Games, Vampire

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Vampires and a one-eyed alien being from the game Vampire Kingdom.
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The vampire Methusalah from the role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade.
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Vampires of different types inhabit the gaming world of Vampire Kingdoms.

Games, Vampire

(pop culture)

In the late 1960s vampires moved from being of interest to a few horror fans to capturing the popular imagination. Games built around vampirism are one sign that vampires have become an entrenched element in popular culture.

Board Games: The first set of vampire games were board games. The very first was a spin-off from the Dark Shadows daytime television show. The “Dark Shadows” Game was distributed by Whitman in 1968. In the game up to four players race each other through a maze.

The following year, Milton Bradley released The Barnabas Collins “Dark Shadows” Game, developed in response to the popular introduction of the vampire Barnabas Collins to the cast. Quite distinct from the Whitman game, it required that players assemble a skeleton on a scaffold. The winner got to wear Barnabas’s fangs.

In the mid-1970s, British horror and vampire fan Stephen Hand, disappointed at the lack of horror-oriented games, created his first board game, Barnabas’s. The game featured a set of vampire hunters searching Castle Dracula for Dracula to kill him with a stake. In the 1980s, Hand revised the game and introduced ideas for a military game based on Vlad the Impaler‘s wars.

A few years later it was followed by The Undead (1981), designed by Steve Jackson. Based on Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, the game matched one player, who assumed the role of the Count unleashed upon London (a map of the city formed the game board), against one or more other players, the vampire hunters. The game could be played as a straight board game or expanded as a role-playing game. The next vampire board game to hit the market was released in 1987 as The Fury of Dracula. As with The Undead, the players assumed the roles of vampire hunters pitted against one player, who acted as Dracula. The vampire hunters had to find Dracula and kill him before he was able to establish vampire accomplices in the cities of Europe (a map of Europe formed the game board). The game gave a slight advantage to Dracula—an advantage that was overcome only if the hunters worked together.

Among the more unique vampire-related games was Dracula’s Bite on the Side, a dinner table mystery game in the “Murder à la Carte” series. The game was designed as part of an entire evening that included a dinner held to celebrate the 1893 betrothal of Count Dracula’s ward, Bella Kashiasu, to Ivan Evenstich. Each of the eight dinner guests became a murder suspect and the evening was spent trying to determine who the murderer might be. As the game proceeded, guests interrogated each other and revealed what they had discovered. At the end of the game, each player guessed the murderer’s identity.

Most recently, a board game was released in connection with Francis Ford Coppola‘s movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), by Leading Edge Games. The players in this game assumed the role of one of the vampire hunters from Dracula—Abraham Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker, Quincey P. Morris, etc. Their goal was to overcome a set of Dracula’s servants, such as his vampire brides or Lucy Westenra as a vampire. Then the players had to defeat the various forms of Dracula to rescue Mina Murray, who was trapped in Dracula’s clutches.

For many years board games were the only vampire games, but in the 1990s, they were joined by a variety of what have been termed role-playing games.

Role-Playing Games: Today, the most popular vampire-oriented games are role-playing games. Fantasy role-playing games center on an alternative fantasy world that the players enter through their imaginations. They are games of make-believe, in which the players enter the story they simultaneously tell. By telling and playing there is an experience that goes beyond simply listening to someone tell the story.

Some games are led by the “gamemaster,” or storyteller, who sets the starting point and guides the course of the game. Prior to the game, each character is assigned a unique combination of helpful attributes (strength, dexterity, stamina, intelligence) and talents. For the purpose of the game, the character’s traits are quantified on a descriptive character sheet that assigns numerical values to each attribute. Thus, each character starts the game with a unique set of attributes, a variety of weapons, and other appropriate abilities. As the game begins, the characters are placed in situations they get out of through a combination of their own choices and sheer chance (represented by a throw of the dice). The gamemaster describes what has happened after each player’s action choice and decides how well the players have either succeeded and prospered or failed and suffered in the quest of their goal.

Each role-playing game has created its own myth that defines the imaginative world in which the game operates. As might be expected, vampires appeared in Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), a role-playing game that deals in the widest possible world of fantasy and magic. As early as 1982, a Ravenloft module of D&D featuring a vampire, Count Strahd von Zarovich, was written for D&D by Tracyand Laura Hickman. By 1990, this module had grown into an “advanced” variant game with a primary vampire theme based upon the D&D worldview. A new Ravenloft game has been designed and written by Bruce Nesmith and Andria Hayday.

