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V20 Lore of the Clans
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/27/2016 09:37:42

If you have been playing Vampire: The Masquerade for any time, you probably have a stack of clan 'splatbooks' giving you the low-down on the various clans of vampires (especially if you are an experimental role-player and don't stick to identical characters all the time). Here notes on all thirteen clans have been gathered together into a single sourcebook containing a wealth of vampire history, tradition and outright lies, all ready for you to delve into.


Each chapter addresses the nature and traditions of a single clan from the standpoint of a vampire who is a member of that clan. How truthful are they? Well, about as truthful as any vampire is, and most of them make politicians look vaguely honest. Starting with the history of the clan, the chapter also contains information about how the clan operates tonight, and provides a range of new powers, merits, flaws, and other rules information which can be used to customise a typical clan member as you please.


The approach is vaguely scholarly, and proves quite an entertaining read. Most could be gathered by a curious vampire of any clan who is prepared to research and talk to members of other clans - after all, any vampire has a lot of nights to fill and needs a good hobby! Of course, for older vampires it's not history, it is something through which they existed although memories may not be as sharp, or may be coloured by later events and opinions. Only the Storyteller knows for certain what is fact and what is fiction in his own campaign... and he may not be telling!


With appendices covering the Caitiff and the Antitribu and a selection of notable vampires, this work provides a fascinating insight to vampire society and is well worth reading, especially if you enjoy all the details that take this game to a high level of absorbing role-playing and storytelling.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Lore of the Clans
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Bad Light (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2016 13:11:52

With the title 'Bad Light' given to a scenario set on an ocean coastline near a trade route that's threatened by a reef, and a plot which centres around a light-tower built against a cliff it's quite easy to guess what might be going on... but there's a bit more to it, as the adventure background lays out for the DM. Moreover, there is more than one way for the party to solve the problem, which gives a nice feeling of freedom of action and allows for ingenious ideas and tactics,


Several hooks are provided to get the party involved, neatly giving a variety of options so that you can spring this on them pretty well whatever they think they are doing at the time. However, it's primarily a site-based adventure, with the action proper beginning once they arrive at the lighthouse, which rejoices in the name of the Pearl Tower having once been coated in mother-of-pearl scales (long gone now, pinched by raiders). A plan is provided, along with detailed descriptions of who and what is to be found there.


There's also a secondary location that needs to be visited, covered in less detail so you may want to spend some time on designing the surroundings. Once matters have been dealt with - and that will require fighting, the antagonists are not the sort to be talked out of their activities - there's a brief mention of some follow-up activities. Overall it's a neat little adventure that can be dropped in somewhere suitable as part of the exploits of a typical band of adventurers.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bad Light (3.5)
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V20 Rites of the Blood
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2016 12:39:21

Just as their unlife derive from it, so does vampire sorcery have its basis in blood. Quite messily at times, as the opening piece of fiction describes (all in the best possible taste, I'm glad to say, your imagination is left to fill in the less pleasant bits!). Many vampires wonder just how blood does what it does for them, the more curious ask what else it can do. Out of this inquiry comes more exotic knowledge. Raw power shaped and controlled by ritual... magic. This book, then, looks at what effect blood rituals (and indeed blood sorcery as a whole) has on vampire society, as well as the price an individual vampire pays to develop his arts.


Ultimately, it's all about power. Raw power. Some clans codify their knowledge and pass it on, master to apprentice, sire to childe... but others reach deep into themselves to tap into powers they might have learned to control but do not really understand. The theme here is the cost of power, the mood is the strange and often scary wierdness of it all. Even vampires themselves see it as unnatural, which coming from unnatural beings is strange indeed! Ancient secrets and recent discoveries, quite apart from the disciplines practiced by all vampires, blood magic involves individuals wielding almost limitless power that can as easily overwhelm as it can serve. Treat with caution...


Chapter 1: The Ivory Tower starts a survey of blood magic as practised by various vampire groups by looking at the Tremere and thaumaturgy. The very history of the clan is bound up in their practice of thaumaturgy and it makes interesting reading to see how they used it to claw their way from untrusted outsiders to valued members of the vampire community (even if viewed somewhat warily)... and then the Camarilla was formed, and they established their position. There's more on their current status and the way in which they work, then follow detailed descriptions of commonly used rituals, including the rule mechanics for using them.


