Police in role-playing games tend to be treated as a stereotyped fixture, usually modeled after TV shows or movies. Either they are shown as heroic defenders of law and order, or as totally corrupt entities (typically under the sway of some powerful entity). In either case, they usually don’t act like real police would – sometimes because of plot reasons, but often because the GM really has no idea of how real police operate. Tales from the 13th Precinct for the new World of Darkness tries to fix that, to some extent.
It’s a sourcebook about how a police precinct (in the U.S.) would typically operate, and it also describes a fictional 13th Precinct in the equally fictional city of Midway (modeling a typical large U.S. city). While it’s obviously geared for gaming use, there is a lot of actual information about everyday police procedure here – radio use, standard operating procedures, all that stuff. This makes it a useful book for gaming in general, not just for WoD games; there isn’t much WoD-related here, most is generic description and the things that are statted (NPCs etc) are easy to convert.
The book consists of three parts. First off there is a section on general police procedure, next there is the titular “13th Precinct” with fully statted NPCs and description of the police station, and lastly the book gives you a short pre-generated police-oriented adventure. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s decent enough. I liked the approach taken here; the general info is very useful (obviously), but having a ready-to-use pre-generated police precinct (with NPCs and internal subplots) which can be plunked into pretty much any modern game is a great thing. I’d be tempted to use this directly if I needed a detailed police force (with signature NPCs) in some game.
As the book notes, some of the procedures and equipment described here are starting to be obsolete. This is partly a realism and partly a gaming choice: realism because the latest and greatest equipment is rarely available everywhere (budget constraints are a universal constant)m, and gaming because in some cases the old equipment (or procedures) just make for better plot hooks. So no, this isn’t a 100% accurate analysis on police procedure. However, it is the most detailed such that I’ve read for gaming use. The disclaimer, of course, is that it describes the U.S. police force, methods and equipment in other countries can be quite different.
The Fear-Maker’s Promise is a print compilation of three PDF releases for Changeling: the Lost. It contains two adventures in White Wolf’s “SAS” format and a set of pre-generated PCs.
The first adventure, the titular “Fear-Maker’s Promise”, places the PCs in a moral dilemma: an outsider introduces a way to protect the locals against the True Fae, but that way involves traumatizing a young child. Do the go along with the plan, oppose it, or trust the plan at all in the first place? It’s not bad, and it tries to take into account various PC actions and to provide interesting events no matter what they do. Like all SAS adventures, it’s fairly compact, suitable for one session of play.
The second adventure is “The Rose-Bride’s Plight”, and it’s more an investigation piece: a young Changeling is getting married with great ceremony, but then disaster strikes. The PCs, as guests at the engagement party, are assumed to take an interest in figuring out what is going on (if they just go “meh, whatever” and leave, this adventure becomes very short). The main plot is a bit cliched, but of course that’s probably partly the point, judging by some of the storybook elements here. Could be a fun session of gaming, assuming the PCs are interested in social puzzles and investigation. This one could also work as the basis for a oneshot LARP, I think.
The book wraps up with a packet of ready-to-run PC characters, with nice write-ups and interlinked stories. It also contains a writeup on how they work together as a group, which can be handy in getting a handle on things fast.
All in all, it’s a decent package of single-session ready-to-run adventures for Changeling, especially useful if you just want to try the game out for the first time with minimal up-front effort.
As a heads up, the upcoming Vampire: the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition is now up for pre-order at the White Wolf webstore. It’s expensive ($100), but then again I think we all knew that it would be: huge page count, color printing, all that jazz. For those out of the loop: it’s an updated luxury edition of the classic Vampire: the Masquerade game book, with timeline updated to current date and with tons of tweaks and additional material from various expansion books along the way. It’s pretty much a “for the old fans” book, and also a chance for the White Wolf guys to revisit their most famous game and tweak it around a bit.
This edition will not be available in game stores, Amazon, or anywhere else (except White Wolf’s own store). They are printing only based on pre-orders, with pre-orders running until July 1st and the book shipping in October. Grand Masquerade visitors will be able to buy a variant copy (with a different cover, I think). So, in short: if you don’t pre-order or visit the Grand Masquerade, you won’t get this book.
Needless to say my pre-order is already in, even though my wallet hates me. This is one book I must have.
Block By Bloody Block is a supplement for Hunter: the Vigil, and has previously only been available as a PDF-only product. Later it became one of the few titles available (so far) in White Wolf’s DriveThruRPG PoD (print-on-demand) system, so I decided to give it a try. The book is now also available as a “normal” retail store copy, my edition is the PoD one. To cut a medium-length story short: I was quite happy with the process and the end result. I ordered the book via DriveThru as normal, except that I specified that I wanted a print copy, gave them my address, and paid some extra for shipping to Finland (not something you need for PDFs, naturally). The store notified me that it’ll take a while to print the book, after which it would be sent to me. About 2.5 weeks after the order it arrived in my mailbox in fine condition, and the total price including postage was a bit under 13 euros. Not bad. The book was printed by Lightning Source UK, and it’s hard to tell it’s a PoD book unless you take a close look at some details. The printing is crisp and the binding seems sturdy. There’s a small white border at the top and bottom which is a bit uneven and something you’d probably not get in a “normal” print run, but honestly, this is good enough quality and close enough to a normally printed book that it’s fine with me. Especially since the total price ended up being reasonable and below what it would cost in a store.
