On Nostalgia and 25 Years of Vampire: The Masquerade

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Many gamers I know started with Dungeons & Dragons. Shadowrun and Vampire: The Masquerade and Obsidian: The Age of Judgement were my (un)holy trilogy because those were the games I could connect with, the fans I could relate to. Ravenloft and All Flesh Must Be Eaten followed shortly afterward, too, but the games I strayed toward in the beginning were dark and edgy. Hell, I remember goths of all stripes owning the convention halls. Our black leather pants. Our satin shirts, shock red hair, and corsets. Our kick ass boots. Our heart-thumping, heart-twisting music. Our dice. Our game, the one where we f-bomb’ing owned the night. We were known, when we walked the hall, as Vampire players with a capital “V”.

Around the same time, I started applying to different companies to write for them, and opted to start out with small press publishers. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason why I didn’t try to write for White Wolf or Wizards back in the day, is because I internalized that I would never be able to. The gods of gaming, like Justin Achilli(1), were key word: gods. I connected with other fans, I was heavy into the lore (e.g. the novels, TV show, and Bloodlines) and progressed through other World of Darkness games and themes including Mummy, Wraith, etc. The LARP, not as much, because by the time I connected to the game in that way, there were established groups and I find that to be intimidating. But, I didn’t either recognize or realize that I could work on Vampire, because I perceived that door was closed.

My perception began to change, slowly but surely, as new writers were added. Namely, after meeting my friend Jess Hartley and falling in love with her work. As my relationships grew, slowly but steadily in the industry without the benefit of social media at the time, I took bigger chances. By that time, however, a new game had arrived called Vampire: The Requiem. Vampire: The Masquerade, the game I started with, fell into the category of “classic” for a time. And, while some of the same writers and designers still worked for White Wolf, in all its iterations, it was clear to me the company and its staff was evolving to add a diverse range of writers that matched its players and its fan base.

ScenesEventually, as my portfolio grew, I did submit to White Wolf. I come from a literary background, as many of my readers know, so it should come as no surprise I submitted a Promethean: The Created short story for their then-magazine, the White Wolf Quarterly, which was published in…2006 if I’m remembering right. No, that isn’t Vampire, but that came out of my love for the game, because by then the new World of Darkness (which is now known as the Chronicles of Darkness) was the company’s primary focus. Eddy Webb gave me my first assignment, and I was very intimidated following in the footsteps of Will Hindmarch to design and write Scenes of the Embrace for Vampire: The Requiem.

Strange Dead Love | Vampire: the RequiemMy first draft sucked, and I totally missed the mark. But, thanks to Eddy’s style of collaboration and development, I nailed the second draft. He understood that writing for White Wolf was new for me, but he also knew I was willing to do the work to make it right. It’s partly because of this experience that I give all of my writers the chance to suck on their first drafts, because without that I wouldn’t have been able to keep writing for the company. Then, developer Rose Bailey hired me (along with Jess Hartley and Filamena Hill) to write for Strange, Dead Love which tied neatly into what I learned through the RWA, my feelings on one of the origins of the Western European vampire myth (e.g. the dead, blood-drinking lovers returning from their graves), and the opinions I had on the paranormal romance genre in general.

Ironically, I was able to write for Vampire: The Masquerade, but that didn’t occur until the (now) Chronicles of Darkness were well established. I wrote one of the Paths of Storytelling as an April Fool’s joke in 2011–a satirical take that was, very specifically, meant to be silly while tapping into canon. Ahem. Then came Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition later that Fall, a book written and developed by well established designers who had written 1000s of words for White Wolf over the years.

Dread Names Red ListIt wasn’t until last year that my first book in the V20 line came out. Developed by Matt (“the Masquerade encyclopedia”) McElroy, we initially planned Dread Names, Red List as a simple update to Kindred Most Wanted. Instead, we turned this supplement into a new way to play Vampire: The Masquerade where fans could play an Alastor and hunt down the Anathema.

This June, Ghouls & Revenants debuted as well, which also offers a nuanced look at the line and an additional way to play the game. This time, instead of playing vampires, a group could play ghouls and revenants and have enough agency to tell a compelling story. Both were done with an eye to provide value to fans, while trying to add something new to Vampire within the confines of the line, since metaplot was not our primary focus.

