Thursday, March 1, 2012

Studies in Underage Vampirism

Today I decided to carry out a role playing experiment I considered since last year. Some people felt it was too mature for young players, so it took me quite some time to think of a way to do it delicately enough so it wouldn’t cross the border of good taste on the one hand and wouldn’t become a tasteless, pink fantasy on the other. Hopefully, this time I struck a good balance.

I was very curious to see how a group of children would react if, one morning, they woke up and discovered they were Embraced into vampirism. Obviously, this is a much darker story than your typical “kill the orc, save the pie” sort of game. Thus, I chose my most experienced and mature group for this experiment. They study in a school called Crimson School, so a short exploration the vampiric state felt appropriate.

To save time on character generation, I decided to use a simplified Mind’s Eye Theater system. I asked each kid to prioritize three traits – Physical, Mental and Social and to tell me three things he is good at (his abilities). Amusingly, the abilities chosen most often were Bullying and Making Friends. One kid wrote Self Defense (only when there is no other choice). Lastly, I secretly chose two disciplines for each kid. I told them they have special powers, but didn’t say which powers, or where they came from.

Instead of rolling dice, we used rock-paper-scissors. In case of a tie, the more highly prioritized trait won. An appropriate ability allowed a retest.

Very progressive and yet utterly horrifying at the same time...
Art by Omri

The game started with the kids waking up in a basement around a pile of ash with a stake, a set of keys, a wallet and a rabbit foot lying in it. The walls were riddled with bullets and the floor was covered with shells. Heavy breathing could be heard from outside. The kids had no recollection of the last 24 hours. They were not hurt, but experienced a terrible, almost bestial hunger.

After spending a couple of turns searching the room for any clues and treasure, and subsequently pocketing any object they could lift, the kids went upside to find a lavish living room with a 150’’ Plasma TV, stag heads above a cold fireplace, archaic weapons decorating the walls, home cinema, the latest Xbox and enough games to last a lifetime. This room was also riddled with bullet holes and smelled of blood and gunpowder. In the elegant, but empty kitchenette, they found the source of the gasping – a tough looking dude in SWAT uniform, bleeding severely from his chest.

The bedroom had an ash covered bed and a slain, heavily armed young man lying in the corner. The bathroom appeared to be out of commission for a very long time, being covered in dust and cobwebs. The attic was full of beautiful, but disturbing scenes of warzones and massacres, plus a large silver cage, presently unoccupied.

Surprisingly, the first action of the kids was to try to call an ambulance, which made me infinitely proud of them (usually kids like to play right proper Munchkin bastards). Sadly, their good intentions were wasted as the landline was cut and the man’s radiophone only produced unpleasant static noise. Even worse, the kids couldn’t shrug off the sensation that the man was incredibly tasty.

An Iphone with 13 unanswered calls and two new messages lay by the TV. Both messages were from a woman named Isabel Haralson. One read, “YO KYLE, YOU COMING TO THE PARTY TONIGHT?” and the second one read, “TAKE JANE AND LEAVE NOW!! THERE COMING TO KILL YOU!!!1”

"Good evening sweetcups, did you sleep well?"
Art by Sa-cool

The kid who found the Iphone read the messages, shrugged, and exclaimed “Yay! I have Iphone 5! I check what games were on it?”

"Stop wasting the batteries you idiot!" an older kid barked at him, "this Iphone might be our only way out!"

One of the kids just couldn’t control himself (not his fault, just a bad “roll”) and bit the injured man, sucking a small amount of blood and suddenly feeling vigorous and full. Another accidental bite from a different kid produced the same result. The third kid, the oldest of the group, bit the man on purpose, draining him to death, feeling the same explosion of vitality, but also being slightly changed in the process, his features becoming sharper, his reactions more instinctual.

Giving in to the Beast has its price.

A different kid said he peeps out of the window, which immediately resulted in painful burns from the dim evening sun. The vulnerability to sunlight and the thirst for blood did the trick: the kids knew what they were.

The Birth of a Pack
Suddenly the phone rang (I actually had my phone produce an old-fashioned ringing sound, which really startled the group). The caller was Isabel who immediately started shouting, “Who the hell are you?! Where is Kyle?! I will tear you apart!”

The kid, discouraged by her aggressive manner, answered “K... Kyle is dead. I am sorry. I think there were vampire slayers in the house. I think we are vampires too. I... I don’t know what to do.”

Other kids said a great deal of other stuff, like one of them being Kyle, one of them killing Kyle and one of them identifying as his usual D&D character Percy Potter...

“What is this nonsense, why are you making stuff up? Where! Is! Kyleeee!”

“I swear it’s true! Listen, I can turn on video chat, you can see for yourself.”

At this point, the kids gave the caller a nice view of the ruined room and got a glimpse of her as well – a slim woman with deathly pale skin, a huge black Mohawk, black lipstick, black eyeliners and elaborate piercing all over her face. On one forearm she had a reverse ankh tattoo, and on the other, “I didn’t ask to be born” in Gothic letters.

There was a long pause, after which the woman said, “Okay, don’t go anywhere. I’ll come as soon as I can.”

