Categorized | Reviews, RPGs

V20 Companion RPG Review

Posted on August 16, 2012 by Flames

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The V20 Companion is the companion book to the more crunchy Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary rulebook. The V20 Companion has lots of fluff and little crunch, but as alluded to just now that is a contrast to the V20 rulebook, and, I think, a good one. I’ve only seen the pdf, but it is well laid out and easy to navigate.

First after the maybe a little too sexy cover we get pages of dedications from the Kickstarter. There are a lot of names here, folks. Ancille were the bulk of these. I know I am in there somewhere.

The Introduction begins with the classic Bradstreet picture of the man feeding submissively from a woman’s wrist. The section gives us an idea how the book was put together, and a little history of it’s development, including the decision to move away from being crunch heavy. It includes a chapter-by-chapter breakdown and ends with the Revised Ravnos portrait. The Introduction did its job, in my opinion, weighing in at four pages two of which were full-page portraits.

Chapter One is Titles, following a new portrait of a lingerie-clad lady looking demure. There is four pages of discussion on them in general, including how one acquires them and a system for adding their value to rolls if invoked. The meat, however, of the chapter is Sect Titles. The Camarilla, Sabbat, Anarchs, Tal’Mahe’Ra and Inconnu get a treatment here, including a brief discussion of the Sect them sample titles. The Camarilla gets 18 Titles, one negative (Prince, Harpy, Keeper of Elysium, Scourge, Sheriff, Primogen, Justicar, Archon, Alastor, Inner Circle, Seneschal, Hound, Herald, Chancellor, Whip, Dux Bellorum, Imperator, Outcast); The Sabbat gets 12 Titles, one negative (Archbishop, True Sabbat, Ductus, Pack Priest, Templar, Paladin, Inquisitor, Bishop, Priscus, Cardinal, Regent, Shovelhead); The Anarchs get 5 Titles (Baron, Reeve, Warlord, Coyote, Sweeper), The Tal’Mahe’Ra get 7 Titles, one negative (Del’Roh, Seraph, Lich, Dominion, Shakar, Qadi, Rawi, Quli); and Inconnu get 2 titles (Monitor, Equite). Among the Camarilla Titles are the usual standbys, Prince, Primogen, Whip, Keeper of Elysium but also more vaunted ones like Inner Councilor, Justicar, and Archon. Also Dux Bellorum which was never specifically explained before V20 I don’t think and rarer ones like Chancellor and Herald.

Definitely new to me was Imperator, Justicar of Justicars. Conspicuously missing was Warlord, the position held by Karsh in all previous editions. Outcast was the negative one. Among the Sabbat fewer surprises. True Sabbat is a 0 point Title while Shovelhead is negative. The usual titles we know and love were there without really anything new. I should note Regent was an option much like Inner Councilor is for Cam. Anarchs saw some from Guide to the Anarchs brought back. Missing from this was Emissary, but the others seemed intact. Interestingly Warlord was listed as an Anarch Title despite being, AFAIK, a Camarilla one since Children of the Inquisition. The Tal’Mahe’Ra have their old titles, Del’Roh on down. Quli is the negative title here. Inconnu got two, the old Monitor and a new Nomadic title. None of these titles had systems beyond a sidebar for Harpies and the general note mentioned earlier.

Conspicuously missing here were the Ashirra and much more critically the Black Hand. While less central to Masquerade than some, they nonetheless outnumber the Inconnu (or do they?) and Tal’Mahe’Ra and the Black Hand would be a central part of many if not most Sabbat games. I found the exclusion of the Black Hand a major oversight, since it has many titles, which, while many are shared with the Tal’Mahe’Ra, are at least slightly different for the Lost Tribe. The Ashirra are not a huge oversight being limited to a certain area but would have been nice to see, but the section feels incomplete without the Black Hand. The Seraphim have a role in the Sabbat, for instance, different than their role in the Tal’Mahe’Ra, and only some are both sects. Honestly, I’d go so far as to say the lack of Black Hand information is the biggest flaw in the book, and it almost gives the feeling they never existed, which is unfortunate given their role in Sabbat History.

As a side note, the Tal’Mahe’Ra (speaking of Black Hands) section does mention Souleaters, but makes no reference to Vicissitude, indeed implying they are not and were not vampires but something else. Similarly gone is any reference to infection or the Umbra. I recalled the Aeons in Clanbook: Followers of Set a little, but the takes were not identical. The Tal’Mahe’Ra described here were similar to those of DSBH, but not identical. This was about a page long, longer than other sect briefs. For my part, this largely removed many of my old DSBH objections to the sect.

After the Sect Titles, we get a brief mention of Clan Titles without examples before moving into New Titles. 8 New Titles were present, two of which were negative (Mystic, Warden, Transcendent, Consul, Eschatologist, Headhunter, Rat-Catcher and Caitiff) . These Titles were designed to go beyond Sect, and many would fit into a number of games. The latter two Rat-Catcher and Caitiff are negative.

