Hot on the heels of the core World of Darkness rulebook, I took in the core Vampire: the Requiem tome. I genuinely like the tweaks White Wolf have made to Vampire and think Requiem is a better game than Masquerade because of them, but I also think the book is quite alienating to people who just want to play Vampire with minimum fuss.
Let’s look to the good first. Requiem does a rather nice job of decoupling vampire lineage from vampire politics with the split between clan and covenant. It’s also a great book for getting the old GMing gears turning; whilst the first chapter which includes an absolute ton of setting details is an incredibly dense read, I also found that reading it filled me with ideas as to how I’d want to adapt the setting if I were running a game. My interpretation of some facts of vampiric life (like the whole “only false emotions, except when they’re real emotions” thing) would doubtless be different, as would be my take on the clans and covenants (I’m inclined to have the Invictus not automatically aligned with the Lancea – I think some Invictus factions may instead draw on pre-Christian Rome and ally with the Circle of the Crone, whilst others might go full secular on the basis that weird spiritual agendas just aren’t compatible with the pragmatic realities of power), but that’s good – if a game book gets me dreaming up my own covenants or helps me identify ways to make the setting my own that’s much better than having me read the setting details and go “well, OK, that’s all cool, but what am I going to do with this in a game?”
Indeed, I think the setting of Requiem opens up interesting space for interesting campaigns which Masquerade, with its more monolithic factions and overt metaplot, had a tendency to shut down. In Masquerade if the players do manage to wrest control of an entire city, they’re probably still (at least in the setting as written) going to have bigger, badder vampires breathing down their neck and making them toe the Camarilla or Sabbat line; in Requiem, conversely, the different vampire cities are much more like the city-states the “Prince” title implies and there really is scope for a game where the players advance their chosen covenant, or play the covenants against each other, or start their own new thing. (Note, though, that the book seems to base its assumptions on the somewhat more diffuse settlement patterns in North America; in Europe, where you can most definitely drive from one major city to another in the space of a single night, I think vampire culture is likely to be somewhat more cohesive than is presented in the Requiem book.) I also like the scope they give the GM to come up with their own answers and add their own mysteries to the setting rather than having a set canon – in particular, the point about elders’ memories being completely addled due to spending centuries tripping balls in torpor helps stop the game being all about everyone being pawns of the elders all the time.
On the other hand, if you just want to play some Vampire, the book isn’t very friendly on that front. There’s an incredibly dense amount of setting material to wade through before you even get to any substantial system stuff, whilst the setting is structured to allow the GM to adapt it to make it their own the book doesn’t actually go out of its way to say “Listen, this is your game, so adapt it to make it your own”, and the game does succumb to White Wolf’s bad habit of including far more specialised terms than is strictly necessary. Why “Vinculum” rather than the easily understood “blood bond”? Why Vitae instead of something like “lifeblood”? Why the oh-so-precious Kindred instead of “vampire”? Answer: people seem to think it makes the book a more dramatic and atmospheric read, even though more natural language would be more accessible and less awkward (and less unintentionally hilarious – “Wassailing” makes it sound like a vampire in hunger frenzy is going out singing Christmas carols) in actual play. (I have to say, for my money this sort of stuff rapidly hits diminishing returns: once you hit a certain density of jargon in a text, it ends up resembling an engineering manual or a political science textbook, not a depiction of a gothy world of sexy vamps and flappity bats.)
I was talking to Dan about this and he was suggesting that this might be down to White Wolf marketing to a sector of the RPG market who enjoy reading RPG rulebooks but don’t actually get in much actual play, which is entirely possible. For a book which makes a nice reference for actual play, I actually found that Vampire: the Requiem for Dummies works quite neatly. It offers reasonably clear English versions of essential bits from the Requiem rulebook and World of Darkness core book, and whilst it doesn’t offer every single subsystem in Requiem, I think you could actually run a game based off For Dummies and do a reasonable job of it – at the very least, it’d make a very good quick reference book for players in a Requiem campaign who don’t want to tote around both the World of Darkness and Requiem books to their games.