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.
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.
Midnight Roads is an expansion book for White Wolf’s “World of Darkness” setting. As such, it’s geared for “normal” (i.e. non-supernatural) PCs, though there is a lot here that will find use in a game featuring nomadic supernatural PCs, too. Promethean comes to mind immediately, of course, but nomadic changelings, werewolves or even vampires are quite possible player character group concepts. Frankly, in many ways this book is more useful for a “nomadic vampires” game than the older “Nomads” Vampire book.
It’s a fairly compact book, like many in the basic WoD series. After some (quite decent) initial fiction, the book starts off with a general look at the history and mythology behind the huge U.S. road & highway network, along with some useful hard data. While that network isn’t really all that old in global terms, there is a vast amount of mythology and urban legends surrounding it – largely due to America’s love affair with cars, in general. The book also looks at other ways of road travel (other than by own car, that is). Hitchhiking, bus travel, etc all get some mention along with some plot hooks.
The mid part of the book delves into rules mechanics, and seems quite decent. There are some new skill uses, and mechanics for both tuning up your own car or sabotaging someone else’s. There are also some coverage of things like car chases, offensive driving, smuggling etc (from a rules mechanics viewpoint). Quite useful, assuming you’re using the WoD ruleset of course.
The last parts of the book cover storytelling, along with a bunch of story/plot ideas and some more fleshed-out scenarios. As most things like this, they are a mixed bunch and will appeal to different people. All scenarios that happen “on the road” must of course handle the question of “well, why don’t the characters just drive away when things go bad?”. The solutions range from the railroady “they can’t, because (whatever)” to the more subtle “they won’t want to, because (something else)”…. or even “by they time they realize they should run, it’s way too late”. Some of the scenario ideas are a bit simplistic, but a few are quite good and creepy.
All in all, a good sourcebook for WoD games (supernatural or not) which intend to spend some time “on the road”. The book gives you some history (only useful for U.S. -based games, though), some useful game mechanics, and a pile of plot & scenario seeds.
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.
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).
Geist: the Sin-Eaters is White Wolf’s latest game in the World of Darkness line. It’s a bit of a mixed bag.
This is a game about death and ghosts, and in the design stage the writers decided to not redo Wraith (or Orpheus). Quite understandable, though I would have loved to see a reincarnation of either of those fantastic games. The path they chose is quite interesting. Here the PCs are people who have died, but have subsequently been brought back to life by a “geist” – which may be a very powerful ghost or spirit, or something else entirely (it’s never 100% made clear). In any case, the result is a hybrid of sorts. The person really is alive (again), this is no revenant or walking corpse. On the other hand, it’s not quite the same person now, there is a supernatural entity (the Geist) entwined with him or her. As a result she’s now a lot tougher, has multiple supernatural abilities, and is somewhat influenced by her Geist’s views.
So far, so good. The idea is fun, and the outlook here is actually quite positive when compared to many death-themed games. The PCs have been given a new lease on life, what do they want to do with it? There are a lot of links to the Mexican Día de los Muertos and carnivals in general – party and enjoy life as long as you can, since one day you’ll die. In fact, the basic PC group is here called a “Krewe”, which is a Mardi Gras carnival word.The subtitle of the game, “the Sin-Eaters”, is a bit of a stretch, but refers to the newfound abilities of the PCs to communicate with the dead and possibly right some wrongs, atone for possible sins of the deceased (or their killer, as may be).
As typical for White Wolf, the PCs are separated into various “splats”, here based on the way they died. I do have to admit it seems pretty pointless here, and even more artificial that usual. As a positive point, the mechanics of “Keys” given here is interesting (if a bit confusing). Each character gets two “keys”, which are mental constructs and have to do with the nature of their Geist. The base Geist powers are altered by these keys, so the same base power will do various different things depending on the Key used on it. It’s a fun mechanic, and provides a lot of variability in the Geist powers while keeping the themes and base power types constant. And talking about those powers… low-power these things are not. In fact, Geists seem to be at the top end of the nWoD power scale; some powers (Boneyards, especially) let the character control areas that can be miles in diameter. These guys can be scary antagonists, added to by the fact that they are damn hard to kill. They’ve already died once, and if they die again they’ll just return – within limits, there is a cost to rebirth. It’s somewhat like the old Mummy game in that regard, having one of these creatures as a enemy can be very bad news. Especially since they normally operate as a group.
So, interesting base premise, some nice new mechanics. What’s the problem?
Well, to start off, there is a strong “well, what do I actually do with this?” problem. Sure, the character has returned from dead, and there are stories around that… but beyond that, what do they do? I didn’t get much inspiration in that regard from the book, especially since the “splats” seem so pointless and artificial. There are no real default antagonists here, it’s a sandbox with a bit too much sand and too few pre-built sandcastles. Also, I did sense some rules mechanics confusion here and there… there were mentions of costs for powers and concepts that later were explained not to have a cost, mention of ghosts sometimes being physical (which seems to contradict stuff in the nWoD core), and small things like that.