So there’s that about the new “print on demand” system, what about the book itself? I’m happy to report that it’s good stuff. It’s a “neighborhood building kit” for Hunter, and contains a pile of sample neighborhoods to drop into your game, all suitably generic so that they can be easily modified – though of course they are based on U.S. locations and need a bit more work to move to some other places. Each place contains a general description, a group which controls it (many but not all antagonistic), some mechanical details on what it would take to grab control of the area, and some NPC writeups. The neighborhoods all mesh together and the groups contain references to each other, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts; you could just use this as your game world city, adding some actual place names here and there and doing modifications as needed. Or, of course, you could just grab a few nice ideas and locations from here and insert them into your game. Both work.
In a way, this is a “light” version of the huge Damnation City city-building book for Vampire, which (as far as I know) contains more elaborate mechanics for generating game world cities. This book has simpler mechanics, but does contain a few side bars on how to integrate with Damnation City if needed.
The neighborhoods are generally very interesting, especially so for the NPC motivations, and the writing is excellent – it was a good and entertaining read. I suspect any Hunter game could benefit from some of the ideas here, and many of the places and NPCs here could just as easily be inserted into a generic urban fantasy/horror game. Also, I liked the structure of the book, it was clearly organized and the way the neighborhood information was presented made sense – the graphic diagrams of NPC interactions and opinions were an especially nice touch. Well worth a look, in my opinion.
Glories of the Most High started off as a set of three PDF-only releases, each detailing a major Exalted Incarna (or group of such): The Unconquered Sun, Luna, and the Maidens. It was such a hit that White Wolf decided to also do a print release (which collects all three). In the general scheme of things, this also slots into White Wolf’s new publishing strategy: most releases as PDF, with occasional “traditional” print runs and (in the long run) print-on-demand availability of all titles. It’s a nice model, since people can pick up the media format that works for them. Sucks for game stores, of course, since both PDF and PoD bypasses them completely. This release is still a “traditional” one, printed and sent for sale via the distributor network. We’ll see if White Wolf continues to do this; do traditional releases now and then of the popular stuff just to maintain visibility on store shelves. We’ll see.
Anyway, what about the book itself? Quite simply, it’s brilliant. It contains some of the best writing in Exalted so far, and at long last we get some insight into what makes the major “gods” of the game world tick. Up to now they’ve been fairly bland characters; yes, they provide the powers for some of the Exalts (Sun for Solars, Luna for Lunars, and the Maidens for the Sidereals), but what are they like? Up to now, not much on that, other than that they are all junkies, totally addicted to the Games of Divinity and mostly ignoring Creation.
Well, no more of that. We get the full stats of all of these… entities, along with their stories and motivations, and a ton of new cool and weird stuff. I think the Silver Chair takes the cake here – even though the fact that the sun is actually a physical artifact is fun, the moon becomes something very weird and wonderful here. One of the great thing in Exalted was always the fact that gods aren’t omnipotent and vague nebulous entities. They have distinct motivations (including petty peeves), distinct limits and yes, their ass can (at least in theory) be kicked. Maybe even by the PCs. This book gets points for providing stats that enforce and also explain many of the behavior patterns in the Incarnae. The motivations and related limit conditions of the Unconquered Sun, Luna and the others are just beautiful.
I can’t find much anything bad to say about this book. I might have wanted to see a bit more info on the Maidens, but that’s a page count issue: where Sun and Luna both get a third of the book, the last third is split between five Maidens. What we do get is great stuff, though. Sure, the target group for this book is somewhat limited, since it’s a book about Exalted metaphysics and backstory… but there are apparently enough of those to make this a good seller for White Wolf.
Children of the Inquisition is a (very) old book for Vampire: the Masquerade. It’s a “coffee table” book, like the related Kindred Most Wanted book, and lists a number of famous kindred (as per the book’s subtitle “Who’s Who Among Vampires”). It’s a statless book, so you get art and the stories of the various vampires, but nothing related to game mechanics.
It’s an interesting read if you’re into old WoD backstory, though you need to be aware that many of the vampires here have gotten new and revised treatments in later books in the game line. It’s also fun to read as backstory on many of the vampires appearing in VTES: Tyler, Karsh, Vasantasena, Rafael de Corazon, Gratiano, Lambach, Etrius, Durga Syn, Jalan-Aajav and Dominique are all described here.
