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Vampire: The Masquerade - Chapters bridges the gap between board game and RPG

Once bitten.

Flyos Games co-founders Thomas Filippi and Gary Paitre have been playing tabletop roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade for more than 15 years. The RPG from publisher White Wolf, which has players take on the roles of vampires (also known as Kindred) trying to hold onto their humanity while navigating the complicated politics of undead society, formed the cornerstone of their friendship and the board game company they founded in Montreal, Canada three years ago. Both have tattoos representing the vampire clans from the game that they feel best represent their personalities: the broken mirror of Clan Malkavian, reflecting the Brujah anarchy symbol, for Filippi and the Toreador rose for Paitre.

Now the duo are bringing their passion to developing Vampire: The Masquerade - Chapters, a story-driven board game that they hope will attract fans of the RPG struggling to find a storyteller or dedicated group of players while also giving board game fans their first taste of the World of Darkness universe and rules of V:TM.

“We decided to make a hybrid of these two things: the freedom of choice of an RPG and the stable mechanism of the board game industry in general,” Filippi says. “We want to introduce board games to V:TM players and the other way around.”

Set over the course of a year, Chapters' different scenarios form a single campaign.

The upcoming board game will have more than 40 scenarios, plus prologues meant to teach players the rules for each of the eight playable characters. Each scenario can be completed in between 30 minutes and an hour based on how many people are playing - the game plays between one and four. They can all be completed in different ways depending on how much you focus on solving challenges through combat, social interactions or investigation.

“Imagine if you come from a board game perspective and you’ve never played an RPG,” Filippi says. “You can go for the most combat-focused action plan where you rampage everything, but then step by step you learn there is depth in this universe. Maybe you come from more of a V:TM experience and you want to feel the vibe of the universe and the political aspect of Kindred society. You can start the game and play it in a lot of different ways. That’s why there are eight characters available in the core box. You can have a completely different experience with some new characters.”

Chapters will use a simplified version of the rules of Vampire: The Masquerade’s fifth edition, with each character having a physical, mental and social score rather than using the nine attributes found in the RPG. Each of the eight characters represents a different vampire clan and has their own character sheet representing their abilities and their vampiric powers (known as disciplines). After each scenario, you’ll get a number of experience points based on the difficulty level that you can use to enhance your character. That could mean improving the things you’re already good at or branching out to be able to solve different types of problems.

When you make a choice, you can’t go back. You have to live with the consequences - just like life. For us, that’s the best way of introducing Vampire: The Masquerade to new players.

As in the tabletop RPG, each vampire clan has its own weaknesses that come up in the horror board game. For instance, the Gangrel, vampires who have the ability to shapeshift into animals, are feral and have fewer dice to use on mental challenges when hungry. All vampires struggle to contain their hunger, which rises when they use their powers and can only be lowered by drinking blood.

“The more you use your power, the more the beast is inside of you and the less control you have with the roll of the dice,” Filippi explains. “It’s a press-your-luck mechanic. As a player, you need to make sure you’re not rushing all your resources in the beginning of the scenario because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Lose control and you’ll fly into a frenzy and try to feed on whatever’s nearby. Most vampires strive to keep their existence a secret, a policy known as the Masquerade; a bloodcrazed vampire is a clear violation that can result in you getting knocked out and not being able to finish the scenario. Damage to the Masquerade can never be recovered during the course of the campaign. Do it too often and you might wind up facing vampire hunters in a future scenario.

Players must manage their character's thirst for blood.

Filippi describes Chapters as a campaign game rather than a legacy board game like Pandemic Legacy to emphasise that, while it’s meant to be played over many sessions, you’ll never have to tear up components. You can also replay the game to experience more of the branching story.

“When you make a choice, you can’t go back,” Filippi says. “You have to live with the consequences - just like life. For us, that’s the best way of introducing V:TM to new players.”

While he won’t reveal much about the board game’s plot, Filippi confirms Chapters is set in Montreal after the city was taken from the Sabbat, a group of vampires that don’t believe in the Masquerade and tend to act more monstrous. He and Paitre have been living in Montreal for 10 years, so the designers already had ideas for which areas of the city would be inhabited by vampires and other supernatural creatures like werewolves. Filippi says he hopes that the board game will serve as much as an introduction to his hometown as to the world and rules of V:TM. Chapters’ story takes place over the course of a year so that players can feel the power winter has over the city but also some of the excitement that summer brings.

“Everything in the city has to be genuine,” he says. “We’ve worked tirelessly on making this as gritty and good as possible. It was a dream come true.”

We’ve worked tirelessly on making this as gritty and good as possible.

Setting the board game in Montreal also allowed the designers to delve into issues they see in their city like poverty and corruption. As with the original RPG, Filippi advises Chapters is intended for mature audiences due to both the language used in its scenarios and its very dark tone.

“You are taking by force the blood of a human being,” he says. “It’s very, very selfish and savage and violent. You’re a monster losing humanity every single day. The more you care about humanity, the weaker you are compared to other Kindred.”

During the development process, Flyos Games has been working with a former writer from Assassin’s Creed video game developer Ubisoft, which has a studio in Montreal, along with the creators of the Montreal by Night and Chicago by Night sourcebooks for V:TM. They’ve also collaborated with the team behind the Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 video game releasing later this year to create a Kickstarter-exclusive version of Bloodlines 2 character Mr. Damp that players can use for some Chapters scenarios.

Chapters' scenarios can be solved in a number of ways, from violent combat to thinking your way out of situations.

The Chapters Kickstarter campaign kicked off on February 4th. The initial goal of CA$250,000 (£145,244) was reached in 90 minutes. The campaign has since raised over CA$1m (£580,000), unlocking numerous add-ons including additional player characters, miniatures representing some of the game’s key NPCs and several sidequests. Filippi warns it might be the only way to buy the game for the foreseeable future, as Chapters is so expensive to produce that he’s not sure how they’d make their money back working with a traditional distributor.

“We don’t want to compromise anything on the level of quality,” he says.

The Vampire: The Masquerade - Chapters Kickstarter runs until February 28th. The core game and all unlocked stretch goals can be purchased for CA$149 (£87). Delivery is expected by July 2021.

Edit: This article previously stated that Flyos Games is working with a writer from Ubisoft. The story has been updated to clarify that the writer previously worked at Ubisoft, but no longer works at the studio.

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