Punk and the World of Darkness

Something I wrote back in 1993 and posted to the mailing list vampire-l@wizards.com back in the day.

Punk and the WoD

Here’s something I thought I’d share with all of you out there. I wrote
it a while back after discussions with those of you on the list,
particularly with Rust. After the discussion of skinheads and
steroetypes it seems particularly apropos. Please let me know what you
think; I welcome flames as well as positive comments so let ’em fly.

Without further ado, my diatribe (thanks Rust :)!)

Archangelo di Novara.

(Usual disclaimers and notice of trademarks for World of Darkness,
Gothic-Punk, White Wolf, Vampire the Masquerade, Camarilla, clan names etc.)

White Wolf Games refers to their setting as Gothic-Punk which got me to
thinking about the Punk part of this. The Gothic aspects seemed pretty
straightforward: Gothic atmosphere, an almost morbid interest with
death, and so forth (this is a very heavy-handed simplification here but
this is about punk, not goth). In fact, there are elements of the
gothic movement go together with vampires almost by default. On the
other hand, punk isn’t necessarily immediately identified with vampires
and their genre, thus the reason for this essay.

The rulebook for VtM describes the Punk aspect as, “…the way people
live…Simply emphasize all that you see wrong in our world, and you’ve
got the Punk half of it.” (p. 167, VtM, First Edition) This essay is
about punk, what it means as a form of expression and how to incorporate
it into a Chronicle. There’s more to incorporating punk than just the
appearances, particularly if you want the depth and atmosphere can bring
to a game.

It’s the punk that really got me interested, yet it’s not as well
articulated as the gothic aspects. The obvious examples are the Clan
Brujah and the Anarchs. Brujahs and their rants. What could be more
punk? Anarchs rebelling against the stifling confines of the Camarilla
and the Elders. Very punk.

Except that punk isn’t just about rants. Or punk music. Or many other
of the outward manifestations of the punk movement. There’s more to it
than that. For the World of Darkness in your Chronicle to be
Gothic-Punk, it’s necessary to have more than just the trappings and
certain aspects of punk. If you want you chronicle to be Gothic-Punk
(emphasis on the punk), I think you have to express what might be termed
“punk sensibilities” in a variety of aspects in you Chronicle. I think,
at the heart of it, punk is more than being rebellious, anti-social and
dressing different, it’s a whole new form of self-expression and of
looking at the world.

Every era has its movements that are in opposition to the status quo,
some form of expression that goes against previous generations. The
punk movement was in many ways the antithesis of the counter-culture
movement of the sixties. For all its rebellion against mainstream
society and culture, the motto of the punk has never been, “Turn on, tune
in, drop out.” That’s because members of the Punk movement, as much as
they were disillusioned with society the way it was, chose to try and
change things. Dressing differently to rebel against being categorized
and to draw attention to the fact that we discriminate based solely on
things like appearance. Likewise, the rant wasn’t argument for
argument’s sake, but a means of individual expression and a sharing of
information with others. And of course, the music that served many
purposes and was perhaps the most visible part of the punk movement,
giving voice to the frustrations of punks everywhere and drawing them
all together.

Without trying to get more in-depth or display more of my ignorance
than I have to, I’ll leave the punk movement at that because those are
the key parts that I think relate directly to Vampire: the Masquerade
and the World of Darkness.

Anarchs

“The whole assembly then rose, and they brough him before Pilate. They
began their accusation by saying, “We found this man inciting our people
to revolt.”
– Luke 23: 1-2

“The Anarchs rebel against all the strictures of the Elders, their hated
enemies, which are represented by the Prince’s power. These fledgelings
believe that there is little to fear in the modern world, and that the
old superstitions and Traditions should be thrown away. Some believe
that the Masquerade is the incarnation of the terror of Kindred grown
too old and too fearful.”
– VtM, p. 172

“That government is best which governs least.”
– Thomas Paine

As above, so below. The Camarilla seems to mirror, in many ways, the
human society from which it was derived. Like the Catholic Church and
the Inquisition that gave birth to it, the Camarilla now uses the same
methods to control or remove those who would undermine it. Blood Hunts
are called for open rebellion and the Anarchs are kept in line by the
power of the Prince and the Elders. (“A Hunt should be viewed as a
violent form of excommunication.”
, VtM, p. 177)

The question that begs to be asked is, why don’t the Anarchs join or
seek allies from the Sabbat? Do they see the Sabbat as equally
superstition-bound and regressive as the Camarilla? Or is it the
Anarchs’ abhorrence of the Sabbat and the beliefs and practices of its
members?

Either way, the Anarchs are just that, Anarchs. Like punks of a decade
ago, they are rebelling against the structured society they find
themselves a part of and seek to change it or to acquire a degree of
personal freedom. Unlike punk, however, there’s no expression of views
or an attempt to understand what’s going on, why vampire society
developed the way it did. All there is, amongst the Anarchs is
anarchy. Anarchs reject beliefs in Gehenna, doubt the existence of
Caine and readily dismiss legends that form the basis for the Elders’
existence. Unfortunately, punk isn’t about rejecting ideas, it’s about
understanding them, knowing where they come from and even being able to
use them against your enemies, if necessary.

