Vampire: Year One, Part II

And now for the second part of my dive into 1991, when the Soviet Union fell, the Japanese economic bubble burst, Gene Roddenberry passed away, and most pertinently, Vampire: The Masquerade was first released.

Here there be SPOILERS for Blood BondBlood Nativity, and Alien Hunger.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been unable to source “Blood at Dawn”, the 16-page adventure that came with the Storyteller’s screen. However, there is a synopsis on the White Wolf Wiki. I think the interesting bit is that it’s probably the first appearance of a mage character in World of Darkness. Mage: The Ascension would not come out until 1993. Set in Gary, it’s definitely a part of the Chicago Chronicle.

So, picking up from where we left off, Blood Bond. It is a 32-page adventure module with the charming tendency to save space by referencing the stats of major characters in Ashes to Ashes. They were reprinted together in Chicago Chronicles, Volume III, which somewhat mitigates the issue. It’s a variation on The Killing Joke, told in Vampire. There’s a vampire, Neally Edwards, whose old associate-cum-enemy, to avenge an old wrong, decides to drive him into joining the Sabbat. Along the railroad tracks. I very much get the sense that the PCs are an audience to someone’s novel outline. There’s good stuff in this, but it’s more material I would rip off than use as is. For instance, early on there’s a scene in a theatre that’s attacked by a Sabbat pack, and during combat a staked elder is revealed from the shattering concrete of the walls. There’s also a Sabbat initiation at the end, which is nifty. I’m pretty sure Blood Bond is the earliest good look at the Sabbat in the game, and that later material contradicts this pretty heavily. The text expects the PCs to play nice with them, which is not really a thing I would see happening were I to run this to an even superficially WoD-literate players in the year 2020. Blood Bond is the last of the Chicago books from 1991.

There’s also a couple of early adventures that do not take place in Chicago. The major one of these is Alien Hunger, which is set in Denver and looks a lot like the game line was still looking for its identity. It’s a starter module type thing, which starts as the characters wake up after their Embrace, in a dark cellar. The house upstairs is on fire. An effective start, at least. The twist is that they’re not organically grown vampires, but alchemically created, Embraced through the power of SCIENCE, but the undead Louis Pasteur. Unfortunately, poor Louis dies before the coterie ever gets to meet him, which feels to me like a bit of a cop-out. I mean, if you’re gonna go gonzo with historical characters as vampires, at least write in some interaction.

The adventure itself is mostly the PCs finding out what happened, who did it, meeting the Prince, and probably joining the Camarilla. Despite its outré premise, the execution is pretty standard.

There’s also Blood Nativity, a 16-page intro adventure published by Atlas Games that’s also about the characters being Embraced and then discovering what they are and feeding for the first time. This one’s set in Cleveland. If you can find it – unfortunately it’s been taken down from DriveThruRPG – it’s worth it for the NPCs. The sires of different clans for your neonates are a cool and usable bunch, except for the Gangrel whose only thing is liking Cleveland Cavaliers. The silly thing is that the sires Embrace the characters for a purpose, but the module as written is only Embrace, Vampires 101, and first feeding. There is enough background on the political situation to build on, at least. It’s an odd duck.

And finally, we come to the fresh breeze of authentic 1990s role-playing game design, The Players Guide. Just what your Vampire chronicle needs, more crap. There’s more character options, like new archetypes and a merits & flaws system that later became a core feature. This is some cool stuff.

And then there’s pages upon pages of hyperspecific new skills like Carpentry or Forensics, some of which are sub-skills or even the sub-skills of sub-skills. To take a dot of Toxicology, you have to have a dot in Chemistry or Biology, but both of those require you to first have a dot in Science. And there’s also more powerful Disciplines! These go up to ten! And the Clan Prestige advantage, which is clan-specific and takes up many pages. And new clans.

The Followers of Set, Assamites, Giovanni, Salubri, and Ravnos all make their first appearance here. Ravnos is also, as studied in 2020, really pretty awfully racist. I am very interested in seeing how the clan will be reinterpreted for V5.

