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Even More Narativist Vampires and The Uber Kicker

Started by Ian Freeman, January 31, 2002, 12:47:35 AM

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Ian Freeman

Lot's of great vampire ideas have just been written up and I think I came up with an odd little idea.

So here's what I've been working on:

War in the Sun.

The title is something of a vampire slang term. It means being forced to fight on your enemies terms. The premise here is, "An ancient, ordered society is thrown into unstoppable chaos."

That ordered society is the ancient vampire culture. It's basically the stereotypical elder and/or power play schtick. Let's call this organization "The Bank", an international coalition of blood banks designed to support vampiric needs. But that's not where the playing happens. It goes like this: it's an Uber kicker that would start off the stories to be told (though the players can have their own more personal ones of course)

A large sect of vampires have pretty much had it up to here with all this "masquerade" (or whatever) crap. And they, to put it simply, are going publie. They're bursting into CNN headquarters, taking over satellites, newspapers, and radio. They're hitting the world with tens of thousands of gigabytes of live streaming video. They are going to provide irrefutable proof to all of humanity as to the existance of vampires. They are going into every nation and they're spreading the word. Some mortals are helping them to. Example: Hunters with webcams strapped to their shoulders who have hunted vampires and recorded it. They have enough evidence as to have a great chance of convincing pretty much everyone, and they're in control of a huge number of broadcast stations.

And it isn't going to happen in a year, or a month, or a day. As a matter of fact, it's going to happen... thirty... minutes... from... now.


All of vampirekind is becoming aware of this, scrambling into actions, drawing lines in the sand. But no matter how hard anyone it is virtually certain that humanity will learn of the predator that lives within.

What happens next? Who knows... but it'll be a hell of a ride. Will humanity turn on vampires? Will they even believe in their existence? Will it be open warfare? Will vampires go into hiding? Will humanity (somehow) accept their presence? What will happen between the vampires who want to go public and those who don't? This is what it's all about.

Players can be vamps (or humans, I suppose) of pretty much any age. Its just as dramatically interesting for an elder to be confronted with his entire world toppling before him as it is for a young'un to just try and stay alive and pick the right side in the conflict.

Anybody wanna help with a system?
Ian Freeman
"Dr. Joyce looks profoundly unconvinced (I don't blame him really, this is all a pack of lies)"  -- Iain Banks, The Bridge


Oh bitchin!

I've been looking for a way to introduce vampires 'out in the open'... but madcap media activism...

Give it three months of total chaos...

Then legislation gets pushed through congress ensuring the rights of Undead Americans (or 'nocturnals', 'nocs', 'suckers' or plenty of other racial slurs).  With the enormous fortunes of some ancient undead helping grease the wheels of government (and the subtle use of mind control, sorcerous enslavement, and the promise of eternal life dangled before the nose of aging politicians).

Perhaps even the Pope can make a world-shattering declaration that vampires have souls, and are as tained by origional sin as mortal men, and just as in need of redemption.  If they agree to give up human blood, and drink only animal plasma, they can even be accepted into the priesthood.

Organizations which have traditionaly hunted vampires- and who were suckered into helping 'expose the big secret'- get branded as ignorant racists.  The wooden stake becomes synomous with the linching...

Vampires are master manipulators, and the human media is such an easy pawn.  

The NAADL (Nocturnal Americans AntiDefimation Leigue) begins sueing the Boy Scouts demanding they allow vampire scout masters.

But the kicker is... it's all a big scam.  The vampires ARE STILL VAMPIRES.  They don't give a rat's ass about equal rights... they want an entire population enchanted with them.  

They use the mesmeric powers of Telivision just as effectively as their own hypnotic gaze.  

Eventialy the wold world will state deeply into their TV's, the will of the vampires becoming their will...

Hunt down vampires in an abandoned mansion and staking them is hard enough... how the hell do you make people realize that the monsters still want human blood when Nocturnal Rejuvination has become the latest fad in Hollywood?  When Britney Spears has become undead so she looks 22 for all eternity?