Finally, we get a two-page splat for the Caitiff, like the ones in V20

This section weighed in at 21 pages. I felt it was well done overall. I really missed Clan Titles but the reason for their exclusion was well explained elsewhere (see Appendix). I found the Black Hand Titles being missing jarring, especially given the lack of any mention of them whatsoever. I am not sure if they are being edited out of V20 or if it was an oversight, but it left the section feeling like that was missing. The lack of Ashirra was not a big deal, though I would like to have seen them, especially given the Tal’Mahe’Ra were there. What was there was good, however.

Chapter Two is Prestation, begins with a closer look at our now less dressed heroine in a similarly styled shot to chapter one. It starts with a discussion of Prestation in general, then an examination of each specific sort of Boon from Trivial to Life. We then get a look at the nitty-gritty, including talk of lying about Boons, Inter-Sect Boons, and similar unusual conditions. We then get systems for buying Boons with XP and lying about Boons, cuz you know it is gonna happen.

After that, we get some additional discussion of how Prestation tends to be handled in Society, followed by discussion of Prestation among the Camarilla, Sabbat, Anarch Movement, Tal’Mahe’Ra, Inconnu, and Independents. The Black Hand and Ashirra are still missing, if less egregious given what applies to the Sabbat probably also applies to the Lost Tribe.

This section was 13 pages and was pretty solid. The discussion on Boons got a little dull at times, but maybe just because it was old hat to me. Breaking down just what the Boons were and paying as much attention to non-Camarilla groups was welcome, however, as such discussion often is fairly Camarilla oriented and almost includes Sabbat as a afterthought (in Revised) or not at all (in 2e).

Chapter Three was the much anticipated Kindred and Technology chapter. This time our pre-chapter art is a man, done in reds rather than the previous blues. The section starts off with updating Masquerade, beginning with a style section. Some folks may find the style still a bit 90s-ish, but remember this is the WoD and some nod to current trends is there. We then get treated to a little over five pages of discussion of data and the Online world, and what it means to Vampires. This is more hints and discussion than hard facts, but does not ignore the internet as sometimes happens, acknowledging Vampires can, will, and do use the Internet. Next we get most of a page on Transportation, and then a “War of Ages” section that reminds us that not all Elders fail to grasp technology, and a look at why some don’t bother. Finally, we get a view of tech for the Inconnu and Anarchs, though why those two over the other three I am not sure.

This section has the only kewl powerz in the book, specifically a level 2 Thaumaturgical Ritual for fooling medical equipment called Vitality Hack.

This chapter will really please some people and massively disappoint others. I found the amount of detail fine. There are no charts for how your Elder deals with tech, no advance hacking rules. What the chapter does have is a much more thoughtful take than “young vampires are better than older ones at technology, and technology changes fast.” It seemed to me like a good use of 11 pages.

Chapter Four returns us to our blue tinged nudist, and is called A World Of Darkness. It covers a number of locations with story hooks. Some were mobile or on Islands, but I counted seven in North America, two in or near South America, thirteen in or near Europe, two in Asia, one in Africa, one in Australia, though I might have overlooked something.

Some old favorites here. I was very happy to see the Vampire Club from A World of Darkness (1st Edition). Huendoara Castle makes an appearance, as does The Prime Chantry, Almut, and the Cathedral of Flesh. Kaymakli appears, and answers perhaps the biggest question about the Harbingers of Skulls for those of us not catching some hints in Dark Ages Vampire, namely why they hate the Giovanni. We also get some new cool stuff not previously associated with Vampire, such as the Chase Mausoleum in Barbados and Galma Stan in Sweden. Also, I am certain someone somewhere will squeal with delight that Dr. Netchurch’s Lab was included (though I thought it was in the Triangle?).

They do some interesting things with the timeline here. I believe Gaslamp in San Diego is the first mention of Kuei-Jin in V20. The discussion of the Abbey of the Sacred Crown implies the Assamite Curse is broken, and the discussion of Almut, while not mentioning it, mimics the period right after it was broken by Ur-Shulgi but before the disporia. So the sites are all over the place timeline wise. I don’t see that as a problem, however. I found the section to be quite well done. May bug some people, though, as may the reference to Harbingers in the Tal’Mahe’Ra using Kaymakli as a base.

This section was 13 pages of plot hooks. They were well spread out and not hyperfocused on the USA. I really did not have any complaints here.

The Appendix is very short. Mostly, it discusses what was cut, complete with discussion of the cut alternate physical discipline system, Clan Titles, Title mechanical systems (with the rough chart they were using for it) and the Grand Masquerade as a location in chapter four. Mostly just interesting for those wanting a glimpse into the workings of how the book got together, it bookended with the Introduction well.

The section was four pages, one of which was a full-page art that was easily the weakest in the book, looks like an old Revised art piece of a crouching person messing with bones.

Overall the book was good. It is a lot of discussion, a lot of setting, very light on mechanics. This will disappoint some people. I found it pretty good. My only issue was the exclusion of the Black Hand, a sect that has been a part of Vampire for nearly 20 years. Still, if you want a lot of the fluff like Titles and Boons this is a good book. I won’t call it necessary, but I am happy to have it in my collection.

Review by Jason Needham

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