Categorized | RPGs

Vampire’s Lore of the Clans Review

Posted on August 31, 2018 by Shannon Hennessy

What is it about vampires that has always bothered me?

Simple.  Here’s my biggest problem: Caine was cursed by God for being the first murderer.   

Blah blah blah!  That’s not what happened!  I can assure you as someone who has played a True Brujah Antitribu re-Embraced by a Baali in service to the TRUE Black Hand for ten years that you’re wrong!  MOLOCH…!!!”   

Okay… yeah…   

So Caine is cursed by God for being the first murderer.  He’s banished to Nod – which more than one Biblical and Talmudic scholar will say means “Cain(e) was cursed to wander the earth for eternity, because in Aramaic, ‘Nod’ means ‘made to wander,’ or ‘made a nomad.'”  Yet he and his progeny – through the “power of the blood” that they consume – become something more powerful than any human has ever been.  More powerful, in fact, than the Nephilim born from angels and human women.  Something godlike.

“But he drinks blood, can’t be in the sunlight, etc.”

Right… but they’re still godlike.  No matter how you slice it.  That’s not so much a curse as it is a relief from a whole lot of the day-to-day human worries and whatnot of being a mortal, then, isn’t it?  Party all night, feed on blood – most of the time without killing, because come on, if you kill TOO MANY of them, they’re going to get pissed and hunt us all down – sleep excessively, and have kewl powerz that can rock the socks off of pretty much any and all of your competitors for the night time hours.

To me, vampires have never really seemed all that bad off in the World of Darkness.  They should be a lot worse off, given that God hates them more than they traditionally hate themselves, right?   

It’s only when you look deeper that you start to see the weaknesses of Caine’s Curse on the Kindred.  When you hold a magnifying glass up to their various societies and the comings and goings of them throughout time, you see their frailty as a people.  When you do this, when you sit, and you “listen” to them “tell” their stories – because they do adore speaking about themselves, don’t they? – you start to see the inconsistencies in their own beliefs.  You start to see the breakdown in their own culture.  You start to see the posturing for what it is, and you start to see that, to be completely frank, vampires are exceptionally frightened creatures who, while capable, don’t really know what the night or the future holds for them as a supernatural species.

    Lore of the Clans is a sourcebook supporting Vampire: the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition and is written by Alexander, Kevin Czarnecki, Joshua Doetsch, Matt M McElroy, Andrew Peregrine, Ree Soesbee, Rob Wieland, and Christopher Wilde.  Released in 2015, the book collects together information that covers the Clans of the Camarilla, the Clans of the Sabbat, the Independent Clans, the Caitiff (whom we old farts used to refer to as the “Clanless”) and their respective Antitribu, which is a vampire who is and acts as the antithesis (and, in some cases, anathema as well) to the Clan that they were originally “Embraced” into.

    Us “old farts” also remember a time when we had to wait for Clanbooks to be released on a schedule.  The die-hard Vampire: the Masquerade guys and gals would clench up so hard that they were able to make diamonds within the proximal recesses of their buttocks while they waited for Clanbook: This or Clanbook: That to be released.  This book brings them all together between two covers, which is a bit of a revolution for the game.

    So let’s get into it, shall we?

    Clan: Assamite:  Once upon a time, there were a clan of vampires that acted and worked as the dark assassins among dark assassins.  The Assamites, or Children of Haqim, struck fear into the undead hearts of vampire kind in the first days, and it wasn’t until their taming at the hands of the Tremere that… I’m getting ahead of myself.   

    The Assamites’ story, told from the point of view of a vizier, one of the three “castes” of Assamites within the Clan, traces the origin of the Clan back to the First City Enoch, then onward to the nameless Second City after the Great Flood, and then to “The Eagle’s Nest,” or Alamut, the citadel of the clan hidden from the rest of the Clans by high-level usage of the Quietus Discipline.     

    The narrator explains that all Assamites know their way to Alamut at the time of their Embrace, and that all traitors to the blood forget where Alamut is located.  Thus, this is one of the ways an Assamite knows which side of the fence one of their own sits on if there are any doubts.   

    The Assamites, as a consensus, have embraced the Five Pillars of Islam as an overreaching, philosophical doctrine by which they live their unlives, coupled with Haqim’s interpretation of the Laws of Caine.   

    Back to the Tremere.   

    First, the Baali got hold of the Assamites.  Then, in the Middle Ages, during the Crusades, the fledgling Clan known as the Tremere – a group of former Magi not at all unskilled in the destruction of vampires, to be certain – got their meathooks into things.  Boy howdy, did things go south for the Assamites at this point.  To the degree that the Clan still feels the effects of being brought to heel in the modern nights of the World of Darkness.   

    Factions within the Assamite Clan are discussed, from the major trinity of the three castes to the political factions at work that transcend caste – such as the Leopards of Zion, a Israeli sub-sect of Assamites, or the Web of Knives, the anti-Islamic nihilists whom one would think would have met certain extinction after the Tremere Curse, but that persevere into the present.   

    The Character Traits and Concepts section of the Assamites are where things get really interesting…   

    You have basic Assamite concepts, none of which are all that shocking or, for that matter, awe-inspiring given the spirit of the Clan itself.  A few assassin types… a sorcerer type… so on and so forth.   

    But the Quietus Powers are absolutely badass, both in concept and presentation, and the Level Five Dur-An-Ki Ritual, “From Marduk’s Throat,” is just freakin’ evil.     

    The Quietus Powers are divided up by the castes who use them, and all I’m going to say about the Sorceror and Vizier Quietus Powers is that I would feel exceptionally bad for a Tremere that ran afoul of one of these guys.  I also really dig how the author leaves open the option for the couple of curses that have hamstringed the Assamites for a few thousand years as being… well… optional according to the story that you might be running.  It’s a very nice touch.   

    As for the Dur-An-Ki Ritual… dude… I won’t ruin it any more than to say that once again, the Tremere really didn’t think their plans all the way through, and even if they did, never would have seen this coming.   

