[Let's Read] A Blog Reviewing Tabletops Page by Page - Currently - By Night: VtM

Started by Blythe, April 05, 2016, 01:19:15 PM

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I've wanted to do something like this for a while. I'll be doing a page-by-page review of rpg books that I haven't had the time to sit down and fully read, giving my mostly first impressions and thoughts. These Let's Reads will be for tabletop rpgs and their supplements only for now. My goal is to approach this in a light-hearted way as someone who is experienced with tabletop in general, but who also wants an inclusive place to welcome new individuals to system gaming, so if you're new to systems and want to ask about what I'm currently reading, please hop in and ask! If you don't understand something I referenced or would like to to talk about something more in-depth, again, absolutely ask. There are no bad questions!  8-)

I just ask that there be no edition warring should comparisons with other systems come up. :)

Anyways, feel free to post comments/questions/etc.

So what am I going to be reading first?

I'll show you!

- Currently Reading/Reviewing -

Product: Mind's Eye Theatre: Vampire the Masquerade
Made by: By Night Studios
Format I Own: PDF
# of Pages in PDF: 550
Blythe, any previous familiarity with this game?: With VtM in general, very much a yes on that, but with MET/LARPing rules, no.

I will be reviewing anywhere from 1 to 3 pages per post I make, taking time out to try to offer in-depth discussion or my honest reactions as I have them.

- Table of Contents (more detailed idea of what I've reviewed) -


Let's start from the beginning--the cover.

The cover is a very lovely deep emerald with a 'marbling' feeling to it. On this cover is an elegant silver masquerade ball mask which has small lines that look like that mask is extensively cracked; the mask is also surrounded by red flower petals, most likely rose petals. The title takes up three lines towards the top of the page, the series-line taking up the largest font, and the font is a nice color that complements the mask. This cover evokes the nostalgia of the old Revised tabletop line in a lot of ways. My first impressions are that this book makes me want to open it. The cover is simple, but appealing.

Next, the Credits page--actually two pages--page 2 and 3. It looks like they keep this short and sweet. This is a neatly organized couple of pages, and there's not a lot to say here. What has caught my attention is that on the first page of the credits, there's mention of hair, make-up, and vampire models. I'm quite happy; are there actual models rather than pure art? That would be very nice. I've only casually flipped through this book once, so I don't know. Models make sense for LARP (Live Action Role Playing) rulebooks, though!

Since the first two things I looked at aren't as much of substance, I'll delve ahead three more pages for my first blog post!

Page 4--ooh, models! The model on the left, blond, almost disheveled--is that the Malkavian character of Anatole, the "title" Malkavian character for VtM? If not, the model certainly puts me in mind of him from previous tabletop books and other fiction. I'm a bit put off by the model in the center and how they chose to create the shadows around her; it stands out as just a little too fake. I love the model on the right, a strong looking black man with a gun. I really want that jacket he's wearing, too. Anyways, not a bad start for inspiration!

Page 5-10, the Table of Contents. Clearly laid out, nice font, PDf includes bookmarks/links to go from section to section. This is something I always look for in pdfs, because it makes it easier to surf through a book when I'm gaming. Sometimes books will reference things in more than one spot or reference them in an order that doesn't make sense, so being able to quickly click from section to section helps a lot.

In my next post, I will review their introductory flavor fiction, which seems to be up next. Thanks for reading along so far; I know the start of these aren't always the most exciting. :)


Now lets explore the first piece of flavor fiction that begins on page 11 and ends on Page 13.

This piece of fiction explores the experiences of a vampire named Sophie. Her Sire, Vivek, is preparing her to be presented to the local Camarilla Prince. If Sophie fails this presentation, she will be executed. This marks her moving from being under Vivek's care into full "membership" of the Camarilla. She and Viviek are members of the Toreador clan of vampires. She does well when presented to the Prince, who quizzes her on the Traditions of vampires while an audience watches. The Prince accepts her into the Camarilla, and many vampires offer Sophie small favors or boons. She is also presented with a lot of money by two individuals who are not members of the Camarilla, but members of the Independent Alliance. This implies Sophie's inexperience with the politics of the undead, I think, accepting a gift from those who are not members of her sect.

