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  • The Social Satire of Vampire: The Masquerade

    I thought people would like to read this essay I wrote for my blog.

    https://unitedfederationofcharles.bl...asquerade.html

    THE SOCIAL SATIRE OF VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE



    It's risky to interpret any fiction through a political lens nowadays, even though that is one of the foundations of literary criticism. Virtually everyone is ready and willing to say that Pokemon is about dog-fighting or class warfare. Other people object to any sort of interpretation that suggests a work is more than entertainment. Examples: Star Wars is a pro-democracy, anti-fascist work even if these shouldn't be particularly controversial opinions. Storm as leader of the X-men makes a political statement just by being a black woman and immigrant. Whether any of this actually means anything to the reader is up to them. One thing is certain, though, and that's the World of Darkness by White Wolf game is political and Vampire: The Masquerade is probably the one I feel is the most interesting to interpret through a socio-political lens.

    If you're wondering how I'm qualified to talk about any of this crap, I should clarify that I'm a 25+ year fan of Vampire: The Masquerade dating back to the distant year of 1994 (when I was fourteen) and I'm also a Master of Literature. This is also meant to be a mostly fun essay rather than something that will try to blow you away with its conclusions. Take it for what its worth. For those unfamiliar with Vampire: The Masquerade, it is a tabletop roleplaying game that has spawned comic books, one television series, multiple video games, and several tabletop roleplaying game spin-offs. The premise is that the Biblical Caine was real, God cursed him 13,000 years ago, and he spread his curse to 13 different bloodlines that each represent a stereotypical depiction of a fictional vampire.

    In the Modern Era, the players each create a newly "Embraced" vampire that is shoved into a complicated feudal heirarchy. They must survive the backstabbing politics of vampire society, hunters, rival young vampires ("Neonates"), the religious extremists Sabbat, and the looming apocalypse brought on by the 13 "Antedilivuans." No stranger to politics in his work, Vampire: The Masquerade was created by Mark Rein Hagen. The game was conceived in the counter-culture district of Atlanta, Georgia in the Bible Belt by Goths for Goths. It was inspired by Mark driving through the already economically devastated city of Gary, Indiana on his way to Milwaukee. The collapse of the American steel industry had left the once-prosperous city in ruins and it was easy to imagine all manner of monsers living in the burnt-out factories as well as abandoned homes.

    Mark Rein Hagen was also inspired by the already-popular in RPGs and literary circles concept of cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is something I've gone into over here but the simple version is: it's near-future fiction where technology is used to oppress society more than liberate it. Mark envisioned Vampire: The Masquerade as "Gothic Punk" with the same tropes of super-rich masters of the Earth oppressing the poor and downtrodden but instead of using technology, they used supernatural abilities.

    The vampire is a very good metaphor for a number of things but in this case it lends itself easily to a criticism of unlimited looter capitalism. The parasitic immortal rich feed by literally taking the lifeblood of those beneath them. This was embodied by each city being ruled by a "Prince" who embodied the power and authority of the "Camarilla." The Camarilla controls the (un)life and resources of all vampires that are born into its circle while distributing them unequally to the benefit of its senior members. They control the vampire police ("The Sheriff") and enforce draconian laws to keep members in line.

    At least in the original gameline from 1st Edition to the end of 2nd Edition, player characters were expected to be oppressed despite being vampires themselves. The Camarilla resents new vampires as society is overcrowded, resources concentrated in the hands of a powerful few, and every new member is potential competition. Your only options are toadying fidelity to one of the High Clans (Toreador, Ventrue, Tremere) or attempting to overthrow the establishment to forge something better ("The Anarchs" as embodied by the Brujah and Caitiff).

    Early supplements like Chicago by Night (1st Edition) made the connection between revolutionary movements and social justice. The Anarchs compromised of 1930s trade unionists, Civil Rights leaders, Black Panthers, and 80s punks. They were a disorganized bunch but all of them were recognizably linked to those fighting against authority. It is no coincidence that V:TM contained more black, gay, and other minority NPCs than virtually all other tabletop roleplaying games of the time combined.

    It should be noted that as a tabletop roleplaying game that these themes weren't necessarily things Storytellers and players had to explore. Games could follow the above premise with the Anarchs as the heroes (or at least lesser evil) or they could follow more personal stories of struggle against the Beast. They could also be rollicking urban fantasy adventures where the PCs fought werewolves ala Underworld. For the purposes of this essay, though, I'm going to focus on these elements of the backstory.