    For the record, there is an amazing show on Netflix called “Fauda.”  It focuses on an elite Israeli strike force that infiltrates Hamas in the West Bank.  The show also focuses on the members of Hamas as something less than monsters.  The show is a fantastic resource for Assamites in the modern nights, both Leopards of Zion as well as Web of Knives.   

    Clan: Brujah.  Okay… let me drop some subjective subjectivity here.   

    I dislike the Brujah, and I always have.  Since First Edition, the Brujah have always seemed to me to be exceptionally out of place in the Camarilla as a Sect, and the whole “Learned, Scholar Poet-cum-Rebel” vampire thing?  Ehhh… anyone can do that.  You don’t need an entire Clan to hold that torch.  For me, as a player and as a Storyteller, the concept of Clan Brujah was much better done with clans like the Followers of Set, or hell, even the Anarch factions that would pop up hither and yon throughout vampire history.  And honestly?  The name of the clan has always bugged the shit out of me, too.   

    Why not just call them “Anarchs?”   

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, I get it… they have an Antediluvians or two or whatever – no one really knows the truth there – but since “Brujah” is effectively synonymous with the Anarchs since before the Council of Thorns, then why not call them what they are?   

    There.  I feel better now.   

    The write-up covers the history of the Clan and includes a nice bit on Carthage, which was effectively “Enoch Part Deux,” and how the Ventrue and Malkavians of Rome ruined everything for the Brujah there.  This ruination seems to be the focal point of the general breakdown in the Clan’s origin story from philosopher athletes to generalized bad behavior over the next few thousand years.  The Brujah stop being heavy thinkers and become heavy hitters.  Now, all things being equal, this makes perfect sense.  I mean, when you look at the Brujah Discipline loadout, they’re effectively built for spending Blood Points on physical combat.   

    But the Brujah aren’t going to let themselves be written off solely as skullcrushers.  The narrator divides the Clan into three distinct factions within the Clan of Change: Iconoclast (what one thinks of as a classic Brujah bruiser), Idealist (the true classic Brujah warrior poet), and Individualists (Brujah that bridge the divide between the other two factions).  Each serves a purpose within the greater whole of the Clan, but what I think I like most is the idea that these are not necessarily static setups for character generation.  There’s not a whole lot to vampires that isn’t static, so it’s nice to see a vampire Clan take on the whole “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” mentality of moral, ethical and functional flexibility depending on any given swirl of realpolitic that comes their way.   

    The Character Concepts are a little predictable in my opinion; DJ, Graffiti Artist, Guy Who Wants to Watch the World Burn… stuff that you could probably do better without than with given the core rules and the information provided in Lore of the Clans honestly… but the combination Discipline Powers are where the section really shines.   

    Celerity and Potence are nasty.  End of story.  They are probably in the top three nastiest physical Disciplines a Kindred/Cainite can possess.  A few of these combo Disciplines even throw in Animalism for good measure.  Need to punch through someone’s head with a fist made of pure wrath?  There’s a combo Discipline included that can do just that.   

    The Path of Entelechy is new to me, so I’m assuming it’s new to Vampire: the Masquerade as well.  “Well, what does it do, Shannon?”   

    It basically makes your character into William Wallace of the Brujah… which is actually very useful considering the Brujah propensity for falling to the Beast and Rage.   

    Clan: Followers of Set.  The narrator of this write-up is really, really well written.  Up to this point in the book, this is the best of the writing, and I’m not just saying that because of my affinity or affection with the Followers of Set.   

    If you’re expecting truth from the Followers, you need to go looking somewhere else.  The only truth that you’ll ever find in them is the truth that they want you to know at any given moment.  That being said, there are three individual accounts of how the Followers of Set came to be and where their origins rest.  They are all lies.  They are all truths.  Ultimately, it is up to the player to decide what is what in regard to Setite honesty.   

    The Factions and Cults that exist within the Clan take up the lion’s share of the write-up, and there are a whole slew of them.  I once played a character who was, essentially, a diamond-smuggler Afrikaner soldier-of-fortune who did not at all fit the mold of the “traditional” Setite mold.  Well, the author of Clan: Followers of Set did me one better and introduces not only non-Egyptian Setites, but white Western Setites, Setites who can trace their mortal lineage back to the Norse, and even Mesoamerican Followers of Set or, if you’d rather, Mexican and Central/South American Setites.  Some of the cults are more interesting than others and, in fact, more useful than others, but in the end, you get a nice toolbox to start with.   

    The Character Concepts for this Clan blow those of the Brujah out of the water.  The Raggedy Magus and the Sin Eater deserve very special note, because they’re just well thought out in a very small amount of space and have originality that really made me smile.   

    The Merits & Flaws were, to me, okay.  For example, “Heartless” is a 4 pt. Flaw.  Shouldn’t it also be a 4 pt. Merit?  I mean, if you’re able to ritualistically remove your own heart… I can see a Setite on the Path of the Warrior doing this… wouldn’t it be a boon as well as a possible bane?  Setites in general seem a little more paranoid than the average vampire, so while I totally get the flaw, I just also see it as something that could be a powerfully good thing as well.     

    I don’t like that every Clan seems to be getting a “battle form,” ala the Tzimisce.  “Typhonic Beast” in the Combo Disciplines is the Setite equivalent of Chiropteran Marauder or the like.  While I guess I “get” why this would be a “thing,” I think it takes away from the unique abilities inherent to other clans.    

    The Path of Ecstacy… ehhh… you better hope you don’t run into a true Cultist of Ecstacy that will turn your little old vampire ass inside out and eat you pee-pee while doing Hellraiser Cenobite shit to you.  Meanwhile, the Path of the Warrior is pretty impressive for players that want to take on the role of a combat-savvy, martially-oriented Follower of Set putting them right on the same level as a Web of Knives Assamite, really.   

    Clan: Gangrel is another well written section of the book, if for no other reason than it spends a whole lot of time dispelling all of the misconceptions that have seemed to surround the Clan since First or Second Editions.     

