Vampire: The Last Night is Terrible

Vampire: The Last Night is a playtest scenario for Vampire: the Masquerade’s…fifth edition? Whichever one Chronicles of Darkness is working on that Paradox isn’t. Quick clarification there, when White Wolf keeled over, a bunch of its most committed and not necessarily most competent fans picked up the pieces as Chronicles of Darkness, while the main IP was sold off to first one Nordic company and then another. The current owners of the IP are Paradox Interactive, and they are producing a glossy art book sort of game that may or may not be atrocious, sort of picking up the old White Wolf torch of having fluff and art that’s good enough that you don’t even care that the mechanics are a broken mess. I want to believe, but the previews don’t look promising even as an art book.

We’re not talking about that book today, though, because it isn’t out yet and it’s not like this blog sells itself on being ahead of the curve. No, we’re talking about a Chronicles of Darkness scenario from like 2014 or something. Details are scarce, because this shit was so awful that they took it off the internet and it now survives only as a .pdf passed around the internet. My acquisition of the .pdf was, of course, of utterly impeccable legality, but I’m given to understand that most owners of it did so through the unthinkable act of piracy. What terrible times we live in.

EDIT: Turns out (according to the impeccably legal source of the .pdf, which is basically the only source of information on this I can find now) that this is actually a playtest packet for the thing that Paradox is outsourcing, not whatever the Hell Chronicles of Darkness is getting up to, which means my opinion on the final product of that new VtM art book coming out has gone from “signs are bad, but there could still be a surprising reversal of fortune in the cards” to “abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

The first thing I double-checked on this was its authors. We’re looking at Martin Elricsson and Ken Hite, with Karim Muammar on editing. The reason I checked this is to confirm that none of them were Matt MacFarland, the pedophile who wrote the conspicuously pro-abuse Beast: the Primordial. The reason I felt the need to double check this before beginning a full-on analysis will become clear later.

We start off with several ill omens: A background summary of recent events in Berlin that make it clear that authors are completely re-writing the politics of this city every few years instead of just setting their no-Sabbat stories in Munich or wherever, and this bit of GM advice:

If you’ve played Enlightenment in Blood, don’t be afraid to adapt the scenario to fit the outcome of the larp or to just embellish it with your experiences. Have your character appear as an NPC, or let the players witness a dramatic scene you yourself participated in.

To all budding GMs: Never do this. Never interrupt your game to subject your players to a Facebook image album from your latest LARP vacation. If your players were also at that LARP, dropping in a reference to a cool scene from it would be an acceptable bit of fanservice, but that possibility is weirdly absent from this advice, which instead assumes that the GM is the only one who had a character present at the LARP to include and that halting the story to brag about the exclusive event you went to is a good idea.

Things get much worse very quickly, however. The main plot of the scenario is stupid, but hardly worth covering compared to how terrible its characters are. Not terrible in a “once a human being, but now tragically and irrevocably turned into a horrible monster” kind of a way. Terrible in a “the only thing worse than the writing is the people writing it” way. To get the plot covered, though, there’s a “Second Inquisition” wherein humans begin hunting vampires with SWAT teams, and some trucks blow up some clubhouses where vampires feed, and the characters are all neonates bloodbound to an ancilla and that ancilla being in danger is their primary motivation to spend at least some of their time going towards danger rather than get the Hell out of Dodge as soon as things get dicey. The blood bond is liberally used to railroad the players through a pre-determined series of scenes rather than setting up a situation for players to fight their way out of, which would’ve been the obvious thing to do for actual character driven roleplay, but it’s hardly outside the White Wolf millieu for its adventure writers to be novelist wannabes who inflict their single author fiction on hapless tabletop gamers.

The theme of being blood bound to an asshole is not out of place for Vampire. The sexualization of the vampiric act of drinking blood isn’t out of place, either. It’s fine to have metaphors, and honestly sex is barely even taboo these days. The player characters are referred to as a “blood-harem” of an ancilla named Andre. Every description of the pre-gen characters has a paragraph on their basic biography, their darkest secret, and the worst thing they ever did to an Anarch (who are now going around murdering all the Camarilla), and the darkest secret for every one is that they are “a slave” to Andre. The sexual overtones of Andre as someone who uses great sex to keep abuse victims wrapped around his finger are hardly subtle, and draw sharp attention to the connection between feeding and sex often present in vampire stories, very much including Vampire: the Masquerade. I bring this up because you can have a story about vampires that ignores the “feeding as sex” metaphor, but you can’t label a story’s protagonists the “blood-harem” of their vampire overlord and describe their obsessive, unhealthy addiction to him, you can’t have that blood bond established in a string of shady nightclubs one of which is explicitly a sex club, you can’t do all that and claim you aren’t heavily and frequently using feeding as a metaphor for sex.

