Posted on December 18, 2004 by Flames
Judging a Book by Its Cover
Without even reading a word of text, this book is gorgeous. Crimson red cover, portraying a hand dipping into blood, with red rose petals drifting atop; it’s easily one of White Wolf’s best. Internally, the art is the usual Gothic fair. Some of the art is more mature in nature, which is becoming a trend, even in mainstream Wizards of the Coast books.
The book is mostly black and white, with a touch of red here and there, which technically makes this a full-color book. That being the case, $34.95 for 302 color pages is not a bad deal. The presentation for this book is great, and I could recommend it on a completely separate aesthetic level.
The Heart of the Matter
Now we open the book and get into the juicy portion, what many games have been waiting a year for, since White Wolf announced the ending of their original World of Darkness line to make way for something new.
Internally, long-time readers of the Storyteller series will see the tried-and-true layout that White Wolf has used for over a decade. We open with a vignette piece, giving quick one-page glances into the minds of newly-made vampires. The viewpoints are varied, and they do a good job of setting the mood of the book. Next comes the usual Role-playing Introduction guide, which all RPG books feel the need to open with.
Chapter One is where this book truly shines. It is over 80 pages of nothing but describing the Kindred and the world in which they live. Gone is the centuries old feud between the Camarilla and the Sabbat, while 13 various clans scheme to be one sitting on top of the world. Instead, we get a world in which 5 clans and their related bloodlines form the membership of seven Covenants, some of which work together, and others have embraced a policy of détente with the others. More on the changes later.
Chapter Two is the Character Creation chapter, is the standard fair. It gives the rules on how to create a vampire, and describes the clans and disciplines in greater detail. The disciplines are larger unaltered from the older versions of Vampire, with the exception of some name changes, and the new treatment of vampiric magic. Again, I’ll cover these later on.
The next chapter deals with Special Rules and Systems. This section has a radical departure. No more will each Rulebook reprint the same rules over and over again. White Wolf has separated the Core Rules into the World of Darkness Rulebook, available separately. Instead, Vampire: the Requiem (and later Werewolf and Mage) contains only rules dealing specifically with their own kind. Some may see this and money-milking, but I regard this as an intelligent design decision that lets them get more of the good stuff in the various setting books. Vampire proves this, as over half the books is setting description and character ideas.
The last main chapter is the usual Storytelling chapter, which offers advice on the moods and themes to be invoked by a game of Vampire: the Requiem. This chapters overall usefulness is dependent on the experience of the reader. Newer players and Storytellers will find it helpful, but people familiar with the original game can just breeze right through it. It’s enlightening to see what White Wolf wants from the game, but its nothing earth shattering. Its biggest contribution is the ever-present NPC section for Storytellers to call upon.
Next we move onto Appendix One which will have players drooling and Storytellers groaning. Herein resides the descriptions of some of the various Bloodlines available (you guessed it; later!) and how to create your own bloodlines, disciplines and unique weaknesses. The good news is that this is a fairly freeform system that merely advises the Storyteller on how to adjudicate such things. The bad news is that this is a fairly freeform system that merely advises the Storyteller on how to adjudicate such things.
As long as the Storyteller keeps a firm hand on the inevitably attempts at Power-gaming, this will add a lot of depth and give players a feeling that they can actually affect the setting, even if only in a small way. It also gives the Storyteller a tool to create antagonists with unexpected powers and vulnerabilities much more easily than the old game did.
Appendix Two gives us a quick version of New Orleans by Night for the new edition. Intended to be the initial campaign setting, much like the city of Chicago was for Vampire: the Masquerade 1st Edition. We’re greeted with a quick historical timelines of the city, and then it gets straight into the thick of things by detailing the various factions within the city and what their goals are. Mardi Gras is, of course, given a quick bit of coverage as the perfect feeding time for the city. The details of the city itself are sparse, and a plug for the upcoming Cities of the Damned: New Orleans is given. Finally, the major NPCs of the town are statted out for use.
