Earlier this year, I reached out to Nathan Siever from Utility Muffin Labs. Nathan is the creator and co-host of the long-running ’25 Years of Vampire: the Masquerade‘ podcast, and often name-drops the Jyhad card game there. This is another short interview, but one that provides some insights into those players who’ve stayed loyal to the game without necessarily being part of the competitive scene or broader V:tES community.
Bindusara: You and Bob, your partner in crime at 25 Years of Vampire: the Masquerade, are clearly neck-deep in all things White Wolf. Was Jyhad/V:TES your pathway into the World of Darkness, or did you discover the game through an already-existing love of Vampire?
Nathan: I discovered V:tES back in 1996 or 1997. I had been doing the LARP thing pretty regularly in high school and I’d make consistent trips to the local game store to get cool new Vampire related stuff. I think I actually bought a deck of Jyhad cards on the recommendation of a savvy clerk who knew we’d buy anything White Wolf was selling. I remember looking at the cards and having no idea it was a game like Magic, which was the really popular CCG at the time. At first I thought the cards were for the table-top game and only took them out of the box to look at the artwork. It wasn’t until a number of years later when I found a regular gaming group that I actually played the game. I met Bob through that gaming community and learned to play with his cards.
B: What were your initial impressions of the game and what made you stick with it?
N: I don’t really remember what my impressions were when I learned V:tES. I think I was confused and bewildered a lot of the time. Like most card games, it has a lot of rules and intricacies to remember. However, I know my experience with roleplaying helped my immensely at the table.
The main reason I like Jyhad, beyond the vampire mythos, is because of the potential for cross-table RP, conspiring, and betrayal. A less skilled player can really mess with an opponent by playing a compelling role. In a lot of ways, the game is like a really advanced version of poker. You can bluff, brag, intimidate, or strategize your way to victory. Plus, you can do it all under the umbrella of the World of Darkness mythos.
B: And what about what didn’t work for you, above and beyond the complexity of the rules?
I think that time can be an issue for some folks. I’ve never played the game in an organized setting so I don’t know if tournaments have imposed time limits. When we assemble a bunch of friends to play, games can go all night. That can be very limiting in terms of how often we actually get to play.
B: I have to agree with you in terms of game length. I dug out the original Jyhad rulebook yesterday and noticed that the suggested play time in that is three hours for a 2-5 player game. V:TES tournaments run for two hours for 4-5 players so competitive play does tend to be a little more focused, thankfully. I tend to approach it more like a board game in terms of length – although of course, board games are less likely to promote player elimination.
Do you have any play styles and/or favourite clans that cross over from the TTRPG to the card game?
N: I love to play what I call the “Brujah Style.” When I play this style, I’m rude, brash, confrontational and apt to make incredibly short-sighted choices just for the sake of proving dominance. This works to my advantage about half the time.
B: And, being so buried in VtM lore as you are, have you been a fan of how the game has featured characters from the sourcebooks? Or do you find it more likely to shatter your immersion when Zelios goes toe-to-toe with Theo Bell while The Capuchin watches on?
N: Well, characters are the backbone of Vampire: the Masquerade. That’s one of those, “No kidding,” statements, but it’s really true for this game. When you read those classic setting books, they are often interwoven with a character’s perspective. Some of the characters are better than others, obviously. As a fan of the material, there are some characters I like more than others. When I’m running a game, I tend to use a lot of these characters like cameos in movies or TV shows. The side characters, like a Genghis or Carlyle tend to get more play time than a Beckett or Theo Bell.
B: Has the card game added to or changed the way in which you think about the clans, sects and metaplot of Vampire: the Masquerade?
N: For me, the answer is no. A lot of the card game, to me, is like a rendered down version of the original tabletop game. It’s not better or worse, it’s just a different application of the same ingredients. I think V:tES is great because it is so obviously derived from the original game. V:tES does have plotlines and major events, but I always saw those as a reflection of the main game, not the other way around. The card game was always the perfect stop gap between plots or storytellers. When the home group would wrap up a long campaign or story, we had V:tES to occupy us on a long Saturday night.