I have one thing to say:


I have played vampire games before.  I've even played that vampire game.  But never until now have I seen a game where I thought the events of the game were interesting.  It was always about exploring the whole angst and humanity thing.  But this... this is just freakin' cool.

As for thoughts on the system, I think there should be a definite emphasis on conflict.  Not necessarily combat, but conflict of all sorts.  A ancient vamp, terrible and powerful ranking member of The Bank, staring down a young, newly turned punk with a video tape clenched in one hand, in a dark alley outside the television station.  A vampire priest, specially recruited by Rome, fending off a crowd of angry rednecks with torches intent on 'taking back our blood from the leech' with nothing more than some scathing comments.

I think a bidding pool system could fit the genre really well.  How much will you spend to assure your success, or even your very survival?
Dan Root

Mike Holmes

From the title, you did say that you wanted a Narrativist game, right?

You state the Premise as  "An ancient, ordered society is thrown into unstoppable chaos" that you could phrase it." Could we go with a more Edwardsian Premise statement? Something like "Is change better than stability?"

With something like that you can start to build interesting mechanics around the premise. As it stands, I'm having problems coming up with ideas to support the premise (other than Sim ones) as I'm not sure where the conflict is supposed to center.

With the "Change/Stability" premise, for example, I'd see mechanics that traded dynamism with the ability to make alliances. So it would be the radical new-wave vampires getting power from their outrageous activities, versus the more numberous and more hierarchically empowered "establishment" vamps. You could have stats or resource pools that represented "Dynamism" and "Respect". Succeed on a roll using Dynamism and you lose Respect representing the vampire becoming (visibly) more energetic at a cost of the trust of the vampire comunity. And on the other side a successful Respect roll (to get a favor from another vamp, forex) would lower your Dynamism as the character succumbes to the stagnation of the vampire culture. Then you'd have dspecific activities to recover each like toadying for Respect or Bloodsucking (or possibly vamp sucking, even) for Dynamism.

See what I'm getting at? This is just a simple example, but once you frame the conflict, you have a place to start developing mechanics from.

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Mike Holmes

Why would the Church change it's opinion on vampires, now? If proved to exist, I'm sure that the church would mandate that they be exterminated just as when they were commonly believed to exist previously.

In fact anything other than an extremely negative reaction from people would, I think, push the game into the realm of (politicaly correct) satire. People like to have legitimate enemies to hate. What better than something that seems human, but is already dead, may act in a feral or out of control manner at times, and has some extremely anti-social habits (canibalism).

BTW, they are already in hiding; outing them would just make them work harder to hide, it seems to me. With the exception of those who were really going for broke in an all out power play. If they can establish themselves as the center of a power structure that dominates most of society, then they might have a chance to operate out in the open. Given superhuman abilities, they just might be able to pull it off. I see it happening as all out warfare. The first thing they'd go for is the nukes. Because we'd use them to be rid of infested areas, otherwise.

Just my opinions.

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I'm not suggesting that the church (or any organization) would just spontaneously declare vampires as groovy cool folks, but I find it hard to believe that anyone in the first world, in this age of reason and media, could declare a well spoken, wll dressed, immacuatly groomed, and extremely charming matster vampire PR man as an evil monstrosity.

The racial politics Big Guns would come out.  In America especialy- where money talks and everything else walks- vampires could come out of the closet... well, not totally without incident, with certainly not into any kind of bloody all-out war.  Especialy when so many humans would be lining up to join the club.

Basicly, this whole questions hinges on the particular paradigme of vampirism you want to use.  Vamparism as disease, vampirism as a moral affliction, vampires as another breed of creature alltogether.

I think it would be quite cool to describe a world in which vampires are being (uneasily) eased into mortal society.  No more PC satire than the old Alien Nation movie and TV show.  They used space aliens instead of vampires, but the mojo works just as well.  Shadowrun does it with it's metahumans fairly well.  Mad panic followed by buisness as usual.

