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Blood Gods Change The Landscape of Vampire The Masquerade

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As a long time fan and contributor to Vampire: The Masquerade, I must admit that the launch of fifth edition has been mixed. It’s been cool to see folks return to the game thanks to the success of things like L.A. By Night and enjoy many of the changes to the rules but I also was upset by cringeworthy parts of the early books and some of the directions taken by the new edition’s storylines. I was resistant to all the changes, but then Onyx Path’s new edition of Chicago By Night brought me around to reevaluate the state of Vampire: The Masquerade. The book struck an excellent balance between honoring the history of the game line while highlighting changes and interesting stories to tell moving forward. Onyx Path sent their latest big release, Cults of the Blood Gods, to me. Did they maintain the same balance of history and possibility? Let’s descend into the darkness and see.

Cults of the Blood Gods is a 276 book developed by Matthew Dawkins with contributions by Dale Andrade, Jacqueline Bryk, Jacob Burgess, John Burke, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Rachel Cole, Steffie De Vaan, Emiliy Griggs, Mike F. Tomasek Jr., Eddy Webb and Rachel Wilkinson. I still dislike the current layout of the line, but Onyx Path cleans up the idea with solid art and less layout choices that make the book look like a fashion magazine. The opening fiction details various members of the Clan of Death - a.k.a. Cappadocians, Giovanni, Harbingers of Skulls and so on - sitting around a feast table working on their differences. It foreshadows the changes to come as all these bloodlines have come together underneath a new name: The Hecata.

Going into the various changes to the Clans and sects of Vampire: The Masquerade Fifth Edition is a job too big for this article. While I enjoy getting paid by the word, I will summarize instead: many of the elders are off the board, the Clans have been reshuffled into various sects, the Sabbat has mysteriously vanished (until they get their book, it seems) and the playing field has been reset to something more akin to the early World of Darkness or the more factional setup of Vampire: The Requiem.

Without the two-party system of the Camarilla and the Sabbat vying for control of various cities, blood cults have risen to fill the void. The book details several of these cults ranging from large cults that span different cities, to local concerns, to individual vampires who use their blood to control mortals. Many of the larger cults are religious in nature worshiping various elder vampires or legendary figures like Lillith. There are also newer ideas, such as a cult experimenting with a hallucinogenic drug made from Vitae that access the memories and personalities of the Kindred from which the drug is made. Some mortal cults are included too, including one that is a false front by the government vampire hunters called the Second Inquisition trying to draw out vampires investigating this Totally Real ancient vampire advertising on YouTube.

What really struck me about these cults were how many of them were about faith in a higher, though usually darker power. For a game steeped in Gothic tradition and awash in the imagery of cathedrals and gargoyles Vampire has only ever seemed interested in religion as a tool against vampires. It makes sense for Kindred to turn to faith as their other institutions fail. It’s what many humans do, too. Each of these cults also has Convictions that a follower might take as their own. Convictions replace the Hierarchy of Sins of earlier editions by shifting each Kindred into a personal code of honor. It makes it easy for players who need to choose a Conviction to take one of these and it distills the moral elements of each belief system into a digestible thing that Storytellers can grasp quickly. It also means that the same members of a cult focus on different parts of their beliefs, which can bring them into conflict more easily.

The Hecata are the largest cult in the book as half-Clan, half sect. The various necromantic clans and bloodlines have buried their hatchets and hugged out their differences to come together under this same. The ghosts that Augustus Giovanni had been stashing as part of their big ritual are loose and angry, plus there are rumors that the Camarilla may break their promise not to hunt necromancers. So, for now, these bloodlines now exist under this old/new name.

The care that the writers put into figuring out how to get the Giovanni of old to the Hecata of now is one of the best parts of this book. Many of the other clans went through similar changes and the reasons why were quickly summarized at best and brushed off at worst. The forced alliance here gives Storytellers the option of pushing forward with the Hecata as a new power or, for fans of the old material, diving into stories about how old rivalries die hard.

The most interesting mechanic element in the book out of all the new Discipline powers and such are Bloodlines and Loresheets. Loresheets are ways for a character to connect to the larger Vampire story (and also a good way to get the short version of a plot point for fans of the game). This book recasts bloodlines as a special kind of Loresheet that helps retain the unique element of a smaller bloodline like the Samedi. This method is a great way to get players of smaller bloodlines like Gargoyles or Daughters of Cacophony back into the game.

