I’ll be up-front: I love stories with supernatural/other Masquerades going on. The Dresden Files, Master of None, the Ukiah Oregon series – just a few of many, many books I’ve read and enjoyed over the years. And then there’s Gargoyles. Stargate. Highlander. Bleach. Buffy. And… you get the picture.
There’s something incredibly tantalizing about being in on a secret. And as the reader, you are in – at least as far as the viewpoint characters get. Which can range anywhere from “Did that guy just walk through a door that wasn’t there?” to “The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”
(Hary, Harry, Harry. No one who knows you will ever believe that. Unless Mouse testifies. I wouldn’t put it past him.)
As a writer, a Masquerade simplifies things. A lot. Vampires, werewolves, world-shaking spells – they’ve all been hiding out of sight, staying under the radar. They didn’t change the course of history because they were already part of it. This means writing your story is much easier. Vampires eat the mayor? Someone covers it up with BBQ fork attacks by gangs on PCP. No problem. All you have to worry about is the characters in your story contacting the supernatural and surviving it afterward. Then they’re part of the Masquerade, like it or not, and will be busily covering things up for their own survival.
And yet. And yet.
Historically, humans are very bad at large-scale conspiracies. Summed up in the old joke, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead… unless one of the dead ones was a politician.”
In other words – if there’s a massive secret organization/society of monsters (man-eating or otherwise), its odds of staying secret are very, very low. These days we hear about shark attacks off the coast of Florida, boa constrictor attacks in various unexpected places due to escaped snakes, and man-eating tigers in Siberia. If people went missing in the numbers needed to support even a small population of super-predators, people would tend to notice. Especially when one of the intended victims got away.
And over a long enough time, someone would get away.
No predator is 100% efficient. None. Cheetahs have one of the highest success rates, and they still lose about 1 out of 3 chases. And when you’re preying on creatures as smart, fast, and mentally flexible as humans, you will have a failure rate. Human beings took on every natural predator on this planet with pointy sticks. And vampires and werewolves think they’re going to do any better?
We have historical accounts of vampire and werewolf hunts. Not just folklore. History. Printed in broadsheets! It often took a long time to track down the beast/ supposedly undead body responsible for the chaos, but people did find it. And disposed of the problem. Thoroughly.
So no matter how I love Masquerade worlds, they make it hard for me to suspend my disbelief. Not impossible. There are factors that make a Masquerade easier to buy. Bleach, for example – unless you’ve been exposed to the right spiritual energy, you both can’t see the monsters, and are unlikely to be a target. The added factor of “Hollows spend most of their time in another dimension, so they’re not just hanging around Earth’s back alleys” also helps. Changeling: the Lost brings up alternate dimensions in a similar way, with the Hedge and Arcadia. Nura: Rise of the Youkai Clan takes a different believable tack; anyone might see youkai. But everyone thinks they’re just folklore, so who’s going to report it? Also, in that setting it’s implied the youkai are policing their own pretty well, so there’s not a lot of victims to go missing.
Anyone else have thoughts on what makes or breaks a Masquerade or Unmasqued story for you?