Watching people pretend to be vampires helped me through 2020

If I had a dollar for every article I’ve read that started with “2020 was a tough year for everyone,” I would be rich enough not to be here to write this.

But it was! And with a few more weeks to go, I’m still not convinced we won’t face the zombie apocalypse against Christmas. That said, I am better prepared than ever for the horrors that await these waning days and are sure to come in 2021. Because I am a vampire.

Vampire: The Masquerade has been around for decades. Today the World of Darkness (that is the universe in which V: TM exists) released an accompanying book for the Vampire: The Masquerade V5 Core Rulebook. It’s a free 65-page PDF that you can download and, to use any term from a video game, is basically a full-on expansion pack for the main game.

I’ve been playing V: TM since the early 1990’s when it was released by a company called White Wolf. The IPs have since undergone some changes and are now managed by Paradox Interactive.

You might recognize V: TM or World of Darkness from the video game “Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2” due out next year. It’s gotten a bit of a hype in the gaming world, even beyond the hardcore fans. And for good reason. If this trailer doesn’t get you curious about the World of Darkness, I don’t think anything:

I can’t help but think of Stanley Kubrick’s imagination of Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” when I watch that trailer.

The World of Darkness, as advertised, is a gritty and dark place that holds up a mirror to modern society. The universe contains more products than you can bet on. There are the role-playing games on the table that the whole thing is based on, the original V: TM and Werewolf: The Apocalypse (plus other titles from older versions on the way).

And then there is an abundance of board games, video games, novels, live streams and a few card games. There is even a game that you play on Amazon Alexa. Hell, they make a battle royale video game and a VR experience too.

And there is also my personal favorite way to enjoy the World of Darkness, a live streaming “TV program“(Those are aerial quotes) called” LA By Night. “

The core of the World of Darkness lies in the simple premise that it is largely the characters you play samples. You are a vampire, or a werewolf, or a ghost, or even a demon. There are some exceptions (there is a game aimed at monster hunters, aptly called Hunter), but typically the real antagonist in the World of Darkness is your character’s eternal humanity. In the game this is called ‘The Beast’.

The stories told in the World of Darkness are not about heroes overcoming villains. They are about monsters clinging to their humanity. You are essentially playing against yourself. The challenge is not to win, but to live a good story.

I spoke to Justin Achilli, World of Darkness Brand Creative Lead, and Jason Carl Brand Marketing Manager for the World of Darkness earlier this week and, fanboying aside (Carl is the ‘Storyteller’ on the LA By Night show) , I managed to ask a lot of questions about the company, its products and its fans.

When talking to a game designer for a product line as complex as WoDs, I will usually ask where new players and fans should enter. For example, there is a ‘New Blood’ starter pack for people who have never played the V: TM tabletop RPG before. But that’s not necessarily the most interesting or best way to enter the whole world.

Achilli’s first work as a creative leader on the core materials is the V: TM Companion, something he was clearly passionate about when we spoke, but both he and Carl agreed that the overall vision of the company was intended, as Carl says: “people who’ve never thrown the dice” to get as much out of the universe and its knowledge as the hardcore table gamers who have been down since day one.

As mentioned, LA By Night is my favorite part of the universe. It’s a streaming show that Carl described as similar to both an old radio play and early TV shows where most of the action took place live.

It’s basically a group of professional actors sitting around a table, in costume, playing Vampire: The Masquerade with Carl as their “Storyteller” (a dungeon or game master in most RPGs). The show takes place in 2 to 3 hour “chapters” that exist within a longer chronicle. I’ve described it as my favorite vampire TV show ever, you have to give it a full episode or two if you want to decide for yourself.

Aside from being really cool, it also serves as a strong portal for newbies to enter both the World of Darkness and tabletop gaming in general. There are as many ways to role-play as there are people who are role-playing, but not only are the people who play the LA By Night chronicle all professional actors and role-players, what they are doing in the universe is actually considered canon.

Plus, they manage to seamlessly explain the rules and gameplay along the way, so it’s helpful for those trying to figure out what a good game of Vampire should look like. Watching a real world of characters and intrigues improvised right in front of you is a fantastic motivation for newcomers to tell their own stories in the World of Darkness.

More importantly, it’s not a brand placement ad that looks like a game. Clearly LA By Night is a work of passion. Carl told me it was his “love letter to the World of Darkness,” and I think it shows on the screen. By the way, I’m not quite through the first season, but so far Jasper is my favorite and my fiancé really enjoyed X.

It’s the sincerity of LA By Night, that is, the genuine joy with which the cast members play the game, that makes it special. The main cast is exquisite, and the guests have done a great job of fleshing out the other residents of the chronicle. When I watch it, I get the feeling that I am playing too. I feel involved.

And that’s what V: TM and the World of Darkness are about. It’s a place where, instead of hiding from the troubles of reality in a dungeon or fantasizing about life in space – both perfectly valid outlets – it gives players the chance to compete with each other with anything what bothers them in an environment where they can tell the story they want to hear. Even if it’s just blowing off steam, it’s a safe place to express those great feelings and emotions.

The World of Darkness fictitiously exists in the same world we live in today. So for some, becoming a vampire is a way to discover ideas about oneself that aren’t necessarily safe to explore in the real world. A teen struggling with sexuality, bullying, or social anxiety can create a character that allows them to explore sides of themselves that they otherwise couldn’t.

Watch Owen Duffy’s “I Was a Bisexual Teenage Leech: How Vampire: The Masquerade Saved Me From Early 2000s Homophobia” on Dicebreaker.

And while you can do this in any table game, few point us as eloquently to the real world and its very real problems as Vampire: The Masquerade. The game practically begs you to think about the true nature of what it means to be a person. Will you save your humanity by hunting the scum of the earth? Will you dare to punish those you held as enemies when you were human?

It also allows us to see our very real problems through someone else’s lens. I may not like wearing a mask everywhere I go, but some vampires look like monsters (called Nosferatu) and I often imagine how wonderful it must be for them to suddenly live in a world where they walking around at night with your face covered trying to avoid any social contact is now the norm.

I also live with mental illness and there is a specific kind of vampire character in play who, by coming up with a backstory and experiencing what it’s like to walk a mile in their teeth, helps me find ways to express themselves what it’s really like to be depressed, anxious and living with PTSD. They are called ‘Malkavian’ and are usually considered insane by other ‘relatives’. I feel like sometimes everyone thinks I’m crazy, even though everyone has mental health.

Chances are, no matter what happens in your life, there is a character in the World of Darkness who reflects your pain or fear. Involvement with the world through their eyes, safe in a game, forces you to find that character’s strengths and may be able to help you find yours.

I can honestly say skipping reality to live in the World of Darkness for a few hours at a time was a pretty big factor in getting me through 2020.

Whether you play the first Bloodlines game, enjoy the fantastically written Shadows of New York and Coteries of New York interactive fiction games (wow are they good, more on that in another article), or just take my fiancé to LA By Night looks, I found myself comforted time and time again by the richness and depth of the infinitely customizable World of Darkness.

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