Twenty-seven years ago Vampire: The Masquerade was released in 1991, and it’s been through a few iterations thus far along its journey. Our RPG show, Vampire: The Masquerade – L.A. By Night is diving into the Vampire: The Masquerade’s Fifth Edition and the World Of Darkness it resides in. If you’re as excited about it as we are, but aren’t familiar with the universe, here’s a crash course get you up to speed.
With over twenty years of history under its belt, getting started with a Vampire: The Masquerade campaign can seem a bit daunting. L.A. By Night gives us a great example of weekly play in one campaign setting, but transitioning from Dungeons & Dragons with pre-written campaign content to Vampire where the focus is on setting can be a shell shock to any GM. Luckily, the only book you need is the V5 corebook, which you can nab at your friendly local gaming store or White Wolfs website. Next, find a handful of people who have watched Lost Boys way to many times and your all set! We can all go home now.
In truth, starting an urban fantasy campaign with themes of gothic horror and risk is a different narrative format than many Dungeon Masters are used to. Using the term Storyteller instead of DM, White-Wolf adventure formats have rarely been printed in a linear fashion. Even their iconic module of the Giovanni Chronicles was filled with twists and turns. Knowing ahead of time that a Vampire game will follow more of an open Curse of Strahd campaign than other adventure stories is a good high-level vision to keep in your head. So let’s get into the details!
Think Continental From John Wick
Vampire: The Masquerade and the Continental from John Wick share something in common—they both feature long-standing institutions with amazing benefits and hard punishments. When launching your V5 campaign, the very first thing you want to do is create your city. There is an entire chapter on City creation in the V5 core book and it’s one of the best storytelling chapters I’ve ever gotten to work with for world building. Blood is life to everyone in the setting. Humans trying to keep theirs in, Vampires trying to steal it, and institutions trying to control every aspect of getting it. How and where vampires feed is the most basic layer of any Vampire chronicle.
For a starter vampire game, stay away from traveling between multiple cities until later. Focus on one location and spend time fleshing it out. Research urban legends, hunt for great night clubs, or even imagine how your city changes when the sun sets. After you’ve got a good feel for the mortal side of things, build out your Domain (or multiple in a contested city). If you follow the chapter on Cities, you will not be steered wrong. Every coterie (a group of vampires) or iconic immortal you place in your game will be there for a long time and knowing where they hunt, how they feed, and how they cover up their mishaps is great groundwork. I’ve always found it particularly useful to start any city-building with the question:
“Which group of vampires really controls the media?”
Relationship Charts Are Your Friend
One of Vampire’s greatest strengths as a tabletop game is that your storylines will bubble up naturally from your characters. Not just the players, but also the NPC’s and crazy creations in the storytellers brain-bucket. Before you have a character creation party with the players, sit down yourself and fully make a handful of Vampire “PC” characters as if you were going to play them. When doing so, start filling out an NPC relationship chart complete with Touchstones.
Touchstones are key figures that are still human in a Vampires life, and even your Camarilla Prince might have a great-great-great-grandchild from their mortal lineage that works as a taxi driver. Each character you fully flesh out with Touchstones will start adding life to your city, and as you build different personalities—will start the generation of conflict. You’ll end up with a full binder of NPC’s that might never come into play, or might die horribly at the hands of your players. In each case though, you’ll have a guideline for your story about what comes next. Perhaps ignoring the Tremere on the North Side means they have massive success at the detriment of others closer to the party.
This spiderweb of characters, goals, weaknesses, and connections serves as your setting for the players. Any choice they make in the game, you’ll have a guide to imagine what happens next—for better or worse.
Create the Coterie!
The final step of launching your game will be character creation. Rather than showing up to the table with five individual characters with no connection, you’ll do better if you all build characters together. By keeping your coterie and party cohesive, it saves you trouble from them refusing to engage in any plot-hook you throw their way. You don’t need one player of every clan to have a balanced party or any of that jazz; it’s perfectly acceptable to play an all Nosferatu chronicle. A coterie could have an infinite number of reasons to exist, everything from being embraced all at once, to each having a massive failure under their belt. Let your players have fun and create the coterie themselves with only minor input from you as this is their story after all.
Once they’ve got themselves figured out you can put your conspiracy hat on. When your characters start making their Touchstones, use the same Touchstones from your binder of NPC’s. Someone’s mother might be dating that Prince’s taxi driver or the human they killed in their backstory might be another coteries ghoul. Don’t hold back with your interconnections at this stage. Each and every connection ties the players to the world and helps you weave a storyline together.
As a storyteller, spending one session on the creation of the city, one on your NPCs, and then one with players tying into it works well.
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Image Credits: Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition
Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age Series, Dread Adventures, and a storyteller with a focus on D&D For Kids, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and an overdose of LARPs. You can follow the game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook or reach out for writing at [email protected]