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Review : Sins of the Blood

By Angel McCoy, Matthew McFarland, Joshua Mosqueira-Asheim, Aaron Rosenberg and Lucien Soulban, White Wolf

Sins of the Blood is a book about the heresies of the vampires. It’s about the outsiders who breach Sabbat and Camarillas taboos. It details ideas on Golconda, Wassail, diablerie, obscure paths of enlightenment, infernalism and cults of personality.

The first chapter is concerned with sins of morality. It’s narrated in character, with box outs detailing rules. I’m not a fan of putting too much information into in character monologues, but in this case it works quite well, though the text does jump in a few places. The chapter covers paths as they are followed in both Camarilla and Sabbat, as well as the more obscure paths of Harmony, Scorched Heart and Self Focus (all revised to be more serious than before). Perhaps the best part of this chapter is the details on Wights, vampires who have reached 0 humanity and succumbed to the beast. Putting a nice spin on this the author gives us vampires who act on a purely animal level and congregate in bestial packs, occasionally acting according to half remembered memories. This chapter also covers Golconda, territory which has been visited before, and in a more intriguing way. This book returns Golconda to a humanity only path, something which I’m not entirely happy with.

Chapter two is sins of society, and covers Autarkis, Anarchs, switching sects and Diablerie. The Autarkis section is good, defining them more clearly than previously, giving a good deal of insight into how they fit in to the grand scheme (or don’t as is more often the case). The anarch section is forgettable, and to be honest I wonder why they put it in when the Guide to the Anarchs is not far off. The section on switching sects covers the pitfalls and advantages of doing so in a readable way, though it does occasionally fall into the trap of describing things which are obvious. The Diablerie section does a good job of blurring the “Sabbat love diablerie, the Camarilla hates it” myth.

Chapter three covers sins of discretion, and is wonderful. It covers cults, who forms them, how they control their members and what they use them for. The best thing is it goes into specifics, rather than waffling on about generalities. Again there’s that annoying tendency to flip between a character monologue and factual information, but the amount of useful ideas make this a minor problem. There’s some good stuff in here, and the author seems to have actually bothered to do some research on cults, which helps a great deal.

The next chapter covers sins of power, which means it details dark and normal thuamaturgy. This is a more rules heavy chapter, but this is not a bad thing, as the rules help reinforce the setting quite well. The addition of prices for each of the dark thaumaturgy paths is a nice touch, and will make players think twice before acquiring them. There are also some taboo rituals (including nectar of the bitter rose), and finally some decent rituals for Koldunic sorcery (about time too). The chapter is rounded off with some Assamite sorcery and a few good supernatural merits and flaws.

Finally, we get an appendix of heretical groups. Each with their own background and plot hooks, and they vary greatly. Most can be easily transplanted into your chronicle should you need a quick plot idea.

Overall: Sins of the Blood is superior to many of the themed books White Wolf have released for Vampire of late, but still suffers from many of the same flaws. If you intend to make use of the setting elements presented in the book, then it is definitely worth a look.

Review : Clanbook Assamite, Revised

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 : Libellus Sanguinius 3 – Wolves at the door

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.

Review : Vampire Storytellers Handbook, Revised

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.

Review : Hunter : The Reckoning

By White Wolf, £15.99

Well, we waited all year for the culmination of the year of the reckoning, and here it is. Hunter: The Reckoning is the inverse of all White-Wolf’s other World of Darkness books. Instead of playing monsters, you hunt them. So far, so easy. It’s about normal people who have become forced by some strange experiences to come to terms with the existence of supernaturals who manipulate the world, and now want to deal with it. It’s not Hunter’s Hunted version 2, it’s something very different. In a way that’s a shame, as the hunters Hunted ws one of the best series that WW produced.

First impressions of Hunter are good. You get a big hefty book for your money, and it was relatively cheap when I purchased it. The cover is all flames and bullets, which sets you in mind of a game involving lots of explosions and death. Inside the cover are dawbed a number of strange symbols, more on these later, and the back cover proclaims that it is time to ‘”Take Back the Night”. A quick flick through and the illustrations throughout look the standard White Wolf mix of exceptional and dire. The illustrations seem to not bear too much relation to the text, as they often seem to be over the top action pics, when the game is about normal people.

The background of the game is introduced through the standard short stories and flavour text, here taking the form of a website, hunter-net.org. The excerpts from the website set up the mood nicely and explain the basics. I tend to find people using websites in published games mildly annoying, but most of this was fun to read. You play normal people who received visitations from unknown forces called Heralds, who somehow altered your perceptions and let you see the truth about the World of Darkness. You get to wander through the world, slowly discovering more about the monsters who haunt the night and trying to stop them.

Unsurprisingly we get several character classes, oh sorry, Creeds, of hunter. Each one of these has a different attitude to the supernatural. Some are forgiving, others vengeful. Some are researchers, some are redeemers. A nice mix of ideologies, which give you an idea of what you might play. One nice thing is that you are encouraged not to play gun totting psychos, the emphasis is definitely on normal people rather than supermen. An idea which won’t be popular with the gun bunnies, but which encourages a different style of play. Your hunters aren’t going to be incredibly competent, but they feel morally obliged to do what they do.

Character creation is fairly standard for White-Wolf, Attributes, Abilities, Advantages, willpower and defining virtues. Hunters get lower stats than supernaturals, but better freebies, so you get lots of freedom to express your concept via points. To aid your hunters in their fight you get an array of edges, like disciplines in Vampire or Gifts in Werewolf, these are powers which set your hunter apart from normal people, and give them a fighting chance. These fall into various categories, some are the standard does more damage, others are rather nicely thought out. For example, your character could possess a power which allows it to ask a a question of a supernatural, which then forces it to confront what it has done, neat.

Running preludes in Hunter looks like being a great deal of fun, the player has to roleplay a person who is being freaked out by strange voices which tell it that something is wrong, and by signs which change their words from “Ahead Only” to “You alone see” or similar. The character has to go through a violent awakening as to what the world is like, and a twisted ref could have a great deal of fun planning these. Hunters can also see and interpret a series of strange symbols, which they can use to leave messages for each other. Leading to many nice, follow on where the last lot went missing, story ideas.

The storytellers section gives some nice advice on how to run the game, and what power level it should be run at and how to develope characters and keep them interested in the hunt. There’s also a bestiary that nicely simplifies all of the powers from Werewolf, Vampire, et al into a quick reference for NPCs.

Hunter fits in quite well with the other books in the series, and there are some nice ideas in it. It manages to maintain the feel of the World of Darkness, while also making itself an obviously different game. One problem is that unlike the other games hunter doesn’t have too much depth of background, as such hunters have only recently appeared, and so have no deeper history. What we get instead is the mystery of what caused the hunters to exist and why they feel compelled to fight the supernatural. This will make the sourcebooks different, I suppose, but I can’t help feel that some deeper history would have added to the feel of the game. This lack of deeper history, tends to make hunters seem a bt like an artificial add on. Another thing that irked me was the way in which it relies a bit heavily on the other games, it doesn’t really stand too well as an independent game. There’s plenty of time for hunter to evolve it’s background, but I can’t help feeling a bit ripped off, at paying £20 for something with no real background of it’s own.

Overall: Not exactly revolutionary, but with some quite nice ideas. It’s a nice take on the World of Darkness, but it’s hardly a vital purchase, I can see it sitting on the shelf, being pulled down whenever players and Ref want a bit of a change.