Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Vampire: the Masquerade Revised

This is actually a review I wrote back in 2008 for Finnish roleplaying games forum. I use it as a base for this new review, but modify some parts of it according to today and how I feel Vampire: the Masquerade now.

Short History Of Me And Vampire: the Masquerade

I bought V:tM in late 90's, because I already had Vampire: Dark Ages what I myself enjoyed but my gaming group wasn't that interested in. Main reason was that my group was mainly into fantasy and V:DA was too close being fantasy but it wasn't fantasy enough.
So when I heard about Vampire: the Masquerade and saw it in my local gaming store I decided to buy it. It was set in modern world what made a huge difference. The current version was Revised.

I ran few games and chronicles with it but still my group was more into fantasy so I couldn't play it as much as I wanted. I did know a gaming group who played mostly V:tM but didn't like those guys. You know, later goth Sabbat freaks!

When I met my current girlfriend she got into Vampire gaming and I have played chronicles over 8 years regularly with her. It is our most played and most favorite game. I managed to Storytell and invent chronicles and plots even though I only had the core book. It took many years when I bought my first sourcebook to spice up my gaming.

Vampire: the Masquerade is my ultimate favorite of roleplaying games, and this is the review of it.


Vampire: the Masquerade

A Storytelling game of personal horror.

Vampire: the Masquerade is a game what divides opinions from awe to hate. When the new "edition" of it, Vampire: the Requiem, was launched Vampire: the Masquerade was not forgotten. 20th year edition is a proof of that.
Some of the Vampire players did go with Requiem and never looked back. Some tried the new but decided soon enough that old classical Masquerade was better. New to White Wolf's Vampire are most likely to pick up Requiem, as it is the one in print. But there is still curiosity towards the original 90's gothic punk horror game.

Hardcover

In addition that the book is really stylish with its marble like green cover and simple but catchy logo it is also quite durable. I can say that I have read the book numerous times and its been in darkest corners of earth and used a lot, but still it is in good shape. Only small problem is, that the binding is a bit loosen. Otherwise, it is in really good shape. I could say that the book is really durable.

Prologue: A Gathering of Beasts

Like every White Wolf product, also Masquerade starts with fictive story. Before each chapter there is one page fiction, but in the beginning the story is almost like a short story. Also in the back there are basically two short stories. The last is one page but entertaining and in rules there is also a story about a Vampire in different ages from history to today. It introduces World of Darkness in vampire's point of view.

These stories give nice additional information about Vampire. They are entertaining to read and generally well ridden and usually give individual's view on things what makes them good material to get into the thoughts of vampires. Some of these stories might be suggested for player to read to get a feel. Stories focus on a certain clan you can give for a player to read who is going to play that clan.

Only little problem is that some of these stories have a really messy font. It makes reading a bit slower and you might focus more on the font than actual text.

Introduction

The first actual chapter, the introduction covers quickly and roughly playing of Vampire: the Masquerade, basics to storytelling and the difference of Storyteller (Game Master) and a player. After that the chapter covers some real world myths about vampires to World of Darkness facts about vampires. Also basic vampire activities like feeding (drinking blood), embracing (making a vampire) and other basics.
Also the book is covered from which chapter you find which thing. How-to-use-this-book guide and also different sources for inspiration are covered from books to movies.

Also LARPing Vampire is quickly covered, but there are no real rules how to LARP (Mind's Eye Theater is for that).

For Vampire elder this chapter is a bit unnecessary but for a fledling it is good information to get an overview what Vampire: the Masquerade is about.

In my opinion maybe the most important part in this chapter is telling the differences of pop-culture and mythical vampires against World of Darkness' view about vampires.
Chapter One: A World of Darkness

This chapter focuses on the setting of World of Darkness and in vampire society, hierarchy and customs. Text is well written and focuses on what is important. There is not too much struggling to get a nice overview of each thing covered. Naturally in core book everything cannot be covered, but this is a good base to get started.

There are no rules or any other mechanics in this chapter. Just fluff and setting text. Vampire hierarchy, what prince is, population, rules of the Vampire society and other basic things are covered but mostly in Camarilla view.

