The first is the ongoing drip-drip-drip of "where are the rules for X in V5", where X is dual-wielding or grappling or exactly how many Arms of Ahriman you can summon in a turn - granular, realism-concerned, justice-model stuff that V5 as a system doesn't care about and (I thought) was pretty explicit about not caring about. But I guess gamers gonna game, and bring their assumptions about what a game needs with them.
The second is Olivia Hill being, as per, annoyingly smart and insightful about vocabulary.
I am pretty hardline on having a clear, readable-at-a-glance indication of how a systemic element works - a flowchart, a boxout, an IF-AND-THEN sort of statement with very clear operators/decision points - because when I'm in the middle of playing I don't want to allocate cognitive effort to parsing rules text. Gotta see it, it's gotta make sense, I've gotta make the call. So I do like a pure-crunch summary of how something works.
But I also like and grok what Olivia is on about. The vocabulary a game uses states what it's about, and that statement needs to carry forward into how it works. A separation between the authorial claim and the played experience is a failure of design. And that got me thinking. How would I write and describe some simple bits of RPG system, and what would that say about how the system worked and what it was for and what it was about?
So I've had a go at some atomic stuff - time measurement and conflict resolution. What do these systems say about what kind of game this might be?
Time is measured like this.
You have the Moment - that’s what's happening right now. You live in the Moment. Life is a series of Moments. You can be given a Moment, you can take a Moment, you can have a Moment.
Then you have the Sesh. It’s what’s happening to you and your characters today. You’re playing this game, and something decisive should happen while you’re doing it so that your characters accomplish something while you’re playing.
Then you have the Mish. It’s what your characters are currently working toward; the long-term point of things. A Mish usually takes more than one Sesh to sort out. Think about organising a game: that’s a Mish. It takes a Sesh of planning and prepping, a Sesh (or at least a Moment) of furious instant messaging while you try to work out what day everyone’s free, and then a Sesh of actually playing.AGGRO
There seems to be demand on the ST Vault for <i>novels</i> of all things, and I kind of have the bare bones, at least, of a two-hundred-year soap opera spanning three generations of horrible Venetian necromancers. Is there, I wonder, a novel in there? One that I could actually sell, for money?
I don't know. I probably shouldn't be taking on more side projects. I'm... not exactly overwhelmed, but I'm aware that I have a registration to research draft due this month, and that Vampire textbook chapter at the end, plus a pantomime to direct and act in (and build sets for and check up on costuming for and aaaaa), and the small matter of needing to write a minimum of three articles a week to earn an acceptable living (or two and a couple of proofs to break even). And then, by the end of February, the writeup of my transmedia Frankenstein paper from last year. And the final registration due at the end of March. It's a lot of plates to keep spinning. I can do the work, but prioritising day to day is a bit nerve-wracking.
So of course I've also decided to do the #hobby300 on m'social media (mostly Twitter and Instagram). Basically, I solemnly swear that I will spend at least 300 days of this year "doing hobby" - something that pertains to a tabletop wargame. For me, that currently means finally painting up my backlog of Vampire Counts models - a Ghoul unit I've had primed for what feels like five years, the Zombie Dragon my good pal Jimmy gave me a couple of years ago, and the assortment of rare characters I eBay sniped for and then sat on for ever and a day. And a second Black Coach.
It's all in a good cause - I mean, it's something to do which involves sitting on my fat duff in a different room than usual - and it means they'll be ready for a tournament I'm going to in March. I wanted to take my new Tomb Kings army, but they're shaping up to be just as brittle as the old models, and it's an awful lot of painting, whereas the core of the Vampire Counts army is already done... and there's a treacherous little voice suggesting that maybe if I had a bigger collection of Vampire Counts stuff I could actually play big games without having to scrape... Basically, I've got buyer's remorse there, like I do with three quarters of the hobby stuff I buy. I just like buying models and putting them together and selling them on: that's been almost all I've done since 2015.
I dunno. But the point is it's another commitment. Another plate in the air. I can hold it together, but come March I'm gonna fall on my ass for a week. No more side projects. Stuff that spins out from core activity. Gotta get some control back. At least if I'm selling a short novel on the Vault it should actually make me some money...
What is a blanket box?
That's Vandal and this is Nadia. They're both ghouls - which is to say semi-useful servants hooked on vampire blood - and they're bit-part players from a video game called Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines. They're fucking horrible.
Also, there are some vampires.
Lesbian vampire political thriller! Not that kind of lesbian vampires! I'm not like that I swear!
Author's easier. Terry Pratchett is possibly the single biggest influence on me as a writer, and reader, and human being. I don't always try to write like him, but I try to think like him - keep that focus on the self-interest of the wicked, the banality of evil, the indifference of a non-interventionist God.
