Gaming Night

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Vampire the Masquerade

Don’t get used to it but I have so many ideas for the reviews that I might be posting a few more than I planned at first. I’m sure it will even out in the end. So, today bare your fangs for

er-vampirethemasqueradeVampire the Masquerade

Category: Games

What it is:
Tabletop role-playing game about vampires. In the world of the game vampires live secretly among humans, feeding on them, playing political games, amusing themselves but, above all, maintaining the masquerade or the secrecy of their existence. Vampires are separated into clans with vastly different abilities, goals and role-playing potential. You create your custom character and engage in whatever stories the game master comes up with. The way we play it in our group, the story takes place in London, which our gang of misfits from different clans (incompetently) tries to take over. More or less.

How I found it:
Actually I first found out about tabletop RPGs in college (yep, I’m only mid-level nerd) when my friend A lent me Vampire manual. I was so excited! It looked just like something I would love to try. But A told me women didn’t play RPGs, which I’d found out later, and suspected all along, was a blatant lie. Aaaaaanyways, the joke’s on all of us, I guess, because A is now the venerable game master of our group, which, except for me, also includes his lovely wife, Z. Oh, quite independently of that I also played two parts of the computer game, but live version is better (I still loved that computer game back then).

Summary judgment:
It’s so much fun! So much.

Best things about it:
How much fun it is. You get to play make-believe as a half-respectable adult, to socialize and act silly. You also get to act completely out of your own character and the more the character you play differs from you, the more fun you’re likely to have (or I am, anyway).

Worst things about it:
How hard it is to fit sessions into our schedules, especially that it takes so much work for the game master that he’s not too hasty with the new episodes. In other words, the worst thing is how we don’t get to play enough.

Other pluses:
It’s like a custom-made TV show with the kind of drama you like. We, for instance, are not too big on fighting, so we mostly focus on incompetent intrigues and even more incompetent rescue missions. If I haven’t made it clear enough, we’re not that great players but what we lack in ingenuity we make up in enthusiasm.

Other minuses:
You need the right group of people for this to work, especially if you’re not extraverted by nature. I can’t imagine myself joining up with a group of strangers and relaxing enough to really enjoy the experience but I’m sure that also works for some people. Peculiar and curious people they must be, but still.

How it enriched my life:
It made it so much more fun. It also made me think about the construction of the story etc., etc. but mostly it’s a great way to spend a night.

Fun fact:
The last session we had I decided my character will open a French techno night club. So A prepared a playlist of French techno and we listened to it all evening long in the background. You know what, it fades back soon enough. It was possibly the most fun session ever, music notwithstanding.

VtM was our first RPG but now we are venturing into other genres and themes and have started more games already.

Recommended for:
Obviously, vampire lore lovers. People who are not overwhelmingly shy (some shyness is okay), who want to shed the limitations of their personalities in fun space and who have at least two good friends they can do this with. Or people who like to act silly but can still follow and add to a coherent story as they do it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Ghost in the Shell

Rotten Tomatoes

Bloody True Love

er-truebloodThis is going to be a love story and like the best of them it’s filled with delight and excitement, as well as frustration and disappointment. It ended last Sunday when HBO showed the last episode of True Blood after seven extremely uneven seasons.

I watch a lot of TV, good and bad, and sometimes I get too invested in TV shows but that first season of True Blood was absolutely magical: it got me hooked immediately and kept me up at night, watching episode after episode, completely immersed in the story of Sookie and vampire Bill. I came into it unprepared, only vaguely aware that it had vampires and maybe expecting something like Buffy but certainly not ready to fall head over heels for the atmosphere, the colors, the characters and the accents. I was transfixed; the gritty opening credits felt like the new TV quality that it actually was. I recommended the show to some people and was appalled if they didn’t see the beauty of Bon Temps.