Cults Of The Blood Gods continues Onyx Path’s excellent Vampire The Masquerade Fifth Edition and is recommended for fans of any version of the game.

If you found this review entertaining or informative, please consider using the affiliate links to purchase the book. Thank you for supporting your favorite writers.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland







willrali

Explorer
V5 is a great game with a lot of scope for a good time. Plays very fast. My problem has been with its players, many of whom are much more interested in its social hierarchies than in the viscera of being an actual vampire. Why not just play Goth Gossip Girl, the RPG?

It doesn't help that the game is full of political titles that mirror your local college's Dark Ages club.
 


V5 is a great game with a lot of scope for a good time. Plays very fast. My problem has been with its players, many of whom are much more interested in its social hierarchies than in the viscera of being an actual vampire. Why not just play Goth Gossip Girl, the RPG?

It doesn't help that the game is full of political titles that mirror your local college's Dark Ages club.
VtM has largely been about social status since its inception, when it wasn't about katana-wielding proto-Matrix extras in trenchcoats and mirror shades. If you want a grisly game about the horror of vampiric life, you're probably better off with another system that doesn't put so much focus on social climbing. At this point, I don't think much of the VtM audience makes any pretense that that's what they're looking for from the game.

(For the record, my favorite classic VtM book is Time of the Thin-Blooded, so I'm right there with you.)
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I've been interested in getting into Vampire for almost a year. I hesitated between the V20 and V5 and never have I seen such a divided fanbase. Half of what I found were saying that V5 was irredeemable and half that it finally streamlined the mechanics and made the game playable.

I would have probably dived into V5 if it wasn't for the aforementioned problems and editing decisions that plagued its launch. I've eyed the books at my local gamestores, but I never found any way of seeing what printing the books are and if they were new printings. And with the issues of external White Wolf, internal White Wolf, Modiphius, Onyx Path all working on it at some point, I never managed to get some support regarding that question.

Communication and information about V5 have been really lacking. It's hard to find information online.
 

I think it depends on what you want. Each branch of the game has different things it accomplishes and, unfortunately, only about a third of the player base. For myself, I'd go with Vampire: The Requiem, which I suspect is now the smallest branch, unfortunately.
 

robowieland

Explorer
If you want to dive into the epic, sprawling timeline of the original WoD, I think V20 is the best fit.

If you don't care about that stuff but still want to use the framework of those clans and organizations, go with V5.

If you want to roll your own setup with your own factions, use Requiem.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
VtM has largely been about social status since its inception, when it wasn't about katana-wielding proto-Matrix extras in trenchcoats and mirror shades. If you want a grisly game about the horror of vampiric life, you're probably better off with another system that doesn't put so much focus on social climbing. At this point, I don't think much of the VtM audience makes any pretense that that's what they're looking for from the game.

(For the record, my favorite classic VtM book is Time of the Thin-Blooded, so I'm right there with you.)

I think part of the horror of the game derives from the social politics. In the default game, you are Neonates who are largely put upon and manipulated by vampires of higher social rank and experience, who act as their antagonists. This is as well as the grisly aspects of living a vampiric existence - hunting, feeding off blood, existential angst, etc. As the tagline states: "A game of personal and political horror".

I've been interested in getting into Vampire for almost a year. I hesitated between the V20 and V5 and never have I seen such a divided fanbase. Half of what I found were saying that V5 was irredeemable and half that it finally streamlined the mechanics and made the game playable.

I would have probably dived into V5 if it wasn't for the aforementioned problems and editing decisions that plagued its launch. I've eyed the books at my local gamestores, but I never found any way of seeing what printing the books are and if they were new printings. And with the issues of external White Wolf, internal White Wolf, Modiphius, Onyx Path all working on it at some point, I never managed to get some support regarding that question.

Communication and information about V5 have been really lacking. It's hard to find information online.

If you are looking for the new printing, then look for an indication that it was the one developed by Modiphius directly. Mostly, the difference is just in 'Mature Audience' warnings and an essay about consent in gaming though.

The split in the gaming community has been palpable, but is fading slightly. The best analogy I have for V20 is that it is like a 'Greatest Hits’ album, whereas V5 was an attempt to recalibrate the original game to a 21st century setting. It is worth noting that V20 was never made as a general retail release, it was a limited release edition and was supplementary supported through Kickstarter campaigns in the main. V5 was the first new edition of Vampire: The Masquerade since the 1990s to be directly distributed through traditional retail supply chains.

