Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines (VtMB, for short from this point forward) probably has one of the best introductions/tutorials in game. It sets the mood right, teaches what you need to know and even hints at some of the things you will have to deal later in the game.
In this post we'll go through that. I don't think my writing will live up to the actual cutscenes but I will try my best. I will add in the first mission of the game too just so it doesn't end up a giant wall of text describing concepts of the game.
Oh, and in case you missed, here is my introduction post for this game and Let's Play.
WARNING: Spoilers for the game ahead
When a vampire and a human love each other very much...
The game starts with a cutscene in some seedy bedroom. By the way the camera moves around it is clear our character is having some happy fun times with someone in bed. Since I am playing a male character it is a lady.
Well, said lady then says "I want to show you something...". Next thing we know we are awakening confused, a lot more pale and the lady is sitting on a chair near the bed, observing us.
Suddenly some guys break the door and throw a stake at both of us. Welp, shortest game I've ever played. Thanks for reading now let me spend the rest of this post explaining why this is game is so great.
The next time we awake the lady and ourselves are tied up. We are both on our knees up on the stage of some abandoned theater. Up on the stage are the guys who just put a stake on us, a really big guy with a sword to match and a sharply dressed man. Sitting in the audience there are several other people watching.
The sharply dressed man starts to make a grand speech where it basically boils down to this: we were never meant to be turned into a vampire. There was no authorization for such a thing. Thus the penalty for that transgression is death. Our lady friend is beheaded right there and turns into ash.
Next he starts to make another grand speech about what is to be our fate when a man in the audiance stands up and shouts "This is bullshit!". Other people in the audience also stand up and there is a lot of whispering going on.
The sharp dressed man doesn't seem amused by it but he continues his speech, saying that he decided to let us live.
There is a bit more of speech then everybody leaves the theater. The sharp dressed man accompany us to the exit backstage, explaining what just happened. Most of it is just another speech about vampiric law, how his decision to leve us leave put him into a tight spot and how that makes him responsible for us. He also points out that he didn't do it out of generosity but that we should see this as an opportunity.
An opportunity that comes in the form of a trial: We are to go to Santa Monica, meet his agent, a man named Mercurio, and do whatever is asked of us.
If this is all sounding like a bunch of bullcrap already, well, you would fit right in with vampiric society.
Tutorial times with Uncle Jack
Outside the theater a man who looks like he is part of a biker gang offers us to teach the basics of being a vampire. His name is Jack and if we accept it then he will be our guide through the tutorial.
Normally there wouldn't be much to talk about a game's tutorial as they are just trying to mix the game mechanic's explanation with a bit of story intro.
In this game though it is not only the mechanics that we need to learn but also some concepts from the setting to explain why things are the way they are.
I won't be as entertaining as Jack (really, the guy has some of the best dialogue in this game) but I will try not to bore you as I explain those concepts.
To begin with he teach us about drinking blood from a human. Now that seems straightforward enough, instinctive even, for a vampire. And it is. Except there is a catch.
See, vampires have this monstrous side to them that causes them to hunger for blood. Depending on circumstances it can also cause them to frenzy, attacking anything on sight. Vampires call this side the Beast.
If you drain them dry you are pretty much giving in to the Beast. The more you do that the closer you are to losing your humanity and becoming a mindless monster.
This isn't just some fluffy lore either. There is a Humanity track on the top of character sheet. We start with 7 dots of Humanity (out of 10). If we lose all of those it is game over.
The ways we can lose Humanity is by drinking dry a human or certain decisions in quests. Usually it is pretty obvious which ones will cause that as they are pretty monstrous ones. It is also possible to regain humanity too, again depending on certain decisions in certain quests.
There is one exception for this rule. If a human is trying to kill you then it is fine to drink them dry. Self-preservation instincts and all that.
That leads me to things that can kill a vampire and other myths. Drinking blood from a human does not turn them into a vampire. The game doesn't explain the process but just in case someone is curious: in the tabletop you need to drink the person nearly dry and then make them drink your vampiric blood. That will turn a person into a vampire.
As for other myths, garlic doesn't affect vampires. Neither does running water or holy symbols (before someone says something, yes, I know. It is complicated and I'd rather not go into that here :p). Stakes to the heart don't kill vampires either. Just make them go into a deep sleep.
Guns hurt but don't outright kill them. It is not impossible though, a shotgun to the right area is potentially deadly.
Now fire and sunlight are extremely dangerous. Fire hurts a lot and can easily kill a vampire. While sunlight... well, vampires can forget about ever seeing one again.
Jack's explanations end up getting interrupted as a Sabbat pack shows up for the evening. What is the Sabbat? Well, that is a big topic in and itself. So I will just put it like this for now:
There are two major sects in the Vampire world: One of them is the Sabbat. They believe they shouldn't hide the fact they are vampires and tend to act in a very monstrous way.
The other sect is the Camarilla who believes that the best way for vampires to survive is by pretending that vampires (and all forms of supernatural creatures) don't exist. They call that that Masquerade.