But as these things are explained densely some topics leave questions. It might annoy a Storyteller who wants to know anything but in the other hand it leaves space to fill the holes yourself. It depends what you like and in numerous sourcebooks these details are mostly covered with detail. For a core book this is good basic information although in some parts as a starting Storyteller there were topics I would wanted to know more about.

There is also Lexicon what White Wolf uses. Encyclopedia of words vampires use. Nice detail White Wolf uses to give additional depth for both characters and NPCs to use in dialect.

Chapter two: Clans and Sects

Basically clans are the character classes of Vampire: the Masquerade what you choose when creating a character. Each clan has their own weaknesses, set of disciplines they learn easier, motivations, backgrounds and view of other clans. Clan descriptions are stereotypical but easy to pick up for beginner players. Advanced players can think out of the box and create characters what aren't what clan description says.

For example it is easy for new to Vampire player to pick up between Brujah the gang member, Ventrue the businessman or Toreador the artist. Advanced player might create a Brujah artist, Ventrue gang member or Toreador businessman.

In my opinion it should be more clearly stated that these are only stereotypes, not character concepts. I don't know how many have played or plays clans as told without experimenting with individual characters in the clan. I know I did.

There are three sects. Camarilla what gets most of the attention, Sabbat what leaves too many questions open because of it's different views and is almost unplayable in a more deep way and the Independents, who are clans not following Camarilla or Sabbat. Also Camarilla clan member might be part of the Sabbat and vice versa.

There are total of 13 clans and caitiff. Caitiff is basically your custom vampire. Clanless. There are both disadvantages and advantages for being a caitiff. Mostly disadvantages are in the story, not in rules. Most of the clans are in Camarilla, only two in Sabbat and few in Independent. Although Sabbat does have antitribu members who are individuals from clans belonging in different sect, but whole antitribu concept isn't explained that much.

There is no enough information about clans and sects. I can understand it, but deeper political game is hard to achieve with the information provided. This is when sourcebooks about sects and clans kick in. If you don't want to invent everything yourself, you are going to need these books.
   The variety of these 13 clans is good. Every player can find their own (stereotypically) from figters (Brujah),    businessmen (Ventrue), aesthetic artists (Toreador), sneaky assasins (Assamite), wizards and magisters (Tremere), monsters (Tzimisce), classical sewer dwellers (Nosferatu), cultists (Followers of Set) and so on. Also some bloodlines are introduced for slight variation what usually is about starting disciplines but there is no meta data about these.
Chapter Three: Character and Traits

In default character creation starts figuring out what kind of character you want to play. Background as a human, how he was embraced and who did it. What motivates her and so on. To make this easier there is a list of questions player can answer about her character. When the background is done the technical character chreation begins.

After choosing a clan what determines weakness and starting disciplines character creation is really straightforward, simple and fast. Attributes and abilities (skills) are divided each in three categories from which player chooses what is first, second and third to get different amount of points to divide between those. Attributes are physical (strength, dexterity, stamina), social (manipulation, charisma, appearance) and mental (intelligence, wits and perception). There are total of 30 skills. There are also backgrounds what give different advantages for characters like higher generation, famous sire, fame or wealth. Unfortunately list of backgrounds is in my opinion too short in core book.

Disciplines (the supernatural powers of vampires) get three points to share to and they are determined by clan of character. Some changes for initial disciplines can be made though. Last touch is to spend few points into conscience (or conviction for most of Sabbat vampires), courage, humanity (possible path for Sabbat) and so on.

None of these are marked with a number, but coloring balls. Fours spent points to driving skill means four colored balls. Each ball represents one die to your dice pool what is covered in rules mechanically. Character sheet is simple but stylish.

Further in this chapter skills are introduced what they mean and examples of how they work and what different values represent how good character is in that skill. Every skill has few sentences of fiction.

For normal character range of attributes is 1-5 (exception Nosferatus who cannot get any dots to appearance). Each attribute starts with initial value of 1 (except Nosferatus with ugly face). Skills are in range of 0 not learned to 5. With higher generation higher values might be possible.