Then Chapter 2: The Sword of Caine continues in similar vein, explaining how blood magic is used by vampires of the Sabbat. Various kinds of magic are practiced and these are explained at length. The recurrent theme is that whatever magic is studied depends on the clan affiliation of the vampire studying it: although there are a few exceptions when particularly curious individuals somehow manage to learn a different style. The Sabbat also practice a variant form of magic called the ritae, which involve not just blood but faith as well. Detail is immense, reflecting the way in which spell-casters pore over their books and scrolls, amassing vast amounts of knowledge, a constanct feature of this entire book.


And so it continues with chapters exploring the blood magic practices of other groups - Chapter 3: The Movement looks at what Anarchs do including wierd and wonderful 'Hacktivist Thaumaturgy' that mixes computer technology, blood and magic and Chapter 4: The Independents explores the exploits of Assemites, Setites, Giovanni (who are in to necromancy big style). Then Chapter 5: The Unusal covers the Inconnu, the Tal'Mahe'Ra and even looks at the magical creation of creatures such as gargoyles. Not that that is supposed to happen any more, the Tremere had to give up their gargoyle habit when they joined the Camarilla but... well, the appropriate rituals are laid out here. Chapter 6: The Damned looks at demons, with a note explaining that these demons are not the ones of Demon: The Fallen, but rather demons as vampire view them. This chapter is steeped in the history of vampiric dealings with demons and inclues a section on the Sabbat Inquisition. Don't mess with them...


Finally, Chapter 7: Secrets of the Blood attempts, as far as is possible, a systematic analysis of blood magic from its fundamental principles. Whilst this mainly concentrates on the game mechanics necessary, there is enough background for a studious player to make his vampire character sound like he knows what he is talking about!


If magic is to play a leading role in your chronicle, or your character wants to study it, this work will provide ample resources. It is perhaps a bit of a niche interest, but reading through these chapters gives an insight into quite a lot more than just ritual spellcasting vampire-style... it provides added depth to the activities of sects and clans and so gives further insight to the shadowed world of vampires.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Rites of the Blood
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V20 Anarchs Unbound
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/23/2016 08:44:17

Some vampires have no time for the traditions that have built up night by night amongst their kind. Some do not want to wait to gain seniority and status within vampire society but want to grab it now, even if to others it seems that they haven't earned it yet. These are the Anarchs, who can be summed up as being more like the kine on which they feed than like the kindred to which they belong. They are the agents of change, who see vampire society as stagnant and lost in its past and seek to incorporate new ideas and new tools as they drag it into the present day. No wonder older vampires hate them!


Yet their rebellion often does no more than replace one tyrant with another, their demands that their ideas be heard fade into stoney silence if anyone else wishes to express a contrary concept. Are they actually any better than that which they seek to replace? This book seeks to enable you to portray them warts and all, with background and setting details for those who want to play Anarchs and Storytellers who want to make use of them in their chronicles.


Beginning with Chapter 1: The History of the Anarch Movement - a look at the history of the Anarchs, nowhere as 'new' as they'd like to think that they are. Elder vampire look back and wonder if they could have stopped this pesky cult long before it erupted, but it's embedded in strands that go so far back that it would have been well-nigh impossible. It all goes back to the fall of Carthage - which of course had vampiric involvement, it wasn't just a political struggle led by Roman senators trying to ensure that no other power would get big enough to threaten the might of Rome. Brujah there had tried to build a life in some measure of harmony with the kind, and Roman Ventrue were having none of it, laying the foundations for the elder-dominated traditional vampire society we know tonight. This was reinforced by the development of the Camarilla and the Masquerade in the 14th century as a response to Church-led attacks on vampires... but many young vampires saw it as a blatent attempt by their elders to enforce control over them and organise vampire society at their expense - and revolt ensued, with neonates no longer slavishly following orders. And when those orders left them at the mercy of the Inquisition whilst their elders escaped, who can blame them? And so it continues to this very night, weaving through real-world history in a compelling account that encompasses exploration of the Americans, Soviet Russia right up to contemporary nights. Plenty of ideas here as to where (and why) Anarchs might fit into whatever is going on in your game.


Next, Chapter 2: The City Upon a Hill looks at how they organise their domains and the sorts of structures and internal politics that they have. Presented as a fascinating, if a bit rambling, diatribe, there's a wealth of information here, including notes on particular hot-beds of Anarch activity and plenty more of use to anyone wishing to construct or inhabit an Anarch domain. In keeping with their modern nature, there is even a virtual domain lurking in the Deep Web.


Chapter 3: Spreading the Movement is the 'cookbook' of ideas, showing how they destablise and attempt to destroy other vampire organisations. Whichever side your coterie finds itself on, they should find things of use here from traditional dissent and violence to cunning manipulations of the World Wide Web. A heady mix of anecdote, fiction and discourse conveys the information.


