A noob’s introduction to #pen&paper #RPGs: #vampirethemasquerade review
Vampire: The Masquerade (V:TM) is a pen&paper (P&P) RPG dating back to the early 90s. It’s notable for its urbane and gritty take on vampire mythos, popularity amongst the goth scene and focus on narrative rather than combat & numbercrunching, as well as for spawning the excellent video game adaptation Bloodlines (2004 – Troika games).
Recently I had the chance to play a session of VT:M with a group of fellow first timers, so this review shall focus more on the actual play experience than mechanics of the game, as I lack a frame of reference as to what constitutes good and bad P&P design.
As the game is a P&P RPG, it lacks (or rather, can be played without) any visual components, even though the rulebook features illustrations. The game happens inside the players’ imaginations, though a character sheet and dice are used to keep track of player character’s abilities, health and other attributes. The dice are used to determine the success of players’ actions based upon those character attributes (which are mostly numeric values ranging from 0 to 5), as occasionally players are tasked with rolling between three and six 10-sided dice when attempting certain tasks, engaging in combat and so on.
We played with a group of premade characters originating from the bustling metropolis of Swindon, UK. My character, a new age Viking who deals drugs for a living, received a crypted message from his “sire”, which was a call for help. Our group decided to investigate the matter, so we headed out for London, where we found out that my sire had been cursed by a blood vampire. He tasked us to find a cure before passing out. We took him with us as he was very weak, and our rowdy reunion had alerted cops to the scene.
After making fools of ourselves a few times, hearing about a new drug called “Blood”, introducing ourselves to the vampire elite of London and subsequently getting invited to a wild party, we managed to track down the witch behind this plague. Things did not go as planned as my impulsive character told her to cut the crap and attacked her. This wasn’t the wisest course of action, as before I could even touch her, she cast a powerful spell on us that made everyone flee in utter terror. In the end, things turned out alright as we returned to Swindon with my sire intact. He’d been given a blood transfusion that gave him vitality, but turned the once fearsome “Skag the ripper” into a subservient, brain dead vegetable. Oi, the git at the blood bank blooming asked if I ‘ad any wishes in choosing ‘es personality!
The unique thing about the P&P experience is that players are allowed to (attempt to) do anything they want. Where as the interactivity of video games is always limited by the design, physics engine, map size and other factors like that, there’s no technological or budgetary limitations to what happens in your imagination. The corollary adaptibility and reactivity of the narrative is really enticing, though it’s understandable that in reality the “game master” (GM) tries to guide players on the right track. Speaking of the GM, he often gave us hints on how to proceed without explicitly telling what to do, whenever it looked like we were at a standstill. He also did a splendid job of roleplaying all the different non player characters we met by changing his voice, vocabulary and mannerisms when speaking their lines. That made immersion to the campaign easier, but it simultaneously made the mood more light hearted and fun. As first timers, we were more tepid and hesitant, but became more confident at roleplaying our characters as the night progressed.
We had a lot of fun and no prior knowledge was needed, so I’d definitely recommend giving V:TM and P&P RPGs in general a try! There’s a myriad of different systems and settings available from cyberpunk to pro wrestling, so at least one is bound to be to your liking.
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