I always found the notion of a secret society of supernatural creatures fairly stupid anyway.  Just look at what humans do to each other for fun.  I don't think after all the horrors of the last hundred years, seeing a man in sunglasses tell you on CNN that vampires are real, that he is one, and that all they desire is peace and mutual cooperation... and to teach History at major universities... would really upset anyone all that much.

The media would wollow in the 'vampire question' but if the wiley old bastards didn't already have a contingency plan ready to roll with "The Big Revelation" I dobt they could have survived so long.

Check out Kim Newman's Anno Dracula.  Vampires out in the open during Victorian times.  Dracula wins the conflicts of his book, and goes on to become the consort of the queen.  A good read... not great  literature, but fun... especialy for all the inside jokes.



And the Curch has no official position on Vampires.  The RCC is a surprisingly conservative organization where belief in the manifest supernatural is concerned.  


Vampires would make great Catholics.  

All that great angst and guilt.

Mike Holmes

Actually, their "official" position is that there are no such things. Demons, too. Funny that there has been a rise in exorcisms lately.

Take it from a Catholic, the church is a large and more decentralized authority than you might think. And though not many people go staking these days, back in the days of vampire hunting when people did believe in these beings, quite a lot of priests were involved. Given "proof" I'm sure they would again.

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Ron Edwards


I see no Narrativism, not a bit.

I see Situation, tons of it. I see a lot of "what would" discussion, which is often a Simulationist tip-off, but even if not, is still Situation.

I see, across all of these Nar-Vamp threads, a commitment to standards of vampirism (Elders, Sabbat, etc) that are specific to gaming and pop culture rather than primary literature. That in and of itself is not necessarily bad or undesirable - but it seems to me, so far, to be an unconsidered assumption.

The first question in a Narrativist game design is just as Mike stated it for the Egyptian thread, this very day. "What's the issue?" Vampires! Vampires! But that's not an answer.  

I am having a hard time understanding why, when this very example is presented in my essay in detail, this discussion across several threads has veered consistently into Situation and Color rather than Premise, specifically Narrativist Premise, an issue that is relevant to real people in real life. I am harping on this because that mode of play was specifically proposed as the point of this exercise.

I submit this (I'm sure) very unwelcome idea: that no one has presented, either in gaming or in fiction, one single reason that being a vampire is ... interesting, in any way beyond an immediate power-fantasy. Furthermore, it's a loser-fantasy: "Oh, if only people had to fear me!" Case closed. Add reader-interest with liberal doses of fashion, porn, and other retreads of glam-rock (Interview/Lestat), as well as revelling in super-powers (Blade).

Now, perhaps there is some interesting real-life issue or concern raised by vampires-as-protagonists, or that could be raised, that I am not seeing. I would be quite interested to know about it. My claim is (1) that whatever that is, it becomes the point of play and the crux of Situation, Character, Setting, and so forth; (2) that without it, no such discussion may occur of any Narrativist value, no matter how many "what would happen" exchanges fly about; and (3) that whatever that is, it doesn't include the word "vampire" in it.


P.S. Oh. One exception: The Vampire Tapestry, by Suzy McKee Charnas. The best modern-fiction vampire story I've ever read as well as a great novel about relationships, empowerment (and its lack), and therapy as a personality issue. If we were to discuss the issues raised by this book as a basis for an RPG design, then I'm on it. But we won't get there by building elaborate Situations, by commitment to WW setting-concerns (Princes, etc), or by fantasizing about what powers vampires have or don't have.

Mike Holmes


Well, yes, it does really depend on what vampires are like. I'm assuming that, like in most games, vampires under stress go some sort of berzerk, and people die. If this gets reported three times, it'd be construed as problematic by the public, and, like I said, since they are different and technically dead anyhow, they become targets. How can a person be convicted of murdering somebody who's already dead? Also, there's fear of the unknown and of superior beings. Lots of reasons to not like them.

