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Hunter: the Vigil RPG Review

Posted By Flames On March 25, 2009 @ 5:35 am In RPGs | 3 Comments


Available at Amazon.com
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White Wolf has a special place in my heart that goes both ways. It’s a classic tale of love and hate that dates back to the first edition of Vampire: the Masquerade I bought on a whim. As they dwindled down their successful runs only to reboot them, I found myself enjoying their releases less and less. I felt they were trying to reinvent their own wheel and, well, just couldn’t do it. I took on Hunter: the Vigil and hoped for the best.

This monstrous tome pushes four hundred pages and yet somehow manages to enrapture the reader. There are small bits off; however, this is an exceptional book. Let’s take a look at it. The layout of Hunter is typical to their new lines. A cropping of artwork throughout the book lines the upper border of the book while fading into a gray border that frames each page.

Sidebars are intelligently spaced throughout the book and don’t continually derail the reader’s attention. The fonts are mostly enjoyable and easy to read except for the chapter three introductory flash fiction for the Loyalists of Thule (pg. 110). This exception has a cramped font that I just gave up reading. Considering the bulk of this corebook, this snippet hardly puts a dent into the graphically-pleasing work throughout the rest of the book.

Hunter’s artwork scared me, based on the cover. I’m absolutely sick of the photo-crapped artwork from most of White Wolf’s lines and the cover art started with exactly that, although it was admittedly cooler than I had seen in some time. The artwork inside the book veered in a new direction though, one that I personally loved. Whenever RPG art can allow some inspiration for a night’s game, it is well on the right track. In fact, there was really only one piece in the book that I just found laughably bad (nope, I ain’t gonna tell you which one, but it’s in chapter five).

The art in the book has definite urban inspirations, which are laced with brutal nihilism. In the game’s storyline, better pieces would be difficult to find. Even the regulatory compact and conspiracy pieces are damn fitting. Much of the art fills up half a page or more; nevertheless, they don’t act as filler (again, nearly four hundred pages). The stable of talent they found to illustrate this book truly came through and I hope to see their visions of the World of Darkness in future works.

This book’s table of contents annoys me. For some reason, they felt the urge to give each snippet of the lackluster fiction “Flesh Trade” individual headings when associating them with each chapter in a consistent fashion would have worked equally well. I would have much preferred the contents to look like this:

• Prologue
• Chapter One
• Chapter Two
• Chapter Three
• Chapter Four
• Chapter Five
• Epilogue
• Appendix

Sadly, it isn’t the case. You have to throw a half-dozen more headings into the mix just to point out fiction that contributed so very little to the overall product. We’ll take a look at the writing from each chapter. This new line to the WoD is crammed full of information that demands multiple readings (a good thing, in my humble opinion). The editing on this massive project impresses me. There were minor editing tidbits in the book, but only one glaring typo (the pseudo-word “eve y” instead of “every” on page 136). The writers and editors at White Wolf do take a certain pride in their prose; Hunter: the Vigil reminds me why they should.

I’ll combine a few parts of the book–Flesh Trade “part one,” the introduction, chapter one and Flesh Trade “part two”– and call it Chapter One. The fiction eats up six pages with typical results. A bit of swearing hardly makes things edgy, but who the Hell am I to judge? The choppy writing just never appealed to me. The brief four-page introduction comes next as theme, mood, the game’s layout, inspirations, and a lexicon are discussed in rapid-fire succession. Chapter One “Shadows Cast by Firelight” then truly begins as the reader is tossed into the world of Hunter.

At times, the number of examples gets monotonous; however, a huge fan base demands more options than the most vanilla. A brief history of the hunters revisits such interesting characters as Jack the Ripper and Elizabeth Bathory and manages to still put a new shine on them. The timeline stretches far back for this game; nonetheless, less than ten pages are assigned to it. The density of the writing makes it work. Hunter society takes up more room as the many facets of their lifestyle is examined. Also, the first meaty hints towards the factions making up this line are also unveiled (much more on those later). A rough look at the monsters of the setting comes next, which is old hat for most White Wolf fans. Still, this is a look at tried and true favorites from the other perspective, so some fresh hits are waiting to be found. Another round of “Flesh Trade” comes next and covers only four pages this time.

Chapter Two “Character Creation” delivers a great deal of material towards making a PC; however, it is incomplete. There is much-needed information to truly flesh out a character in the following two chapters; however, the breakdown is needed; otherwise, the character creation chapter would stretch from pages 52 to 254. Breakdown. Appreciated. Chapter Two lays out the typical information for making a character in the Storyteller system (you will need the World of Darkness corebook though). There are some additions specific to the setting, such as merits (though, no flaws) and professions. Professions work on a five-point system as a means to explain how the characters make money. I feel like they do more than that though in that they give good insight towards specific fields. The write-ups on each profession possessed tons of story seeds and material. It was one of the rule-additions that enriched the game.

