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.

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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.

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Review : Children of the Night

Well it’s nice to see another of White Wolf‘s NPC tomes. This book, like Children of the Inquisition and Camarilla’s Most Wanted before it, is an grouping together of important NPCs in the world of V:TM, together with backgrounds and stats. It’s not quite a sequel, as some of the information is duplicated from previous books (World of Darkness 2nd EdChildren of the Inquisition and various others) but with nice updates to the timelines and the occasional restating.

Unlike it’s forefathers this book has more than just a smattering of vampires, we get a huge number of NPCs for our money from the lowly caitiff, through Primogen to the Justicars and Inconnu Monitors. It’s divided up into sections dedicated to the various sects and the independants. We get the dominions of the black hand, all the justicars and some of the ex-justicars and lots of nice background to use as story hooks..

Some of the stats are, well, a tad weaker than you might expect. Which in a way is good, because it proves that personality and influence is what counts. But in a way is bad, as I can see many PCs going “but I could give X a good thrashing”. The stats are however not the main emphasis, the background of the chracters is and we do get some nice stories here. There’s Monty Coven, the assamite who diablerised Mithras (and is slowly turning into him), a dominion of the Black Hand who is so old and close to the beast that even his fellow sabbat are afraid to enter a room alone with him, the leader of the Harbingers of Skulls, a Lasombra who turned his back on the sabbat and became a camarilla prince, and a caitiff with a crecent moon birthmark…………..

All of which will mean little to you if you don’t play Vampire, in fact this book is wasted on you if you don’t intend to run a chronicle for Vampire. These NPCs are purely vampire in plot, they won’t really fit into any of the other storyteller games, not if you’re using them to their full extent. It’s also definitely a book for the storyteller only, as too many of the characters secrets will change your players perceptions of the world of darkness. Players will get much more fun discovering these during play, and then worrying about them a great deal.

The book also gives a nice guide to the overall feel of the World of Darkness. No character given in this book is without some piece of tragedy in their history and the scale of the various plots and intrigues is nicely portrayed. You have everything from global conspiracy to minor vendetta. Some of these NPC’s actions will influence your players lives from far off, and so it’s more a book about the way the world of darkness is evolving than anything else.

The artwork is improved from the earlier Vampire sourcebooks, you at least get a good feeling of how the character looks, and for a change appearance stats are conveyed in the portraits. Some portraits, like those of Elimelech and Sasha Vycos really give across the feel of the characters. Presentation in general is as we would expect from White Wolf, with each chracter set out with it’s background, a portrait and it’s stats.

Overall: Definitely useful if you want to run a wideranging Vampire: The Masquerade game, there are NPCs here of all levels of power and prestige. It is unfortunately a tad lacking in consistent stating (some characters have lost powers they used to possess), but then that’s hardly the point of vampire. It’s full of quality story hooks, and definitely a good read. Oh and check out pages 9 and 67 for an interesting surprise.

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Review : Clanbook Salubri

By Cynthia Summers, White Wolf

Clanbook Salubri is the third of the clanbooks series to be produced specifically for Vampire : The Dark Ages. It gives an in depth view on the Salubri bloodline, from it’s history as healers and holy warriors, to it’s present nights, being hunted down by the Tremere.

It’s nice to finally see a book dedicated to the Salubri. Their tragic tale is one of the more compelling parts of the World of Darkness and they have long been deserving of greater coverage. Now we finally get some insight into how the bloodline operated before they were all but wiped out. The book adds to the background considerably, and avoids repetition from too many earlier supplements.

The book details the clans history, from it’s early wars with the Baali to the dark medieval times. We also get some gorgeous descriptions of the three Salubri factions, the healers, the warriors and the watchers. The healers are wandering helpers of man and vampire, as per modern day vampire.The warriors make an interesting alternative, being mystic crusaders against the infernal. The watchers are incredibly interesting, they keep an eye on the Tremere, but don’t do anything, as if they are waiting for something….

There’s some good quality background history here. Along with the standard space wasters of too lurid prose and concept suggestions, you get some very nice alternate powers, a good bit of detail on the organisation of the clan, and some very tasty pieces of info on the world of darkness “backplot”. The book is written as a report on a dwindling bloodline by one of it’s few remaining friends, which gives it a nice feel, without detracting too much. Scattered throughout are some very nice pieces of flavour text, which add to the atmosphere of the book (for a change).

Overall:This is a well written sourcebook, which puts many of the older clanbooks (Ventrue and Brujah, we are looking in your direction) to shame.

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