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.
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