In addition, a lot of relevant stuff is just either missing or explained with a stray paragraph. Normally this would not be a problem, you can’t fit everything in a core book and this one already runs long. Here, however, White Wolf has stated that there will only be one expansion book, and that one will detail the Underworld… so apparently a lot of stuff will just stay missing. The most painful omission is the Geists themselves. There is some light discussion on them, but as noted their ultimate nature and origin are left open, and more importantly: they are totally underused. Here we have a supernatural entity fused with a loving human – and that entity is treated mostly like just a source of stats, instead of a separate being with alien motives. Sure, there is some light discussion on the subject, and there is a Synergy score which measures how well the PC and the Geist are “in sync” – but really, there is no solid mechanics for modeling the fact that it’s really a separate being. The GM is just assumed to flesh that part out…. which is damn hard, given the skimpy amount of real info that is given on the Geists, and the very vague nature of their own motivations.
This is a somewhat frustrating game. I can see what they were going for, but as is it’s quite incomplete and more a bunch of missed opportunities. The lack of real mechanics for the Geists themselves is the most galling omission, treating them as just supernatural power batteries is a huge missed opportunity.
That said, this book is worth reading, and these guys would make great NPCs and/or antagonists for pretty much any nWoD game. They are powerful and unusual, which is a nice combo. Also, some of the mechanics are very interesting and somewhat new (for a WoD game). As PCs, though, the GM should be prepared to do quite a bit of work to flesh out the missing stuff. Maybe the upcoming Book of the Dead will fill in some gaps, but I sort of doubt it.
In the early days of Vampire: the Masquerade White Wolf was still trying to figure out the direction of the game – and nowhere is that more apparent than in the early pre-gen adventure modules. While WW adventures have a well-deserved reputation for sucking, these early “gems” really excel in that arena. So, here’s Bloody Hearts: Diablerie Britain, a sucktastic adventure “module” which continues in the hallowed footsteps of Awakening: Diablerie Mexico.
Well, the good parts first. It’s better than Diablerie: Mexico (though most things are). Instead of just being a high-level vampiric dungeon crawl, this one is only partly a high-level vampiric dungeon crawl. The other part contains some actually quite interesting NPCs, including the “target” Methuselah. The NPCs are mostly good and could easily be used to good effect elsewhere, and the Methuselah backstory is pretty cool and a bit unusual.
Then the bad. Well, first off, the thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The PCs are expected to be Archons in service to a Justicar (an example one is provided here)… and then they are expected to suddenly decide to go to the U.K. and diablerize an ancient vampire, hidden deep underground. Wtf? Sure, a McGuffin is provided to drive this “plot”… but that doesn’t help all that much. In addition, while this is ostensibly set partly in the U.K. (with a geographically-challenged map in good old WW tradition), there is pretty much nothing British about the whole thing. It could be called Frozen Hearts: Diablerie Greenland just as easily, with minimal changes. There is some good in this, of course: this can be relocated to where ever easily, and at least WW doesn’t fuck up non-U.S. locations in their typical fashion since those locations are scarcely even mentioned here.
To top things off, there’s the dungeon crawl. It has a few interesting bits, but mostly consists of stupid “magic traps” and other things that so do not belong in Vampire. And in the end, the PCs get to fight a Methuselah. Whee.
So. Crap. But with some redeeming qualities, namely some nice NPCs that can be repurposed. In addition, it’s fun to spot the characters and items than have since been made into VTES cards. This book gives us Madame Guil, Hafsa the Watcher, and the Sword of Nul (renamed to “Sword of Nuln” in VTES for some weird reason), among others.
The Horror Recognition Guide is a weird book. In a very good way. It’s a combination of short story collection, an idea source for Hunter: the Vigil GMs, and (possibly) an in-game prop – assuming you print out / photocopy pages from it as handouts. Basically, it’s a collection of 16 short stories, each detailing an encounter with… something, by various hunter groups.
The stories are generally quite good, with the best of them being very creepy. Some work better than others (the weird and intricate Gnosopharm is probably the best of the lot), but that’s normal for a short story compilation. These aren’t quite traditional stories as such, being told via in-game journal entries, email clips and such. You could say that this is a book-size collection of the type of fiction that the old Hunter game was full of. If you liked that, you’ll like this. Likewise, if you can’t stand in-game fiction, you probably won’t like this too much. I’d say that the quality here it higher than your normal rpg book intro fiction, though.
I really liked this book, and it highlights one of the strengths of the new WoD: instead of easily identifiable groups of supernaturals like the old WoD, here we have a lot of just plain weird shit, creatures that defy easy categorization. That also makes these stories work so well, since you’re usually never quite sure (as a reader) of what exactly is going on. Well, sometimes you are, some of the tales are clearer than others (assuming you know something of the new WoD)…. but some are just plain strange and creepy.
There are no stats of any sort in this book, and I think that is a very good thing. It lets you read this as “just” a book of modern horror short stories without stumbling across game crunch, and it also lets you use ideas here without potential over-inquisitive players getting much info about what they are facing. I’m sure that some people will find this book worthless because of that lack of crunch, but I think it’s a strong plus point here.
White Wolf does realize that some people would like game stats for this stuff, so there is a PDF supplement available called Collection of Horrors which contains stats for some of these, and some additional critters. I haven’t read that one yet, but I’ve heard praise about it. You can also buy just the PDF for the one specific creature you want, which is very nice.
As I said, I really liked this book, and wish White Wolf would do more of this sort of thing. Of course, I’m one of those weird people who actually like rpg fiction (as long as it’s decently written), so your mileage may well vary.