Mar 18

2022

Author Interview: Natalia Theodoridou, Vampire: The Masquerade — Sins of the Sires

Posted by: Mary Duffy | Comments (0)

 

Athens, Greece: a city with an ancient past now thrust into the modern age. A city torn between the Camarilla establishment and the Anarchs, where everyone owes your boss a favor, and that makes you an untouchable vampire in this nocturnal society where you and your fellow Kindred must conceal yourselves from mortal eyes–the Masquerade of the Kindred. Vampire: The MasqueradeSins of the Sires is a 300,000 word interactive novel by Natalia Theodoridou, based on “Vampire: The Masquerade” and set in the World of Darkness shared story universe. I sat down with Natalia to discuss Sins of the Sires and her experiences with interactive fiction.

Vampire: The MasqueradeSins of the Sires releases this coming Thursday, March 24th.

I’ve really enjoyed witnessing your evolution in interactive fiction, from your first game with us, Rent-A-Vice, which is a dark near-future speculative piece, to An Odyssey: Echoes of War, where you took on the Homeric myth of your homeland, to this latest, Sins of the Sires, also set in Greece. How has that evolution felt to you?

All three games are very different from each other, of course, but I think in a way Sins of the Sires combines elements from both my previous games: it’s broody and dark, like Rent-a-Vice, and, like Odyssey, it’s set in Greece and informed by both its mythology and its long history (real and imagined). It’s almost as if the two earlier games were paving the way for this one.

I also think I have a much better understanding of story structure now, which has bled into my non-interactive fiction writing too. Sometimes putting together a story is a matter of considering all the possible pathways through the narrative and picking one. Yet all those other choices are still there, invisible but present, haunting the story with all that could be but isn’t.

What surprised you most about writing in this particular fictional world that to some extent is not of your own making? How did it stack up to adapting Homer?

I’ve discovered I work well with pre-existing material. I’ve long loved having some clay to work with from the start, but I think the joy of this kind of collaborative writing goes even deeper for me. I’ve always intuited this, but working with both Homer and the World of Darkness confirmed it beyond all doubt: thinking is dialogic, and a creator is always a co-creator, even when you’re not ostensibly working with pre-existing material. Because, of course, you always are.

The plot of Sins of the Sires (no spoilers!) is chock full of the political infighting and betrayal and power-mongering that VtM promises players. Tell me a little about the themes of the game.

One of the main themes is figuring out who you are, what you are, what you stand for and who you stand with. So a core theme is identity and the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves as well as to others. The mythologies we cling to, the masks we wear, not only as individuals, but collectively as well: nation, history, race, religion, gender.

And what was it like writing a game set in modern day Greece? I think players will find it fascinating and unusual in the panoply of VTM offerings.
It felt both easy and strange; there’s a specific kind of distancing that needs to happen when you’re writing about your own stuff — culture, history, trauma, whatever — in order to represent it for others who may be encountering it for the first time. In a way, you need to hold it up and really look at it. Before you swallow it again.

But also the setting was ideal for the themes I wanted to explore. I talked before about mythologies of belonging — questions like, who belongs here and who is an immigrant, who is Greek and who is foreign? This place is such a pastiche; you have ideas of classical Athens (and an ancient Greece that only ever existed in retrospect), fever dreams of Byzantine greatness, a long history of Ottoman rule, a mix of Balkan culture and western influences, a nation of immigrants and refugees. Take one layer of Greek history and identity away, and there’s something else underneath, and on and on until you get to the bottom and there’s nothing left. Just a masquerade.

Did combining Choice of Games style interactive game and “Vampire: The Masquerade,” each with their own form of mechanics present any interesting challenges or insights into game design for you?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that, when writing with ChoiceScript, with its robust ability to allow players to create very complete and unique player characters in terms of complex personalities and skillsets, you’re essentially writing about a main character you don’t know, who is in turn controlled by an unknowable player. I think that some of the most interesting narrative tensions are created from the friction between what the player believes and holds dear and what the player character chooses to do, precisely because the player’s personality need not align with the player character’s. What writing for VtM has added to this, for me, is an angle that allows me to write this unknown character controlled by the unknowable player with some amount of empathy, and that angle was the Beast. We all have it. Perhaps we all try to escape it, to varying degrees. That was a key narrative concern for me when designing the player’s experience. It raised surprisingly fundamental existential questions, like: is the Beast our common humanity, or its opposite? I go back and forth between the two, and I find both possibilities equally intriguing.

Do you have any personal favorite tabletop rpgs or LARPs?

I’ve talked elsewhere about how my first VtM LARP was one of the most memorable experiences in my gaming life—how using Dominate on someone made me feel both powerful and ashamed; I think that captures some core conflict that you’ll find in certain characters in Sins of the Sires. Recent favorite rpgs include Tim Hutchings’s Thousand Year Old Vampire and the aptly-titled this game contains absolutely no triggering material by PH Lee.

What else are you working on? Our readers would love to know.

I’m always working on short stories—you can read “Ribbons,” my most recent publication, in Uncanny Magazine—but I’m also currently working on a novel. It’s a Bluebeard-y tale about agency, literally toxic masculinity, complicity and abuse. Pretty dark, but then, what isn’t? If you look long enough.

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