Meet Amelina Bentheim. She’s a Ventrue, which means she has a special feeding restriction. It’s a drawback of the Clan: Being Ventrue means you can only feed from a certain, much more specific sort of victim than most vampires. Maybe you can only feed from people who have a healthy diet only typical of the upper class, so you go around eating rich people exclusively, or maybe you can only feed from people with heart disease so you get yourself unrestricted access to a hospital and decrease its survival rates. One of the non-Amelina Ventrue in the party can only feed on vegans. Whatever.

Amelina Bentheim’s character description opens as follows:

You love the young. A vampire who’s only a few years old has an energy, a quality that you can’t get enough of. You want to be in their company, fuck them and taste their blood, and you say whatever you need to say to make that happen. You may have opinions and you may even have values, but most of all you have an addiction. In an Anarch party, you’re never in the spotlight and your young friends might not even know who you are, but when morning comes you’ll be the one licking
your lips. This came to bite you in your figurative ass as you now find yourself blood bound to a powerful member of the primogen council, masquerading as a simple club kid.

At this point, some readers may be thinking “oh, come on, Chamomile, it’s obvious you’re trying to set up an ‘Amelina is a pedophile’ thing here, but a young vampire is still usually a fully functioning adult human. It’s about abuse of power dynamics for unhealthy relationships, not child rape.”

The things is, that paragraph there isn’t the punchline. I just want to really hammer home how much this scenario is leaning into the “vampiric feeding as sex” metaphor not only in general, but even in the profile of the specific character we’re discussing. Here’s the punchline:

Ventrue feeding restriction: You only feed off children and very young teenagers.

Yeah, after all that setup to draw a direct comparison between feeding and fucking, Amelina’s feeding restriction is that she cannot feed off of anyone over the age of maybe about fourteen.

But wait, it gets worse! Every scene comes with a few “potential victims,” people the players can feed off of. Feeding off of different victims gives a special bonus, which I think is in addition to giving regular blood points you can use for your powers, but I’m not really clear on how the new edition of Vampire works with regards to blood points, and it really doesn’t matter, because what matters is that the very first scene, when they’re setting a mood and protagonists are most likely to be wandering around looking for people to eat because they are vampires waiting for the plot to get started, has four potential victims. Cenk Yidiz, club proprieter, older man, Evenk Yildiz, Cenk’s teenage son who, at age sixteen, is very probably outside of Amelina’s feeding range, and Harika Demir, Cenk’s married, adult daughter. You may think at first glance that this means Amelina’s got no one to feed on, and maybe her feeding restriction is background detail that makes her more of a monster but which in play just amounts to “you don’t get to feed ever,” but you may alternatively have noticed that I said there were four potential victims and have only listed three, and I’m clearly holding the last one in reserve, which I am, because that last one is Harika’s infant daughter.

Amelina’s character is set up to draw clear connections between sex and feeding, and the first scene is set up to convince her to feed on a baby. It’s not like this is going anywhere. The scenario doesn’t have anything to say about child predators. Amelina just is one, for nothing else but the crass shock value of having a child predator in the party.

I don’t want to accuse Chronicles of Darkness of being a secret cabal of pedophiles, because while those do exist, the main support for that accusation is the guilt by association from the fact that they once employed a pedophile to write a book for them. But just a thought, CoD, maybe you wouldn’t have pedophiles signing up to write books for you if you didn’t use child rape as fucking wallpaper.

EDIT: And since Chronicles of Darkness isn’t actually responsible for this, my updated hot take conclusion is that the new, official, Paradox-approved version of World of Darkness is so goddamn stupid and tone deaf that they decided to push blatant allusions to pedophilia even after a scandal in which a WoD author turned out to be a pedophile. This is actually a completely separate group of people totally failing to realize why this might be a bad idea, which says some very bad things about the general quality of writers that any World of Darkness project might attract, even with different people at the helm. That’s unfortunate, because I’d like WoD to be good at again, but it seems the pool of potential writers for that project is bizarrely dense with people who are bizarrely fascinated with (if not actively engaging in) pedophilia, but not in a way where they have anything interesting to say on the subject, just in a way where they cram it into stories for no goddamn reason at all.

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