Because 1991, there’s also an equipment chapter, with loads of details on different firearms and melee weapons. Unfortunately, the noble katana does not get a separate entry. Several different armoured vehicles do. This chapter feels like it ran off Twilight: 2000. There’s also a really specific set of rules for throwing weapons, with a note that you really don’t have to use these if you don’t want to. The tone is generally very chatty like that.

There’s a chapter on the daily unlife of a vampire with notes on an etiquette for favour trading, equipping your haven, treating your ghouls right, and so on. Finally, there’s a chapter of short essays on role-playing from the designers of the game. Some of them have aged poorly, others feel like self-obvious. I would imagine that these texts have cast a long shadow in certain gaming scenes.

I also read Milwaukee by Night, which came out in 1992 but was packaged into Chicago Chronicles, Volume III with Blood Bond and Ashes to Ashes, so I went through it as well.

So, Milwaukee. Not the first place that comes to mind when I’m thinking of a place where it’d be interesting to set a game book. However, it is close enough to work as a satellite of Chicago, and the early-1990s gaming scene would have been amused. Back in those days, Gen Con’s home town was Milwaukee. The book even discusses the halls of power that are the MECCA Center.

In the World of Darkness, Milwaukee is a violent place where death is cheap and licks are Embraced pretty freely since they keep getting killed by werewolves. Also the Prince is freshly dead. This came out in the same year as Werewolf: The Apocalypse, but feels like probably before it. This features a lot of werewolves, but it lists them as belonging to clans, not tribes, and names Mouse, Coyote, and Eagle. Later in 1992, Vampire’s second edition would also come out, but at least the White Wolf Wiki lists this as a first-edition book.

The first half of the book is NPCs and city guide. Incidentally, Milwaukee by Night is where Carna of Tremere makes her first appearance. In V5, she causes a major schism in the clan and goes her own way.

The second half is the adventure “Psychomachia”. I mentioned the Prince is dead? This where the coterie kills him. Prince Merik has gone insane and become a serial killer, who creates elaborate Hannibal-style death tableaux and also tells the coterie to figure out who’s doing masquerade-breaching murder. He then sends them off out of town into a werewolf ambush, where they get their asses kicked and staked. There’s rules telling what kind of Courage rolls the vampires need to make to remove the stakes. This pretty bluntly contradicts the rules stating that staking paralyses vampires and renders them completely helpless. The Players Guide has a sixth-level Potence power that allows you to move Zootopia DMV speed while staked, but that’s about it. And this is the first of two encounters in the adventure that are scripted to end with the PCs captured. Bad writing, this. I kinda like the structure of the adventure and the idea of the serial killer Prince, but these encounters just don’t work.

Next I think I’ll read some Werewolf…

 

Vampire: Year One, Part I

A bit over a year ago, I backed Chicago by Night for Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition. In time, I received a backer PDF, and at the time of this writing, the hardcopy is in the mail. But I read the backer PDF, and it felt to me that it was too beholden to the old editions of the game, too hung up on the previous two Chicagos by Night. But this was but a hunch, as I had not read them. And of course, to read the first Chicago by Night, I would need to understand Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition, which I was unfamiliar with – I only came on board with Revised.

Years ago, someone told me that one cannot authoritatively talk about anything without understanding its history at least back to the 18th century. With this guideline in mind, I went on DTRPG and got myself some PDFs, and proceeded to read through the entire first year of Vampire: The Masquerade (except for the adventure that came with the Storyteller screen, because that’s not on DTRPG). Obviously, the immediate precursors are Mark Rein•Hagen’s and Jonathan Tweet’s Ars Magica as well as Shadowrun, where Tom Dowd came up with the dice pools, but today I’m starting here. This post is, incidentally, gonna have a lot of SPOILERS for “Baptism by Fire”, Ashes to AshesBlood BondAlien Hunger, the stories in The Succubus Club, and Blood Nativity.

