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VAMPIRE the MASQUERADE: Coteries of New York

Based on the role-play game devised many years ago by Mark Rein-Hagen and published by White Wolf

VAMPIRE the MASQUERADE is a role-play game about Vampires (bet you guessed that from the title) and this PC/Steam edition is created by DRAW DISTANCE, a Polish Studio who have based it around the fifth edition rules set. The 'coteries' of New York are the different Vampire groups found in White Wolf's 'WORLD of DARKNESS'. Its beginning is very atmospheric, dark, misty and mysterious, eerie and creepy in the obfuscated shadow overcasting the City of New York, but then it changes.

Then it goes on and on with the start-up story as Salome and the Stranger bat questions and answers back and forth over the same backdrop. Often the conversation goes off on a tangent with the two characters speaking and acting as if they were in a room with a refrigerator and air-conditioning yet the backdrop is still of an underground parking lot.

I understand and agree that having a 'conversation' onscreen with another in-game character is a good way to be introduced into the adventure. However, in-between the chats it usually is a good idea to have some movement onscreen, even just the backdrop changing, but sadly this isn't the case with Coteries of New York. The talking goes on and on, then on again, and although I (as Salome) was being introduced to these new folk in my life, and what my (un)life was going to be from now on, it went on to the point of it becoming a drone in my ear, an annoying noise that melded into the background.

 

For example, the Stranger and Salome begin talking about a room that they appear to be inside. It has air-con, a fridge and other 'home' comforts but the picture onscreen hasn't changed and the pair of characters are green-screened against an underground car park (parking lot) with no such room in sight. It would create more atmosphere if the backing changed as the scene did and to match it. Salome (you) is left alone in the room. In the fridge is a bag of blood that is all. It looks and smells both revolting and good at the same time but it remains in the fridge unopened.

The Stranger takes you to his car and requests you get in. You understand that he could have killed you or harmed you if he had wanted to, thus you reservedly enter the car. You continue to ask him questions and he reluctantly says just enough so that you know as much at the end of the journey as you did at the beginning of it. The car pulls off the road and stops at an out of town bar known as the ART HOLE. Here you discover that the Stranger's name is Qadir and that he is the 'Sheriff' whatever that means. His boss arrives. She is introduced to you as Hellene Panhard, the Prince of New York City and Childe of Michaela. Surprisingly this unexpected title is easily accepted by you. Then you become aware that there are many silent moving people in the room. You hear that you have been something called 'sired' and that your sire has breeched the Clan's solemn laws, as apparently have you by allowing yourself to be embraced. The penalty for this and for both you and your sire is death. 

Many of this Coterie of New York's finest vampires are in agreement that you should be executed and disposed of and then your sire be found and the same happen to him. There seem to be more that agree on this happening, and although less than this 'for' number there are more who are undecided than against your dying. You listen to the Prince as she deliberates with the others, it seems your fate is all but sealed until Sophie Langley from the Clan of the Rose (at this point I guessed Clan Toreador) steps up and offers to be your Sponsor, your Patron in the Coterie. 

 

It is about now that having listened more and more to the conversations going on around you that the majority of it falls into place; you are members of the Camarilla. As things like this imprint themselves into your brain your onboard Dictionary gets busier and busier with new words, descriptrions and helpful hints. You will need this dictionary as the game progresses,

So to the toast and you have to drink in honour of your new Clan. You sip several blood types from rare, exquisite glasses that are filled from human vessels until one hits a home run on your tastebuds. You are drawn into the World of Drakness by the taste of Clover, Caffeine and a hint of melancholy, blood grouping ABRH+. Sophie Langley brings the first mention of the underground society of UnDead known as the Camarilla to the procedings.                           

To construct this version of a City where there are Vampires that live in hiding or unnoticed within, the author took great insight from White Wolf/World of DarkNess scenario "New York by Night" using the main setting and the basic Manhattan Vampires (sounds like a harmony group) while also being strongly influenced from the excellent range of games from TellTale on the PC that quite exceptionally delve into the violence and fragility and politics of Vampires and other UnDead.

 

You soon realise that you are not going to be doing much other than a type of tabletop role-playing with the computer screen being your storyteller. You job is to be prepared to select the right answers to the questions and tasks asked of you. Like a role-play game you sit in front of your GM and hang on their every word, ready to react to what you are told. You have no one else with you to make those difficult decisions now and no dice to roll against abilities and stats on a character sheet; only a question and a choice of answers, or a selection of questions you may ask and be given answers in return. This is how the game runs, as a verbal battle and long converluted conversations.

Although players of the role-playing game will know there are many different clans within the Camarilla and more in total when the rebellious Anarchs are brought into play, this game settles on the differences between three very different, morally as well as diplomatically and politically, clans. Your choice for this venture into the World of Darkness is a Male character who is very passionate about his clan and class, a strong willed person who is now of Clan Brujah (regularly pronounced as 'Broo Hah' but that's just an interpretation); a businesswoman who has used her powers of command to build up an empire within the human world whilst staying true to her real calling, the enigmatic aristocratic Clan Ventrue - the architects of the Camarilla. The final choice comes from Clan Toreador (who I suspected Sophie to be when first we met - though was I right?) where temperament and artistry weave their way into the powers that be and twist them accordingly. Not such a Clan for violence if it means face to face combat but no foppish cowards either.

Just how their character is accepted by the in-game Vampires is down to the attitude and answers of your questions and conversations. From the game and the celebrated but short-lived TV series (the Kindred) each Clan has certain disciplines (powers, abilities etc) associated with it and these are inbred within the characters you may select from. For examples the Brujah are well known for their use of increasing their physical abilities; Celerity (increased speed) and Potence (increased strength) being the two most effective. The Toreador also have Celerity, but are best known for their supernatural senses, known as Auspex. Last but never least, and often found to be very high in a City, quite often its Prince, the Ventrue have Fortitude (increased resilience) and Dominate (mind control. All clans have Presence which allows them to attract humans to them or scare them away, perhaps with just a look or a softly spoken word.

The vampire's disciplines can be used in battle and in arguments but they must never be revealed to a human and that human remain alive. Vampires live the Masquerade. This is the art of walking alongside and inhabiting buildings with humans without giving themselves away. Like actors playing parts but where one mistake, even a small one, usually means someone has to die. There are no right questions or wrong answers you can give, there is choice and understanding. Exciting it isn't. A challenge it is. The WORLD of DARKNESS it certainly is.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015