Ravenloft is a fictional island continent containing a number of kingdoms. Near its middle is the kingdom of Barovia, the land where Ravenloft Castle is located. Barovia is ruled by Count Strahd. In the past, the count loved a young woman, Tatyana, but she did not return his love and, instead, planned to marry his brother Sergei. Rejected and angry, the count killed Sergei, which, in turn, led to Tatyana’s suicide. Through an unclear transaction, the count made a pact with “death,” and became a vampire. Count Strahd’s castle and land were drawn out of the physical world into the etheric plane. Ravenloft, like most D&D landscapes, is a magical land. The various domains that surround Barovia are inhabited by a variety of werewolves, ghouls, and supernatural creatures, and the various games of Ravenloft are built on their interaction. The popularity of the game has led to the publication of a number of spinoff novels based on Ravenloft and its inhabitants by authors such as Elaine Bergstrom and P. N. Elrod. Shortly after vampires invaded Dungeons and Dragons, Pacesetter introduced a horror role-playing game in which vampires play a key role.

Chill was built around the myth of the Societas Argenti Viae Eternitata (SAVE), the Eternal Society of the Silver Way. According to the Chill story, SAVE was founded in 1844 in Dublin, Ireland by a group of scientists led by Dr. Charles O’Boylan. O’Boylan posited the existence of little understood natural laws used by two separate opposing sets of entities who exist in the noncorporeal world. Most importantly, he believed that a highly disciplined source of evil intruded into the human realm and threatens our safety. Afraid that they could not convince the public of the existence of the evil Unknown, the decision was made to turn SAVE into a secret organization to fight the evil. SAVE kept an archive of its activities in Dublin, Ireland.

The early research of SAVE led to its confrontation with vampires in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria (1868) and Lucerne, Switzerland (1975). Fighting vampires were a central aspect of SAVE’s work. In the 1985 book Vampires, by Gali Sanchez and Michael Williams, the Chill mythology was continued in a summary of the major cases investigated over the years, in which the goal was the destruction of vampires and vampirelike creatures. The vampires were found in Eastern Europe, the Orient, and Mexico. Gamers are invited to assume the persona of one of the ten typical vampire types.

The most popular vampire-oriented role-playing game was entitled Vampire: The Masquerade, which has now evolved into Vampire: the Eternal Struggle. The game was created by Mark Rein-Hagen and published in 1991 by White Wolf Game Studio. Its basic myth was called “The Masquerade,” a secret realm that began with Cain (the biblical character who, in Genesis 4, killed his brother and was afflicted with an undesignated curse). According to the Masquerade, the curse was eternal life and a craving for blood. After wandering in the wilderness for many years, Cain once again lived among mortals and created a city and progeny—a small number of vampires who carried Cain’s curse. The city was destroyed, but later generations periodically appeared as a secret force in history. The bulk of existing vampires constitute the sixth generation and their children, and they face pressure to stop creating vampires because it is believed that the vampiric powers diminish as each generation from Cain is created.

The Masquerade myth stated that, beginning in 1435, the Inquisition was able to arrest and kill many of Cain’s progeny, “the Kindred.” The Inquisition stamped out whole bloodlines by burning them. This period of attack drove the vampire community, which had lived somewhat openly on the edge of human society, completely underground. In 1486, at a global convocation, a secret worldwide network was established. It established the law of the Masquerade, an attempt to convince the world that either all vampires were dead or, better still, they never existed. The Masquerade demanded that all vampires make a reasonable effort at secrecy.

The accumulated wisdom of the nearly immortal vampires was given to intelligent mortals who then turned their attention to the development of science and the suppression of superstition. As a result, the early belief in vampires was crushed. The Masquerade, however, was threatened by the mysticism that arose from a combination of forces—the mysticism of psychedelic drugs, new music, and the establishment of the vampire image in popular culture. In the myth, those affected by the new mysticism are ready to believe in the existence of vampires. There is also a generation gap between those vampires who created the Masquerade and understand its necessity and those vampires created in the last century whose brashness, the elder vampires felt, drew unwelcomed attention to the vampire community.

According to the myth of the game, the elder vampires had more powers than the younger vampires. Although the stake was hurtful for both old and young, it was not, by itself, fatal. Sunlight and fire were the vampires’ greatest dangers. Holy objects had no effect, nor did running water. The vampires had sharpened senses that aided them in hunting—including the power to impose their will on mortals. The elder vampires could even change their forms.

