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Gaming In The 90's: What Were The Early Days of Playing VTM LIke?

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  • Gaming In The 90's: What Were The Early Days of Playing VTM LIke?

    As most of you already know, I love the early years of Vampire: The Masquerade (First and Second Edition, 1991-1998) and I love reading books and materials from those Pre-Revised/Pre-Chronicles of Darkness days. But here's the thing, I'm only twenty-four years old. I was born in 1993, began playing RPG's in 2006, and didn't get into WoD (both Classic WoD and New WoD/CofD) until my junior year in high school (2009-2010). I started with just the two base corebooks for nWoD and Vampire: The Requiem and got into Masquerade because a local LARP group was running Vampire games, but they were running Revised Masquerade. So I learned VTM and got into that. While the Revised corebook by itself was good, I did not care for the metaplot of the supplements, finding it to be intrusive and often times railroading. If you like Revised's metaplot, that's cool with me. It's just not my cup of tea, that's all.

    So, I looked back into the early days of the game (My Dad played 1e Masquerade when I was a baby, and he introduced me to some of the older material he remembered, though he's primarily a D&D gamer) and I love the old styles of 1e and 2e, and a lot of the books for it. But the thing is, I wasn't actually there for the heyday of Vampire: The Masquerade (or the Classic WoD in general, for that matter). The game was released two years before I was born and the game was at its height when I was a little kid.

    The thing is, I want to write a fanfiction/story about a group of boys (most likely high school age, as I was that age when I started playing Vampire) who discover Vampire: The Masquerade and start a campaign. It would be a "Story Within A Story" with the gaming group's story serving as the framing device for the actual story and characters of the chronicle (the main plot), and the story would be set in the 1990's, around the time of either First or Second Edition depending on where exactly in the decade it is set (I'm thinking of setting it in 1993, the year I was born). And I want to get the details and feel of the story just right, both the framing out-of-character story and the main in-character story, as both would be set in the 1990's.

    I own both the 1e and 2e corebooks (1e on hard copy, and 2e on PDF), so I will be re-reading both of those extensively!

    So, I ask for all those who were there: What was playing and running Vampire like in the days of First Edition and Second Edition? What was the gaming culture like at the time? What were the common styles in play back then? What drew you to WoD? What was the LARP scene like? What was the tabletop scene like? How big was Vampire at its height (Second Edition)? How did you guys react to the massive changes brought on by Revised Edition?

    Any and all feedback is appreciated.
    Last edited by Camilla; 08-13-2017, 03:26 AM.

  • #2
    ......oh I feel old now....

    ​If you want to understand RPG gaming in the 90s, then you have to get back to basics.

    ​While many rpgs existed, the majority of people I played with at the time were familiar only with AD&D and maybe something like the Lone Wolf choose your own adventure books. So it was a very odd experience to play a monster. Normally if your character got munched on by a vampire, you handed your character sheet over to the DM to be used as an NPC. So on a psychological level you could argue that people weren't used to doing more than standard leveling of characters.

    ​You also have to look at the equipment used for gaming. Back then you had a collection of various dice just to play the game, let alone your favorite dice, your novelty dice, your dice container, your clip board, your character sheet, three mechanical pencils, a calculator (programmable if you had extra money), character miniature, and any books you would need to run the character. This was especially painful in the days before PDFs, because unless you wanted to play absolutely bog standard characters, it added more books that you would have to bring to your games. I had one AD&D 2nd Edition Psionicist that required 23 different books to have all the rules in one place. While that was insane to tote around for a game, my groups averaged about 5-8 books per character. There was no word search feature either, you and your group had to remember all the rules and where they were located.

    TSR also did things like make you buy premade packs of blank character sheets, specifically colored in such a way that if you tried to photo copy them with the machines of that time, they would be unusable. So every time a character was lost and that sheet was handed over, you were actually looking at a monetary loss. Think of it in terms of character death costing a micro-transaction in modern video games.

    ​Another thing that affected gamer culture in later years, but not nearly as much in the 90s was the internet. Back then being online was a new thing for most people. Search Engines barely existed. Dial-up speeds meant that multi-media wasn't really a thing you could use in your games on the fly. Everything had to be set up ahead of time, so there was a lot more preplanning for DMs/STs/GMs. It also meant that finding gaming groups was much harder, you couldn't just jump on a website for such things.

