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.
[5 of 5 Stars!]