This isn’t so much a review as a let’s read type thing, but more than that it’s just the rewriting and restructuring of a Facebook thread where I jotted down my observations into a blog post.

1991, and the book that started it all. An unsubstantiated (and likely unsubstantiable) rumour claims that for a single quarter around its release, it outsold Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It is said it is the first game that significantly evened out the gender balance of the hobby, bringing women to role-playing games. Some say that it ruined RPGs forever.

And yeah, reading this was an experience. The writer’s voice comes through strong and it depends on the reader whether it comes through as artsy and pretentious, or something that finally dares to take role-playing games seriously as an expressive medium or – dare I say it? – an art form.

Of course, while it’s easy to see why it became a classic, it’s also very obvious where it bears its age with less dignity. The Storyteller’s guidelines tell of advanced techniques that shouldn’t be used except with the most experienced and dedicated of role-players, such as flashbacks, dream sequences, and symbolism. The book is dedicated to Václav Havel. The recommended reading list contains, among others, Mircea Eliade, Carl Jung, Hermann Hesse, Milan Kundera, and Ayn Rand. In the afterword, Rein•Hagen tells how Vampire is an attempt to delve into the nature of evil.

It’s also said that the combat system was deliberately written to be crap so people would not use it, and instead solve problems through social interaction and role-playing. Somehow, reading this book from 29 years ago, I finally felt like I understood how that could’ve made a weird kind of sense at an age when this kind of game did not yet exist and the hobby was weaned on AD&D. The rules are a bone dry read, and the meat of the game is in the setting, drama, and storytelling chapters. By today’s standards, the 263-page rulebook isn’t even big, but I felt it could’ve lost 30, 40 pages easily, and most of that from the crunchy bits. It’s hard to put myself in the position of a gamer in the year that I turned six, and try to see if they really needed this many examples of Ability+Attribute combinations to cover different situations. They feel so intuitive to me.

Going back to the first rulebook also shows me what was there at the beginning. It’s just seven clans here, all Camarilla – Brujah, Tremere, Ventrue, Malkavian, Nosferatu, Toreador, and Gangrel, plus the Caitiff. The Anarchs are a larger presence than they ended up being for most of the game. Sabbat are coyly mentioned, but we don’t really know who they are yet. A bunch of the independent clans are named but not detailed.

Finally, there’s the start of the metaplot. I’d played Vampire and read Vampire before, but before barrelling through these first eight titles, I hadn’t quite appreciated how tightly the metaplot wound through it all. The core rulebook has the short adventure – or story, in the World of Darkness parlance – “Baptism by Fire”, which is pitched as the start of the “Forged in Steel” chronicle. “Forged in Steel” is about the struggle of Gary, Indiana against the attempts of Chicago vampires to control the town. Only three of the nine Vampire titles that came out in 1991 don’t have a connection to this. (“Blood at Dawn”, the adventure that came with the Storytellers Screen is set in Gary.)

The metaplot is also visible in how the books refer to one another, which also establishes a kind of reading order. Ashes to Ashes comes before Chicago by Night, which comes before The Succubus Club and Blood Bond. I read these a bit out of order but this post is, in part, a way for me to structure my thoughts, so they’re presented as they’re “supposed” to be.

In “Baptism by Fire”, the coterie is at the New Year’s ball thrown by Prince Modius of Gary in a dilapidated mansion, with a bunch of other vampires present who could all be Malkavians for how well-adjusted they are (there’s a delightful paradox for you – Malkavians are insane but how else would a vampire be?). There’s some brouhaha and a bit of a kerfuffle and you get to meet all the movers and shakers, such as they are, and maybe run in with a vampire hunter. Then Modius is summoned to Chicago and he sends the coterie in his stead.