Then, Chapter 4: Characters and Traits provides what you need to create Anarch characters. Of particular use if you want to play them, a Storyteller can of course produce detailed NPCs by the same method. New archtypes, backgrounds and traits suited to Anarchs are provided. Chapter 5: Anarch Disciplines then follows on with new Disciplines and powers which in some way draw upon Anarch ideology, although they are in the main not confined to Anarchs alone. Some are strange indeed, mixing coding with magic to operate across the Internet!


Finally, Chapter 6: The Storyteller's Toolbox is just what it says, aimed at Storytellers and providing ideas for those wishing to add an Anarch flavour to their game. It's quite different to adding other sects or clans, for Anarchs define themselves by what they stand for, not where they are in relation to anyone else. Their central tenet is equality of opportunity for all vampires, but they do not espouse any particular outcome, let the chips fall where they may provided everyone gets a fair chance.


The Appendix: Antagonists and Allies also mainly for the Storyteller, covering useful NPCs with historical documents in Appendix II: The Anarch Accords. Yep, even Anarchs keep some records.


This work gives a fascinating glimpse into the Anarchs and how their history has been interwoven with that of oher vampires through the nights from the earliest to the present... as background invaluable, if you want to play Anarchs or involve their machinations in your game, priceless.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Anarchs Unbound
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Dry Spell (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/22/2016 12:37:09

In a nice low=level adventure, the party is asked to retrieve a magical item that has been stolen by bandits and which is believed to be behind a drought troubling a region that is already semi-desert. The background for the DM explains what is going on and a few hooks are provided to get the party involved, mostly - as is appropriate for the level - an offer of reward to find out what is going on and put things right. It's suggested that if nobody in the party can track, an NPC tracker be available to help them find the main site of the action.


Basically, once the party have done whatever research they like about the bandits (or the magic item, not that much is known about that, its owner was on the way to consult with a local sage when the bandits attacked) they need to travel deep into the desert to find the bandit lair. Here's an opportunity for a bit of sun, sand and suffering for the party. They'll need to make sure that they take adequate supplies and take precautions against the heat... and of course, some random encounters are provided to keep them entertained along the way. Once they arrive at their destination, there's a neat little delve with some varied and quite intelligent (or at least well-organised) defenders and a bandit chief who is quite cunning and thinks about what he is doing - although he is of the 'fight or flight' variety, unlikely to try negotiations with the party. A few thoughts for follow-up adventures are mentioned, but this is basically something to accomplish and then move on. A neat little adventure.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dry Spell (3.5)
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A Question of Ethics (3.0)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/22/2016 11:27:32

Here's a bit of a delight: an adventure where there isn't a Bad Guy to defeat, rather there are two contending forces, neither of which is particularly good or particularly bad... and the party will have to decide which, if any, they are willing to help!


The background notes for the DM explain everything - it's a territorial dispute over an area that includes a wizard's tomb, with one lot wanting to turn the tomb into a base and t'other lot not being interested in the tomb at all, they're after a mineral nearby. But they won't talk, let alone share. A nearby town is holding a festival, which is assumed to be what gets the party into the area (although ther are other hooks if your lot aren't great festival-goers), and the module sets out to provide you with all the resources you need to let the party loose in the area and moderate whatever they decide to do... a neat way of handling a very 'open' plot.


These resources include notes on the town and the festival, which as well as the usual elements of a mediaeval fair includes an Arcane Challenge with a series of events for spell-slingers to test their prowess against each other. Naturally, a party wizard or sorcerer might like to try his hand... and others may be more interested in archery or fencing contests or even a cooking competition! Several NPC spellcasters are provided as opposition, along with notes on how they intend to address the challenges of the contest. If nobody from the party joins in, it can still make for an entertaining spectacle.


Just to add to the fun, there's another group of adventurers there, who are concerned by some encroaching stone giants and are trying to stir the town up to do something about them, and there is also a nasty disease spreading through the region. And, of course, there is the dispute that is at the heart of the plot. Everyone involved is detailed, along with what they are likely to do, how they will react to any interference, and what they are likely to be willing to negotiate about.


Finally, there's the wizard's tomb itself. This is mapped out (using a map from the Map-a-Week series on the Wizards of the Coast website, reproduced here although the original link still works at the time of writing) and is full of interesting things... and traps to guard them. Plenty of fun for those looking for a more traditional delve.


