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Author Topic: Vampires - a postmodern roleplaying game  (Read 7807 times)
Victor Gijsbers
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« on: April 23, 2005, 07:42:46 AM »

Vampires - a postmodern roleplaying game
Or: What I did with Hungry Desperate and Alone


Some time ago, I read Vincent's Hungry Desperate and Alone, and was intrigued. It was breathtakingly cruel, a condition with an inexplicable charm of its own; it was dark; it was uncompromising - what a shame that, as Vincent himself claimed, the mechanics didn't work. So, I thought I saw some possibilities to fix the indentified problems, and got to work.

Vampires is the result, but along the way it turned into something quite different from I what originally intended. Yes, it is cruel, dark and uncompromising, perhaps even to the point of unplayability. And yes, one can recognise Vincent's game, but more as a source of inspiration than as the original backbone. But Vampires is also something entirely different, and that is what I would like to talk about.

Now, this post is going to be a bit strange, because ignorance about what I want to achieve with Vampires is a necessary condition for playing it. That is, Vampires aims to deliver an experience that, by its very nature, must be unanticipated. Therefore, I have written two documents:

Vampires: a postmodern roleplaying game - the game itself.

On Vampires: an explanatory essay - a small essay that explains my design aims.

If anyone is interested, I suggest the following reading strategy:

1. Read the game. Afterwards, try and answer the following questions:
- Would you ever play this game, or is it too repulsive?
- If you would, what do you think a prolonged campaign of Vampires would look like in your group?
- What strikes you most about Vampires?

Obviously, the aim is not to guess my design aims. We're not here to play puzzles. (Though if you wish, be my guest.) The aim of these questions is rather that I can get an idea of whether Vampires might successful or not. For obvious reasons, I cannot myself playtest it.

2. Either go and play the game, if it appeals to you, or read the explanatory essay. If you do the latter, let's discuss my game in this thread.

Any comments will be well appreciated.
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Bob the Fighter
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« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2005, 08:11:48 AM »

er, maybe it's just my slow box o' bolts, but i can't seem to access either of these PDFs... *cry*
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Eve
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« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2005, 08:55:10 AM »

Just a thought: can you still GM Vampires if you know what it is about? Does it make a difference?
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Your strength is but an accident, arising from the weakness of others - Joseph Conrad, Heart of darkness
Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2005, 10:02:25 AM »

Quote from: Bob the Fighter
er, maybe it's just my slow box o' bolts, but i can't seem to access either of these PDFs... *cry*

Does anyone else have this problem? Both links work for me...

Below are comments that presuppose you have read the second file.

Quote from: Eva Deinum
Just a thought: can you still GM Vampires if you know what it is about? Does it make a difference?

Yes, it makes a difference. At least it does if the players know or think that he knows what it is about. Because in that case, the relevant power struggle is no longer that of the rules vs the people, but because the GM is supposed to know how the game ought to be played, it becomes people vs people - which destroys the purpose of the game.

So the GM would have to pretend to be as ignorant as the players. But you could also have a player who is in the know, as long as nobody else knows about it. I do not think that there is any difference at all, with respect to the design aims, between the GM and the other players.
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Eve
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« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2005, 10:58:21 AM »

Below are comments that presuppose you have read the second file.

Quote from: Victor Gijsbers

Yes, it makes a difference. At least it does if the players know or think that he knows what it is about. Because in that case, the relevant power struggle is no longer that of the rules vs the people, but because the GM is supposed to know how the game ought to be played, it becomes people vs people - which destroys the purpose of the game.

But isn't it a starting point beyond what you meant with the game? I thought you wanted a start in ignorance: not only not knowing what to discover, but also not knowing that there is some important message beyond the rules. Perhaps this is the only starting point that will truly make them feel the point, when time is ripe.
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Your strength is but an accident, arising from the weakness of others - Joseph Conrad, Heart of darkness
Bob the Fighter
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« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2005, 09:06:50 AM »

so.

the links worked fine, and i read Vampires. lemme start by saying two things:

1 - i'm a feminist.
2 - i made myself read the whole thing before commenting.

that being said, no worries! this game got me thinking that it doesn't really need vampires per se, and then i read the designer notes. so, um, wow. the importance of PC ignorance is obvious. this reminds me a bit of Kill Puppies For Satan, or at least the way i played KPFS.

my interpretation of KPFS was to make me, the GM, as disturbed as possible. not that i set out to do that, but i sure did a bangup job of it by setting the game in my hometown and making my family and my in-game self accessible by the PCs. like i said before, wow.

has anyone heard of the RPG Violence? cuz this game seems like a much more sincere (and thus more successful) attempt at the same thing: to get gamers to freak out at the twisted stuff that passes for harmless fun in our culture.

i read an article at Places to Go, People to Be in their latest issue about the human aversion to killing. that article, combined with some musings about Violence and Vampires, has really gotten me thinking about how i use violence in games. i don't know if i'm going to do things any differently. but i'll be thinking about it.
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xenopulse
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« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2005, 09:47:00 AM »

Well done.

