Posted on April 20, 2008 by Flames
A while back, after GenconUK last year, I reviewed Gothic Society, a game by Twisted Chronicles LLC, a group who I had the good fortune to meet there and whom are some of the most enthusiastic RPGers in the history of the world, ever. I’m sure their somewhat rose-tinted view of publishing an RPG has dimmed somewhat in the last six months but I did promise them a re-review of Gothic Society when they’d cleaned things up a bit and produced a new edition. I got that some time ago but illness, work and other reviews somewhat got in the way of returning to examine Gothic Society for a second time until now. The original scored a 2 for style and a 3 for substance, giving it a final score of 2.5, which wasn’t too impressive, I did give advice on how a new edition could be improved and so this is a rare opportunity for a reviewer to see if their recommendations have been followed! You can read the original review HERE. I should note immediately that one piece of advice that I know they got from a lot of people was to change the name, and that they did do, this is now called Vampyre: Dark Genesis, which says a lot more about the game in my opinion. So I’ll call it VDG for brevity from now on!
The very basic synopsis of the game is that the vampires have arisen in a sort of Revelation style apocalypse for man, taking over, taking many as servants and keeping others as large herds, humankind skulks or is food while the various vampire tribes work out their differences. It’s a sort of combination of Left Behind, Half Life 2 and Post-Gehenna White Wolf.
The obvious comparison with White Wolf’s vampire has to be made when reading VDG, while there are some independent and different concepts the overall one – breeds of vampire fighting it out for control – remains the same and the authors are clearly fans of the earlier version of Vampire and the style and methodology of White Wolf, at least as White Wolf used to be at any rate. This is fine by me, I like the old stuff though I have my pet hates of certain White Wolf ways of going about things too, and I much prefer the old World of Darkness to the new World of Darkness, VDG presents a game that is very much like what a post-Gehenna old World of Darkness campaign setting might have looked like and this is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Some would consider this a rip-off of White Wolf, I prefer to see it as an homage to White Wolf at the height of their creative capabilities and see the relationship as being more akin to a Nightlife/Vampire relationship than something more negative.
The newer edition that I’m reviewing here certainly has some improvements. Some things are clarified, the presentation is whole strides better than the previous version and overall it is a much tighter and more readable/playable product. That said there are still some mistakes and still some improvements that could be made to the overall presentation.
The artwork is much improved over the earlier edition, doubtless in part helped by moving to a larger format for the book. Most of the art is now photo-manipulation and this does help create much more of a grounded, ‘real’ feel to the game in much the same way the work of Tim Bradstreet helped ground First Edition Vampire. The symbols for the seven Vampire tribes of the game do, still, feel overwrought and have less graphical impact than similar symbols in other games (Five Rings, Warhammer). This is a pity as symbology can provide a strong hook for a particular clan and this is a weakness given the other strong narrative hooks for the Vampire tribes. Overall, however, the artistic style of the book is vastly improved.
VDG does still commit the cardinal sin of too much in-character fiction but does at least separate out the essential information and repeat it in a more ‘reference book’ format elsewhere. This is excellent and very welcome. The fiction text is now, also, much better separated out from the general text through use of visual elements, fonts and chapter breaks, which makes the book a much easier read. Even so, the lists of skills and attributes (skills particularly) are bogged down with unnecessary in character paragraphs which, if anything, get in the way of a clean read of the rules. The rules themselves aren’t particularly intuitive and you are hit with jargon and terminology right from the get go. It does clarify itself over a few pages but you do need to flip back and forth a bit to get the hang of what’s trying to be said. One massive improvement is that the contents is now a contents-cum-index with proper page references that do get you where you need to be. There are still a few stray ‘s’s, some spelling that is cross-purposes (waste/waist) and similar but overall this is a much better rendition.
The background is as good as it was before, the thematic idea of having each vampire tribe representing the seven deadly sins is a strong one and provides powerful characterisation as well as appropriately themed characters. The premise – that of a vampire takeover of the world and the aftermath thereof – is a strong one that stands up to scrutiny and is engaging and exciting, but being perverse I would, of course, want to play a human rebel in such a setting.
The basic principle of the rules is this, you have two dicepools, one the ‘parent’ and one the ‘child’ and these are rolled against each other, you take the lowest child away from the highest parent to get your success total (positive action points) which is then gauged against a difficulty level, if you get more points than the difficulty (1-11) you succeed with any extra points providing overflow (greater levels of success, more damage and so on). I haven’t been able to play the game but I rather suspect that given any reasonable amount of Stat + Skill dice you’re going to get a fairly reliable, high degree of success. This also means that high degrees of competence are going to cap out relatively early and that it is going to be very hard to represent very high levels of capability or natural power, e.g. someone with four physique and four strength is not going to be heavily outmatched by a supernatural entity with six in each. This appears to inherently limit the rules system to a more human scale of events and I think things will start to break down completely once you reach 6+ in either parent of child pools. As I say, I haven’t actually played yet but this is my gut feeling as a designer.
Methadone for oWoD Vampire lovers.
Much improved presentation.
Some formatting and writing errors remain.
Not quite original enough to escape criticisms of plagiarism (founded or otherwise).
Overambitious (this could also be seen as a positive).
Overall: 3 (Improvement by half a point on the old score).
Review by James “Grim” Desborough