As I’ve said elsewhere, I really dig what Onyx Path are doing with Vampire: the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition – I consider it to be a marked improvement on the original run of the game, especially since it is deliberately set up to be metaplot-agnostic and I particularly like how the Anarchs Unbound supplement made the Anarch Movement feel like a viable Sect again rather than the doomed second-stringers that they increasingly seemed to be over the run of the original metaplot. That being the case, I figured I’d take a look over the rest of the product line to see whether they’d kept up the same level of consistency.
This collects various bits and pieces which were a bit too peripheral to include in the core V20 rulebook. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the book is its cover – whereas previous iterations of Vampire (and other World of Darkness games) had companion volumes for players and Storytellers, there is no such division here. This presumably arises from the line’s emphasis on cramming in value for money and not going out of the way to hold anyone’s hand.
Trusting that people won’t need extensive chapters of character design and storytelling device, the book instead focuses on offering handy bits of setting information. There’s an interesting rundown on the various titles (well-known and obscure) used in the various Sects, essays on Prestation (the network of boons and favours that Kindred society works on) and Kindred uses of technology, and a collection of interesting locations around the world (effectively a bunch of evocative adventure seeds).
Of these, the tech chapter is perhaps the most interesting, since it demands that V20 offer a distinct take on the subject from the old line. It does so by taking the interesting but very logical stance that individual Masquerade breaches on the Internet are not the end-of-the-world scenario that many Elders (and previous editions of the game) assumed they would be. Put up a YouTube video of vampire shit happening and people won’t automatically flip out – they will just assume it’s a well-done fake. It’s really the critical mass of Masquerade breaches that the Camarilla and other vampiric authorities actually need to watch out for. At the end of the day it turns out that people don’t really want to believe in vampires, and it will take more than a badly-shot YouTube video to convince them otherwise.
At the end of the day, an odds and sods collection like this hardly qualifies as a must-have (since by definition if the material in here were that central, it would be in the core book), but it enhances my appreciation of the setting enough that I am glad I have it.
The Hunters Hunted II
Supported by its own Kickstarter, this is a second edition of the widely-praised The Hunters Hunted supplement from way back in the early days of Vampire.
This is one of those really useful supplements which simultaneously opens up a whole new way to play the game it is designed to support whilst at the same time remaining true to the parent game’s themes. In this case, it’s a supplement about mortal vampire hunters, with an emphasis on running games where the PCs are said hunters.
The original supplement rather opened up the floodgates for this sort of thing; inspired by The Hunters Hunted, most of the Classic World of Darkness lines sooner or later received a supplement focusing on individuals who hunt members of the splat the parent game revolves around or expanding on some of the secret organisations first detailed in Hunters Hunted.
The major exception, of course, was Hunter: the Reckoning, whose Imbued protagonists didn’t seem to have a group of mortals hunting them (though since the Imbued had a tendency to off people based on what the voices in their heads were telling them, a game where you play mental health and law enforcement professionals trying to enforce an involuntary hospitalisation order on the Imbued would be completely believable). Indeed, there’s a substantial bloc of World of Darkness fans who greatly prefer NWoD‘s Hunter: the Vigil to CWoD‘s Hunter: the Reckoning, at least partly because people wanted Reckoning to consolidate and expand on the idea of ordinary people hunting the supernatural rather than introducing a whole new category of supernatural character that nobody had asked for.
That said, if you want Classic World of Darkness monster-hunters, Hunters Hunted II has got you amply covered. Even though it’s nominally a Vampire supplement and builds on that system, in practice the Hunters you generate with it could just as viably go after other supernaturals, since it devotes a lot of consideration to the general problem of mortals having to hunt things which are much more supernaturally capable than them as well as the specific problems of hunting vampires. In addition, much like Hunter: the Vigil for the New World of Darkness (and more so than the original Hunters Hunted to my eye) it scales quite nicely – you can use it to run games with out-of-their-depth normal people with no prior supernatural contact hunting vampires, or you can use the various useful-but-l0w-key Numina to play Hunters with a slight supernatural edge (whether this is in the form of True Faith, psychic powers, or hedge magic), or you can delve into the larger Hunter conspiracies detailed towards the back of the book in order to play professionals with serious backing.
As well as scaling nicely, the supplement also has a couple of clever mechanical tricks. First off, there’s an elegant solution to the old problem where if you want to play a game where the player characters make careful, systematic plans before they carry out their raids on undead lairs, the time spent planning feels frustratingly wasted if the plan goes off the tracks early on. Here, the supplement suggests a system in which planning sessions generate a pool of “Plan Dice” which can be used to get an edge on important rolls when enacting the plan, with Plan Dice added to the pool when people propose bits of the plan, point out holes in it, and so on. I’d personally suggest measures to avoid gaming this system by having the GM start removing dice from the pool if the conversation goes for five or more minutes without coming up with any new points, but this still seems to be a good way to ensure that game mechanically it’s better to go in with a solid plan than to try and improvise.
Another interesting quirk is that Humanity is still tracked as usual in Vampire, although without the Beast within human beings aren’t subject to panic or frenzy or other downsides of low Humanity – beyond the fact, that is, that as your Humanity goes down you’re likely to become a crueler, more vicious hunter, less prone to worry about collateral damage, and less invested in the connections you have to other people. This creates a situation where in principle Hunters can afford to treat Humanity as a dump stat and ironically you can have a party of human beings behaving more amorally than many coteries of Camarilla vampires – but in practice, this would be a terrible idea for the Hunters in question, because part of the danger of the hunt is that if caught you can be turned. A Hunter with high Humanity who is turned vampire might feel enough loyalty to their old comrades to help them out in a variety of ways, or at least go vaporise themselves in the sunlight so as not to be a danger to everything they’ve fought for. A low-Humanity human who turns vampire, though, ends up thrall to the Beast almost immediately, and then becomes a terrible foe to their former party.