Like Jack says "It is why the wolf doesn't want the sheep to know he is there"
Break the Masquerade and not only you are attracting the attention of vampires to yourself, you are making unlife for every other vampire harder. Break it enough and you will not only have to deal with the vampire hunters but also all those unhappy vampires.
Just like Humanity this isn't just fluffy. There is a mechanic for that, the Masquerade on the top right corner of the character sheet. If you break the Masquerade 5 times, either by feeding on a human in front of others, using certain disciplines and so on, it is game over. Some quests can help restore the Masquerade too if you broke them so it is not the end of the world if that happened a couple times.
As you might imagine the Camarilla and Sabbat are mortal enemies due to their ideological differences.
Another thing about the Camarilla is that they have a pseudo-feudal system with a Prince leading all the vampires in a city. That sharply dressed guy in the theater was the Prince of Los Angeles. His name is Lacroix.
Oh, and just to make it clear, the Camarilla aren't the good guys. Nor do they hold exclusivity to the idea of the Masquerade. We'll get back to that eventually.
Lastly, the Camarilla and the Sabbat are the new kids in town. Apparently there were already other vampires in Los Angeles before they showed up. Ok, it is a bit more complicated than that and we might get to it eventually. But for now this explanation will have to suffice.
Those are the most important concepts for the game right now. The tutorial doesn't dump a huge wall of text to explain these like I just did. They explain it in chunks while we try to get out of the area. On the way there we end up hacking a computer, lockpicking doors, fighting some grunt vampires and even some humans.
At the end of it Jack invites us to meet him in a placed called the Last Round in Downtown L.A. Well, if we survive Santa Monica first which is where we'll be going next!
Smells like Astroturf
After the tutorial we find ourselves in a really crap apartment room in Santa Monica.
Of interest here there is a note on the table that invites us to meet the Tremere Regent in Downtown. To guide us there he give us a riddle:
Dark blood, our curse, a light this verse
Such power I sense in one so young
Come find me where burns the mystical sun.
We can't do anything about this until we get to Downtown so for now it will just gather dust in the mission log.
There is also a laptop here where we can check e-mail. Besides the spam, we have one e-mail from Lacroix telling us that Mercurio will contact us, another where Mercurio himself welcomes us to town and where we can meet him. Then there is a mysterious e-mail from "a friend" that says only "The game begins. A pawn is moved."
Uh... Yeah, that isn't cryptic or foreboding at all.
As we get out of the apartment there is a cutscene where we see a bleeding man dragging himself up to the inside of a building. That building just happens to be the same one Mercurio told us to meet him.
If you guessed that man is Mercurio then you guessed right. In fact, the meeting place turns out to be his apartment (a much fancier one than the one we got by the way). He is lying on the couch, looking like he got the worst beating ever.
Apparently Mercurio was going to buy a homemade bomb from some local drug dealers. He even did a bit of investigation first to make sure they were reliable and it all checked out. Except that said drug dealers decided to just steal his money and beat him to nearly death.
Mercurio only survived because he is a ghoul. Now in the context of this game, a ghoul is a human who drinks the blood of a vampire. They become stronger than a human, heal faster and don't age. Mercurio even claims to be sixty years old but he looks to be around his 30ies.
For a vampire it isn't a bad deal either since ghouls don't have the same problem with sunlight that vampires do making them ideal servants and bodyguards.
Back to the story, asks us to get the bomb, which he calls the Astrolite, from those drug dealers. If possible to get his money back too and some medicine for the pain.
Lastly, he asks us to not tell about this to the Prince. If we keep quiet Mercurio promises to help us out later.
With all that out of the way, off we go to the beach where we find the drug dealers holed up in some pretty run-down house. Here is where the game starts to shine: there are several ways we can try to get the Astrolite. We can go guns blazing, we can try to sneak our way in, we can try to talk it out or we can do a mix of any of those.
Some Disciplines can also be used to good effect here, like using Dominate to get past the guy standing at the entrance to the house.
I was going to try to sneak in but I screwed up and let the guy at the entrance to see me. He then started to shoot me and I had no choice but to kill them all. Well, I was going to kill them all anyway, I just wanted to do it on my terms. XD
Once they are all dead we can just grab the Astrolite off a table. There is also a vent on the floor level that leads to a small space where they hid Mercurio's money. I took that too.
Back to Mercurio, we bring both items to him. He thanks us for retrieving the money saying that he might use it to buy himself some new kidneys. Ew.
Mercurio also explains what we need the Astrolite for: we are going to use it to make a warehouse blow up. Apparently it is being used by the Sabbat for something. Something important enough that they have a lot of people with lots of guns in there.
There is only one problem. The person who can get us there is a vampire called Bertram Tung. Right now he is in hiding due to a feud with another vampire called Therese Voerman.
So the only way to find Tung is by convincing Therese to call off the feud. If this sounds like we are jumping through a lot of hoops just to blow up a place then you haven't seem anything yet.
But we'll get to that in the next post. 🙂