As most people who care will already know, White Wolf is ceasing production of VTES. While not totally unexpected (I had heard rumors of licensing issues before), it’s still sad as hell. I’ve played this game on and off for 16 years now, and have been organizing increasingly large tournaments for the last 10 years or so. In addition, during recent years I’ve also attended European Championship tournaments (in Torino, Göteborg, Prague and Mallorca) and have met a bunch of very cool people (and gotten my ass kicked in-game by them). After hearing this news early Saturday morning, the rest of the weekend went by in a fairly melancholy mood. I’m far from the only one; Ben Swainbank writes about his feelings on hearing the news, as does extrala.
As far as I know, the final nail in the coffin (so to speak) was the expiration of the game license (from Wizards of the Coast, for the Deckmaster rules). Apparently WotC would have wanted significantly more money than before, and even though VTES has always been profitable for White Wolf, apparently this would not have kept it profitable enough. In addition, VTES does not fit in very well with WW/CCP’s new mostly-digital publishing direction, and of course it’s based on the old World of Darkness to boot. White Wolf did try to find licensing partners for the game, but apparently that fell through; companies are wary of CCGs, and this one comes with two separate license issues. So… in the end, WotC managed to kill this game twice, once directly and once indirectly.
Sure, it’s still possible that it will rise from the grave sometime in the future. It did so once in the past. However, the chances of that are quite slim; you’d need a company willing to juggle two licenses and invest quite a bit of money. I suspect White Wolf would be quite willing to give decent deals on the license (provided a reasonable business plan), but WotC/Hasbro is another matter entirely.
All that said: the sky is not falling. The game still exists, we have tons of cards (there are an amazing twenty expansions to this game, in addition to the original Jyhad/VTES set), and many of the sets are still available in game stores and via the net. It will take a while before that dries up, so newcomers will still be able to get cards quite easily. Of course, selling a new gamer on a game which is no longer being produced is a bit of a hard sell… but the reason VTES has survived this long is that it’s simply a damn good game. That counts for a lot, in the long run. Right now, right here, the cancellation of the game means little in practice. Some years down the road, when card supplies run low, getting new players will be difficult. On the other hand, it’s already a bit difficult, VTES needs an investment of time and money to get to grips with, and an interest in complex social game mechanics. It’s not an “instant gratification” game, and never was.
To their credit, White Wolf has announced that they’ll still be providing tournament support for a year, and tournaments have always been mostly fan-run anyway. Perhaps now that the game moves even more into the “fan-supported” bracket, we’ll finally get a working ranking system and all the stuff White Wolf failed to provide. The rules are in great shape, thanks to diligent work by LSJ and the rules team, and the tweaks needed to the game are very few. As discussed in the newsgroup, we may want to do something about group 6 vampires (to make them more playable now that we’re not getting more group 6 support), but that’s a minor issue. I’ll still keep organizing tournaments and playing, I think this game has many, many years left before it’s really gone.
It’s only dead when people stop playing, and I don’t see that happening for a good long while yet.
Oh, and to state the obvious: a huge thanks is in order for all the people who helped make the game what it is today: LSJ, Oscar, Robyn, Lasombra, Robert Goudie, and everyone else. You know who you are. And I expect to still play some games with you in the future. :)
(Awesome ‘Crying Ossian’ design is by Jozxyqk, sorry about forgetting to credit it originally).
I like to think that I had a (very very tiny) part in the existence of this book. A couple of years ago we had a thread on rpg.net, where we brainstormed additional books for the Exalted line. Absolutely nothing official, it was just a bunch of Exalted fans, with some White Wolf freelancers (and perhaps also some actual employees) participating. I seem to remember suggesting a boxed set with exactly this title, ”The Return of the Scarlet Empress” and this very same subject matter: a “what if?” campaign book about the return of Her Imperial Scarletness. Ok, this isn’t a boxed set (my suggestion was at the time the Dreams of the First Age boxed set came out), and I’m sure the idea occurred to many others too. In any case, I like to think I had some tiny part in giving White Wolf the idea that people would be interested in something like this.