As noted, it’s meant as a “coffee table book”: lots of art, unusually large page format. I think this book and the KMW book were the only ones White Wolf published in this format, but not totally sure.
Another small adventure module for White Wolf’s Vampire:the Dark Ages game, Fountains of Bright Crimson is also a tie-in with the Jerusalem By Night book for the same game (which I haven’t read). Like most (all?) pregenerated World of Darkness adventure modules, it’s heavily railroaded and features multiple points of “thing X happens, no matter what”. Also featured are another one of White Wolf’s pet mishaps, uber NCs which exists as railroading helpers and plot elements.
That said, there is decent content here. The main plot concerns remnants of an old atrocity, the mindless slaughter of the Jerusalemite population by the Crusaders in 1099. Now a hundred years later, something still seems to connect to that event. The PCs are drawn into the plot by a con job, which (if the GM is lucky) the players will actually willingly go along with without realizing that they’ve been had. If the GM is not lucky, the PCs will smell a rat and entangling them in events without heavy railroading gets a lot trickier. Anyway, assuming the PCs do get sucked in, things escalate and the PCs get to meet up with all sorts of interesting inhabitants of old Jerusalem. There’s a lot here… Salubri, Baali, ancient Methuselahs, Tremere, plotting Malkavians… it feels a bit over-packed at times, considering the page count is quite low.
In the end, this feels like something that might be a lot of fun, given a play group interested in Dark Ages Jerusalem and an experienced GM who is able to dismantle some of the railroading here. It would probably also be a good idea to read the Jerusalem By Night book (and probably some actual history also, given White Wolf’s sad track record with historical and geographical “accuracy”) – given the limited page count, there is naturally enough not much fleshing out of the city done here.
Clash of Wills is a short standalone adventure for Vampire: the Dark Ages, and it’s firmly in the “some good, some bad” category. An English Earl lies dying and there is suspicion of Cainite manipulation in the whole affair, especially since there are multiple parties interested in claiming ownership of the Earl’s lands. The Prince of London sends a semi-covert team (the PCs) to find out what is going on. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that things turn out to be more complicated than initially thought.
First the good. The NPCs are mostly well fleshed-out, and the basic plot is interesting with multiple conflicting factions. The situation is guaranteed to explode, but the PCs have a say in how in explodes. It’s quite suitable for beginning characters as a world intro, and it should also be easy to integrate into ongoing campaigns (just change the names of places and people, as needed).
Then the bad. The main problem here is one common to all too many White Wolf adventure modules: it’s quite linear and specifies a lot of things that “just happen” no matter what the PCs do. If run strictly as written, it would probably feel extremely railroaded, with the PCs as mere spectators to events. That’s not fun.
Since the main core and the NPCs here are quite decent, in the end I think this isn’t a bad adventure; it just needs some GM work to run it more as a sandbox, keeping the PC actions as the main drivers of what happens, not some “at time X event Y happens, no matter what” side note. It’s a nice mix of intrigue, investigation and combat, and should serve as a good intro to the game (given some tweaking).
While it still didn’t totally woo me on the new Werewolf, the Blasphemies book does a good job in providing some GM tools for both non-standard “origin myths” for werewolves and better fleshed-out antagonists of several different shades.
The book begins with the alternate creation myths. Nothing earth-shattering there, but I did appreciate the hints on how certain types of changes would change the game tone (not a bad thing necessarily), and what you can and can’t do without rewriting bigger parts of the game. It’s a decent overview of some alternate takes on werewolf world background, and may be useful to GMs dissatisfied with the stock version. It also provides background beliefs to some alternate Lodges (detailed later).
The next section detail various sort of spirit cults, and it’s perhaps the best part of the book. These cults are not necessarily antagonistic, though they often end up that way due to both spirits’ limited understanding of what makes humans tick and to the general “spirit police” role typically taken on by werewolves in this setting. Lots of example cults are provided, along with sample NPCs and plot ideas. Good stuff, this.
Next up is a section on alternate lodges, many of them following an “alternate” creation myth and view of the universe. Some are a bit ho-hum, but some are quite interesting. Not much else I can say here except that it’s a mixed bag and mostly good; the majority of the new Lodges (and “Mots”) are interesting, if quite specialized.
The book finishes off with a treatment on the Bale Hounds, the sort-of replacements for the Black Spiral Dancers of the old Werewolf game. Very useful if you intend to use them in your game, this section provides some tools for making them a bit less black & white villains… though in the end, that’s very much what they are. Some Bale Hound -specific game crunch is provided, which is always nice. I get the feeling that this section ran a bit long compared to the available page count – the font used here is smaller than in the previous sections, which already were in quite compact font. It’s still legible, but the pages are quite crammed with text in places.
In the end, this is a book pretty much purely for GMs who want some new antagonist options and/or some variants on the base mythology.
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).