“But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning.
We were brainwashed.”
One more than a few occasions I’ve seen a new (or maybe not-so-new) Vampire: the Masquerade player – in a Facebook group, on Discord, on a forum – ask a question along the following lines: “My character was an internet-savvy punk with who has suffered from PTSD ever since they were badly beaten during an environmental protest … what clan are they?” Or maybe the character was a laid-back hippie, or a detective, or a social media influencer. But whatever the character concept is, there’s that question at the end – “What clan is this character?”
So, first, let me give props to the players asking these question for having a more ‘human’ character – for thinking about a character who is well-rounded, rather than just starting with a clan stereotype and adding a few flourishes. Which isn’t to say that no good character has ever started out as “I want to play a Nosferatu hacker” (we’ve all done it), but the folks asking these questions are already a step up from that.
But all too often the answers to these sorts of questions are to identify a clan or two and try to explain why this character is that clan. Why they are, in the immortal words of The Breakfast Club, a brain or an athlete or a basket case or a princess or a criminal.
What I would like to suggest is that none of these is a great answer – that none of these can be a great answer – because it’s not the optimal question that’s being asked. In answering these questions, we should try to do better, because vampires do not fit so easily into these neat little categories. Not every street tough is a Brujah (or vice versa). Not every Ventrue is a financial titan (or vice versa). Not every Toreador is a … well, you get the point. “What do you care” which clan stereotype a character might most readily be wedged into?
A better answer to the question of “what clan is this character?” would be to ask another question back. Perhaps something like “well, how do you want this character to relate to Kindred society?” Or, one of my personal favorites – “why did your sire embrace you?” Because, sure, clan dictates Discipline dots and a clan bane and such. But the person person asking this question typically isn’t looking for a mechanical answer. And once you move past those few mechanical things, the reason clan matters it not so much that it defines who the character is, but more that it might say a lot about how other vampire think about the character. And that can make a big difference in how the character’s story will unfold.
Because, of course, although clan does not define characters, clan stereotypes do matter (just not in the way I poked fun at above). Membership in a clan generally isn’t handed out at random (although it can be). Vampires are members of clans (but see Caitiff). Those clans have notions of what a member of the clan is “supposed” to be. That influences members of the clan to embrace people who embody that stereotype. And the greater numbers of these stereotypical clan members influence what other clans expect out of members of that clan. So a Ventrue street tough is going to be seen differently by the other Ventrue than a Ventrue captain of industry. And a Ventrue street though is going to be seen different by other vampires than a Brujah street tough would have been. Those perceptions are going to color how other vampires feel about the character. That Ventrue street tough may make a much better character if you want to tell a story about nonconformity and rebellion than the Brujah version ever could.
And I like to ask about a character’s sire because that’s often the single most defining relationship for a character, excepting whatever they have with the other members of their coterie. A character’s unlife can be very different if they were a embraced on the spur-of-the-moment or if were groomed for a decade before being granted the embrace. It will probably be different if the sire embraced the character as a new version of themself or if the sire embraced specifically because the childe brought something new to the table (the classic ‘old vampire embraces someone who knows about computers’ schtick). And thinking about why the character was embraced often spurs deeper thought about the character themself – I don’t know how many times I’ve asked about a potential character’s sire only for the other person to realize that they had no idea why their character had become a vampire in the first place.
But even all of that is still in generalities. To go deeper, you have to know something about the chronicle the character will fit into (yes, yes, I’m one of those people who’s very big on collaborative character creation). Just like not all individual members of a clan hew to the clan stereotypes. And maybe this is too deep a dive for your random Facebook group question, but it’s worth thinking about how these distinctive chronicle elements might influence a character. For example, in our Providence by Night chronicle, my Malkavian character’s unlife was quite different than might have been expected because almost every single other Malkavian in the city had been killed a few years back. The fact that Beth had no built-in clan support structure left her grasping for allies – forming relationships and making deals that may or may not come back to haunt her. That aspect of her story would have been completely different if she existed in a chronicle where there was a large and organized Malkavian contingent. “Your whole clan is dead” is an extreme example, but there are city’s without a Ventrue prince, Nosferatu Spymaster, Toreador-dominated social scene, or leather-clad Brujah toughs.
So, when someone presents a character and asks “what clan are they,” consider not directly answering the question. Applaud their existing attention to character concept, then think about using questions to push them to think even more deeply about what sort of story their character is going to take part in.
“But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain … and an athlete … and a basket case … a princess … and a criminal.
Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”
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