Now, Exalted doesn’t have a metaplot as such. The official game is stil frozen in Realm Year 768, with the Scarlet Empress having vanished 3 years ago after ruling most of Creation for 765 years, and the Realm (deliberately designed by the Empress to be unstable) slowly spiraling down into civil war. There have been lots of fan theories about where the Empress went, and if you read the (thousands and thousands of pages of) background material there are quite clear hints about what happened to her. However, until now it’s never been explicitly spelled out. The books contain comics (and short fiction in the older books), and those are not-quite-canon; they are more like if-game and small-scale “what if” ideas. Things like Arianna ending up as a “guest” of the Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears and the Prince of Shadows, Lilith’s love/hate relationship with Swan/Desus… all that. It’s stuff that fans love to ponder about and pick apart, but it’s not official. The game world, officially, is in a stasis on the brink of collapse, threatened by the Raksha, the Deathlords, the Alchemicals, various demonic cults and the Yozis themselves, the Bull of the North, and piles and piles of First Age doomsday weapons. That’s great, it lets each game be quite different, even if they start from the same canon moment in RY 768. Not that they have to do even that, of course.
Now, this book. It’s a “what if” scenario about the return of the Empress, and as the cover hints it’s not all love and roses. In fact, the cover (showing the Roseblack in chains at the feet of the Empress, with the Blessed Isle and Mt. Meru burning in the background), sort of gives that point away. The cover is a clever play on the older Blessed Isle cover, by the way, where the Roseblack is shown smelling a (black!) rose in front of an old statue of the Empress (one of my favorite Exalted pics).
I want to avoid spoilers somewhat here, but some are inevitable.
The basic plot of the book is that the Empress returns, and initially seems to concentrate on re-establishing her firm rule on the Realm and the satrapies. She uses the Sword of Creation to demonstrate that she’s not messing around, and slowly things quiet down. However, her return also heralds a demonic incursion, with an endgame which pretty much means the end of the world. Of course, this is Exalted, so the intention is that the PCs may be able to stop things… or help them succeed, if they are playing for the opposing team. The book is organized in a clear fashion: there’s an initial chapter outlining the campaign, and then separate chapters detailing what happens on the Blessed Isle and in the various directions of Creation. Events are separated into three “phases”, and there are a ton of events and mini-scenarios set all over Creation. There is also a chapter detailing what happens elsewhere (Shadowlands, Wyld, etc), and that one is especially cool and contains some really out-there ideas. Oh, and we finally get the full stats of the Empress (along with some other major players), and get to know her Aspect. It’s not what most people imagined, btw. Her original name… that’s a secret lost long ago, and perhaps forever (if one of the scenarios here plays out).
This is a book for the fans, and for people who have real a lot of Exalted background material. It contains a ton of tiny nods and winks to all sorts of things, and explains some things that the will make the fans go “oooh” but will probably leave many others scratching their heads. There are some very cool ideas and events here, and it’s great to see some of the canon NPCs finally act like Big Damn Heroes. Or not, in some cases. I especially liked Mnemon, of all people, becoming a (reluctant) hero; I mean, she’s a totally amoral powerhungry bitch and arguably “evil”… but here events force her hand. There are also great interlude comics, with one very hope-filled one about Lillun (and a surprise-Lunar), and another one that closes off the book and provides one possible link to one possible new future. We also learn the original author of the Broken-Winged Crane, which… sort of makes sense. It’s great stuff, but again: the information level is quite dense here, this is not a book for Exalted newbie GMs.
As with all scenario/campaign books, this won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you dislike the “official” explanation of where the Empress went, this book won’t offer as much to you as directly useful material (though there are some very interesting detail tidbits about Mt. Metagalapa, Gethamane, and some other places). Also, this is very much an big, huge, apocalyptic “endgame” scenario; running this will change your game world forever. If you don’t want to do that, this book is only useful as a source of smaller-scale “what if” ideas. It’s also a fun read just for entertainment’s sake, if you’re interested in Exalted “metaplot” (you know, that thing that both does and doesn’t exist).
Should you get this? If you’re an Exalted GM and want some new story & world ideas (even if you don’t want to go into “end of the world” mode), absolutely. If you’re an Exalted fan and don’t intend to play through this, absolutely again. However, if you’re a player in an Exalted game, I’d skip this… if your GM decides to use parts of this, you’ll just be ruining the surprise. Also, if you really dislike the official version of this particular metaplot and/or dislike anything pre-plotted, this book probably isn’t for you. It’s more a toolkit of timelines and mini-scenarios and events than a coherent “PCs go to X and then Y” campaign (something like that doesn’t much fit Exalted anyway), but it’s still a pre-plotted possible timeline for the game.
