Sunday, 20 February 2011

A love story: Melina and the Vampires (Re-edited 2017)

It began at the dawn of time. I was seven years old and we had recently moved to Germany. It was night-time and I was cuddled up on the sofa next to my mother. This is when I met him for the first time: Dracula!
He appeared in the form of Christopher Lee in an old Hammer movie. One of the countless films about the infamous count from Transsilvania: "Dracula", "Dracula - Prince of darkness", "Dracula has risen from the grave", "Taste the blood of Dracula"... I‘ve seen and loved them all. These movies did not tell us much about the count himself, where he came from, his motives or feelings. He also did not talk a lot, but would just look at his victim, commanding it to come nearer, open his arms beneath the black cape and encompass them in his deadly embrace. He was a monster in the body of a man. Was I scared? Maybe a little. But I knew, that nothing bad would happen, when I pulled-up my blanket to cover my neck. And if he came... well... maybe this would not be so bad after all. He was good-looking, wasn‘t he?
This is when it began, my life-long love-story with Vampires. 
I emerged myself in it, watching the Hammer-movies on TV, discovering some of the cheesy South American interpretations of Dracula, the silent-movies with Bela Lugosi and of course the source of it all, the novel by Bram Stoker. 
Written in 1897, "Dracula" was a worldwide success. Earlier Vampire stories (Le Fanu‘s "Camilla“, Polidori‘s "The Vampyre“) had mostly appealed to the intellectual and romantic elite. They had created an interest in the drinkers of blood, but their Vampires remained ghostlike, diffuse creatures. Stoker made a man out of the spectre! The book contains everything that you expect from a good novel: sex, action and mystery. Dracula is the predator, the monster with hairy hands and a hawk-like nose, who is feared and killed in the end. Very much what the Hammer-movies tried to convey with their rather simple means. It was an adventure book and I adored it. I must have read it dozens of times.
This I why I was perfectly equipped to write my own book about Vampires. Not a novel of course. My analytic mind asked for a scientific challenge. So, in 1978 (being ten-and-two years old) I spend weeks researching the evil creatures with the aid of Bram Stoker‘s work, other stories, films, magazine articles, history books and much more. The result was a manual, listing all the important facts: how Vampires are created, how to repel them, how to kill them, the story of Dracula, the historic figure and much more. The section that I treasured most was called „The abuse of Vampires“, dealing with Vampires as subjects of jokes in magazines. You can imagine, that I had to speak out against such an atrocious discrimination. Yes, I was really serious about it.
And serious it remained, because in the following years, my attention shifted to the more ambitious manifestations of Vampire movies: Murnau‘s "Nosferatu“, Herzog‘s film with the glorious Klaus Kinski, Andy Warhol‘s Dracula... The monster had become a symbol for all kinds of repressed feelings, for fear of the unknown, the beast inside and passion. Art had discovered the Vampire and my teenage-self was feeling very intellectual. 
This came to a sudden end, when Francis Ford Coppola presented his new movie in 1992: Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. Ah! Here he was again, but he had evolved. Coppola‘s interpretation transformed the speechless monster and intellectual symbol into a romantic hero. A loving creature that turns to the dark side as a result of a great loss, of being forsaken by god. Yes, he kills, yes, he is a ghastly monster, but could I not understand why? How I suffered with him every minute up until his salvation and Christ-like ascension.
Anne Rice‘s Vampire novels had been written earlier, but I discovered them around the same time as the Coppola movie in the early 90‘s. They were expressing a similar picture of Vampires: tortured creatures with feelings and emotions, killing and hunting, but suffering because of it. Asking the eternal questions: Why am I that way? What is my destiny?
Well, the destiny of this new Vampire was obviously to be integrated into my most important pastime: A few years earlier I had started to do role-playing games, at first concentrating on fantasy and medieval settings. In 1991 the storyteller-based game "Vampire - The Masquerade" was published by White Wolf. 
My friends and I started playing the game in the original White Wolf setting: Chicago. Vampires were living in our modern world, connected to it, but forming a secret society. These Vampires were very much influenced by the Rice novels: They were suffering souls - their torment resulting from an ancient curse that god had called upon the first Vampire Cain. It was supposed to be a mythological game. But, let‘s face it, it was also about playing a super-hero. Vampires had all these exciting skills: they could change into wolves and bats, had night-vision, where super strong, could read minds or mind-control ordinary people. So it was no surprise, that it many cases the play regressed into an action-based game, the Vampires being just another way to live out juvenile power-fantasies. 
I found this rather boring - not being juvenile any more - so in January 1994 I started my own Vampire game: set in the early 19th century, the story was based in Venice. "La Serenissima" had survived the napoleonic conquest, but found herself reduced to an Austrian province. A sinking and degrading city, living in the memories of a great past. This is where my Vampires dwelled in an equally decomposing society, clinging to former fame and archaic ideals. Our game was about mythology and history. It was about Europe on the brink of modern times and about man- and vampire-kind adapting to this new era. The fact that the main characters were immortal, allowed us to encompass a longer period in history. They experienced adventures and torments, mental and physical challenges. They struggled with millennia-old intrigues in the Vampire-society and tried to influence the politics of men. They met figures of the past like Anches-En-Amun or Tiziano as well as personae of "the present" time like Daniele Manin or Karl Marx. Marie-Anne, Rodolfo, Victor and Marius made enemies and allies, had love affairs and formed families with their vampiric and human offspring. They lived! 

The characters of this game got to be played for almost 20 years and became real for us. I know how crazy this sounds, but I guess this is how Tolkiens figures must have meant to him. 

