Role-playing has been raiding historical mythology for as long as it's been around; the Monster Manual cheerfully grabs monsters from dozens of different mythologies and slaps them into a single setting. You want German and Egyptian mythologies in the same dungeon, throw in some kobolds on the top level and a sphinx on the sixth. Wicked Dead does the same thing, and that's kind of the tragedy. Allow me to explain.
If you look at the various iterations of Vampire, they essentially synthesize about four hundred years worth of vampire mythology into something that allows you to simulate dozens of different kinds of vampires into a single whole. Instead of having a unique kind of vampire whose entire schtick is turning into a wolf, you have the Animalism discipline, and you can turn it into a Bloodline if you make it particularly specialized. That way, you don't have dozens of different kinds of vampires who share disparate origins and powers.
Wicked Dead kind of turns back the clock on this particular innovation. I believe that it's meant to act as much as an antagonist guide for Hunter: The Vigil and/or standard World of Darkness play, but it simply replicates the abilities of various vampires from around the world without doing much with them. Instead of having a Bloodline inspired by the penaggallan myths of Malaysia, we have the stats for an actual penaggallan; instead of a bloodline inspired by Asian hopping vampires, we've got stats for actual hopping vampires.
I have to say it: I think that White Wolf gets away from its fundamental strengths when it starts trying to do monsters from other cultures. It's done a splendid job of assimilating a whole bunch of vampire myths from the Western tradition into something that works as a whole, but we're familiar with those creatures - vampires, werewolves, the Frankenstein monsters, fairies and wizards - pretty much from birth. We know exactly who they are and what they mean, so when White Wolf does something odd with them - turning werewolves into spirit cops, or ecological defenders - we're able to appreciate the synthesis. But when you import a foreign vampire into a culture that doesn't have any record of them, they just look silly to us. (Kindred of the East attempted to create the same sort of synthesis, but that's an essay for another day.)
Consider the aswang. It's a Filipino vampire who's a normal person by day, and then some kind of weird monster by night. Some of them are kind of scary, but have goofy names, like the Tik-Tik; normal human by day, enormous bat-bird predator by night that sucks blood and whose wings make a tik-tik noise when it flaps, or the halimaw, a vampire that can shift into the form of the last person it killed. The sigbin, by contrast, shifts into a creature like a hornless goat whose ears are long enough to be able to be clapped, like hands; and the clapping lulls its victims into a stupor, so that the sigbin can feed.
I'm sure that the sigbin is creepy in its original context. If you're Filipino, then I'm sure that the sigbin fits into a particular story and is appropriately creepy within that context - a man who can crawl on walls like a bat is comic in broad daylight, terrifying if he's Count Dracula and skittering down a wall towards you at midnight. A man-swallowing whale kinda makes sense in the Bible, or Pinocchio, but doesn't make so much sense when it's lurking in the back alley behind the bar wearing a cape and dark sunglasses. But it's hard to find the sigbin scary, and I imagine that anybody whose character is paralyzed by the clapping of a monster's ears is going to be in giggling fits for a long time.
(In fact, Sylvania did a hilarious commercial - in Thailand - that shows off various kinds of Thai ghosts and how they look in broad daylight, culminating with the revelation that they're a lot scarier with the lights off. But most of them look goofy to a Western audience because we're not familiar with their cultural backgrounding. I would link to it, but links to Youtube tend to have mayfly lifespans. Make sure you see the long version, which mentions the banana ghost.)
And the other thing is that the halimaw's central schtick, being able to turn into its victims, could easily be replicated by an Obfuscate devotion. Their thunder has already been stolen by the inclusive nature of vampiric discipliness, so that a lot of vampires with a single schtick, like turning into mist, or blending into shadow, can be replicated without having to be that exact kind of vampire. I suppose that you could use them as a switchup in a Hunter campaign, but the introduction of unusual vampires just for the sake of having some novel is usually a sign that the campaign is going stale.
Also - and I realize that this makes me the world's first vampire racist - as I'm reading about these Filipino vampires, my first thought is that they should go back home to the Phillipines and let American vampires drink from regular Americans. Non-blood-drinking Filipinos, we need all we can get, but Filipino vampires, one is too many.