The main points of contention, really, have been that V5 attempts to curtail the drift to urban power fantasy gaming, and hone in more on the horror. The mechanics around Hunger and Compulsions are novel to the 5th edition, and are cutting edge design by any standards, but they have always been central themes in the game through all previous editions, without much mechanical structure. The setting material was pruned back to try to increase accessibility for new players, but also via the meta plot developments, and the new style presentation is jarring for some. V20 didn’t really have a meta plot, and it’s style is more or less the same as 1998’s VTM Revised, as it was more a compilation of past material. For some, V5 is a return to the origins of the game. For others, V5 is a departure from previous editions’ development of the game.

There has also been a lot of confusion about who is publishing V5. The current situation is that development of the game is back with a remodeled White Wolf, as a sub-department of Paradox Entertainment. The distribution of the game is with Renegade Game Studios, which is also connected with Hunter’s Entertainment who are also developing Werewolf: The Apocalypse 5th.

Modiphius used to be the distributer, then took over as a licensee when the first V5 team of White Wolf (for Paradox) dissolved after controversy. They re-edited/re-released the core rules and supplements for Camarilla and Anarchs, released one other full Chronicle book set in London and a Starter set that only made it to PDF, and have since stopped producing books after losing/letting go the license. I think V5 was a commercial success for Modiphius, nevertheless, as it managed to make the icv2 Top 5 for three quarters in a row during their time.

There are plans to have new supplements released directly from the new White Wolf team, including a book on The Sabbat, and there has been a free Vampire Companion release to update/clarify a few rules and re-introduce the remaining Clans. However, most supplements to date have come from The Onyx Path - including Chicago By Night and Cults of The Blood Gods - which is a company formed from former employees/writers of old White Wolf and also produce supplements under license from White Wolf/Paradox, as they used to for V20.

It is complicated, yet one hopes the line is starting to get some stability back again. It is probably worth noting that Paradox's main interest in the IP is probably still with video games - which are still being developed and released.
 
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I hesitated between the V20 and V5 and never have I seen such a divided fanbase.
Well from what I've read from various people online, if you do V20, you want to use the supposedly streamlined combat rules from Dark Ages V20 to speed up combat.

V20 is supposed to be a "greatest hits" version of the Old World of Darkness's Vampire the Masquerade. If you like that more than New World of Darkness AND aren't too big on how things are in V5, its your best bet. Some "pre" V5 ideas/notions, supposedly, are in the Beckett's Jyhad Diary supplement for V20.

V5 tries to resetish everything while getting rid of the notion of Gehenna being the big bad meta boogie man in the background. Also they pretty much removed Elders and the Sabbat via plot reasons as an attempt to I guess "even the playing field" with the PCs and the idea of their actions being rendered "moot" via the named characters of the series. And a number of fans weren't exactly too happy with the removal of the Sabbat and Elders. A lot of people don't like the "Cos-player" art direction that V5 seems to have taken. *although I'll admit that I DO like the Carmillia Book's cover with the vampire chick where the black bouquet of roses as face covering.

Then again, you can be weird like me and use a combination of Old World of Darkness lore+V5 Lore/Terms while using the V20 Mechanics.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Well from what I've read from various people online, if you do V20, you want to use the supposedly streamlined combat rules from Dark Ages V20 to speed up combat.

V20 is supposed to be a "greatest hits" version of the Old World of Darkness's Vampire the Masquerade. If you like that more than New World of Darkness AND aren't too big on how things are in V5, its your best bet. Some "pre" V5 ideas/notions, supposedly, are in the Beckett's Jyhad Diary supplement for V20.

V5 tries to resetish everything while getting rid of the notion of Gehenna being the big bad meta boogie man in the background. Also they pretty much removed Elders and the Sabbat via plot reasons as an attempt to I guess "even the playing field" with the PCs and the idea of their actions being rendered "moot" via the named characters of the series. And a number of fans weren't exactly too happy with the removal of the Sabbat and Elders. A lot of people don't like the "Cos-player" art direction that V5 seems to have taken. *although I'll admit that I DO like the Carmillia Book's cover with the vampire chick where the black bouquet of roses as face covering.

Then again, you can be weird like me and use a combination of Old World of Darkness lore+V5 Lore/Terms while using the V20 Mechanics.
I don't really have a preference per say. Remember that I never have played it. I simply went online and did some research and half of what I found said that V5 was terrible and didn't match what Vampire was about and half that said that V20 was unplayable and bloated. So, I held back my purchase. But I indeed will probably go weird and get V5 because its just what's available now and tweak some mechanics if I dislike it.

