This article originally appeared in Pyramid #4
THE MASQUERADEPublished by White Wolf
Rules Design by Mark Rein·Hagen and others
Developed by Mark Rein·Hagen and others
Price: $35.00 boxed set; see list of contents below
There are no such things as Vampires, reads the tagline at the bottom of the box. Some have joked it's there either to anchor the more extreme players, or to ward off lawsuits. "We said there's no such thing as vampires, look, it says so on the box! We don't know why she staked him. Leave us alone."
While live-action roleplaying games have generated plenty of words in magazines such as this one, few of them have ever been written down. And many of these - like Killer - aren't roleplaying per se, but more like elaborate scenarios for integrating the game into your real life.
White Wolf's announcement of a live-action game with a vampire motif startled many people. It was the first attempt to push live roleplaying in the mass market, and it was even going to have a decent background. Some were excited that a well-developed gameworld was being paired with a new, more theatrical paradigm for game play. Others were frightened that it would become another Mazes and Monsters story to frighten people away from the RPG market. Some liked the idea of covertly playing this dark game in public, with little indication to the unsuspecting public that something abnormal was going on around them. Others nodded grimly and sat back, waiting for the lawsuits to roll in.
I got a copy of The Masquerade at Origins, and knowing the stereotype of the kind of person this would appeal to, I had some doubts.
One evening at GenCon, I had the chance to play Masquerade with some of the designers. It was fun.
The stout game box contains the following:
- The Character Book, the guide book to the gestural language and the "rules" of the game.
- Book of the Damned, a small 144-page book containing background material and some short fiction to set the mood. "Smoke," by Don Bassingthwaite, was the best read of the bunch.
- Unto the Not So Gentle Night, an introductory scenario.
- The Story Book, a set of guidelines and rules to help someone run the game and handle a mob of faux vampires.
- One pair of fake blood pellets - that is, real pellets of fake blood.
- One pair of white plastic fangs. Smile with your mouth closed, now.
- Lastly, there is an ankh necklace. While the fake blood and the plastic fangs are interesting but unnecessary props, the ankh is really a vital key to Masquerade, because wearing it tells others that you are playing the game. Anyone not wearing one should be left alone.
The rules are actually quite simple: pick what kind of vampire you are - that is, use the guidelines presented in Book of the Damned and Mind's Eye Theatre to define your character's personality in simple English. Now, act that way. Boom, you're playing the game.
Unlike other live-action games, there is really very little action. There's certainly lots of conflict, but not necessarily "action." After all, the concept behind White Wolf's vampire world stresses more the political intrigue and back-room machinations than swarthy adventurers and their guns-a-blazing battles. But what the heck, you are a vampire. Might as well act like one.
There are two basic levels to conflict resolution in Masquerade. First, there is a bidding process that allows players to pit their characters' statistics against each other. This bidding may go back and forth, either in spoken form or using the Mind's Eye Theater gestural language, until one side either relents or runs out of characteristics to bid. That person loses the conflict.
Secondly - well, remember the somewhat silly-looking "Rock, Paper, Scissors" that you did with your friends in gradeschool for no reason? Here, it's an important game mechanic, and it's a lot more intuitive than carrying around dice. (A tip: some people, whether they know it or not, have one sign that they use most often - as much as 95% of the time. These people are easy to take advantage of. Do so.)
There are many other gestures, both the intuitive and the bizarre. For example, crossing your arms over your chest tells other players that you have made yourself invisible to them. They should proceed with their actions as if they hadn't noticed you were there. And if someone walks up to you pointing their finger at their temple, this means "I control your mind." This takes roleplaying to its logical extreme, and quickly becomes group storytelling or improvisational theater rather than the old live-action paradigms of a traditional RPG, but with foam swords.
"I call for a test!"
People uncomfortable with true roleplaying, getting into their "characters" and speaking with accents or whatever, need not play this game. Of course, this shouldn't be a problem for most RPGers, who tend to be natural hams, but "bad acting" seemed to be one of the biggest problems I saw in the game. Players want to drift into a fantasy world, and if you can't help enhance the mood, you'll bring everyone else down.
The Masquerade will have a lot of appeal to drama students and people with a theatrical flair. I was told that some of the best players are from high school drama clubs.
The game we played at GenCon was limited in scope to one room in a hotel, so there wasn't much of the usual "sneaking around in public" element that for many people is the intriguing thing about Masquerade. However, even with such limitations, it still had a good feel to it.
When we were discussing this game around the office, Jeff Koke made an interesting note of the inherent contradiction in a game that centered around the players walking amongst "mortals" - the non-players - and by nature of being a vampire, wanting to feed upon them. Yet by the very rules of the game they're not supposed to interact with the passing stranger - who isn't involved in the game and probably doesn't want to know that it's even going on. This very fundamental design conflict is something that, while easy to joke about, is a very serious issue. Several cases have already been reported of players luring strangers - jokingly - to be "victims" in the game. Certainly, any mature and sensible player will avoid this juvenile temptation.
Overall, the game was executed very well. The graphic design is consistent with the feel of previous Vampire products, and playing the game with the right people is a good experience. At conventions, where you can get several hundred people playing at once, all scheming and conniving, it can be exhilarating. And okay, so you don't like the rules? Like their rulebook says, don't use them. Of course, if you're not going to use their rules, and you already have Vampire, there's an easy way to save $35.
- Derek Pearcy
Note: The Masquerade was released at Origins '93, in Fort Worth, TX, but not all of the pieces made it to White Wolf from the printer in time for the game's debut. The publishers were foresighted enough to include a business reply card with the large boxed set, so that registering your copy and getting the missing piece of the game - the Book of the Damned - was trivial. Players of previous incarnations of White Wolf's Vampire gameworld, the World of Darkness, seem to have had little or no trouble getting up to speed playing the game. If you happen to get one of the copies floating around that's missing that piece, White Wolf is very quick about getting it to you. In the meantime, like the best of actors, improvise.
Article publication date: December 1, 1993
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