At the behest of a reader, I’m playing through Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines for the first time. (I’ve owned and wanted to play it for several years but was daunted by the hoops for getting it to run on a modern system, but fortunately the unofficial patch v9.2 was all it took.) I’ll be looking at it through the eyes of someone familiar with the oWoD. There will be spoilers; also, please don’t spoil anything noteworthy for me in the comments. We begin after the break!
After checking that the game was working okay last night by running through character generation, I start up again this morning by recreating my character. I was advised to play Brujah for my first playthrough due to their physical Disciplines (for those not familiar, those are Celerity, which enhances speed, and Potence, which enhances strength). It makes sense to me to start with a good fighter and try the other approaches when I know how the game works, so that’s what I do. My character’s name is Dido (a reference to the Brujah’s historical role in Carthage, but the singer of the same name was fairly well-known in 2004, so it works in that regard as well). The female Brujah skin seems to be going for a sexy skater Halloween costume look and missing; there are skin packs online, but I’m not going to mess with additional patches at this point.
(In case you’re not sure, the female is on the right. Also, props to DeviantArt member Mifflicious for cosplaying her.)
I’m going to take advantage of the character’s physical advantages, so I pick the Natural Athlete background, which gives me an extra point of Strength in exchange for capping my Intelligence at 4 out of 5. My priorities are set as physical/mental/social, and I put a couple of points into Melee, plus a second dot in Celerity. (She starts with one dot in each Clan Discipline: the aforementioned Celerity and Potence, plus Presence, which enhances your charisma/force of personality.)
That done, I go into the opening cinematic, which starts with Dido being Embraced by a male vampire–the room shows signs of a session of kinky sex, but they’re both fully clothed (or what passes for it in Dido’s case), so who knows. They’re immediately interrupted by well-informed goons, who stake the guy (which paralyzes him) and knock her out. She comes to on a stage in a theater, where the Prince (who, if he’s not a Venture, certainly dresses like one) and an enormous guy with a FFVII sword (I’m guessing Nosferatu but we don’t get a good look at his features) stand over them. The Prince reminds everyone of the rules about Embracing without permission, and the sire is beheaded and ashes. After an interruption from someone who’s probably a Brujah, he goes on to say that he’s sparing Dido.
The audience leaves (we see someone who’s clearly a Nos, and a woman who’s only wearing lingerie, which suggests Toreador) and the Prince tells Dido that he’s sending her to Santa Monica, where she’ll have an apartment. I leave and wind up in an alley, where I’m in control for the first time. A hairy fellow named Jack (probably a Gangrel, since they’re the hairiest of the Clans) gives me a quick rundown on the Masquerade, humanity, the Beast, and such (I opt for the quick version because I know it all OOC).
There’s a scene jump, and we wind up in the apartment. I turn on the radio after hitting the wrong button and attacking it instead, but fortunately it’s sturdy. Poking around, I find $100, a watch, three blood packs, a note from someone called Mercurio with the password to my E-mail account and a request to meet him, and a note with a riddle about the location of the Tremere chantry. There’s also a whole pizza on the counter, which seems like an odd thing to leave for a vampire. The computer interface is very nostalgic: it’s a command-line interface on a green monochrome monitor. The E-mail includes spam and some mysterious messages.
I head out into the hallway and check the other doors: I don’t have a lockpick so I can’t get into the locked apartments (or the one with no doorknob, which must be inconvenient) but one is unlocked, although it has nothing of value. (The game tracks your Humanity, but it doesn’t seem to be as detailed as the tabletop game, where at higher levels this kind of property crime would be a violation.) On the way out I see a newspaper headline about a vicious killing on the docks.
Wandering into the street, there’s a bum outside. Since no one is around, this seems like a good time to try feeding. I drain about half his blood, since I don’t want to accidentally kill him and I’m not sure what the threshold is. Wandering out into the street, I find a well-dressed man, but interaction with him doesn’t accomplish anything. Looking for more blood, I make the mistake of paying $50 to a hooker, who I lead into a parking garage and feed from. (I think I was thinking that I could feed from her and then
stiff not pay her, but I paid up front, and I don’t want to lose Humanity by killing her to get the money back.)
I wander around the streets and into a few businesses. In the pawnshop, I use Presence to get the shopkeeper to sell me weapons, and buy a tire iron. I enter a club and am greeted by Jessica Voerman, who looks like Harley Quinn wearing a sexy schoolgirl Halloween costume.
(For tolerably obvious reasons, she got used a lot in promotional material, including the cover art on the box/manual. I have a T-shirt with her on it.) There aren’t any male patrons I can chat with, and my social skills aren’t enough to win over the females’ resistance, so I dance like an idiot for a bit and leave.