My initial thoughts are that it's a suitable piece of fiction. I like it. I think it's showcases a more 'typical' experience with a young vampire becoming part of the formal world of the Kindred (another name for vampires). I think more experiences VtM players (LARP or otherwise) might pass on reading this piece; this selection will not add any tone they aren't already familiar with and might seem a bit too simple, but for those newer to the game, it's an excellent example.

On to page 14! This page has an illustration of an elegant woman, presumably a vampire, holding an hourglass. She is dressed in gray/silver, in what looks like a strapless evening gown that is form fitting but trails out past her feet, which are bare. She is wearing a necklace with large deep blue gemstones. Her eyes, hair, and lips are dark, but her skin is deathly pale. She is standing forlornly outside what looks to be a doorway of gothic-inspired architecture, the tone of which is fitting for a game about personal horror. It's a very tall square doorway, with the left and right side containing stone angel statues with bowed heads. This is a good picture. I think it catches that "isolation" and "grandeur" feeling this game is meant to convey. I think my only critique is that the hourglass she is holding seems out of place. It's a bit jarring to look at.


Okay, Page 15! This is the Introduction. There is a summary here about the purpose of this book and about how there is everything you need here to learn how to do live-action roleplaying for Vampire: the Masquerade. There is also a section about "What is Roleplaying?" for those new to roleplaying. That section would be a good read for those who have never (or very rarely ever) play live-action or tabletop roleplaying games.

Page 16 continues with explaining what roleplaying is. Most of this is basic information RP veterans do not need, but new roleplayers should read it. More importantly, there is an explanation of what constitutes "Mind's Eye Theatre." MET is essentially evolved from tabletop, but moving RPing to a more dynamic real time "acting." It's a lot closer to "using theatre to tell stories." It's the whole kit and kaboodle of acting--costumes, props, etc., just in a physical place that players and the Storyteller want rather than a stage. Then there is an explanation of "What is a Character?," which I don't feel obligated to detail out, since Elliquiy is my audience, and I'm fairly sure if you found E, you know what characters are. ;) 

There is a paragraph about who the Storyteller is and what they do which continues on Page 17 as well. To summarize--the Storyteller runs the game. They make villains, the other characters of the world not played by players, the events and conflict that unfold in your story. Page 17 also includes information about what the World of Darkness setting for this particular game line is--and to summarize--it's our world, but grittier, darker, more evil, more corrupt. It's our world, but with the last dregs of hope softly fading out. It's personal horror to the max. This page also includes an explanation of the genre of Gothic-Punk!

Current thoughts: Right now, as of page 17, the material is all the "beginning" material. As an old hand with tabletop rpgs, most of this, barring cover art and other art in the book, is not new information to me. I think an old hand at tabletop rpgs would start skipping ahead pretty quickly. For those new, I think the book is currently doing well easing new folks into things without being overwhelming. The layout is pretty nice, and I like the font. It's easy on my eyes.


Onward to Page 18! This page has a section about playing vampires, and it has a nice little quote from Lord Byron's "The Giaour." It sets the mood really well; I think Byron's a good writer to quote from when exploring any sort of tabletop rpg that has gothic themes. This section emphasizes the high and lows of playing a vampire, emphasizing that while vampires once came from humans...ultimately, your character is entering a culture that is distinctly not in alignment with contemporary ideas and is closer to monster than man. There's a blurb about setting--most VtM stories are contemporary urban fantasy, but it's possible to have other times and settings. Page 19 finishes talking about settings and mentions other pages in the book where settings are discussed more in-depth.

Page 19 has something more important on it, though, the rules for LARPing! Now, my first impression is to perk up, because I know next to nil about LARPing. It discusses safety, which is super important for anything done in real life, and I was happy to see rules about no touching and no weapons. It talks about keeping the feelings of other players in mind, about civility and being sporting. It also talks about being welcoming, inclusive. I really like these rules; my first thought was actually "Hey, this kind of reminds me of E's rules!" Which was rather nice. :-)

Page 20 is a final blurb that talks about final thoughts and tone. I think, now that I've read this, the next few pages will start to get into the meat of the game!