The story picks up in Ashes to Ashes, an 83-page adventure module, as the coterie gets to Chicago and tries to meet with Prince Lodin. Who has just up and disappeared. The crème de la Camarilla of Chicago considers the coterie if not likely guilty, then at least very convenient scapegoats and also expendable hicks from the sticks. They must solve this mystery! Hijinks ensue.

The whole complex picture also features Anarchs, vampire hunters, a methuselah in torpor who’s also kinda but not quite but really King Menelaos from The Iliad (but we’re not told this until Chicago by Night, because Vampire is coy like that), mortal Satanists, and a ghoul ram. Oh, and Harry Houdini, because if we’re going to have an expansive supernatural secret history setting, of course we need a few famous historical people as vampires. In some perverse way I find myself liking this, even though it’s a fairly hideous railroad and there’s at least one positively idiotic scene (“Hey come at the crack of dawn to this football field and we’ll airlift you out to the meeting this is not a trap honest.”). The railroad is kinda self-justified by the theme of everyone pulling someone else’s strings and the coterie being mere pawns in the game of unlife. There are some actual choices, such as the option to just let Lodin die. Which makes the follow-up interesting because in the metaplot he’s not supposed to cark before Under a Blood Red Moon.

Amusingly, since it’s 2020 and it’s trivially easy to check these things, I will note that the sunrise is listed about an hour too early. It caught my eye because the whole thing is explicitly set in the first few nights of January.

Ashes to Ashes also features an interesting structural experiment, a B-plot played in a series of flashback episodes from the villain’s perspective, intended to feed the players some of the backstory the coterie will likely stay in the dark about. I have no idea if this is remotely workable, but it’s exactly the kind of bold experimentation I am here for. The book also contains a lot of STing advice that at least looks useful, including random crap meant to be thrown at the player whose character had the least to do in a previous scene, usually with no plot significance. The intention is more to get them to participate in the role-playing rather than give some sort of experience of success.

Ashes to Ashes leads to Chicago by Night, the first of its name. Fun book. The city description feels a bit Lonely Planet, but it works, and there’s a map, and before reading this book I hadn’t actually understood that Gary, despite being in a different state from Chicago, is actually right there, like, 50 kilometres away. That’s a half-hour drive. So that was useful. There’s a cool overarching concept with the two ancient vampires vying for control of the city and nudging everyone else to do their bidding, one of them from torpor. The other one is Helena, who’s never said to be of Troy but come on now. She has a ghoul named Paris. I mean Prias. They mix the story up a bit which rather annoys me, since if you’re gonna have a bunch of characters from The Iliad in your 90s gothic vampire Chicago, you should own that shit. There’s also Al Capone, because of course there is.

There’s a lot of NPCs. For the most part they work, their story functions are clear and there’s relationship maps for who hates whom and who’s pulling whose strings. The Ventrue Horatio Ballard is a mind-boggling amalgam of John Spica from Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, and Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote. I wondered for some time why the Sabbat vampires’ clans are listed as just “Sabbat” until I realized that Tzimisce and Lasombra weren’t introduced yet, and wouldn’t probably show up until The Player’s Guide to the Sabbat. There’s also a demon here, a succubus. I’m not sure where she fits in with Demon: The Fallen, but she probably doesn’t.

Then there’s The Succubus Club, which is an introduction to a vampire nightclub where the masquerade isn’t quite as tight as most places, and a series of short adventures tying in to the club, and basically also the “Forged in Steel” chronicle. This book, incidentally, has the really filthy habit of referring the reader to Chicago by Night for NPC stats, which must’ve been a pain in the ass before they were released together as Chicago Chronicles, Volume I.

It’s an… interesting book. One of the first things we are introduced is the Blood Dolls, a youth subculture that’s about playing vampire and drinking each other’s blood, which is on one level laughably over-the-top extreme but also pretty horrifying on multiple levels. For an interesting historical footnote, in the year of this book’s release 28 569 people died of AIDS in the United States. The Succubus Club makes no reference to HIV. Somehow, when it’s vampires playing around with blood it’s distanced enough, but when it’s normal people doing it, that distance for me vanishes and it immediately contextualises with everything I’ve read about the HIV epidemic, with Angels in America, with Just a Little Lovin’ and Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves. There’s a moment of whiplash.

