Posted on May 5, 2008 by Flames
White Wolf Publishing Inc., 2007.
Written by: Will Hindmarch
Art: Sam Araya, Pauline Benney, Matt Dixon and Mark Nelson
Layout: Matt Milberger or, as he seems to prefer, matt milberger. (Why, M(m)att?)
45 page PDF.
Storyteller Adventure System (SAS): 9 scenes; XP Level 0-34; Mental two dots, physical four dots and social three dots – it is certainly physically-based and I would reduce the social to two dots for those whose decision whether or not to play this is based on the SAS.
Back in the good old days, there were games like Metamorphosis Alpha – a game in which characters were awoken from deep freeze on board a giant starship about which they knew nothing and which had suffered some kind of unexplained and, frankly, inconvenient disaster. Players spent their time exploring mysterious rooms searching for weapons and then blasting deranged robots and the ship’s AI while searching for escape. There was no need for back story or characterization. No agonizing over whether this course of action or that was more in tune with the inner person. Enemies were pieces of metal or, at most, space slime that could with easy conscience be blasted into atoms or, at lower levels, bludgeoned into immobility with strangely shaped lumps of metal. Writing adventures then was straightforward. The characters start in place A and place B was their destination. Along the way, various traps and enemies were placed. The purpose of the journey was survival in a hostile universe.
Those days have gone, of course and, just like the World of Darkness, a terrible beauty is born. Now players are encouraged to explore their history and their feelings, not to mention the ways they interact with each other. This is called ‘role-playing’ and, for the jobbing writer, it has been a disaster. The Resurrectionists highlights this point very well: poor Will Hindmarch has to spend no end of time catering for the fact that players may simply not wish to participate in the scenario and would prefer to go shopping or admire the poetry of Edmund Spenser or go vampire slumming with sex workers and those prepared to experiment with drugs. The players must be treated as if they were precious customers whose every word is law – if Metamorphosis Alpha was the Model T Ford of role-playing, then Vampire scenarios are form Burger King – ‘have it your way.’ No writer can get away for long with railroading the players. Once it was perfectly acceptable (and a paying gig) to start with ‘you were drugged in the inn and wake up on board ship half-naked and in chains. Now get out of that.’ This is the sadness of our days, when the mighty writer must bow down before the customers. Never mind, I’m sure Will Hindmarch can survive and he is able to get his adventure in print, albeit hedged in with caveats and ‘let the players decide’ and ‘there will be consequences.’ I blame Anne Rice and Karl Rove in equal measure.
It is curious that Vampire adventures seem to be particularly susceptible to this kind of role-playing when the rules-givers at White Wolf are forever bringing out new rules constraining vampire characters to behave in certain ways and to react to each other based on templates relating to membership of different social organizations and family structures. This seems to be rather un-American to me – no wonder there are so many foreigners in the World of Darkness. Europeans, for example, with their dastardly class-based societies and ability to speak languages. Rafael Pope, a central figure in this adventure, for example, is described as ‘a tall European man, probably Italian.’ Not Scandinavian, then or Slavic or Gaelic. In any case, obviously someone to be watched and subject to the vampiric versions of phone-tapping and having to take his shoes off before being allowed on an aeroplane.
Well, what is the adventure all about? The group of players, the coterie, are in some ways inveigled into digging up a torpid vampire and returning him to the patron, the World of Darkness equivalent of the bloke who turns up at the inn with a bag of gold and a relative who has gone missing. Incidentally, the only women I noticed in the text (assuming they are women) are the ‘motel prostitutes.’ This seems easy enough but it is complicated by the fact that others are also searching for the prize for their own purposes and a time factor. Other obstacles reveal themselves in the text and I am not planning to give the game away here. It is a fairly straightforward adventure with a beginning, a middle and an end and there is something to be said for this. Keeping the players moving along rapidly is one of the best ways of avoiding plot hole problems. The writing style is on the whole perfectly acceptable, clear and containing plenty of advice for the Storyteller. There are some curious uses of language which made me smile: One protagonist, Vincenzo (why do World of Darkness (WOD) individuals have so often to lose their surnames? It makes WOD conversations sound like press conferences by professional tennis players), is described as a ‘consummate working-class combatant.’ What does that really mean? He leaves work early to go home and drink beer and watch sports? He disdains foreign movies, red wine and political correctness in favour of Freedom Fries and protectionist trade policies? Poor Vincenzo also has problems with his hands: ‘his hands are forever suspended in a state of rough, grooved palms and dangling cuticles,’ which sounds like Southern Florida as rendered by Salvador Dali. However, these are minor quibbles and the author has on the whole written well and coherently.
A word about the artwork, since four artists are credited. The goods news is that there is not too much of this, taking up space that could be used for the writing and driving the price up. The cover has the face of a statue which recurs in the text rendered in red with, on the right hand side, what appear to be red coffee beans falling from the sky, which is also red. The same picture appears on the first internal page, only in black and white. There are two full page maps showing the area in which the action takes place (assuming the characters have not decided to travel to Tibet and meditate for seven years), the first for the players and the second for the Storyteller and detailing various hidden places which need to be located. Maps and the icons and backgrounds which decorate the text are nicely done, in my opinion, by which I mainly mean they do not make it difficult to read the text. There are also four full page illustrations: the first is of the entrance to the graveyard, apparently at night although with no means of light (moon, stars etc) and not terribly inspiring. The second is of a lady vampire with her clothes having apparently fallen off and exposing her underwear. She has a skull held in one hand, upside down (that’s a big hand for a lady, surely?) and something strange in her left hand (a small gourd?). I am not sure how she relates to the text. The third is of a man with hair problems and an enormous black bird sitting on his head. Does he know? Should someone tell him? Strange and, again, not immediately apparent what he is doing in the book. Finally, there is a picture of a man (distressingly, set into the text which has to make way for it, irrespective of readability) with a complex dreadlock-based hairdo and something wrong with his neck. At least it is possible to imagine who he is supposed to be in terms of the adventure. I may not know much about art but I know what I like etc and so on.
Does it provide a good game? On the whole, yes, I would say. There are some nice touches – I enjoyed the anagrams and the thing in the box – and plenty of opportunities to run around and bash things and shout and have a good time. I can imagine playing through the whole thing in a couple of hours but no doubt for some groups it will take considerably longer. Perhaps a few words about how to scale up or down the action more explicitly might have been helpful but this is a small thing. Well worth a try as an interlude to an ongoing campaign, especially one that would benefit from external stimulus.
John Walsh, Shinawatra University, April 2008
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