The kids used the time to loot the apartment to the fullest, proudly writing down every item they could think of. By the time they started collecting plates, toilet seats, and parts of the sink, I stopped taking notes...

"In the Empire of the Vampire, life begins at night..."
Art by Baby Mordred

Initiation Rites
The woman arrived after about half an hour, stepping out of the closet with an aging man dressed in the latest fashion...of the 18th century. The man did some quick spell and then consulted with the woman in a Slavic-sounding language (more because I can’t do any other accents then due to any plot reasons). The woman nodded gravely and addressed the kids, “Gentlemen, it seems that you are the victims of a grave injustice. You will never see the sun again. You will never grow old. You will never have Pizza... but perhaps there is hope for you yet. Perhaps, despite your young age, you could find a place in the Community.”

“Are you inviting us to the party?” The youngest kid asked hopefully.

“Shut up!” The other kids hissed at him.

“Are we really vampires?” Another kid asked.

“We don’t use this word.” The woman answered coldly, “We call ourselves, ‘the Community.’ Now, you should pass three tests to prove your worth to the Community. Should you fail at any of them – you will be destroyed.”

“What’s the first test?” one kid asked, “Do you want us to kill the vampire slayers?”

“No, nothing like this – we just want you to cross the road. Tadeusz and I will be waiting for you across the street in a black limousine. Good luck!” With that, Isabel and Tadeusz stepped back into the closet and disappeared.

“Really, is this our test? Just crossing the road? I do it every day!” The youngest kid said cheerfully and went outside.

Into the sun.

Within milliseconds, his skin started to burn and bubble and he ran inside, driven to near frenzy by pain and fear.

The second kid went more smartly about it. He covered himself with blankets from head to toe, and ran outside. However, seeing nothing, he kept stumbling, until he was hit by a car and exposed to the scorching sun. He only survived by climbing under a parked car. Amusingly, before scuttling to shelter, he still gave a nasty bite to a passerby who tried to help -- just out of spite.

More attempts followed, each failing miserably, nearly killing our brave young heroes. Suddenly, the kid hiding under a car had a flash of sheer brilliance.

“Wait a second!” He shouted, “They didn’t tell us when to cross the street. Why are we all running into the sun like idiots? Let’s just wait for sunset and then comfortably cross the street!”

Welcome to the family! The future looks... full of XP
Art by Alejandro Dini

Much applause and XP was had. The group spent a few more hours waiting for sunset, and then calmly crossed the street, where a black limo was indeed waiting for them. They were heartily embraced by Isabel who then ordered her beastly looking chauffeur to drive away.

“Where are we going?” The kids asked, “To the second test?”

“Oh no, you have much to learn before you can undertake it. It will take many months and will not be easy, but you have shown yourself to be quite bright, and resourceful too. You stand good chances of being accepted into the Community. For now – relax, I have such sights to show you...”

Kids, at least in this group, are much more mature and responsible than I gave them credit for. When faced with a realistic situation and characters they can identify with (human children finding themselves in a scary situation), they play in a very responsible and serious fashion, utterly different from the carefree, GTA-like nonsense they tend to degenerate D&D into.

The kids themselves said they enjoyed the game immensely, much more than their usual game. The group unanimously voted to play the other two tests, which had me at a loss since I planned this as a one time experience. Good thing there is a holiday just around the corner and tons of time to prepare.

In short, the experiment was a major success. If you enjoyed this post – all the more so!


  1. Since they are trying to prove themselves to The Community, perhaps a demonstration of useful skills? For example, computers, trade skills, or anything else The Community would value.

    1. Sadly, they chose their skills too well. They are mostly skilled in making friends, annoying adults and getting into fights...

  2. If you gave them a bit of down time you could allow them to each choose a new skill or two based on what they've learned since being embraced (from a broader skills list). That would give you more to work with for designing a follow-up session.

    And, thanks for doing this. As a parent with young children I'm looking for all the info I can get on when to introduce them to role-playing scenarios.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and excellent idea.

      I'm glad you find this blog helpful. You could also enjoy these articles I wrote for Wizards back in the day :)

  3. I suggest the next test should be one that they have to work together to accomplish, using whatever skills they picked, such as, insinuating themselves into a fancy restaurant and charming or annoying the host, waiters, and chefs until they find a rare spice the vampires crave. Or pretending to be students in a boarding school to discover which of the teachers is really a leader of local vampire hunters. After they succeed, you could reward them by letting them choose one or two new skills.

    1. Oh, I really like the second idea, I think they will find it very easy to relate to this situation plus have a great time coming to school with "super powers."

    2. I'm curious to what the age range of the kids playing was. My 9 y/o was constantly exposed to V:TM when he was younger and he has no problem with understanding it is just a game. As for tests, I'm thinking that making them feed in a controlled fashion, rather than just out of hunger and thus killing would be a good one. And I think the suggestion of Torah is a good idea. Make them actually USE the skills AND discover their disciplines and if they can figure out how to use them effectively.

      Katrina Thiessen

    3. This particular group is aged 10-11 with one kid being 9. However, overall, I'd worked with kids aged as young as 6 (although these rarely have the presence of mind to stick to one game for a long time.)