I want more fiction about established couples, who are together and have been through some Times and have their ups and downs but are still either together or, if they have to break up, have established how to still be friends. Not romance as prize, not romance as the entire point of the story, but romance as part of the story's texture and meaning; just like life. And people fuck sometimes, just like they get into fights sometimes, but what's important isn't the graphic details of those sometimes but how people react to them.
Pacing and control. At the moment I write things and when I have something that feels like a chapter it gets posted. I did have a much more coherent outline, once upon a time, but I've fallen back into that RPG mode of setting up a situation and letting the characters surprise me. The last chapter and the next are both lacking in coherence, as a result. I'm going to stick with it for the time being, but the next story - 'And Now He Is The Prince Of Darkness' - is going to be more planned up front.
FIRST — The first two sentences of my current project.
LAST — The most recently written two sentences of my current project.
NEXT — The next line, meaning I will finish the sentence I'm on and write a new one, which you’ll get.
[insert prompt here] — You post a prompt, and I'll write three sentences based on that prompt, set in the same time/setting as my current project.
THE END — I'll make up an ending, or post the ending if I've written it.
BEFORE THE BEGINNING — Three sentences (or more) about something that happened before the plot of my current project.
POV — Something that's already happened, retold from another character's perspective.
Meme provided by journalmemes, found via delphi.
Before The Storm's second episode was almost pitch-perfect and spoke directly to elements of one's own life; its third was a total fucking trainwreck, and between that and Farewell I went back and watched the Eurogamer playthrough of the original game, which I still haven't finished because it makes me bawl my bloody eyes out and I suck at the stealth bits.
Anyway, while I was processing all these feelings there was a chance moment at which Rachel talked about "watching the sun go down on Santa Monica Pier" and I went "hmm", because I've played Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines a few times over the years and spent a lot of time in video game Santa Monica as a result. And I'd already statted up Rachel, Max and Chloe as Mage: the Awakening characters, I think because reducing them down to their archetypes helped me get a handle on why I was so affected by them.
And that remark caught me, and I had a couple of weeks off work, and the chapters just kept coming. Gradually, it turned into a low-key, medium-slow-burn story about masters and servants - or rather, domitors and regnants, or vampires and ghouls. A series of relationships, mostly F/F, which were characterised by a distinct inequality in power and the dubcon elements that come along with vampire blood addiction and various kinds of vampire mind-whammy.
The original story was called Prisoners Of Our Own Device and I kept going with it until the day job put me on a retainer that was supposed to be for two months and turned into five. Strangely enough, cranking out six thousand words a week on three or four different topics left me disinclined to write more in my spare time. I'd also run into some problems with my planned direction for the material: it was going to be something a bit more rooted in the broader World of Darkness, and a bit more of a mirror of what happened in Life Is Strange's first season, and it was going to put Rachel in the fridge, and - basically, it wasn't going to work.
The abortive attempts at making it work became Fall Guys Tumble On The Cutting-Room Floor, because I don't exactly hate any of the material I wrote. It's all... reasonably well executed. Just poorly conceived.
After another month or so I started out again, leaving the cliffhanger ending of Prisoners hanging and starting a new story of similar length - like episode two of a BBC serial or the second series of a traditional British Brevity telly show. Phony People, Come To Prey weaves those relationships I'd made my priority into a different kind of story - a political thriller/police procedural/underworld drama kind of deal which is influenced by and influences the relationships but isn't directly instigated by them. It's also an attempt for me to feel my way through what the new tabletop edition of Vampire: the Masquerade is trying to do, returning to this kind of intimate street-level storytelling that doesn't allow you to forget that your characters are vampires and do vampirism. They drink blood, they cultivate prey to get the kind of blood they want, and they're only not hungry when they kill.
The rest of the fic is roughly outlined, in that I know what the remaining works are going to be about and I've worked out which songs and lyrics are going to form the chapter structures.
Now He Is The Prince of Darkness will take us back to Arcadia Bay, to see what Max has been up to in this heavily divergent timeline, and to see how even a couple of Kindred can totally change the course of a small town's history. I don't mind saying that it'll explore some ships I sort of ship but didn't originally think I'd ever end up writing.
Faces Come Out Of The Rain will bring Max - and potentially a few other people - to LA and into the orbit of Chloe, Rachel and all the other nonsense. It will also see us getting to know a few of my Vampire OCs, since people seem interested in them and their stories are compatible with VTMB's setting. I'm not ruling off a spinoff story (On Such A Winter's Day) which will dig into their backstories a little more. It's not as if I have a two hundred year soap opera about these characters sketched out in my goddamn memory or anything.
