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Publishers of Vampire tabletop game ponder ‘a change in leadership’ after more missteps

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Ongoing persecution of the LGBTQ community in Chechnya became fodder for its latest role-playing book

Art from the Camarilla sourcebook for the fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade shows a woman with bit marks on her neck.
Art from the Camarilla sourcebook for the fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade.
White Wolf Publishing

Even before the launch of Vampire: The Masquerade’s fifth edition ruleset, the team behind the classic tabletop role-playing game was already busy courting controversy. A series of unforced errors prompted White Wolf Publishing to issue statements disavowing perceived links to neo-Nazi and white-supremacist ideology in its game materials. Now, with the release the new Camarilla sourcebook, the team is again apologizing. This time, it’s for using the imprisonment, torture, and murder of members of Chechnya’s LGBTQ community as the backdrop for one of its major plot points.

“We realize the way we have portrayed various topics in the recent Camarilla and Anarch setting books can be viewed as crude and insensitive,” White Wolf said in a statement on its Facebook page. “We appreciate this feedback and we are actively examining our choices in these books. Earlier this year, we made a pledge to you to meet certain standards and be more direct with the community regarding the World of Darkness and our games. That’s a pledge we failed to uphold, and we are deeply sorry.”

Since at least April 2017, Russian news sources and firsthand witnesses have described the crimes taking place in Chechnya, which were later verified by mainstream media here in the United States. From our sister publication, Vox:

At least 100 men who are gay or believed to be gay had been recently rounded up and tortured by authorities in Chechnya, in the Northern Caucuses region of southern Russia. And at least three, according to the report, had been killed.

The catalyst seems to have been an attempt to organize an LGBTQ pride march in the region, prompting a crackdown against local gay and bisexual men. A handful of men have shared their stories of torture and humiliation at the hands of Chechen law enforcement. One man, using the name Adam, told the Guardian newspaper he was apprehended by police, after they reportedly read his text messages and learned he was gay. He said that while he was detained and tortured with electric shocks, “Sometimes they were trying to get information from me; other times they were just amusing themselves.”

The event prompted condemnation from the U.S. State Department, while GLAAD has demanded that the administration of President Donald Trump stand up against Russian President Vladimir Putin for denying that the incident took place. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a Washington D.C.-based non-profit advocacy group, even projected a rebuke onto the side of Finland’s presidential palace during a meeting of the two world leaders. In a statement accompanying its protest, HRC referred to these acts as “crimes against humanity.”

The Camarilla sourcebook, on the other hand, is White Wolf’s attempt to flesh out the most powerful and nefarious group of vampires in its fictional, ripped-from-the-headlines game world. Located in strategic cities around the world, Camarilla vampires — also referred to as Kindred — work behind the scenes to influence politics. One unfortunate section leans into the turmoil in Chechnya, which its writers call “a pressure cooker of Sharia rage and Islamic anger.”

“Despite its infamy,” the section continues, “almost no mortals knows [sic] the truth about Chechnya or how it has become an undead refuge, a homeland for Kindred, where vampires not only rule with absolute authority but can exist in the open.”

Since Camarilla is largely intended to inspire narratives among players at the table, its writers, which include the Swedish company’s lead storyteller Martin Ericsson and editor-in-chief Karim Muammar, proceed to mine the attacks on the LGBTQ community for content. From the book:

The recurring international controversy over the persecution of homosexuals is a clever media manipulation designed to keep the focus on Sharia law, away from the true inner workings of the republic. While homosexuals are indeed held in detention facilities for days, and humiliated, starved, tortured, and eventually fed upon and killed, this is not the point. The point is to distract from the truth of what Chechnya has become. That said, even among the Kindred [vampires of the Camarilla] any kind of “homosexual behavior” is punished harshly. ... There is unfortunately nothing we can do for our brothers and sisters in Chechnya who suffer under this — interference is ill-advised at this point, but should any Kindred (or even kine [mortals]) seek asylum within regnums under our control, granting it may win allies to our side who are not just well-trained in combat and thankful to us, but also knowledgeable in the ways of a people who might already be preparing to attack us.

Depending on how you read the section, several distasteful possibilities come to the fore.

While its authors are writing with the heavily thematic voice of an in-fiction narrator, they are nonetheless equivocating on the atrocities in Chechnya by calling them “controversial.” Major media outlets have already established that they occurred, while multiple governments have taken the opportunity to denounce them. And, even if that equivocation is not their intent, many consumers find the choice to use modern day, government sanctioned murder of LGBTQ people as fodder for a tabletop game a questionable one.

Reaction on social media has, unsurprisingly, tended toward outrage on all sides. Posts on Twitter and Facebook are filled with fans decrying White Wolf for compromising on its creative vision, while other fans are aghast that its creative vision strayed into such territory in the first place.

According to White Wolf’s statement, the incident will lead to changes at the top.

“White Wolf is currently undergoing some significant transitions,” the company said, “up to and including a change in leadership. The team needs a short time to understand what this means, so we ask for your patience as we figure out our next steps.”

Polygon has reached out for clarification and further details, but no response has been offered.

Camarilla remains on sale in a digital format. Pre-orders for the physical book are still being taken.