by: Belladonna for Sanguinus Curae
After years of dealing with what seems like a pandemic inability for the average player to comprehend the world their vampire lives in, it has occurred to me that this simply may arise from a basic difference between the vampire world the characters inhabit and the mortal world we live in. To those of us that are advocates of historical understanding and are well-versed in past systems of social and governmental conduct, this game and its internal structure seems to be child's play to understand - but for the average denizen of our modern world, it may be a completely foreign concept. Hopefully, with the following essay, I can draw parallels and contradictions between the two systems that will alleviate some of the misunderstanding and aid players in managing characters within the game environment.
For all but a very few people that may be exposed to this game - personal freedoms and rights are a matter of course. As we march boldly into the new millennium, this basic concept has become so ingrained in our global and national consciousness that most of us don't even think about it. The right to speak freely, be counted as a unique and valuable individual, and have the freedom to make decisions for ourselves is taken for granted as inalienable.
Fascism: a political system based on a very powerful leader, state control and extreme pride in country and race, and in which political opposition is not allowed.
Monarchy: A monarchy is a country which has a king or queen.
Dictator: A dictator is someone with complete power in a country, esp. when the power is achieved by force.
There are NO inalienable rights in Kindred society save those granted by a liberal interpretation of the Six Traditions. Even those can be taken away by your superiors at their whim. The entire system is created by and supports the oppression of the weak by the power of the strong.
In modern mortal society, the ability to be rude and socially unacceptable is an unfortunate byproduct of the first misconception detailed above. People can do or say what they want to whomever they want - within the limits of laws that have virtually nothing to do with social convention. Our society prides itself on not dictating by law any conventions of thought, behavior, or performance - which is part of the reason our modern society sucks in so many ways. But that is how it is.
Kindred Truth: Etiquette is mandatory.
Among Kindred, etiquette is the ONLY convention that keeps the entire system from degenerating into a chaotic miasma of demigods battling it out tooth and claw for dominance, and laying waste to the entire system in the process. Etiquette is the drum to which the entire system marches, and it is expected of virtually every member of the society. The conventions of this etiquette are dictated by the old - so naturally those conventions reflect an older or seemingly archaic system of values as well. 'Period' fiction and movies that portray eras prior to 1850 are perfect examples of the sort of etiquette we speak of in action, and should be absorbed by anyone even thinking of trying to play in this setting.
In our modern mortal society, one can expect to live a fairly consequence-ridden life if one chooses to ignore what conventions there are. If you are a rude bastard, that is your right - but you won't have any friends. If you break the law, you will (probably) be caught and punished. If you don't work, you will probably go hungry. This is something almost every sane member of society understands. In role playing systems, many of them HAVE no such consequences. The characters may do largely as they please, and all consequences are reduced to an 'Us versus Them' circumstance. Social convention is ignored in favor of personal pursuit and gain, and you can get away with anything if the dice favor you.
In the Kindred world, consequences for everything the character does hinge on the mood and opinion of those immediately above them on the social ladder - and those dictators of custom and providence are NOT nice people concerned about the welfare of every individual. Everything your character does will have a consequence of some kind, and in this system it is determined moment by moment by those above and around you - NOT by an impersonal and static system of laws.
It is illegal to murder someone in almost every social system that exists - but even murderers are still considered to have a right to life by many conventions of law. Thou shalt not kill is as ingrained and taken for granted by (at least) North American society, that death by violent means comes as a horrible and debilitating shock. Consider the horror and outrage that follows any example of murder, mass murder, mass suicide, or even sanctioned killing such as warfare. There is the depth of pervasiveness of this convention of thought.
Life is a cheap commodity that comes and goes as easily as a cloud on a spring day. No one and nothing has a right to life in the Kindred world. While one of the Traditions does seem to state that Kindred cannot randomly kill one another - what it really says is that murder is the right of the elder, and who that elder is changes depending on the region and circumstance. The easiest way to understand this is to simply think of it like this - YOU cannot kill your people indiscriminately, but WE can. Mortals do not even enter into the equation - THEY can be killed as often and readily as you can get away with without endangering the Masquerade.