I know some people were already disappointed with season two but I still had my Louisiana-swamp-colored glasses on and I thoroughly enjoyed at least the half of it which had anything to do with vampires. In fact, I think the Dallas storyline was one of the most exciting for me, back when things were mysterious but promised to make sense one day. It was that magical time when you have absolute trust. The second part of the season, about the maenad didn’t make that much sense and didn’t really fit in with the Dallas half but when you love, you forgive little things that make no sense.

But then season three came and I began to worry: what happened to our beautiful friendship, True Blood? What did you go and add sexually-predatory white-trash girl-werepanthers for? What the hell were you thinking with those pointless werewolves? There were still good moments so I strove to ignore the bad ones: Russell was awesome and there was more Eric. But the seed of discontent was planted and grew and already you could see it would become a damn shady tree with all the unnecessary disjoint storylines.

By season four I settled into disgruntlement. I kept watching because you don’t just give up on love even if it leaves dirty socks on the floor or, more to the point, adds new ridiculous characters instead of doing something with the good old ones. Things continued pretty much the same as in season three, without saving graces and with Sam still not dead. Plus, there was the horrid opening scene in fairyland, which at first I couldn’t believe. Still, the witches’ storyline, disappointing as it was, organized most of the season and was at least related to vampires.

But when season five happened, it felt as if I was allowing someone to repeatedly hit me on the head and pretended to like it. I still don’t know why I watched all of season five because I hated pretty much everything about it: I guess it must have been what Jason Stackhouse calls “stockholder’s syndrome.” I hated how every storyline started and ended out of the blue. How the big bad was someone who only appeared in one scene. How they never got rid of the damn-awful Sam, no matter how useless he got. The ifrit storyline, oh hell, the ifrit storyline. And, worst of all, they finally got to show vampire politics – something I longed for since Nancy Flanagan appeared in season one – and made it the most ludicrous, horrid and boring storyline one could imagine. Oh yes, and there was Lilith, too. I hit rock-bottom with that season and honestly promised myself I was done. I wasn’t going to touch the next season. Good riddance, True Blood, you’ve worn me thin.

And then Alan Ball left the show, after running it completely to the ground and I thought: screw it. Let’s see what they will do with this show, now that they certainly can’t make it any worse. Ani DiFranco said: “They say that alcoholics are always alcoholics / Even when they’re as dry as my lips for years / Even when they’re stranded on a small desert island / With no place within two thousand miles to buy beer.” Well, I’m not an alcoholic. But there I was, watching season six.

And hey, I was right: they didn’t make it any worse. In fact, the whole season was a heroic attempt by new show-runners to eradicate some of the worst mistakes of the previous horrible seasons, most importantly limiting the story to one main vampire-centered storyline. It was heartwarming to watch how the writers eliminated one useless character after another (but Sam still lingered, damn it) and struggled to make the vampire mythology interesting again after the Lilith nonsense and without giving everyone amnesia so that they could say the previous three years didn’t happen. Well, it wasn’t nowhere near as good as even season two but I still hadn’t believed it possible for them to get out of everything that happened and make a story that I would care for again. I felt that the new show-runners were kindred spirits: people who also loved the first seasons and wondered how the hell to return to what was once good about this show. (I guess they were in it for money but I’ll cling to my romantic notions.)

So I was firmly on board for the final season. Everyone knew it was the last one and I appreciated the chance to say goodbye, without any illusions anymore. And it was a decent season, once you shed most expectations. Now, I know people hated the finale. People who expected explosions, car chases and zombies found it boring and useless. But for me, and I’m sure for other fans who had a similarly unhealthy relationship to the show, it was a good closure. It made the courageous decision to stop trying to outrun itself and slow down enough to send off the characters gracefully. It ended on a peaceful note and I appreciate that.

So even though you stole hours of my life, True Blood, you treated me like a fool, screamed at me and refused to make sense, I will remember the good things: Sookie’s spunk, Eric’s meaningful looks, Jason’s lines, everything about Pam, and Jessica’s insane eyelashes.