Now, in 2016, the list of writers has grown to include more voices, more perspectives since those early days. I hope that the landscape will continue to change to be more inclusive, just like David A Hill, Jr. did for V20: Dark Ages to hire more women, to bring better representation to the line. It’s definitely something I thought about when I put together the list of writers for the upcoming V20: Dark Ages anthology, and I feel seeking out new and existing writers have made the collection stronger as a result.

Ghouls & RevenantsOf course, it’s always a challenge writing for a setting that is, as of this year, 25 years old–not only because a lot of material already exists, but because the fan base is much more diverse than it has been in the past. There are die hard fans, Kickstarter backers, folks who have never heard of Vampire: The Masquerade, and fans who lost touch with the property. As a result, there are several who either don’t remember or understand the cultural impact this particular game had on the vampire genre as a whole, either.

For me, the DNA of Vampire: The Masquerade can be found populated throughout novels and comics, movies and video games, songs and art and TV shows–and this is something that I think should absolutely be recognized. It isn’t always, due to the fact that the internet was not around when this phenomenon happened, but also because games have often had a stigma associated with them. Fortunately, this is beginning to erode the more authors talk about their early influences. I’m of the mind that even if a vampire-loving author isn’t consciously aware of the effects that Vampire: The Masquerade had, it still influences us in other ways because of its significance in the 90s and on so many other works.

So, I mark this anniversary with a sense of pride and gratitude for, not only have I contributed to its storied legacy in the small way that I have, I have also gotten the opportunity to watch and experience Vampire: The Masquerade‘s many iterations as both a fan and a professional. I have no idea what the future holds for the property going forward(2) or how I might intersect with what’s to come, but I am grateful for my experiences. I hope that the combination of the old and the new, the past and the present, will inspire Vampire fans for years to come. To me, that’s what matters the most.

Happy 25th Anniversary Vampire: The Masquerade!

(1) I know and have worked with Justin et al, so this is not meant to be a slam on them at all. This is more in the context of identity as opposed to anything else.

(2) Even if I did know, I couldn’t say anything more out of professional obligation.

Progress Report #10: On Writing Like the Wind

I just realized that my last progress report was from December of last year. Whoops! Rectifying this today, so I can keep you apprised of any new announcements coming up.

In Project #9, I talked a lot about the importance of doing research when writing historical era research, and how if you are writing about the past it’s quite possible you’re going to get things wrong. As an addendum to that, I think it’s important to remember that even though writers are very, very smart, because we know how to research and look things up and talk to people, that doesn’t necessarily mean our intentions or our work will be interpreted the same by every reader in a cultural, intellectual, or emotional fashion. This is pretty exciting, in my mind, because it means we can have conversations we couldn’t before and learn from them–provided we’re able and willing to listen. Sometimes, however, that’s a bit of a challenge as there might be constraints as to what the next steps might be, or parameters (especially on bigger named properties like Star Wars or what have you) that writers are bound by. Regardless, I see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge, and though I cannot be perfect (nor do I want to be), I feel this spells nothing but good news for the relationship between writers and readers.

I should also point out that a lot of work listed below is past tense; I’m always open to discussing new opportunities. Thanks! On to my tips for writing like the wind!

To Write Fast, Write Smart

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote 10,500 words in one day, and I “think” my fastest slog was 25,000 in two days back in college. I have written 12 or 13,000 in a day, too, but I’d much rather write 3 to 5k at a steady speed than lose my humanity, hurt my writers, and/or fall into the black hole that is my brain. However, there are some reasons to write fast like…procrastination, zombie projects (e.g. manuscripts you thought died but came back to life and need to be shot in the head. again.), shifting deadlines, life crap (being sick), etc.

Retention-wise, when I write fast I average between 90-95%, and ironically I retain more when I’m sprinting than when I’m not. A couple things to remember, though: I started writing when I was very young and focused on literary fiction through college, so I’m not new to this writing thing. Do I get neurotic or forget to exercise my story brain muscles if I’m too focused on one thing or the other? Ab-so-frigging-lutely. Writing is not a static thing for me, and it never has been. However, I feel that my experiences are important to mention, because sometimes I find folks put a lot of pressure on themselves to soak up all the writing advice they can to poop out great stories and write fast or write perfect when in all actuality? The only solution to figuring out what works and what doesn’t is to keep writing. It’s really the only way to internalize processes that are external to start–and yes, those processes can be forgotten or buried depending upon what your focus is. Something along the lines of… If you want to write novels, then write novels. Don’t write short stories or games and expect to know how to write a novel. Or, more to the point, my favorite acronym ever (K.I.S.S.) is sometimes the best way to proceed. If a thing doesn’t have to be complicated, why make it so?