    ​Now in the middle of that scenario, some one drops a copy of Vampire: the Masquerade. A one book system, with a single dice type, with a system that could be explained in a few sentences, rather than a 3 hour lecture. A clean blank character sheet specifically designed for photo-copying was in every book. No calculators, no miniatures, no back strain. Further more the fact that the game was set in "our world" rather than a total fantasy world meant it was far easier to grasp, understand and gain additional information. White Wolf didn't need to put out a game supplement to explain the history of the world, every text book did that for them. ​No one needed to figure out how big a bastard sword was, everyone in the room usually understood the dimensions of baseball bat or an assault rifle.

    ​So in a single stroke, you as a gamer had been freed from rules & mechanics bloat (in the beginning), you only needed a couple books to run 90% of games(in the beginning), you only needed D10s, and you had the entire real world history to draw direct inspiration from. But even after all of that, V:tM also came at you from a new psychological angle, that you were the monster. The idea that where other games ended, this one used that as the starting point.

    ​This also happened to coincide with many cultural shifts that were going on at the time which seemed to work with the grittier tone of the oWoD. This was also during the beginning of the anime boom in America, thus we had far more cross cultural exposure going on than in previous years. Ninja Scroll with fangs was a common starting point for many new gamers.

    ​Over all I would say that there were more positive gains from the release of V:tM for gaming culture than negatives.

    ​Only in the last two decades have RPGs become mainstream enough to be largely tolerated. Back in the 90s the gaming community still had vivid memories of Mothers against Dungeons & Dragons, the religious groups that would hold ceremonies where they would burn D&D books, the Satanic Panic, the Mazes and Monsters movie with a very young Tom Hanks, and a host of other things that would seem completely bonkers to modern perspectives.

    ​So with all that in mind, you can see how playing a game where you are the blood drinking monsters of legend, murdering your way through eternity, held at bay by true faith, condemned to eternal darkness was a bit harder to sell as "harmless fun" when compared to your average AD&D game where you were trying to slay the dragon to save the princess.

    ​To some people Vampire represented almost a counter culture to RPGs standard Tolkien-esque morality. Even in horror games like Call of Cthulhu you are pretty much never one of the cultists trying to bring about the end of the world, instead you are always the investigator trying to stop it or at least make sense of it. In Vampire, you might have humanity, but you are not humane in thought or action.

    ​On the other hand, most of my gaming groups could have simply been sociopaths in training....so perhaps I might not be the best source for that kind of insight on the time period.
    Last edited by Thoth; 08-13-2017, 06:24 AM.

    Comment


    • #3
      One thing I know, every (former) Vampire player I know from that generation was part of the Goth/Industrial scene back then.

      Comment


      • #4
        I remember playing with beautiful people during the 90s...especially when it came to the LARP scene. A decent number of people rebelled against society by exploring TT games and by engaging in the LARP scene and, since video games had poor graphics and MMOs were just a dream, it attracted a lot of the type of people who would be lost to Internet gaming during the '00s. But people grow older, they get jobs and have kids, and video games became much better. Eventually, the beautiful people left, and the hard core fans were all that remained.

        Comment


        • #5
          Somehow, I managed not to even hear about White Wolf or any of their games until 2001.

          But during the '90s I did have occasional run-ins with folks in book stores and toy stores that dressed a whole lot like I did (black on black, lacking any kind of logos or art unless it was some band you liked), but smoked clove cigarettes and treated me like a pariah the moment they saw me with an AD&D, Shadowrun, or Marvel Super Heroes game product (as those were the games I had heard about and/or found on shelves).

          Though I don't put the blame for the heavily elitist fan-base on White Wolf - I know that it is, sadly, just a shockingly strange (and often ironic) common trait among gamer-folk for them to act as if there are only two types of games: their favorites, and those so shitty that their pages could not even function as toilet paper.

          And the '90s era AD&D character sheets (the ones with a green border to them, or those of differing colors that came in the class 'player's pack' sets) could be photo-copied just fine - it was the map pages of the adventures that were made in non-photo blue so you couldn't easily copy them.


          Not so noble anymore.

