Posted on June 15, 2009 by spikexan
White Wolf experiments with “ready-made player-characters” for those gaming groups on the go. Two such PDFs already exist, but I’ll only be talking about the Slaughterhouse Five. The PDF is 26 pages (no ads) devoted to the description of five player-characters and a bit of the world they live in. It’s an interesting idea, so let’s see how I felt it played out.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have wanted to be fed a handful of pre-made characters to push onto my gaming group. It’s too much fun to make your own character. Right? Once upon a time, I would answered “yes” to that question without hesitation. I’ll now mend my answer to “yes, usually.” Why do I now permit myself to sacrifice creativity for availability? First, I no longer believe that question is even valid. The biggest reason why is pointed out by the blurb for the game. Healthy gaming groups are constantly evolving, trying out new games or new takes on old games. With all the transformations, character creation can sometimes drag things down.
Most groups prefer to have a night devoted to making characters and perhaps dipping their big toe into the setting (White Wolf’s introduction of the “Prelude” probably heralded this to the mainstream). With that said, the chief “reason” is the ease of having a well-tailored group of characters available to meet the tastes of most groups. The second reason that stands out to me is in the acronym RPG itself. These games are role-playing in nature. Too many times, players make the same damn thing but hide it under different settings. Everyone has the player who makes the Lone Wolf superhero, the Loner vampire, and Outcast pirate, and the Banished ninja.
It’s the same character, just reworked for whatever setting is being used. Will this player go for that physical character between the five choices? Probably, but these character may open up the player’s eyes to something new and inspiring. Players should be open to the idea of trying on different roles when delving into a role-playing game.
The Slaughterhouse Five is a coterie of vampires in whatever city they are needed. As such, the layout of the game meshes in line with other Vampire: the Requiem releases. We have the attractive blood-lined borders and beautiful fonts decorating all the headers. The bulk of the PDF follows a predictable pattern, which is a two-page discussion of the character, a novice character sheet, and a seasoned character sheet (not everybody wants to start out at the bottom).
The artwork also keeps in line with other VtR releases, but isn’t at quite the same pace as other books. For me, only the sketches of Jackie Long and Kostya Volkov had any character to them. Madison, Sebastian, and Roma just possessed no appeal to me (more on this later).
Besides the character pieces, there is also a graffiti-soaked piece on faux brick. This looked like a last-minute addition to fill some empty space. Empty space would have probably been the better choice. You’re thinking that, since I only liked two of the five characters, that this is a lost cause.
We’re going to talk about that now. This project has to do something specific. It has to appeal to a group of people; moreover, it has to attract multiple groups that don’t really resemble each other. No two gaming groups are alike. One of the rules of communicating is to “know your audience;” however, that is all but impossible with this project. What I think they had to do is hope they could nail one of these characters to the right person in each gaming group. Actually, they had to appeal to various stereotypes in the gaming community. Groups consist of fighters and planners. Most have the social butterfly and the idealist. Some just have a handful of warriors. There is also the question of gender, which I feel truly settled my decision on this.
The Slaughterhouse Five consist of three males and two females (okay, one male and one female are more asexual, but that’s not the point). As it turns out, my Friday night gaming group also meets that exact ratio. By no means, should a guy always play a guy or vice-versa; however, the matched ratio proved too delicious to pass up. I offered the characters as a night’s one-shot.
Kostya and Sebastian were snatched up first. Both girls wanted Madison; neither wanted Roma. Jackie was taken with lackluster zeal. My group brought my score of two-fifths up to four-fifths, which isn’t bad at all.
The writing for these characters is detailed. These are truly unique beings. Instead of having a Daeva party-goer, you have a Nosferatu with a raver’s addicted heart. In the case of the twins, I felt like maybe they were too quirky (despite the fact I enjoy the idea of two people playing the duo as they are written). Madison and Kostya will probably find takers fairly easily.
This undertaking is worthwhile even though this initial foray isn’t jaw-dropping. I think gaming groups will appreciate the cut-and-dried character option for convention use or one-shots or maybe even for putting into a campaign (though I suspect this is least likely). This experiment has promise.
My scores for the Slaughterhouse Five are:
Layout: Five out of Five Dice (Stays in line with earlier releases and continues looking
Artwork: Two out of Five Dice (Disappointing)
Writing: Three out of Five Dice (Solid characters, but perhaps too quirky for most tastes)
Overall: Three out of Five Dice (Worth a look)
Review by Todd Cash