In the world of darkness your character may come equipped with fangs, claws, immense strength or dark sorceries with which to engage in combat, but there will always come that time when the weapons and equipment you carry are going to save your life (or unlife as the case may be). This book porports to provide all the supplies that you might need.
It starts with an evocative description of a gunfight when some cops investigating a murder have a run-in with someone decidedly more than human, demonstrating both the strengths and weaknesses of gunplay in the World of Darkness. Then, the Introduction talks about the roles of equipment and weapons - not as a substitute for your own intelligence and skills, but as an adjunct to them. Wise words for any character venturing out into the World of Darkness, human or not. A nice touch, a rough correlation between actual prices and the rule mechanic abstraction of 'Resources' is given for those who prefer to deal in cold, hard cash.
Chapter 1 looks at Melee Weaponry - the knives and swords of classical combat, along with more improvised items which you might snatch up in the course of a brawl. Not forgetting your own hands and feet, of course. While melee weapons may be somewhat 'old-fashioned' in a contemporaty setting full of guns, remember that not all societies accept private firearm ownership as a matter of course, that you may be caught off-guard without a gun and that bullets do not always do as much damage to supernatural foes as they do to normal flesh and blood opponents. So it is well worth every character's time to study what is available and pick out some useful items, or have a few thoughts in the back of his mind as to what could be grabbed and wielded in necessity.
However, melee weapons are not the answer to all the ills of the World of Darkness either, and there is a fascinating discussion that every Storyteller should study closely about how well historical weapons stand up to modern usage, and how other ceremonial and ornamental weapons may look good but will not serve in combat... not to mention cheap copies sold to eager youngsters. Ways to reflect this through the rule mechanics are well thought out and presented. There's also the question of learning how to use melee weapons effectively, as opposed to just hitting something with a stick, and various training routes are discussed. All these issues dealt with, on to the impressive catalogue. A wide range of items, both those intended as weapons, those which while crafted with another purpose serve well as weapons (e.g. a fire axe) and completely improvised ones are included. Even if you are not tooling up your character right now, it makes for a fascinating read and a good introduction to melee weaponry in general. There's plenty of advice for the Storyteller on how to assess the combat usefulness and game statistics for improvised weapons, with examples of many of the more likely items and ideas on how to extrapolate to the things that your players do choose.
Chapter 2 looks at Firearms and Ranged Weaponry. It starts with an overview of how guns work, and a discussion of marksmanship and stance, breaking this down into what works (and doesn't) for handgun, rifle and shotgun shooting. There's even an explanation of why bullets affect vampires less than they do those of us who are still alive. Reading this will give even those who have never used a firearm a reasonable grounding in the basics so that they will at least sound as if they know what they are talking about during the course of the game.
And so, on to the firearm catalogue itself. Sensibly, this isn't page after page of different weapons with exactly the same game statistics - however much that might excite the gun bunnies - but generic statistics coupled with lists of which reasonably well-known and available firearms fall into that category, along with sufficient information for those who have their heart set on a specific weapon to assign its game statistics with confidence. Archaic firearms and ammunition get similar treatment, with additional information so again you have some idea what you are talking about even if you did not know the difference between a musket and a rifle before you picked this book up. The chapter winds up with other ranged weapons, those which you throw or otherwise propel at your target, including darts, javelins and good old bows and arrows.
Next, Chapter 3 looks at Tactical and Heavy Weaponry. This is the military-grade stuff, big crew-served guns and explosives and all manner of hardware that most people will only ever see in the movies. Storytellers will need to decide how true this is for their characters, or if they will somehow, legally or more likely otherwise, be able to get hold of this material. And if explosives, grenades and land mines are not enough, there's a discussion of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well.
To take a rather more civilised turn, Chapter 4 discusses Vehicles. This takes conventional private and commercial ground vehicles, boats and aircraft and provides all the necessary game mechnic information to include them seamlessly into the actual rules rather than just intuit behaviour from what we all know about how our car behaves on the real road. Again, the approach of providing the statistics for a generic car of a given type, and a list of examples of vehicle that will fit that type has been used - and as petrolheads can be as argumentative as gun bunnies it is probably the best way to do it, without filling pages with minute detail that will only detract from the flow of the game. Naturally, adventures may take the characters anywhere, so all manner of larger vehicles that an individual is unlikely to own are also covered, along with assorted information on, for example, enhancing performance, pimping your ride and the hazards that vehicles can present.
Chapter 5, Gear and Accessories, is a general catch-all for all the other equipment that a character might find handy. There's plenty about using all these tools as well, so not only can you read about gunsmithing and handloading toolsets, there are the rules necessary for undertaking these tasks as well. Equipment covered includes spy gear, armour and even ghost-hunting devices. There is also extensive coverage of security systems, useful whether characters want to protect their own property or break in to someone else's. Those who wish to get a bit more mediaeval will find the section on traps of interest.
Now, Chapter 6 is particularly interesting. Entitled Weaponry and the World of Darkness, it talks about legalities and attitudes towards weapon possession and use in various countries and situations, and is invaluable reading for all Storytellers and any player who wants to keep his character out of trouble. The comments are centred around present-day (well, 2005) United States practice. The information covers the legal procedures involved in purchasing, storing and carrying firearms and explosives, as well as the black market, transportation and other issues. The main emphasis here is consequences: while most characters will use firearms as the occasion demands, how will they explain their actions to mundane authority afterwards? The average police department will not be impressed by tales of vampires and werewolves, but will be gathering standard crime scene evidence and likely treating the characters as suspects. There are brief paragraphs giving an overview of weapons law in other selected countries, but while individual players are likely to be aware of the rules of their own country, if the game is set elsewhere some research will probably be needed (at least, if you wish to have a reasonable level of realism!).
Finally, an Appendix provides some new Merits appropriate to weapon and equipment use. These will come in useful, particularly for characters who wish to develop expertise in more unusual weapons or specialised equipment.
Overall, this is a very comprehensive and well-presented book, balancing realism and game abstractions extremely well, and ought to be on the shelf of any World of Darkness player. Of particular note is the emphasis of the consequences of normal RPG player behaviour: in the World of Darkness, as in the real world, society as a whole does not like violence in its midst and is less interested in exotic excuses. Storytellers, take note!
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Reviewed: 17 June 2007