I don't necessarily want to comment in detail, so as to avoid spoiling the reading experience for other people. But I feel strongly about the subject at hand, and your depiction is spot-on. It's a metaphorical game, to be sure, but it's close enough to the real thing to be frightening.

I don't think I could play it.

On a sidenote, I recognized what you were doing without reading the essay, and I assume the same people who might be reluctant to play the game might be the ones who also see the intent behind it.

Like kpfs, I think purely putting the concept out there is great because it makes people ponder the issue at hand. So, thanks for that.
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shaheddy
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« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2005, 02:17:55 PM »

Interesting.

I would never play this game.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Also, it seems like an exact analogue of the Milgram experiment, with all the attendant issues and problems. So it seems more of an exercise in determining how much authority the rule set and/or the GM has over the rest of the group, at least in the specific situation spelled out by your essay. My personal opinion is that it would be unethical to ever run this game.
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darrick
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« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2005, 08:57:27 PM »

Gaaaa!  i took some good notes on how i might help you "improve" your game from my subjective standpoint.  and now i find out it's just some lame psych experiement!  if male destructive dominance was so bad and so widespread, then we would live in that kind of vampire world.  honestly, who here plays games so that they can learn about other people's problems or their own inner soul?

what is the point of writing a game that you don't personally get a kick out of?  in an actual experiment, it seems obvious to me that many people would play the game as is.  after awhile, a minority would try to break away little by little.  and as most people have said, the people most offended by the concept would not play the game.  that seems to be a given, so why?  what is the point of it?

if i didn't see the merit in playing the game with a few modifications, then i would consider my part in this exercise to be a complete waste of time!  do you want to make a documentary art film that will "help humanity"  :(  and which no one really wants to see or do you want to make a great movie like Star Wars or the Godfather?  yeah, i thought so.

Darrick
http://www.CultofCthulhu.net
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2005, 09:00:40 PM »

I must confess, as a clear sequel to "Hungry Desperate and Alone" I don't like this game at all.  The point of HDA is that we are all vampires of a sort, having to live off the other's pain.  And we are.  We are all making those choices every day.

To take that and turn it into monstrosity misses the point.

yrs--
--Ben
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Tobias
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Posts: 446


« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2005, 12:18:42 AM »

Spoilers follow






I was struck by similarities to kpfs as well - even though I've never played that.

I have many comments - but I will do as you ask, since that might be the most helpful.

I started by reading the first file (but had my suspicions from that file right away).

1. I would not play this game. Not because it is too repulsive - but because it is too narrow. Yes, it focuses on a harsh issue, and you could explore that to some depth - but there's nothing that awakens a desire to explore in me. (If you had presented it similarly, but with Love as theme, it would probably be the same).

2. A prolonged campaign of Vampires would be less likely than a one-shot (or a few-shot). There's little challenge in out-grossing each other further and further for more than one quick moment. There's little value to blood pool or Status or whatever that's merely mechanical, without some enjoyment derived from it for the group.

3. Why not play the Women? (And no, I don't mean to suddenly give them more power against the vampires).

Reading the game:

What strikes me most is that it's goals, if left unexplained, will probably not be reached. At some point, someone/thing will have to read the explanatory essay. Without it, it will probably come across as a failed game, with bad memories - and while people could learn lessons from it, I prefer not to dwell on 'crap' games too much, but get on with a fun one - especially if there are some hours left in the evening and the group's still together! So if it is to be anything that's really played, perhaps you can have a 'sealed envelope', to be opened when people decide their game is over (for whatever reason).[/b]
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Tobias op den Brouw

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- My GroupDesign .pdf.
Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2005, 12:40:58 AM »

Thanks for all your comments, people. The fact that they all come from different perspectives makes me very happy.

Bob the Fighter

Quote from: Bob the Fighter
has anyone heard of the RPG Violence? cuz this game seems like a much more sincere (and thus more successful) attempt at the same thing: to get gamers to freak out at the twisted stuff that passes for harmless fun in our culture.

