Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.
Like most high school dorks with a limited pool of friends (but friends that really counted, you know?), I spent a somewhat decent amount of time experimenting with tabletop roleplaying games. Of course, Dungeons & Dragons was one that I played fairly often, and I had way more fun once I stepped away from my Cleric comfort zone and tried out the Sorcerer class, but from what I can remember these 25 or so years on it was actually White Wolf Publishing’s Vampire: The Masquerade that was my first. And my favorite. But here’s the thing: It was also how I learned the hard way just how much of a difference a good Storyteller (Vampire’s version of a GM) can make.
My closest friend in high school was very big into fantasy, roleplaying games and the like. He owned (or at least someone in his family did) more than one sword. He once got yelled at in study hall for belting out lyrics from “Man of La Mancha” at the top of his lungs. He also introduced me to TTRPGs and we started with Vampire, of course.
It was a quick and spontaneous game, with basically zero prep. A few of us were all hanging out and we decided to give it a try, both for fun and so I could get a feel for it. I made my character in like a half hour or so (I kept it relatively simple with a Nosferatu) and we were off. And it was a lot of fun! Even without any planning or prior story setup we were all able to enjoy a basic but still engaging vampiric adventure, complete with fighting and intrigue, before it was time for everyone to say goodnight.
And then sometime later we took part in a game run by his older brother.
My friend’s older brother is someone I would describe as exactly that: An Older Brother. He was a bit of a dick, kind of a bully, but not really hateful or anything that extreme. The kind of person I wouldn’t go out of my way to hang out with or talk to, you know? And playing a game run by him was – to put it mildly – not fun. I don’t remember anything about the plot or any of the other player characters. But I do remember the point at which I mentally clocked-out of the whole thing.
I was playing . . . I think a Gangrel . . . and we had to climb a large cliff. It’s the kind of obstacle an actually good Storyteller would resolve with one, maybe two dice rolls per character. This motherfucker had us roll ten times. Each. And unfortunately for me I botched my eighth or ninth roll so I fell from almost the top of this stupid cliff and landed directly in torpor (basically like a vampire healing sleep). Meaning I was AWOL for a good chunk of the rest of the session, all because an asshole thought it would be funny to make everyone make ten skill check rolls in a row.
That didn’t mark the end of my tabletop adventures, thankfully, but it left me sour on Vampire ever since. Which is a real shame because I vastly preferred its simpler gameplay systems and approachable use of ten-sided dice for everything. Not that I hated D&D but trying to remember which dice to use for what and how many always kinda bugged me. Anyway, I haven’t played Vampire in over two decades because of a bad Storyteller. And that’s a real shame.
Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.