I really liked it. But then again, I’m a fan of the game and have read pretty much all the 1st and 2nd edition sourcebooks. That’s probably in the order of 5-6 thousand pages of material.
As a final note, one thing probably needs clarifying: while this is sort of like the “end of the world” books for the old WoD (“Gehenna”, “Apocalypse”, etc), it’s also very different. As noted Exalted doesn’t have a metaplot as such, and this is just one possible “end game” scenario out of many. It’s totally optional, and in no way changes the core game. Also, this is not the final book for Exalted, the game line is not ending here. We’re getting more SAS adventures, a “directions” book on Autochtonia, print versions of many PDF-only Exalted products, and possibly much more. Everything depends on sales, of course.
I’d actually love to see more books like this, exploring other “game over man!” scenarios. “The Second Balorian Crusade”. “The First and Forsaken Lion Invades Everything”, “The Locust Crusade”, “The Silver Price Decides He Is Bored With Being Subtle”, “Kukla Goes Out To Play”, “The Empire of the Bull”….
…and of course “Gem Gets Wiped Out. Again.”
I still haven’t read much from the new Mage; what I’ve read has failed to really resonate. The core book is dull beyond words, and the “Gnostic prison” world is interesting in theory but poorly implemented – the bad guys are so vague they may as well not exist at all… and let’s not even start on “Atlantis”. I’ve heard that there is a pretty good game hidden inside all the crap, but so far I’m not totally convinced. I’m trying to keep an open mind, though.
Anyway, I recently got the Silver Ladder book because it was on sale at the game store. Now, having read it, I’m still not quite convinced by the game. It’s not a bad book by any means, but neither does it contain enough to really wow me. It does have some pretty cool small tidbits, though.
The book describes one of the five major Orders, the “Silver Ladder”. In the core book they are placed in the “leaders” slot, like the Ventrue are in Vampire. As such this isn’t a very colorful role, so they were left quite bland. This book expands on that core idea and describes what the Order really is about, and it’s more interesting than the core book proposition at least. The Order wants humanity to ascend, and want to be their guides in that path and take the role of “Vizier Behind the Throne”; benevolent guiding voices. That’s the theory, anyway. Obviously, many individual mages are in it purely for power (even though the Order tries to weed out the pure power-seekers), others may have good intentions but lack the personal drive and commitment to really push for change. The Order has no use for the weak – after all, they posit themselves as the “spiritual leaders” of future ascended humanity.
Perhaps the most interesting bit in the book has to do with the methods the Order uses to achieve its goals, one of which is “Cryptopolies”: small-scale secret societies formed by and guided by the Ladder, populated (mostly) by normal mortals. The members are monitored and subtly nudged in “correct” directions (as defined by the Ladder mentor), and especially promising individuals are exposed to magic to see how they react. Some even Awaken at that point, which the Ladder contains a huge win. Of course, most do not and some even go insane, such is the price of transcending the human condition.
There’s a lot of other stuff here to expand the Order from a two-dimensional “we’re the leaders” bunch to a more subtle magical transcendentalist society, and much of it is pretty good stuff on the idea level. The problem is the execution; while the book isn’t as dry a read as the Mage corebook, it’s still dry in most places and was frankly a bit of a chore to read through. In contrast the Vampire “Ordo Dracul” book, which describes a vampiric group with some goal-level overlap with the Ladder, was an extremely interesting read. I’m not sure how much is due to the base game (the new Mage forces the writers to resort to language usually only found in philosophy textbooks), and how much is due to the writers themselves, but there it is. In the end, this book had nice bits but overall wasn’t a very engaging read.
The new Vampire (Vampire: the Requiem) gets rid of the old clan-based approach; there still are clans, but they no longer dictate your behavior to the old extent. More important are the groups the vampire belongs to… and here the Covenants step in. The Ordo Dracul book describes one of them, the insular and secretive Ordo Dracul.
When I read the Vampire core book I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Ordo. They seemed a weird mix of the old Tremere and a random secret society (and/or the Freemasons), which claims to be founded by Dracula himself. This book describes what they really are and what they want to do – and it’s good stuff. The Ordo is actually a quite fascinating group.