    No. Clan. Hates. The. Tremere. More. Than. Clan. Gangrel.   

    Boom.   

    Well, maybe the Nosferatu and Tzimisce… but I don’t think that any of the other clans are as outwardly verbal about their hatred of the Tremere than Clan Gangrel.  This is brought to light very succinctly and with very little poetry.     

    Of all of the clans, the Gangrel have always been interesting to me not due to their somewhat symmetrical relationship to werewolves – because they’re vampires, not werewolves – but because of their use of the Protean Discipline.  Along with the other physical Disciplines available to vampires, Protean is perhaps the most utilitarian and downright interesting in what it allows a vampire to do.  At their core, the clan is very animalistic in that they behave the most like creatures of the night than any of the other vampires, including the Nosferatu and Tzimisce that I mentioned before.  They exist outside of conventional nature, however the laws that govern their behaviors and how they do what they do are very much in-tune with the natural order of the world around them at any given time.   

    And if it can be said that the Brujah might as well be called the “Anarchs,” then the Gangrel could just as easily be called the “Autarks” due to being highly entrenched in the Anarch Movement themselves, eschewing the Sectarianism of the Camarilla and Sabbat.     

    The Gangrel rivalry with the Ravnos is discussed at length, Gangrel attitudes towards werewolves are discussed, and the write-up closes out with Character Concepts, all of which are pretty ingenious for the Gangrel, Merits & Flaws, and some new Combo Disciplines and high-end Protean powers.     

    Blissful Summer is pretty awesome, honestly, as is Animal Swarm which I immediately pictured from a scene in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” where Dracula turned into a swarm of rats.  However, again, we have the whole monstrous “battle form” thing and for the Gangrel, it’s called “Mythic Form,” allowing the vampire to become oh, for example, a dragon 

    **shakes head**   

    You had me up until the “… and at Protean Eight, I can turn into a dragon!” thing.   

    The Combo Discipline of “Blood Thorns” would be very cool as a sort of offensive porcupine-like thing with barbs being released from the cover of a canvass long coat, ala “Jeepers Creepers,” but I’m not sure how I feel about the Combo Discipline of “Shatterproof,” which allows you to use Protean 3 and Fortitude 4 to use your Stamina in addition to your Fortitude to soak Aggravated Damage.   

    This is a game balance thing for me, but I’d have a problem with allowing someone with an average Stamina of 2 and a Fortitude of 4 having SIX DICE to soak Aggravated Damage from, say, sunlight or Protean Claws, much less fire, direct Pattern Magick or Werewolf Fangs.  And if you have above average Stamina?  A Fortitude of 6?   

    That’s a bit much.   

    Clan: Giovanni.  My, my, my.  The more that things change, the more they stay the same.  The Giovanni are no exception.   

    One of the most interesting clans in Vampire: the Masquerade, I first familiarized myself with them when I started looking for a clan that could do things magically that the Tremere were hard-pressed to do.  Giovanni Necromancy is about as far-removed from Tremere Thaumaturgy and Tzimisce Koldunics as you can get, honestly.  And if you’re into the lore and the history of vampires, it is refreshing to find a clan that does not trace its origin to Enoch or to the Second City.   

    Now don’t get me wrong, the Cappadocians could trace their ancestry back as far as Caine… but the Cappadocians are gone.   

    As such.  At least, according to the Giovanni.   

    Aside from the Tremere, the Giovanni are quite possibly one of the most complicated clans that exist within the mythos of Vampire: the Masquerade for the same reason as the Tremere: they stole what they have, they ran with it, and over a thousand or so years, they have mastered it to become a force to be reckoned with.   

    No vampire likes the Tremere, but they fear them.  Likewise, no vampire likes the Giovanni, but they respect them.  Do afford them anything less would be folly, and the Giovanni don’t suffer fools for very long at all.   

    The Giovanni don’t really have cults or sub-sects within their clan.  The clan is far too organized and, realistically, unified.  What they do have are satellite families that they have brough into the fold under the umbrella of the Giovanni, and each one of these families serves a specific purpose, respectively.     

    A note on the Premascines: This idea has been around for quite some time.  Basically, you have Giovanni who were vampires before Augustus Giovanni Diablerized Ashur, or Cappadocius (depending on who you ask or whom you are talking to) and these Giovanni are not necessarily sympathetic to the Giovanni cause, motivation or methodology.  When you look at the Premascines as potential story seeds, you could easily build a whole, separate “clan” structure of Necromancers who exist on the fringes of Kindred/Cainite society, right up there with the Harbingers of Skulls.   

    Hell, I wouldn’t be shocked if a Premascine or two that would speak to a player didn’t identify as a Cappadocian.   

    The whole “mafia” edge to Clan: Giovanni has, thankfully, been dropped for the most part.  That’s not to say that it is completely absent, but it never really seemed to “fit” with a family of aristocratic vampires from Venice who are pursuing their own agenda of hard, cold Necromancy in the modern nights of the World of Darkness.  Instead, the mood and feel of the Giovanni seems to be something more along the lines of a dark, sinister, psychotic Addam’s Family that spans the globe and has more irons in more fires than they can readily count.  

    The author’s handling of the extended families that fall under the Giovanni umbrella are equally creepy and, in a word, hilarious at times.  While a lot of what is presented is done so tongue-in-cheek, it is also gravely serious at the same time.  The narrator can joke around, but he has earned the license to do so.   

    The Character Concepts are decent, but not necessarily mind-blowing, but some of the Merits & Flaws are exceptionally well done, harkening back to the Clan’s Cappadocian roots, which I think is a really cool thing to focus on with the Giovanni.  I mean, you don’t get to be the descendant of a vampire who Diablerized a Methuselah unscathed, right?   

    New Necromancy Rituals are included at the end of the write-up, including one specifically engineered for the Premascine Giovanni, which I thought was a really awesome touch and particular attention to detail.   

    I was also grateful that there was not a Combo Discipline that turned the Giovanni into a nine-foot tall Roman Legionnaire as a “battle form.”   