And then we’re on to discuss the layout of the club and the hidden haven of Helen of Troy, guarded by her three-thousand-year-old ghoul Paris also a giant ghoul scorpion.

The scenarios themselves are a bit uneven. The first one is “Annabelle’s Party”, which is about the Toreador primogen of Chicago, who has no artistic ability herself, throwing a party which is sabotaged to embarrass her. The party itself and the ways in which she’s embarrassed are pure gold – an unveiled sculpture is just a piece of a steam locomotive as a snide jab at a prior disagreement, and the bold new piece of music is just Beethoven’s Ninth (or some other unspecified but worn classic) upside down. The trail eventually leads to the rail yard and their Ventrue overseer who’s severely in denial about the importance of the railways in 1991 and plays with a model train set. There’s something about the portrayal of Edgar Drummond as a train-obsessed manchild that in 2020, when “carbon footprint” has entered our everyday vocabulary, feels subtly off. “Annabelle’s Party” also just sort of ends at act two without actually concluding.

Then there’s “Player of Pawns”, where two Elders play chess against each other, using subordinates as pawns. The Chicago player, Critias, of course fields the coterie. This one features a Finnish vampire named Killikillarven, which is not a Finnish name, whose role-playing instructions include: “Between sentences make a lot of grunts and “hmms.” When investigating things, scrunch up your right eye and stare with your bugged-out other eye (this is also what he does for the Evil Eye; see Spirit Thaumaturgy). You are not a happy immortal, so do not laugh often, but smile occasionally.”

“Player of Pawns” looks like it might be fun for a group that likes to fight a lot. Straightforward, clear structure.

There’s “Fundamental Differences”, in which a priest who has true faith comes to protest The Succubus Club with his flock. The elder vampires present want him dead, which is a problem because touching him is physically painful for low-Humanity Kindred. An additional problem is introduced by the man being actually a very nice and kind person. This one looks fun. The fourth one is “Death’s Sweet Sting”, where there’s an engineered strain of mononucleosis that kills vampires. It’s a bit too scifi for my liking, plus as written if the coterie fucks up it’s basically Gehenna right now, right here.

The Succubus Club is wrapped up by “Child’s Play”, a longer adventure where the coterie meets Nicolai, Chicago’s Tremere primogen who’s been around for centuries in the body of a nine-year-old. Think Damien Thorn and you’re close. First Nicolai tests whether they’re good enough by putting them on the trail of some vampire hunters and then tasks them with killing the vampire Ehrich Weiss, better known as… Harry Houdini! They are basically being set up to fail, both by the text and by Nicolai, which is an interesting decision.

As this text is starting to get long, the adventures Blood BondBlood Nativity and Alien Hunger, as well as The Players Guide, will be covered in a later post.

Vampire for the Win, Press Release Loses

This past weekend, Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition picked up the Origins Award for Best Role-Playing Game, as well as Fan Favourite in the same category, at Origins Game Fair. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes for D&D got Best Supplement. Congratulations to both teams for excellent work and deserved wins!

Though as with any award, I could complain about the shortlist, but I really should’ve done that back when it was released and will desist for now. We’ll see again for next year. However, I do have an issue with how all of this is presented.

For one thing, the award was given to Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition by Modiphius Entertainment. While Modiphius is a fine company and I have a pile of their games that I love – indeed, I just got Mutant Chronicles yesterday – the fact remains that the core book as well as both of the sourcebooks currently out were designed and published by White Wolf before its dissolution. Modiphius didn’t get the license until late December 2018, and have no releases of their own out for the game. They were initially just the distribution partner. While the company played a significant part in getting the game out to the people, White Wolf should be at least acknowledged.