At the core, it’s a vampiric transcendentalist group, with heavy influences from Freemasonism and suchlike. It has a strict hierarchy and chain of command (like the old Tremere), and the lowest-level applicants are actually called “Slaves”. However, it actually does strive for great things: the Ordo concentrates on rising above the vampiric condition, instead of trying to deny it they try to control it and reduce the negative effects. Most shockingly… they seem to be succeeding, at least to a point. A mental/body-control regimen called “The Coils” lets some of them bypass some very fundamental vampiric flaws. They can ignore (very limited amounts of) sunlight. They can control their frenzy reflex. They can stay awake during the day. Naturally enough, many other groups want to know how the hell they do it, but the Dragons (as they call themselves) aren’t talking.
The influences from Freemasonism are all over the place, though the scientific method largely replaces the reliance on mysticism. The Ordo consists of scholars and scientists, first and foremost. They have an elaborate system of coded names, with a certain scholar perhaps having the title “Invisible Philosopher of the Subtle Terror”. To another Dragon, this title tells a lot of important information. To an outsider, it’s nonsense. To add to the deliberate confusion, some titles are only used to mark spies and spread misinformation; using some certain code words in your title tells elder Dragons that “I’m a spy, and cannot be trusted”.
At the core, the Ordo is a group of transcendentalist (or “transhumanist”) amoral vampiric scientists, searching for a (semi) scientific solution to vampirism. Not to cure it, but to use it as the stepping stone in the next step of evolution. They use any and all means available. They do mass murder just because they want to see how the survivors react. They save random people from death, and then observe the cause-and-effect ripples that causes. They observe everything (especially themselves), endlessly. They are far from being “good guys” – but like the Tremere of old, they are quite fascinating.
The book is extremely well written and readable, and really brings a very weird group to life. This is an especially noteworthy feat since the Ordo and its goals are so very… strange. They have a method to their madness, and their layers upon layers of secrecy are mostly there for functional purposes. Yes, they are hard on the applicants who want to join, but they also offer (in their own mind) power that nobody else can offer. Once (and if) you’re accepted into the Ordo proper, you’re on the path to becoming a superbeing.
Or so they claim.
World of Darkness: Chicago is a huge setting/crossover book for the (new) World of Darkness. And I do mean huge… at 400+ pages, you could use this as a melee weapon. Fortunately, it’s both a good book and a (surprisingly) good read, so that page count isn’t a bad thing. Even though it’s titled as a general “World of Darkness” book, it’s really not. It’s a crossover book for Vampire, Werewolf and Mage; while a “normals” WoD campaign can get some mileage out of this, the bulk of the book is for the three main game lines.
After some initial chapters detailing the general history of Chicago, the book splits into three parts: unsurprisingly, Vampire, Werewolf & Mage. The Vampire section is easily the best, it’s a showcase of how to create an interesting (vampiric) political situation for a city without leaning much on stereotypes. The NPCs are interesting and the given political situation is full of options and dangers, without being too much of an instant powder keg. Too many vampire games start off with the good old “the old Price has just been deposed” trope. Well, here that has happened…. but it was some time ago, and the new Price is already entrenched, but not too entrenched. There are tons of PC options both for supporting the current regime and opposing it (and also lots of “don’t care” groups). This book is worth the cover price on the strength of the NPCs in the Vampire section alone, they are quite excellent.
The Werewolf section isn’t quite as strong, but does contain some very cool touches. I especially liked some of the Pure packs lurking in the suburbs, some quite creepy stuff going on there. Also, many of the totem spirits used here are interesting and not at all “nice” (I say that as a good thing). The fact that Chicago has a long and bloody history, both in human terms and in terms of the meat packing and slaughter industry, makes for lots of very nice spirit-world options.
Last and unfortunately also least is the Mage section. While not strictly bad, it’s nowhere are tight and interesting as the previous two chapters. There are some interesting NPCs here, but a lot of the main elements seemed quite off to me. Real names are supposed to be a big deal in this game… but here we have a major faction leader openly using his real name and also being the head of a big corporation. The bad guys, supposed to be shadowy puppeteers who may not even exist, suddenly have a headquarters in some highrise building, and the Pentacle mages actually seem to know who and where they are. It’s quite inconsistent with the game, as originally written. At times it shows quite badly that this book was written quite a while ago, back when Mage was still trying to figure itself out. I’ve been told Mage has improved over time, but here it’s a bit of a mess. Still, there are quite a few nice NPCs here who could be used in pretty much any game.