Page 21....Terminology!

First reaction...

This page details, in alphabetical order, a list of terms extensively used in the game. Finally, some meat and potatoes! This section mentions a lot of key concepts crucial to playing the game. Granted, I know this because I am familiar with the Masquerade game line, which is coming in handy for reading these LARP rules. Anyways, to summarize--vampires are organized by generation (a way of determining lineage) and are divided into clans. Each clan has special disciplines (vampire powers) and access to special merits. Each vampire clan comes with a special clan-specific weakness. Disciplines vary, but elder powers get used only by the oldest vampires of the best lineage, and techniques are special combinations of disciplines that only "bad/weak" lineage vampires can use. Anyways, to complete actions, you'll want to succeed at things called tests, and sometimes you'll need to succeed in multiple tests in a challenge! In any challenge, the attacker is whoever started the challenge, and the defender is whoever is trying to prevent them succeeding. You can use willpower to help retest during hard tests or challenges. Vampires are prone to issues with their Beast, that spiraling loss of control that can come from being a monster, and as such, they tend to cling to rigorous concepts of morality. I'm not going to detail every definition here--the above is a general rough idea of how it works!

Onward to page 22 and page 23--oooh, in-character Lexicon! These are going to be prominent terms you'll see used in-character. There are terms here specific to a vampires age and ability, there are terms here pertaining to their mythos, there are terms pertaining to political sects. But I'm going to summarize a few terms for anyone thinking of playing. Vampires are divided into sects. There's the Camarilla, which follows the Traditions (stay sekkrit from hyuminz! Obey ur eldarz!) and are generally pretty feudal. Then there's the monstrous Sabbat, who pretty much worship the first vampire named Caine, and the Sabbat and Camarilla typically have pretty different views. Then there's the Anarchs--these vampires don't like the politics of either sect and like democracy and libertas (think 'enlightenment'). You've got vampires of various ages/powers, roughly in order here from weakest to strongest based on what I've read: fledgeling, neonate, ancilla, then pretender elders, master elders, luminary elders, and Antediluvians (Caine's grandkids, and they founded the clans). There's a lot more here, but I don't want to spoil anything. Anyways, based on these terms, you can guess that VtM is more than a game of "vampires kicking each others asses." A lot of the game is intrigue and politics. So far, keeping the terms to two pages is good; it makes this more approachable.

Some of these terms, though, are different than what I'm used to from the tabletop. The distinction between elders is a bit new to me, at least with this wording! So by page 22, I'm encountering things that are different from the tabletop version!  :D


All righty, I'm back at it!

Lovely picture on page 24. Two vampires are standing on the edge of a building, a female vampire to the left, a male to the right. Behind them...Las Vegas, maybe? I think I recognize one of the glimmering buildings as a casino. Let's start with the man--short brown hair, very nice black suit, red undershirt that borders on a bloody crimson color. He's good-looking enough, but just looking at him alone, I couldn't guess his Clan. Now, the lady to his left, red hair, delicate heels, a flowing white 'harem' outfit...this is one of those times my previous familiarity with the tabletop might be handy. I'm guessing she's a Setite, a member of the vampire Clan that worships Set, or based on her beauty, she might be a Toreador. The man, in that context, and assuming it's Vegas in the background, is either a Giovanni or a Ventrue. Anyways, if you're reading along and aren't familiar with any of what I just typed, no worries! It's a picture you can enjoy regardless of context. My only critique is that the woman looks out of place; her clothes don't "fit" the setting. Granted, vampires are prone to anachronism I would think, so perhaps that's why? Either way, upon first glance, I don't get a gothic-punk vibe from her. I do from the guy, just a little bit.

Page 25 begins Chapter Two, which is labelled "An Introduction to the World of Darkness." There's a note that there's a huge amount of lore from previous tabletop editions, the fiction novels, card games, etc., and that this LARP book is going to distill this down and make changes for LARPing as needed. Okay, good to know! It's possible my canon knowledge might not be as helpful going forward if changes were made.

