RPGs: When ‘The World Of Darkness’ Was A TV Show – PRIME
With two new RPGs getting their very own television shows, it’s important not to forget the cautionary tale that was Kindred: the Embraced.
The 90s were a hell of a time, to begin with. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. And the story begins back in the 90s when White Wolf waxed ascendant with their gritty game of vampires and politics and masquerades set in a World of Darkness. Everything was gritty and dark and as gothic as the rest of the 90s. This is the same decade that gave us The Crow, Dark City, the first Matrix, and Friends.
It’s the same decade that gave us the hot-and-heavy fever dream that was the World of Darkness’ first outing into the world of television: Kindred the Embraced. Everything about this show was a bad idea. It is a glorious trainwreck that you can’t stop watching–it managed to run for only eight episodes before it was canceled a little more than a month after its release. The show may be gone, but the Internet’s memory is long.
So today we’re going to take a look at what exactly this show is. First though, let’s talk a little more about the show. Kindred: the Embraced as the name suggests takes most of its inspiration from White Wolf’s World of Darkness. In it, you’ll find all the key lore and terms. There are princes and primogen, kindred and Clans, and of course all the black leather and darkly smoldering looks you could possibly want.
But the creator of the show, John Leekley, wanted to change the rules of the setting. And change them he did. For one thing, while the different vampire Clans are preserved in the show, vampires in Kindred: the Embraced have access to the full suite of vampire powers you’ll find in your copy of Vampire: the Masquerade. But more importantly, for a show about vampires, they sure do spend a lot of time standing out in the sunlight.
Leekley wanted to capture the feel of a modern myth, to examine what it is about humanity that frightens us, because you know, vampires are secretly a metaphor for our darker natures, for unrestrained consumption, and the idea of the Masquerade is that there are people who would be truly monstrous if they could somehow unleash their inner nature.
And you don’t have to look any further than the nearest CEO to see that in action. But we’re not here to talk about how vampires are secretly capitalism because how else do you explain one person living on in an extended, unending soulless life of eternal pleasure that they can only keep doing by literally sucking the life out of others–we’re here to talk about Kindred.
The Masquerade was an important part of the show. Maintaining the Masquerade and the fact that vampires lived among us, carrying out even mundane daily tasks like taking out trash, running diagnostics, and even swiping the occasional access card (harder than you’d think) was part of what drove the action.
Kindred told its tale of supernatural power and maneuvering through the eyes of a San Francisco Police Detective, Frank Kohanek, who discovers that the mobster he’s investigating, isn’t actually a mobster. Instead he’s the vampire Prince of the city, who rules over the five different vampire Clans: Ventrue, Toreador, Nosferatu, Gangrel, and Brujah. Detective Kohanek ends up becoming friends with Prince Julian (at the request of both of their former lovers), and Julian is able to provide the clueless detective with all sorts of information about the secret world of vampires.
But then this guy shows up and the show is all about him.
Just like, all about him.
Over the course of the show’s eight episodes we get a wild crash course in what every game of Vampire the Masquerade ends up being. It starts with big political theatre and the Prince having to kill someone they don’t want to for breaking the rules. Then dissolves into inter-Clan bickering, and quickly escalates from there. The Prince falls in love with a mortal, as vampires often do, and buys the San Francisco Times (because Vampires are capitalism I tell you), then every other vampire falls in love with a human.
There’s a lot of steamy, hot making out. A mortal is embraced to start a war, a rock star shows up living the vampire life and the whole thing fizzles out after about eight sessions.
The TV show was initially received as promising, but as the episodes came out the audience quickly realized what they were seeing. A vampire soap opera that was trying to be serious but confusing to sort through. It never went anywhere but has a cult following, of course. One wonders what a more modern vampire show with an eye for exactly what it is could do. Especially in a world where What We Do in the Shadows already exists.
And with more World of Darkness TV series supposedly in development, we’ll all eventually find out.