An RPG Resource Review:
Set in a New Orleans that never was, and certainly is not now, post-Katrina, this atmospheric work opens with a story that sums up the edgy infighting of vampiric unlife (provided you can read thin block capitals on a heavily-patterned background - better contrast would have improved my enjoyment of this bit!). The introduction following the story explains how New Orleans seems a city made for the gothic horror feel of Vampire: The Requiem, and explains how the material in the core rulebook perhaps represents common knowledge (and misinformation) about the city, while herein lies the real truth. Thus it is clear from the outset, that this book is intended mainly for Storytellers and not for general player consumption.
The first chapter, A Look Back at the Big Easy, sets the scene with an overview of the city's history from the vampiric standpoint. (References at the end of the introduction will serve those who want to study the history of the living city.) Entwined through the real history of New Orleans, this shows how both the style of leadership and those currently in power came to be, with particular note of the relationships and rivalries between the two main religions: Catholicism and Vodoun. Given the lengthy unlife of a successful vampire - particularly since some of the earliest known New Orleans undead are still there and in positions of power - this history already begins to stir ideas of how characters can become involved in this rich stew of intrigue.
Chapter 2 is Points of Entry, and looks at the city as it is tonight. It is teeming with life, and particularly suited to vampires given the fascination with and acceptance of many things which are strange and bizarre. In particular, this chapter focuses on characters new to the city, a good resource for a Storyteller whose players decide (or are led) to go there for the first time. It's always a good way to start, else you run into the problem of your character knowing more about a place than you, his player, does: as a new arrival you can both explore the potentials and dangers together. There is a lot of detail about the intrigues and customs surrounding Vidal, the ruling prince; who requires feudal-level loyalty and subservience mixed with Catholic ritual from all who wish to spend more than a night or two in the city. The chapter rounds out with an overview of the different parts of the city. A rough map is provided, but if you like a lot of geographic detail you would do well to get a map or guidebook of the real city to use in conjunction with this gazetteer.
Next, Chapter 3 is called Games of the Elders. If you thought the earlier chapters contained a lot of intrigue, this contains even more... and plenty of ways in which characters whatever their age and experience can play a pivotal role in ongoing events. Again it is emphasised that the New Orleans presented in the Vampire core rules is common perception, the one described here is the true one... or at least, as far as the Storyteller chooses to allow it to be. The chapter rounds out with full game statistics for many of the leading players.
Chapter 4 is Wheels within Wheels. Rumours, relationships, plots and counter-plots: enough to keep the most political content and yet also capable of being woven into schemes that will keep the more active vampires busy as they choose - or are chosen - to play their part in these machinations. The city begins to come to life (unlife?) here as we meet many of the 'ordinary' vampires who inhabit it and find out what they are doing and how they will interact with any PC vampires they meet. Possible events and adventures are signposted, but just reading the text suggests many more.
Following on, Chapter 5: Working the Street presents more of the same, with an accent on crime and law enforcement, and in extension, politics. Here the paths of the living and the undead cross in myriad ways, and all may lead to adventure, excitement, intrigue and advancement... or something far less pleasant.
All these various players and their plots introduced, Chapter 6 turns to the serious business (or pleasure) of Storytelling in this particular setting. It talks about drawing all the abovementioned information together and picking out the bits you want for the chronicle you want to run... even how to let the players do the work as they create characters and suggest avenues that they might wish to explore once play begins. There's even the suggestion that if you want to run a game in which mortal characters discover some of what makes the World of Darkness so dark, this could be an excellent place in which to do it. Ideas leap off of every page... even the prophetic one of having a hurricane damage the city, and chronicle the activities of vampires as well as mortal citizens as they attempt to survive and then rebuild. Be you an experienced Storyteller or trying out your first time on the other side of the screen, there is plenty here to get you thinking as you plan and then run your chronicle.
Finally, Chapter 7: The Dead Travel Fast presents a complete introductory adventure that can be used to bring new characters into New Orleans and set them up for... well, whatever you have in mind for later on. Drawing on the atmospheric tale told at the beginning of this book, the characters witness a murder and have to cope with the aftermath, throwing them into contact - if not conflict - with all three major factions in town as well as many other notable undead. Best suited to neonate vampires newly arrived in New Orleans they will soon be swept into the thick of the action. Detail is sufficient for this to support a first-time Storyteller, while the storyline is flexible enough for a more experienced one to play around with it to his heart's content.
Overall, this book provides a magnificient setting for a Vampire: The Requiem chronicle, with enough supporting material to keep everyone busy from dusk to dawn. If you are wondering what to do with those new Vampire characters your friends have just created, you will find plenty of inspiration here!
[5 of 5 Stars!]