Stories of vampires have come and gone through popular culture since ancient Greece. From the story of Ambrogio and the love of his life, to Bram Stoker's Dracula, to True Blood, stories of vampires have fascinated us for centuries. So it was only a matter of time before they made their way into RPGs, tabletop and videogames alike.
Vampire: The Masquerade is without a doubt one of the most comprehensive fictional vampire worlds ever created. From its nuanced politics to the characteristics of individual bloodlines, the lore was perfect fodder for Troika Games and Activision to create the beloved cult RPG, Bloodines, in the early 2000s.
We take a trip down memory lane to talk about what made Bloodlines special to us in the first place, and how we think the Vampire: The Masquerade world will evolve with Bloodlines 2.
Why are you excited for Bloodlines 2?
Jody: I played Bloodlines because I read about it on the internet. It was one of the first games I tried just because blogs and articles talked it up, and they were right. It's an inspiring game, because it's rich with themes, conundrums, and surprises. In the parlance of today, it makes you think. I want more games like that.
Joanna: Vampires are just a larger metaphor for the human condition: finding meaning in our lives, fighting with our own internal demons, and finding compassion for others when all we want to do is rip their throats out. There’s no other vampire lore out there that I find as philosophically interesting as Vampire: The Masquerade.
Andy: I’m not as intellectually engaged with Vampire as you two appear to be. I’m wound up because Bloodlines was such a spectacularly good RPG in a brilliantly realized world, with possibly the most convoluted, yet somehow coherent, plot since the original Deus Ex.
There’s such an incredible attention to detail—if you’re Malkavian and you take a ghoul, your ghoul will soon start to exhibit “unusual” behavior—and everything matters. I love how easy it is to end up completely screwed at the end, not with an unbeatable boss fight or anything, but because you chose poorly, and now you get to own it. (And at least one possible outcome was seriously messed up.)
Jody: I know what you mean because that was the ending I got first time.
How were you introduced to Bloodlines?
Jody: I played tabletop Vampire a couple times, but I liked it more in theory than practice. It was more of a learn-about-the-setting game, where you'd be barraged with definitions and rules. It takes a skillful GM to smooth over that, and I didn't really have one. Bloodlines is better at it; Jack's tutorial gives you the basics, but ends before you drown in politics and the names of clans. A big part of what I like about the videogame is that it lives up to the promise of the original RPG rather than being too fussy about the specifics.
Andy: I was never a big Vampire fan, and I didn't really go through a goth phase in high school. I'd listen to a little Bauhaus or Siouxsie and the Banshees now and then, but I was into my 30s by the time I bought my first Lacuna Coil album. For me, it was really just about getting a good CRPG: Faith in Troika, a recommendation from a solid gamer friend, and a lack of other options.
I came into Vampire by way of an old IRC channel dedicated to wolves (long story), which included a contingent of Werewolf: The Apocalypse role-players. That led me to buy a sourcebook and, even though I never had the opportunity to actually play the game, I read it cover to cover. I loved the setting, which also included vampires.
That planted the seeds of interest in the World of Darkness, but what put me over the top for Bloodlines specifically was Troika. The RPG well was starting to run dry around the time of Bloodlines, and Troika was a known force in the field. I was up for pretty much whatever it was doing, and the fact that it tied in with a setting I already knew was a big plus.
Joanna: I went through a hardcore goth phase in high school with a few of my friends. We started our own informal book club, which consisted of us reading each book in The Vampire Chronicles at the same time. But when Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines came out, I was the only one out of the group who played it, because I was the only one who played games on PC.
I was instantly hooked. I loved that there were different clans with their own characteristics, and how the vampire politics were easily explained. It was unlike any other vampire lore I had experienced at the time. From there, I got into the tabletop version, and have been playing with different groups of people ever since.
What is your favorite clan?
Jody: Malkavian all the way. The goofier the better.
Joanna: Malkavian for sure. I’ve had screen names based on Malkavian characters in the lore, and I’m talking old Malkavians. Like, 6th generation Malkavians. Totally nutty ones. Plus, if you play Bloodlines as a Malkavain with the unofficial patch, you’ll hear random voices throughout the game. They did such a fantastic job with that dialogue.
Andy: Brujah! All the clans are great, and I can't make up my mind, but Brujah is what I went with in my first playthrough. So, I'm choosing Brujah. The rest of the clans seemed too complicated for a noobie, what with the blood magic and insanity and all that sort of thing. The Brujah are just kind of hotheads who like to fight. Seemed like a nice, simple approach for the first time around.
What is your favorite bit of Vampire: The Masquerade lore?
Joanna: Let's go back all the way to 1493 CE, when Malkavian antitribu Vasantasena joined the newly created Sabbat. She was both the voice of reason and insanity within the faction. She believed that it was necessary for vampires to recognize their own humanity, but was also critical of the Path of Enlightenment, or alternative methods for vampires to stave off their new homicidal natures. She’s a badass who doesn't subscribe to one narrative within vampire society.