Ending with some notes on the consequences of some of the more likely party actions, this is a real gem of an adventure, with a lot packed into 11 pages!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Question of Ethics (3.0)
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Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Screen
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/21/2016 09:00:19

PDF screens are always a bit odd: what do you do with them? Do you print them out and stick them on card? The 'GM-side' tables often provide a useful summary of the rules you might need to refer to during play, so you might want to print those out, but the 'player-side' - usually graphics-intense pictures - can prove a bit more problematic, it's a lot of printer ink for little enhancement to your game.


This screen is pretty much what one would expect. The three panels of player-side art is top notch, Onyx Path are good at that... there's a selection of decadant-looking, langorous vampires lounging around gazing out at you looking as if they are in two minds whether to bite you or seduce you... pretty much encapsulates Vampire: The Masquerade vampires, really. It is dark, it will use up your ink, but if you enjoy the art then you might well want to print this out and either actually make a physical screen or just decorate your gaming room with them.


As for the 'Storyteller-side', the tables are clear and well laid out if a little eclectic in choice. Health levels, combat summaries, generic difficulties, combat manoeuvre charts... yes, these you can and will use. Probably quite often, at least until they all become second nature. But generation traits, the changes due to which generation a vampire is, that's not something you often need mid-game. Or bearing? Somehow linked to the vampire's humanity or lack thereof, but it ought to be filed away with your description of that vampire rather than something you need to check on mid-game.


A print-on-demand version would have been a welcome addition for those who do like physical screens. As it is, at only a couple of dollars it's probably worth taking a look to see if you do want it.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Screen
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The Hunters Hunted II
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/20/2016 10:38:57

Opening with some evocative fiction that sets the scene, this book is about those mortals who have realised that vampires actually exist and have decided to do something about them: the Hunters. The Introduction expands on this, explaining that whilst vampires are predators, there are also those who prey on them... and that 'vampire hunters' are one of the few things that actually scares a vampire. They hunt for various reasons and use a variety of methods, but they all have the same purpose: to rid the world of these evil creatures.


Hunters are generally driven by hate. They often don't know that much about vampires, and what they do know is a mix of fact and fantasy. After all, it's not a topic of respectable study, it's even hard to find anyone who will agree that yes, the monsters are real. The main themes here are personal horror and sacrifice, and the mood is one of desperate determination. Vampire hunters often do not last long, even if they escape the nearest lunatic asylum and public ridicule for their beliefs. There are two ways you can use this book: either you run a game based around a party of vampire hunters or you use the material herein to create potent adversaries for your coterie.


Chapter 1: Alone in the Night looks at how people come to be hunters in the first place. Delivered as a monologue that at times seems deranged, it's a good rundown of why people become vampire hunters, what motivates them and what they actually do. Many start curious, just wanting to know more, but nearly all end up wanting to destroy the vampire menace. There's a lot of ideas for how to combat vampires and their special abilities too, as well as the warning that using most of those ideas will likely attrack police attention, and the average cop will not be impressed when you start going on about vampires... There is also material about working as a group of hunters rather than a solo vigilante.


Then Chapter 2: Character Creation and Traits shows you how to generate hunter characters (whether you want to play them or use them as well-detailed adversaries). It starts will getting the group together (players, I mean) and deciding what sort of game you want. This will help the Storyteller build the right sort of chronicle and the players create appropriate hunter characters. Of course, the process works as well for a Storyteller who wants to use hunters as major antagonists in a conventional Vampire game, but then it will be a more solitary thing.


Next, Chapter 3: Tools and Tactics expands on the ideas already expressed and provides a wealth of new ones. It is also replete with story hooks and suggestions that spawn plots of their own accord as you read. There's also some notes on how to plan and run a hunter operation (as hunters, that is) - along with rules suggestions on how to judge its efficacy in a way that makes it exciting to all participants. Then Chapter 4: Numina gives hunters that extra edge, assorted mystical powers some of them can tap into to help them in their fight. There's hedge magic, divine powers, healing, psychic powers and more.


Chapter 5: Storytelling goes behind the scenes with masses of good advice for Storytellers, particularly those who want to run a chronicle based on vampire hunters. It looks at what is different about a Vampire game run from that angle, and what is still the same as in a regular game. It explores the themes and moods you might want to use, and how to construct a chronicle from a bunch of misfits getting together to... well, whatever climactic battle ends your chronicle. You may be after action/adventure, mystery, horror, survival, investigation... or probably a bit of a mix. There are plenty of ideas here to help you. It's well worth a read, and ideas spawn as you do so, never mind the actual hooks and story seeds liberally scattered throughout.