    Indeed, the game was not wholly pro-revolutionary and the Anarchs were not considered to be heroic rebels against the Camarilla (at least not completely). While the majority of sympathetic NPCs in early supplements like Erichtho, Maldavis, Jeremy Macneil, and Salvador were Anarchs--the very first Anarch we encounter in any supplement is the hypocritical Juggler. Juggler is an ostensible rebel but the Anarch leader of Gary rebels against the toothless prince Modius and is depicted as every bit as awful in his own way.

    Vampire: The Masquerade proved to be a setting suspicious of all organized movements with the Anarchs no different. The places where the Anarchs overthrew their Elders like the California Free States or Czarist Russia quickly became every bit as bad (or worse) than the Elders they replaced. Third Edition ("Revised") even had the view of the Camarilla as a bulwark against the more (at least overtly) heinous Sabbat and Independent Clans.

    The Signature Characters also moved from being Neonates like Evelyn or Damien to powerful Elders like Victoria Ash and Lucita. Ironically, Vampire: The Dark Ages established that the Sabbat was nothing more than a Anarch movement gone horribly wrong and that Elders like Lucita were often rebelling against their own controlling sires or grandsires. It was layers of oppression all the way up to the Antediluvians and perhaps beyond.

    While predating the War on Terror, the Sabbat were an interesting critique on religious extremism. Claiming to be fighting for the freedom of all Kindred, they were an army that claimed authority from the worship of Caine and his betrayal by the Antediluvians. Members were Embraced, indoctrinated into their religion, and then sent as suicide soldiers against the Camarilla. By coincidence or design, many of their activities bore resemblance to real life terrorist organizations or cults. Their members were the most oppressed and held in the littlest regard while continually told they were the only free and that the only way to survive was to destroy the sect's enemies.

    The Independent Clans proved to be a somewhat mixed group of stereotypes that would largely be retconned or explained away as Western prejudices. The Assamites were a militant blood cult every bit as insane as the Sabbat (but perhaps nobler), the Followers of Set being a Satanic religion venerating the Egyptian God of Storms, the Giovanni being sinister incestuous bankers plotting the end of the world, and the Ravnos being a bunch of thieving Romani. Either way, they represented an other that the Camarilla guarded against much like the Sabbat. It is no coincidence that the Anarchs became less prominent while the "worse than the Camarilla" became more detailed. This would reach its nadir when the Kuei-Jin (a lumped together collection of Indian, Chinese, Korean plus Japanese vampires) appeared to wipe out the Anarch Free States and threaten all of vampirekind with their terrifying alieness. It seemed the social satire of the poor young vampire versus the Man was over.

    Until it wasn't.

    The Assamites (now Banu Haqim) were now a diverse Muslim clan of philosophers and mystics as well as warriors now opposed to an extremist religious minority. The Followers of Set would diversify into a polytheist sect that was less overtly evil. The Giovanni would merge with their ancient ancestors and Caribbean Samedi to form a more diverse sect. The Ravnos? Well, after they were retconned as a Indian sect, they were almost wiped out. Even the Kuei-Jin became much more nuanced and interesting characters uninterested in war against the foreign devils. The books also introduced the Thin Bloods, even weaker than the average Anarch, who just wanted to hold onto their humanity but were a hated minority by birth due to religious justification.

    Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition would revive a good deal of the Anarch subtext by linking the burgeoning Occupy Wallstreet movement and a stand-in for Anonymous with the Anarchs in The Guide to Anarchs. 5th Edition Vampire: The Masquerade also moved some of the changes started toward the end of Revised to the Independent clans. The Banu Haqim would join the Camarilla and the Followers of Set (now the "Ministry") would join the Anarchs. The Anarchs would permanently split from the Camarilla and build their own sect with its own territory. Much more focus was also given to the international world of vampires with the struggle between inequity and Elders supplemented by human governments rising up to exterminate the undead. The rich Camarilla, of course, threw the poor Anarchs under the bus.

    Of course they did.


    Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

  • #2
    Originally posted by CTPhipps View Post
    Ironically, Vampire: The Dark Ages established that the Sabbat was nothing more than a Anarch movement gone horribly wrong
    It's strange to characterize Vampire: The Dark Ages as the game that established the Sabbat as an Anarch movement gone wrong when that was already the backstory of the sect in the first Sabbat supplement, The Players Guide to the Sabbat.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Elphilm View Post
      It's strange to characterize Vampire: The Dark Ages as the game that established the Sabbat as an Anarch movement gone wrong when that was already the backstory of the sect in the first Sabbat supplement, The Players Guide to the Sabbat.
      Yeah it was set in the Dark Age times and we got to be there with Transylvania Chronicles. A little artistic flourish.


      Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by CTPhipps View Post
        Storm as leader of the X-men makes a political statement just by being a black woman and immigrant.
        Storm's not a full on immigrant. She was born in New York City, her father an American photojournalist her mother a Kenyan tribal priestess. This makes her from birth an American citizen and not an immigrant. She and her family did move to Cairo when she was six months old and from there her tragic backstory of growing up on the streets of Cairo thieving for the Shadow King to being worshiped as a goddess to becoming an X-man began.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by zee PaTrick View Post

          Storm's not a full on immigrant. She was born in New York City, her father an American photojournalist her mother a Kenyan tribal priestess. This makes her from birth an American citizen and not an immigrant. She and her family did move to Cairo when she was six months old and from there her tragic backstory of growing up on the streets of Cairo thieving for the Shadow King to being worshiped as a goddess to becoming an X-man began.
          I stand corrected.


          Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

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          • #6
            So she is an Immigrant to Cairo...

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            • #7
              Overall I would say the essay was comprehensive considering how much you had to summarize. Though considering how different the world currently is from what it was when vampire first came out, it might be worth bringing up things like the Satanic Panic, the church group AD&D rpg book burnings, and unfortunate incidents such as Rod Ferrell to give context for exactly how counter culture the game line was and what kind of waves it made.

              In the modern day it's nice to have the diversity and inclusivity boxes checked, but back then playing a lawful good paladin trying to save the princess from the dragon was considered introductory witchcraft and devil worship with AD&D, and then along comes Vampire where your humane vampires still have a tendency to eat people. So it was far more counter culture than just having minorities and alternate sexualities.

              Also it isn't exactly accurate to claim that Vampire had more ethnic NPC characters considering AD&D under TSR had whole game lines setup for non-European settings, complete with adventure modules and specialty rules (which included NPCs). Though to be fair the game engines are significantly different in that in AD&D you level up through killing everything and taking their stuff, while white wolf games you level up by showing up and participating in the game, which requires more flushed out NPCs for role playing purposes.

              But that sort of stuff is nit picky at best from an old gaming fossil like me. Good job regardless.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Thoth View Post
                Overall I would say the essay was comprehensive considering how much you had to summarize. Though considering how different the world currently is from what it was when vampire first came out, it might be worth bringing up things like the Satanic Panic, the church group AD&D rpg book burnings, and unfortunate incidents such as Rod Ferrell to give context for exactly how counter culture the game line was and what kind of waves it made.

                In the modern day it's nice to have the diversity and inclusivity boxes checked, but back then playing a lawful good paladin trying to save the princess from the dragon was considered introductory witchcraft and devil worship with AD&D, and then along comes Vampire where your humane vampires still have a tendency to eat people. So it was far more counter culture than just having minorities and alternate sexualities.

                Also it isn't exactly accurate to claim that Vampire had more ethnic NPC characters considering AD&D under TSR had whole game lines setup for non-European settings, complete with adventure modules and specialty rules (which included NPCs). Though to be fair the game engines are significantly different in that in AD&D you level up through killing everything and taking their stuff, while white wolf games you level up by showing up and participating in the game, which requires more flushed out NPCs for role playing purposes.

                But that sort of stuff is nit picky at best from an old gaming fossil like me. Good job regardless.
                Diversity is fine and dandy but what I felt was the bigger social satire of vampire was its depiction of the older entrenched power struggles of vampire society that the player character cannot be a part of but actively represses them.

                So the only solution is to burn them to the ground.

                Werewolf was a bit more direct with its anti-capitalism/pro-environment message.


                Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by CTPhipps View Post
                  Diversity is fine and dandy but what I felt was the bigger social satire of vampire was its depiction of the older entrenched power struggles of vampire society that the player character cannot be a part of but actively represses them.

                  So the only solution is to burn them to the ground.

                  That is a fair assessment though personally I always felt like that was only the first layer of the social analysis, rather than being the entire slice of cake as it were. The setting has two core concepts that are contradictory. The first is the aforementioned concept of the monolithic camarilla power structure that the average neonate will be stuck on the bottom rungs of power for their entire unlife. The second concept is that vampires must hide their existence, which means you can't stay in a given city for longer than a decade or two tops if you have any degree of visibility to the mortals, thus leading to a very transient existence, resulting in a very temporary ladder of power. Every twenty years you move to a new location and have to start at the bottom of the ladder again.