          Comment


          • #6
            So in the late 80s I wrote some vampire fiction (unpublished). I also met my first partner (who was also a gamer), who upon reading said fiction decided the most appropriate thing to do was to set up scenarios wherein she could hunt down and kill the vampires. To her, vampires were monsters you killed for their treasures, not complicated and interesting characters in their own right. She was perplexed when I wanted to play a vampire in an RPG (GURPS), and horrified when she read Interview with the Vampire. These attitudes changed over time so that when Vampire: The Masquerade actually came out she was open to playing it. However, she seemed to think that the best story for V:tM was one in which the main character gets cured of vampirism.

            I didn't really play Vampire with other people until 1994, and that was LARP. The players were a mix of goth and geek (many - including me - being both) not just a single demographic.

            There was a general attitude that Vampire did stories better than everything else, and that stories involved railroading and forcing players down particular avenues. Of ignoring the rules to force a particular outcome "for a good story." IMO, much of this was really bad gamemastering/storytelling, and people could have done a lot better. IMO Vampire only encouraged that type of play in as much as it called what it was designed to do "storytelling" and a lot of the worst stuff existed primarily in the fans' heads. Or to put it more bluntly, I didn't get that message from Vampire, and I am not sure how others did get it. I'm not trying to say everyone else did it or that I was the only person to play it the "right way" or even that I was playing it the "right way." Only that I don't understand how people got there because I totally didn't get there myself.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Thoth View Post
              ......oh I feel old now....

              ​If you want to understand RPG gaming in the 90s, then you have to get back to basics.

              ​While many rpgs existed, the majority of people I played with at the time were familiar only with AD&D and maybe something like the Lone Wolf choose your own adventure books. So it was a very odd experience to play a monster. Normally if your character got munched on by a vampire, you handed your character sheet over to the DM to be used as an NPC. So on a psychological level you could argue that people weren't used to doing more than standard leveling of characters.

              ​You also have to look at the equipment used for gaming. Back then you had a collection of various dice just to play the game, let alone your favorite dice, your novelty dice, your dice container, your clip board, your character sheet, three mechanical pencils, a calculator (programmable if you had extra money), character miniature, and any books you would need to run the character. This was especially painful in the days before PDFs, because unless you wanted to play absolutely bog standard characters, it added more books that you would have to bring to your games. I had one AD&D 2nd Edition Psionicist that required 23 different books to have all the rules in one place. While that was insane to tote around for a game, my groups averaged about 5-8 books per character. There was no word search feature either, you and your group had to remember all the rules and where they were located.

              TSR also did things like make you buy premade packs of blank character sheets, specifically colored in such a way that if you tried to photo copy them with the machines of that time, they would be unusable. So every time a character was lost and that sheet was handed over, you were actually looking at a monetary loss. Think of it in terms of character death costing a micro-transaction in modern video games.

              ​Another thing that affected gamer culture in later years, but not nearly as much in the 90s was the internet. Back then being online was a new thing for most people. Search Engines barely existed. Dial-up speeds meant that multi-media wasn't really a thing you could use in your games on the fly. Everything had to be set up ahead of time, so there was a lot more preplanning for DMs/STs/GMs. It also meant that finding gaming groups was much harder, you couldn't just jump on a website for such things.

              ​Now in the middle of that scenario, some one drops a copy of Vampire: the Masquerade. A one book system, with a single dice type, with a system that could be explained in a few sentences, rather than a 3 hour lecture. A clean blank character sheet specifically designed for photo-copying was in every book. No calculators, no miniatures, no back strain. Further more the fact that the game was set in "our world" rather than a total fantasy world meant it was far easier to grasp, understand and gain additional information. White Wolf didn't need to put out a game supplement to explain the history of the world, every text book did that for them. ​No one needed to figure out how big a bastard sword was, everyone in the room usually understood the dimensions of baseball bat or an assault rifle.

              ​So in a single stroke, you as a gamer had been freed from rules & mechanics bloat (in the beginning), you only needed a couple books to run 90% of games(in the beginning), you only needed D10s, and you had the entire real world history to draw direct inspiration from. But even after all of that, V:tM also came at you from a new psychological angle, that you were the monster. The idea that where other games ended, this one used that as the starting point.

              ​This also happened to coincide with many cultural shifts that were going on at the time which seemed to work with the grittier tone of the oWoD. This was also during the beginning of the anime boom in America, thus we had far more cross cultural exposure going on than in previous years. Ninja Scroll with fangs was a common starting point for many new gamers.

              ​Over all I would say that there were more positive gains from the release of V:tM for gaming culture than negatives.