Next, Chapter 6: Organisations and Resources provides some organisations that hunt vampires. Your hunters may join them, work with them or even come into conflict with them. Many have specialised tools, techniques and contacts which members can use to effect. Everyone from the Catholic Church to the US Government and organised crime seem to be getting in on the act, so there's plenty of scope to twist your game in whatever direction you fancy. Loads of examples and ideas here...


Finally, an Appendix presents Sample Characters. Perhaps you cannot wait to run your game, or you want a few hunters to throw at your vampires... or maybe you just want some examples of what can be done.


This puts a whole delightful spin on a Vampire game, and fills your head with ideas, whether you want to hunt a few vampires or threaten the ones you've got with something other that vampire intriques and power struggles. Well worth a read.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Hunters Hunted II
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Wreck Ashore (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2016 13:28:58

This adventure makes a good beginning to a campaign - indeed I've used it that way, with a party who were missionaries for Kord tasked with departing from Seawell, the port that is central to the adventure, to head elsewhere on their mission. Only they had to deal with the situation here first...


The situation is simple: no ships have arrived in Seawell for the past few weeks... and as the place is normally quite a busy port this is a matter of some concern to the locals. The background for the DM explains what has been going on, and a few hooks have been provided to get the party to Seawell - unless, like me, you have something else in mind. The adventure itself starts when the party arrive in Seawell.


To resolve the situation, the party is going to have to slog through a nearby swamp - complete, of course, with the wildlife you'd expect to find there - or take a boat trip to a nearby lighthouse. That's if they can find a boat, of course, and someone willing to take them. There are encounters along the way and both the lighthouse and a pirate camp to explore. By the time all that has done, the party should have discovered what is going on, and be in a position to deal with it.


There are suggestions for follow-up activities, mostly based on the party staying in the port, or - as my lot did - they can get on with other business. It makes a good opening (or early) adventure for a campaign and is nicely constructed with a variety of challenges... and it has pirates!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wreck Ashore (3.5)
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V20 Children of the Revolution
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/17/2016 06:43:01

Times of strife or turmoil or civil unrest are perfect for vampires: when people are dying or even better disappearing in great numbers it becomes very easy to cover their tracks. Some say that throughout history vampires have even brought about trouble, they've certainly taken advantage of it. Many vampires who were themselves Embraced in such times find them to their liking and will seek them out or even cause them in nights to come. In this book we meet several such, fully detailed with stat blocks, background information and more. Perhaps what they are getting up to will have an effect on your coterie or the chronicle you are running, or at least reading about them may spawn your own ideas.


Each clan's approach is discussed. For some, like the Assamites, civil unrest or outright war is an absolute gift - there's always work for assassins! Giovanni look for opportunities to acquire stuff whilst its owners are distracted, or have been slain or displaced. And so on. Their approach also informs who a typical member of that clan will Embrace during the turmoil and how they will go about it. This makes for fascinating reading, and can guide you in developing clan-based plots whenever there is some turmoil that can be taken advantage of within your game.


And then we come to the vampires themselves. Richly detailed with everything from their personal appearance to their backstory and game statistics, you can have them pop up as suits your chronicle... or even build events around one of them as they stir up trouble to their own advantage. Will your coterie try to hinder them or will they latch on to whatever's happening as suits their own best interests? Many of these vampires have been around quite a while, and their stories make interesting reading. Many retain habits and mannerisms of a bygone age, perhaps finding it hard to adapt to modern life. Each also has a full-page illustration that seeks to capture their personality on the page.


Role-playing hints are provided for each one, this is a book to be used, with vivid NPC vampires to make your nights more colourful. But it goes far beyond a clutch of interesting and well-detailed NPCs. Each gives a glimpse into a much wider picture of vampire society and other aspects of the World of Darkness that you can incorporate into your chronicles as background setting, or weave entire plotlines around. Much of it is complex and intrigue-ridden (much like vampire society itself) and makes for fascinating reading whatever use you intend to make of them in your game. Perhaps a book for the completist, but if your interests and style turn to the convoluted intrigues and machinations so beloved of vampires, this is a real treat.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
V20 Children of the Revolution
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Sheep's Clothing (3.5)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/15/2016 10:50:21

This work opens with a discussion of suitable placement for the adventure: basically, anywhere there is a formal 'court' type environment, be it a royal court or a gathering of wealthy merchants or the like. There are detailed suggestions for likely places in the Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms settings, or of course you can pick an equivalent in your own campaign world.