For me, Chapter Three “Hunter Organizations” is the strongest part of the book and, honestly, it has to be. This is the fiction that makes this book endure. There are compacts and conspiracies for nearly any troupe. Exploring each of them could be a year’s worth of sessions without much effort on the Storyteller’s part. Each of these groups get four pages of treatment.

Again, there may be too many story seeds intended to inspire, but I felt like the pacing hit just about right in this chapter. Each group has some flash fiction, a bit of history, a look their enemies, inspiration seeds, cliques within each organization, stereotypes, and status attributed to it. Status is the only bit that has any mechanical meaning to the game one, three, and five dot levels are detailed. This chapter caused me to geek out the most and I loved it.

Midway through, chapter three becomes a look at Endowments, those little “extra” things that hunters have access to so they don’t become a spot on the wall quite so fast. Relics, tech, faith, and much, much more is detailed to make characters as unique as possible. This section of the third chapter could have been trimmed down a little, but still made for some excellent reading. Another two-page hit of the “Flesh Trade” concludes this chapter.

Chapter Four “Special Rules and Systems” is just that: more rules. The biggest new rule is tactics. Once upon a time, ganging up on an enemy was a simple enough affair. Nowadays, it’s a maddening mass loaded with blubber where muscle should be. Tactics is a way to make staking a vampire (something you’ll likely do in this game) so pointlessly difficult that you’ll probably just let the leech go. Let’s use staking as a reference point. To stake a vampire as a group tactic, you must first buy it with special experience points (practical experience). You then have to put your team into roles of lead or secondary actors (actors?). Then you have to ensure that these actors meet the prerequisites of the tactic; furthermore, staking in one group isn’t staking in another group, so you can’t just swing into a new group expecting your knowledge to work (unless you share a common teacher). Don’t forget the modifiers. No, we don’t want that.

All in all, tactics will probably be well-received by some players. Playtesting proves that. The nuts and bolts just seemed too needlessly cumbersome to a game supposedly focused on storytelling. I’m all about using teamwork in a RPG; these rules make me want to Lone Dog/Wolverine/Rorschach my way against even the most horrific of the game’s creatures. The idea of one player taking the helm while others support them is sound and sensible stuff; these extra rules aren’t as much. On a positive note, each tactic does provide a primer on How To Kill That Which Troubles You for new gamers who perhaps haven’t considered the myriad of ways to ruin a vampire’s night.

Chapter four then takes a look at the equipment of the hunt, both low and hi-tech. This is a fairly solid look at said materials, including alternative rules to make games a bit deadlier if you’re inclined. Most of the equipment is standard fare; however, there are a few interesting bits lurking within the columns. Part five of “Flesh Trade” carries the reader towards the more Storyteller-geared part of the book.

Chapter Five “Storytelling” is somewhat different from past books. The chapter on Storyteller advice is generally a strong suit to White Wolf’s games and Hunter doesn’t break tradition. This chapter discusses the usual (theme, mood, and varying emotions) and the new, such as mastering compact-driven storylines. This chapter then turns towards the enemy. First, it describes the “dread powers” of the enemy before delving into demons and their cults. Next is a look at hunter versus hunter story arcs. The chapter ends with discussion on the typical fare in the World of Darkness, the staples that name the other corebooks in the line. This is all good stuff, mainly because it looks at the familiar in a new way, a strong trait within this corebook.

The “Flesh Trade” story doesn’t doesn’t break the space between Chapter Five and the Appendix (really it’s a chapter six).

The first appendix “Morality and the Veil” could really be called either Chapter Six or Chapter Five.2. It continues to look at hunter storylines, particularly in regards to what separates them from the monsters they hunt. Without some moral line or code, hunters are really just some crazy men and women skirting skin-of-the-teeth close to becoming serial killers. This chapter describes ways to make the distinction clearer, so that the moral gray isn’t all-encompassing. It also offers some new rules that enhance rather than frustrate.

The second appendix “Philadelphia: monster hunting in the city of brotherly love” offers another richly detailed city to the WoD. While not as fulfilling as a supplement, there is plenty of ammunition for storytellers and players to run with. I think it makes sense to throw out a watercolor of a city rather than devote a book to it since the odds of picking the “right” city to appease all the players is, well, impossible. There is more than enough to make a fine abstract of Philly or simply enough material to mine of another city wins the hearts of the gaming group.

Seven more pages of “Flesh Trade” fill the space between Appendix two and the well-designed Index.

Well, I appreciate you sticking around while I hit the highlights of this Goliath. Based on what I’ve read, this game will work well as either a pick-up or a seriously involved campaign. The amount of material in Hunter the Vigil is mind-blowing and mostly awesome, leading me to attribute the following scores:

Layout: Five out of Five Dice (I won’t let one snafu ruin an impressive work)
Artwork: Four out of Five Dice
Writing: Four out of Five Dice
Overall: Four and a half Dice out of Five (this game can be seriously fun in the right, or wrong, hands)

Review by Todd Cash

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