Vampires and Wolves and Dice, Oh My!
I’ve mentioned more than once that two of my earliest RPGs included Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition. However, I spent my formative years in the 90s and—as a gamer in that time—I also ended up playing in the World of Darkness by White Wolf. I played the Hell out of that game. I made some good friends through it. I even tried—ugh, LARPing—via White Wolf. Now, a new version is out, and I couldn’t resist picking it up and having a look.
Update: Someone sent in a message rather than commenting last night with some corrections or clarifications. I won’t name the individual here, as maybe they have a very good reason for not posting directly. I do want to thank them for their comments. On many points, they’re right and I’ve made some updates. On others, I believe there is some clarification needed, so I’ll be adding those in as well. Keep in mind, I know I don’t know everything (it took me so long to learn that). So, if you see something you want to comment on–even if you tell me I’m wrong–I’m more than happy to have a discussion or make an update as necessary.
Fond and Not So Fond Memories of the World of Darkness
Honestly, of all the games I have played over the years, I probably spent the most time playing in the World of Darkness. Truth be told, most of that was on the Vampire the Masquerade game with Mortals and Mage pulling in a close second.
One of the thoughts that strikes me now, as I write this, was the recent post I did about Pathfinder Second Edition. I spent a LOT of time playing in the World of Darkness, but it was on the story and in the game, not dealing with mechanics. I got to enjoy the game for the important things—the camaraderie, the stories, the creativity—rather than infinite minutia of rules and systems. There are many complaints about how broken the old World of Darkness system is / was. While those complaints may be valid, I never really cared. I just enjoyed the game and, let’s face it, it was quick and easy to pick up.
The World of Darkness games were a refreshing change from most other games of the time. They were relatively well received and easy to come by (remember, we didn’t have Amazon back then). The characters we played were tragically flawed. They were anti-heroes. They were villains. They were monsters. They were saviors. In a way, they were beyond comprehension. They allowed us to throw caution to the wind when it came to playing epic heroes against dastardly villains. The game encouraged those characters to be both the heroes and villains of their own stories. There was a lot of interaction, psychological intrigue, corruption, examination of real-world problems, mysticism, and much more. Plus, let’s face it—the writing, sub-culture, and message of the game was perfect for angsty, rebelling, nerdy teenagers.
One of the things World of Darkness is best known for is their expansive metaplot. There was each of their main books, splat books for so many sects and sub-parts of the game, more than a single series of novels, and so on. People loved these books. Whether you loved or hated the story and the mythos of the World of Darkness, it was at least well put together. In some ways, admittedly, it was derivative. In other ways, it was undeniably creative. A lot of people really enjoyed this setting. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was pretty good. I enjoyed the overarching subplot, descendants of caine, the generations of vampires, princes of cities, and all that jazz. I did not, however, subscribe to the specific plotlines running throughout the books. I didn’t want to play in someone else’s game—even if they were the creators. I wanted to play in my own game. Some people would buy every little thing that came out, memorize all the content, and it became a barrier to entry or even enjoyment for those who did not. I saw the divide between the two camps ruin entire games. Ask me sometime about where “There is no page 36.”
So, simple rules, new types of stories in a kinda cool setting, but they went a bit overboard with it. Also, toward the end of the OWoD, they were putting out so much so fast, the quality began dropping and then seemed to fall completely off the cliff. Around the time Demon: The Fallen (originally, I had mistakenly said Demon: The Reckoning–and boy do I have a story about the actual game, Hunter: The Reckoning. Thanks to our anonymous reader for pointing out my error; it’s been awhile) came out, I was done. An interesting side note: our reader kept referring to CWoD. I had to think about that. Doh! Classic World of Darkness. That should show how long I’ve been out of the system. When NWoD came out, the previous version was called Old World of Darkness, but Classic has apparently supplanted Old over the years.
But, What About the New World of Darkness?
I was excited for the New World of Darkness. These were the first gaming books I ever pre-ordered. The books were pretty, you can’t deny that. Beyond that, they had made some changes to the rule system/ The mechanics nerds can break those changes down mathematically and I guess they were pretty major. Yes, I played and enjoyed those games, but I’ve explained before, the mathematics of systems is not my strong suit.