              ​Only in the last two decades have RPGs become mainstream enough to be largely tolerated. Back in the 90s the gaming community still had vivid memories of Mothers against Dungeons & Dragons, the religious groups that would hold ceremonies where they would burn D&D books, the Satanic Panic, the Mazes and Monsters movie with a very young Tom Hanks, and a host of other things that would seem completely bonkers to modern perspectives.

              ​So with all that in mind, you can see how playing a game where you are the blood drinking monsters of legend, murdering your way through eternity, held at bay by true faith, condemned to eternal darkness was a bit harder to sell as "harmless fun" when compared to your average AD&D game where you were trying to slay the dragon to save the princess.

              ​To some people Vampire represented almost a counter culture to RPGs standard Tolkien-esque morality. Even in horror games like Call of Cthulhu you are pretty much never one of the cultists trying to bring about the end of the world, instead you are always the investigator trying to stop it or at least make sense of it. In Vampire, you might have humanity, but you are not humane in thought or action.

              ​On the other hand, most of my gaming groups could have simply been sociopaths in training....so perhaps I might not be the best source for that kind of insight on the time period.

              Ninja Scroll with fangs. now that's something I can get behind!

              So far, these posts have been very helpful to me, and I hope to see more input in this thread.

              Comment


              • #8
                Also re my ex-partner's very D&D focused view on gaming, the one time she ran Chicago by Night it was a dungeon crawl focused on killing Helena.

                Her second most favorite storyline after curing vampirism was killing one's sire. These weren't necessarily bad, though.

                I mostly posted her approach to Vampire specifically and vampires in general to give an idea of what some "old school gamers" were like.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Resplendent Fire View Post
                  Also re my ex-partner's very D&D focused view on gaming, the one time she ran Chicago by Night it was a dungeon crawl focused on killing Helena.

                  That actually sounds kind of fun. But I prefer running Chicago by Night as a sandbox. Add in The Anarch Cookbook and Destiny's Price and essentially you've got "Grand Theft Auto with fangs", my kind of game.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Camilla View Post


                    That actually sounds kind of fun. But I prefer running Chicago by Night as a sandbox. Add in The Anarch Cookbook and Destiny's Price and essentially you've got "Grand Theft Auto with fangs", my kind of game.
                    Yeah, I preferred to run CbN and Vampire in general as a sandbox, and geared my games toward that.

                    As far as the dungeon crawl goes, it was definitely fun. My partner was a good GM, after all. I just wanted different sorts of games out of Vampire.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I totally understand. I'm the kind of guy who likes a different sort of Vampire game. I prefer dark adventure and open sandbox style play.

                      Never cared for the apocalyptic metaplot shenanigans of Revised Edition or the personal horror misery tourism that seemingly became mandatory with the release of Revised and later on, Vampire: The Requiem. Others like personal horror, and that's okay with me. But it's not my cup of tea.

                      I'm weird in that I enjoy trenchcoats and katanas unironically, though I also enjoy a good political game as well. But exclusively personal horror games don't have much of an appeal to me.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        The best personal horror game I ever played was one in which I started playing a normal human, who got dumped into the supernatural world very abruptly. She had a really hard time with the normal facade covering up all the monstrous supernatural stuff going on underneath, at least for awhile. Until she herself became a hedge mage and then later a vampire.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Resplendent Fire View Post
                          The best personal horror game I ever played was one in which I started playing a normal human, who got dumped into the supernatural world very abruptly. She had a really hard time with the normal facade covering up all the monstrous supernatural stuff going on underneath, at least for awhile. Until she herself became a hedge mage and then later a vampire.

                          I'm not a personal horror fan, but I have to admit, that sounds like a good chronicle. actually.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Camilla View Post


                            I'm not a personal horror fan, but I have to admit, that sounds like a good chronicle. actually.
                            I don't think I ever experienced anything that could be described as "personal horror" again, though.

                            And I agree about sandboxes and dark adventure, although I'm not sure about the trenchcoats and katanas. I mean there were sometimes trenchcoats, but not katanas in my games.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Resplendent Fire View Post

                              I don't think I ever experienced anything that could be described as "personal horror" again, though.

                              And I agree about sandboxes and dark adventure, although I'm not sure about the trenchcoats and katanas. I mean there were sometimes trenchcoats, but not katanas in my games.

                              I'm weird in the fact that I still think katanas are cool. But a good sandbox game that mixes action with politics, now that's my kind of WoD game.

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