3 out of 5 rating for Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition
So, I apparently screwed up on my review, so here it is again...
I’ve been a long-standing fan of White Wolf and their Storyteller system since the early 90’s. Since then, there have been numerous iterations of their various game systems that both improved the system overall and made the meta-plot more convoluted.
The same remains true for the newest iteration of the Storyteller system, showcased in Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition.
I will follow the same format I’ve seen across the interwebz and give a star for each of the following:
1 star for Artwork: How pretty is the book? Does it make me want to open it and look at all the neat pictures?
1 star for Content: Fluff vs. Crunch. Does it provide enough information for me to run a campaign set in the world?
1 star for Readability: How easy is it to follow the flow of the book? Do I have to flip between various sections to understand what I’m reading?
1 star for Setting: Does the book add to the lore for the world? Does it make me want to play inside this world?
1 star for Quality: Is it well written? How well is it put together? This is more subjective
So, let’s start…
The open fiction(s) are a bit all over the place. First of all, the give little context to what it means to be a vampire in the modern nights. Secondly, the way they are scattered on the pages is both distracting and detracts from the narrative (imo). While I understand the intent (the publishers wanted to present the opening fiction(s) as notes and letters from various journals/vampires/inquisitions), it does not help draw you in to the world.
Overall: 2 stars
Chapter 1: Concepts
This is the introduction to the game, detailing the Vampiric condition and what it is like to be a vampire roaming the streets. There are some good tidbits here, detailing what most neonates do from night to night and giving a brief overview of what the Storyteller and the Troupe do during the game. There are several full-page spreads that are simply stunning, but I do wish that they would have reduced the number of these to add more fluff to the setting.
Overall: 3 stars
Chapter 2: Kindred Society
Here we begin delving into the vampiric history. There’s a (very) brief discussion of the legend of the first vampire, a (very) brief description of the Camarilla in the modern nights, what the six traditions are and what the Masquerade is, what the Anarch movement is…and then a discussion of fashion? What? Then we delve into what vampire society is doing in the modern nights and a (very) brief overview of the Second Inquisition. The artwork is again stunning, but why have several full-page and half-page pieces of art when you can expand on the story more? What’s the point of having a complete page devoted to vampire fashion?
Overall: 2 stars
Chapter 3: Clans
Here’s where the meat of the book begins. This chapter discusses the 7 main vampire clans (excluding the Sabbat and the independent clans…there is little to no discussion at all regarding the Sabbat anywhere in the book), and the thin-bloods. The descriptions of the various clans are quite adequate, detailing who is usually embraced into that particular clan and why, their role in vampiric society, and what their clan weakness (or Bane) is. In the middle of each clan description is a full page workup of what members of these clans might look like and what they like to wear (really?). Again, the artwork is nice, but why spend several full-pages of fashion when you can add more to the lore and story?
Overall: 3 stars
Chapter 4: Rules
And finally, we get to the crunch. This chapter discusses this new iteration of the core of the Storyteller system, delving into actions, dice pools, when and how to do rolls, etc. The first thing I’ve noticed is that this out-of-the-box system is very streamlined (something I very much like) and gives a strong emphasis on cooperative storytelling. There are some rules I’m not 100% in agreement with, but these can be modified (discussed in a later chapter) how the storyteller/troupe sees fit. The artwork here is quite nice and evocative, and while there are several full-page spreads, they aren’t unnecessary.
Overall: 4 stars
Chapter 5: Characters
I think that this is probably one of the better chapters in the book. This gives a very in-depth breakdown of the character creation process and strongly encourages cooperative storytelling regarding the prelude, the relationship map, and how to set things like Chronicle Tenets. In other words, it has a great set of guidelines on how to conceive and really think about your character and what type of story you want to be a part of. I do wish they would have given a little bit more on how to develop good Convictions (your personal morality), but that’s only a minor quibble.
Overall: 5 stars
Chapter 6: Vampires
This section delves into the new Hunger mechanic and how it affects your character. At first, I really didn’t like the mechanic. I mean, the Blood Pool was working fine, so why change it? But the more I read about it and think about it, the more I’m beginning to like the system…I’d still like to see it in play, however.
So, the hunger mechanic is thus:
You have 5 levels (well, technically 6 levels if you count Hunger 0). Each time you use blood to power a discipline, heal, give yourself the Blush of Life, or increase attributes with blood (called Rousing the Blood), you have to make a check. This check is a single d10. On a 6 or higher, your Hunger does not increase, whereas on a 5 or less, it increases. What does this mean? It means you now replace any dice in your dice pools with a number of Hunger dice equal to your current hunger. Now, whenever you perform checks, any of your Hunger dice that come up as a 1 or a 0 can have a detrimental effect. If you roll a 1 on your hunger dice and the check fails, it’s a bestial failure and could trigger compulsions according to your clan weakness. If you roll a critical success with your Hunger dice, it becomes a messy critical. This means you succeed, but something bad happens (you messily rip out the throat of your opponent, possibly incurring a Masquerade breach).
So, what I’m enjoying about this system is that it makes Hunger and the Beast a more active participant in the chronicle. The more you hunger, the greater your chance of something bad happening. It brings more to the forefront the personal horror of being a predator.