Now, if you want to make vampires as in control as normal people, and willing and able not to kill people, then, yes, they stand a much better chance. Sounds like boring vampires to me.

And, yes, if they control the media that'll make things easier. But eventually word would get out via word of mouth, the internet, other ncontrolled sources, etc about their true nature. I do agree that there would be many lining up for Immortality, they would be recruits in the "war". I should have used that term euphamistically. Makes more sense to compare it to the "war on drugs". "Vampirism, just say no". Or possibly something between gang war and civil war. Shooting, but a semblance of society.

Lots of ways to go. Ian, what appeals?

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Er... Thanks Ron...

I believe the issue here is not the creation of a narritivist vampire game... but rather the creation of a whole world of situation in which to set said narritivist vampire game.  The uber-kicker.  

You can lay this kicker over just about any setting/color/premise you desire... unless you go in for that boggyman of narritivism- ambiguity of setting.  


Why are vampires- in any form or remix- any less intreting that any of the other tot and trivolity of fiction or fantasy?  Any less intresting that someone who wields magic, or knows the future, or travels in time, or talks to demons, or reads minds, or foils the plots of master mind villians?

If all you want is character conflict, play the Jane Austin RPG or My Normal Week rpg.  Like it or not, an element of power fantasy is inherent in just about everything we do- even in situations where comicly inferior characters play it out.  The stories in RPG's almost always dwell in extremes as compared to real life.  The fraction of a percent of real people with RPG lives ballanced against all of us who get a kick out of pretending on the weekends.  

I'd like to hear a narritivist scheme for vampires which satisfies Ron's standards for intrest.  

But anywho II

Figure a middle of the road vampire mojo.  They vary pretty widely (like people).  Some are psychos, some are buisnessmen, some are regular people with unusual lives.  Sometimes, they freak out (but far less frequently than do  humans in general).  Figure most of their worst habits are cultural rather than inherent... and you have an intresting situation to explore.  

And what about Dracula?

His name and likeness have been used without his premission for a hundres years.   His name defamed.  Huge proffits have been wrought from his persona, and he has never seen a dime of it.  Someone is going to get the hell sued out of them.

Ron Edwards


My question still stands, I'm afraid. It's not an issue of whether other sorts of protagonists are interesting, nor is it an issue of whether power-fantasies are good or bad. Your dismissal of "character conflict" is glib and empty - without character conflict, there is no story. Lajos Egri is completely correct in his assertions that (1) character passions must be invoked and (2) audience members must be engaged with those passions. Otherwise, no story.

The issue is whether we have a Premise or not. I do not see one.

And yes, we are talking about Narrativist design. It's in the heading of the thread, and in that context, all Kicker-talk or other-talk is moot unless Premise is dealt with. If Ian wants to tell us, "Oh, whoops, I said Narrativist but I didn't mean it," then he can and my posts here are irrelevant. He hasn't done that yet.

It is fun and easy to speculate imaginatively about settings. That does not, however, serve the question at hand.



Quote from: Ron Edwards
My question still stands, I'm afraid. It's not an issue of whether other sorts of protagonists are interesting, nor is it an issue of whether power-fantasies are good or bad. Your dismissal of "character conflict" is glib and empty - without character conflict, there is no story. Lajos Egri is completely correct in his assertions that (1) character passions must be invoked and (2) audience members must be engaged with those passions. Otherwise, no story.

I hate to be the guy who does the snip-n-bitch thing, but I think we're talking at cross purposes here.  I want to make sure I answer specificly what has been put forth, and not read too much into it.  

First off, I don't dismiss character conflict.  It is esential... but not enough to make a game worth playing.  My point was, boil all the fantasy out of gaming, and I for one will seek elsewhere for intresting things to do.  No matter how narritivist a game becomes, it isn't writing or even stage.  It is something else entirely.  Unique.  I think one can take any of the 'isims' far enough to reduce this esential difference to the point where reading a book, playing a board game, or reainacting civil war battles would be a more rewarding passtime.  But this is neither here nor there.