Anyhoo… In order to write fast, I feel it’s important to take into account what you/I know about your/myself as a writer. I think that some of the self-analytical bits are hugely important, because if you don’t know what your process is or how fast you write in different areas, then it’s really hard to plan word count as a metric. I should point out that I do map a lot of my goals to word count for Day JobTM sorts of things, but haven’t done that for the spec stuff in a while, even though I’m starting to do that now.

Some examples of things I know about my writing speed are:

  • If I have to worldbuild during or after a project, I write slower.
  • I hate wasting time on a draft, only to throw it away.
  • I worry that my bad habit of using filler words (e.g. that) in a draft will make the story uninteresting.
  • Research is my kryptonite, because I love to do it.
  • Writing cold is the hardest thing for me to do.
  • I know that I can write, consistently, somewhere between 3k to 5K per day if I’m writing full-time.
  • Writing a variety of characters/scenes/etc. is slower going than a chapter on “a” topic.
  • Writing a chapter on a single topic bores me to tears.
  • I need to hear the character’s voice in my head before I write them.
  • I write fastest/best when uninterrupted for short periods of time.

So, my solutions to this knowledge help speed up my writing. I think of these things as prep work, and they might include:

  • Elevator pitch – If I don’t know what the story is about, then that is wasted effort. Yes, sometimes I need to write to find the character’s voice, but that’s a different and intentional exercise to solve a separate problem. Even if I don’t have an outline, at bare minimum an elevator pitch or short synopsis will keep the story contained.
  • Word sprints – For this, all I need is a timer and an hour of uninterruptions. Then, I write as fast as I can for that hour, after my prep work is done. I’ve written (at most) 1,300 words this way.
  • Milestones – I use milestone planning when working on larger projects, to set smaller goals. This really helps because if a deadline shifts, I can use word sprints after doing massive amounts of planning (e.g. research, character/dialog sketches/word lists) to get the project done.
  • Write to the beginning – This tip came from John Hornor Jacobs, but it’s a really good one. Instead of writing to the end of a scene, write the first couple of sentences in the next section to mentally prepare yourself for a head start.
  • Revision checklists and filler words – I plan to be wrong or to have errors in my work, and this reduces my anxiety about writing drafts as well. I know I use filler words, so sometimes I have word lists, character names/place names, etc. Sometimes I’ll put words in brackets or use a highlighter; I almost ALWAYS read my work out loud and change the font/spacing, to give me a different perspective on my work.

For me the key to writing fast is to do prep work both before and after, knowing that the in between bit (the actual writing) is the middle of my process–and not the end. Freaking out about the end is what significantly kills my ability to write, so I remove that anxiety by shifting the work and emotional weight to a multi-step process. This both occupies my mind and helps me the more I write a specific kind of project; this is partly why doing anything “new” can freak me out more, so I tend to overcompensate by planning more up front work.

Often, I have to remind myself that I cannot revise a blank page, and I cannot sell the story that hasn’t been written yet. Sometimes, to push through that, writing fast is the only way to get over that anxiety, because then I have a draft to edit and revise–which is more than I had to begin with.

Hope this helps you find your own process. On to the updates!

Games

I’ve got some new updates for you on the games front. Huzzah!

  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras – Wrote the Hunter: the Vigil supplement for this book for 1690s Colonial America. This is now available for fans to purchase.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: Ghouls & Revenants – Contributed and edited this book. This is now available for fans to purchase.
  • Robert E. Howard’s Conan RPG – This hasn’t been released yet, but my understanding is that it will be shortly.
  • Codex Infernus – The Kickstarter was successful, and it’s now available for fans to purchase.
  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras II – Contributed to the Geist: the Sin-Eaters supplement for the 1580s-90s Roanoke Colony. This hasn’t been released yet, but it will likely be available this Fall.
  • Hunter: The Vigil 2nd Edition – I’m the developer for this, and I’m working on the outline and putting together my team of writers. The submission guidelines are available here.
  • Court of Shadows – I designed a new setting for Shadowrun with Jason Hardy, and contributed several thousand words to this unique supplement. The book will be out this Fall.