Also, someone’s botched with the press release from the Origins’ end, because multiple outlets, such as ACDnewsource and ICv2 are crediting the game as:

designed by Tomas Arfert, Mary Lee, Mark Kelly, Sarah Horrocks, Tomas Arfert, Anders Muammar, Mike Mignola, and the CCP Atlanta art team directed by Reynir Harðarson, consisting of Erling Ingi Sævarsson, John Van Fleet, Vince Locke, Michael Gaydos, Matthew Mitchell

Who are all in the book and all great at what they do, which at least in this case was not game design. These are the art credits. While it’s a gorgeous book and they do deserve recognition, that’s not what they were doing. The reason Tomas Arfert is there twice is because he’s also credited for the cover. Like, this is literally from the rulebook’s credits page:

Fortunately, the Game Fair’s website at least lists design & development people:

Kenneth Hite, Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, Mathew Dawkins, Karl Bergström, Juhana Pettersson

Though I’m pretty sure Mr Dawkins’s name is spelled with two T’s, this is much better. Funny, usually it’s the Nordics who get their names mangled, like “Juhanna Peterson” on the Modiphius webstore, or “Juhana Peterson” as in the Modiphius press release from last April.

In related news, Juhana of the Many Spellings has written up a blog post titled “The Annotated Anarch” where he goes over his inspirations and creative processes in his work on Anarch. It is well worth a read.

Changes in the Anarch and Camarilla Books

As yet another pair of revised PDFs for the Vampire: The Masquerade, 5th Edition sourcebooks Anarch and Camarilla dropped the other day, I found myself wondering what was the list of actual changes. So I googled for it, and found many people wondering the same but no actual list.

So, I pulled up the first-released PDFs and the newest versions alongside them and compared to get the following. This is just a list of additions, removals, and changes in the content. Some of the edits are pretty simple and inconsequential, but others can be read politically. I did not make mention of corrected typos, changes in the artwork, or shifts in layout. Some of the changes I agree with, such as the removal of the Abrek Blight, and some I do not, such as the rewriting of The Gehenna War. On the balance, I’m pretty happy with my uncensored hardcovers. I do appreciate, though, that of the additional cities in the revamped Camarilla, all but one are outside the United States.

It should be noted that in addition to the two that I compared, the original and them most recent one, there exists a third version, which is the quick edits right before going to print. I haven’t looked at them in detail but I think the only major change in those is that Camarilla has had Abrek Blight excised and a bunch of new city entries added to make up the page count. The first print edition does have the original Gehenna War chapter.

I worked by comparing the profile of the the text on two adjacent PDFs, not by close reading. I will have missed stuff, especially in sections of Camarilla where they jiggered the layout and made my technique harder. In such cases I did have to do close reading, but I am but a fallible mortal.

In entries where the pages differ between the two versions, the first page number is the original.

Anarch

pg 1: Additional writing by Steffie De Vaan.

pg 27: Section titled The End of the Dream substantially rewritten to remove references to Central Asia and ambiguity as to whether Oksana refers to lording over humans or Communism itself.

pg 32: Chapter “Damsel wants YOU to join the Anarch Free States” inserted.

pg 40/42: Section “Overpopulation and Suicide” rewritten as “Overpopulation and Wights”. In the original version, it talked about how many newly Embraced Anarchs kill themselves in their first few months of unlife. In the new one, they succumb to the Beast.

pg 66/68: Chapter “Is It OK To Feed Vitae To a Baby?”, a cutting satire on internet’s baby and self-help forums cut away. “Damsel wants YOU to join the Anarch Free States” exists to make up the page count.

pg 104: In the Chapter “The Blood of the Patriots”, paragraph “Here’s a pro-tip: Don’t combine pretending to be human by eating food and drinking from girls who pass out at parties. Being so fucked you puke on your shoes is possible even as one of us, if the conditions are right.” changed to “Here’s a pro-tip: Don’t combine pretending to be human by eating food and drinking from people who’ve been chugging beer all night long.”

pg 114: A third eye removed from the picture of a young woman. Guess no Salubri here, then.

pg 120: In the chapter “A vér hanaja”, title corrected as “A vér hangja”. Two paragraphs in section “The Fate of Humanity” reading:

This is a simple truth: When a mortal breeds true, their blood tastes divine. If it doesn’t, something has gone wrong. Modern medicine has allowed the weak to survive, polluting the gene pool with their hereditary trash, spoiling our hunt in the process.