Vampire: The Masquerade explained that new vampires could be created by having their blood drained and receiving some of the vampire’s blood. The new vampires had slightly less power than the vampires who created them. Vampires no longer breathed, but could fake respiration. Their hearts did not beat. The blood they consumed spread through their bodies by osmosis rather than through arteries or veins. It also carried the necessary oxygen. The vampires’ wounds healed quickly, however, the stake produced a form of paralysis. The vampire in the game moved in the world of mortals very much like historic nobleman hunters moved among beasts in the forest. The worldwide vampire society thus existed as a parallel society beside that of mortals. The vampires were organized into territorial clans ruled by princes. Every major city of the mortal world supported a vampire community and vampires who entered a new city had to present themselves to the powers established there. As Dungeons & Dragons spun off a card game, Magic, the Gathering, so Vampire: The Masquerade led to a card game variation originally published as Jyhad and then revised and reissued in 1995 as Vampire: The Eternal Struggle. The Camarilla, the international vampire organization, ruled the city’s controlling clan and enforced the Masquerade.

Players of Vampire: The Masquerade create a character in the imaginary vampire community and gather with others to enact the almost infinite number of possible situations created by the gamemaster/storyteller. The success of Vampire: The Masquerade allowed its evolution. In 1993; a live-action version of the game appeared. This version freed the game from the delays caused by the use of dice, which has been replaced with a series of hand signals. The new form of the game allows players to remain in character during virtually all of the game and expands the number of players who can play at one time. The Camarilla: A Vampire Fan Association (50 S. Main St., Ste 8, Salt Lake City, UT 84144), an organization based on the Vampire mythology, provides a national network of gamers.

Other Vampire-Oriented Role-Playing Games: Although Vampire emerged in the early 1990s as the most popular vampire-oriented role-playing game, it was not the only one. Among its competitors is Vampire Kingdoms (1991) (created by Kevin Shiembieda), a game within the larger fantasy role-playing world of Rifts, published by Palladium Books. Vampire centers on life and conflicts within the vampire community, while Vampire Kingdoms draws its adventures from the conflicts between vampires and nonvampires, especially Doc Reid and his Vampire Hunters.

According to Vampire Kingdoms, there are three varieties of the Undead—master vampires, secondary vampires, and wild vampires—which together form a hierarchy of vampiric life. At the top are the master vampires, which appear most like humans. Secondary vampires are somewhat more savage with pale skin, corpse-like bodies, and strange eyes. They are, however, still able to move in human society on a limited basis. The wild vampires are far more ghoulish in appearance, and with their strange appearance, terrible stench, and obvious wildness, instantly communicate their distinctive threat.

In this game, all vampires operate under a super power, the Vampire Intelligence, making them the true Lords of the Undead, described as a monstrous elemental being.

In Vampire Kingdoms, since the devastation of the Earth (termed the time of the Rifts), vampires have risen to dominate sections of Mexico, Central America, and South America. Old Mexico City is Vampire Central. The area is organized into a set of vampire kingdoms, tribal groupings, and city states.

The Mexico Empire is composed of one vampire intelligence, one master vampire, 1,700 secondary vampires, and some 65,000 humans (the food source). The master vampire runs the kingdom from Mexico City, while the local vampire intelligence lives in Tula, some 70 miles north. Several other vampire kingdoms are also located in the former Mexico.

Human civilization in Vampire Kingdoms is centered in the Midwest. Most of the Southwest is wilderness with a handful of scattered settlements located on the sites of the former cities of El Paso, Houston, or San Antonio. Kenneth Reid and his Vampire Hunting Rangers are headquartered at Fort Reid, in what is now northern Mexico. Reid is a human who has undergone bionic reconstruction. He hates vampires and is committed to destroying them. Because of his bionic component he is immune to being transformed into a vampire. He is helped by a set of super-hero assistants, both humanoid and otherwise. One, Carlotta the White, is a dragon who usually appears in the form of a beautiful woman.

Another game highlighting vampires was Nightlife (1990), designed by L. Lee Cerney and Bradley K. McDevitt and published by Stellar Games. Nightlife delves into the world of what is termed “splatterpunk,” a reality created by combining the ghoulish terror of Night of the Living Dead and the rudeness of Punk Rock. David Scrow, who first defined “splatterpunk” reality, saw previous attempts at horror as being too polite. So splatterpunk attempted to confront the reader or viewer with the gore and revolting nature of the horror world. At the same time as the splatterpunk world was emerging, a modern vampire, usually spelled with a “y” as “vampire,” emerged. This new vampire is sensual, urbane, and the object of sympathy. This type of vampyre appeared in the writing of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Anne Rice and appeared in such movies as Frank Langella‘s Dracula (1979) and The Lost Boys (1987).

Nightlife fantasizes about characters who live secretly in New York City in the not-too-distant future. They include vampyres, werewolves, ghosts, and demons. These “extranatural” creatures together make up the Kin. Their term for humanity is the Herd. In addition to the vampyres who suck human blood, there are several varieties of the Kin that might be termed psychic vampires. The Wyghts and the Animates live on human life energy. Each form of the Kin has special abilities, which they term their “edges.” Vampyres can, for example, transform into such various shapes as a bat or a cloud of mist. “Edges” are countered by “flaws,” such as the vampyre’s problem with sunlight.

