I'm rather well-known as a player of multiple Malkavians. I generally play them well, as many people say. In fact, I'm something of a Malkavian Snob. So here's my opinions on playing this outstanding Clan.
So you want to play something new, and different, and exciting, and challenging?
How about a Malkavian?
If you dismiss the idea out of hand, you've probably seen far too many poorly played Malkavians, and too few (or even no) Malkavians played well. There tend to be two prevailing types. The most prevalent is the "wacky" Malkavian. Take a liberal helping of "funny" quirks and habits, shake them up, stick a derangement on top of it, and call it a character. These are known as Fish Malks, or Sock Puppet Malks. Very little or no thought goes into the reasons behind these derangements, or how all these quirks fit together. The second type is a bit less prevalent, but still seen regularly. The "psychotic killer" Malkavian. These are usually an excuse to be as violent as the player feels like being, and nothing more.
Fortunately, this is not all there is to Malkavians.
For a taste of a subtle Malkavian, read any sequence with Dr. Douglas Netchurch. You can find him in Ghouls: Fatal Addiction, in Time of Thin Blood, and in the revised Malkavian Clanbook. Dr. Netchurch is a scientist, and seems very rational. He's obsessive compulsive, but believes himself to be free of madness.
The fractured personality in chapter Two of the clanbook is a good example of the inside of a Malkavian's mind. And for variety, read some of the characters in back. The Moirai are an intriguing group with a lot of different sorts of Malkavians.
And then, before you start working on a character, get thee to the Malkavian webpage. (http://freeshell.org/~alik/malkavian/) There's a lot of funny stuff there, but there's also a lot of serious, interesting, thought provoking stuff there as well. Take some time with it, really explore.
I believe there are three sides to the clan - three main aspects to being Malkavian. Humor, Tragedy, and Horror. The humor side is the one that has been played up way too often, by way too many. Yet that aspect of the clan is an important one. The jester, the sacred clown, the trickster - these are the figures in history and mythology that see what no one else wishes to see, and say what others are too afraid or inhibited to express.
The horror side is seen at times, but more often in the aspect of the rampaging psychotic, not a quiet, building, subtle horror. Malkavians can be vicious, as they turn their internal pain into an outward expression, and inflict it on anyone who they happen to target. This doesn't necessarily mean vicious psychopath, or simple killer. Psychological horror, while harder to set up, can be far more devastating.
Tragedy is harder, often, to portray in character, without going overboard. Remember, insanity is an illness. Mental illness is a disability that many people live with and overcome. For a Malkavian, it is incurable. It is a difficult disability to live with. Showcasing the tragic side of Malkavians can be done by demonstrating how a character can struggle to overcome the disability of the madness from their blood. It's an ongoing struggle, one that the character may sometimes slip on, but continue to struggle with.
The best Malkavians can show all three at times. Any given character would have one of the three primary, at least most of the time, but able to demonstrate aspects of the other two. For example, Emily Murphy, a past character of mine, displayed all three at different times. Emily was an artist. Most of the time, she seemed to be quite funny. Part of that was because she tended to speak rapidly and enthusiastically, in run-on sentences. When angry or upset, she sometimes would turn it outward, and find some victim to kill, fairly brutally. Generally she would kill males who she saw abusing females. Sometimes, though, her violence would turn inward, and she would hurt herself. Self mutilation, usually by stabbing herself in the arms with pencils. Emily rarely thought about being a vampire. She didn't like it. When a mage friend of hers asked her how she felt about it, she told him it made her just want to scream and bleed. Her self-mutilation was often linked to her sense of horror about what she was.
Probably the best single moment with Emily, one that combined all three elements, was one night when she was with her mage friend, who was a friend dispite his discomfort with her being a vampire, and another mage. The two mages went on a conversation talent that was just too dynamic for Emily to cope with. She slipped into a dark place, mentally. When her mage friend noticed her, just before she got to the point of self-mutilation, or possibly violence, he started to talk her down. When he got through to her, she reached out to him, to ground herself in reality. She touched his face, and then her hand went down to feel his pulse at the artery in his neck. He was terrified.
That was all she did, and it calmed her down, but for that brief moment, the mage who was her friend had no way of knowing if she was going to hurt him then or not. Would funny and fun Emily, out of madness, hurt a friend? No matter the Malkavian, all characters should wonder, when they play with a Malkavian, just what the Malk might do. There should always be a sense of uncertaintly with Malkavians around.
Another thing to remember, when creating a Malkavian, is that a Malkavian can embrace for any reason, at any time. It depends on the sire, and how and what the sire thinks. It could be anything from an embrace after years of ghouldom and careful study and work, as it was in the opening part of the clanbook, or it could be a momentary whim of madness that the vampire sire does not even remember afterwards. Or anything in between. Some Malkavians embrace those who are already mad, or going mad. Others embrace perfectly sane people. Some plot and plan, and search for a potential childe who fulfills their criteria. Others embrace on impulse, without much consideration.
So a Malkavian character can have any background, any appearance, any sorts of skills and abilities. A Malkavian can have any derangement, or combination of derangements, as well. The clanbook has a few new and interesting derangements. More can be found on the Malkavian webpage. Remember that there is some sort of system to any derangement. Not even the most bizarre and random of lunatics does everything for no reason at all. The reasons can seem wildly illogical to a rational mind, but they are there, and they are a part of the Malkavian. Think of your character's motivations.
This is why playing a Malkavian is such a challenge. You have to filter everything the character sees and does through their derangements. To an obsessive compulsive Malkavian with a horror of dirt and filth, the perfectly tidy Elysium meeting room may be covered in layers of dust and crawling with maggots. To a paranoid Malkavian, the perfectly innocuous conversation the Keeper of Elysium is having with a fellow Toreador about an upcoming gallery opening is really a secret code in which they are conspiring against the Malkavian. And there's no "maybe" about it. The Malkavian is as certain of the reality of things she or he perceives as you are of the reality of the chair you're sitting on.
Don't cop out and come up with a derangement that is "simple" or easy to play. Really get into the heart of the madness. Flesh out why the character's derangement is what it is, and how it works. What are the details? Not just "my character is paranoid", but "she is paranoid because her sire stalked her for weeks before embracing her. after her embrace, he rarely spoke with her directly, only out of shadows, and never when she was expecting it. she fears him, and believes he may be hiding in any shadow, at any time." And remember that this character is going to be nervous and jumpy and afraid ALL THE TIME! Not just when it's convenient.
Another aspect of playing Malkavian is the culture of the clan. Once again, it can be anything. Malkavians can hate one another. Some Malkavians refuse to believe they are Malkavians. Other Malkavians care about the clan, and will try to hold it together. Respect amongst Malkavians can vary wildly as well. Some will respect elders, others will only respect those that make sense to the individual's sense of the world, while others will respect no one and nothing.
Since you will be playing the character with others, making a completely asocial character would make no sense, even in a party of all Malkavians. Keep other characters in mind, and how your Malkavian might react to others. The interactions may be difficult, but if you choose a character like that, be sure that's what you want to deal with. If you want an easier time interacting with other characters in the game, create the character so you will be able to do so.
Above all, have fun! And be sure the people you play with are having fun as well. Perhaps their characters might not be, but as long as the players are, things are going well. Keep people guessing, and make a clan too often dismissed as a joke into a mystery, and a force to be reckoned with.
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