I find vampires no less intresting than space men or sword men or any other character mojo.  Frankly, I like vampire games for the same reason I like vampire movies- it's fun to see how someone new handles the old standards.  

but all this aside, on to the meat of the matter:

QuoteThe issue is whether we have a Premise or not. I do not see one.

Indead, we have situation.  I was hoping from the dialogue this thread would generate(in addition to the chuckles I have speculating) just that.  

hang on... let me refresh my memory... oh, hell let me just quote again:

QuoteExploration and its child, Premise
The best term for the imagination in action, or perhaps for the attention given the imagined elements, is Exploration. Initially, it is an individual concern, although it will move into the social, communicative realm, and the commitment to imagine the listed elements becomes an issue of its own.

When a person perceives the listed elements together and considers Exploring them, he or she usually has a basic reaction of interest or disinterest, approval or disapproval, or desire to play or lack of such a desire. Let’s assume a positive reaction; when it occurs, whatever prompted it is Premise, in its most basic form. To re-state, Premise is whatever a participant finds among the elements to sustain a continued interest in what might happen in a  role-playing session. Premise, once established, instils the desire to keep that imaginative commitment going.

Person 1: “You play vampires in the modern day, trying to stay secret from the cattle and coping with other vampires.” [See atmospheric, grim, punky-goth pictures]

Person 2: “Ooh! Cool!”

Person 2 might have liked the grittiness of the art, the romance of the word “vampire,” or the idea of being involved in a secret mystical intrigue. Or maybe none of these and an entirely different thing. Or maybe all of them at once. It doesn’t matter – whatever it was, that’s the initial Premise for this person.

Premise is a metagame concern, wholly different from the listed elements. They are the imagined (Explored) content of the role-playing experience, and Premise is the real-person, real-world interest that instils and maintains a person’s desire to have that experience. At this early point, though, Premise is vague and highly personal, as it is only the embryo of the real Premise. The real Premise exists as a clear, focused question or concern shared among all members of the group. The initial Premise only takes shape and shared-focus when we move to the next chapter.

Ian hit us with a "hey, how about..."  and to be honest, my problem isn't finding a permise... it's limiting my reaction to only a single one.  But I imagine you are asking for the second type of premise- not the embryonic personal one backing up the 'oh cool'.  

So what this offers is a huge situation- a global situation- with as many possible reactions as there are kinds of people.  So the premise could be as simple as "where do you stand?"

This has several major points in it's favor:

It applies to everyone active in the setting human or otherwise

It creates factions, rifts, and conflict between individuals and ideologies.

Eventualy it will mutate into a more advanced premise:  "So, what are you going to do about it?"

As for the "why vampires" issue...

They typicaly look and more or less act human, allowing meaningful social interaction and non-violent areans or conflict.  They also would have been able to blend in up until the uber-kicker event.

They have/are reputed to have bad habbits, unsavory apetites, and a certain dangerous glamour.

They are easy to reinvent to fit exactly the level of "us vs them" conflict you wish to generate.

There is a huge volume of metaphorical ground to be retrod with them- vampire as rapist to vampire as ultamate symbol of rebellion.  I'm not much one for this kind of thing, but some people seem to enjoy it.

Erm, yes.  I think I've hit my points.  

And my question still reamins.  Ron, how would you produce a narritivist vampire premise which you find intresting?


Ron Edwards


Not much time ... must reply very fast and follow up tomorrow morning.

The solution is:
1) Provide a vampire with the necessity to rely on people.
2) Provide people with the necessity to rely on a vampire.

In other words, provide a situation that breaks up the usual predator-prey, pick one & play it model.

Now, the situation that's been presented can do this. The next question is whether that's the priority of the design. If so, then we have Narrativist-style-Premise-facilitating design aesthetic, hence Narrativist design for short.

That has been my sole point all along. No one has been talking about this. Saying, "Well, you can or could do that with this situation" isn't good enough, in my opinion. I'd like to see some meat, and not just retreads about Elders and territories and Sabbats and all that pop crap.