The book ends with an epilogue of half-page vignettes, giving conclusion to the thoughts that opened the book. Oh, and important note, the index appears complete and intact, with no mention of the infamous Page XX. Owners of Werewolf the Apocalypse 1st Edition will understand exactly what I mean.
Okay, now I’m sure everyone wants to know what has changed, so here’s a quick primer to whet your appetites. First off, lets discuss some general setting changes.
” The Requiem – the new title refers to how vampires regard their own existence now. This musical dirge theme dominates the feel of the game, and I must admit my own bias in preferring it.
” The Danse Macabre – now the struggle of the Kindred’s game of one-upsmanship is referred to as a dark, delicate dance instead of a kind of protracted war. This epitomizes the change in tone of this new World of Darkness. Global concerns and ideological battles are replaced with something much more personal.
” No Caine/Lillith – Vampires no longer have cool Biblical creation myths. The origins of the Kindred have been lost to the ages and the twisting of torpor. Lilith does still have a small presence in the lore, but that’s covered in the Covenants section.
” No More Ancient Elders – I’ll get more into this later, but it’s a mystery and a worry that there are currently no known active elders more than 500-1,000 years old in the world. I get the impression this will be an important point as this new World of Darkness evolves.
” Blood Potency instead of Generation – Now all Kindred, regardless of sire, start off at the same power level and work they way up the old fashioned way, experience points and the passage time. The thicker the blood (and higher the Blood Potency) the more difficult feeding becomes. At higher levels, only vampires close in Blood Potency will slake the thirst of elders, forcing them into torpor.
” Torpor Is Bad – basically entering torpor enters a state in which you relive your live over and over again, but altered by regret, wishful thinking, and personal bias. Essentially, a vampire’s memory is not reliable after a round of torpor. Also, elders must go into torpor every so often now to thin their blood, so they don’t degenerate into diablerists.
The old global sects of the original game have long since been abandoned in favor of groups that, while global in membership, do not have massive hierarchies and do not battle in the streets for dominance.
” The Invictus – vampire nobility. Think the Camarilla Ventrue of the old game, but smaller.
” The Carthian Movement – idealistic vampires that seek to replace the current feudal system with something more modern. Democracy is their usual theme, but they are willing to try other things in the name of keeping with the times.
” The Lancea Santcum – vampiric clergy. Catholic Vampires, worshipping the mythical figure of Longinus, who claims to have been turned into a vampire, not by the Embrace, but by Christ’s blood touching his lips when he pierced his side during the Crucifixion. They have access to one of the new forms of vampiric magic.
” The Circle of the Crone – pagan vampires. They worship an amalgamation of female goddesses that includes Lilith. While not at war with the Lancae Sanctum, they don’t like each other very much, and constantly seek the convert members from each other. They have the other blood magic discipline.
” The Ordo Dracul – followers of Dracula, another vampire claiming to have been cursed directly by God. These vampires follow a theosophical order that seeks to perfect and transcend vampiric nature. They have developed a line of powers to temporarily undo some of the weaknesses in the Kindred.
Some clan names may look the same, but most are quite different now.
” Daeva – classic Anne Rice, sex-incarnate vampires. They are hedonists and degenerates, who are skilled at manipulating others. Not very good at resisting temptation though. The Toreador are a bloodline of the Daeva consumed with artistic creation.
” Gangrel – instead of being tree-hugging vampires who live in the woods, these Kindred are more predatory than their cousins, and have a harder time using rational thought to control their instincts. The Bruja are a bloodline of bikers made up of Kindred, Ghouls, and even a few mortal Blood Dolls from this clan.
” Mekhet – a cross between the Lasombra and the Tremere, but without the cheesy superpowers. They consider themselves children of the night in a literal sense and embrace the shadowy side of life, and are experts in finding the secrets hidden there. Bright light is enough to bother them, and the sun is especially harsh. One bloodline from this lineage are the Mortis who must feed off the blood of the diseased.
” Nosferatu – these scary creatures are largely unchanged except for the fact that they no longer have to be inhuman in appearance, merely frightening in some kind of otherwordly manner. They also now have a unique discipline for causing fear. The Burakomin are a Japanese bloodline of this clan Embraced from those people considered “Unclean” by Shinto and Buddhism.
