Published on August 25th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen4
Guide to the World of Darkness, Part One (Vampire)
Oh Vampire, the game that started it all. We’re going to take another look at the classic that is over 20 years old, and compare it to the newer version that just turned 10. But first, where did the game start? And in what direction is it going now?
Vampire the Masquerade was first published in 1991 and was such a success that White Wolf continued to launch new game lines spun off of its popularity. The Masquerade license is in it’s fourth edition, but it also spawned two medieval lines, several novels, video games and more.
Vampire the Masquerade was successful in its time, but in the early 2000s there was a down turn in sales and writers were having difficulty keeping up the supplement bloat with metaplot. It was decided to end the classic World of Darkness and reimagine it in a new form. Vampire the Masquerade met its end with the hardcover Gehenna book, and White Wolf transitioned into a new World in 2004.
Eight years later, in 2012, Onyx Path launched the Vampire 20th Anniversary Kickstarter. Instead of just doing a one-off collector’s product, Onyx Path has partnered with DriveThruRPG to exclusively provide their books in both PDF and Print On Demand (POD) formats. New Kickstarter projects for collectors edition Masquerade products continue to be produced, with successful projects getting the POD treatment.
Main Conflict: Elders vs Anarchs/ The Jyhad
Some of the 13 vampire clans are really cool, they have interesting powers (Obtenebration, Auspex) and a thematic weakness (Ventrue, Brujah).
The setting is very 90s “Image Comics” style action: you get cool vampire powers and probably a chance to fight other vampires with tons of guns and katanas while trying to steal a Biblical artifact or cursed item.
The metaplot was great for keeping you hooked on buying more books as they came out. The characters were over powered, had ridiculous backstories, and featured heavily in the art of the books which kept you looking for references to them in each new softcover.
Kindred of the East– technically not western vampires, but their setting conflicted with VtM’s often and seemed to be an off-shot.
Vampire: the Dark Ages– the first medieval line, it cemented what was a vague canon for that time period and brought in some fantasy RPG players.
Dark Ages: Vampire– this was the core book to the revised edition Dark Ages line and it was required if you wanted to play other Dark Ages games.
Victorian Age Vampire– for people who want to play as vampires during the time that Dracula was a popular best seller.
Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom– a supplement that focused on sub-Saharan African vampires in modern times.
On close examination most of the clans make no sense. A lot of them have stupid weaknesses (Toreador, Ravnos and Tremere), no reason to work together (Brujah and Ventrue) and they seem out of place in a vampire game (Gargoyles) or redundant considering the existence of other clans (every bloodline).
If you don’t like the Cure, trench coats, Highlander or Anne Rice then there probably isn’t going to be a lot here for you, thematically.
The metaplot is hard to grasp if you didn’t read the books as they came out or don’t want to wade through wikis or guides. There was a definable story going on throughout the years and reading things out of that order can be disorienting without help.
The Guide to the Sabbat– there is no better way to learn about the goals/methods of the group than to read this book’s opening fiction.
The Clanbooks– some are better than others, but if a clan interests you, I’d suggest getting the Clanbook. My favorites were the Followers of Set, Malkavian and Tremere clanbooks.
Vampire the Requiem was the phoenix that rose from Masquerade’s ashes. Clans were simplified, factions were more numerous, and the theme of the Vampire experience was subtly tweaked. For the most part though, Requiem retained a lot of the same themes and moods from the original (there are tons of references and nods to Masquerade in most supplements) and is the reboot game that is most like its sire.
Even so, the writers at White Wolf knew some people were going to want to continue playing in their previous campaigns, or would just want to use the older setting. For those people, the writers made the Vampire Translation Guide. The guide helps you to run a Masquerade chronicle using Requiem rules as well as just make a character that evokes the same themes and powers you like from Masquerade without porting it all over, or anything in between.
After Onyx Path took over and the God Machine rules update came out, they released a book called Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle which ties Requiem into the God Machine elements of the setting. It also has the rules updates from God Machine baked in, as well as a look at vampires from around the world as Requiem was very specifically USA-centric. The Strix Chronicle is a stand-alone book and will soon be re-published as Requiem 2nd Edition.
Main Conflict: City-level political struggles
The factions make more sense, as they are political groups/religions one can join. They are all organized differently and have substantially different ideologies while still coexisting.
Clans are condensed from 13 to 5, which makes them more generally applicable. The game gives you the option of getting more specific with your lineage by introducing bloodlines- specific family lineages/houses with different skills and curses from others in your clan.
Inspirations from the game appeal to a wider audience and aren’t as tied to the goth subculture. The game feels more inspired by Laurell K Hamilton than it does Anne Rice; by which I mean that it feels more tied to the day-to-day problems of being a vampire.
The world is more mysterious, as the vampire creation myths aren’t explicitly spelled out in canon. Also, vampires retreat into slumber and forget things after a couple hundred years so omnipotent, ancient conspiracies are less of an issue.
There are less black and white judgements of factions and everything is meant to be seen in shades of dark grey. This makes it easier to reasonably play a group of people from different factions, depending on how you reason they are aligned with that faction.
Requiem for Rome– instead of reprinting another Dark Ages setting for the new version of Vampire, White Wolf took it all the way back to Rome. This is not only one of the best Roman RPGs I’ve seen, it’s one of the best Vampire games I’ve seen too.
New Wave Requiem– this is the 80s supplement you never knew you wanted, but it’s great. If you’ve ever wanted to run a supernatural game set in the “coke & roller skates” era than you really need to grab this book.
Politics make more sense but are a LOT more boring. The tie-in fiction helps a little bit, but not much. The book just doesn’t give you much of a reason to want to join any of these crazy vampire political or religious groups beyond “you have to”.
The point of the game is less apparent upon reading the book. So you’re a vampire, now what? You might need to bring your own story to the table more than you would with another game.
VII– One of the mysterious antagonists introduced in the main book, mostly in a sidebar. The book takes the idea of a cult of vampires who kills other vampires while leaving cryptic symbols and gives them three great possible back stories. One of them even makes them usable as an anti-hero faction for players if you’d like.
Mythologies– This book contains a bunch of different myths and legends that vampires tell each other when they get together. Everything from urban legends to the origin of first vampire are in here- none of which is necessarily true. It’s a big book of cool story ideas with some great mechanics and ideas for fleshing out your own spin on the tales.
Bloodlines– There are three in this set: Ancient, Chosen and Hidden. I thought all had good ideas and bad ideas in them, so I’d recommend finding a volume that sounds interesting to you and then picking that one up first. They give your characters mentor figures to keep around or famous/notorious peers to admire or despise.