No, I haven't heard about it - is it available online, to your knowledge? I do know a meta-game which is called, I think, Powerkill. The basic idea is that after each game session, the GM takes on the role of a psychiatrist, the players of delusional psychiatric patients, and everything that happened in the session is reinterpreted in real-world terms. You killed a fortress full of goblins? That was just a delusion - in actual fact, you killed a tumbledown apartment building full of lower class families. And so on. By transposing the acts of the player characters into the real world, they are suddenly recognised for the psychotic, maniacal acts that they are.

Powerkill points at what the players have chosen to do, and then it says: look, this is what you've freely chosen! Vampires, on the other hand, points at the horrible story that the players have been forced to tell, and then it says: look, this is what you've freely chosen. In the first case, it is the meaning of the acts that is revealed; in the second, the responsibility for the acts. Together they may indeed be saying a lot about "the twisted stuff that passes for harmless fun in our culture".

I'll go and take a look at the article in Places to go, People to be, by the way.

xenopulse

Quote
On a sidenote, I recognized what you were doing without reading the essay, and I assume the same people who might be reluctant to play the game might be the ones who also see the intent behind it.

Yes, that might certainly be the case, in which case the game can only have value for them as, well, a conceptual work of art. Do you think you would have also recognised the intent if I had not pointed out that there actually is an intent beneath the surface?

Quote
Like kpfs, I think purely putting the concept out there is great because it makes people ponder the issue at hand. So, thanks for that.

Thanks for the compliment. :)

shaheddy

Quote
Also, it seems like an exact analogue of the Milgram experiment, with all the attendant issues and problems. So it seems more of an exercise in determining how much authority the rule set and/or the GM has over the rest of the group, at least in the specific situation spelled out by your essay. My personal opinion is that it would be unethical to ever run this game.

That is very interesting - I had not thought about the game in that way, mostly because I never thought about it as an experiment. In Milgram's case, there is an experimental set-up, and the aim is to measure how far people will go before they revolt against authority. What I aimed to do with Vampires, on the other hand, is to make a game in which revolution actually occurs. If Vampires were used as an experiment and reproduced the Milgram result, it would - in my opinion - have been a failure as a roleplaying game. I want people to revolt and liberate themselves and think about power and violence and roleplaying and responsibility; I don't want to do an experiment.

Would such a difference in intent change the moral status of running this game? I mean, what makes it immoral - wishing to experiment, wishing to subject the pleyrs to the rules, or something else?

darrick

Hi Darrick, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it. Let me try to see if I can improve the situation for you. First, as I point out above in my reply to shaheddy, I did not intend Vampires as a psychological experiment, but as a moral experience. Maybe that makes it less revolting to you. Let me first take on your questions, and then point out what you may be able to get from Vampires even if you don't like the pretentious stuff.

Quote
honestly, who here plays games so that they can learn about other people's problems or their own inner soul?

Well, I do. It may be a surprising number of people that do. Of course, I also play RPGs to have fun, but there is no reason the two could not go together; and sometimes, it is not so bad to sacrifice a bit of fun in order to get more other things out of an experience. I still remember vividly the documentary I once saw about the battle of Stalingrad - I did not have fun, but I did cry bitter tears afterwards, on reflection. It was a very good documentary

Quote
what is the point of writing a game that you don't personally get a kick out of?

Good question - but I did get a kick out of writing it, and I am sure I would have gotten a kick out of playing it, had I only been able to.

Quote
do you want to make a documentary art film that will "help humanity" :( and which no one really wants to see or do you want to make a great movie like Star Wars or the Godfather? yeah, i thought so.

Yeah, you're right. It is better to have made Star Wars an dbe watched, then to have made a documentary art film and have no one watch it. But what I really want is to make a documentary art film and have some people watch it and be changed by the experience. That would be much more worthwhile than making Star Wars, I think.

But, on to the constructive side of things!

Quote
if i didn't see the merit in playing the game with a few modifications, then i would consider my part in this exercise to be a complete waste of time!

First, I am very interested in the fact that you see merit in Vampires with a few modifications. What would these modifications be, and what kind of experience do you think the game would give you with these modifications? What changes can make the game into a success, in your opinion?

Second, I put 'postmodern' in the title, mostly as a way to make people recognise the trope of self-reference easier, but now I guess I have to go all the way. ("Death of the author", and things like that.) The point is this: my interpretation of Vampires is not inherently more valuable than yours. There is no reason to think the game 'is' what I intended it to be. Do not let my interpretation spoil it for you. Better yet, change the game in any way you wish and release it as "Vampires: done right!". I released it under a Creative Commons license, so you are allowed - nay, encouraged - to do so.

