Death and Damnation is a Wraith short story collection, related to the Mage collection “Truth Until Paradox”. Like that book, this also takes place in San Francisco at a certain point in time in the World of Darkness storyline. Also like that book, this one isn’t very good and is mostly of interest to Wraith and World of Darkness metaplot fans. There are a couple of interesting stories, and a few with nice ideas that the execution doesn’t quite manage to pull off. Unfortunately, the main bulk is just barely worth reading.
Most of the stories involve someone just having died, and encountering the world of Wraith. Bizarrely, most of the stories are set in the “skinlands” and not the Underworld where the game itself mostly takes places. We only get a few rare glimpses of Stygia, the complex politics within, the Ferrymen, or most of that stuff. At least one story uses the Tempest at least, and does it fairly well, but all too many of the stories are… very mundane, for a game set in byzantine and ancient world of the dead.
Skip this one unless you’re a Wraith fan, and even then don’t expect much.
Mirrors is a system tweaking toolkit for the new World of Darkness. Whole generally regarded in a positive light, there are lots of things about the new core rules set that people love to gripe about (the morality rules, the lack of a system for insanity, the Vice/Virtue breakdown, etc). This book attempts to fix that, and provide a huge pile of extra options to boot. We also get setting tweaks: how to use the system to run a historical, or scifi, or fantasy game (with example game world outlines provided). There are also lots of fun “end of the world” scenarios, with suggested rule set tweaks. Most of these setting tweaks have to do with modifying the skill set to more fit in with a given genre, but they also include some extra rules options.
While I still wouldn’t use nWoD as a “generic” rule set, this book gives some advice on how to do something in that direction. It also goes into the design assumptions and goals behind the system, and how to (and how not to) tweak the thing to do other things. Some ideas I liked, some I didn’t, but that’s quite normal for a tweaking toolkit like this. This isn’t one new variant of nWoD, it’s a big pile of extra options that should each be considered separately. Variant character creation also gets some love, with general point-buy outside the 5/4/3 system discussed. We also get “Extraordinary Mortals”, a new template to give nWoD something like Exalted’s “Heroic Mortals”, so you could design NPCs (or even PCs) to model a Sherlock Holmes (for example) – someone who is indisputably special, but has no specific supernatural abilities.
It’s a big book, with lots of stuff. Like the book’s title says, it’s an attempt to “mirror” the nWoD ruleset into different genres. I can’t say how well it succeeds, since many of the rules tweaks have to be tried out in practice to see if they work, but at least the book tries very hard. Anyone using nWoD to run pretty much any game should get some mileage out of this book. Unless, of course, they are 100% happy with how the system works as written, in which case: rock on.
Inferno takes a look at demons in the new World of Darkness. These are very different in most ways from “demons” in the traditional sense, and this also has nothing to do with the game “Demon” in the old WoD. This is not based on Judeo-Christian mythology in any way, the creatures described here are spirits of sorts, which just happen to take certain forms and have certain common characteristics. They may or may not come from a “Hell”, but that is never described… though it’s apparenly a place the entities want to escape from. The “demons” here are tied in with Sins (Vices) in the game mechanics; I’m of two minds about this, one one hand it’s a handy mechanical tool, on the other hand I’m not too wild about the whole Virtue/Vice thing in the new WoD.
Anyway, the book posits a group of spirit-like entities which love to tempt people, make deals with them, and sometimes posses them. The mechanical support is very nice here, you’re given a lot of mechanics on how the whole thing works, and what both parties get out of the deals (almost always, the demon comes out the winner). Of especial note are the rules for “Possessed” characters, people who have made pacts with demons. They gain strange powers, but are of course damned in their own way. A lot of interesting and new stuff here, tools for throwing weird antagonists at your PCs… and hey, if a PC wants to make a deal with a demon, this book gives a lot of framework help for that. There is also a “bestiary” or sorts on the main classes of demons; how they work, what their motivations are, and of course stats.
It’s a good book, assuming you don’t expect it to be something it’s not. It’s a book about demon-like beings for the new WoD, it’s not about “traditional” demons in the Judeo-Christian sense (though these creatures absolutely love posing as such, or as angels, or whatever works). It gives GMs some new creatures to play around with, and a way of resolving the situation if the PCs really want to consort with demons. As noted, there is no description of “Hell” (as in ‘the place these creatures come from’), it’s just assumed to be an alien realm and one the creatures want to leave when given the opportunity. Is it linked to the Abyss (via Mage)? Maybe. Are these “just” extremely strong spirits (via Werewolf)? Maybe. Ultimately, it’s up the GM, and fits in with the new WoD’s intention of making things harder to classify and pin down exactly. Where the old WoD had exactly defined supernatural splats, the new WoD is a lot more… murky by design. This, I think, is a good thing.
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.
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).