We nevertheless had to stop playing in 2013, because one of the main players of our small group had moved to the UK and making further appointments became quite impossible. But still, one day, we are going to take it up again - maybe via Skype or when we are living in a tango- and roleplaying-retirement home. Until then, the heroes and villains of our story will wait in an eternal 1914, the year in which the great war began, the year in which we abandoned them. I hope they can forgive us.
In 2006, Vampires invaded another part of my life: TV series. When I first heard about "Buffy, the Vampire slayer“ and its spin-off "Angel“, I was sceptical: what good could come from a series named after a 15-year-old girl called Buffy? But I was surprised by the wit, style and depth of the series and I became a real fan, watching it over and over again. It depicted every aspect of Vampires: the monster, the symbol, the suffering lover, the super-hero. The series is also about growing up and although I am not young anymore, I can still relate to it. Aren't we nerds eternal children anyway? Buffy also prepared me for my latest passion: "True Blood“ after the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Much darker, much more sex, much more grown-up than Buffy. Great music too!
And this is how finally Vampires crept into Tango as well: the True-Bood-theme "I wanna do bad things to you“ became one of my most-used Cortinas in the past years.

Years have passed.

In 2011, when I originally wrote this post, I was in my mid-forties and did neither look nor feel it. Now it is 2017 and I have turned 50, but I have not forgotten the Vampires. Just recently I lay in bed and pondered: what if a Vampire showed up and offered to turn me into one? Now that I am old and grey, would I still want eternal life? Was not the point of it all to stay young and beautiful forever? Well, I don't know. 

I guess, when Dracula finally knocks on my window, he's in for quite a scolding.


Uwe Willié said...

"looking forward to our 20th anniversary"
Hooray, that's the spirit!

ghost said...

Skype is a remarkably good way of overcoming the distance problem, especially with a webcam :o)

Melina Sedo said...

@ Ghost: well... I've tried it a couple of times and am not convinced. The pictures are sometimes blurry and interrupted. Not ideal, to express subtle emotions and hold important conversations... :-(

ghost said...

Have you tried it just using audio? That's pretty much crystal clear nowadays. There's the trade-off that you can't physically see them so visual subtleties are out, but conversely I find it much easier to imagine someone's character if I can just hear their voice (unless of course you're all basically playing yourselves as vampires?)

Melina Sedo said...

Na! We need to see each other. It's like acting on stage (without the audience). There's facial expresson, gestures...
And I can assure you, although my players are NOT playing themselves, I've got no problem, imagining e.g. one 46 old male player as a 17 year old girl. They are great! :-)
So, unless Skype develops within the next years, we will have to be physically present to play together.

ghost said...

Cool, no wonder you're group's lasted so long :o) Yeah there's nothing quite like face-to-face. Just a bit pesky as you get older and people tend to get more spread out geographically.

BTW how do you tell the difference between a Brujah and a Gangrel? The depth of the drag marks their knuckles leave in the floor!

Melina Sedo said...

Yep. But I will stay here. So there's a good chance, that we can go on playing. ;-)
Nasty joke! But I have to tell you: there are almost no Brujah and Gangrel in our world. Too booring ...
Good night,

ghost said...

I have a soft spot for them when they're played with actual depth rather than 1 dimensional superhuman killing machines. It's an interesting conundrum being able to kill easily and yet have dire consequences of doing so.

Toreadors by any chance?

Have you read the series of novels?


The Accidental Tangoiste said...

I sympathize; I saw the movie Interview with the Vampire as a young and impressionable girl in middle school (probably about 13; the library didn't ask for proof of parental approval when I checked the video out!), and it has forever shaped my taste for soulful vampires and pretty, long-haired men. ;)

Congratulations to you for your long-running role-playing group! And that cortina sounds fantastic!

Melina Sedo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melina Sedo said...

@ Ghost:
Yep. Lots of Toreadors and Ventrues, although theiy mostly bear their older names in our group. And the Camarill has just recently been destroyed... As will be the Sabath. So, actually we are far from White Wolfs original idea. In the beginning we were stuck to it, but over the years, our whole mythology changed, leaving the WW mythology only as a story for children, the outer peel of an onion. And no, haven't read the novels.

@ TAT: Wow you watched the movie with 13! Then you must be very young! ;-)

ghost said...


Cool when things evolve over time.

Any chance of a video clip a la fairydragon ?

The novels are an interesting idea. There's 13 of them, each told from a different clan's perspective, but all one story. Lots of plotting as you might expect. They used several different authors to help give the different books slightly different feels. Might be worth buying one and seeing what you think. Prices vary wildly though.

Melina Sedo said...

I might actually have a look at the novels, when I'm through with my exam.

As for a video of our sessions: I dunno. Why would anyone be interested in that. We do not fight much or even throw dices. Be basically talk about love, religion and politics.

And now back to work...

ghost said...

Well if you enjoy them but have trouble finding a few of them, I can probably lend them to you via MsHedgehog.

Because "We do not fight much or even throw dices. Be basically talk about love, religion and politics." How often do you get the chance to witness vampires doing that in your life? ;o)

Good luck with the exam

Melina Sedo said...

Thanks a lot. Will come back to you! :-)
Suppertime, now!

Patrick said...

Such a long post about vampires and role-playing games without mentioning Castlevania? Nintendo is a big help to waste time at airports and similar places...:)

Melina Sedo said...

Never played Nintento or any computer-games! Apart from Solitaire on my iPhone. Computers and the like are for work! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm--caught up in the embrace since the age of 7 ;) . Tango was in your future.

Melina Sedo said...

@ Elisabeth: You mean my passion for Vampires already predicted an entanglement in the the Tango embrace. Yep. Very likely! ;-)