There is some interconnect between the three main parts of the book, but it’s a bit rough – the Mage section has a nightclub/pub which is portrayed as a major meeting point for supernaturals, but this isn’t mentioned in the Vampire or Werewolf parts. Still, the book does try to provide for crossover use, and succeeds to a point. Overall, it’s a very solid city sourcebook with coverage for the three main supernatural splats. Even if your campaign isn’t set in Chicago, there is lot here you could steal for many other WoD games.
With Alchemicals, Exalted’s 2nd edition now has a full lineup of the Exalts defined in the first edition, with the addition of the Infernals which are 2nd edition -only. I haven’t read the 1st ed Alchemicals book so I cannot compare to that, but read on its own this is a good (if somewhat obscure) addition to the game.
The so-called “Alchemical Exalts” are weird in many ways. While generally classed as “Celestial Exalts”, that’s more to do with power level than actual origin. Properly, the Alchemicals would be classed as “Primordial Exalts” due to their origin, but that general category doesn’t exist as such. They are on the low end of the “Celestial” power scale; which they have tremendous flexibility, they are far below the raw power level of Solars. A large part of the weirdness comes from their origin: they were created by Autochthon as caretakers of his realm, which in actuality is his own vast body after his retreat into Elsewhere. Creation has no idea they exist, and they have only vague legends of Creation.
Since they are artificially created beings (much more so than, say, Solars), they are unusual in many ways. Grown in vats, they immediately inherit the personality and (most) memories of their predecessor – they step into the world as full adults, lacking most of the chance and uncertainty of the Celestial Exalts. Their creation is always planned, and their capabilities are also planned and designed. Instead of Charms that directly manipulate Essence, their bodies contain extensions and artifacts which allow them to manipulate Essence. Each plug-in artifact does only one thing, so they are limited by what “hardware” they have installed – resulting in a much smaller set of “Charms” than typical Exalts. The flipside is that they can visit a friendly neighborhood vat technician and reconfigure their bodies as they wish, from a huge pool of available implants. As a result, they are very dangerous if they have time to prepare, but more limited in their ability to react to surprises.
In an interesting twist, as they grow in power (Essence-wise) they grow physically larger. At the end of this path, they actually become cities – it’s expected that all Alchemicals eventually “settle down” and provide more living space for the “Populat”… but not all want to do this. Alchemicals do not have a Great Curse (since they were not involved in the Primordial War), but they do have a stat named Clarity – the higher it is, the more “machine-like” they become. As a counterbalance, high Clarity opens up options in the Charm tree and elsewhere. Alchemicals stay at low Clarity by interacting with normal humans, a nice mechanical tweak which gives motivation for the “heroes of the people” to mingle.
As noted, Alchemicals live outside Creation (and also Fate, as a side result). Their world is a strange steampunk-ish underground realm, though it’s not strictly underground: it’s inside the body of an ancient sleeping Primordial. The whole thing is a strange mix of transhumanism, steampunk and “normal” Exalted, and the world has a lot of old Soviet Union echoes via the “planned society” and “limited resources” theme. It’s far from the dystopia that the Soviet Union generally was, though. The Alchemicals really do try to protect the people, and the rulers generally are honest. They’ve been made to be that, and have limited options to rebel even if they wanted to.
As to “what do Alchemicals do?”… well, for one their world is dying. Autochthon is sleeping, and cannot be woken due to ancient edicts. His planned society has developed flaws over the milennia, and inertia is creeping into everything. “The Void” is a major enemy, though the inhabitants of the world are unsure of what the Void actually is. It’s most often seen as the “hostile realm outside Autochthon”, though that’s not strictly true. Nevertheless, it’s a malign force which the Alchemicals can try to push back.
Also, Autochtonia (as the realm is called) contains a multitude of nations, with different views. Warfare is common, despite (or maybe because of) the dwindling resources. Alchemicals can represent “state heroes”, and act as vanguards of their nation. This ties in nicely with their role in society, since they are much more like “respected and well-known superheroes” than most Exalts in Creation.
Also, there is the whole “our world is dying” thing. One option is for a desperate (or brave) nation to break the seal that separates Authchtonia from the mythical Creation, opening up a vast new realm to strip-mine and exploit. Sure, the natives may raise a fuss, but there are lots of Alchemicals. Before the Realm and the other powers realize it, they may be facing a new enemy, one which just appears overnight “from nowhere” and has a lot of firepower.