Ian Freeman

Quote from: Bailywolf
Ian hit us with a "hey, how about..."  and to be honest, my problem isn't finding a permise... it's limiting my reaction to only a single one.  But I imagine you are asking for the second type of premise- not the embryonic personal one backing up the 'oh cool'.  

So what this offers is a huge situation- a global situation- with as many possible reactions as there are kinds of people.  So the premise could be as simple as "where do you stand?"

Yes, this was essentially what I was going for. A situation that would provide great opportunity for the examination of a given premise, without providing a solid one. I'll concede to Ron here that it does not yet match a definition for narrativism.

What this does do, on the other hand, is provide a Situation that will serve to greatly magnify the conflict inherent in any premise. It can move the premise from solely existing in the microcosm to the macrocosm as well.

The stereotypical example: "Fighting for your humanity." Take this premise and shove it into the situation I descrbied above and now you have a populace aware of this internal struggle and not such a character but an entire world trying to deal with it. To me, this does not cheapen the struggle at all but rather gives the author/gm/player another canvas (the world) to work with. It's sort of like paathetic fallacy (Except not). Not only can it be used to further reveal the premise, but to heigten it's intensity in the player. Running a rack (or hunting) will be drastically changed by a populace who knows your doing it.

Now... let's look for some narrativist premises for this exact. Before chucking out a bunch of ideas, I'll address what Ron said:

Quote from: Ron Edwards
The solution is:
1) Provide a vampire with the necessity to rely on people.
2) Provide people with the necessity to rely on a vampire.

Let's set up the bank to eliminate the predator and play model. The Bank has allowed vampires to "file off their fangs", in a certain sense. They get 3 units of blood fed-exed to them every week and so don't necessarrily need to feed. Then the revelation happens. Now, vampire can't rely on the banks support because they have been shut down by all the governments.

And, vampire are not _that_ much more potent thatn humans. They live forever, their tough and smart but are still vulnerable. Humans are now aware of vampires, making hunting and killing even more difficult. Actually killing people has become a frightfully dangerous task.

So where do they turn for blood? That;s tough. But thet have to rely on someone, and the only people they can rely on are the ones with the blood that will sustain them. Vampirekind must turn to humanity, they must rely on them to survice. And humanity must somehow allow themselves to feed these "leechs". We know have the necessitty of vampires relying on people, whether on the grand political scale ("we will buy your blood!"), or the personal (begging neighbours for just one sip).

How can we get people to rely on vampires? There are more options than the above. I will go with something relatively simple: drinking vampire blood. Perhaps this will heal humanity. Maybe it can heal AIDS. It has some sort of restorative property to humans. Now humanity (caught in the throws of an epidemic) must ask vampires to heal and save them. But what price will the vampires demand. We get the opposite of the vampires here, with relatives asking to be cured and governments willing to trade for blood.

Now I think we have something. Two sides of a conflict (remember it's just been revealed that these things actually exist) that must now rely on one another for something very important: life. Humanity must prey on vampires, and vampires must prey on humanity. But it's not that simple once things are in the open, because everyone knows now and murder is a hard thing to get away with.

It might help to "up the ante", by ensuring that when a vampire loses blood they lose something dear. How about, they store their memories in their blood and to lose blood is to lose part of your very self. Vampires would have a very good reason to refuse to help.

I think now, we may have something closer to a truly narrativist premise which, as martha stewart would put it, is a good thing.

Other Possible Little things:
I think you can tell a great story (regardless of whether it is a capital N narrativist deal or no) even without the above addition. Take this for example:

Now that there is no Bank all the vampires wandering around are now free to use their superior talents to actually do some good. So why do they wake up every morning (night): Because if they played their cards right yesterday, the world just might be a better place. I think that's something we can all get.

Ian Freeman
"Dr. Joyce looks profoundly unconvinced (I don't blame him really, this is all a pack of lies)"  -- Iain Banks, The Bridge