If you played Vampire: The Masquerade forget everything you know about vampires!
Why? All the traditions and organisations, just about everything you are familiar with has either gone altogether or has been changed enough that you'll have to relearn about them anyway. In many ways, this is an improvement - often it seemed that things were being tacked on, added in as they were thought of, while this version gives a coherent basis on which subsequent books can be produced expanding different parts of the whole.
There is an immense amount of atmosphere in this book. It's beautifully presented, with an appropriate preponderance of deep blood red as the only colour on the pages. It begins with a series of snippets written by various vampires commenting on their Embrace, their current activities, their unlives... giving a clear feeling of what it's like to be one of this new breed of vampire.
We then move on to a general discussion of vampire society and how it works. The origins of vampires are lost even to those who study them (from within or without), with the oldest surviving vampires a bit hazy on the early nights so there's no point in hunting down a vampire who has been around since Roman days and asking him. As before, there is emphasis on a vampire's clan - which is that of his Sire, the vampire who embraced him (i.e. turned him into a vampire), but a new concept, that of the Covenant, has also been introduced. While the vampire has no choice over clan (although, of course, the player probably does), the vampire is able to choose a Covenant, which is an organisation or loose association of vampires who share a similar outlook on matters such as religion and the way in which vampire society ought to be run. There's enough detail on both the clans and the covenants to give an overview... and of course, plenty of scope for a string of supplements which are already beginning to appear!
Once the scene is set, the book moves on to more 'game-related' material, beginning with character generation. To begin with, now you need to own the core rulebook as well as this one. Using the rules therein, create the character BEFORE he became a vampire, and then you use the vampire-specific rules here to apply the changes caused by his new state. This of course opens up the possibility of having the process of becoming a vampire be part of the game, rather than something that happened to your character before you start play. The chosen clan (and covenant if you pick one during character generation rather than in play) give you additional abilities, and as a young vampire is taught certain Disciplines by his Sire, you also get to pick a few of those. There is even provision for those wishing to play a character who has been a vampire for a while to increase their vampiric abilities (or indeed mundane skills) over and above the starting levels by assigning a set number of experience points based on how old the vampire is to be. Additional Merits available to vampires include Haven (a safe place to hide in daylight), Herd (availability of nice blood-filled humans to feed on) and Status (how other vampires regard you). There is also a full run-down of the 'Disciplines' - akin to magic in their effect - that a vampire can learn, as well as the actual sorcery practised by some vampire covenants. Many people - vampires AND their players - see all these advantages, and forget the curse under which every vampire labours. Overall, the route to get there may be a bit different in this version, but the resulting character is certainly familiar in style, if not in detail, to the one you played in Vampire: The Masquerade.
Once the character has been created, of course, that's just the beginning. There are extensive notes on how to go about translating the numbers on the character sheet into the person you're going to play in the alternate reality of the game. This bit is well worth reading and considering even if you don't intend to play Vampire: The Requiem right now - haul it out every time you create a new character for any system you play, and you'll find it helps.
The third chapter looks at the various strange things that affect a vampire. Things like how a vampire's blood is different from that of an ordinary live human, and what happens to a vampire depending on the source of the blood he drinks. What happens when one vampire meets another (think alley cats bristling at each other). How do vampires sustain injury, and heal. And did you know that they can suffer mental illness and derangement? And that they may have a spiritual side and seek enlightenment - Golconda, as it is known to vampires - just as mortals do? All the rules you need to make vampires special, not just people with fangs and a taste for blood, are here.
Now two-thirds of the way through the book, and the next chapter announces boldly that they are done with rules. Aimed mainly at the Storyteller (GM) it also is worthwhile reading for the more interested player, looking at the underlying concepts of designing the Chronicle (campaign) and how to choose themes that will suit what the players want to do, and how to design characters which will fit in with those themes. It sets the scene for a very collaborative approach to Chronicle and adventure design. The comments on using the characters' backgrounds in setting the broad backdrop to the whole Chronicle make sense, as does the discussion as to why virtually all Vampire Chronicles need to have an urban setting. Unlike wine, the undead really, really don't travel well!
The underlying theme, whatever is going on, is that of moral choices and their consequences. Do vampires have a different 'take' on right and wrong, or is it just that their nature leads them into areas that the rest of us do not have to contemplate? Is a vampire who seeks personal power and dominion over other vampires less moral than another who pursues knowledge and arcane secrets? In the best Chronicles there are no answers, just questions which each character must face up to and find their own solution.
This leads into a discussion, mainly aimed at the Storyteller, of various concepts such as designing core NPCs, and how to start off the campaign by exploring how characters were Embraced and/or how they came together to form a Coterie. This invokes further discussion: vampires are classically solitary beasts, and treachery and betrayal are endemic amongst them - but do your players actually wish to have their characters interact in such a way or would they prefer to be atypically loyal to each other, and keep their treachery for other vampires? Each group needs to decide for themselves, of course, but here are the sort of questions they ought to be considering to make their game a truly enjoyable experience. Moving on, this chapter next looks at how to blend plots and adventures into your overarching campaign idea - useful advice whatever game system you are planning to run, even if it is aimed at a vampire Chronicle in the specific details. There's a lot of detail about actually presenting the game once you are seated round the table, too - how to evoke the correct atmosphere by description, when to go into detail and when a simple 'out of character' account will suffice. There are some sample 'Antagonists' - animals and NPCs - and an exploration of the use of experience points to ensure that characters grow at an appropriate rate for the chronicle you are running to round the chapter out.
Next comes Appendix 1: Bloodlines and Unique Disciplines. While every vampire belongs to one of the five clans of this incarnation of the game, within each there are 'bloodlines' which introduce wider variety of abilities and specialties that each vampire is able to have. A character's bloodline traces back through not ancestry but by Embrace, it is your sire's bloodline that you are a part of. It's a way in which you can customise your game and create your own style of vampire seen nowhere else. As well as giving advice on how to invent your own, there are five bloodlines and two disciplines to start you off. Interestingly, several names that formed full-blown clans in Vampire: The Masquerade turn up as example bloodlines here - so if you are particularly attached to one, you can generate a character with that bloodline or even speculate that it will develop into a clan over the course of time.
Appendix 2 is entitled 'New Orleans' and is a description of that city as it might appear in the World of Darkness. Or, sadly, as it would have done pre-hurricane. While not making light of real-world events, one does begin to wonder how such a natural disaster would affect the Kindred in the affected area. Leaving this aside, here is a good overview of the city - which is further detailed in a supplement of its own - which sets the scene for using it as the hometown of your chronicle... or provides ideas for the way in which to detail your chosen city for that use. There's a lot of material about the leading lights of vampire society in the city, showing how interweaving patterns of allegiances and hostility virtually writes at least some storylines for you.
Finally, a few more atmospheric story excerpts from the same voices that opened the book, and a character sheet.
Overall, the system has matured and is more coherent than its forerunners. However, the entirety of vampire history and tradition built up in over a decade of published material for Vampire: The Masquerade has been swept away. It's not just the rules which have changed: so has the whole World of Darkness, so what you thought you knew is of use no longer. After reading the book, I'm all ready and eager to go write a Chronicle! It's full of ideas and hints and inspiration.
Return to Vampire: The Requiem page.
Reviewed: 23 May 2009