[Games Anatomy] Veteran Of The Edition Wars – Vampire: the Masquerade vs. Vampire: the Requiem
Edition warfare is a funny old beast. Seems like you can’t produce even a fairly minor revision of your core mechanics and setting without your motivations for doing so being questioned, your approach to doing so mocked, and your efforts in doing so dismissed as the most vile and base calumnies ever to besmirch a gaming table. Woe betide you if it takes your fancy to make fairly major revisions, as White Wolf did in 2004 with the release of Vampire: the Requiem, the successor to founding father of the Entity: the Pompousness RPG naming tradition Vampire: the Masquerade.
I’m burbling about Vampire today because it’s the edition war in which I have actually fought, on both sides at one time or the other. Like the soldier of fortune I am, I spurn the customs and fashions of the time and pursue pure profit, in the form of an improved gaming experience for everyone unfortunate enough to sit down at my tables. The weird thing is that in the eight years for which this conflict has existed, I have never even managed to get a Requiem game played. Read on, and perhaps we’ll find out why.
(Note: no guarantee of findings-out is promised. Not even I know where this is going to go.)
When Requiem came out, I was all over it like a cheap suit. I’ll talk about the reasons why, but I’ll also talk about why despite those reasons I’ve ended up treating Requiem as a set of house rules for Masquerade rather than a thing in its own right. There’s certainly the traditional edition warrior problem – Requiem was new and lots of people resented and resisted it because of that – and the usual problem of getting a group together, but there’s a little bit more to it than that.
What Requiem did was to set a target number of 8 for every die rolled, with 10s counting double. All modifiers came in the form of added or removed dice from the pool. Simple, consistent and elegant; you know that more dice equals more attempts at success without having to worry about whether you need to roll fours or nines on Charisma + Intimidation for this particular manifestation of the Presence Discipline. On top of that, it removed some less-than-useful Attributes like ‘Appearance’ and instead imposed the 3×3 grid of Mental, Social and Physical Power, Finesse and Resilience. Whatever you were trying to accomplish, you could find the appropriate attribute to use simply by working out what kind of challenge was involved and cross-referencing; so picking a lock is Physical Finesse, while a staring contest is opposed Social Power, and keeping your cool in a crisis is Mental Resistance.
What Requiem also did was remove the cool ‘ones cancel out successes, more ones than successes is a truly spectacular cock-up’ rule (thanks to Lo for pointing that out to me – for reasons which will become clear, I’ve kept this one in for so long that I’d kind of forgotten it wasn’t supposed to be there). I like this less. Fumbles are hilarious. Total cock-ups are hilarious. Hilarity is innately a good thing, even in a Storytelling Game of Personal Horror – the fourth pillar of happy gaming is irony, that capacity to look over your character’s shoulder and shake your head sadly at the state they’re into and know it’s because you can’t roll eights on a ten-sided die. Laughter provides the catharsis which allows fresh intensity to be generated. You can’t sustain a perfect emotional pitch all night long – that would be harrowing and hard and not really very much of a game at all.
Beyond the core, there are the particular rules for supernatural stuff. Masquerade-era White Wolf, you see, liked the idea of crossovers between their game lines, but also liked the idea that vampires and werewolves and mages and demons and fairies and mummies and ghosts all worked in their own distinctive and individual way, operating within different sets of limitations. This, frankly, made for a bit of a headache, and so Requiem introduced a universal system; no matter what the supernatural thing is, it has a characteristic value from 1 to 10 denoting how powerful an example of whatever-it-is it is. This value adds to the dice pool whenever it’s trying to use a supernatural power on another supernatural entity, or resist the use of such powers on itself – so a new vampire, dead two weeks, with Blood Potency 1, will have the bugger of a time resisting the Dominate Discipline if deployed by the Blood Potency 8 Prince of London. Since the same 1-10 scale is present for mages and werewolves and stuff too, that means an elderly and powerful mage with Gnosis 8 has a similarly easy time of it against our brand new fledgling vamp.
|This is all your fault, Anne.|
|You do end up drawing quite a few of these, if you’re tidy-minded.|
Hark’s got one that covers every vampire Aziz has ever met, ever.
Generation doesn’t go up over time, and it evokes the dread that things will be this way forever, and presents the temptation to take a soul-slurping short-cut, which makes interesting things happen in game. Blood Potency does, and so diablerie lacks its previous appeal, and so sitting around outliving your sire becomes more attractive, and ironically enough things end up being the same way… for ages, if not forever.
If I were scoring on this ground, it’d be Masquerade 2, Requiem 1. Eliminating ball-ache for the GM is good, but I don’t actually run cross-overs very often; I like things to have some breathing room and really, vampires ought to be interesting enough on their own, and Generation helps them be more interesting.
‘How Interesting Vampires Are’ is, however, mainly shaped by the setting elements. Vampire: the Masquerade had what you might call an abundance of riches in terms of playable options. Thirteen core vampire clans, some of which were, ahm, less compelling and interesting than others. Many, many sub-clans called ‘Bloodlines’, rooted in some semi-obscure element of the clans’ convoluted histories. Dozens of moral codes that plugged into the game’s essential Character Vs. Self conflict – find something to cling to or plunge headlong into the ravenous hunger of the inner Beast. Two primary factions each with their own mess of alliances, betrayals, subfactions, dark secrets and hidden inner orders. A recurring theme of working out just what was true about the accumulated weight of pseudo-history, mythology, misrecollections and outright lies of which vampiric history was comprised. Over a decade of creative energy expended in fleshing out a complex world that made one wonder just how many vampires there had to be to inhabit all of these factions in any interesting capacity, and where the hell all these vampires were.
Requiem is much, much tighter. There are five clans, each one directly traceable to some pop culture incarnation of the vampire – there are no dodgy ‘gypsy vampires’ or ‘ninja vampires’ or ‘Mafia vampires’ in here. There’s the Dracula style lord on the hill ones, the Vampire Chronicles flouncy passionate sexy ones, the Nosferatu creepy ones who stand out like a sore thumb, the monstrous animalistic ones and the stealthy urban predator ones. There are five primary factions; the “we’ve always been in charge” one, the “we are God’s cursed/chosen” ones, the pagan blood magic ones, the modern “we’re all in this together” ones and the “let’s work out how this vampire thing works so we can break it” ones. There are splatbooks, but I tend to ignore splatbooks in any system I play – the core rules manual should, if it’s any good, offer endless potential for play on its own, and both the Vampires do… in theory.
I wrote this because I used to be an edition warrior. I was adamant that Requiem was vastly superior to Masquerade, and I didn’t understand why people would voluntarily play the old, clunky, cluttered-with-bullshit game, a byword for convoluted metaplot and slipshod design.
Running a Vampire game with a new group in the last year and a bit has finally made me realise what the Masquerade grogs have been on about for all these years. I wanted to give Requiem a try, I really did. I think it makes many advances as a game, and succeeds in its objective of pruning some of the mess out of Masquerade… but it prunes a bit too hard, and all that’s left are stumps. And who wants to argue with a stump when they could climb a tree, eh?
|For more images of typical Vampire players up trees,|