about using people, draining them, and burying them, and then my partner said, “But I want to live!”

    I know I’m inferring a lot from your description, but that’s all I have to work with, so at risk of inferring too much, it looks to me as if those two things above were embedded in a before-between-after matrix of discussion about things, world-building, agreements, et cetera. Which I’m not criticizing as such – but my purpose right now is to focus on this one process I’m asking about.

    Can you help me with that? From these moments of play, any specific descripion, event, dialogue, action, or whatever which person A said and which person B responded to or about, especially A-B-A or B-A-B. No matter how small or “obvious” it may seem to be. But it must be diegetic, not table-talk chat about what it will be, would be, should be, or was. This is absolutely necessary for any point I could possibly make about what role-playing is.

    • The vast majority of the talk at the table was diegetic, though I’m afraid I may have trouble recalling many exact lines. The two I quoted stuck in my mind because of their poor fit. We also made gestures representing actions — offering a hand to help someone up, holding hands, opening a door, etc, but remained seated throughout. This description holds for both of the main scenes. The second scene had two sentences of narration, one from each of us, establishing our positions in the abbey yard.

      During the interludes we mostly dropped character, speaking about what the character “might” do, and asking for the other player’s opinion. We felt comfortable revising descriptions there, and narrating at a high level of abstraction. This is in contrast to our “acting” during the conversation scenes, where we would simply say something, and then whatever we said, had been said.

      I’m reasonably confident about the accuracy of the following lines from the first conversation scene:

      Vampire (me): And what are you doing, out so late and alone?

      Victim (my partner): I was at the university library, doing research and writing.

      Vamp: Writing what?

      Vic: I’m a poet.

      Vamp: What poems do you make?

      Vic: “Make”, that’s an odd word. But I guess a poet does make something. Isn’t that where the word comes from? It’s Greek, isn’t it?

      Vamp: Yes. Poesis. I remember Plato said the poet was the prime example of a maker.

      Vic: You remember? Interesting choice of words.

      Vamp: What kinds of poems?

      Vic: I write about longing, and little deaths.

      Then I paused because I was surprised at the remark, and I can’t remember what we said next.

    • With this much diegesis to work with, talking about the next part is easy. (Also a relief; I think most of us have been in at least one situation when “about” talk took over and play was lost.)

      The idea I’m driving at is discernible from two angles. The first is about the “thing,” the entity or event or whatever, goblin, cup, hand, sword, et cetera. It’s being reincorporated, repeatedly. I don’t know who first used that term regarding role-playing, but whoever it was, they nailed it. Reincorporation, regardless of who made it up or when it was made up.

      The second angle is about the people who are doing this, which means, listening to one another. I think that’s the big deal, the actual medium of play: what was said + heard, and therefore eligible for reincorporation. I don’t think play happens “in the imagination,” acknowledging however that the imagination is being employed as well. Nor do I think the audible talking operates as a radio show. The medium is listening, as a physical and social act. (Note: as a term listening is a bit sensory-biased; any equivalent will do, with the specific connotation.) Taking this to your experience in play, the next evident phenomenon is my interpretation of agency: the experience of being heard, of being listened to, of knowing that what you said matters because it is now being reincorporated by someone else. I say “evident” because you and your partner were doing this, which incidentally is also very pleasurable to read about second-hand and to appreciate as someone who likes to do it too.

      My take is that this readership enjoyment among us, to and from anybody, sharing is perhaps the best word, is the real benefit for anything I’m doing here. Away from hyped promotion of product, away from subcultual exclusion anxieties, away from accumulated cruft of meaningless phrases. That’s all I’d really want to see or do.

      But given a desire to know and understand, then from there, the basics & properties of this medium can be identified, and from there, the value and functions of rules are easy to see. By rules, I’m talking about what procedures are done and used, regardless of their relation to texts. Rules organize (1) the relation of table-talk to fiction-talk, (2) who says what sort of fiction-talk at what times, and (3) which bits of #2 are subject to constraints as subroutines. I see these rules very much as things we use, not “follow,” in the sense that different musical instruments or any instruments used in any expressive medium, have different properties.

      All of the above is the barest beginning, moving into discussion of intersections of input/reception, of situations, of fantasy, of changes of all kinds, of math-as-language, of why we’d do this, and more. I have also found that learning it for real requires formal work – actual assignments, feedback, processing – and that essays or dialogue in text do not work well, certainly not well enough for the effort required. I’m convinced there’s no point at all in presenting some big How It Works dissertation (and regardless of what anyone thinks, the GNS essays were not any such thing, and said so).

      If you’re curious about any of this, but are mostly oriented toward enjoying and sharing play, then ordinary posting, commenting, and reading here is sufficient. The topics list is pretty good for focusing attention on specific things, especially if you are not impatient and let interest guide you rather than argumentation. All the posts are open for comment, so anything you’d like to pursue is discussable; I recommend the Q&A posts because they come front-loaded with discussions from their first appearances in the Patreon, and I’d like to see follow-ups here. This would be the “forum” approach, in the original sense of the word rather than internet. Otherwise, for more focused work-based learning, there are the courses, including the single prerequisite/starting one, People and Play.

      Anyway, I hope this is sort of what you were hoping for, “what Ron thinks” to some extent. But it’s more important to me that I really do like learning about what you’ve played and how it goes.

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