” Ventrue – still the consummate overachievers, they consider themselves natural leaders. Now instead of being picky eaters, they slip into madness more easily than the other clans as they lose their hold on humanity. The Malkovian (yes I’m spelling it right) bloodline are Ventrue at heart, so to speak. The only real difference is that they start off crazy.
This stayed pretty much the same, with a few exceptions.
” Animalism, Auspex, Dominate, Obfuscate, and Protean are almost unchanged.
” Presence is now Majesty.
” Fortitude is now Resilience
” Potence in now Vigor and instead of giving automatic successes, it just adds to the Strength dice pool.
” Celerity no longer gives extra actions, but subtracts dice from all attacks made against the character, and grants an Initiative bonus. Think that sound lame? Think about it. It means you get to move in Bullet Time. Whoa…
” Nightmare is now a power that manipulates and creates fear. Playground of the Nosferatu.
” Cruac is the blood magic of the Circle of the Crone. Powerful, but the sacrificial rituals mean that using this subtracts from your Humanity.
” Theban Sorcery is the magic of the Lancea Sanctum. Instead of blood, it burns off Willpower.
” The Coils of the Dragon are the rituals used by the Ordo Dracul to temporarily weaken the banes of vampiric existence.
Those last three disciplines essentially replace the old Thaumaturgy. Another major change is that dots in those disciplines do not give powers, but merely denote the level of ritual access available. Only the Coils of the Dragon use the Path system of old, but all three paths cap out at level 3. Once you see what they do, you’ll understand why.
I have to admit some things here. I sold off my entire White Wolf collection about a year ago. I had just had enough of the entire thing, for reasons that have no business being in this review. I did occasionally keep track of what was being done on the new game, and reading some of the advance previews on the White Wolf website, I was worried this was just going to be a cheap re-dress of the same old stuff, as a way to try and squeeze some more money out of this fading franchise. Instead, this new Vampire game rises like a Phoenix from the ashes of the old game. All my doubts and disdain dissolved as I read deeper and deeper into Vampire: the Requiem, and I’m pleased to say that the money for it was well spent.
Not everyone will agree with me. The feel for this game is subtly different from Vampire: the Masquerade. This game now exists purely on the city level. Covenants may be global, but they are not organized on that scale. No Kindred gives a damn what takes place outside the city in which they live, and most never travel except under great duress. That’s not to say you can’t make a globe-trotting Chronicle, just that you need a good justification for why a group would do so.
Clans are no longer the end-all-be-all of character creation. Covenants are for more important to your characters outlook and goals than who sired him. While the Ventrue still maintain their in-clan Old Boy Network, and all Nosferatu look out for each other first above all else, most clans mix easily and often. While I do wish the Clan system had been dropped entirely, the new implementation fixes most of the stereotyping problems the old games had, at least on paper. In practice, I’m still waiting to see.
Also, there are no more Big Name characters wandering around the world to fix things. No Justicars or Archons to call on; no more Rogue Sabbat Assassins to make a guest appearance. Some of the Old Guard will hate this. Personally, I find it a breath of fresh air. The Old World of Darkness had become the Forgotten Realms of the Modern Gothic genre. This feels like a campaign world in which the players can actively participate and change things, not sit back and watch while the Big Boys do their thing, with the PCs merely providing audience participation.
I have never seen a more amazing example of the phrase “the more things change, the more things stay the same” than this game. What I listed here are only a small list of what was changed, and I didn’t even get into the new Storyteller system, as covered by the new Rulebook. There are new systems for blood bonds, connections between sire and child, and diablerie that add a whole new dimension to game play. And yet, the structure of the game: set in the depths of a city, hip deep in political infighting, and desperation to keep from sliding too deep into the jaws of their own personals Beasts shows this to still be, at heart, the same game that started a cult phenomenon. I can’t wait to see what they do with Werewolf and Mage.
Welcome to the new World of Darkness.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewer: David Akers
Look for Vampire: the Requiem eBooks at RPGNow.com.