In skills there is a small problem though. Some skills are not covered at all, and some are a bit too focused on a certain thing. This serves genre and how Vampire is meant to run but I have had several situations where there is no skill to use in a certain task. Fortunately there are new skills introduced in sourcebooks and players can invent their own skills if they will.

In the end of this chapter there are mechanics directly for playing a character and experience section. Experience points are mostly achieved from good roleplaying, characters personal advancement and advancing in adventure or chronicle. There are no experience values for looting or killing, but experience is more abstract. With experience points player can advance his characters attributes, skills and powers. The price depends on the category and how many dots there already are. Skills are cheapest to advance and disciplines outside of clan are most expensive.

Last you have freebie points to share where ever you want. Also you might get freebie points from flaws or spend them in merits described in appendix.

Chapter Four: Disciplines

Disciplines are vampire's supernatural powers what distinct them from mortals (well, in addition to needing blood, being basically immortal, unable to walk in sunlight and other vampiric characteristics). Disciplines are part of vampire blood so some of them need bloodpoints to trigger. Blood points can be gained more from feeding. And if you get low on bloodpoints, you get hungry and might fall in frenzy - vampiric uncontrollable rage. Bloodpoints might be concidered as some kind of magic points if you will. In addition some disciplines need willpower to be spent. Willpower is mental strength what you use to trigger certain disciplines, get automatic success or to resist some disciplines used on you. You get willpower back playing according to your character or possibly one after each session if Storyteller says so.

There is wide variety of different kind of disciplines each with five subcategories. Each dot in one discipline opens new powers character can use from that discipline class. Many traditional vampire powers are included like mind control, turning into a wolf, inhuman strength, supernatural haste and so on. Also some clans posses magic like disciplines like boiling another's blood.
Some of these disciplines are shared by different clans, but some disciplines are clan specific. One small problem with descriptions is that you need to read a bit to find what exactly the discipline does and how it works mechanically. In my opinion this should be more clear.
Chapter Five: Rules

Basic mechanics of the game are fitted in only seven pages. These seven pages mostly include how you roll dice. More advanced rules like combat are followed after this chapter. Only function of this chapter is to introduce the dicepool mechanics. The basics are fast to learn though.

Rules are really simple. When character tries to do something Storyteller tells what attribute and ability (or other character trait) is used and dots in these tell how many dice are rolled. Only dice game needs is D10, but you need plenty of them. At least 10 (per player if you want) to make playing comfortable.

The basic difficulty is 6 and each die result of a 6 or more is a success. More successes you get the better the outcome is. Faster you fix the computer or more damage you possibly deal. Results 1 decrease successes. If there are no successes at all but one or more 1 you botch. Something goes horribly wrong. If you have a specialty in skill (four or more dots, get specialty for beneficing in a certain situation) you can roll results 10 again (note: I have houseruled this. You roll 10 always again, specialty gives bonus die).

If task is more difficult, the target number needed from rolls is higher. For example 8 or more. In easier difficulties target number is lower. A rule of thumb is that if difficulty is equal to character's dicepool no roll is needed. Exception combat of course. 

Even though system is fast and dicepool is fast to determine as is successes, there is a flaw. Basically better you are and more dice you roll the higher change is that you get those unwanted ones.

Chapter Six: Systems And Drama

Chapter goes deeper in rules with combat. Base is same with basic mechanics. You roll Attribute + ability against a difficulty to hit. Extra successes after the first one give bonus dice to damage dicepool. Damage is determined by these bonus dice and weapon damage dice or in melee weapon damage and strength. You roll as many dice as you have damage and results over 6 are one point of damage. After damage is resolved opponent might have a possibility to soak damage with his stamina, armor and Fortitude if he possesses that discipline. The remaining is how much damage is dealt.