Fiction

  • Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling – We raised ~24,000 on the Kickstarter and had close to 1,400 backers. We were able to bump the pay rate for our storytellers and add two essayists. The collection is in proofing right now, and I’m working with Jason on delivery and timing.
  • Red Byte – Revisions put on hold.
  • Pratchett on Acid – 25K into the new novel, and it is…creative? Inventive? Heh, heh. Though, I’m going to flip this into a novella, because I think the story will be stronger in that format. I’m having TOO MUCH FUN with worldbuilding.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade Dark Ages Anthology – I’m editing a collection of stories for this setting, and we are now in second draft stage.
  • TBA times three – Wrote three media/tie-in short stories for [redacted], [redacted], and [redacted]. Two of those collections will be debuting this Fall.


Comics

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

  • Anthos – Two rejections.
  • Sparkle Mega – Full pitch is still in the works for a short-term series. The pitch window hasn’t re-opened yet, so this got put on hold. Found out the publisher doesn’t pay, though so am confirming this before moving forward.
  • Red Sigma – In addition to pitching, I am going the small press publishing route for a collection. Still in planning stage.


Non-Fiction

Super yay!

  • Worldbuilding Book – Pitches are being sent out. Yay!
  • The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary in the ‘Verse – This language guide for the Firefly TV show is now available AND it has an entire section for the Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) AND an interview with the fabulously talented Jenny Lynn!.

Thus endeth the latest update!

New Release: Ghouls & Revenants for Vampire: The Masquerade

Ghouls & Revenants

Today, I am pleased to announce the release of Ghouls & Revenants for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition.

By Blood It Is Done

Bound by their masters’ blood, ghouls serve the undead and fight their battles in the shadows. Dragged, seduced, or forced into the night, ghouls live at the whims of their masters–for better or for worse.

By Blood It Is Made Anew

Revenants are twisted and unique. They have vampiric powers and extended life, as well as a form of the Beast all their own. Crafted by blending ghouls with dark magic, Revenants have become something else altogether.

Ghouls & Revenants includes:

  • Expanded and revised character creation for ghoul and revenant player-characters
  • Clan and Sect write-ups for ghouls who serve them
  • New revenant families including the Rossellini, Kairouan Brotherhood, and more.
  • New rules to play ghouls and revenants including new Merits & Flaws, Backgrounds, Discipline Packages, etc.
  • A Storyteller chapter for advice on running ghoul-or-revenant focused chronicles.
  • …and more!

I hope you enjoy this nuanced perspective on ghouls and revenants for Vampire: The Masquerade!

[New Release] Dread Names, Red List

Dread Names Red List

Happy to announce that Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: The Masquerade has now been released! The book is available on DriveThruRPG.com, and you can pick up a copy in print or digital. The art was provided by Ken Meyer, Jr.

The book introduces a new way to play the game. In addition to the 13 Anathema, you can step into the boots of an Alastor and spend the rest of your long nights hunting the Camarilla’s Most Wanted. Matt M. McElroy and I also fleshed out how the Josians intersect with them and added new Masquerade canon as well.

I really hope you enjoy Dread Names, Red List. Enjoy your unlife!

Go Read Dread Names Red List Chapter One!

Did you know I was writing again for Vampire the Masquerade? Well, now you do! Matt M McElroy is developing this book, and he recently announced that:

Originally this book was going to be a small stretch goal PDF featuring a bit of an update and some fresh new material regarding the Red List, sort of an homage to the classic Kindred Most Wanted from 1st edition Vampire. It has greatly expanded in scope and depth as to the content and its place in the V20 line since its inception. This first chapter alone eats up almost half of the originally planned word count. SOURCE: Dread Names, Red List Chapter One

Let me give you a teeny tiny hint. Per my usual M.O., there are easter eggs for long-time Vampire fans scattered throughout this chapter. Plus, there will be more. So don’t be afraid to comment!

You can find Dread Names, Red List Chapter One on the Onyx Path website.

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