By Jason Langlois (Gangrel), Michael B. Lee (Followers of Set), Clayton Oliver (Assamites), White Wolf, $15.95/£9.99
The Vampire clanbooks, and their Darkages counterparts the Libellus Sanguinius series, have always been of mixed quality. Some of them are well written, inspiring and involving, others put you off ever playing that particular clan again. Fortunately this book manages to do everything that it should, it lets you in on the background of the Vampire Clans presented, gives you some nice ideas on how to play them, broadens the scope for playing them and generally is a very good read. It covers the three clans who hide at the edge of cainite society, mainly for geographical and social differences.
Physically the book feels nice and thick, and a quick flick through reveals some good quality artwork, Gangrel and Assamite score the best for this, with some nice characterful artwork. The followers of Set section lets the book down, with some artwork of the rough scratchy type which I don't think suits vampire too much.
The Gangrel section is full of backstory details, like why the Gangrel and Ravnos don't get on, where the Lhiannan and Laibon fit in (at least according to Gangrel Legend). There's a nice contrast with the older V:TM Clanbook Gangrel, which tended to portray them as, to quote a certain TV show "A bunch of tree huggin' hippies". We get a nice image of a group of pagan creatures, who do not consider themselves cainites, being slowly forced into a society they don't want.
Rules wise we get a merit for hiding in forests and a flaw that means animals like you too much (which is a hilarious idea). They also get some nice combo disciplines and a number of higher level protean powers. Lokis's gift lets them shapeshift to the last creature who's blood they tasted, and revert the beast temporarily gets rid of those animal features. We also get a brief mention of the Mariner gangrel, as well as the Greek Gangrel, who seem to be proto-city Gangrel and get Animalism, Obfuscate and Protean. There are some templates at the back, only one of which was particularly inspiring, a failed martyr, who went to convert the Pagans and got "converted" himself.
The Assamite section of the book is wonderful, the main reason being it actually makes the clan playable. No longer are the clan solely a bunch of ravening fanatic assasins. This book strongly empathasises that the Cainites image of the Assamites as a group of assasins is purely a product of stereotyping, it's the west looking at the east with blinkered eyes. The whole clan is nicely fleshed out into three bloodlines, the warriors (the traditional stereotype), who are the ones who travel west most often and therefore what the westerners assume is the entire clan. There are also the visiers, who are mainly political in nature and control cities and trade routes, and the sorcerors (as detailed in the Thaumaturgy book) who deal in strange eastern magics. It's nice to see a clanbook actually make a difference to my perceptions of the assamites, while it was possible to play an assamite before, this book makes the options so much more intriguing. Apparently the guy responsible for this book will be doing the new revised Clanbook from VTM, so I have high hopes for it. As well as details on the Assamites, theres some detail of the middle east during the darkages, which is helpful for those of us who know precious little about it.
The rules section of the Assamite book includes lots of good stuff. Another path of assamite sorcery, and some rituals, make the sorcerors very playable, and make it obvious how the clan keep in contact so well. The paths cover a number of astrological powers, used mainly for fortelling (vaguely) the future. The merits and flaws cover the Assamites multi-cultural nature, as well as the origin of the thrist for Cainite blood that will later become the clan flaw. There are also some combo disciplines, some of which may be a little unbalancing, ie the ability to parry every attack made against you in a turn with full stat+skill, I can see the muppets queuing up for that one, or the blood tempering (+1 sword of vampire slaying anybody?). Still by and large this section is fun to read and no more gross than anything else published in the annals of Vampire.
The Setite section tries to portray the followers of Set as the misinterpreted on one hand, and the obviously corrupt on the other. They are only doing there gods work, attempting to right a cosmic wrong, or so they say anyway. The writing is good and enjoyable, but I was left with the nagging feeling that I didn't know much more finishing the section than when I began. While it's nice background, and good to see the Followers of Set's take on events, there just didn't seem to be enough for me. Perhaps the best idea is the fact that the Followers disdain the use of the bloodoath, for religious reasons, of course. The Followers of Set get a nice bit of sorcery of their own, as well as a nice background for networks of contacts. They've got some cultural flaws and the via Serpentis too. Otherall, the weakest section, but still worth a read.
Overall: I liked this book, it was full of nice tidbits of information and background, as well as interesting implementations of them in rules. Obviously the value of this book to you depends on your inclination when choosing a clan. For me the Assamites were the highlight. Anyway, it's better value than a modern day clanbook, and a definitely one for Darkages storytellers.