This page begins by talking about the Jyhad. The Jyhad, in vampire-terms, is the ancient game of politics played among vampires. It emphasizes power and influence, and that ideally, vampires prefer not to kill enemies when they can just humiliate them instead. Long story short? The Jyhad is pretty brutal, and nearly every vampire is part of it, struggling for status, and not always by choice. Worst part is that vampires have long memories, so elders in particular wage pretty harsh internal war with their foes.

Page 26 details three factions of vampires. These aren't the same as Clans; these are about political affiliation.

We have the Camarilla, which clings to principals of Humanity. But don't be deceived; they aren't exactly nice. They follow their Traditions, they keep themselves secret from humans, and they play at politics with each other. The Camarilla's got this archaic feudal system thing going on, with a Prince ruling over various others in their domain (and a Prince can be of any gender!). The following clans seem to be part of the Camarilla for this LARP as founding clans of this sect: the Toreador, the Ventrue, the Nosferatu, Brujah, Malkavian, and Tremere. The Gangrel Clan were a founding Clan, but they chose to leave the Camarilla. Clan Assamite seems to have risen to take their place, but they aren't a founding Clan. If my tabletop memory serves, they were an independent Clan (no sect allegiance!) of assassins who primarily liked to kill other vampires. Interesting that they are part of the Camarilla; I never felt the Clan as a whole fit with with any particular sect very well, but hey, that's just me! My first thought upon reading this was a vague wonder about how hard it must be for a Clan to leave the Camarilla. I mean, it's a huge political machine, right? Try to imagine a group of USA Democrats suddenly deciding "we are taking what we learned here but aren't being Democrats anymore. We are going to go be something else. And that something else isn't going to be Republican or Independent." That's sort of how hard I imagine it is for a Clan to have left the Camarilla. Then again, I'm not super familiar with any of the "Gangrel leave the Camarilla" metaplot; I only know enough to play the tabletop true to that concept if need be. Who knows? Maybe my first impression is dreadful.

Now we have the Sabbat. These vampires don't give a flying rat's ass about their Humanity. They're all about being vampires. They revere the first vampire, Caine, and they believe the Clan founders, known as Antediluvians (Caine's grandchildren, if you track lineage purely on vampiric conversion) will awaken one day to devour all their descendants. Scary stuff. Their hierarchy isn't feudal. Think "Catholic Church" but instead of it being good and moral, turn the Evil Dial up to 11. The Lasombra and Tzimisce Clans are the founding Clans of this sect, but anyone can actually join it. Hypothetically. My first impression is that the Sabbat doesn't really feel like a "player" sect; they come off as antagonists. If you want to really play an honest-to-villain evil vampire, though, the Sabbat is what you want. The romanticism of vampirism doesn't seem to be here from a casual read.

Lastly, the Anarch Movement. These are vampires that got fed up with "elders get to rule all the things" mentality of the old days. Cue a giant vampire war. They technically lost, and they were bound by the Convention of Thorns to knock it off. They only have to obey the Camarilla tradition of the Masquerade (keeping themselves secret from humans), though, so...could have been worse. The Anarchs that didn't bow down at the Convention of Thorns became the Sabbat. You can see how the Sabbat's roots aren't all bad, but it's definitely been twisted over time. Most Anarchs just aren't interested in playing in ancient political games or waging the Jyhad. Any member of any Clan can be an Anarch; everyone's welcome if they keep the Masquerade. My first impression from the text is that the Anarchs are a decent enough sect and probably a nice way for new players to dip their toes in the water (like if they're worried they wouldn't know/be able to play all the Camarilla traditions). I like the Anarchs, but I actually haven't gotten to much play them in the tabletop games I've played. *sad Bly*


All righty, I'm back at it. I've been away from this for a while, so I'll just do a couple of pages and endeavor to update more frequently.

I left off on page 27.

A small blurb here about Independents. If you're not familiar with VtM, you might be thinking, "What makes them different from Anarchs?" Well, Independents are clans that are not allied with any real ideology, typically. They are independent and typically pursue clan interests over any sect interests. The Camarilla is more likely to work with Independent Clans than the Sabbat is.