Next, the adventure background sets the scene. It's all about intrigue, of course, but don't just move on if your group doesn't care for such things, there is a clear threat that's going to take swords and spells to defeat. Indeed, the party will probably do better if they are not courtier material! There are quite a few NPCs for you to get your head around, though, so a modicum of preparation is recommeded to run this.


Several hooks are provided to get the party involved, at least one being devious in the extreme! All involve the need to find out why some courtiers have vanished inexplicably. Once enticed in, there are several encounters that take place at the court itself which hopefully lead the party to identify who is behind the shenanigans, even if they don't pick up on his true nature. An unexplained death, a sudden change of opinion, a surprise appointment, even a heated argument... and then things start to get physical with a couple more encounters, one in court and one outside, when the party will have to defend themselves.


By now the party should have a pretty good idea of who is behind the unfortunate events, although there are suggestions as to how to handle parties who aren't quite so discerning, and the second part of the adventure takes them to that individual's manor house where they will find much more than they have bargained for - even if they are already suspicious of his nature as well as of his actions! - once they have got themselves safely through the surrounding forest to the establishment itself.


Now if the instigator manages to get away (and the tactics notes for him provide plenty of ways for him to try to escape as well as suggesting that's his preferred action), he will make a magnificent recurring villain... and one who will have it in for the party. If the party deal with him permanently, they will have friends at court - which can be a boon or a curse depending on whether they like being given dangerous and sometimes diplomatic missions! Definitely recommended, for a skilful mix of intrigue and violence that should keep most parties happy!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sheep's Clothing (3.5)
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V20 Companion
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/14/2016 08:55:22

The Introduction opens with a glowing recommendation for the 'open development' style of writing game books, where developers, writers and players kick ideas around in discussion forums as the book is written. This book was created in such a style, it's testimony to its effectiveness. Many 'companion' books consist of material that had to be cut from the core rulebook to keep the beast to a manageable size, but from the outset that was not the intent with the V20 Companion. Instead it presents options and setting information, and a fair bit more.


Chapter 1: Titles deals with social structure and titles of honour and position used in vampire society - given that vampires tend to be a proud and acquisative bunch who will grab any opportunity to lord it over others, you can guess that they are very fond of titles. It all goes back to mediaeval days (or before) and those ancient vampires who remember those days feel right at home... more modern vampires can find it all quite stultifying and frustrating (especially, of course, when they are at the bottom of the heap!). Yet titles imply order and rules and without them there would be chaos - herding vampires being a bit like herding cats. This chapter is deliberately rules-light due to player feedback during the development process, but there is sufficient structure to help you work it all out to good effect. Titles are generally conferred by a more senior vampire, but there are options to handle them like backgrounds and spend experience points to gain them or use them as status benefits. It's best if there are story reasons for that shiny new title however the character actually acquired it, though! Many titles carry duties and responsibilities, which can make for some interesting plot lines. There's a survey of the different titles to be found in various sects and more, a towering and confusing array made mostly clear... and yes, even Anarchs have titles.


Next, Chapter 2: Prestation discusses the whole process of trading, repaying, and incurring favours - the very essence of vampire interactions. Everyone does favours and owes them in a dizzying web that's in part based on trust (between vampires?) that favours will ultimately be repaid. Reneging on a favour owed is a quick way to get into deep trouble real fast, yet sometimes impossible conflicts arise: what if someone you owe a life debt to is declared target of a Blood Hunt? You aren't excused from the Hunt, but it is also very bad form to ignore the fact you owe him a life. Oathbreakers are the worst of low-unlives, so to speak. Moreover, favours can be traded, just as commercial debts are sold on in the real world - so a vampire may find himself owing a favour not to the person who did him one but someone else entirely. It's all part of the mad, intense, social status games vampires play all the time. Fascinating, and replete with plot potential.


In Chapter 3: Kindred and Technology we get to look at how vampires, who have often been around quite a while, cope with the march of modern technology. Consider how much technology has changed since Vampire: The Masquerade appeared in 1991... you carry more computing power in your pocket than an Apollo spacecraft, and my job as an e-learning specialist hadn't even been dreamed of! It was so much easier to conceal being a vampire without social media or international travel and many other things we take for granted. A wealth of ideas and concepts are discussed here, all with an eye to enhancing the story you're telling, of course.


Finally, Chapter 4: A World of Darkness takes a look at several notable locations that have significance for vampires. Scattered around the world, these may serve as background, places worthy of a passing visit or become central to your chronicle.