The Baykosh is another example of a transplant from a foreign culture - well, a variety of Native American cultures - that doesn't quite make it. It's an undead ghost that tracks down the survivors of battles and kills them with their own weaons; it's not subtle, the book going so far as to describe it as "the supernatural equivalent of a sledgehammer." It's got Essence 10, rolls nine dice in most of its Numina - it's hardly unkillable, but I'm not sure where the need for an undead Terminator that tries to kill you with your own weapons - but only if you've been in battle - comes from. If you did, it would be fairly simple to build one with whatever rules you happen to be using, instead of using The Ghost What Shoots You With Your Own Gun For A Stupid Reason.
I guess if you're looking for stats for ghuls - not ghouls, ghuls - hopping vampires, penaggallan and points related, you're going to be in hog heaven. Maybe if you're looking to do some sort of Kolchak The Night Stalker / X-Files thing, this'll be of use to you, but the X-Files is stone dead, culturally speaking, and - well, insofar as I can tell, Kolchak: The Night Stalker is a major influence on the new World of Darkness, which is fun for me, because when it was on TV, I was a sperm. I have a rant stored up for that whole emphasis, but that's for later.
Anyways, if you're looking for classic odd vampires to throw at your players, you've got them - presuming that your players don't go do a minimal amount of research and come up with the exact weakness of the vampire that you're throwing at them. ("Penaggallan? Oh, throw some broken glass on the windowsill, it'll get caught, we throw it out with the trash in the morning. We have more trouble with the mice. Those little bastards are canny.") I think that it would have worked much better if White Wolf had decided to flesh these vampires out - describe the context in which they appear, update some of their abilities and central themes so that they're more in line with regular Kindred - rather than just portraying them as straightforwardly as they do.
There are nonstandard vampires that I was really impressed with. It gets brilliant with the formosae, who are vampires who feed on - well, if they were just vampires who fed on fat, I could make the obvious joke and note that a single gaming convention would provide feeding material for years. Instead, we get a cunning commentary on exactly that kind of body hatred/self-loathing; the formosae don't eat fat, they eat self-loathing. You get prettier and prettier as you die, while the formosae get fatter and fatter - but they can use their own childer to keep them thin, creating a sort of undead pyramid scheme, where you exploit other people's self-hatred to enrich yourself. (Especially cutting is that the formosae get extra Vitae if their vessels have a mental illness - they're literally feeding on your instability.) It weakens itself by picking off low-hanging fruit, invoking pro-anorexia websites, but really, there's no need to do that given America's complicated relationship with self-image and obesity. I could say more, but really, you're better off reading it for yourself; you could run an entire campaign around these things, each adventure touching on some commentary about the relationship between the body and the mind. I also like the body-hopping Bhuta, and the Cihuateteo are pretty evocative (except for their habit of using brooms for ritual magic, which will probably come off as silly), but they don't quite live up to their billing. I really like the Mnenmovores; besides having a decent short story attached to their profile - with a kiler last line - they have some really neat abilities based around memory, which they eat in place of Vitae. If it can stay out of sight long enough, you have to fight just to remember that you saw it.
Let take a moment for a parenthetical aside. I've noticed a consistent trend for White Wolf authors to take stuff from various News of the Weird sites and recontextualize them for the World of Darkness. For instance, a fungus that covered approximately three states became the Tzimisce Antediluvan in Vampire: The Masquerade. The drawback of this is twofold: In an era where information sprints like the wind, as opposed to appearing only on In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy, it's entirely probably that people have already seen the thing that you're referring to - in which case you're going to have to really put on the dog in order to make it work. The other problem is that what initially looks also spooky as shit often turns out to be something entirely mundane, which invalidates any supernatural framework you might have built up around it. For instance, the Montauk Monster almost got its own game line, complete with a backstory involving the lost Virginia colony of Roanoke and the ceaseless struggle to keep the moon from crashing into the Earth until naturalists pointed out that it was just a dead raccoon missing its fur and a part of its upper jaw, at which point White Wolf vowed to write an even angrier rant about scientists for the back of the next edition of Exalted.
(Cracked has an excellent article about debunked monsters on its website; poke about.)
That being said, you've probably already seen the parasite that nips out the tongue of a particular kind of fish and replaces it, literally becoming the tongue. Wicked Dead has something that does the same thing to humans, but it actually does a pretty good job of creating something that feels very much like a new World of Darkness version of The Fly - you feel better and better while the parasite takes you over, and then you're watching your own body hunt and kill people while you're locked into your own skull. There's some advice given about the idea of a one-shot campaign where you play the victim of one of these parasites, but they make far better - and really creepy - antagonists. We even get the comments for a Youtube video featuring somebody showing off the parasite poking out of somebody's mouth. I will say two things: First, you never read the comments on a Youtube video, because to do so is to come into contact with a stupidity so huge that it will suck your IQ right out through your mouth. The other is that I'm not entirely sure I like the whole "let's imitate an Internet trope" thing for books; when Hunter: The Reckoning did it with its Hunter-themed message board, I found myself mentally rolling my eyes at yet another group of people who needed moderation. ("Drinker34, you are not a blood-drinking monster. Knock it off. Cupcake001, you are a blood-drinking monster, but personal attacks aren't allowed; take a week off. Violin01, stop being a dick.") I spend enough time on the Internet as it is; I don't want it chasing me around in my books.