And The Rainbow Rises Here - the thrilling conclusion - will introduce a genuine, dangerous, absolute antagonist, and force the characters to reconsider their divided loyalties and finally make a choice about where their allegiances lie. I'm half tempted to go all out and introduce Dontnod's spiritual successor to Bloodlines and Redemption (look, they can hide behind plausible deniability but we all know they went through Activision's bins and snapped up every bit of non-copyrightable terminology, theme and atmosphere for Vampyr). It's that or another of my OCs and I'm genuinely not sure which is wankier.
Justin Achilli went above and beyond, writing a good fifth of the paper for me. He also asked if it could be shared around. Couldn't really say no after all he'd done, so here it is.
I've been sitting on your "tell me what you think of what WW is doing" request for weeks because, hey, I'm an academic, I sit on ideas for weeks until they're properly cooked (and old news, irrelevant, opportunity lost, position already filled etc.). And because I didn't want to go off about aspects of the content - I imagine you've heard more than enough of that and I don't actually think it's the biggest deal with V5 and the brand's future direction. Here's what I think is more important.
1. Marshal your information. V5's core book fails. It fails as a game manual because it can't be read at a glance - it's impenetrable, information sprawls to and fro across many pages, it leads with a clutter of in-universe text that doesn't start with What This Game Is About and How It Works. It fails as a coffee table book because it's so wildly inconsistent in its internal style, because the art assets don't necessarily illustrate what's on on the same page, because the super stylish Ventrue-type dude sat in the Dominate throne isn't wearing his suit properly and has his flies undone. It looks like a collection of art assets thrown together by a sixth form media class, rather than a coherent aesthetic project. And it fails as a setting bible because it relies on you having at least some familiarity with who these canonical characters are, or some willingness to read between the lines and guess. If you're using this book to pitch White Wolf IP to time-poor media execs, they're not going to read it.
How do you fix that? Readable at a glance needs to be written on the inside of your designers' eyes. Ditch the traditional column layout, stop having text break across columns and pages in the middle of words, focus on corralling each concept onto a two-page spread. Two pages should be more than enough to outline eight Predator types (look at how Warhammer Fantasy Role Play does careers) or the basic process of character creation (look at how Call of Cthulhu walks you around the sheet with those little sideboxes that give you the basics and a page reference for the deets) or all the rules for a Discipline if you exercise some discipline in the writing. If an infographic will get your point across, use it: that's a fat sight more innovative than the white on black graphic-design-is-my-passion stuff. And I know there's probably a drive to use those art assets from this project or that and get some value out of them, but use them to illustrate (as in 'serve an example of' rather than 'adorn with pictures') a point.
2. Be more meta. You're trying to court a new audience - people who watch the LA By Night streams or another actual play and then come into running an RPG for what might be the first time. That means you have to tell them how. Vampire used to be good at this (on Justin Achilli's watch, with early Revised edition, it was great at this), but I think the new team have gone for a sort of cryptic, mysterious, "make your own fun" kind of deal - nah. People want to be assured that they're doing it right. It's a game. Provide clear instructions for playing it. And people want transparency, too - in my day job I'm a content marketer and I'm forever hearing and saying "be transparent, state your values and show how you abide by them, show your working, set terms for success and smash them". Transparency is honest and clear and it reassures people.
And I think that reassurance is important, because you're working with a divided audience here. You've got the grognards on the one hand, who've played V20 and are banging on the desk demanding to know when the Baali are back and whether Tzimisce will have Protean. But you've also got a more interesting and vibrant and forward-looking audience, the kids I write and storytell for. They're in their late teens and early twenties, most of them are bisexual, a lot of them are trans, and they've only ever played VTM Bloodlines and maybe some dodgy text-only V20 over Discord. They hate themselves, they hate being alive, their entire culture is a series of excuses for self-deprecation and lust filtered through desperate loneliness. The number one compliment they pay each other is "you are valid" - they want to be told they are doing it right. And they're so goddamn creative, and they love Vampire, even if they don't wallow in the same kind of "but this is the world of DARKNESS!!!1!" that the 4chan edgelords do. Their world is dark. It's hopeless. They work three jobs, they go to college, and there's no guarantee that they'll be free at the end of it, so they dress up like punk mimes and fuck each other because they need that performative defiance to stay sane. And in doing that, they find some hope. They're Carmilla, they're Only Lovers Left Alive, they're What We Do In The Shadows... Revised edition used to say "here are some recommended media for our game" and I think you could go further than that, say "hey, the coterie domains are engineered for playing vampire couples or vampire flatmates like in that thing you watched". Reassure people. Tell them they're valid. They don't get to hear that enough.