We must break apart human civilization, separating, radicalizing and regimenting them until only the best and purest blood rises to the surface. The human waste matter with no culinary value will starve out.

to

This is a simple truth: When a mortal feeds on too much processed food and refined sugars, their blood tastes different, wrong. Modern society has weakened most humans, spoiling our hunt in the process.

We must break apart human civilization, separating, radicalizing and regimenting them until they are forced back into an age of hunting and gathering.

pg 127: In the chapter “Electric Vitae Acid Test”, the text “(For extra credits, use the recipe with horse sperm. It’s online, look it up.)” from advice on harassing elders with custard pies.

pg 152: In the section “Caitiff in Vampire Society”, the sentence “All Thinblood are Caitiff, their weak 14-16th generation so diluted (or just different if you want to be politically correct among the unbound) […]” edited to remove the text in parentheses.

pg 157: A sidebar advertising the mobile game Vampire: Prelude has been removed, as the game is no longer being sold.

pg 177: A glyph, presumably of the Ministry, has been added on the photo illustration.

pg 196: Moloch’s Will removed from the Ruins of Carthage loresheet.

Camarilla

pg 1: Additional writing: Khaldoun Khelil.

pg 2: “How to Use This Book” added.

pg 21/23: In the section “The State and humanity, sentence “Tinfoil hats and anti-semitic hate-mongers looking for the fingerprints of “the Illuminati” in early US history will find only traces of night-wars and alliances between creatures unimaginable to their limited faculties.” edited to remove the words “and anti-semitic hate-mongers”.

pg 29/31: In the section “The Ur-Shulgi Cult”, the last paragraph

It is worth noting that the awakening of the Skinless One parallels the growth of extremist interpretations of the Qur’an on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide. His thirst for destruction is shared by many mortals, and in his wake violence rises, tainting the image of Islam (and the Banu Haqim to those who know) in the minds of the West.

was rewritten as

It is worth noting that the awakening of the Skinless One and the schism it sparked within the clan has exposed the fact that we’ve misunderstood them all along, bringing us closer, first to those in the fringes, then to major factions within the clan.

pg 34/36: Chapter: “The Reformed Congregation of the Veneration of the Methuselah”. A couple of lines of context added to the beginning, apparently text that was accidentally omitted from the original.

pg 45/47: Sentence “A subfaction of the Camarilla call themselves the Kindred-Kine Collective, but anyone not of the group refers to them as parasites, or cleavers if we want to be polite” rewritten to “A small but repellent subfaction of the Camarilla has made itself known among the larger body of the sect. Anyone not of the group refers to them as parasites, or cleavers if we want to be polite.”

pg 53-62/55-64: Chapter “The Gehenna War”. Extensively rewritten. In the epigraph, “Elysium is empty of elders, as if a plague had swept over the city, and we ancillae now rule Lisbon as Prince pretenders.” rewritten as “Elysium is almost completely empty of elders, as if a plague had swept over the city, and we ancillae now rule Lisbon as Prince pretenders.”

Victoria Ash’s introduction to the material extensively rewritten. Example: sentence “We all feel the call” replaced with “Many in the Camarilla claim to hear the call, the soi-disant Beckoning.”

The entire timeline has been bumped back by a year, from 2018 to 2017.

A lot of the author’s characterization of the Ashirra has been cut.

Entry for 27.7.2018 set in Ramallah rewritten and relocated to Tunis. I must admit that the removal of the Palestinian connection rankles me. Juhana Pettersson, the author of the chapter, blogged about his own design decisions. