Requiem In Different Veins

I’ve largely come to agree with the apparent critical consensus on Vampire: the Requiem‘s two editions: namely, that the first edition was an interesting first pass that was a little hampered by the commercial necessity of attempting to appeal to fans of Vampire: the Masquerade, which meant that it couldn’t quite diverge as markedly from Vampire precedent as it might have wanted to, whereas the second edition – designed in an era when Masquerade is continuing to be published – has done a much better job of carving out a distinctive new identity for itself and tightening up and modernising the design of the game.

Still, that isn’t to say the entire line was a wash – indeed, the core 2nd edition book recommends some first edition books as being worth a look. For this article I’m going to look at two books which seem to offer diametrically opposite approaches to supporting 1st edition – one big fat chunk of excellent advice and setting-design tools, and one thin tome of uninspiring fluff.

Damnation City

A sourcebook on the design of city environments as physical landscapes, thematic backdrops, and as political chessboards for the purposes of Vampire: the Requiem, Damnation City is such a useful toolkit that it could be used in any other modern-day occult game. Its major weakness is the designers’ insistence that there’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to use the book, and you have to do it the Right Way; for instance, they talk a lot about how the book’s meant to be used as a dramaturgical aid, rather than as a toolkit for a more simulation-styled approach to gameplay, but in fact if you want to run a Chronicles of Darkness sandbox game there’s few better tools.

Likewise, whilst they offer “Barony” and “Primacy” play styles, in which you play increasingly powerful individuals within the power structure of the city, they work on the inflexible axiom that the Prince of the city must always, invariably be an NPC, and that a player character can never take that position. This strikes me as outright cowardice to me: if you’re willing to have the PCs become the powers behind the throne, be willing to let one of them sit on the ding-dong diddly throne already.

There’s other aspects where the book’s design suggestions just fall flat. For instance, altogether too much space is given to various ways of plotting out the power structure of a city, some of which are more or less useful whilst others are nigh-incomprehensible or utterly uninformative. Some of the power structures there make absolute sense; others look like the sort of thing you’d create if you liked the idea of making a diagram of this sort of thing but had never seen a diagram in your life.

Still, when the book’s on form, it’s great. Stuffed with ideas for NPCs, districts, locations, and so on, it’s a grand sandbox toolbox designed by people who absolutely insist that it’s not for that style of play. Well, deny it all you like, mid-2000s White Wolf: you’re the stopped clock that pulls off something useful twice a day and this time you hit the jackpot.

Mythologies

This provides a grab-bag of different urban myths that vampires tell each other, along with rules systems and tweaks to use if you decide they are true in your campaign. Fun in principle, but somehow I find the actual myths presented to be somewhat drab and uninspiring. Perhaps the issue is that the book tries to stuff too many into its limited page count, leaving the mysteries here shallow and underdeveloped.

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Old Vampires, New Tricks

Thousand Years of Night is the shiny new supplement for Vampire: the Requiem focusing on playing elders. This is a smart love for the purposes of continuing the agenda of the 2nd edition core book (AKA Blood & Smoke: the Strix Chronicle) in terms of allowing Requiem to be its own thing rather than existing in the shadow of Vampire: the Masquerade. Masquerade had a very particular take on elders as being the uber-powerful vampire Illuminati, and this was largely reflected in the guidance offered for playing them in the Elysium supplement. On top of that, both the metaplot and various published adventures and setting books leaned heavily on the “elders pulling everyone’s strings” trope. If Requiem‘s elders could be distanced from this interpretation, that would establish some clear water between the two games.

Broadly speaking, Thousand Years of Night succeeds at this. Elders here are still quite powerful – they get a nice stack of Experiences depending on just how Elder they are at character gen, and of course you also have some nice new powers for them and guidance on what you can do with attributes and skills beyond the human maximum. At the same time, they aren’t the full-on vampire Illuminati they are in Masquerade – the much more fragmented nature of Kindred society in Requiem doesn’t lend itself to that, for one thing, and for another they aren’t so radically beyond other vampires in capabilities as to dominate the upper echelons of vampire politics.

What they are instead are people displaced far in time from their era of origin, and whilst they are more able than Masquerade‘s Elders to keep up with the times (in fact, odds are they’ve forgotten many of the archaic skills they used to have as they simply ceased using them and learned new skills in turn), they do need to face the problem of maintaining Touchstones when they’ve already seen entire generations of ’em fading into the dust. Out of the rules stuff here, perhaps the best stuff is the consideration of how Requiem‘s Touchstones system changes once you’re dealing with Elders of a particular vintage. You know that whole “Elder who becomes obsessed with someone because they remind them of someone from their tragic past” trope? You can do that way up to the hilt here.

You also get some consideration of how Elders interact with covenants, as well as covenants and conspiracies which primarily consist of Elders. (For instance, there’s a clique of Elders who specialise in a callous but effective method of Strix-hunting.) The book closes by rounding out the range of supernatural adversaries extant in the setting, following the lead of the main book of providing more examples of blood-drinkers and corpse-eaters from classical myth, as well as depicting some Elders and Methuselahs who’ve gone well off the deep end. For wilder character concepts, there’s also details on Clans which are supposed to have gone extinct, but which Elder characters could still viably be members of.

On the whole, I’d say that Thousand Years of Night does what Requiem supplements need to do at this point in time – expanding the range of play available in Requiem without obscuring or cluttering up the distinct vision and voice of the game line.

The Owls Are Not What They Seem: Redeeming the Requiem

I’ve previously talked on here about how I think many of the innovations of Vampire: the Requiem represent improvements over Vampire: the Masquerade – and yet, I’ve tended to find myself more interested in the older game’s 20th Anniversary Edition and its supplements than in the Requiem line. The problem is that Requiem, in its original presentation, manages to be just different enough from Masquerade to excite you with the possibilities of a different vision of vampires and vampiric society whilst not quite being different enough to avoid reminding you of Masquerade and feeling like a slightly fanfic-y remix of the more archetypal presentation of the concepts there.

This is probably an artifact of the way Requiem was originally published as an outright replacement for Vampire: the Masquerade, rather than as an interesting and novel alternative for it. This really put the original designers in an impossible bind; on the one hand, they had to make Requiem recognisably different from Masquerade to stop it feeling like a cynical cash grab, whilst at the same time they had to make it similar enough to the original so that those who liked Masquerade didn’t end up completely out in the cold.

Of course, these issues have been exacerbated of late by the publication of the V20 line, bringing the Classic World of Darkness back into the picture. Now that those who dig Masquerade have ongoing support for the line from Onyx Path, there’s no need for them to look to Requiem unless it’s for its unique selling points – which were not as strongly played up as they could have been in the original version. A second edition of Requiem, liberated from any need to pander to the Masquerade crowd to soothe their hurt at the old line’s termination, has been necessary for a while now, particularly in the light of the God-Machine Chronicle rules update which established some interesting and distinctive mechanical differences between the Classic and New World of Darkness systems.

However, matters were complicated by Onyx Path’s relationship with CCP, who were of the opinion that putting out official second editions of the New World of Darkness stuff would confuse consumers in the lead-up to the launch of their World of Darkness MMO. Frankly, I think CCP were kidding themselves there – most videogamers would not and would never be aware of Requiem in the first place, and those who were would understand the distinction between the MMO’s Classic World of Darkness-derived background and the New World of Darkness. Either way, they refused permission to put out new editions until after the MMO project was cancelled, which is why the God-Machine Chronicle exists in the form it does in the first place, and why Vampire: the Requiem 2nd Edition first hit the market as Blood & Smoke: the Strix Chronicle.

Continue reading “The Owls Are Not What They Seem: Redeeming the Requiem”

The Referee’s Bookshelf: Vampire: the Requiem

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.

Continue reading “The Referee’s Bookshelf: Vampire: the Requiem”