For no real reason, here are some edgy role-playing games which may or may not feature vampires
I heard the cool kids like their games edgy, and they like them featuring vampires. That’s cool, I grew up with Buffy as a major fandom. I played collectible card games featuring vampires and even role-playing games where you could be them. I know, right? Shocking. You, the player, would be the monster! It was certainly an interesting experience, especially as a 13 year old who didn’t really know what an RPG was. There were certainly some discoveries being made with those books, and not just about long words like ‘vicissitude’, which I’ve only heard used outside of RPGs by Jeremy Hardy.
The thing is, times change and evolve. I went from my crash course in edgy, moody goths, scheming politics and murderous protagonists to AD&D, Alternity and a bunch of other games. I kept coming back to games about vampires, werewolves and especially hunters. I ignored a lot of the existing lore as it didn’t really involve my players. We kept a lot of the personal horror and the existence of living as a beast in a mundane setting. Some of my favourite campaigns came from there.
You mature with time and add nuance, which is something the RPG industry has often been able to do. Or sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they do bad things, quickly have to patch over their mistakes. And sometimes the audience courted by all of this start parroting that things which are harmful and insensitive to other people or make light of real political horrors are fine because they don’t give a shit. And the designers say that the left are mean for judging them for saying awful things. And then the parents have to take the toys away and reports of those actual people perpetrating political atrocities which you dressed up as just another one of your toys start taking notice and getting a bit concerned and you have to wonder if maybe something’s gone a bit wrong.
I have no idea where that tangent came from or what it’s about, but if people think that this is the suppression of talk about difficult subjects, about vampires being dark, edgy and sexy then they’re wrong. The thing is, games have been doing this for a long time. They weren’t frozen in time when certain companies fell off the map getting distracted making an MMO.
This is all a lengthy way of saying that if you want your edgy, brooding, sexy monsters dabbling with real world issues, here are a lot of games that do them a lot better than certain other games.
GAMES SPECIFICALLY ABOUT VAMPIRES AND OTHER MONSTERS
By Andrew Medeiros and Magpie Games
I admit a lot of bias towards the Powered by the Apocalypse design philosophy. It’s fostered a lot of great ways to play and run RPGs, to have mechanics reflect the themes and even when I’m not playing games in this style, their advice for GMs has been great.
Urban Shadows has players each take a different playbook reflecting a type of monster (and some humans), then pushed you together having to politic with or against each other. You often end up troubleshooting wider problems and handling intrigues. The system gives you experience by having interaction (positive or negative) with each of the other factions. Your stats are both for you and your wider organisation (demons, vampires, etc). As an old school fan of dark worlds filled with supernatural creatures, the dream was always some kind of crossover. You also have a Corruption mechanic which lets you do all that good supernatural fun at the cost of just a part of your soul. It’ll be worth it, though, I’m sure…
If you want to play all one type of supernatural creature, there is an expansion for playing a pack of werewolves in Mexico, which is found here.
Urban Shadows can be found here.
By Paul Riddle and Magpie Games
I admit I’m less familiar with Undying. It reflects a more focused look of the horror of being a vampire, the inhumanity it can breed in people. It’s diceless but uses PbtA ideas to get things done. Each playbook is a kind of vampire, each one sounding like a complete monster.
You hunt and feed, you fight and you scheme against each other. This sounds a lot like the Vampire 5E Pre-Alpha played around with, but from what I’ve read of the book, feels like it’s doing a lot more to make that palatable. If you want the convoluted relationship maps of Vampire, that’s here. Things are kept a lot more local, too.
Undying can be found here.
By Avery Alder and Buried Without Ceremony
Monsterhearts is one of my favourite games. It deals with a lot of personal and supernatural horrors. You are teenagers who are also monsters, which I admit is kind of like saying monsters who are also monsters. I know this, I was one. You’re filled with hormones and horrors, ready to fly off the handle, brood introspectively, fight people and fuck people… sometimes the same people. It handles intense situations and writes brilliantly about making sure you’re all keeping a safe table while handling these potentially dark subjects. It gets the queering of monsters right in a way which a lot of people have felt other games have tactlessly botched with references to real horrors going on in the world and shrugged off. Given one choice for a horror game with vampires and edgy plot elements, it’d definitely be this one for me.
Turn & Thousand Year Vampire
By Brie Beau Sheldon and Tim Hutchings, respectively
I’m only including these as one entry as neither fully exist yet, although they both have beta versions. Both have been Kickstarted fairly recently. Depending on when this goes up, Turn may still have a few days left.
Brie Beau Sheldon has been working on Turn for quite some time now and was fairly open about the process. I last saw a beta version several months ago and it looked great then. They’ve basically made a game as a slice of life version of lycanthrope narratives. Instead of making it life or death, it keeps things in the mundane, another thing which I really like. You create the town together, which is always something I love in a game, especially one with this sort of a tight focus. The campaign can be found here.
Thousand Year Vampire is a solo journaling-type game about being a vampire living so long your memories are starting to fade. Do you remember your grudge against a vampire if it means losing the memory of a friend? The campaign page allows late backers and is here.
By Nathan Paoletta and NDP Design
You want your dark vampire stories? Why not go back to the original dark vampire stories like Dracula and Carmilla. Annalise is a gothic horror game which puts players in control of characters in the orbit of a dark power. While it doesn’t have to be a Dracula, it’s totally perfect for it to be a Dracula as the villain. You can either make your own or use some of the great premade scenarios to have your characters drawn in to the darkness, either resisting or falling.
Annalise can be found here. As I’m recommending his work, I should also disclose that Nathan’s drawn a couple of book covers for me and the amazing logo for Lightning.
EDGY GAMES ABOUT WEIRD HORRORS
By Marissa Kelly, Whitney ‘Strix’ Beltran, Sarah Richardson and Magpie Games
You want dark? Oh this game has dark. It pours the darkness into a beautiful claw-foot bathtub, tempts you in, it soothes you with the warmth of the water. But then you look up and see the mirror, your cracked reflection covered in fallen shards. The water glittering with tiny fragments which get everywhere.
Bluebeard’s Bride is a beautiful, horrible game retelling the original fairytale. You all play fragments of The Bride, vying for control, seeing whether you should rebel or comply with the wishes of your new husband, of the house, the other brides and servants. The themes are re-stated through the book and the rooms you go in. Femininity, sexuality, violence, control. It you want your edgy horror, come here and play carefully, as it’s going to scare you.
Bluebeard’s Bride can be found here.
By Alexandra Sontowska, Kamil Węgrzynowicz and naked female giant
This is my solo-gaming white whale. I first started writing about solo games on Who Dares Rolls because I was daring myself to one day try to play AND talk about The Beast. This is a solo game using a deck of cards to determine events which happen each day for just over 20 days. Each real life day you draw a card, make some decisions and write a journal entry. The plot is simple. You have found or somehow acquired a beast. And you fuck it. The creature is attractive, it’s repulsive. Your capture of the creature is private, as are your experiences of what you do with it. At the end of your experience, it suggests you burn the journal you make. The designers have talked of fans rushing up to them, stopping short before sharing any stories, knowing that they shouldn’t speak of what they’ve experienced. You want your sexy, edgy games? There’s one for you.
The Beast can be bought here.
My Life with Master
By Paul Czege
In this game you are in thrall to a monster. This could be a mortal monster or something more supernatural. Either way, you are people who are tied together by servitude to it, pinging back and forth between self-loathing and weariness. You’ll get to do some incredibly dark things, but the goal here is to eventually break free of your master, to fight back. That only happens at the end of the narrative, with the build up being really horrific. You edgy players want to do dark things? You can do that and eventually (hopefully for your characters) turn it round.
You can buy the game here and one day I’ll have to tell you about how I played a horrible Niles Crane.
By Stephen Dewey
This is an incredible concept and so very dark. More of a traditional horror game (a one-shot, characters are doomed from the start), but the tone and atmosphere is so good. If you want to experience personal horror in a supernatural situation, this is great. The world has gone dark and you’re living through the last of the light, represented by ten tea-lights around a bowl of water. As they go out, the game draws closer to the end. Recorded statements at the start provide an epitaph at the end of the game. I’ve read but not played it yet, and I really want to.