Overall rating: 4 stars
Chapter 7: You are what you eat
This chapter deals with Resonance in the blood. Certain people that have certain moods can flavor the blood and create additional effects upon the one drinking it. I don’t 100% understand it right now, but it does seem like an interesting concept, though I think the execution could use a bit of clarification. Another legitimate complaint; Resonance can tie in to Disciplines with certain moods or Resonances adding bonuses to Disciplines. But only Animal blood can affect Animalism and Protean. The book states that Animal blood does not contain Resonance.
But oh, what they did with Diablerie. It was always somewhat dangerous in previous editions (triggering a loss of Humanity), but now it’s even more of a risk. Once the Diablerie is complete, if the Vampire you ate was of a lower generation than you, then you have a chance to lose a point of Humanity for every generation difference between you and the victim (there’s a roll involved, so you don’t automatically lose it). If this drops your Humanity to 0, well then you victim now has a nice, new body to inhabit...
Humanity looks similar to how it did in previous editions, but ties in with a new mechanic called Stains. These are tracked just like damage, and if you get more stains than your current Humanity, you get some pretty hefty penalties. Then, at the end of the session, you have to make a check to feel remorse. If you are successful, you don’t lose Humanity.
Overall rating: 4 stars
Chapter 8: Disciplines
This chapter is a bit of a disappointment to me. Many of the disciplines are familiar, but they’ve split the powers within each level of discipline to do different things. Some of these make sense. Others make no sense.
For example…they’ve made Dementation (the signature discipline of Malkavians) into a sub-power of Dominate. What?
These are more for the advanced storytellers and discuss ways to add further realism or arbitrate certain actions/scenes with fewer rolls. This also deals with Hunting, Memoriam, etc.
The City chapter does a good job of helping the Storyteller create a believable and breathing city.
The Chronicles chapter discusses how to develop the theme for your chronicle and gives several examples to help flesh out the story you want to tell
Rating: 3 stars
The rest of the book discusses Tools for the Storyteller. Then, finally, it gives the Storyteller several Loresheets that players can use to add background and story to their characters. I’ll discuss those in a moment.
I really like some of the things they’ve done with the system, and I appreciate the fact that they are trying to open the game up for a new generation of players (pun not intended). Removing Elders and lessening the influence of the Camarilla in the streets allows for a different type of chronicle with less politics and more survival. This is a good thing, in my opinion.
However, where the book falls short is the almost complete lack of lore. Vampire has a very rich and fascinating backstory that is only barely touched on in this book. What has happened since the Week of Nightmares? Why did Theo Bell ROFLStomp Hardestadt at the Convention of Prague? What is the Beckoning that is pulling all of the elders away from their cities? Where is the Sabbat? What is the Gehenna War? None of these are mentioned beyond mentioning them. Going back to the Loresheets, this is a glaring omission in that these loresheets provide no context without having those questions answered. Sure, I'm sure they will come in later supplements, but they could have cut some of the artwork and easily added a good 10 pages of back-story for the Storyteller.
So, my review is this: It’s a really good book with interesting ideas and concepts that lacks any blood (teehee) to give it life.
3 out of 5 rating for Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition
Vampire Fifth Edition is better than I thought. My expectations were low and I was regularly pleasantly surprised. The mechanics are good, the custom dice are a nice option, Hunger has a contest presence without interfering with the game, and the system retains Humanity as a sliding moral scale that separates feral vampires from those that manage to retain their compassion. Throughout my reading of the book I had to fight the urge to start planning a campaign and stifle a desire to run another game in my already stretched free time. And if I do return to the World of Darkness, I might very well pull much of the rules and mechanics from this volume. Additionally, while there were concerns that the game might be pro-fascist and made use of “Nazi dog whistles” and iconography/ symbolism of hatred, the game doesn’t seem to represent that as a whole. There’s some inelegant passages, but in general the game just seems to be clumsily trying to be edgy and topical rather than openly pro-fascism or pro-hate. Which, frankly, is probably pretty standard for the game: I doubt Second Edition Revised would hold up well upon rereading and will likely have similar instances of forced maturity and R-rated scenes for the sake of being “adult”. Furthermore, Vampire the Masquerade has always had some uncomfortable sexual violence themes and aspects of assault, domination, and power fantasies. This game addresses these pretty plainly, while offering tools to make the game comfortable without glossing over those aspects, pretending they don’t exist, or just shifting the responsibility to the gamemaster. But… This is not a book for the uninitiated. This is not a book for someone who played a couple games of Vampire in college a decade ago, heard about a new edition, and wants to start again. This is a foundation to update the mechanics found in an existing library of Vampire the Masquerade books. If you’ve never played Vampire before, this book will likely confuse you and give you a fraction of the tools you need to actually run the game. Despite being a hefty 400+ pages, this book feels woefully incomplete. Accessories and expansions are not only expected and a bonus, but required. Clans are absent, disciplines are missing, NPCs are limited, and lore is not present. Especially compared with earlier editions, this book seems lacking and detail-anemic. Somehow, this book is less comprehensive than 2nd Edition Revised, despite having over a hundred additional pages! This is annoying at the best of times, but is much more problematic when said past editions are easily available online. Unless you’re just starting a new game building upon lore you already know, you’re much better off grabbing a Print on Demand copy of Vampire 20th Anniversary from Drive-Thru RPG. Or hunting down used copies of World of Darkness and Vampire the Requiem from eBay, Amazon, or NobleKnight.com. While mechanics might be less tight and the world less contemporary, the book will at least seem moderately complete and the lore more accessible.