Other nonstandard vampires, I'm not so sure about. The Ragged Men are an interesting idea; they're a form of insect that basically uses Kindred bodies for reproduction, eventually hitting their apex as a humanoid maggot-thing, hungry for any kind of blood they can get. They're meant, insofar as I can tell, to take the form of sexually transmitted disease for vampires, because only vampires who feed in unsanitary or dirty conditions pick up the disease, and vampires who get the disease are said to feel shame, fear and guilt - becoming social pariahs - for having the disease, which makes its transmission easier. As a metaphor for an after-school special about gonorrhea, it's not bad, but when it comes to vampires, fear and guilt should be caused by stuff that you did - hence the Humanity mechanic - not because you have something wrong with you and you haven't yet found the kindly guidance counsellor who gives you a pamphlet that explains the new changes that your body is going through.
The book's latter half covers some familiar ground, both from the old World of Darkness and the new. The Draugr - known as wights in Vampire: The Masquerade - are vampires whose humanity has finally hit zero, rendering them entirely in the thrall of their Beast. White Wolf takes a slightly different tack than before, though; they're still much more animal than man, but we get a choice as to how they behave after they've bottomed out their humanity. Mindless predators are pretty much that, but they base their behavior on a former vice; a draugr whose central vice was greed keeps everything that it can lay it hands on - the bodies of its victims, their clothes, kill trophies from the corpses, all stacked in its lair. The careful predator variant of the draugr is like a serial killer amongst Kindred; it looks like a low-humanity vampire, but there's nothing left of a mind, just a ceaseless hunting instinct with a couple of remembered social niceties covering the ragged spots where the human being used to be.
I found it to be a very evocative idea; I don't know if I quite agree with the idea of limiting it to just the seven deadly sins, but it wouldn't be that difficult to come up with different themes for draugr. (I also like the book's note that regular vampires enjoy killing lust-driven draugr - who tends to be rapists as well as murderers - because "(v)ampires don't get to be righteous often.")
Also - and I'm not entirely familiar with the playstyles of Masquerade versus Requiem - but I was under the impression that Masquerade vampires could slip into zero Humanity simply because they didn't try enough to stay human; thus why the Sabbat offered the Path system instead of hovering permanently at one or two Humanity. It's pointed out in Wicked Dead, however, that the draugr in Requiem have to consciously choose to do stuff much worse than serial murder in order to become draugr; they don't drift into damnation, they have to actively choose it. I think that in a perverse way, it actually lessens some of the horror of the draugr. Rather than acting as the cautionary Gollum to the PC's Frodo, the draugr are more along the lines of Saruman, somebody who was actively working for the devil rather than somebody who drifted into it. I'm not sure that I entirely like that change, but it's a purely personal feeling, rather than a criticism.
One of the things that Vampire has always been missing is the swarm vampire - mindless, predatory pack-undead vampires who used to be human but are now essentially fast zombies with fangs. In keeping with its trend of giving GMs as much flexibility as they can to simulate what they want, the book offers Larvae, which are essentially what's described above. I'm delighted that I can now replicate the thrill of the only good scene in John Carpenter's Vampires without having to declare that the lesser vampires are low-humanity Sabbat shovelheads, or something. (Or you can take a page from Matt Wagner's Grendel, and have a single Larvae start an embracing frenzy in a fancy Las Vegas hotel/casino.) They even have a specialized fighting style designed to mimic the dogpile-and-tear attacks of movie zombies.
I have to say that I my love of the Larvae is disproportionate with my ability to explain exactly why. Part of is that the World of Darkness has been missing low vampires for a long time. Another is that I've seen them crop up in pop culture over and over again, and they make for excellent antagonists; they don't just charge, they creep around, make sudden blitzkrieg attacks and fade away. They're perfect for Hunter: The Vigil campaigns because they allow the hunters to kill a vampire without having to worry about its ability to communicate its distress to fellow vampires, or to wield the power and influence that can really fuck hunters up - plus, you can start hunters against the Larvae, then have them move up to their boss.