In Nightlife, vampyres are just one character from among several others. They form the transition to a number of role-playing games in which a vampire character is one of many a player might choose. Typical of these games is Shadowrun (1989), a game that fantasizes about the year 2050, a time when technology and human flesh have mixed. Humans interface with computers and bionic people are common. In this world, an awakening of the mystical has occurred and magic has returned as a potent force in human life. A variety of creatures, such as elves and trolls, who survived by assuming human form, have reverted to their more natural appearance. Within this world of human, part-human, and other-than-human life, vampires appear as one of a number of “critters.” The vampires are described as diseased humans who have been infected with the Human-Metahuman Vampiric Virus. Vampires consume both the blood and the life energy of their victims.

One role-playing game, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, capitalized on the popularity of the 1992 movie. The game assumes that following Dracula’s death, he left behind a brood of newly created vampires that must be tracked down and defeated. Players choose a character and generate that character’s attributes by the throw of the dice. In the game, the vampires have special powers (especially the older ones), but the modern hunter characters have the benefit of high-powered modern weapons—including automatic assault rifles.

Though a few of the role-playing vampire games of the 1990s remain available (as of 2008), Vampire the Eternal Struggle was the only one to grow and maintain a continuing playing audience.

Computer Games: During the 1980s, games that could be played on a personal computer, especially the several systems that could be connected to a television screen (Nintendo being the most popular) made sizable inroads into the toy market. By the 1990s, retail stores specializing exclusively in computer games were common in urban areas. The first vampire-oriented computer game appears to have been Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (produced by Accolade). It appeared in 1990 and won the game of the year award from Computer Gaming World the following year. The game’s success led to a sequel, Elvira: The Jaws of Cerberus (1992).

In 1993, the world of computer games discovered vampires. Early that year, three new vampire games appeared: Dracula Unleashed (Viacom), Vampire Master of Darkness (Game Gear), and Veil of Darkness (Strategic Simulations). More significantly, however, Psygnosis Ltd., a British company, released a game based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula after nearly two years of development. The game was developed to fit the Mega-CDRom system developed by Sega. The system allowed a significant expansion of memory and permitted the inclusion of clips and sound from the film in the game. Versions of the finished game have been released in several formats for various game systems.

As vampire games have developed through the 1990s, they have provided an alternative avenue for speculation about the meaning of being vampiric. The rules of the games, which in the case of the role-playing games constitute book-length publications, have become a forum where ideas about vampiric existence are tested and bartered. The appearance of the number of games based on the vampire myth symbolizes the renewed enthusiastic level of interest in vampires.

Among the electronic games, Castlevania stands out. Castlevania initially appeared in Japan in the mid-1980s. More than two dozen new versions of and sequels to the original game have appeared through the intervening years, each incorporating the latest advances in electronic gaming and then being adapted to different gaming systems. The storyline of the game concerns an ongoing war between the Belmont family of vampire hunters and Dracula. Dracula seems to reappear every century, and it is the charge of the Belmonts to block his plans to dominate the world. BradyGames has published a series of strategy guides to the different Castlevania games.

Twenty-first Century: In the new century, White Wolf emerged as a dominating force in the world of live action role-playing (LARP) games. Its Vampire: The Requiem has been an ongoing presence as other vampire role-playing games have come and gone. By the middle of the first decade, it was virtually the only vampire-themed LARP still on the market. The associated card game had also been able to recreate itself continually with expansion decks that offered ever new variations on the basic game.

The two most popular vampire phenomena of the decade—Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Twilight books and movies—both spawned a host of cult paraphernalia, including games. Both Buffy and its spinoff Angel led to the production of jigsaw puzzles, board games, a chess set, and electronic computer games. A short-lived LARP game never really took off, but an associated role-playing card game produced three large sets of trading cards, complete with enhanced variant cards, now valued by collectors.

As the Twilight book series was adapted into movies, a similar variety of games appeared—jigsaw puzzles and board games, including a Twilight version of the trivia game, Scene It. Also, in 2009, several decks of playing cards were issued with a Twilight illustration and pictures of the stars on the back of each card. As of 2009, no electronic games based on Twilight have appeared, perhaps due to its perceived largely female audience. Meanwhile, action-oriented movies such as Van Helsing. The Underworld series, Blood the Last Vampire, Vampire Hunter D, Blade, and Bloodrayne, have all spawned to new electronic games.

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