The quality was higher in these new books. The writing was better than I’d seen from any game publisher in some time. The stories and backgrounds were more original. The content was definitely more mature. I really enjoyed this new World of Darkness. It seems—at least among the gaming circles I deal with—I was in the minority. In particular, I really like the mythology they brought in the Werewolf, but I digress. (Our reader also mentioned he didn’t feel I made it clear enough that NWoD was a whole new storyline from OWoD–I’m still gonna use that term. I thought I had here, but if I hadn’t, there you go. OWoD–or CWoD was an entirely new storyline and different mythology. At the same time where OWoD mythology was pretty much agreed upon in game, NWoD’s mythos was a series of superstitions, lies, coverups, and guesses in game).
So, there was the overall mythos and metaplot, but the game was almost specifically designed to remove the ongoing metaplot made popular in the earlier edition. Okay, maybe that’s reverse—the metaplot running through everything helped make the game popular. Whatever the case, this newer edition of the game did away with that and encouraged people to make the setting their own.
One of the key downsides of the game was how well it was done, actually. These newer games were much more in tune with the monstrous side of the protagonists. Some games, like Mortals and Mage worked well as group games. Other games, like Changeling and Promethean, were not so great for group play. The source material was too dark. The monsters surviving together amongst bigger, meaner monsters, the unknown, and the world as a whole just didn’t get pulled off the same way this time around. The company itself went through some big changes at the time, properties being shifted in terms of ownership, big money coming in but not understanding the product or the fanbase—none of that was good for the games. They fizzled out quietly.
Oh, Right! V20
Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition was one I was looking forward to. I wanted to get back with the old band for V20. Unfortunately, no one I knew was looking in that direction at all. They were still back playing Revised Vampire: The Masquerade. I haven’t taken the time to really read through any of that material yet, so I can’t speak to it and I admittedly left it out of the original post. However, it was pointed out that I skipped it–and, although I knew that, maybe it made sense to explain as much. I’m not saying anything is wrong with V20 or the whole series of 20th anniversary White Wolf books. I simply have no opinion on them at this point.
Vampire: The Masquerade Fifth Edition—What was Old is New Again
So, this new edition of the game came out. Originally, it flew under my radar until I saw (what I considered to be a strange) alliance between Onyx Path and Modiphius. Admittedly, I groaned. I just wasn’t looking forward to what came next. They’re bringing back the old story with the new rules? Ugh. I’m good. When I saw the book at my local shop, I was thinking “wow, that’s a big book, I wonder…”. I also saw that it came with a free PDF; something I wish more games would do. That’s floated around in my head for a few weeks. What can I say? My curiosity finally got the better of me.
Here are some key takeaways from my first run-through of VtM 5E:
- The higher caliber of writing I saw in NWoD is still present. This pleases me. One thing WoD always did was have a creative and well-researched lexicon and stories from a variety of cultures. The writing is good as they interweave the stories of old with the stories of new.
- The didn’t just use the NWoD rules but brought in new ones and made modifications to existing ones as well.
- Character creation is always one of the first areas I look at and it is a bit longer, requires you to weigh some choices more carefully.
- The overall metaplot is one not so neat and tightly defined, but a series of questions, rumors, and legends.
- The full metaplot has returned…much to my chagrin. For those who enjoy it, know that they didn’t come up with an entirely new story or reboot, but built off of the pre-existing stories from OWoD.
- Even with the new game bringing back the old stories, the writers have included parts that encourage players and Storytellers to play in their own little sandbox, but link into the new world. I guess this is a happy medium between the two. If I were to play, though, there’d be a whole lot of discounting on existing metaplot points. That’s just my way, though.
- The new rules they have brought into the system seem to do anything but streamline and simplify. In fact, upon first glance, it looks like they have added more rules and more systems, making the game more complex, particularly for new players.
Now, there is hardly a gaming book I can make it through and totally get on the first review, but this one definitely requires more time. The writing, as I said, is good. It is also a bit longwinded. The organization for rules and systems isn’t like other games. It’s kind of all worked in together, one after the other. There are plenty of examples, but there is a lot to make sense of.
It is odd, because there are a number of things I like and hate about this game at the same time.
