So, alas, one of the hosts of Saving the Game recently ended his Vampire chronicle because it was just too hard to figure out what the vampires were supposed to be doing from night to night. They didn’t want to scheme and backstab against each other, and he felt like there wasn’t a lot that was clearly left to do.
It made me wonder how much of the fun I had playing Vampire has to do with the way I learned to play, and the way that I then taught others to play. PCs backstabbing other PCs was actually pretty rare, though we certainly had plenty of conflict and disagreement. But I think that the pattern for ‘adventures’ may not be as clear, RAW, in Vampire as it is in D&D. D&D also has a lot more cultural baggage as a game that is played a certain way, which helps.
I know this has been said before, but if you too are stuck as to how to run a Vampire chronicle, you can run Vampire as if it was D&D, but with fangs. Make sure you change the flavor and dressing of the game to be Gothy and dark and urban, but a Vampire chronicle can essentially be a re-skin of a D&D campaign.
Coterie = Adventuring Party
A coterie in VtM is a group of Vampires who work together. This is one of the most obvious, and one of the clearest nods to traditional games like D&D that Vampire the Masquerade makes. All of the flavor is about how vampires never work together, but RPGs are played by groups of people working together, so coteries exist in the World of Darkness. Solitary, paranoid predators gather together in diverse groups to accomplish tasks, sometimes against their will and often against their best interests.
Scheming Elders = Quest Givers
If you are wondering how to assemble a new coterie, it can be simple – all of them are summoned by a powerful elder. The powerful elder demands that they accomplish some task for her, and they have to do so because they are new and of lower status than the elder – none of them can afford to refuse. It needs even less justification than a D&D quest – there is no reason to necessarily expect they’ll be paid or rewarded. The pay, the reward, is their continued existence.
Status and Territory = Treasure
Make it clear from the start that none of the PCs will get anywhere, or gain anything, unless someone else in vampire society loses. There is no available territory of value. There are no open positions in Elysium. Everything is taken, and has been taken for a hundred years. There are no franchises; there are no resources that a vampire would value that don’t already have vampires there with their fangs dug in.
Money doesn’t mean much to a vampire – it is easy to come by cash, and with Disciplines relatively easy to steal what you need from night to night. Status and territory, however, are things that one cannot gain unless they are given by, or taken from, other vampires higher up in the hierarchy (assuming a default Camarilla game). So in the same way that D&D characters go on dangerous adventures to gain gold and treasure they couldn’t get otherwise, Vampire characters take on dangerous tasks in the hope of earning status and territory that they couldn’t gain otherwise. It’s easy to create this pressure – shit rolls downhill, so status is desirable, and territory makes hunting each night easier. Of course, once you are given territory, you are responsible for maintaining it and solving problems within it – look, more adventures.
Night Clubs and Post-Industrial Ruins = Dungeons
Just as is the case with dungeons in D&D, you don’t have to draw out every detail of every adventure location, but it can be fun to do so. You can simply find a floor plan of a modern building, and then populate it with mysteries and traps and monsters the way you might populate a dungeon. Only in this case, the traps might be motion-activated cameras and the monsters can be hunters or Sabbat members inhabiting the building.
For more mysterious locations like tunnels dug out beneath crypts or abandoned subway stations, your design can be much more like a dungeon, with the PCs never seeing beyond the reach of their flashlights (or Discipline-enhanced eyes). For example: word is that there is some kind of warren dug out beneath an abandoned subway station. An elder sends the PCs into investigate. Is it a hidden brood of illegitimate Nosferatu? A Sabbat hideout? An Anarch gathering-place? Or is some other monster of the World of Darkness down there? Voila – dungeon-crawl.
Sabbat, Anarchs, Hunters and Werewolves = Monsters
When in doubt, have someone kick in the door and start a fight. This is true in many stories, and most games, and true for Vampire chronicles as well. Vampires are hunters, but they are also hunted. Camarilla members are hunted by Sabbat. Anarchs are hunted by Camarilla and Sabbat. All vampires are hunted by werewolves. Vampires and werewolves are both hunted by mortal monster-hunters. And so on. There are worse things out there in the night that go bump harder than the PCs do. Elders may be willing to kill the characters with boredom, or frustration, or betrayal, but there are plenty of things that want to kill them with fire. In large groups, regular people can be terrifying to Vampires. What if there is a Masquerade breach? Then the National Guard is called in. Now martial law is declared. Now religious fanatics descend on the city to hold fiery revivals. Things can get bad quickly, and hunters can easily become hunted.
Maintaining the Masquerade = Saving the World
The grand plotline behind a lot of D&D campaigns is saving the world, and a lot of the campaign is about growing in power through leveling and magic items to the point where the characters are up to that monumental task. Vampires are generally not concerned with saving the world, but most of them are very much concerned with saving their own skins. That means that the Masquerade must be maintained. (Even Sabbat and Anarchs have to tacitly acknowledge this necessity, or else they get wiped out by werewolves, hunters, and ultimately a panicked populace).
I like making the Masquerade into a doomsday clock that is visible to the characters and has an impact on their un-lives. The more the Masquerade is eroded, the worse things get, moving from suspicion to hunters arriving to riots to martial law. It should be clear that this is not just an arbitrary rule imposed on them from above (as so many rules are), but a matter of their survival as well. And as the most vulnerable and exposed of vampires, the PCs will be the ones hit first and hardest by any consequences.
Social Encounters = Combat Encounters
As much as possible, social encounters in Vampire should be about initiative, and attacking and defending, and high stakes. Ideally, PCs should do all they can to avoid elders in Elysium, and even avoid any notice being taken of them at all. There should be a sense of “roll initiative” before any significant social encounter with other vampires. You are surrounded by monsters, after all, and for much of a Vampire chronicle, all of the monsters you see around you from night to night are significantly more dangerous than you are. And they all want something from you, even if it is just your fear and deference.
Sabbat = Murder Hobos
All of the above has assumed a default Camarilla game, which is what Vampire the Masquerade assumes for the most part. Some will want to run a Sabbat game, however, and if anything that is even easier than the above. Basically, you can run a Sabbat game like D&D with Fangs, only all of the PCs are assumed to be murder hobos. Often these chronicals make their way own a death-spiral as consequences pile up behind the PCs, but murder hobo D&D games often go the same way.
This Is A Shallow Dive…
Is there FAR more to the World of Darkness, and far more potential in a Vampire chronicle than what I describe above? Of course! But this is an easy starting point for people experiencing some version of the blank-page response when trying to start up a Vampire game, and most of the Vampire chronicles I have run could be easily described as D&D campaigns with some serial numbers filed off. Really, the way I run Vampire has influenced how I run D&D (with plenty of sandbox time and social interaction), and the way I run D&D has influenced how I run Vampire, and I think that’s a good thing. If nothing else, running Vampire the Masquerade as D&D with fangs is a good start.