I know - because I can read between lines - that the thinbloods in V5 are perfect vehicles for the kind of Darkness these kids bring to the World. Someone you've had on the WW team knows that, that's why the thinbloods have gender-swapping alchemy and why the Anarch book has characters who could be from this generation. But the kids don't know that, because they're not being told that. The book isn't telling them that, the marketing isn't telling them that: WW only speaks up when it's saying "um actually we're not Nazis", doing brand control, and these kids are suspicious. They have to be to survive. To get them on board properly you need to be open and honest and state "this game is safe for you, these characters are there for you, we made them because we recognise the vampire metaphor and the cultural landscape have changed in the last thirty years and this is our crack at making that a part of our World of Darkness." That's all they want. To be told this game is for them, and not just against the people who hate them (but who still seem to hang around the Facebook pages...)
3. Stick to your guns. Let's end on a positive. Mechanically, and thematically, V5 is great. It's the best the game has ever been; it's finally tearing away from some baseline ideas about what a roleplaying game needs to do, by bringing in abstract combat instead of blow by blow simulationism, and by the Hunger/Resonance/Dyscracia mechanics that put the act of feeding front and centre and say "actually you can farm XP if you put the effort into cultivating the prey that you want", because that's what vampires do. They do vampirism. This is the first edition of Vampire where I've actually felt like my character is a vampire rather than an RPG protagonist who happens to drink blood sometimes. Recentring on the Camarilla clans in the core, bringing the Independents into the sects, that's all good stuff, it gives the 'indies' a broader purpose and fleshes out the Ashirra and the Anarchs and it feels like Bloodlines Plus Extras, which is after all how a lot of newbies understand Vampire. Losing the stupid "elder Disciplines" was great - elders are scary because they've had shitloads of XP to spend and they have more Blood Potency than you, not because of some mysterious 'epic spells' that you can only get at 'level seven', which is how Generation used to feel, especially when players learned how diablerie works.
But please, for the love of all that's holy, stick to your guns. You will get people stamping their feet demanding the return of comprehensive "but this gun should work differently to that gun" combat, and crying out for their favourite niche bloodline that does nothing but steal design space from a more rounded and fulfilling concept that's in the core of the game, and demanding more books like Chicago By Night that sound off all the old lore and talks about all the old characters and puts loads of fifth and sixth generation characters back into play - because what they want is V20 all over again, another edition of that thing they already own three editions of. V20 was great, but it was about Vampire's past. V5 needs to be about the future.
And yes, obviously, I'd like to be involved. This is a pitch as well as a series of opinions. I'd sell someone else's kidneys to get near the Hecata and finally do Venice By Night (properly, without a stupid invisible skyscraper in the middle of the city), and I could bring a couple of talented illustrators in with me. I've done the academic work on Vampire (my entire academic career started because Victorian Age Vampire came out when I was at an impressionable age and hit me between the eyes with its "this is a literary storytelling game" premise). I'm currently writing the definitive "Vampire and its Gothic" chapter for a cornerstone academic publisher. I know Vampire - not in the same way that people like Matthew do, where they've memorised facts and joined the dots and hoarded the books and laid down the canon, but in terms of theme and tone and context and what it's about and what it can do - and I love Vampire and I want it to thrive and grow.
Which, I'd hope, makes two of us.
It's been a long time. Don't tell anyone, but I was actually first generation Dreamwidth; I set up my stand here back in 2009 and it all feels... oddly like nothing's changed. Except for me. I've changed a lot. I don't want to dwell on the whys and wherefores because I've deleted and purged so much nonsense related to those years. That's why I'm on a new account, see, so I don't look back at the trailing bogroll of old content and think "crikey, what a lot of shite I used to post." Suffice it to say that I was horribly depressed, alienated, sick and finally broken - but then I started to get a life and a proper academic career and things generally improved and I realised that, to be honest, I should have been on Dreamwidth all along. I should have stayed here. By fans, for fans, friendly to acafans.
Also, Tumblr shat the bed while we were all still in it. But that's been a long time coming. The point is I'm here now, back where I belong, posting all-new lots of shite. A lot of it will be about vampires. Some of it will be about my PhD, which is not in fact about vampires (but a lot of my side projects are, and so's my fanfic). Occasionally some of it will be about semi-obscure Doctor Who spinoffs. And sometimes it might be about personal stuff, like how today's my birthday and I am this day thirty-three years of age: which is awkward, because I'd always say I'd kill myself once I'd outlived Jesus, so I'm actually sad as balls today. BUT NEVER MIND THAT.