At Odin's request, we're playing Vampire: the Requiem, 2nd edition, which I have agreed to learn enough to GM and for which he is the go-to for rules details during play. We've been at it for three sessions of varying length; the embedded video playlist is current through session 2 and I'm just exporting the set for session 3 as I type this. (edit: done!)
Our game is set among the three cities associated with the Öresund Strait, a bit of the North Sea bounded by Sweden and Denmark in a weird way (I've attached the map). You may know it via association with the titular structure of the murder-drama series Bron a.k.a. Broen. The cities are (using Swedish spelling) Malmö, Helsingborg, and Köpenhamn, the latter better known to most readers as Copenhagen. The middle one's name is too perfect to ignore for playing vampire-anything, so that's where I've placed most of the action.
I'm not entirely clear about why, but in our preparation discussion, someone determined that play would be set in 2011, and I simplified it in my mind by specifying precisely a decade ago, meaning early November. That turned out to be hilariously apropos, as Henna later reminded us that Twilight: Breaking Dawn premiered in the nordic region exactly then, and she was charmed at the idea of promotional posters or some similar tie-in to our play locations. What's especially weird about it is that we'd also independently determined to focus on the covenant called the Ordo Dracul, which is obsessed with "elevating" vampiricism into a form which transcends sunlight and other limitations. We haven't made much of this during play, but the discussion was so entertaining that I've preserved that clip as one of the early videos.
I have not followed the ins and outs of Vampire publishing through the years, as every time I checked in there seemed to be some kind of kerfuffle. But in readying myself for this game, I decided to get educated, resulting in this diagram. I've attached a PDF with the same diagram and some annotations.
The first point is that we are playing the game published in 2014 by CCP (the owners at that time, in Iceland), which has basically nothing to do with the game published a decade earlier under the same name and with a similar cover. This one is a rebranded compilation of several previous works (Danse Macabre, Blood Sorcery, and especially Blood and Smoke) and is completely stand-alone, with similar terms but no canonical connection to all things World of Darkness published before or since. So my request is to ask that you abandon all your baggage about any of those things, as this is effectively an orphaned game title with little pop culture identity in present-day commerce.
The second, related point is that the game is a direct if not-necessarily-successfully mutated child of the Forge. The primary authors were all active there and (as with many 20-teens RPGs) the rules are a somewhat messy mix of techniques from The Shadow of Yesterday, Dogs in the Vineyard, Primetime Adventures, and Sorcerer. It is clearly a very sincere attempt to humanize Vampire, seeking to live up to the original's dramatic rhetoric by focusing on the human costs of being dead and feeding on the blood of the living. I'll go into some of the relevant pieces in the comments, including which work pretty well and which flounder around - stuff like Vitae, Humanity, Touchstones, Aspirations, Conditions, Beats, Mask/Dirge, and Willpower.
In this post I'll focus on my general conundrum, or ongoing uneasiness as GM. Briefly, the content relies on three distinct things: naturalistic society, humanity, culture, and all related matters; accessible horror, squick, temptation, crisis, eroticism, and tragedy associated with "vampire" as a topic; and the setting and details, like Clans and whatnot, with hard and soft rules, specific to this game and more generally to the franchise, some of the latter being present and some absent. Play has to work in the easy-peasy Venning thereof:
Well, maybe it's peasy, but it's not all that easy, at least not for me. The authors tried hard to bring the lore into usable form, but they tried just as hard to legitimize it or validate it for the fanbase, and the result is frankly laughable. I have already cursed some of the patrons with my venting about it, in order not to do it here, so I won't, but just as with the original game, I cannot take seriously their whole chimichanga of what a vampire even is, let alone their subdivisions and politics and the "masquerade," for even thirty seconds.
I did what I always do in such cases: I surgically chose a very few in-game, setting-specific features and junked the rest. So for our game, "clan" doesn't mean a thing except as a kind of lineage-detail of who bit you; it has no social meaning at all among the vampires. I've dropped the implicit population size of vampires by a factor of probably 1000, so we don't see them infesting nightclubs and whining about "turf," and cities don't have vampire princes or dukes or any such thing. In fact, the nightclub thing, where you bare your fangs at the bitch who looked at you wrong, is flat out - just gone.
I chose the rules option that allows us to play older, scarier vampires, so "ancilla" rather than "neonate,' thus there is no "OMG I'm a what" or "how we met" in play. We've leaned very hard into this game's concept of Covenant, and the players selected, by elimination, the group called the Ordo Dracul - which means, whatever you may think of this, that we are playing mad scientist vampires who are, as far as I can tell, reading the game rules and trying to break them. I'd recused myself from that preparation step, so I'm as bemused or bewildered by it as anyone might be, but hey, OK, mad scientists we are and that's what we'll do (see attached diagram for the experiment). I've also picked up, partly in desperation, the book's extensive material about the Strix, basically "the enemy" for this game, but treating it as a monster as such, rather than a type or race or conspiracy with any kind of rationale behind it.
None of this is hard or unfamiliar to me. The whole White Wolf shebang was a specification of Champions genre and structure from the outset, and doing as I'm describing here is merely what I did for any kind of superhero role-playing anyway. But during play, I'm finding that I am forced to channel a lot of the "lore" content by myself, to the point of explaining to the players what their characters know or care about far too often, as they are merely placed in the three-act structure which I have built and now direct. It's especially to the detriment of playing the other two boxes, which I am good at and would much prefer to do, but basically am too worn out or distracted to do. Watching myself in the play videos is head-desking for me, as I groan "Moron, do this! Do that! What the hell are you playing at!" all the time.
To their credit, the players' characters are starting to hum along. We have:
- Nora, evidently mid-20s Swedish woman, 30 years a vampire, a small Swedish woman, Mekhet (steath-spy invisible type), with Mask: Child and Dirge: Scholar, played by Odin
- Hans, evidently mid-40s German man, 100 years a vampire, Ventrue (haughty stare dominating type), with Mask: Spy and Dirge: Idealistic, played by Nathan
- Ansa, evidently early-20s Finnish-Swedish woman, 70 years a vampire, Nosferatu (scary ogre-bogeyman grungy type), with Mask: Follower and Dirge: Idealistic, played by Henna
- Ejde, evidently early-20s "big and round" Turkish-Swedish man, 100 years a vampire, Mekhet (as above), Mask: Guru and Dirge: Deviant, played by Ola
Finally, I've attached a couple of concepts we're using to specify status and Willpower recovery rules for the characters. I am also worn-out by typing all this so whatever pithy or heuristic point I intended for this moment must remain unknown.