    Clan: Lasombra.  The Iberian shadowmancer lords of the Sabbat.  Or, “The Lasombra,” as the narrator states the Clan prefers as nomenclature.   

    If there is a collection of vampires who absolutely reek of delusions of grandeur and arrogance, it is the Lasombra.     

    They talk an excellent talk, don’t get me wrong.  They’re vampires, so they’re not at all helpless in the World of Darkness.  Their Merits & Flaws and a whole lot of their Disciplinary tracks are geared towards them not having to fight alone, and they’re effectively running the Sabbat Sect, so they have that going for them as well.   

    However…   

    In a whole lot of ways, they’re nothing but talk.  They’re a collection of contradictions, holding onto the whole “we killed our own Antediluvian and that makes us better than you” gimmick, and quite honestly – and I’m not sure if the author writing as the narrator meant to do this or not – the Lasombra are in fact what they claim to despise the most about any and all vampires that are not them.  Augustus Giovanni took out the founder of his Clan.  The Brujah took out the founder of their Clan.  The Tzimisce claim to have taken out the founder of their Clan.  Tremere took out the founder of the Salubri.   

    Diablerie of an Antediluvian or Methuselah doesn’t necessarily make you the baddest motherfucker in vampire circles.  Scary?  Sure.  Unstoppable and licensed to carry all the attitude that the Lasombra seem to carry?  Not even close.     

    It seems like arrogant posturing that really does express to the reader why the Camarilla and most of the Independents simply cannot stand the Lasombra collectively.   

    I’d wager that they’re not adored in Sabbat circles, either.   

    For all their self-promotion, for all their misplaced confidence, the Lasombra are messing with some literally deep, dark shit that only one or two – perhaps a handful – of them actually understand.  See, the shadows that they commune with?  The shadows that they retreat into and the abyss that they stare into with wonder… there’s shit alive in there.  And the only thing that it wants from the Lasombra is attention.   

    And it gets it.   

    The high-end Dominate Power of Implant Opinion is pretty interesting, as it is the first time in a non-Mage: the Ascension resource that I’ve seen something even vaguely similar to “Inception” that works.  Armor of the Abyss is a Combo Discipline using Obtenebration and Fortitude that is, in a word, badass for the corsair Lasombra who isn’t afraid to mix things up from time to time and wants whomever she is mixing it up with to remember what she’s capable of bringing to the table.   

    Abyss Mysticism is, quite frankly, more frightening than Necromancy will ever be, and for good reason.  Maybe it’s because of my knowledge of Wraith: the Oblivion and Werewolf: the Apocalypse, but nothing that comes from any place named “the Abyss” is ever good.  Users should beware, as should those with rituals being used against them.   

    Clan: Malkavian.  I love and also hate this write-up.  The author who worked it was top notch, and the job that was done – writing about a clinically insane Clan from the point of view of a clinically insane narrator.  The writing is fucking amazing, and as a writer, there aren’t many things quite as difficult as writing from a point of view that is as alien as that of the hopelessly insane.  The subject matter was a surprisingly enjoyable read with a whole lot of not-so-humorous shit, as one might expect when reading a 20th Anniversary Clanbook on the Malkavian Clan.  This is not the madcap, goofball Malkavian serving as narrator.  This is the Carrol’s Mad Hadder-meets-the-Joker of Frank Miller-Malkavian serving as narrator.   

    I hate it because it’s hard to follow.  Like sitting in a bar, listening to Carrol’s Mad Hadder-meets-the-Joker of Frank Miller-Malkavian banter about politics at you while you’re buzzed.   

    I will mention that I was happy to see the Malkavian Madness Network still in play.  I think that it’s one of the best ideas that has ever been presented in Vampire: the Masquerade, and it’s still there.     

    So what did I learn about the Malkavians that I didn’t necessarily know before?  There’s a lot of streamlining and updating, honestly.  Malkav could have been an individual, or the words “Mal” and “kav” could have meant “Bad Cave,” more of a warning to those who might disturb the insane being who lived there in the dawn of time.  They could be direct descendants of Lilith, but come on, a few Clans claim this, along with a few bloodlines to boot.  Dementation becoming the Clan’s Discipline (see all the paragraphs that focus on the Great Prank) is a bigger-than-little change.   

    The Malkavians are the dark prophets of the Camarilla.  They see patterns in things that other vampires are too arrogant or too static to see.  They follow a descent of madness from the moment of their Embrace that is cyclical in nature.  Sometimes, the cycle is lucid and the Malkavians become sinister harbingers of what is to come, serving as advisors to Princes or as Justicars and Alastors within Camarilla society.  Sometimes, the cycle is stark-raving maniacal, and the Alastor is just as likely to end up on the Red List as those she hunted from its ranks.  In the end, it is all really a matter of time and severity for the Malkavians.   

    The Character Concepts – specifically, the Alienist, the Inmate Running the Asylum (see, Renfield) and the Wandering Cassandra – are possibly some of the most interesting in the book.  Every one of the Combo Disciplines containing Dementation as a compliment are pretty awesome, and the gist of them all – to one degree or the other – is to spread madness where madness is needed.   

    Pay real good attention to the paragraph “Playing With Madness.”  It’s something that will help, and it’s something that made me wonder how long the author had watched goof-ball Malkavians come and go throughout his or her own Vampire: the Masquerade Chronicles before he or she said, in his or her head “Enough.”   

    The end result of those thoughts is, quite frankly, spectacular.  It’s not the longest chapter, it’s not the most verbose chapter, but it is spectacular nonetheless.   

    Clan: Nosferatu.  Here’s the opening blurb from the write-up:   

    “Arthur Lenning says of Nosferatu: ‘A kind of abstract thing of evil, he has no nobility, nor does he inhabit the dark world of majestic satanic villains. Instead, he is a lower kind of evil, an obscene and loathsome creature that swells amid decay and slime and crawling rats.’”  

