The Endless Game – The Metaplot of “Vampire: The Masquerade”

One of the hallmarks of Vampire: The Masquerade (and for that matter the vast majority of the White Wolf games) is the Metaplot, the overarching storyline that was always in the background of the materials published for the game. Intricate, contradictory, and byzantine in its structure, the backstory of Vampire: The Masquerade drew from every form of mythology available, specifically the Biblical account of Cain and Abel.

There are a number of contradictory texts that have been published over the years for Vampire: The Masquerade, so I’m going to winnow this down to the most straight-forward breakdown of the metaplot.

The story of Vampire: The Masquerade begins in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel as presented in the Book of Genesis but with a twist. Caine, the elder brother of Abel, is admonished for his offering to Yahweh. Whether born out of jealousy or (as depicted in The Book of Nod) because he loved Abel and cherished him as the most precious thing in his life, Caine murdered his brother. Cast out into the unknown lands of Nod by Yahweh, Caine is then cursed with the Mark, in this case the overwhelming desire for human blood, immortality, an aversion to sunlight, and last but not least The Beast (the feral subconscious that revels in bloodshed).

As befits any legend in our own world, the legends surrounding Caine and his wanderings in the land of Nod are often contradictory in the books published over the years. In one book, The Book of Nod, Caine takes up residence with Lilith, Adam’s first wife and the first sorceress in the world. Lilith’s teachings lead Caine to develop the powers that would later become the Disciplines used by players as the powers of the blood their Vampire characters possess. Lilith is not a character found within the Christian Bible, instead being a figure found in Judaic mythology as a demoness who was banished from Eden for choosing to not submit to the edict from Yahweh that she be subservient to Adam. This is one of the first instances where White Wolf began to meld different mythological stories into a (somewhat) cohesive narrative structure but it wouldn’t be the last.

In time, Caine returned from his wanderings to encounter the children of Seth, his younger brother. The tales differ depending on which book of the game you read, but Caine chose a number of these mortals and performed the Embrace, transforming them into vampires like himself, becoming the Second Generation. With his childer (the term used within game to denote the difference between a Sire, the creator vampire, and the Childe, the vampire who is created), Caine creates Enoch, the First City, a place where the Vampires rule openly over humans. The Second Generation create childer of their own, the Third Generation. The true number of Third Generation vampires is also something left deliberately vague by White Wolf over the years but the accepted number is 13, one for each of the prominent Clans of Vampires players have access to within the game.

But this is a game based in horror, so as one can imagine, everything goes to hell.

First, the Flood occurs (as in the one that made Noah and his family famous). Enoch is destroyed, along with the humans the Vampires had been feasting on and turning into more Vampires. This leads to the develop of the main term used in the metaplot: Antediluvians, those Vampires who predate the Flood. With the Flood subsiding and humans beginning to reappear, the Vampires of the Third Generation turn on and destroy their creators of the Second Generation. In his anger, Caine curses his grandchilder, inflicting a permanent detriment to each of them that is carried on in each Vampire they create (which is where the Clan Weakness mechanic comes from within Vampire: The Masquerade). By this time, the Third Generation had created the Second City in a vain attempt to recapture the glory of Enoch. Between the curse of Caine levied against them and their own growing paranoia and hatred of one another, the Second City falls into ruin, scattering the Vampire Clans around the world, which White Wolf uses as a way to incorporate the myths and legends of various cultures into the metaplot narrative.

This diaspora also forms the basis of the main thrust of the metaplot: the Great Jyhad between the Antediluvians. Rather than fight each other directly, the founders of the Vampire Clans use their offspring in proxy wars against one another for slights (real or imagined). In one case, there is one of the Founders (the Nosferatu Antediluvian) who seeks to destroy their own Clan. From here, White Wolf weaves a deeply complex and often-times convoluted narrative involving key moments in human history (the rise of Egypt and Hellenistic Greece, the rise and fall of Rome, the fall of Constantinople, the Inquisition and the Dark Ages) that incorporates the Great Jyhad between the Third Generation and their progeny into the events of our own history, which would lead to Gehenna, the End Times for all Vampires (and potentially the world as well).

It is not always a seamless fusion and there are times where even someone who is a fan of the game like myself has to look at White Wolf and shake my head at the attempts to weld history and fantasy together. While the metaplot was a novel idea when it was first introduced in the mid-1990s, by the end of the millennium it was clear that White Wolf was losing focus on how to control the metaplot they had created. As a business, the company understood that they had to keep producing content in order to make money but the books published at the beginning of the 2000s often retconned previously published works or ignored them entirely, confusing the fanbase immensely.

Another side effect of the metaplot that White Wolf failed to take into account is the penchant for gamemasters to develop their own canon for their home games, even if that canon is not what is found in the core rulebooks. By sticking closely to the metaplot, White Wolf was essentially hamstringing gamemasters into following a byzantine-like narrative structure that seemingly had no end in sight.

At least that was the case until 2004 when White Wolf published the end of their combined game lines in a series of books focused on the end of the metaplot. The sourcebook Gehenna, published in January of 2004, offered gamemasters multiple different scenarios for how to end the overall story of Vampire: The Masquerade for their games. The four scenarios varied in terms of content. The entry “Wormwood” focuses on the personal horror aspect of Vampires attempting to find redemption while the rest of the Kindred die around them. Another entry, titled “Nightshade”, was a globe-trotting adventure where the player characters were thrust into the heart of Gehenna and attempting to avert it (but then having to rely on deus ex machina to resolve the story). The last one I’ll mention is the scenario titled “The Crucible of God”, which focused on the world-wide destruction that would come about as each of the Antediluvians wakes up and wreaks havoc on the world.

While novel in concept and interesting (at first) in execution, the metaplot of Vampire: The Masquerade (much like the other game lines created by White Wolf) proved to be a major hinderance to the future of the game. Faced with the lack of creative energy behind the plotline and the need to maintain their business, White Wolf chose to end the game lines in 2004 and start over from scratch, which lead to the creation of what fans refer to as the New World of Darkness. For what it’s worth, though, the metaplot of Vampire: The Masquerade did produce some truly inventive characters and stories, which I always find myself reminiscing about as I look through my old Vampire books on my bookshelf.

My book series The Atalante Chronicles is now live on Amazon for Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover Print-On-Demand. Your support is greatly appreciated.
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