_grimtales_ (_grimtales_) wrote in roleplayers,

nWoD Review Number 2: Requiem

nWoD Review No.2 – Vampire: The Requiem

Each review will take the form of a quick skim through for first impressions, followed by a more in depth look page by page…

Skim Impressions
Again, hideous. By no means as hideous as the corebook but a relatively ugly piece of work nonetheless. The look is somewhat more consistent but again what the book says and what it shows you seem somewhat at odds. The more pure-gothic sensibility, the ‘stylish horror’ is contradicted here and there by a few conventional ‘vampire hulking out’ pictures. There just seems to be a lack of spirit to the whole enterprise but perhaps it is being judged harshly since the original vampire was such a breath of fresh air and such a design innovation for the time.

Step by Step
The Cover:
Words cannot truly express the depths of my horror and disappointment over the Requiem cover.

I was a huge fan of the original graphical work done for oWoD vampire, particularly the covers. Green marble with a red rose was extremely effective, simplistic, different for the time yet not stereotypically vampiric. It was subtle, effective and for the first book immediately – for me at least – set the tone. Even if it was later let down somewhat by certain line developments that first cover will always be a classic.

Now they relaunch the WoD having killed off the old and this is the TRUE flagship product for that new line. Vampire has always been the most popular and here it is.

Where to start?

What the HELL is that title? It looks like one of those cheesy display daggers you see on show in kitsch stores and overblown goth shops. It looks like the knife on the cover of Wraethuthuthuthu for christ’s sake. It has truly been vomited forth from the bowels of hell itself.

Worst title font EVAR.

And blood red? Bitch please. Obvious vampire stereotype image number 1.

Ugh, I can’t write any more about it, a profound sense of disappointment.

The Back Cover:
Nigh unreadable and scans like rather bad teen angst poetry, off-putting even more already.

Introductory Fiction:
Silver on red looks like some girl’s diary entry in silver pen. I half expected the pages to be scented raspberry or something. A confusion of text styles and voices and that irritating blood-red making me grit my teeth. The fiction was a chore to get through, which is about par for the course.

More muddy red on black. If you’re going to have a coloured interior, use it, otherwise do a B&W interior and save yourself, and us, a bit of money off the cover price. The red is going to annoy me through the whole book I can tell.

The description of the world present here is much more swerved back towards the Tim Burton gothic than the impression I got from the core book, though perhaps I missed the references there – perhaps that’s just indicative of a dissonance in the developers visions. Either way, the ‘punk’ reference remains excised and the preliminary skim did give me the impression that the new Vampire was much more trad-goth than punk. The use of the term ‘modern gothic’ seems to bear that out and I for one will miss the punk part.

I’m not liking the font for the headers either by the way, not clear and easily readable, and they’re blood-fucking-red again… I’m already seeing red, I don’t need the help.

With the oWoD lead outside and ineffectively shot in the head like a trusting dog, left to whimper and slowly die with its brains hanging out, there was hope that the nWoD would revitalise interest, innovate in the same way the oWoD had done and do something interesting and vital with the vampire genre and gaming in general. Lets see what we get from the initial overview in the introduction…

Oh, Clans…

A common comment by developers of the old line was that players had made clans far too important in the games, that they were not the central organisational principle of the setting and – in spite of the impressions that the clanbooks made, were not particularly monolithic or even necessarily that organised (save the obvious exceptions). So why keep them?

Of far more interest, something to genuinely get interested in, are the covenants which appear to be far more political groupings to which a vampire can attach themselves. A much, much better concept than clans and yet, they have kept both. Boo to clans, yay to covenants. At least in principle.

This seems a half-assed revision and its my feeling they should have gone all the way and eliminated clans and bloodlines (in their usual sense) entirely.

Chapter 1:
More hideous title text and more blood colouring, gnhhh…

This covers all the basics about vampiric existence and introduces us to the new clans. These are, by and large, the same old tropes as before, just combined and slimmed down. Some names remain the same however and this just cements the feeling of disappointment and let down at the inclusion of clans again. There’s nothing really that new, different or interesting here.

Another graphical point – and I’m sure many of you don’t find these as relevant as I do – the clan symbols are overwrought. The old clan symbols were iconic and likely ended up as a lot of tattoos, which I’m sure people are regretting now. These are over complex and somewhat jarring – symptomatic of the problem with the game as a whole as I’m already picking up on it.