    — Malcolm South, Mythical and Fabulous Creatures   

    *clears throat*   

    Damn.   

    The Nosferatu are one of my personal favorite clans of vampires in the game.  Why?  Because I believe that, first and foremost, vampires are monsters.  I believe that the portrayal of the vampire-as-supernatural-beast is important.  Movies like “Near Dark” and “Thirty Days of Night,” and “The Keep” are, to me, where it’s at for vampires in film media.  Now, the opening blurb is what it is; something that’s meant to grab you by the badoingas and get your attention so that you won’t skip over the chapter even if you don’t care for the Nosferatu.   

    Mission accomplished, because when I read that I had to stop for a minute, light a smoke, and then decide how I was going to read what followed it.  What I found was that the opening fiction, “Rat Man,” is on par with some of the best weird modern horror that I find myself reading these days.  

    First point of contention:  I personally despise the Antediluvian of the Clan being called “Nosferatu.”  It’s NOSFERAT!  You will never convince me otherwise, so please, don’t attempt to try.  The +u denotes “OF Nosferat.”  Like “Antitribu,” or “Inconnu.”  Reading the sentence “Nosferatu is a childe of Zillah” makes my GERD act up…   

    So, we go back to the beginning with the Childer of Caine, of which Nosferat is a Third Generation “Cainite.”  I have to say that the origin story let me down a little.  Not because I haven’t read the “Book of Nod,” because I have.  Not because I get bored with all the different takes on the origin stories of this Clan or that, because I don’t.  When the Followers of Set come at you with three different origin stories, you expect it.  Why?  Because they’re liars who use chaos and deceit in the same way that you or I might use English to communicate.  It’s just their way.  Not really so with the Nosferatu.  The idea that on the one hand, Nosferat grew weary of being a static thing where change was hard to find, but that on the other hand, he might have been the same person as Abimiliard, but also maybe not, and that he was twice cursed by Caine in either case…    

    And then there’s a thing about Ireland and the Tuatha there – which I get, don’t misunderstand me.  I get that it’s sort of a parable on how the Nosferatu might have ended up below ground… and jungle kingdoms in Africa ruled by Nosferatu demigods that would have made Robert E. Howard grin… it seems disjointed.   

    I mean, when you have the catacombs of Rome and Athens to work with, the Venetian city-state and its canals and sewers, etc., the foundation was already laid for the “Rat Clan” to take their rightful place as the hidden hunters of the cities.  But that’s just me.     

    Then again, and on second thought, maybe the Nosferatu don’t truly know the origin of their Clan – or the true origin of their Clan – because of the thousands upon thousands of years that they have spent hiding away from the world?  Perhaps it’s not a lie of intent, like I would expect from the Setites, but a lie based on ignorance because, in the end, they no longer know themselves due to what they’ve hidden from one another and from the rest of the world for so long.   

    Food for thought…   

    ShreckNET is still around, which was good to see, although I think moving it over to something more “Dark Web” sinister would have been more prudent.     

    The lion’s share of the chapter seems to be offered to the multiple factions of the Nosferatu Clan at work in the Modern Nights, and there are a bunch.   

    Obfuscate gets a couple of high-end Discipline Powers, like “Displacement,” which effectively grants the Nosferatu, well, the powers of a Displacer Beast from AD&D.  Cancels out a couple of Celerity Powers I can think of, or at least, brings them to a bit of a stalemate for the same cost in Blood Points.   

    The Character Concepts for the Nosferatu are pretty standard fare for what you would predictably expect from the Clan, although I did enjoy “Crusader” and “Rat King” as standouts among them.  A “Rat King” conceptualization with the “Power Animal” Combo Discipline would be formidable indeed.   

    Clan: Ravnos.  If there is a cosmology in the World of Darkness, or for that matter, in the world we live in, that is difficult at best for a Westerner to understand, it is the cosmology of the subcontinent of India, which is where the Ravnos – and the Romani, or “Gypsies” – originate.     

    Called “Gypsies” because of the misunderstood reckoning of their migration from Egypt when they arrived in Turkey and Europe, the write-up starts out explaining why the Ravnos and their Kine are mistrusted, misunderstood, and at times, reviled.  Special care is taken to explain that the Ravnos are comprised of many races, ethnicities and backgrounds, however the belief system of the Clan itself is what sets it apart from Kindred society, much like the Followers of Set or, if you’d like, the Assamites who have embraced Islam as a way of life and moral compass above and beyond the Laws of Caine or the Traditions of vampiric society.     

    The Ravnos have their own lexicon of terms, which makes things a little easier to understand when you’re reading about them.  In truth, a lot of what is presented by the author and in the write-up rings back to some of the Kindred of the East supplements from the early 00’s.   

    They also maintain their own origin myth, which dispells that of Caine.  The Ravnos believe that, while Caine may have in fact been one of the first of the vampires, he was not necessarily the first vampire.  They trace their lineage to Zapathasura as the founder of their Clan.  His blood runs through them, and he is romanticized as a betrayed lover of Ennoia – the Gangrel Clan Founder – which sets the pace for the eternal Ravnos vs. Gangrel Clan conflict.   

    The four castes of Ravnos are discussed, and in a lot of ways, there are striking similarites to the Assamite Clan here.  Not so much in function, but definitely in form.  The development of the Ravnos relationship with the Rroma/Romani people throughout time and tide and how there came to be a mutual symbiosis between the two is very interesting and presented in a manner that doesn’t seem to cry “Wow… this is sort of racist, isn’t it?” as the sourcebook “World of Darkness: Gypsies” did back in “the day.”   

    The Ravnos don’t apologize or make excuses for what they are: scoundrels, tricksters and thieves.  It’s what they know.  It’s how they have survived throughout thousands of years.  Illusion and chicanery are as much a part of the Ravnos Clan as feeding on the blood of human beings is a part of their existence.  I completely respect the manner with which the author approaches this:  This is what we are.  We love what we are.  We serve a place within reality.  We will not be subdued.  We won’t look for a fight, but we won’t back down from one, either.  If you hurt one of us, or one of those we have taken into our fold, we will hurt you back and we will do so with the power of numbers.   