I still have the issue of identifying the printing and finding some clear list of erratas and changes.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
I don't really have a preference per say. Remember that I never have played it. I simply went online and did some research and half of what I found said that V5 was terrible and didn't match what Vampire was about and half that said that V20 was unplayable and bloated. So, I held back my purchase. But I indeed will probably go weird and get V5 because its just what's available now and tweak some mechanics if I dislike it.

I still have the issue of identifying the printing and finding some clear list of erratas and changes.
List of errata here: https://i.4pcdn.org/tg/1535922367380.pdf

Honestly, the changes are not major. There were more significant changes made with the Vampire Companion, which have yet to be incorporated into the core rules. That is available for free on the www.worldofdarkness.com site if you register.

V20 has inherited a few systems that are clunky (combat) or vague (all the systems pertaining to Humanity and personal drives), and they catalogue all the powers, Clans and bloodlines that have ever been in the game (ie the bloat). V5 has more precise and purposefully designed mechanics, especially pertaining to representing vampiric Hunger, and condenses the power lists and character options. V5 was written in consultation with the original designer of VTM and the WoD, Mark Rein-Hagen, which V20 wasn’t, in fact - so it does match what the original Vampire was about.

Incidentally, World of Darkness is coming to TV: https://variety.com/2021/film/news/world-of-darkness-eric-heisserer-christine-boyland-vampire-werewolf-1234961512/?fbclid=IwAR3UmJmBsSrxAXrb6MtW4_c5SvJuGQr54yw5dEfnj7RQEib36HPEbaStVLo
 
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VtM has largely been about social status since its inception, when it wasn't about katana-wielding proto-Matrix extras in trenchcoats and mirror shades. If you want a grisly game about the horror of vampiric life, you're probably better off with another system that doesn't put so much focus on social climbing. At this point, I don't think much of the VtM audience makes any pretense that that's what they're looking for from the game.

(For the record, my favorite classic VtM book is Time of the Thin-Blooded, so I'm right there with you.)
VtM Revised was an attempt to "force" Vampire groups to "comply" with the approach you're describing - i.e. the grisly horror of vampire life as the central focus (even making lore changes to up the "body horror" factor significantly). The trouble is, unlike previous VtMs, where that was merely part of the deal, Revised ran headlong against the zeitgeist instead of surfing it. As such Revised seemed to be pretty unpopular with VtM groups, at least the ones I knew, online and off, with the exception of those who already focused on body horror, which seemed to be a fairly small minority (ballpark 20% tops). Time of Thin Blood etc. reinforced this approach.

I had mixed feelings myself. I was simultaneously impressed by some of what they were doing, and put off because it felt like they were really trying to force a specific play-style on a game which had succeeded through having a much broader appeal (I suspect some D&D players felt similarly with 4E). Sales seemed to reflect this mixed feeling. I think trying to make that vibe the primary one kind of doomed the oWoD, because it was so hard against zeitgeist (just look at the movies of that era, and it's practically trenchcoats and katanas WoD on-screen). Also pushing the apocalyptic angle really stopped seeming relevant post-2001 (ironically it feels a little more relevant now).

I actually really like VtR though. It's the only nuWoD game I'd see as genuinely both understanding the previous game and doing it's own really cool thing whilst incorporating ideas from it. I wouldn't want to run it, but I'm disappointed that I never got to play it - it also felt like it found a much better balance between body horror, psychological horror, political intrigue, and naruto-running at people with katanas than any other Vampire.
 

willrali

Explorer
Requiem was and is a really, really good game. The second edition is truly one of the best RPGs I've ever played. Its main issue, as someone else pointed out, is a lack of players.

And if anyone is on the fence with V5, just take the plunge. Another really great game. If you're keen for all that kooky, fun, quasi-Illuminati shadow conspiracy theory lore, then V20 is the way to go.

But in my personal experience, the Vampire experience primarily comes down to the group. Unfortunately for me, my predominant experience with the game is having my character scrabbling on the cold hard ground for months and months of game nights, grinding out one XP at a time. All while being dominated by some Big Boss, who the GM seems to enjoy playing just a little too much, and who sounds like the gauche King of your local LARP club. You know the type.

The other players seemed a-OK with that, presumably on the promise that sometime in the future they might get to dominate someone and talk like that? God knows. Meanwhile, when I wanted to play out hunting down some poor sap to eat him, they all got squicked out and that was fast-forwarded. I gave up and went to play Exalted.
 

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