-- Vampire: the Masquerade, 1st Edition
For those that haven't noticed yet, I'm a gamer geek. Specifically an RPG gamer geek. Even more specifically, a pen-and-paper RPG gamer geek (to the point that people that refer to the Computer RPG genre as though it were synonymous with "RPGs" actually make me scream a little inside).
And as a darkling kid of the '90s, my teenage angst hit its peak during the rise of the classic goth-y RPG Vampire: the Masquerade. I've owned every edition of the core rules down through the years: 1st edition, 2nd edition, Revised... even the much derided GURPS edition.
Yep. That's right. I paid entirely too much for a special leather-bound edition of single RPG book. Holy hell, am I a geek.
The initial purported goal of this release was to kick out a single "complete" tome for the fans in celebration of the line's 20th anniversary. But, much to White Wolf's surprise, they sold so many pre-orders that they realized they had the rebirth of their phenom flagship line on their hands and it forced them to reconsider their initial abandoning of the classic.
Thus, they have launched a new line, referred to as the Classic World of Darkness (their print-on-demand versions of the original classic books plus the new 20th-anniversary edition corebooks) and the Onyx Path (publications of supplements that were either intended and never completed/released or, in some cases, entirely new material), intended to run alongside their already-planned and still extant nWoD publications.
Later this year, they're already planning to release a similar edition for Werewolf: the Apocalypse as well as a companion book for this new edition of V:tM. There's also talk of a Mage: the Ascension 20th anniversary edition as well, and more than a few oWoD fans are already hoping and clamoring for Wraith and Changeling to get the same treatment (I, for one, would love to see a "complete" Wraith: the Oblivion book... that line was a thing of dark and disturbing beauty).
Needless to say, it warms my cold, undead heart to see something I enjoyed so much revivified from the beyond as V20 (which is the general nickname for it among the RPG-playing set).
Appearance: Well, the special pre-order release is gorgeous, bound in leather and with gilt-edges and with two bookmark ribbons. Problem is, if you're reading this review, you probably missed the window on that version. That said, White Wolf has recently released their print-on-demand version in a couple different options at Drive-Thru RPG.
Besides that, the layout is fairly decent (very reminiscent of the old 2nd Edition book more than the Revised Edition) and a lot of the art is seriously amazing, bringing back classic V:tM artists like Tim Bradstreet (his pieces at the beginning of each chapter are fucking beautiful). My only complaint here is that the art accompanying each of the vampiric clans is fairly "bleh" in my opinion, which is sort of a let-down for a book that is otherwise just so gods-damned pretty. It's also a let down because I've seen better art from the artist in previous iterations of the game.
Setting: For those not familiar with the previous editions, the game is basically set in the modern age with a host of vampiric clans (mostly, but not entirely, split among two competing vampiric societies) dwelling in the shadows and pulling the strings of the mortal world. Constant oppression by older and more powerful undead, the threat of a looming vampiric apocalypse known as Gehenna, and dark "gothic-punk" thematics are the general assumptions, though these elements are easy enough to play with and tweak.
For those that are familiar with the old editions, V20 is basically a slight "resetting" from Revised. It's assumed to take place somewhere between the 2nd and Revised editions in the metaplot timeline, so some of the changes you saw back in Revised have already taken place and others haven't; for example, all Malkavians have Dementation now... but the Assamites still haven't broken their blood curse (it also means that the Gangrel are still part of the Camarilla). There are some mentions of these upcoming metaplot elements lying in the text, but they're left to the people running the game to decide if they want these changes to have happened or not.
Also, the original metaplot progression that was heavily pushed throughout the Revised line have been mostly dropped back down to "one potential future" status for the V20 line.
One of the things that White Wolf seems to have learned for the better from their Exalted and nWoD game lines is that the "Year 0" approach is the best way to not piss off (or on, depending upon who you ask) your customer-base - so, in theory, any upcoming Onyx Path publications in support of V:tM won't be assuming a forward progressing metaplot but presenting possible options for your "home" metaplot.
Yay for hard-won lessons!
Sections: Split into three "books", which are further subdivided into relevant chapters.
"Book One" basically features the intro chapter and a chapter that breaks down the sects and then the clans of the undead.
"Book Two" explains character creation, the vampiric Disciplines (cool vampire powers), the rules and systems on which the game operates, and an in-depth look into the Morality system (and the variant Paths involved) which factor fairly heavily into the game as written.
"Book Three" covers game-mastering suggestions, a chapter on "other forces" in the world (both supernatural and mortal), the variant lesser Bloodlines of the damned (both those still extant and those believed to be extinct), and an appendix mostly discussing Merits and Flaws (basically extra boosts and disadvantages a character can start the game with).
Systems: For those who haven't played the original Storyteller system: basically add a Stat and a Skill together, roll that many dice, and count successes (any die-roll equal to or higher than the Difficulty set by the Storyteller/GM). More successes equal more and better success. No successes and one or more dice showing up with "1" means a "botch" or "really bad failure."
Fairly simple, actually.
For those who know the system from previous iterations, the folks at White Wolf took the opportunity to clean up a few things and improve a bit in numerous areas. So a number of Disciplines have been slightly tweaked (most notably Celerity and Potence), some small Clan revisions (for instance, the hated Tremere now actually have a blood-borne flaw like the rest of the undead), and certain small system changes (such as how multiple actions work) have been implemented in this version.
Twenty years of experience provided lots of insight to play with.
Final Thoughts: All in all, I think the V20 edition of Vampire is an excellent and well-built book with amazing art and phenomenal amounts of data. Whether you're an old hand with the game, a newbie looking to understand what the big deal was when it came out, or just a collector wanting to complete your set - V20 represents the single most complete iteration of Vampire: the Masquerade ever written.
One could run a game entirely from just the stuff in this one edition and never, ever purchase another supplement thanks to the sheer amount of info contained therein.
On the other hand, it's completely compatible with all the old material being released (slowly but surely) by White Wolf on print-on-demand (and it's all already available in .pdf format), so you have the whole line almost ready-made to explore if you don't already have all the supplements. And, believe me... there's a lot of material for the game. I have two bookshelves straining with Vampire: the Masquerade stuff alone and I still don't have everything for the line.
So, if you're looking to get back into the original dark role-playing game of personal horror, I can't recommend it highly enough as your first step back into the Classic World of Darkness.
-- Mr. M.