Blind rebellion and violence is commonly associated with the punk
movement because punk is about anger and outrage against society.
Sometimes this aggression takes extreme forms, but most often it’s
internalized and expressed with violence towards other punks in an
almost ritual form as with slam-dancing.

If we equate the Anarchs among the Kindred with punks of our society,
much of the Anararchs’ behavior can be better analyzed. As anarchists,
they reject both the Camarilla _and_ the Sabbat as entrenched
institutions that serve to suppress the free will and expression of the
individual.

Their rejection of the superstitions and myths of the Elders should not
be seen as an ipso facto denial of any truth behind these beliefs, but
rather a denial of the repression brought about by an unquestioning
belief in these stories. An Anarch may very well wish to explore the
truth behind these stories without being forbidden by an Elder for fear
that an Antidiluvian might take offense or, far worse, Caine himself
might take offense. Of course, foolish Anarchs who do turn over too
many stones tend to disappear…

Lastly, as note in the Vampire: the Masquerade rulebook, Anarchs tend
to be among the younger vampires and in opposition to the Elders. When
punk was at its height in the early Eighties, its adherents,
particularly in England, were mostly the disaffected youth who were
rebelling against the attitudes of the Sixties (just as the Sixties were
in response to the culture of the Fifties…) The Anarchs are young (at
least by the standard of vampires). Some would say that their attitudes
are due to a lack of wisdom and understanding of how things are in the
world. Others would say that Anarchs are the ones with their eyes truly
open and see the world without the misconceptions and blindness of
centuries.

The Brujah

“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing; the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
– Benjamin Franklin

The basis of the Brujah, like the Anarchs, seems to be rebellion. The
Brujah, we are told, are allowed liberties not allowed of the other
clans. The reasons for this seem to be a case of adaptation, that being
easier than attempting to remove the Brujah from the Camarilla. More
important, perhaps, is the possibility that the Brujah provide a
necessary degree of conflict and prevent stagnation of the Camarilla.

On the other hand, it may be that the fierce Brujah as the force behind
the Anarchs have created a force that, while weak, still has political
power and stands in opposition to the Elders. The Elders have accepted
the Brujah, not merely because to do otherwise was too much trouble, but
because they feared an open rift in the society of the Kindred that
might result in a severe loss of power for them and possibly risked
exposing the Masquerade.

The Brujah form the most rebellious clan in the Camarilla, expressing a
variety of radical philosophies (as noted in the rulebook). It is the
expression of these ideas and attitudes that give rise to the infamous
Brujah “rants.”

The Nosferatu

Like the Brujah, the Nosferatu are at the fringes of vampire society,
but unlike the Brujah who force the Camarilla to accept them, the
Nosferatu are content to remain outcasts, never considered part of the
society that they actively influence from the shadows.

Their appearance sets them apart not only from mortal society, but also
from the society of vampires, making them the most alienated of the
Kindred, yet giving them a unique view of many things. Since they need
not be concerned with social obligations and interaction with other
Kindred, they are free to explore their own interests and learnings.
Being part of the fringes, they also see much more clearly what is going
on around them, having a remarkably detached point of view.

Using Punk in a Chronicle


“Words and expressions
All these confessions
Of where we stand
How I see you
And you see me
Dedications of symmetry
Together we will be
Forever”
– Fugazi, “Promises”

Punk is about a number of things including rebellion, the alienation of
youth, fighting for social change and a great many other things. The
unique way many of these themes are expressed in punk lend themselves to
a Chronicle and can be used to give it a vitality and immediateness that
lend themselves to an enjoyable game and enhanced roleplaying experiences.

“You don’t sing about love to people on the dole.”
– Johnny Rotten

Alienation is a strong theme in punk and a can be the basis for a
Chronicle all by itself. Vampires, by their very nature, are apart from
mortal society and the youngest may feel this the strongest,
particularly those brutally torn from their breathing life and brought
into the shadowy world of the Undead.

How the Neonate copes with his or her new existence can be a
fascinating roleplaying exploration. Not to reiterate at length what
may be found in the VtM rulebook, suffice it to say that the Neonate may
react with apathy or even withdrawal from everything, with anger, with
curiosity. In all cases, though they may hope for (and possibly even
achieve) a return to their mortal state, they must cope in the meantime
with being an outsider, a predator, with an uncrossable void between
them and the mortal world they interact with.


“Anytime but now
Anywhere but here
Anyone but me
I’ve got to think about my own life

The world is not our facility
We have a responsibility
To use all of our abilities
To keep this place alive”
– Fugazi, “Burning Too”

Punk is also about social conscience. More than many other movements,
punk has been the voice for social discontent. Concerns like prejudice
and social inequity are often voiced. The expression of this conscience
speaks a common language rather than being an abstract discussion of
principles and translates in extremely direct fashion to the members
within the movement. The concerts for Rock Against Racism in 1977 and
1978 are an example of how this was expressed as part of a popular
movement.