                  Given how low the vampiric population is, there are plenty of cities and towns which are up for grabs if a vampire wants to escape the default power structure of the main cities and become a Prince of their own territory. Alternatively you can go the whole lost boys route and just never settle in any area, moving freely from domain to domain.

                  The trap of vampire society, much like the trap of real life society is that it only has as much power over us as we give to it. Thus those individuals who can't extrapolate the truth of the situation stay in the vampiric societal machine and try to fight their way to the top, rather than simply making a break for greener pastures. The Camarilla power structure mirrors that of the traditional family, with the elders and titled positions being equivalent to that of the parents and grand parents, while the neonates are the angsty teenagers. Normally the kids can just outlive their parents and eventually take over the house when they inherit it, but Vampirism means that doesn't happen. The neonates are stuck being the angsty teens forever. Unless of course they decide to move out and become their own masters.

                  I have never been able to decide if this was an intentional game design that was being very meta or just a game design oversight that was ham-fistedly patched by fluff. The looming threat of lupines existing outside the cities never made tactical sense in the modern age, given the size of modern cities and the supposed limited population of lupines. But perhaps the concept of werewolves eating up young vampires who try to leave the cities is just another social manipulation by the elders to keep the neonates in line.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Thoth View Post
                    That is a fair assessment though personally I always felt like that was only the first layer of the social analysis, rather than being the entire slice of cake as it were. The setting has two core concepts that are contradictory. The first is the aforementioned concept of the monolithic camarilla power structure that the average neonate will be stuck on the bottom rungs of power for their entire unlife. The second concept is that vampires must hide their existence, which means you can't stay in a given city for longer than a decade or two tops if you have any degree of visibility to the mortals, thus leading to a very transient existence, resulting in a very temporary ladder of power. Every twenty years you move to a new location and have to start at the bottom of the ladder again.

                    Given how low the vampiric population is, there are plenty of cities and towns which are up for grabs if a vampire wants to escape the default power structure of the main cities and become a Prince of their own territory. Alternatively you can go the whole lost boys route and just never settle in any area, moving freely from domain to domain.

                    The trap of vampire society, much like the trap of real life society is that it only has as much power over us as we give to it. Thus those individuals who can't extrapolate the truth of the situation stay in the vampiric societal machine and try to fight their way to the top, rather than simply making a break for greener pastures. The Camarilla power structure mirrors that of the traditional family, with the elders and titled positions being equivalent to that of the parents and grand parents, while the neonates are the angsty teenagers. Normally the kids can just outlive their parents and eventually take over the house when they inherit it, but Vampirism means that doesn't happen. The neonates are stuck being the angsty teens forever. Unless of course they decide to move out and become their own masters.

                    I have never been able to decide if this was an intentional game design that was being very meta or just a game design oversight that was ham-fistedly patched by fluff. The looming threat of lupines existing outside the cities never made tactical sense in the modern age, given the size of modern cities and the supposed limited population of lupines. But perhaps the concept of werewolves eating up young vampires who try to leave the cities is just another social manipulation by the elders to keep the neonates in line.
                    I actually had a much different impression of vampire society and that was the idea that there was no open territory left in the world. All vampire society has already divided up all available territory in the world. Lupines patrol the countryside and can sense when vampires enter their territory because the spirits tell them and then there's all manner of other things going bump in the night. Now, Kindred can survive on the dregs of society or feed off of the non-desirable vessels but vampires gravitate to the vibrant, beautiful, and young.

                    So, Elders consider every single neonate a threat to them and unwelcome.

                    So you have to make room above you.


                    Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by CTPhipps View Post
                      I actually had a much different impression of vampire society and that was the idea that there was no open territory left in the world. All vampire society has already divided up all available territory in the world. Lupines patrol the countryside and can sense when vampires enter their territory because the spirits tell them and then there's all manner of other things going bump in the night. Now, Kindred can survive on the dregs of society or feed off of the non-desirable vessels but vampires gravitate to the vibrant, beautiful, and young.

                      So, Elders consider every single neonate a threat to them and unwelcome.

                      So you have to make room above you.
                      How do you balance the population density though?

                      We know that there are about 40,000 cainites in the world (all clans, bloodlines, awake or in torpor, but not counting Kuei-jin). There are roughly about 20,000 Cities in the US alone, not counting the 16,000+ townships that are in the US. That is almost enough to allow each vampire to have their own human population center to themselves.

