Review : Blood Magic : Secrets of Thaumaturgy

A guide to the more mystical vampire disciplines, for Vampire: The Masquerade.

By White Wolf, £12.99/$19.95, $9.98 PDF

Oh look, the magic users manual…

It could so easily have been just that, the White-Wolf guide to spellcasters, a book of spells for munchkins to trot out everytime they want to play a maxed out Tremere character. Fortunately, though this book falls into a few traps, it is still a worthwhile read. It’s going to be of most use to the Storyteller, as a lot of the information and disciplines in here are better used sparingly. Fortunately most of the new powers here aren’t so much grotesquely powerful, as different and interesting.

The book starts with a good deal of information about the history of Thaumaturgy, who used it first, who made key discoveries, and why the Tremere dominate the art. Lots of nice background reading that helps fill out the World of Darkness. There’s also a chapter detailing how the Tremere look at magic, and how they use this information to their advantage when creating new paths and rituals. This is nicely detailed, and helps visualise the Tremere’s attitude to magic a bit better than before. The concepts of Identity, sympathy, contagation and inherency, help to flesh out thaumaturgy from the ” point and go bang!” discipline to something a bit more cerebral. They also allow you to flesh out any in character training a Tremere character might do, and help guide you with regards to dealing with thaumaturgical research. The sections of Tremere apprenticeships is nice enough, but should have been left for Clanbook Tremere, I felt.

The book has a huge amount of new powers, as well as revised versions of older paths from Vampire 2nd Ed and Darkages. Most are well thought out, and aren’t actually any more powerful than existing paths, they just do different things. Biothaumaturgy is an arcane blend of science and genetics. Alchemy allows the creation of platonic ideals of elements, the hearth path is for defending a haven, Oneiromancy deals with dreams, and is significantly different from the old path of morpheus, having a more prophetic outlook. Some of the more obscure paths like path of the Bloods Curse (which plays on vampires inherent weaknesses), offer real possibilities for NPC villains, but could be game breaking in the hands of a munchkin. Most revolve around a consistent theme and have nicely thought out powers.

There’s a huge lot of rituals here as well, ranging form the sublime to the pointless and every point in between. Many have previously appeared in other books, some are new, most have nice concepts. Some, like the level 8, Blade of the Forbidden Flower (which creates a magic sword using the soul of a vampire), seem slightly out of place. Some are superfluous, being already covered by other powers (notably many psychic ones, which already have comparable powers in Auspex). They also include optional rules for learning rituals, which anybody involved in a long term chronicle will be thankful of. There are also suggestions for how to characters can create their own rituals, and how to balance this.

The most interesting part of the book looks at other forms of kindred magic. This section deals with Giovanni Necromancy, Voodoo, Assamite viziers, Setite sorcery and, my favourite, Tzimisce Koldumic Sorcery. These had been hinted at in previous books, but now get a complete run down. The Giovanni get a brief section with some new rituals, all of which seem particularly pointless. The samedi and Voodoo get a nice piece of background. The Setite and Assamite sorceries stand out from the crowd as being, well thought out noticeably different variants on Thaumaturgy, which work well with the respective clans themes. Koldunic sorcery finally gets explained properly, the paths are mostly well thought out, being far more elemental than Tremere magic. The spirit ways suffer from being too dull and the fire ways suffer from being cool, but a tad ridiculous (summoning magma is a nice twist, I’m just not sure it’s a good idea…….). It also suffers from a lack of rituals.

Overall: All in all, if you are a fan of Thaumaturgy as a discipline, then you’ll enjoy this book. It gives you a good background overview and many new powers to play with. If you dislike the inherent power of Thaumaturgy, when compared to other disciplines, you may find it slightly annoying.

Review : Clanbook Assamite, Revised

A wonderful reworking of a Vampire clan for the new edition.

By Clayton Oliver, White Wolf, £8.99

There was a problem with the Assamite clan, and the problem was cliche. From the very begining they were defined as the assasins of the vampire world. They were one dimensional killers, capable of nothing more than turning up to kill people, worse than that, they conformed to the worst of the wests stereotypical views of the Islamic world. The original clanbook did little to change this, promoting an “us against them” ideology and falling into the “our antediluvians bigger than yours” trap, some of the ideas were good, but they still made it impossible to play an Assamite as part of a normal coterie. Fortunately the excellent Libellus Sanguinius 3 came to our rescue, providing a much more interesting view on the clan, and managing to completely turn the clan around, while still enabling the clans stereotype to exist. The same author has now produced the revised clanbook, and I’d be tempted to say it’s the best release for vampire since 3rd Ed arrived.

So what do you get for your money? Well, it’s a nice sized book, with plenty of quality illustrations, which give a nice feel for the clans apearance and history. The book is written from the point of view of the Assamites who have feld to the Camarilla (see below), but manages to not be too cloyingly in-character. The book is well layed out, and the writing style is very readable, without the annoying changes of narrator that jarred other recent clanbooks (Lasombra springs to mind).

The first section describes the Assamites’ history from the first city ’til the modern nights. It’s a storming chapter, covering how the clans three castes (warrior, sorceror and visier) came into being, and how their interactions have shaped the clan. One of the best bits about this is it really gave a feeling of how the internal politics of the clan works, giving every current event a solid grounding in the past. The chapter also geals with how the warrior caste came to be seen as the only Assamites by outsiders. Nice touches include how the assamite “Judges”, as the warriors were originally known, became addicted to diablerie (it was a punishment in the second city). It also touches on the Assamites activities in Europe before the anarch revolt, as well as their founders various appearances down the centuries.