It’s quite an interesting book. The Alchemicals themselves are a fun semi-cybernetic twist on the “Exalt” theme, and Autochtonia has lots of story possibilities. Of course, the complete separation of Autochthonia from Creations means the GM cannot just add this material to a normal Exalted game. There are basically two options: one is to run a game completely withing Autochtonia, and the other is to run an “Autochthonia Invades Creation” scenario. Both can work, but unfortunately only skimpy internal detail on Autochthonia is provided, the bulk of the book goes towards providing mechanics for the Alchemical Exalts… so a GM wishing to run an Autochthonia-based game needs to do quite a bit of extra work in populating the world. I get the feeling that the “Invasion of the Cyber-Exalted!” scenario is the most common use here. And why not, it provides a new enemy (or potential ally). Not that Creation was exatly lacking in forces trying to destroy it… but hey, the more the merrier.
In sum, a fairly interesting book which is also quite a ways removed from “stock Exalted”. Can be useful, but isn’t required reading in any way.
Scroll of Exalts has a very cool cover picture, a tribute to the old 1st edition AD&D Player’s Handbook. Nitpickers will note that all those Exalted signature characters being gathered into one place would be highly unlikely, and their gathering without bloody mayhem ensuing is even more unlikely (apparently someone’s offed whatshername, the lizard lady Lunar, perhaps as a prelude). Nitpickers will also be totally ignored – it’s a brilliant cover.
Fortunately, the cover isn’t the only good thing here. This book is quite straightforward: it’s a collection of Exalts of different types and power levels. Some are “signature characters” we’ve seen before (without full stats, though), some are new to this book. Each is given a full page spread, with a picture, some back story, and full game stats. Included are (among others) the new Infernals, and even the new Alchemicals get a section even though that sourcebook is a later release.
Oh, and we finally get full stats for Chejop Kejak (affectionately also known as “Ketchup Carjack”). Yes, he’s scary. No big surprise.
Since statting up Exalted NPCs has always been a major chore (and one of the problems with the system, imho), I really like this book. It gives you a bunch of ready-made NPCs to play with, and it also illustrates designer intent in what various sorts of characters might be capable of. Oh, and the character writeups are also very cool, some old fairly “meh” characters have been given a new makeover, generally making them rock. Meticulous Owl, for instance, is very interesting now.
Good book. I wish more NPC writeups like this were available, it would lighten up some parts of Exalted GMing considerably.
Saturnine Night is the last supplement to White Wolf’s Promethean: the Created game, and it’s also that game’s “science fiction supplement”, in a way. While Promethean is pretty weird to begin with, this book explores some “way out there” concepts for the game: machine creatures, artificial radioactive life forms, stuff like that. I like Promethean as a game; it’s possibly the most “indie” World of Darkness game so far, and this book is a great way to finish off the line.
It’s a fun mix of serious stuff and not. I mean… this book contains radioactive zombies! And it has those without going all zany about things. In fact, those radioactive zombies are actually quite creepy and not much at all “pulp”. Still, if you want to inject some more over the top elements into a Promethean game, or any WoD game as a crossover, this book has you covered. Artificial machine hive minds, rogue A.I.s and such are slotted into the Promethean paradigm, so they are in some weird borderland between straight scifi and supernatural weirdness. Very nice, especially if you wan to to throw some real curveballs at your players.
The treatment of radiation and its effects is fairly realistic (i.e. nasty) here. No Fallout/Gamma World “fun mutants” here, radiation usually just kills you (fast or slow) in various bad ways. Except when it gives birth to something else. And yes, you can play a radioactive artificial being, if you want. Good luck finding other PCs you can interact with, though…
The book also contains some ideas about running Promethean games in general, including some crossover ideas.
All in all, a great book. Even if you’re not interested in running Promethean, this book will give you lots of fun NPC/antagonists ideas for pretty much any (new) WoD game – assuming you want some really strange NPCs.
Spirit Slayers is the last of the support books for Hunter: the Vigil. Despite the somewhat confusing name, this is (mostly) a book about werewolves, and mostly as antagonists. The title comes form the fact that in the new Werewolf game, werewolves and spirits have a very symbiotic and also somewhat antagonistic relationship. This book attempts to present both werewolves and spirits, and the role of hunters as “spirit slayers”. This duality, while an understandable design decision, somewhat dilutes the book.