                      Once you start taking into account that some vampires prefer to live out in the wilds, some prefer to travel, some are in torpor, or that some vampires will want to live around others of their kind, then there is definitely enough space in the US alone for the entire Cainite population.

                      This gets even more pronounced when you start applying things like the Camarilla social hierarchy to the numbers. The standard setup is a Prince, one Primogen for each clan in the city, and a sheriff. Then you have a random number of Ancilla and Neonates running around just to make the power structure meaningful. But that sort of setup means the vampiric population would be closer to 20 - 40 per city. Which means you would only need about 2,000 cities to house the entire vampire world population. That leaves another 18,000 cities and 16,000 towns open for the taking.

                      Now if the power structure was scaled up, so that a Prince ruled an entire state rather than a single city, then I could see an argument for there being no room to expand or find new oppurtunities. But that isn't what is described in the books, not to mention it would heavily complicate how the lupines some how contain vampires to individual cities while they themselves are behind enemy lines being in a state ruled over by a vampire prince.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Thoth View Post
                        I have never been able to decide if this was an intentional game design that was being very meta or just a game design oversight that was ham-fistedly patched by fluff. The looming threat of lupines existing outside the cities never made tactical sense in the modern age, given the size of modern cities and the supposed limited population of lupines. But perhaps the concept of werewolves eating up young vampires who try to leave the cities is just another social manipulation by the elders to keep the neonates in line.
                        Of course the threat of Lupines doesn't make much sense NOW. We have the benefit of planes, trains, and automobiles. Between fast transport and the gradual "filling in" of space between major cities with lots of minor islands of "civilization" (if only through gas stations, fast food joints, and cheap hotels/motels), getting around or even settling in small cities isn't as huge a gamble as it used to be.

                        But it wasn't always thus. Used to be, even a "short" jaunt to a neighboring city was a long and dangerous undertaking. And that's just with the rigors of the road itself, before you include Lupines that were stronger and thicker on the ground. Lupine threats were serious business, back when you only had a horse-drawn cart to carry you over rough dirt roads and through dense wilderness.

                        To vampires throughout most of human history, cities really were islands of civility amid seas of darkness, deprivation, and danger. Mortals few, enemies abundant.

                        In modern times, Elders don't just tell Neonates horror stories of Lupines to keep them in line. It's because, for most of their unlives, those stories were absolutely true. The main error is the failure of the old to unlearn hard-earned lessons and accept that times have changed.

                        And even then, the Lupine threat never truly disappeared. Just ask Chicago or Milwaukee how safe it is to ignore the wolves prowling beyond the walls.
                        Last edited by Bluecho; 06-14-2019, 01:27 AM.


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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Thoth View Post

                          How do you balance the population density though?

                          We know that there are about 40,000 cainites in the world (all clans, bloodlines, awake or in torpor, but not counting Kuei-jin). There are roughly about 20,000 Cities in the US alone, not counting the 16,000+ townships that are in the US. That is almost enough to allow each vampire to have their own human population center to themselves.
                          Actually, it was stated that there was 1 Cainite per 100,000 as a DESIRED outcome.

                          So that would mean about 75,000 vampires worldwide.

                          However, it's been stated that the vampire population of the world is grossly overpopulated. So I wouldn't be surprised if there were twice or as many as three times as many as that number.

                          300,000 perhaps if we really want to explain why vampires are warring across the world.


                          Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by CTPhipps View Post

                            Actually, it was stated that there was 1 Cainite per 100,000 as a DESIRED outcome.

                            So that would mean about 75,000 vampires worldwide.

                            However, it's been stated that the vampire population of the world is grossly overpopulated. So I wouldn't be surprised if there were twice or as many as three times as many as that number.

                            300,000 perhaps if we really want to explain why vampires are warring across the world.
                            According to the Vampire Storyteller's Handbook, I want to say 3rd edition page 14.
                            From a strictly Cainite point of view, probably around 40,000. The Middle Kingdom has roughly 20,000 Kuei-jin, for a grand total of approximately 60,000 – one for every 100,000 people on the planet.
                            .

                            So while it is 1 vampire per 100,000 mortals, that wouldn't mean there are 75,000 cainites in the modern world, probably it would be closer to only 50,000 cainites at this point. So in the end that only means an increase of 10k cainites as far as world wide population numbers goes. All the same even at a cainite population of 100k you still don't run out of room.

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                            • #15
                              Again, the books say that the Kindred race is grossly overpopulated as a theme and constantly battling for territory.



                              Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

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