We continue to a history of the world of darkness. Now, I don't want to spoil things for you. Part of the fun of this game is unveiling the delicate history of vampires yourself. We get a nice in-character scene again between Sophie and Vivek, and the history is being framed as Vivek telling Sophie a story, almost. The in-character fiction is pretty solid--like before, I don't think it offers much extra for old hats to VtM, but I think new players will benefit from the mood and tone it sets. Vampire history seems to have a more formal beginning with the city of Enoch; we get a quote here from the book of Nod, which is a sort of metafiction text within a text, which has religious overtures for vampires.

Page 28 goes into more detail. Enoch is the first vampire city, created in ancient times by the first vampire, Caine. He Embraces three "childer" there, referred to as the Second Generation, and those childer also Embrace, leading to the Third Generation. At this juncture, Caine forbids the creation of any more vampires. At any rate, the constant moral depravity of vampires ruling over humans resulted in God sending the Great Flood, which destroys Enoch, and Caine goes into torpor. The Third Generation earns a moniker--the Antediluvians, meaning that they existed before the Great Flood. When Caine leaves, the Third Generation breaks Caine's rules and Embrace more childer and start a second city to rule over humans, and a resulting war with the Second Generation sees the defeat of the Second Generation. When Caine awakened, he cursed the Third Generation for their disobedience, resulting in the creation of the iconic Clans and their weaknesses that persist into the modern era. Eventually, the second city is destroyed. Caine is never heard from again, although there is no record that he perished.

Thus begins the First Age of the Jyhad, the eternal struggle of vampire against vampire, sire against childe, elder against neonate.


Hoo boy, I left this for a while. But I'm STing a pretty kickass tabletop VtM game, which has revitalized my urge to return and review the LARP book with my Let's Read.

I missed a couple of things on page 28. There's some discussion in a small bar about Lilith. Depending on what one believes, Lilith, not Caine, was actually the first vampire, first wife of Adam, cast out. I have always personally found Lilith to be a really interesting figure; there is an entire philosophical path in VtM about worshiping Lilith, which is pretty neat in its own right. There are a lot of disparate stories about her and her relationship with Caine, but the one thing that everyone seems to be in agreement about is...well, they certainly don't seem to be in a relationship any more, if they ever were. Lilith has a sort of overarching 'mother' vibe, at least to me. In some ways, I find Lilith to be more interesting than Caine, simply because she predates him historically by any real definition.

Anyways page 28 also launches into some more historical information. This is pretty good stuff to me, because it seems to both closely follow the tabletop I know and diverges at points. We start at the First Age, back when Caine's grandchilder, the Antediluvians, are still rockin' around and playing their deadly politics. Set, founder of the Children of Set, rose to power in Egypt but got his arse handed to him by Horus, though Set's childer saved him. Nosferatu gets convinced that if he kills all of his childer that Caine will forgive him and remove his monstrous visage, just to give a couple of examples. Personally, I thought Toreador was the most interesting. This Antediluvian apparently kicked every non-Toreador out of Sumer and decided she was the goddess Ishtar. I think that this really encapsulates the running tone of Vampire--the idea that a Kindred is no longer really human, and that each of them perhaps carries that same seed of hubris in them that Caine did that resulted in his Damnation so long ago. There's also the the big war with Carthage back in the day because of the Ventrue in Rome--Clan Brujah sort of has a tawdry and tainted history because of this. Turns out....Clan Brujah closely associating with an infernal bloodline of vampires known as the Baali and trying to resurrect the First City of Enoch didn't sit well with anyone. That's what gets your lands ravaged and salted so nothing grows there again. Good job, Brujahs.  :P

Then we get some discussion on the Long Night. Long story short, this is when Clan Tremere was founded. They were mages who aspired to immorality. They succeeded and became vampires, but they didn't just want immortality, but power, too. They devoured powerful enemy vampires, nearly resulting in the genocide of one Clan in particular--the healers known as the Salubri. The Tremere became so powerful and influential that they managed to coerce powerful elders and ancients into thinking that was justified. I've never been too fond of Clan Tremere for this reason,though I love the mage history for them.

Moving to page 29 and page 30 we've got some talk on the Dark Ages. Lots of things happened here--plagues, feudalism, the Inquisition, the rise of certain heresies of Kindred faith and philosophy, the Malkavian Clan getting their favorite undead power to inflict madness taken away in favor of a less devastating one, the power to dominate the wills of others. But the big to-do was in 1435, and I think this is probably the most crucial historical event for anyone that wants to play VtM. To do that, I need you to get into a certain minset....