Take, for example, the Lore Sheets. They did a pretty poor job of explaining them from what I did read so far in the character creation system. They’re cool, because they build a stronger tie to the world and some background and hook fodder for the PCs. The sheets give them access to some unique abilities as well. That’s all well and good. On the other hand, it’s drawing upon and forcing the existing metaplot into the story. This isn’t to say those lore sheets couldn’t be reworked and customized for a custom world, but as written, they are what they are.
How about this one? Blood gathered in different ways or from individuals in different states. So, drinking for someone who is terrified provides a different “type” of blood than gained when drinking from someone who is angry. There may be a temporary boost, but the real secret sauce here is that leveling up different disciplines (supernatural powers of vampires) requires drinking an increasing amount of the type of blood aligned to those same disciplines. On one hand, that’s a kind of neat story element. On the other hand, does it end up meaning blood accounting and added complication?
As I recall, Blood Potency could once only be gained through Diablerie (a form of vampiric cannibalism, if you will), but that has not been changed to also work with age. Our reader mentioned that I confused Blood Potency and Generation here, but that’s not really the case. In NWoD’s Vampire the Requiem, it was Blood Potency. In OWoD’s Vampire the Masquerade, it specifically calls out “Closely related to clan, your character’s generation defines the potency of her blood and how many steps removed she is from Caine.” So, it was a kind of the same thing. Back then, we called it Blood Pool and it was inextricably connected to generation and definitely worked different. NWoD called it Blood Potency because there was no originator. V5 has definitely pushed the concept even further. I think it’s a good idea on its face, but I wonder if that takes anything away from the game. The Hunger rules are a nice touch, but I again wonder if that, particular when combined with Predator type, might make for another unnecessary system of accounting. Our reader says there is no need for accounting, it just enhances the story. It is mostly written that way, except for this part here: “In order to justify spending experience on Disciplines, your character must feed on blood with the matching type of Resonance. The amount of blood and vessels consumed varies, but by and large it scales with the Discipline rating sought.” So far, that’s the only mention I’ve seen of it potentially requiring some sort of “accounting,” but did I miss something, was it half a thought with the rest left on the the cutting room floor, is it supposed to give some abstract concept over to the hands of the Storyteller? Again, I’m making it through my second reading now and doing so more slowly, so we’ll see.
While there is a lot of material crammed into this 400+ page tome, I feel somethings were not described as well as they could have been when it came to the rules, requiring additional readthroughs. Part of that is because the game is building off mechanics not so widely popular as d20 system games, but not so simple or loose systems as Fate or Apocalypse World. If they would’ve taken the time to explain it like the more tactical role-playing games, it’d probably be twice as long and even harder to read. If they tried glossing over more and leaving more to player and GM interpretation, every table would’ve been its own variation of the game.
Touching on the Core Concept(s) of Vampire the Masquerade Fifth Edition
I mentioned before how this game was a perfect game for angsty teenagers in the 90s. It’s next edition took on a more adult tone. This latest version does the same. It is a game about the punk movement, rebellion, oppression, and so much more. Never be fooled that this game allows us to explore the more monstrous nature of beings—even humanity as a whole.
Monsters do monstrous things. They murder, rape, dominate, and otherwise do things that can make our stomachs turn. There are drugs and sex and even a bit of rock and roll thrown into this game. It is not designed for the faint of heart. It is designed with a message behind it to tackle topics a lot of people don’t want to deal with in their games of fantasy.
You and your group have to decide what your comfortable with. It makes that clear right up front and in other sections of the book. You can totally rip a lot of that stuff out. I did in some games when I was younger for particular groups—it was more like comic book characters with fangs. And, if I were going to play with my kids, that’s exactly what I’d do. I’d also never let them see the book until they are older. Remember the old tagline: A game of personal horror. That’s what it’s meant to be. Vampire the Masquerade is not for everybody and it’s okay if it’s not for you.
More Reading, Thought, and Experimentation with Vampire 5E
I’m going to go back and read and toy with this system a bit. It’s intriguing enough to draw my interest, but the jury is still out. If nothing else, I am looking forward to giving a more in-depth look at Vampire: the Masquerade Fifth Edition. How about you? Have you taken a look at the game? What are your thoughts? Any major cool stuff I left out and need to be sure to have a look at? Any major pitfalls that are awaiting me? At least one inquiring mind wants to know.