You can buy Ten Candles here.
Hoo boy, this is a difficult one. Still, there are books which cover this. Without having to go into the supernatural as much.
Heads of State
By Mark Vallianatos
An anthology of role-playing games, all about dictators. These go from writing biographies of a dictator to going through the wreckage after a coup, seeing what the items there bring back for your character and what they say about the dictator.
The physical edition of the book has sold out and isn’t available on places like DriveThruRPG. His Kickstarter campaign page is here where you may be able to reach him if you want to purchase a PDF.
By Pelgrane Press and a ton of authors
This is another anthology and a far more recent one. The necessity for conversations about feminism, especially feminism in games is only highlighted by the series being nominated not as a best RPG but a best RPG-related product. It lost to a card game. The Ennies themselves are also historically replete with issues probably warranting an article about ‘for no real reason, here are some better award ceremonies’.
#Feminism is a collection of short games relating to a whole ton of different subjects, written by some amazing authors. Games include: Manic Pixie Dream Girl Commandos by Lizzie Stark (a military force to inspire mopey guys), Tropes Vs Women by Ann Eriksen (playing out realistic and clichéd versions of depictions of female characters), So Mom I Made a Sex Tape by Susanne Vejdemo (a scene where women with different ages, opinions towards and versions of feminism talk about the titular event).
You can get this collection here.
By Andrew Medeiros
This is basically This War of Mine, but as a short LARP. I’ve yet to play it, but it looks really interesting. It uses a soundtrack to rotate between day and night phases, providing difficult choices and the relentless onslaught of time. For people who haven’t played This War of Mine (and I’ll get to the board game version soon, I promise you), the concept is that you’re the residents of a building in a city facing military occupation. You are on neither side of the conflict, but instead the victims of it simply hoping to survive until the fighting stops.
You can find The Forgotten here
Durance & ‘Terps
By Jason Morningstar and Bully Pulpit Games
Sometimes a political story needs a bit of a metaphor to help it slide down. Sure, you could use vampires as a metaphor for all kinds of things, but have you considered science fiction instead?
Durance is a science fiction retelling of the founding of Australia. Prisoners are promised a bright future if they work the land and serve their time in peace. It’s great, until it isn’t. Instead, the planet is hostile and the colony has infrastructural problems. You each create a member of the Authority and a Prisoner. The game is run using a rotating GM asking questions and then when something is uncertain, a roll between Servility, Savagery or a third chosen keyword for what will dominate the scene. As a bonus, there’s also a playset for running it as an actual historical Australia game.
‘Terps, by the same author, runs a little differently. Up to four players and two GMs run through scenes of military interpreters in an occupied world. You’re locals, having agreed to serve the occupying force in return for a ticket out of here, safety for loved ones or several other motivations they’re not really likely to fulfil. The military forces will be leaving here and are unlikely to take you with them, ultimately. Based around more recent experiences of military interpreters for American forces, I’ve yet to run this game but I really want to.
Jason Morningstar has been making political games for years now, some of which are free (‘Terps, Last Train from Warsaw, etc) and some are paid for (Durance, Grey Ranks, Night Witches) and I love each one I’ve written. This could easily be just a list of them, but to allow the other publishers a chance, I’ll simply say that you should check them out yourself here.
I could go on, but I hope the point is made. There are a ton of games out there, a whole ton, who all deal with this kind of subject matter a lot better. Who weaponise edgy or political content into the mechanics in interesting ways. Sure there’s not as much brand recognition as none of these have been around since 1991. Check these games out if you want a fun experience in edgier places.
On Mapgie Games
I have recommended a bunch of Magpie Games here. I love their games and they have some amazing designers in their midst. So far every game I’ve run of theirs and every one I’ve read is a banger, however… there’s also an amount of controversy there. After the dust appears to have settled (at least, both major players involved have collaborated with The Gauntlet, which is normally a good sign), I think things are calmer, but in fairness it’s probably good to check out some of those details online. Sophie Lagacé’s examination of the subject here is really good. Jesus this industry has a lot of soap operas going on.