And then there's an Appendix: Director's Cut. This contains material dropped from the V20 Companion during the development process and is provided partly as an interesting footnote and partly because some people might like to use it, even if the majority opinion was set against.


Overall, a wealth of fascinating, if a bit disparate, material to dip into and use to enhance your game as you see fit.



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V20 Companion
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Dust to Dust
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/13/2016 08:48:40

This is an adventure for Vampire: The Masquerade V20 concerning the city of Gary, Indiana, a city which is in decline for reasons unspecified... and not wholly to do with vampires! It's deeply political, but is interesting that the party has the choice as to how much - even if - they get involved. Whilst they are assumed to be neonates, they ought to have at least some autonomy from their respective sires (although if they are in part acting as someone's agents that always adds to the fun!).


The Introduction includes details of how the Storyteller Adventure System works, for those new to it and explains how the PDF is set up with full hyperlinking to provide for ease of use. It also provides a comprehensive background to the plot and introduces some of the key players - vampires, mortals and others. Themes are recovery and progress, but the mood is bleak, due to the state of Gary itself. Unlike many adventures it is quite open-ended, in some ways more a 'setting' than an actual scenario, and - if the party decides to get really involved - could provide the basis for an entire chronicle. However all you really need is to come up with some reason for them to be in, or passing through, Gary. For that matter, they may not even be a party yet - if you are starting from scratch with new characters, their meeting and forming a cotorie might be an integral part of the game.


Scene set, we move on to the events themselves. It's not the sort of adventure which progresses neatly from event to event, rather there are a series of events which can occur within the setting and with the detailed NPCs provided - an excellent 'sandbox' adventure, but one which of necessity requires good planning and perhaps improvisation from the Storyteller.


The first event, Welcome to Gary, sets the scene for the whole adventure, concentrating on the thin pickings there are for a hungry vampire in the city, and giving them the chance to encounter some of the major players - for here even elders have to hunt in alleys like the meanest neonate!


Scene follows scene quite quickly. In each there's descriptive material to help you put across the picture, notes on which NPCs are around and what they are doing, and outlines of what could take place and how to moderate them. Certainly prior preparation is essential for this all to run smoothly whatever the characters decide to do. Each scene is rated as to whether its focus is social, physical or mental and there's a good selection so no matter what individual characters prefer they will get their chance to shire.


Possibly the most delightful scene involves a 'zombie walk', an event where ordinary mortals have been invited to dress up as zombies... it's not hard to think of ways in which a bunch of vampires could have fun at such an event. By the end, the characters should have changed the balance of power in Gary - for good or ill, who knows. It's open-ended enough that it could run and run, if they want to stay in Gary, or just be a sidenote in their reputations if they prefer to move on. It's intriguing, exciting... a fascinating spin on how vampires can affect, and be affected by, the world around them.



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Dust to Dust
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Vampire Translation Guide
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/10/2016 08:51:27

When I reviewed Vampire: The Requiem 1e I wrote "If you played Vampire: The Masquerade forget everything you know about vampires!" Now, Vampire: The Masquerade was launched in 1991 and ran through three editions... and in 2004 Vampire: The Requiem came along, part of the New World of Darkness, and established itself as a popular game in its own right. But although both deal with vampires in a dark and twisted contemporary world, each game has a different vision of that world. The rules are a bit different too, but for many players, they have wanted to bring concepts across - a favourite clan or bloodline, perhaps - into the other game. This work seeks to make some of that possible, or at least to suggest ways of doing so for those players who are not happy with hacking systems for themselves.


The important guideline, however, is that the story is more important than the rules, and that whatever you do should enhance your game, make it more fun. They are two different game systems, and you may have to twist things a bit to elbow-wrestle a concept from one to the other. Don't be afraid, just dig a bit to work out what the intended effect of that concept is and then run with it. Maybe the biggest difference is that Vampire: The Masquerade is a stand-alone game in its own right and in Vampire: The Requiem we merely have the vampire source book for the New World of Darkness. Crossover games were possible - indeed my group mixed Vampire: The Masquerade vampires with Werewolf: The Apocalypse werebeasts with gay abandon - but you were mixing two separate games with the associated effort of twisting game mechanics into compatability.


There were conceptual differences too, and these are explored here, from the theological (just how did vampires come about anyway?) to how wide ranging the game is in scale, the tone of the game and whether or not there's an underlying metaplot going on.