Jody: I liked the Black Hand, the conspiratorial group with members in every other sect. Among other things they were involved in a conflict with a sentient alien disease that infected vampires. I dig that this setting all about personal horror and trying to hold onto your humanity also has sentient disease monsters.
Andy: From the game development side of things, Bloodlines was developed on the Source engine. Because of the terms of the license, Bloodlines couldn't be released ahead of Half-Life 2. Activision thus decided to "compromise" by releasing it on the same day as Half-Life 2, which as it turns out was a bit like pitting your beer league slo-pitch team against the Yankees. Half-Life 2 was a massive hit, and Troika imploded almost immediately after Bloodlines was out.
It's maybe weird calling that my "favorite" piece of lore because obviously it's awful, but I think it's good to take a moment now and then to remember that greatness sometimes takes time—and that this business eats its young.
Joanna: Good point. And I think that's a huge reason why this upcoming equal is so meaningful to the fanbase.
What is your favorite music from Bloodlines?
Andy: The whole Bloodlines soundtrack is great. It may be the most perfect videogame soundtrack ever, but for me the most singularly spot-on track is Isolated by Chiasm.
It plays in The Asylum, the club owned by Therese and Jeanette Voerman, and it drips with sweaty, leather-bound vampire sex-by-strobelight. It's the kind of thing that an early '80s David Bowie would listen to as he gazed down on the dance floor, unmoving, amidst and yet somehow apart from the crowd on the balcony. He wouldn't smile, but his head would turn slightly, and his eyes might lock with yours, glowing gently as he took a drag from his cigarette—and you'd know.
Joanna: The entire Bloodlines OST is amazing, but if I had to pick a favorite—Lecher Bitch by Genitorturers. It was so fitting to walk into The Last Round, The Anarch’s hub, and hear that right away.
Jody: There are so many goth-bangers to choose from, but I really like Moldy Old World, the accordion tune that plays in the vampire hunters' caverns and when you're around the Giovanni. It's a bit of old-fashioned Euro charm.
Who are your favorite NPCs and who should come back in Bloodlines 2?
Joanna: Jack, hands down. He’s like the non-nonsense, crap-talking, uncle I never had. But everyone is going to pick Smiling Jack, so let's go with Therese and Jeanette. I know not everyone saved both personalities in Bloodlines, but both of those women were so memorable. And if I can’t have them back, then maybe Nines—no, Fat Larry. I want to see what modern-day goods Larry has for sale. Part of me wants him to have the same van, too.
Jody: Chunk, the security guard you first meet protecting Gallery Noir. If you don't kill him he gets a new job at the front desk of Venture Tower. Every time you report back Chunk is there, oblivious to all the supernatural strangeness going on. He's harmless and wholesome, and when you overhear him drooling over security camera footage it's only because he saw a cream doughnut. Chunk's deeply ordinary human-ness is a great contrast to the other characters.
Joanna: I totally forgot about Chunk! (Maybe because I usually killed him at Gallery Noir. I’m such a jerk.) He’d be a fun nod to the original game, too.
Jody: You killed Chunk? YOU MONSTER.
Joanna: I never said I was a good person.
Andy: Favorite NPCs have to be Jeanette and Therese Voerman, because they fooled me so completely for so long. They’re perfect Malkavians: Fun, funny, dark, completely batshit, and impossible to really know.
But as for who I’d like to see reappear in Bloodlines 2, I think it’d be cool to catch up with the Santa Monica thin-bloods. There's a lot of lore surrounding thin-blooded vampires, but the quick-and-dirty version is that they're late-generation vampires who, as a result, suffer from one or more inherent weaknesses. (Joanna digs into this a bit more in the last section below.)
Anyway, they ended up with the thin-blooded end of the stick, sired and abandoned, and congregated on the beach, trying to figure out what to do next. Without even the most rudimentary schooling in vampire lore, they are at risk of sudden death for nothing more than breaking a rule they know nothing about.
I think it'd be very cool to see how they've fared 15 or 20 years down the road, especially since the player will also be a thin-blood in Bloodlines 2. Thin blood team-up, maybe?
Jody: Oh yeah. Rosa, the thin-blood who can see the future but not make sense of it, was totally great. I should have paid more attention to what she said the first time I played, because it all comes true.
Joanna: "Fortune is not your destiny. All of us are unfortunate." Rosa definitely dropped some wisdom-bombs.
Bloodlines was such a product of its time. Can it work 20 years later?
Jody: Bloodlines feels '90s to me. There's some very '90s industrial music in it, and the general vibe of a Sandman comic or The Crow. When someone mentions being careful not to feed in public because everyone has a cameraphone these days I had a jarring moment: "Oh right, it's 2004."