In my opinion Requiem basically does this better. In Masquerade to get a resolution of shooting with a shotgun you first roll to hit, then you roll damage with possible more dice and then opponent rolls to soak the damage. Three rolls with lots of dice in each. Player might have dicepool of 8 to shoot with shotgun and when he gets 7 successes, he can add 6 to damage. Shotgun does 8 damage so now player rolls 14 dice from which you count over 6's to actual damage. And then soak roll is rolled to determine how many successes decrease the damage. For a Storytelling game a bit too clumsy in my opinion.

Remaining of this chapter is for damage rules. Different types of weapons deal different types of damage. Bashing for blunt, lethal for bullets or sharp objects and aggravated for vampires from example fire. Also vampires soak damage differently than humans. Vampires and human characters do share exactly the same health bar, but still shooting the vampire most likely does less damage than shooting a human. Little extra to remember.

Also rules for mental health and conditions are covered and enviromental lethality as fire, electrocution and falling.
Also some technical stuff about embracing a vampire or making a ghoul, but these are more fluff than mechanics. Vampiric uncotrollable rage and fear of fire are also covered here.

Chapter ends with game example what tells in detail how different actions work.

Chapter Seven: A History of the Kindred

Longish few page story vampire telling of history from middle ages through world war to this day. Interesting and well enough written but basically unnecessary information. It can give some ideas for character history and it might give depth for World of Darkness but you can survive without it. Short story in between.
 
Chapter Eight: Storytelling

For Storyteller possibly the most important chapter. How you run Vampire: the Masquerade? What kind of adventures and chronicles you could run? What about the plot? How to make a good adventure? This chapter answers these questions giving adventure seeds to use. Most of the adventure seeds are good enough to build whole campaign around. Nothing is pre-written though. These are mainly for inspiration. No actual ready to run adventure.


Chapter Nine: Antagonists

This is the "monster" section of game. It lists different organizations and even other supernatural beings with stats and descriptions to use in game. For me this is a little waste of time and space, but if you quickly need stats for a biker gang member of agent, you got it. Also wrights, mages, werewolves, changelings and others are introduced but the information is so narrow you can hardly use them except as a punching bag. Of course as all these other supernatural beings have their own rich in detail game line it would be hard to include information here.
So, if you want to fight a werewolf, here are stats. If you want a plot with mages, you better go and buy Mage: the Ascension to use.


Appendix

For advanced players appendix provides moral paths instead of humanity for characters who don't fallow humanity any more, but instead a different moral code of vampires. There are several different paths with their own different moral codes. These might be hard to play for beginners but can give more depth for advanced players.

Also merits and flaws to buy in character creation. Merits are advantages you spend points to, flaws are disadvantages you get points from.


Conclusion

So, what Vampire: the Masquerade is? A neat book, good enough system with a bit too clumsy combat resolution... there are flaws and it is not perfect. I think that it is the setting that makes the book great. Requiem might be a bit better in some parts of the mechanics, but the setting is what you like or don't like. Vampire: the Masquerade is blamed to be too complex in setting with too much information to even tangle itself with it. I find that there is plenty of sources to choose from. But as this is core book review and not Masquerade setting review, I'll leave it to that.

Even though Masquerade has been died for some time the 20th special edition tells it is still liked. It still has fans. I am one of those people who love Vampire: the Masquerade. 

It might be that fledlings might be hard to "get" this game as Requiem is more modern in system and obviously easier to obtain. But if you forget the rules and availability you have two different settings. World of Masquerade and World of Requiem. That is what you choose between. I choose Masquerade.

4 points for how it looks. It is neat book with decent art. Some of the pictures are horrible though, but that is what roleplaying games usually get.
3½ points for rules. I like the basic concept of rules but combat is a bit too complicated. Although the game is easy to custom and house rule, so 4 points would be good also. Also you some meta data leaves you cold and you basically need sourcebooks. But as I review the game as it is, 3,5.
5 points for fun. I have played Vampire: the Masquerade a lot. I have enjoyed it so much. I have had great drama, lots of laughs, and dreadful tragedy in games. Players are the ones who make the game but I think that Vampire has been the inspiration.

4½ points total. Might be unfair to give this high score, but it's how I feel. For a game, 3½ is the score. For what Vampire is for me, 4½.
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