Imagine what it was like living with your parents, even parents you love dearly. You have to listen to them, right? They're wealthier, more established, more accomplished, etc., and you rely on them.

Now imagine that...but forever. Imagine that even if you moved out you were still dependent on your parents, that somehow they always engineered that you needed things from them, that you had to do as told, that your opinions and goals and dreams would ever always be second to theirs.

You can imagine how a lot of younger Kindred felt, chafing under the yoke of oppressive elders who would never die, elders that these young Kindred could never be free from. It is this sort of tyrannical stagnation that set the stage for both...

The founding of the Camarilla...and the Anarch Revolt.

I'll continue more on this later. :)


Okay, finishing up a bit of page 30 and moving forward from there! I'm going to start summarizing a lot of this more succinctly. There's a lot of history in here that I believe is best covered by a person being able to read it personally, because it feels really good to get immersed in the lore!

So....the Camarilla and the Anarch Revolt. It's almost easier to start with the second one, because it's all about a period of upheaval in Kindred history. Younger Kindred rise up and throw off the oppressive yokes of their Sires. Clans Tzmisce and Lasombra actually murder and devour their Clan founders, their Antediluvians! Serious revolution there. Moving to page 31--we see that the Camarilla forms as a reaction to the Anarch Revolt, a way for elders and other Kindred to make a stand against the chaos of these wild young vampires.

We move into 1493, and the Convention of Thorns, after significant infighting among Clans and between the two budding sects. They needed peace--the violence threatened to destroy them all. So the Convention set out how the Camarilla was going to be defined...but not every Kindred agreed with the Convention. The Camarilla essentially engaged in some revisionist history, trying to declare that Antediluvians were essentially a myth. You can imagine that most Tzimisce and Lasombra weren't buying that bullshit.  :P We see the creation of a new sect--the Sabbat, who reject humanity and who reject the needless elder-based hierarchy of the Camarilla, who actively made it clear they wanted a return to Caine's ideals, rejecting disobedient Antediluvians or haughty elders.

The Giovanni rise as a Clan around this time--Italian necromancers from a close knit family. They were Embraced by Cappadocian Clan, but it didn't take the Giovanni long to learn from the Anarch Revolt. They diablerized the Cappadocian Antedliluvian and any Cappadocian they could find, establishing themselves as a true Clan.

I've always liked the Giovanni, but they are very specific to the game's metaplot. I think maybe this is why I struggle to write and play them, much as I adore them. They don't make sense outside of the metaplot at all. Sort of like the Salubri and the Tremere--there's massive metaplot for those particular lineages. I've had better luck with more 'typical' Clans, like the Toreador, Gangrel, etc. Not that I'm meaning to discourage anyone from these Clans if that's what strikes your interest! It's just that for me, when I want to play games like this, the more involved and specific the metaplot, the harder it is for me to put my own 'personal' touch on my characters. Lore is deliciously world-building, but it can also be very restricting.

On to page 32--the Giovanni ended up needing to make treaties with the Camarilla to ensure their own survival, also known as the Promise. The Sabbat ended up not being interested in allying and slaughtered whoever was sent to talk to them.

A lot of time passed--the discovery of the New World happened. I've always found this to be the most complicated part of Vampire's metaplot. The LARP info isn't differing in a big way from the metaplot I know here. The USA has always felt like this really chaotic mish-mash of every sect available in Vampire being present and fighting it out for control, domain, and influence. Again, I like metaplot, but there's a lot for the USA. It's almost easier to set your game elsewhere, to be honest. I tend to throw out anything about California or New York City--California gets some info in this section, specifically about the conflict between the Camarilla and Anarchs.

A few thoughts about the book's continued layout--the tiny text is starting to be a bit wearying on my eyes. I know why the makers wanted this in one big book, but it's hard to get through. Also, I want more art and photography. The book is feeling clunkier than I'd like. :P

I actually wrote this blog post last night, but I forgot to post it then. Derp. <_<