The Hunger is about as close to the ideal of Vampire: the Masquerade as you can get. Nightclubs! Gratuitous Bauhaus! Lesbian kiss! The aesthetic is spot on: it looks and feels like early Vampire art, or rather early Vampire art looks and feels like this film. V:tM may have come out in 1991 but it’s rooted firmly in the 1980s and the vampire chic this film defined. The Hunger will dump the vibe of the game right between the eyes and it’s as close as I dare come to “must-watch.”
V:tM’s Gehenna concept is heavily mirrored/inspired by the novel Queen of the Damned, which was adapted for film around the time Gehenna was actually happening and the line was coming to a close – so watch that too. The Hunger defines where V:tM came from, all Eighties post-punk writhing – this chuggy post-industrial apocalypse-glam perfectly sums up where it’s going.
THE META TAKE
Shadow of the Vampire is about a vampire playing a vampire in the first vampire movie. In a weird way I think that’s perfect for the sense of the Masquerade, hiding in plain sight, preying on the worst instincts of humanity and encouraging them to let you get away with all the awful things you want to do. In microcosm, it’s the perfect analogy for the “vampires secretly run society” vibe.
(It may help if you’ve seen Nosferatu too – either the 1922 original or the 1979 remake. I personally like the 1979 – it’s beautifully composed and, well, Isabelle Adjani. My God.)
GATHERING DATA ON VARIOUS OF BASTARDS
Depending on what type of vampire you want to be (and I’m going with V5’s categories here), I recommend at least one of the following:
Thinbloods lend themselves well to the What We Do In The Shadows conceit of vampire flatmates (or The Carmilla Movie, I suspect, but I haven’t seen that one). They’re millennial and Gen Z vampires; all the power and resources are concentrated in the hands of previous generations, so they pretty much have to bind together and find something else to enjoy in life, ’cause they’re never going to be powerful in the conventional sense. Thinblood games are low power, a bit domestic, and often the closest to “normal life but we happen to be vampires and bigger vampires try to kick our heads in occasionally.”
Neonates are your classic Gen X eighties/nineties vampire movie – The Lost Boys. Still weak enough that they’re better off standing together, strong enough that they can afford to be a bit cocky around humans. Probably share a sire, mentor, authority figure of some sort and should probably be working on his agenda once they’ve finished prowling the boardwalks and clubland at night. They’re a step further removed from society, but they can pretend to be human for an hour or two if they really try. Also, this is the other one that was in the air and influential when V:tM first came to be – along with The Hunger, I’d recommend it as the closest to a must-watch.
Ancillae (the upper reaches of age and power offered by the V5 corebook) are more your Interview With The Vampire kind of deal. You’ve lived a long life, your adventuring days are behind you, and now you’re something of a mover and a shaker – you’re probably permitted or at least not prevented from siring and you’re looking to give someone the choice you never had. Modernity gives you a headache but at least you can work a smartphone four times out of five. Ancillae games are a nice balance between “you’re powerful” and “you still have to answer to someone”.
If you’re extending into Inconnu territory, settle down with a small glass of something and enjoy one of my favourite films ever, Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s a slow story, and not a lot happens, but that’s elders for you. They become introverted. They fall into a groove. They keep to each others’ company. It’s beautiful and haunting until some clueless childe comes along and screws it all up for them and they have to admit what they really are.
Want to figure out the Sabbat? Watch (or read) 30 Days of Night and thank me later. The vampires there are getting away with something horrible because they’ve fallen through the cracks in the world. They act alpha-predator but they still live on the fringe or civilisation, the little savages.
It would be deeply remiss of me not to talk about Underworld, the film series transparently inspired by V:tM,.to the point where lawyers were involved. Underworld reflects V:tM at its most “gamery”, its most superheroes-with-fangs – all custom weapons, trenchcoats and corsets, fighting werewolves in the dark, flashing back to the Middle Dark Ages and preoccupied with impenetrable why-does-this-matter world-building.
It sits at the end of that tendency toward Desert Eagles, katanas, Dragonsbreath rounds and C4 appearing on every character sheet that found its way into V:tM’s DNA from Shadowrun, along with the penchant for dice pool mechanics and wearing sunglasses indoors. I dislike that sort of game and I’m not mad keen on Underworld either (although Bill Nighy is a delight in any role where he gets to fight things, bless him) but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this sort of thing is also peak V:tM.
WAIT, THIS ISN’T VAMPIRES!
V:tM is synonymous with politics and backstabbing, and there isn’t in my opinion a vampire movie that really hits that. Thing is, Mark Rein-Hagen apparently loves Mafia movies, and the sense of the Mafioso as outlaw “protector” and power broker from the shadows, bound by a tradition of secrecy and self-regulation, goes right down into the roots of V:tM. Hence: The Godfather. (I’m open for other recommendations along these lines, if anyone has any: classic Mafia films are not my strong point.)
YOUR OWN PERSONAL
What are your top three non-vampire films? Why? That’s as good a way to start finding your feet as Storyteller as any – interrogate your own taste, know yourself, and discover from that what kinds of stories you enjoy. Now grab some friends and ask them the same question. Wherever you find an overlap in your tastes, that’s something that’s worth focusing on in your game.
Why “no vampire films” rule? Because “being a vampire” in and of itself doesn’t make a story (unless it’s a quiet, short one like Only Lovers Left Alive, but in RPG terms, that’s a one-off and definitely not a chronicle). V:tM works because it fuses vampires-as-protagonists with something else, be it cyberpunk style action thriller or gloomy crime drama or whatever it is you like.
Mine, discounting the one I’ve already gushed about up the line, are Rocknrolla, Franklyn, and In The Loop. My games run on generally have a couple of seemingly indestructible SPCs nobody likes and a dark secret that can absolutely take them down, someone WILL have an impenetrable regional accent, there will be convoluted political scrambling that nobody entirely understands (but someone who moves fast enough can come out on top through sheer bastardry)…
… but there’s also a layer of exaggerated Gothickry over everything, neuratypical characters will perceive the world very differently, vengeance and trauma will drive the major players and love may conquer all but you’ll have to lose a lot to get there.
None of this is essential to V:tM but it’s what makes my V:tM different from A. N. Other Storyteller’s, and it’s important to figure out your own taste. People often expect an RPG to come ready-made and ready-to-go (“We’re playing the Lost Mines of Phandelver”) and Vampire, at its best, is a bit more bespoke. Asking players about their taste in media is one way to start that tailoring process, making your V:tM something a bit different from everyone else’s and getting into that transformative stuff that makes RPGs so gosh-darn amazing.