Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Vampire Superheroes or Noir Vampire?

The World of Darkness is an interesting world to run a game in.  It's a darker, creepier, and grittier version of our world where the shadows are longer, the days are bleaker, the gaps between the haves and the have-nots larger.  It is also a place where reasonably large numbers of people go missing every day of the week and no one really notices outside of their immediate friends, families and co-workers.  A place where monsters can lurk and hide because corruption ensures that tapes disappear and certain crimes are ignored.  Just how grim-dark it is depends on the Storyteller, ranging from Sin City's plethora of bad guys and hopelessness to Supernatural's "God couldn't care less but it's all fine unless you brush up against the supernatural" variety.

I tend to run my games more like Supernatural (complete with ever increasing epic plots) as I prefer the contrast between hope and horror rather than pure futility.  If everyone you ever meet holds a dark secret and a cruel heart, then there are no victims to pity and no one matters.  While there is a certain nihilistic horror inherent in that bleak perspective, it's not the type of horror I like to play around with.

My favourite forms of horror involves tragedy and for tragedy to work you need to care about the people that are suffering.  They need to matter.  They are complex beings, capable of cruelty and kindness, with histories and self-justifications and confusions that lead them to do what they do.  There are some who are irredeemable, sure, but it's up to the players to figure that out.  Most people are just doing what makes sense to them.  Often they are even trying to do the 'right' thing though sometimes their definitions of what is 'right' has been skewed by upbringing or experiences.

Some don't care so long as it feels good.  Some are sociopathic.  Some are just plain monsters.

So where do the supernatural creatures sit in all this?  Or at least the near-human supernaturals that form societies (werewolves, vampires, mages, geists, changelings) rather than the monsters of the week (spirits, hobgoblins, idigam, etc.)?

Just like with human beings, they can be good but it's harder.  Not only does great power breed greater temptation, but they have additional urges to wrestle with, additional traumas to cope with, additional paradoxes to reconcile.  This leads many of them in a downward spiral but only a few of them truly succumb to the worst depths.

After all, there is a difference between a Mafioso who extorts money for a living and kills people who get in the way of their lush lifestyle and a slasher who sets fire to homeless men in alleyways to get a thrill.

The Mafioso justifies what they do as necessary.  They take on values that help them do that.  Once they're on that path, it's dangerous (even deadly) for them to step off that path so they have to reconcile themselves with the things they do.  Some become power mad monsters who will cripple or kill anyone who gets in their way.  Others maintain a deft hand and try to navigate dangerous paths with minimal casualties.  Others balance their cruelties with community efforts.  Of course, all three sorts of Mafiosos may even be in the same group.  (This may or may not be reality.  I don't know.  I'm not a Mafioso.  It is the reality of them in my gameworld, however.)

So what about the topic of this post?  Vampire Superheroes of Noir Vampire?

Well, while I do enjoy the dark tales of a vampire's slow descent into cruel apathy as everything that once made them human is whittled away, I do enjoy also playing in other sorts of stories.  Ones where the characters aren't just motivated by survival, politics, and an overall willingness to betray the unnecessary for the next step forward.  Game of Thrones is fun and all, but sometimes you want to keep the fantasy and do something different with it without going all the way to Embodied Good versus Embodied Evil.

And this is where I play around with the Noir Vampire.  To distinguish this character from the more monstrous ones, I even created the Coil of the Core to justify it's existence, though you could always go easy on the sociopathy canon and simply allow some degree of true emotion to your kindred.  Most people play them like that anyway.

The Noir Vampire may do many of the same actions that a superhero might but everything else is different.  They may save a child from a burning building, but they have to batter down doors with supernatural strength while wrestling against a Beast that might tear them from that house and leave the child to die.  Or worse, if they already have the child in hand than the Beast might fling them into the fire or tear them apart in its haste toward the exit.  Will this happen?  No.  It's not a game of futility.  The demands on the dice will be stacked so that they will probably make enough successes but there is always the risk that they won't.

Even if they make it out, even if they save the child, they now return to a world that does not, and cannot, care about them.  They must find enough blood to heal aggravated damage from wounds heroically taken ... but they must get that blood from either the unwilling or the seedy.  The former has its own dangers.  The latter suggests either Masquerade breaches or perplexed blood dolls.

If they are heroic, they must do it from the shadows because City Hall will not thank them (vampires there will see to that) and the media must not run articles about them (so hard to get a good picture).  If they have humans assist them, someone to admit their deeds to, then they must blood bond them and watch that friendship erode or take their risks with the court and breach the Masquerade.

The Noir Vampire, however, might well brood in their drink but a good one isn't too introspective (get enough dark brooding heroes in the world).  A good one falls into his cups at the pub (washed down with blood that must be replaced), then picks himself up and does it again. 

A Noir game is a game of vice and virtue.  While today's Noir movies show downward spirals of futility and madness and terrible worlds like Sin City, most of the Noir movies of the past weren't nearly as bleak.  They were simply darker, grimmer, and more difficult worlds where corruption was an issue that faced everyone and you couldn't rely on authority figures to save you.  It was more depressing, more cheap, and people more easily tempted, but it wasn't a world of monsters but a monster's playground.

Gluttony is a good vice for a Noir vampire.  Or Lust.  Wrath can lead to problems as vengeance is taken too far but problems are the source of conflict and conflict is good for plot.  Sloth requires a lot of external force to motivate and wouldn't work so well.

A good example of a show that evokes this Noir mood is the Arrow television series (Noir superhero in that one, really).  Or you could watch some of the older Noir films that hadn't fallen too far into extreme nihilism - not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just not what I'm talking about here.  The Fall Out universe is a good example in a videogame as most people are just trying to do what they thing is 'right' but sometimes that leads to good people getting hurt.  Or even the Tex Murphy series where most people are just trying to get by but some are trying to do big, bad things.

That's about all I've got room for in this article, but if you have any questions than please mention them in the comments box below and I'll see about writing a whole new article about that.  You'll be able to find an index of articles related to my Noir-tinted vampire chronicle over here.

So what do you think of vampire superheroes and Noir vampires?

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