The next chapter deals with the way the clan works and functions. It describes the three castes in more detail, giving a splat for each, along with an expanded weakness and a section on ways to roleplay them. In addition we get a detailed rundown of the current political climate in the clan. To give a brief explanation, the methuselah Ur-Shulgi, woke up and started to reshape the clan as he feels Haqim would want it. Unfortunately he demands that every assamite worship Haqim, which immedietly set him at odds with the large number of Muslim Assamites. The clan then split into two factions, the schismatics who fled into the Camarilla under the guidance of Al Ashrad and Tegyrius, and the loyalists under Ur Shulgi. As well as details of these factions, we get various other groups within the clan, the Web of Knives, Leopards of Zion, the 1000 meter club, all of which have extensive roleplaying notes. We are also given details on the organisation of the castes before the schism, with some interesting characters mentioned in passing to inspire plot ideas.

The discipline powers detailed in the book mainly focus on extending Quietus, as well as a new assamite sorcery path and a few powers for other disciplines. The quietus powers are mainly well thought out extensions of the discipline. Selective silence is a wonderful little power for choosing who can speak and who can’t. Some of the powers deal with effecting the blood of mortals who the assamite has fed off, and these are also particularly original. Of course we also get more combat powers, including a blood poison so corrosive it melts weapons. The chapter is rounded off with some flaws, one of which is particularly nasty, in that you still suffer from the Tremere curse, but thirst for kindred blood too. All in all, a good solid chapter.

The next chapter details the famous Assamites, most of which are memorable and spark plot ideas, which is largely their point. Tegyrius, was particularly interesting, being an ancient scholar of law, especially the note that he may be vying to become the first Assamite justicar. Last of all we get templates, better than average, but still just templates.

Overall: This book is great, well thought out background, quality powers, a complete reworking of the clan into a usable and inspiring group. In fact, I think this book has put the Assamites in line for my favourite clan, and I can’t really give a better compliment than that.

Review : Vampire Storytellers Handbook, Revised

Help for new storytellers. For Vampire: The Masquerade.

It’s been a while since the last Storyteller’s Guide for Vampire. Since then things have changed a bit, and Vampire has reached it’s third edition.Though opinions on third edition vary, I like it, some don’t, most agreed that the old storytellers guide was well past it’s sell by date. The vampire product range has expanded considerably in the last few years, so it is only fitting that such a core book should be revised.

The book is set into seven chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of running a game of Vampire: The Masquerade. The first chapter is a vampire FAQ. Here we get answers to all those niggling little questions like, “do vampires leave finger prints?” and “how many vampires are there?”. Some of these answers prove useful, others fall into the category of, it’s your own damn world why don’t you make it up.

Chapter two deals with the vampires themselves. We get a nice little essay on why clans are not fraternities, some good points here on why the members of a certain clan should by no means work together. It’s a look at clans internal problems, which is nice. We also get three bloodlines the Baali, True Brujah and Nagaraja. These are interesting, and definitely better used by the storyteller. The new bloodlines get revised versions of their disciplines to play with, and many will be thankful that the discipline Temporis has been sorted out quite well (Screwing around with time now comes with a nasty cost,and the more ridiculous powers have been removed). This chapter also gives details on running games based around elders, and problems to bear in mind when doing this. There also some ideas about detailing NPCs.

Chapter three is an in depth look at how to run a vampire game and get teh most out of it. It’s full of tools and techniques for creating interesting stories and making sure that the game flows. There are details on how to keep track of kindred interactions, the differences in running long term and short term games. If you’ve never run vampire before this chapter would be a godsend, it really is a very comprehensive look at how to make sure you and your players have fun and create an interesting story.

Chapter four continues in the same vein as chapter three, only focusing more on the players and the way the group should be handled. This chapter also includes on of the most forthright, or bitchy depending on your point of view, sections on players I’ve ever read. One of the nicest parts of this chapter is that it reminds you that you are storyteller because it’s fun, don’t put up with your players screwing your game up if it stops you having fun.

The next chapter deals with alternative settings, from Prehistory to modern day and some alternative timelines. Most of this material is nothing an imaginative storyteller couldn’t have come up with. Still, it doesn’t take up too much space and is enough to get some ideas from. Chapter six deals with integrating the rest of the world of darkness into vampire, should you need it. There are details on rules integration and so forth. As well as the sensible advice that the game may be diluted if you bring in too much weird shit.

The final chapter revises the controversial Dirty Secrets of the Black hand. No one book seemed to cause more disagreement in players and storytellers than that old tome. Fortunately the revised background has toned down some of the more silly parts of the old book, as well as practically destroying the sects organization. It certainly sorted out most of my problems with this bit of background, and putting it in a storyteller book is a good idea too.

Overall: Though some bits of this book were of little use to me, I’ve run vampire an awful lot, most of it was sensible advice about how to run a vampire game the way it was intended. It’s definitely worth buying for any inexperienced storyteller, and probably worth it for those who run games already, especially if they like and use the revised edition. Even referees of other games could do well to read some of the more generic sections, if only to help avoid some of the pitfalls of storytelling.