Next, a look at Clans - something a vampire doesn't get to choose (although the player usually does) but other people, vampires or not, tend to make assumptions about a vampire based on their clan affiliation. The real difference between the games is that Vampire: The Masquerade clans are based around the creation myth, common to all, that vampires are all descended from Cain, cursed after killing his brother Abel, and that Cain had thirteen childer, hence thirteen clans. In Vampire: The Requiem each clan has its own creation myth, it's possible that vampires from different clans are actually subtly different kinds of monster, a form of convergent evolution. An analysis of all the clans from both games follows, with detailed notes on how to move them to the other game to best effect. This section ends with some comments on bloodlines, which are also dramatically different between the two games.


Then Sects and Covenants get the same treatment. In Vampire: The Masquerade there were but two sects (Camarilla and Sabbat) and they were at war, individual vampires identified themselves by their clan. In Vampire: The Requiem clan is less important, and vampires define themselves by the covenant they choose to join. Again, each group is gone through with an eye to using it in the other game.


Whilst both games have Disciplines, there too differ and there's some detailed analysis on how to tweak game mechanics to have the discipline you want within the game system you have chosen to play. Traits and Systems then get the same treatment.


Finally, Character Conversion. Never mind having your favourite clan or discipline available, what about that treasured vampire character? Here is a step by step process, or actually two processes, Masquerade to Requiem and Requiem to Masquerade. What would that character you know and love be like if you played the other system... here is your chance to find out, with the sample characters from the respective rulebooks used as examples.


This may be a rather nit-picking approach for some, but if you want the rules to work seamlessly and to best effect rather than just grabbing concepts and winging it, this book provides all the tools that you need.



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Vampire Translation Guide
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Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition
Publisher: White Wolf
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/09/2016 07:46:01

Grabbing attention from the outset opening with a collection of fan (and fans-now-made-it-in-the-hobby) comments about what earlier versions of Vampire: The Masquerade means to them, this is a beast of a book, enticing and potentially destructive, capturing all the excitement and otherness of the original in a mature, elegant and yet still raw and visceral form. Once through this excitement, the 'meat' of the book comes in three sections: the Riddle, the Becoming and the Permutations.


First up, The Riddle. This looks at what the game actually is with an Introduction that charts the development of Vampire: The Masquerade from its beginnings in 1991, discussing the wierd yet effective mixture of urban alienation and tight-knit community of belonging that made this game such a landmark and success; and touching at some length on the pervasive nature of the LARP version too. Then there are some notes on vampires as they are seen in this game, which of the common 'facts' about vampires are true and which are not... These basics covered, Chapter 1: A World of Darkness looks in more detail at vampires (the kindred as they like to call themselves) and the world in which they have their unlife, and Chapter 2: Sects and Clans covers vampire society, the organisations that claim their loyalty. It all makes for fascinating reading, and established the environment in which the game is played with YOU as the vampires.


Next, The Becoming. This is the game mechanics bit, covering character creation and the options available in Chapter 3: Character and Traits, and Chapter 4: Disciplines. Then Chapter 5: Rules tells you what you can do with the character that you have created, and how to go about it, with Chapter 6: Systems and Drama providing extra detail on doing, well, everything to best effect. Then Chapter 7: Morality slams the brakes on, with what happens to the vampire's core essence, his soul if you like, as he goes about his unlife. Herein lies the angst, the alienation and the struggle to stay sane, perhaps even 'human' when you so clearly are no longer what you were pre-embrace.


Finally, The Permutations. Here we find a chapter on Storytelling, the art of running a game. It's full of thoughtful and thought-provoking comments, ideas to help you spawn your own ideas. Developing themes and situations, capturing the essence of the World of Darkness and presenting it to your players. Building a structure to create a coherent chroncicle (plot arc), even how to bring it to a resounding conclusion. There's a wealth of good ideas, it's a chapter you will return to again and again, dip into for a specific nugget or mine to get your own ideas spawning. Build on that with Chapter 9: The Others, which provides detail and resources concerning vampires' few friends and legions of enemies. Many of these will spawn yet more ideas as you read about them. Finally, there's a chapter on Bloodlines. These weave their way through vampire society, more personal than the giant clans. Some may be extinct... or are they? Vampires take these seriously, and including them in the tapestry of your game will enrich it tremendously.


Some see this edition as a nostalgic look back, a retrospective of a great game line. Or as a celebration of the best of a wonderful game. There are indications that it's aimed at rekindling the love with those who have played Vampire: The Masquerade over the preceeding twenty years. Yet it's a whole lot more. It's an encapsulation of what has gone before, accessible to new players as well as to the old, a grand continuation of the game into the next century.



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Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition
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