    It’s a pretty refreshing take on vampires, to be completely honest.  I mean, the Gangrel are always sort of considered to be the most werewolf-like Clan of vampires… but if what I’m reading about the Ravnos Clan is truly what the Clan values, then their affinity for and willingness to engage in pack tactics if threatened makes them a whole lot more similar than the Gangrel have ever been.   

    The curse of Vice is also interestingly explained.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that a Ravnos will feed on twenty humans a night because she covets warm blood.  But imagine a vampire who basically develops a hoarding disorder?  For newspapers… baseball cards… comic books… stamps… little yellow sticky notes…   

    It could almost seem like a side-effect of Malkavian insanity if it goes on too much for too long, and it doesn’t necessarily get better as time goes on.   

    The Character Concept of Kumpaniya Violinist immediately brough to mind the musician “Voltaire” to me – he actually fits the mold quite nicely, to be certain – and Mouse in the Cupboard, again, reeks of insanity one might attach to a Malkavian.   

    As far as the Combo Disciplines go, Sympathetic Agony is nasty, and could really be the deal-breaker in a fight with a Gangrel who swipes and hits with Protean Claws.   

    All in all, I think this is a great chapter written on a Clan that a lot of people who have played the game in past Editions have a whole lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about.  It adds depth to the Clan, and meat to the bones of what has been offered up about them before.   

    Clan: Toreador.  HOLY.  SHIT.   

    Okay… if John St. John were a vampire, he would be the narrator of the Toreador write-up in Lore of the Clans.  If you don’t know who John St. John is, then you need to rent and watch as movie called “Party Animal.”  Then you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.   

    Now, it would have been an easy thing for the author of the Toreador write-up to take on the voice of a self-important, arrogant, oblivious pretty face with all the depth of a Jell-O shot and just run the marathon with it.  However, what we’re given is a very experienced, very knowledgeable, very patient Toreador narrator that is also a self-important, arrogant, oblivious pretty face with all the depth of a Jell-O shot.   

    It works, and oh my God, it’s hilarious when it shouldn’t be.  But who said Vampire: the Masquerade cannot be funny?   

    The history offered by the narrator is the first that mentions Ubar as the First City rather than Enoch, which is traditionally the name assigned to it.  I dug this touch.  The history goes back to the time of Ubar, transports the Toreador and their influence on the Kindred and Kine through Rome, Byzantium, the great cities of Europe such as London, Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam, to the New World – where they are almost turned immune to horror by the proclivities and abuses of the “Christian Fundamentalist Puritan” early-Americans on the indigenous populations of Mesoamerica and Native American cultures – and finally, into the modern nights of the metropolises of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, New York, etc.   

    Where art and creativity go, where dynamism goes, the Toreador follow it like moths to a flame.   

    All the while, all through these thousands of years, the Toreador have not only inspired creativity and expression, they have served as the muse that assists in its creation.  The narrator makes a very good point, stating “Of all the creatures of the earth, only Kindred and Kine can appreciate the beauty of what we consume.”  This sort of wisdom is the poetic rhythm that the entirety of the Toreador section is written with, and it is exceptionally well done.  The timing and the timbre of the narration are amazing.   

    The Toreador love the Kine.  The narrator attempts at several junctures in the write-up to warn the youngster he/she is speaking with to “not fall too far in love,” to “not feed on the ones you do fall in love with,” and to “avoid forgetting that they are not what we are, no matter how much we wish they were.”  He/she also understands the Kindred of the Camarilla and the Cainites of the Sabbat intimately, and warns the youngster to avoid politics as much as is possible, focusing solely on that which can be made eternal.  Politics will happen, just as they do in the club, just as they do in any scene you’re active in.  Let that be enough, but don’t let anyone walk on you.  Remember who we are and what we have created.  We build civilizations, and we can destroy them as well.     

    The Character Concept of “Chronicler of the Fallen” and “Propagandist” are awesome.  Historians and political artists don’t usually register on someone’s radar for the Toreador, but I really respect some of the thought that went into the concepts presented.   

    My favorite Combo Discipline from this write-up is “Devil’s Mark,” which allows for the vampire to tattoo their own Presence into targets, Kindred and Kine alike, which makes for an absolutely badass tattoo artist.   

    Clan: Tremere.  Okay… here’s the deal…   

    In Vampire: the Masquerade – doesn’t necessarily matter what Edition you’re talking about – the Tremere are pretty much the upstart bad guys who stole the Curse of Caine from the blood of Gangrel, Tzimisce and Nosferatu to create a solution to, well, a problem that they were facing.  See, the Tremere were Magi of the Order of Hermes, and the Order of Reason was coming down on them hard and fast.  In their eyes, and in all fairness, finding immortality by any means necessary was the only answer to them at the time.  Goratrix, one of their archmages, discovered the alchemical answer to eternal life and ran with it.   

    Now, I’m a Mage: the Ascension guy.  Love the game… love the system… love the idea of enlightenment inherent to the average Magus.  A group of Magi like Tremere, Goratrix and Etrius probably should have known better than to mess around with vampire blood.  That part of the Tremere’s backstory has never really made much sense.  I’ve always understood that, for House Tremere, it was a “find the secret of immortality or burn on the pyres of the witchfinders of the Order of Reason until none of us remain” sort of desperation.     

    But on the flip-side, it was a terrible, stupid thing to do, condemning your entire Chantry to what is, effectively, lichedom-lite.   

    And then, because they were well aware of their status as pariahs in vampire society – above and beyond the Gangrel, Tzimisce and Nosferatu wanting their collective hearts on plates – they found ways to ingratiate themselves to the Clans that would eventually become the formal Camarilla.  They de-fanged the Assamite Clan with Thaumaturgy, they created an entire Bloodline of vampires called Gargoyles, their leader Diablerized the Antediluvian of the Salubri Clan, and before it was all said and done, they were sitting at the table with the same vampires that they had committed atrocities upon, making political decisions and interpreting Kindred law.  