The covenants however, make up for a lot - At least in concept. In execution some seem to leave a little to be desired. The Circle of the Crone, the Lancea Sanctum and the Ordo Dracul all send little alarm bells off in my head but we’ll wait to see how they turn out with more information.

Another plus point is the relative freedom of the setting compared to oWoD. Cities can be set up a variety of ways and there are no overarching societies in the sense of The Camarilla or the Sabbat and no set ways of doing things. In some ways the covenenats replace that role but only halfway, leaving the game very free.

There is a downside to this and the insular city-based nature of the game (much more so than in the oWoD) but this is really only for the LARPers and in particular the Camarilla LARPers. Where’s the motivation or reason for a linked LARP society if everything is so separate and insular in Vampire?

Somewhat self-contradictorily this freedom of choice is then countered by conventions, which trot out the same titles and positions as in the oWoD. This will lead to a lot of laziness and assumption in LARPs I suspect.

We get a potted history and then another welcome innovation. The blood potency that replaces the old generation. What this boils down to is that blood strengthens over time and due to other factors but as it gets stronger the vampire grows more torporous until they finally sleep, their blood weakening as they sleep until they rise again. This makes for a FAR more dynamic hierarchy and also allows for people to play weaker, but old vampires. VERY welcome change.

On the other hand, Predator’s Taint is a huge let down and one that will also adversely affect LARPs. Kindred meeting new ones have a highlander-like shiver down the spine and a negative, sometimes violent reaction to each other.

It seems somewhat perverse that in taking a closer interest and greater control over their fan society that White Wolf have taken a course in their main flagship game that fucks over that society several ways.

Now we get to more information on the covenants.

The Carthians come across much like the progressive and reformist Brujah of old and I can’t help but like them. They seem like a good fit and reasonably well thought out.

The Circle of the Crone… well, two strikes against this one. Firstly I don’t like cheesy neo-paganism, particularly fluffed up in this fashion and secondly I never liked the old game’s female bias. As I writer I find the use of ‘she’ as the default pronoun extremely grating and I found the fact that there were so many female-exclusive groups in the oWoD and no male-exclusive groups rather sexist to be honest. The Crone thus gets one-and-a-half strikes against it since they’re not – on paper – exclusively female oriented. I’m with Bill Hicks on the whole ‘specialness’ of the gift of life thing.

The Invictus feel a bit like the traditional Ventrue of old and like the Carthians seem better thought out than the entirely new ones here. I wanted innovation but it seems that the best developed covenants are those that draw on the old concepts. Which is strange, still, they are somewhat different.

The Lancea Sanctum however, don’t work particularly well for me either, this is sort of like the order of good/bad Star Trek films isn’t it? The problem for me is thematical, the religious group amongst vampires, and also due to the nature of their secret power. It just seems to grate for me against the overall feeling and they feel like a replacement for the (otherwise welcomely absent) Tremere.

I am divided internally on the Ordo Dracul. One the one hand… effin’ Dracula *facepalm* on the other, their philosophy and powers seem very interesting. It is just a shame about the Dracula link.

The Unaligned appear to be the new Caitiff, though I was a touch disappointed at there being no way to make a non Clan/Bloodline vampire. Especially since that was the way I was sort of hoping the game would turn, focussing less on blood differences and more on political differences. This feels like a half-assed step towards that without the guts to go all the way.

Belial’s Brood? Satanists *sigh* The worst most childish parts of the Sabbat rolled into one happy little group. This could have been so much more interesting.

And VII is the new, but nasty, inconnu, about whom we get precious little information.

We still have the traditions, but rely on local people and methods to enforce them, within the context of the game I would think this would mean a shattered masquerade every couple of days, but we’ll let that pass.

Chapter 2:
Now we’re on to expanded character information. It seems that each fatsplat basically provides a supernatural template over the top of mortal characters created using the corebook. This means you can now create a supernatural incompetent rather than a mortal incompetent which is an improvement of sorts I suppose. On the plus side the standardised character creation between the various splats if a plus as is the standardised system.

Different clans and covenants get access to different powers and advantages which is all well and good. I can see it being somewhat abused in the pursuit of character power however as it is one of the few places you actually get much of a choice in ways to bump your character up.

A welcome addition is the adding of a chart to allow one to make more experienced – and thusly competent – characters. The standard character creation however retains the problems from the core book.

Morality for vampires is replaced by humanity, which isn’t better explained just yet, though hopefully it is a shift away from Judaeo-Christian morality and more into losing what it is to be human. Virtues and vices also get a mention as being expressed differently in vampires.