The rights mentioned above are largely reinforced by the misconception that 'equality' is another inherent facet of simply being alive. While any dolt with half a brain and a pair of eyes realizes how wrong this misconception is - it is still ingrained in our social consciousness as the way things SHOULD be. Men and women are not equal, stupid and smart are not equal, poor and wealthy are not equal, weak and strong are not equal - and yet we pride ourselves on a social convention that lies to men, stupid people, poor people, and weak people and tells them they are as important as their opposites in the grander scheme.
The older you are, the better you are - in every measurable way. The more respected and connected you are, the better you are. The more cunning and devious you are - able to twist situations and circumstances to your advantage - the better you are. The entire social system of Kindred is BASED on the inherent understanding and reinforcement of inequality. If you are not old, respected, well-connected, cunning, and devious - or some advantageous combination of those factors - you are NOTHING, and no one cares.
The entire concept of the anti-hero is another popular theme in our modern culture. Bad attitudes, belligerence, and poor social graces are often seen as the marks of the admirable 'rugged individualist' - and with so many heroes of modern entertainment displaying exactly those sort of characteristics, it is no wonder. This has become such a pervasive sentiment in our society that those with proper manners, acceptable social graces, and respectful attitudes are belittled and demeaned as being weak, homosexual, tight-assed, or worse appellations of social degradation.
In a system where etiquette rules everything, being disrespectful of your superiors is the highest form of social crime. In a system where you can kill as often as you can get away with it (like the popular conception of the wild west where you could shoot anyone you could out-draw, for any reason you chose) - giving someone attitude is tantamount to putting your life at risk.
In modern society there is an accepted way to get almost anything done, and while the actual process to achieve anything desired may vary slightly, it is generally understood that there is a defined system of actions any person alive must follow to reach their goals. What you want, you must pay for. What you have to pay with, you must work for or perform for in some way. To have a place to live, you have the options of friends, family, rental, or ownership. These things apply - more or less - to every living being on the planet.
Vampires have so many means at their disposal to circumnavigate the normal processes and conventions of life, that it is patently ridiculous to think of them as constrained by any requirement that dictates the processes of mortal endeavors. Dominate, Presence, intimidation, blood bonding, and even outright extortion or murder are all means by which a vampire can completely bypass the requirements that mortals must adhere to. Basic needs are so minimal for Kindred that they are beyond simplicity to accomplish or acquire. Food, a haven, money - any of these things should be child's play for ANY vampire to acquire (within reason) - given the powers and freedoms at the disposal of even the most lowly of Kindred. It amazes me to see players tying themselves and their characters up in complex knots over even the simple process of acquiring a home.
Perhaps the largest misconception here is that vampiric lives largely mimic their mortal counterparts. One must remember that vampires are DEAD. They do not have driver's licenses, they do not carry identification, they do not have bank accounts in their names, they do not sign contracts or leases, they do not have paying jobs alongside mortals (mostly, or for long), they do not have social security numbers - at least not in their real names. When you absorb and accept this reality, you will begin to wonder how it is that a vampire can accomplish anything in the modern world - given that these conventions seem to be absolute requirements to do or have anything. As soon as you begin to ask yourself THAT question, you will begin to see the alternate possibilities. Lies, deceptions, theft, dominance, slavery - THESE are the means by which a vampire attends to their nightly needs - NOT the local real estate company and a large bank account. If vampires DO make use of these things, it is through mortal proxies and from behind a complex web of deceptions and misdirection that protect their anonymous status - and by doing so, protect the Masquerade. This does not mean that acquiring these basic necessities should be overlooked - it simply means that to go about it in a MORTAL fashion is ridiculous.
There are numerous other misconceptions that exist more on a case by case basis - but these are the most glaring errors that seem to dictate ninety percent of the mistakes that players in this setting tend to make. I hope that by reading and absorbing these comparisons and refutations, you might begin to understand just a little bit more about what makes the vampire world so alien, terrifying, depressing, and glorious as it is.
Resources are free for personal use; please do not offer them for sale or claim them as your own work.
Please do not repost material elsewhere; link to this site instead. Thank you, and happy gaming!