    All of this is discussed in the write-up.  None of it is necessarily new.  None of it is earth-shatteringly original.  I don’t mean that to be mean so much as to be honest.  The story has been told, and this is the story again.  I did appreciate the brief mention of the Massassa War, but I think that, in all honesty, a Mage might have a different take on those events in regard to “back when we nearly exterminated the entirety of the Tremere.”  The idea that Goratrix the Betrayer was the founding father of the Sabbat made me smile a bit.  “Let a Lasombra Elder hear that!” I think is what I said out loud to my laptop.  

    The chapter goes forward to express the narrator’s opinions regarding how his/her Clan has outsmarted, outwitted and outmaneuvered all the other supernatural forces at work in the World of Darkness, but never once addresses the gorilla sitting in the middle of the living room floor: How is it that a Chantry – a PILLAR – of the Order of Hermes be stricken with such malignant stupidity and overwhelming hubris to just go to war with multiple Clans of vampires, multiple Traditions and Conventions of Magi, multiple mortal agencies and not learn from their collection of misjudgments, mistakes and underestimations?  

    How many times do you piss on the seat before you realize that it’s the wrong thing to do?   

    The Character Concepts are exactly what you’d expect them to be.  John Constantine as a vampire… Dumbledore as a vampire… Wormtongue as a vampire…  

    That’s not fair.  Wormtongue was a Cappadocian.  Everyone knows that 

    And for the record – for all you non-Mage: the Ascension people out there – Thaumaturgy is to True Magick what Pabst Blue Ribbon is to Dom Perignon.  That being said…  

    Mage Blood is a 5 Point Flaw.  I have a problem with this Flaw, because it states that because the Mage’s blood is so tied to Magick that the vampire cannot use any Discipline other than Thaumaturgy.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this can make for an awesome Thaumaturgist… however, once a Mage becomes a vampire, her Avatar – the part of her that makes her a Mage – is murdered.  The idea that her blood is somehow “holding on” to her Avatar sort of flies in the face of anyone who understands Mage.  Sure, someone will find a way to justify this… but to me, it just sort of stuck out as a waste of word-count.  A vampire can use Disciplines because of the Curse of Caine.  A Mage uses True Magick because of her Avatar.  They’re two completely different roads that never really intersect, which again, goes back to the gorilla sitting on the living room floor with the Tremere and their folly.  

    Conversely, Thaumaturgically Inept, another 5 Point Flaw, makes more than perfect sense for a Tremere vampire to possess.  Especially an ELDER who was one of the founding members of the Clan itself.  Again, vampirism is similar in many ways to lichedom – the Mage has murdered her own Avatar – so her being completely denied the use of ritual magic, even Discipline Powered magic, makes logical and reasonable sense!  

    The rules covering the Chantry setup are, for me, the bright spot in the Tremere write-up.  I think it was really well done, and I think that pretty much every necessary base was covered from security to groceries, which was pretty cool. 

    Clan: Tzimisce.  The Dragons of Carpathian Europe.  Vlad Dracula is among their number.    

    Scary guys, even to vampires.  

    The narrator is telling the story of his Clan to a victim of Vicissitude, or “Flesh Shaping,” the Discipline of the “New Clan” of Tzimisce, whereas Koldunic Sorcery would be the favored Discipline of the “Old Clan” of Tzimisce.  See, there was a rift in the Clan.  Very similar to that of the Lasombra Clan.  Now, Lovecraftian concepts rear their head for the first time, truly, when you start to talk about Kupala, the Old One of the Carpathians who spoke to the Eldest in dreams and whispered blasphemies to it.  Whether the story of Kupala came first or Lovecraft’s vision of things like Kupala came first, I don’t honestly know.  Suffice to say, Kupala is nasty.  It it nothing close to human, much less Cainite, and it sleeps beneath the Carpathian Mountains where the Silver Fangs and Shadow Lords – Tribes of werewolves indigenous to the area – defeated it.  

    But with the Eldest in Torpor, Kupala – not dead, but dreaming in its grave – continued to whisper and tell the secrets of Koldunic Sorcery.  

    Enter the Dragon.  

    The Dracon was fighting in Cyprus when he “birthed” the Eldest.  Strange, I know, but stick with me.  The Dracon was the Eldest’s Chosen, and its champion, and the Dracon brought the enfant Eldest back to the Carpathians for Yorak the Methuselah to care for.  Yorak wrapped the torpid Eldest in the viscera of the Carpathians and hid it away to grow.  

    So came the divide: Those who follow the Dracon practice Vicissitude and will not soil themselves with Koldunic Arts that even they deem too foul to parlay with.  Alternatively, those who follow the Eldest – or who are members of the “Pure Ones” or “Old Clan” Tzimisce, are masters of Koldunic Sorcery.  

    But here’s the deal, no matter how strange it seems… although I prefer the term weird, because it is exactly that… Vicissitude isn’t a Discipline so much as it is a disease passed from one Tzimisce to another.  In theory, the Eldest knows all things that all Tzimisce that practice Vicissitude know, because they share the same flesh.  Knowledge is passed on a cellular level across a spiritual planescape.  

    With me?  Good.  You’ll love this, then: some Tzimisce believe that Vicissitude is the Eldest itself.  Now, if all of this isn’t the most genuinely horrific shit you’ve read in Vampire: the Masquerade so far, then I don’t know what is.  

    The history of the Clan is explained in detail, and special attention is given to Kupala’s Night, when the Blood Bond was broken for the Tzimisce from their Elders… and the night that Lugoj Diablerized the Eldest.    

    Then came the formation of the Sabbat.  

    Where the Lasombra are the mind and will of the Sabbat, the Tzimisce are the undisputed fist of it.  Where the Lasombra brought order and discipline to a sect made up of Anarchs and wastrel Diablerists, the Tzimisce brought strength through fear.  In many ways, they continue to do so in modern nights.  