I enter a building that turns out to be the place Mercurio sent me to (I don’t have a sense of the geography at this point and am just wandering into unlocked buildings), which is an Elysium, a designated safe space where it’s forbidden to fight or use most Disciplines. There’s blood everywhere, and it’s coming from a guy lying on a couch inside, who turns out to be Mercurio. (There’s a quest called “Wherefore Art Thou, Mercurio”, which both suggests that the designers don’t know what the phrase means and makes me wonder if it was a typo for Mercutio, since he doesn’t look like a luchador.)
Mercurio, who’s a ghoul (a human who gains enhancements and longevity by drinking vampire blood), tells me that he was going to buy some explosives, but four guys beat him up on the beach. I agree to go and take care of it for him. (I also wonder if there’s an option to offer him some blood to help him heal, but if there is I don’t find it.) I find my way to the beach through the parking garage, and on the way overhear a conversation by some cops about the body on the pier, which was torn to bits by what look like human-scale claws. At the beach, a woman with a strange accent tells me that the men I’m looking for are at the top of a set of stairs.
Climbing the stairs, I’m told I’m entering a combat zone, where I can freely use Disciplines without violating the Masquerade. At the top are an RV and a house. When I approach the house I’m stopped by a guard, but use Presence to convince him to let me pass. I walk around to the back of the house, pausing to listen in on a conversation between two thugs about beating up Mercurio. Behind the house is a power switch. Pulling it cuts the outside lights (and a few inside the house), but alerts those inside to my presence, and I’m set upon by a few thugs and a Doberman. A combination of Disciplines makes fairly short work of them, and I upgrade to a baseball bat.
Going inside, I fight a series of thugs with guns, picking up their .38s after killing them. In the process I determine that I can’t feed off felled enemies, but I can feed in combat. I don’t know if killing them this way will result in Humanity loss, so I drink most of their blood and then release them to finish them off by hand. (No one in a combat zone is an innocent, so it’s probably okay, but the popup did warn me that Humanity loss was still possible there.) I find the explosives and a car stereo. I’m guessing that the money is there as well, so I switch windows to check a FAQ. This is when I discover that doing this locks up the game, and I have to go back to my last save (fortunately, that’s when I entered the beach).
This time around I check to make sure that my tire iron is equipped, so I have it out when the guard sees me and he sounds the alarm. I face roughly the same thugs, but the ones inside are shooting at me as well; they don’t hit much, so I make short work of the enemies, then go inside and clean it out as well. I locate the money, and leave, where I’m attacked by a man in a suit that I can’t remember if I fought before on not. He goes down as well, and after making sure I haven’t missed anything I head back to the beach.
There are a bunch of characters gathered around a fire. I talk to the woman, who makes confusing statements about my future (Malkavian?) and offers to read my future for $100. I don’t have that much, so I put her off. There’s a guy who’s intimidated and won’t talk to me, as well.
Returning to Mercurio, I tell him that I have the explosives, and return his money to him. (I have the option of not doing it, but I generally go honest on the first play-through of this type of game, and returning it gives me an XP.) He gives me my first real mission: use the explosives to blow up a Sabbat-owned warehouse. I spend some XP, and this seems like a good stopping point, so I save and exit.
Thoughts: Enjoying the game so far, once I got used to the controls and the 2004-era gameplay and graphics (I’m not messing with texture enhancers, either). I’m at the stage where I’m just poking around at side quests and learning the layout, but I don’t know of any time limit or need to rush, either. I will clearly benefit by being able to pick locks, so that’s my first priority for XP.
From a WoD perspective, it’s been very by-the-book so far, but that’s not a bad thing. I haven’t interacted very deeply with anyone but Mercurio, so I’m evaluating most of the NPCs by a few superficial traits. (With the exception of Nosferatu, my clan assignments are guesses based on matching appearance to stereotype; it’s possible the Prince is a Gangrel and Jack is a Ventrue, but I’m not holding my breath.) I’ll be able to evaluate the setting material better when I go further below the surface.
The character generation system is interesting, because it’s based on the tabletop game but reworked for the needs of a computer RPG–there are fewer skills, and “talents” such as lockpicking and seduction that are derived from Attributes+Skills, which is what would be rolled to carry out these actions in the tabletop game. The Disciplines are harder to evaluate because I’ve only seen a few of them and the physical Disciplines have always had simpler rules. It’s a bit strange to me that they all cost blood to activate, when in the tabletop game they wouldn’t or would use Willpower, but that’s a logical way to provide a limited resource.
Up next, I’m going back to the pawnshop, checking out some businesses and NPCs, and generally messing around with side quests to power up before attempting the main quest.