Much of the rest will be familiar to anyone who knows White Wolf games at all, discussing character background and preludes, definitions of terms and so on.

Specialities in the new game – something I missed in my core review – are much more restricted in the new game than the old. These must be added, or bought and are not obtained automatically when having a higher level skill or stat.

Blood potency is further explained and this is one of the few great changes in the book.

Vampires get access to some new merits and advantages, again working much like backgrounds in the old system.

The clans get a better explanation but are generally rather uninspiring and repeats or name changes from the old. A missed opportunity for innovation. As with the covenant symbols most of the clan symbols are also overwrought.

Disciplines remain much the same but the physical disciplines feel quite downpowered from the old game and the order of some of the powers has been altered somewhat. Celerity in particular feels very downpowered and comparatively weak compared to the old interpretation.

I hoped with the removal of the Tremere we wouldn’t see any more hokey kindred magic but the Crones and the Lancea Sanctum provide us with twice as much magical cheese in the new game. The powers aren’t quite as bad as the old Tremere ones, though a couple are horribly abuse worthy, but I still feel that they detract from the setting and only add to the weakness of those two covenants. The Ordo Dracul powers on the other hand seem fitting and add to the game, helping compensate greatly for the Dracula link.

Chapter 3:
This chapter details the implications of various aspects of vampiric nature, such as the innate powers of the blood and so forth. A plus of the new material is that it does seem much better explained in every instance. Everything here is fairly clean, clear and precise.

Frenzy rears its head again and you still have a chance of going batshit if someone lights your cigarette for you, which is annoying. Without the old morality stats contributing to your humanity it is your resolve and composure that allow you to resist frenzying, which is a somewhat welcome simplification.

Humanity is just morality with a different word attached. Very disappointing. If humanity is warmth, emotion, sensation then inhumanity should be distance, coldness, a lack of emotion or human touch. Not the same old frenzying beast – which at least seems somewhat less personified in this edition.

Golconda has been included once again, I didn’t particularly like a set ‘quest’ for redemption, redemption being and individual course. At least it is better explained here.

Chapter 4:
Better GM advice than in the core book and specific to Vampire, obviously, this is one of the better White wolf versions of storytelling advice but does make a lot of assumptions and indications, not only telling you how to play but, in effect, what to play.

These assumptions are not so much of a concern for the tabletop ST but for people in The Camarilla LARP society who have to run according to canon this may turn out to be nightmarish.

As with the core book, the antagonists presented are very useful and it is a very good thing to include them in the book rather than have them scattered in supplements.

Appendix 1:
Oh dear, bloodlines.

The inclusion of clans was bad enough, now we have bloodlines, which include such wonderful innovations as the ‘Malkovians’ (Descended from John Malkovitch perhaps?) and the ‘Toreador’. Given that one of the major complaints against the old system was the sheer profusion of clans and bloodlines and that this game has stripped the main bloodlines down to 5 from 7/13+ it seems contradictory to include these.

On the plus side there are good guidelines for bloodline creation and they do allow for a greater part of player creativity in the game and a goal to work towards for vampires of age or high blood potency.

Again, I think this is going to be a cause of nightmares in the LARP society.

Appendix 2:
New Orleans. No comment.

Didn’t they put a book out about New York just before 9/11? Or just after? I think perhaps White Wolf are destroying cities by writing setting books about them…

And it ends with an effective index, YAY!

If I had to sum up Requiem in a single sentence that sentence would be ‘Missed opportunity’.

The oWoD may have had a lot of strikes against it but it had a mountain of momentum and backstory to it. It was a full and living world brought to an end with not a bang, but a whimper. Various things did it in, the Avatar storm plot, ridiculousness with nuclear missiles and finally the mish-mash ending of Gehenna/Apocalypse et al which felt like a massive let down.

What it did have was passion and vision, especially at the start.

Requiem just feels like they’re going through the motions. While there are some welcome innovations and changes too much is retained of the old and any advance in one area is held back by something that occurs somewhere else.

On the plus side covenants are good, less emphasis on clans is good, blood potency instead of generation is a massive improvement and everything is much, much better explained than before.

Final score..

Style 1: Sorry, I can’t forgive the blood red, the hideous titling or the cognitive dissonance between writing and art.
Substance 4: This would have been a 5 if they had been a bit more ambitious with it. The rules and innovations are by and large good but there are weaknesses holding the game back.
Overall rating 2.5 sub average. (But only if you give as much of a damn as I do about style/content relationships and presentation in large-press productions)
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