    Factions Among Fiends is, if nothing else, incredibly interesting stuff.  I truly wish that there could have been more space to discuss more of the finer points of some of the Tzimisce Factions that work to the Clan’s ends in the modern nights.  The Oradea League is particularly fascinating to me, in that it affords a player the ability to generate a Tzimisce Antitribu that is also a Koldun.  These guys aren’t Sabbat or Camarilla.  They’re effectively Independents that do their own thing and have alliances that neither side really wants to tangle with too much.  It could make for one hell of a story seed…  

    Where are the Character Concepts for “Plastic Surgeon,” “Organ Fence,” or “Identity Thief?”  To me, while they might seem obvious, make a whole lot more sense than “Carnival Barker” or “Lost in the Ivory Tower” guy.  

    There is a metal act named “Voivode” that recorded an album twenty or so years back entitled “Nothingface.”  There is a Flaw in the Tzimisce write-up called “Faceless.”  The irony is not lost on me.  

    “Flaying Touch” and “Wound Sculpting” are the Combo Disciplines of note for Clan Tzimisce in this write-up, and they’re exceptionally well suited for combat.  

    Clan: Ventrue.  Okay, aside from the top-notch narration for this Clan’s write-up, I think that what I enjoyed the most was the absolute zero-bullshit tolerance that the narrator takes with his childer as he’s explaining – not telling the childer a myth or a bedtime folk tale – but explaining to her how this all shakes out, who the Ventrue are, what the Ventrue stand for, and why she should be proud to be who she is and to carry the vitae in her veins that she does.    

    It’s done very, very well.  In fact, I was surprised at how much the Ventrue narrator shared my personal point of view on vampires in general as evidenced by our very similar takes on Caine and his “curse.” 

    The narrator’s voice isn’t stressed or tensed, but you can literally feel the disdain that he feels for the Brujah, and the disgust for the Sabbat for that matter, when their respective subjects get their turn.  

    What isn’t written as a “don’t ever forget who you are” history is written as a Q&A, which is also done exceptionally well.  It dispels a lot of typical, boring Ventrue misconceptions, and it serves to answer questions about the inner-workings of the Clan that really haven’t been touched on too much or in too much detail in sourcebooks before.  The part on the “Ethics” is really interesting stuff that serves as the espirit de corps of the Clan as a whole.  Sort of a “The Rules for the Clan of Rules.”  

    The Character Concepts for Clan: Ventrue are the best in the book.  They cover Antitribu Concepts, Ruined Ventrue Concepts, and even an Anarch Concept.  The whole run of the table is represented, and it’s done well.  

    As for the high-end Discipline Powers, “Curse the Laurel” is pretty ingenious for the Ventrue.  

    Caitiff are Clanless Kindred.  They are vampires who, for any number of reasons, have no knowledge of their Sire, the finer points necessary for survival in vampire society, or even how to use their Disciplines effectively.    

    Now don’t get me wrong.  This is not to say that every Caitiff that has ever existed throughout history is helpless.  It’s also not to say that the only true destiny of a Caitiff is in endentured servitude to the Sabbat.    

    Quite the contrary.  

    However, you’d have to expect that the overall unlife-expectancy of the average Caitiff is somewhat lower than that of the average Anarch.  I’m not saying “Caitiff are useless” in a Chronicle.  In a good enough Chronicle, everything matters, and everyone has a part to play in the story.  I’m just saying that as a player, a Caitiff wouldn’t be my first choice of vampire to roll up and expect success with in a world of vampires dominated by some fairly hardcore sectarian politics and violence.  

    Caitiff don’t have their own Disciplines, so the Combo Disciplines that are afforded them are merely a taste of what might be possible for a Caitiff.  

    In the end, if there is a tragic vampire in Vampire: the Masquerade, it is the Caitiff.  The vampire who has no real idea which way is up, where they come from, what master they serve.  They are simply trapped in a state of undeath, not knowing much more other than how to survive by their wiles and wits.  Some become forces to be reckoned with.  I always sort of pegged Cassidy from the comic book “Preacher” as a Caitiff-like vampire.  Some establish themselves as apex survivors in their own sphere of influence.  However most of them have the odds stacked against them, and since vampires literally eat their own at any available opportunity, there aren’t a fantastic number of Caitiff roaming the Camarilla or Sabbat cities of the World of Darkness.

    The Antitribu is the second appendix of Lore of the Clans.  The Antitribu are members of a clan who have turned their back on their clan.  They can hail from Camarilla, Sabbat, and even Independent Clans.  The Caitiff have a sort of Antitribu faction called Panders, as well.  This appendix doesn’t really offer a whole lot more than perspective where the Antitribu are concerned, but it’s good to get an idea of what you’re attempting to generate before you commit to it, so in that regard it’s a useful tool.

    Kindred of Note concludes the book.  Essentially, you’re given NPC ideas – shells, really, because all that’s offered with them is very basic information – who their Clan is (for giving you an idea on what Disciplines you might want to use for them), what Generation they are (for determining maximum Discipline and Blood Pool Levels) and a brief biographical sketch.  The rest is up to you.  Players can use them as Sires, while Storytellers can use them as NPCs or antagonists.  Or, if you’re feeling exceptionally creative, you can simply use them as patterns for building Kindred of Note of your own.

    Listen… understand…  

    This book was a fantastic hoot for me to read.  I truly enjoyed every minute of it, and every turned page.  Don’t get me wrong when or if I come off as unfair to a specific chapter or Clan.  I think that when you get down to books like these – Clanbooks, Tribebooks, Guildbooks, etc. – you get into an area where your objectivity is colored to a good degree by subjectivity.  I understand how that can come across as a rough ride to an author, but any criticism I offer is not meant to be inflammatory or mean.  

    I truly enjoyed Lore of the Clans.  Some of the writing in some of the chapters is better than others, some of the subject matter makes more sense in some chapters than in others, and the architecture of some of what is presented is sturdier in some chapters than others.  However, on the whole, the book is solid and is an outstanding collected compendium of the Clans.

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