In many ways, the society of vampires contains aspects of this
conscience. By contrasting the members of the Camarilla against the
Sabbat, these values become more apparent. The Path of Humanity is not
about being a predator, but actually grappling with the moral issues
involved in feeding off of mortals and the interdependent existence that
springs from this.

A Storyteller can heighten these feelings by making the players in his
Chronicle aware of inequities in the Camarillan-dominated vampire
society, the inequities in mortal society, the moral decadence inherent
in the World of Darkness, or whatever themes have already been
incorporated naturally into the Chronicle as it’s created. By making
them aware of these issues, players may examine their responses with
regard to their new existence. Thus rather than incorporating punk by
emphasizing all that is wrong with our world, merely make the players
aware of the darkness without as well as the darkness within and allow
them to roleplay their reactions and let them come to terms with their
altered perceptions.

The key is to avoid being heavy-handed. A world that is truly dark,
unrelentingly bleak, decaying, immoral (or at least amoral) and so forth
will wear down the characters and, in many cases, sap their enthusiasm
for the game. There is more to darkness than just an absence of
light. In a chronicle, for darkness to have real impact, it must be
contrasted with light. This is what makes it important to get more than
just the appearance of punk. Get your characters feeling about the
world around them, make them angry, make them want to change things or
withdraw, to create something of beauty against an overwhelming sadness
or fear, and the character become involved as active participants in the
Chronicle, helping to shape it and act on the world as much as it acts
on them. As with all roleplaying, the creation of a Chronicle is a
collaborative experience.

Like punk, I think that Vampire the Masquerade is about violence.
By way of qualification: violence can be found in many aspects of the
game and pervades the life of the Kindred. Even the drinking of blood
from a willing mortal may be regarded as violent, involving submission
to the desire of the vampire. Indeed, the attractions of the vampire to
those of the Victorian era were the expressions of behavior and
attitudes that the Victorians avoiding expressing themselves.
Particularly, killing (whether on the part of the vampire or the
vampire’s hunters) and sex (or the suggestion thereof as with the common
gothic theme of the seduction of young women) were regarded with
abbhorrence, expressing the bestial nature of man. At the same time,
there is an attraction that is still felt today, particularly in our
attraction to the morbid, ranging from a strong interest in “true crime”
literature to the display of accidents and mishaps on television, all of
which are about violence against people, whether the source be other
people or inanimate forces that cause bodily harm or psychological trauma.

Players in a Chronicle will experience the effects of various kinds of
violence, ranging from fights with other vampires, werewolves, hunters
and other hazards of the World of Darkness. There also exists the
threat of violence whether it be from Elders keeping Neonates “in their
place” and similar power struggles (which also occur in WtA among the
Garou, though it takes different forms) or from such occurrences as
hunters trying to track down vampires for the purpose of slaying them.

What keeps a Chronicle from being more than a linked set of
“hack-and-slash” encounters is situations in which outright physical
violence is either undesirable or not possible. The tension created by
needing to keep a fight from developing will propel the Chronicle along
and, when it finally does erupt, the resolution will be much more
satisfying. Similarly, a character fighting to keep from frenzying will
find the delayed resolution more satisfying than just giving in. In a
case like this, the resolution need not be a frenzy, but may be a
realization by the player as to the character’s nature or motivations or
some sort of moral victory that makes it all worthwhile.

In this expression of restrained violence or internal violence is the
expression of the essence of punk. Sometimes anger towards society
can’t be contained and it is expressed in acts of vandalism or
confrontations with authority (with concomitant negative repercussions,
just as with the careless vampire who breaks the Masquerade), but is
more often expressed through music or other artistic expression or as
violence against other, consenting members of the punk community. The
Brujah rant is exactly this sort of internalized anger expressed in
verbal form, allowing the Brujah to vent opinions, frustrations and
thoughts rather than expressing them as physical violence. A rant is
till violent, but it is contained and non-physical.

Rebellion is a characteristic most commonly associated with punk.
Without belaboring the point, the idea of rebellion should be a constant
theme running through a campaign. Not just rebellion against authority,
but against symbols and ideas, against those things that deny a vampire
his or her free will or even life itself. To be told that one is undead
and condemned forever more to live apart from the living is something
that the Kindred struggle with continuously and that conflict finds
common ground with the punks’ rebellion.

Punk seems to stem from conflict, though it is a conflict with
the world outside. This seems to be the key difference that separates
punk from goth and why the good folks at White Wolf Games have decided
that the World of Darkness shall be Goth-Punk: While punk is outward
turning and angry, goth is inward turning and dark, the anger suppressed
or transformed, often into suicidal depression and unresolved conflict.
Balancing the two yields a world that is, by turns, contradictory and
confusing while being very much alive and unique.

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