Speaking of which, that's another thing that I like. Both regular Kindred and the draugr can wield influence over a Larvae pack, so it's easy for that zero-Humanity vampire to whomp himself up some cheap help to aid him in his fight against the coterie sent to bring him down, or for the Prince of the city to create a hunting pack of feral vampires as cheap muscle. (Vampires have to know how to Embrace somebody as a Larvae, so it's not possible for just any vampire to whomp up six or seven feral vampires the day after they get embraced.) I also like the plot implications of the fact that Larvae can be re-embraced under certain conditons - you could get a lot of mileage from trying to bring a Larvae back to a sentient state. (A family member? An important ex-ghoul?)
One problem that I had is one of the sample Larvae characters is somebody who was a Larvae, but who recovered from it with the aid of a mysterious vampire who left shortly thereafter. The problem is one that's bothered me throughout the new World of Darkness - we're given some vague clues about a massive conspiracy that involves, apparently, wanting to wipe out every vampire in the world, and it having something to do with the . But that's not a useful story seed; it's the basis for a campaign, and one that needs a lot more fleshing out before it can be used. It's possible that I'm just not the target audience for this kind of thing, but I really dislike how hints have replaced what used to be solid information.
The Strix - the banes of the vampires of ancient Rome - make a reappearance, which is useful - they seem to be intimately tied to the origin of the Beast in the vampire, as well as having something to do with the birth of the Ventrue as a clan. (I believe that the new Ventrue clanbook goes into more detail on this.) Unlike before, when they were dedicated to persecuting and destroying the Julii clan, the body-possessing Strix are present in the physical world without any particular purpose except to experience the joys of having flesh - particularly undead flesh, which offers sensations that simple humans can't. They're sort of like the Z'bri, minus the fleshcrafting. They make really decent antagonists; you can kick the crap out of the body that they've possessed, but they just come back unless you find some way to rid yourself of them permanently, and they're canny enough to avoid a direct physical confrontation. The book has nemeses as one of their nicknames, and - yeah. They're exactly that. They're the perfect vampiric antagonist, using the weaknesses of a vampire against them without feeling like they're overpowered.
We've seen dampyr before in the World of Darkness - as children of the Kindred of the East - but they're much different here; in fact, there's some amusing comedy in the opening fiction about how dampyrs relate to vampires. (Upon feeding on one, a vampire remarks that it's like "a golden unicorn fucked my skull and ejaculated rainbows into my brain." Somebody's been watching Sealab...) In fact, I have to wonder if they're a subtle parody of the Twilight series - there's even a scene where a vampire gets glitter on him. Or consider the description of how they're made:
“Well, son, when a mommy and a daddy who are deeply in love decide they want a little baby, mommy murders a homeless man and drinks up all his yummy blood until her belly is big and full of it, and then daddy lays on top of her, and puts his wing-wang in her hoo-haa and moves up and down, and then his seed and her egg meet, and mommy uses some of the blood to make the little baby growing in her big and healthy, but because she’s eating for two now, mommy gets very very hungry, and has to murder lots and lots of homeless men so in nine months a perfect little bouncing baby is born, with daddy’s nose, and mommy’s sickening occult affliction."
Essentially, dampyr are irresistible ot vampires - but as soon as the vampires take a drink, they pick up the dampyr's supernatural curse, and suffer as a result. For instance, when a Daeva feeds from a Daeva-spawned vampire, they wind up obsessed with the dampyr until they lose all will to live and eventually consider suicide. (It's kind of a parody of Edward's crush on Bella, about which I have taken pains to learn as little as humanly possible, and yet still know far too much.) Gangrel become social and lose their Beast, Mekhet become obsessed with the smallest detail of the dampyr's blood, and Nosferatu eventually wind up wanting to flaunt their hideousness to everybody around them, becoming walking Masquerade violations. (There's a highly amusing picture of a Nosferatu walking around a nightclub while everybody around him recoils in horror.) They make great antagonists, thanks to the story arc built into a vampire's obssession with them; as player characters...possibly. As every vampire's obsession with a dampyr follows the same arc, the GM's going to have to work to make sure that the players have something other to do than endure the attentions of a lovesick vampire.
Is it a worthwhile buy? For the Larvae, for the Strix, for the draugr, for some of the odder vampires - yes, I would say so. It's not a perfect product, but it makes up for a weak beginning with an astonishingly strong finish.
[4 of 5 Stars!]