Vampires are always a bit adrift in time—Jack used to be a pirate, LaCroix namechecks Napoleon, Hollywood's vampires have been in the movie business since it started—so it would be perfect for a Bloodlines sequel set in Seattle to have '90s revivalism in it. Everyone who was a teenager then is basically middle-aged in 2019, so I reckon it's nostalgia time.
Joanna: I was into the goth-industrial club scene for a bit during the mid 2000s, so in a way I kind of lived a part of Bloodlines, musically anyway. While that club scene is still going strong, I’ve moved on, and I think for Bloodlines 2 to work it needs to do the same. It needs to keep the essence of what it was, what it represented in the early 2000s, but it needs to mature at the same time. It’s a different world now with different problems, and that should be reflected in whatever political vampire struggle is going on in Seattle.
Andy: That '90s feeling is good, and that’s what makes me a little nervous about all this. I know it's not reasonable to expect that specific goth aesthetic to stay there, but that's what I want: The people, the streets, the clubs, the music, the world that sucked me in so completely.
Reflecting the politics of the day is obviously vital, but Vampire lives or dies on its world-building. The Bloodlines setting made such a powerful impression that I'm not sure any contemporary sequel can compare favorably. I know, that's more a "me" problem than a problem with the game itself, but I imagine I'm not the only one in that boat.
I think it can be done. My dream is a game that’s bigger and better than the first Bloodlines, but my realistic hope is something along the lines of Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Not quite up to the mythicality of the original, but close, and a damn good game in its own right.
What questions do you have about Bloodlines 2 ahead of its 2020 launch?
Joanna: As far as we know, you’re a human who’s captured and forcibly turned into a vampire during a mass embrace. As a result, you become what is known as a thin-blood. In the lore and the previous game, thin-bloods are treated as the stain on the vampire community out of fear. Many of the elders believe that their presence signals Gehenna, or the vampire apocalypse, when the Antediluvians will come out of “hibernation” and devour their descendants. As a result, some elders actively track down thin-bloods and kill them.
This is a long-winded way of saying I’m wondering how Bloodlines 2 will explain that change in lore, that we’ll start out as thin-bloods but later be able to pick a clan. Generally, thin-bloods are a clan, and traits specific to each clan are passed down through the bloodline: the Malkavian’s insanity; the Nosferatu’s ugliness; the Tremere’s blood sorcery. But thin-bloods don’t have markers of a bloodline most of the time. I’m sure Hardsuit Labs and Paradox have a really creative way of explaining all that in the game that makes sense.
Jody: I'm curious about that too. Maybe we'll get to diablerise a vampire as a reward for doing jobs for the Camarilla? Maybe there's a bunch of vamps on the run with a blood hunt declared on them, and whichever one you drink the heart's blood from that's your clan?
I'm also curious about whether it'll have much stealth. Sneaking through the Sabbat warehouse was great, but stealth in the first Bloodlines was pretty rudimentary. I hope Bloodlines 2 does have stealth, just with a few more features appropriate to it and areas that aren't frustrating and linear, like that ship one was.
Joanna: Oh, stealth! Stealth would fit so well into this new, modern vampire world. If Hardsuit and Paradox are using anything from V5 at all, the development of all modern technology has brought about a second inquisition. There are more vampire hunters actively working than ever before. Stealth is needed in more ways than just slipping silently into the shadows.
Andy: I hope stealth is a big part of it, as long as it doesn't suck. I Brujah'ed my way through the first game and it was not exactly a quiet sort of experience, but the best RPGs are the ones that give me the ability to find other ways around, and that should be especially true for a Vampire RPG.
Like you guys, my biggest question right now is how the thin-blood angle will play out. It was made pretty clear in Bloodlines that if you're thin-blooded, you're hosed. So how is this going to work? I hope we don't turn out to be some Elder Scrolls-type "chosen one." One of my favorite things about Bloodlines is that I was just a "regular guy" in the world, one among many.
Actually, there is one other thing, and maybe one of you already knows this one. Right around the time that Bloodlines came out, White Wolf phased out the old World of Darkness setting in favor of a new ruleset and updated game world. For Vampire, the new game was called Vampire: The Requiem, with different clans, bloodlines, and so forth. I'm assuming that Bloodlines 2 will stick with The Masquerade rules, but I wonder if there might be some crossover or integration of the two settings. Or is it possible that it will actually be The Requiem in terms of setting and mechanics, and the Masquerade name is only being kept around for familiarity?
Jody: The "New World of Darkness" line Requiem was part of seems to have been retired in favor of bringing back a modified version of the original WoD. I'd be happy for Bloodlines 2 to be part of that.
Joanna: One major difference between the two is that in Requiem, the clan one is "born" into is less important than the political faction one chooses to belong to. It seems like Paradox could be going this route, given that they are allowing players to choose their clan AND what faction they belong to in Bloodlines 2. It doesn't completely explain how the whole thin-blood/choose your own clan thing will work, but it makes a little more sense now.
But Jody is right. And now with V5, we're definitely back to the old Vampire: The Masquerade.