It’s not a bad book by any means; the material on werewolves is quite solid and presents them as primal beasts who also have a very human side, and therefore have the potential to also be allies… or at least neutrals. The book follows the same format as the others; we’re given some historical explanations for what werewolves are, so the GM can tailor his/her werewolves as “something a bit different”. Then there are some new Compacts and a new Conspiracy. None of those are really brilliant, but all are quite ok. The Conspiracy, “Les Mysteres”, is perhaps the most interesting, as it presents a disparate group of people who have a tight bond with spirits (much in the Voodoo/Loa direction but not limited to that).
The rest of the book contains simplified rules for werewolves and spirits… and here the fact that the book tries to cover two aspects becomes a small problem. The werewolf rules seem ok, though they are very compact… but that leaves precious little room for rules on spirits. Since spirits in the new WoD can be quite complex entities, this makes the ultra-simplified rules here not worth much. In practice, a GM will probably need at least The Book of Spirits to make sense of things.
The end has the usual GM advice on how to these critters in a game.
While perhaps the weakest of the Hunter support books, that’s purely because it tries to cover a bit too much ground. The writing here is excellent and the ideas presented mostly interesting.
As a whole, the new Hunter game like is very good. It does what most people expected the first Hunter to do, and it does it well and with style. If you’re looking for a monster-hunting game, you’ll want to take a good long look at this one. I can’t find much to criticize in it as a game line (other than it’s a bit short, a book or two extra would not have hurt).
Night Stalkers is the second expansion book to White Wolf’s “Hunter: the Vigil”, and it deals with vampires – or more exactly, vampires as antagonists for vampire hunters. If you want to play vampires, you’ll want the full Vampire: the Requiem game. Just judging by this book it’s a bit unclear whether “Night Stalkers” refers to vampires or the the people who hunt them, but judging by the other books in the line (Witch Finders, Spirit Slayers) it’s clear that the reference is to the hunters themselves.
What I’ve read of Hunter so far has been very good, and this book does not disappoint either. While here the “targets” are much more clearly “hostiles” than in the mage book (Witch Finders), there is still some room given to scenarios where the hunters might cooperate with a blood-sucker (at least for a while) before they go all Buffy on them. This is presented as a very risky option, of course, and so it should be – these are not Twilight-style glow-in-the-dark angsty animal-eating teenagers. These are monsters, usually in the classic sense of the word. It’s not that they’ll just kill you if you threaten them; they’ll also often have the capability (and lack of human morals) to also kill your family and other loved ones, while (potentially) leaving you alive with a ruined life. With ages-old power networks at their disposal, they can make sure that you’re suddenly out of a job, branded a pedophile, homeless, and/or lots of other fun stuff. It’s like fighting entrenched organized crime (and often, in the WoD, there is heavy overlap anyway)… the leaders won’t fight you directly. They’ll just send endless disposable minions after you and everyone you care about, while using their contacts to make your life hell. That’s the real danger of hunting vampires, and the book goes to great lengths to make sure that you use a vampire antagonist in a smart way. Only very young or foolish vampires will look for a head-on fight with a gang of hunters.
The book organization mimics Witch Finders. First we have a ton of historical vampire myths, with different sorts of vampires. While you can use the Vampire: the Requiem model for what a vampire is like, you don’t have to. Having your vampires be something quite unexpected will be a fun and nasty curveball for your players. Lots of suggestions and ideas are presented here; some of them creepy, some a bit silly, and some just weird.
Next up is a overview of how the various Compacts and Conspiracies regard and hunt vampires. Nothing too surprising here, though some of the detail is fun. Then we get some new Compacts and a new Conspiracy; the Compacts aren’t anything all that special, really (one is clandestine political group, one is a college sorority of sorts, and one a street gang)… but the Conspiracy is very cool. It’s the “Cainite Heresy”, and it consists of fanatical vampire hunters who hunt vampires using supernatural methods which they learn from… someone. Or something. It’s quite creepy, and has lots of story possibilities.
The last sections of the book contain some new Tactics, a bunch of “Dread Powers” for Vampires to use if you don’t want to use or don’t have Vampire: the Requiem, and a storyteller section with tips and ideas for running vampires as antagonists in a chronicle.
It’s a very solid book. Sure, the Compacts are a bit mundane, but they’re not bad by any means. The Cainite Heresy rocks, and the rest of the book is crammed full of useful ideas. Like with the other Hunter books I’ve read, the writing style here is relaxed and fun to read.