Ben Lehman

Quote
I must confess, as a clear sequel to "Hungry Desperate and Alone" I don't like this game at all. The point of HDA is that we are all vampires of a sort, having to live off the other's pain. And we are. We are all making those choices every day.

To take that and turn it into monstrosity misses the point.

I agree with you, Ben, that if Vampires were an attempt to do HDA 'the right way', it would be a failure. So I guess I should have made it clearer that the reference to HDA was meant as a historical remark on the genesis of Vampires, not as a statement of thematic equality.

If I may try and point at the main difference: In HDA it is scary to make yourself as a vampire because it makes it even easier to identify with your character and think: it is me doing this to them. I am like that; even in the real world.

In Vampires, it is scary to make yourself as a vampire because 1) the effect of alienation becomes more profound, but more importantly 2) it makes you realise that you stand in the way of your own liberation; and that you are only one responsible for it all.

The main idea is different, and that makes everything different. So let me ask: how do you like this game on its own, disregarding the historical connections with HDA?
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shaheddy
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« Reply #12 on: April 25, 2005, 06:25:31 AM »

Quote
In Milgram's case, there is an experimental set-up, and the aim is to measure how far people will go before they revolt against authority. What I aimed to do with Vampires, on the other hand, is to make a game in which revolution actually occurs.


Actually, Milgram's peers (and possibly Milgram himself) all thought that rebellion would occur in the vast majority of cases as well. It seems the only difference between your game and an experimental set-up is you are expecting rebellion to occur always. Nonetheless, the process that each player undergoes functions as a sort of experimental result, whether you were looking for it or not - I imagine ANYONE playing this game would immediately dissect their experience along these lines, and apply it to their own sense of self-worth. (Which holds for many other RPGs.)

Related to that, I think what makes running this game unethical is keeping the "point" secret. The rule set, basically, lies about the point of the game, by implication and otherwise. So the game asks people to go to a very emotionally uncomfortable place, but deceives them about the reason. That's really unfair to the players.

Let's say the GM knows the point of the game. Then that puts the GM in a bind as well. Her goal is to make the players actually uncomfortable, and she also isn't supposed to reveal that they're "supposed" to get out of that situation, and that that's the real point of the game. If I were a player and trusted the GM, I'd (quite rightly) feel the GM had abused my trust.

Now, I'm not saying that all deception is bad. I'm just saying the payoff better be worth it. I know if I played this game, and at the end the GM told me, "Oh, the point of the game is to teach you that you can quit playing whenever you want to," I'd be like, huh? Gee, thanks Yoda. And I realize that your point is more sophisticated than that, but I think for this specific game, that's all that comes through - ie participation becomes a 1/0 affair.

That said, I do think the concept is interesting, in a purely illustrative way. (Or else I wouldn't have posted anything, right?)
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daMoose_Neo
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« Reply #13 on: April 25, 2005, 06:42:58 AM »

As with anything, you need the right crew thats open to new, experimental, or thought provoking play.
A number of my pals and the kids I host my game nights for wouldn't go with this at all. It'd all be taken in "good fun" or just totally bothered- either way, it wouldn't be played. One friend, however, could play for a while at least, and in the end appreciate what the real point of the game was.
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Nate Petersen / daMoose
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darrick
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« Reply #14 on: April 25, 2005, 11:57:58 AM »

hey, when i get more time i'll include some of those changes.  i think with a few modifications, the game could be played for fun.  what people learn is subjective, i guess, but if they enjoy the gameplay - even if it's the sickness factor, people will play it and hopefully enjoy it.

i suppose i was a little upset for 2 reasons, i thought i had wasted my time on a kind of "joke" or "game", even though that sounds strange.  i take games pretty seriously.  the second is that my own RPG:  Empire of Satanis, which i love, is close in amoral or immoral horror to you post modern vampires.  i guess i felt you were denegrating the whole over the top sick horror experience that i actually prefer.

email me at:  darrick@cultofcthulhu.net  if you still want those modifications.  although, i would lessen the stress level and constant horror, thereby making it more comfortable, insidious, and playable with more people reveling in the darkness than trying to be released from it.  i don't know if that's what you want?

i'm glad you brought up the My Life with Master stuff in your game or essay, it did remind me of that.  i think it could be a lot more emotionally involving without dice.  although if you do use dice for the Blood Battle thing, don't throw out 5's and 6's.  for whatever reason, that idea irritates the hell out of me.  i can imagine myself rolling a 5 or a 6 and having to get rid of it.  hulk... get... angry!

anyways, keep making those art films.  if you dig it, that's the only thing that matters.

D
http://www.CultofCthulhu.net
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