Applying the lessons of Hunter: the Vigil to the original Hunters Hunted is a genuine no-brainer: it’s such a good idea that a competent team should be able to create a great product just by following that concept, and White Wolf have done so here, creating a supplement even better than the original release.
Rites of the Blood
An in-depth survey of the occult interests, rituals and magical techniques the Kindred explore, Rites of the Blood is more than just a big book of extra spells – though there’s plenty of stuff to flesh out the spell lists in here – so much as it’s a faction-by-faction survey of all the different ways in which vampires end up dabbling in matters metaphysical. Each of the first six chapters looks at a different Sect or grouping – one for the Camarilla, one for the Sabbat, one for the Anarchs, one for the various independent Clans, one for the odd little sects like the Tal’Mahe’Ra and the Inconnu, and one for full-on infernalists; the final chapter provides a review of the underlying principles of blood magic and how these can be used to cook up new rituals, plus a grab-bag of extra spells to round off the lists.
What’s more, the chapters don’t just offer discussions of magical techniques but also illustrates how the various varieties of magician fit into the social world of their respective Sects and groups. So, for instance, the Camarilla chapter talks about how the Tremere fit into the wider Sect, and the Sabbat chapter talks about how their magical-religious rituals fit into the world of the Sect. Some chapters offer even more interesting material; the Inconnu part actually offers some details on the structures and internal procedures and rules of the Inconnu, whilst the infernalism chapter also looks at the Camarilla and the Sabbat’s own internal procedures for rooting out internalism as well as the infernalists themselves.
On top of that, whilst a note at the start of the chapter suggests that the demons of Vampire: the Masquerade don’t necessarily have to be one and the same with those of Demon: the Fallen if you don’t want them to be, at the same time the depiction of infernalism does a great job of reconciling how demons were depicted in Vampire and how they worked in Demon; based on the description, it seems like the vast majority of vampires who get into infernalism are working with Earthbound that they’ve summoned and bound to the land or a talisman, creating the genuinely interesting crossover possibility that the majority of the 666 Earthbound were made that way as a result of vampire infernalists and their mortal coreligionists.
This and the Tal’Mahe’Ra section suggest more in the way of crossover action than other V20 supplements, but frankly that makes sense – digging deep into magic and the spiritual world inevitably invites precisely this sort of crossover action, or at least a game where there’s plenty more supernatural creatures in play than just vampires, whereas a low-magic campaign could also very viably have no supernatural entities aside from vampires show up.
Dread Names, Red List
Another sequel to an old supplement, this is an update of the old Kindred Most Wanted – a supplement about the Camarilla Red List, the politics surrounding it, and the enemies of vampire-kind listed on it. Again, this expands on the concept of the old supplement somewhat, providing more guidance and support for running campaigns in which the player characters are Alastors – agents of the Camarilla Justicars tasked with tracking down and killing the folk on the Red List. As far as the entries here go, some are old favourites from Kindred Most Wanted updated and some are new to this book. Most of the Red List entries that have been outright removed seem to have been done so either because they were just plain tasteless and offensive (like the tiny child who is also a practitioner of a gruesomely inaccurate version of voodoo), or because they pandered a bit too much to the “vampiric superhero” style of play that early Vampire often drifted into (like the Gangrel Methuselah monstrosity), or because they hinged too much on crossover nonsense (for instance, one of them was a werewoofle, and given that woofles all have this raging genocidal hatred of vampires adding one woofle to the hate list seems kind of pointless). In the case of those which have been retained, crossover nonsense and other such stuff in their backgrounds has been toned down – for instance, one of them is no longer a secret agent of the Black Spiral Dancers, but instead has a secret agenda it actually makes sense for a vampire to have. The new entries, meanwhile, seem interesting and imaginative – including one mortal who could be a Mage-style mage if you wanted him to be but ultimately doesn’t need to be.
The real gem here, though, isn’t the NPC profiles so much as the guidance on how each NPC lends themselves to a different tone of Anathema-hunting adventure. Alastor action seems to be a decent concept for a short-term Vampire campaign, or a longer campaign if people are happy with such a thing being something of a mission-based villain-of-the-season sort of affair. As such, Dread Names manages to transcend being a mere NPC collection and becomes another supplement in the tradition of The Anarch Handbook or Hunters Hunted II in the sense that it opens the door to a brand new way to playing something which is still very recognisably Vampire.
If I had to rank the V20 supplements reviewed here from least interesting to top quality, it’d go V20 Companion due to the fuzzy and indistinct nature of the supplement, Dread Names for the fact that it caters to a very particular campaign niche very well, Rites of the Blood for the thorough treatment it offers of its subject matter, and Hunters Hunted II for being not just an excellent support for playing mortals-based games in a Vampire context, but also the only book you really need to run player character hunters in any Classic World of Darkness game. That said, I’d highly recommend more or less all the books, though I might suggest waiting until it was on sale for the V20 Companion. If you already have the complete run of the earlier books, you might find these releases less useful, but by condensing down and concentrating all the awesome into these tight, dense packages, Onyx Path have made a product line that I consider to be much more useful for gaming purposes than the older, flabbier, more game fiction-packed material tended to be.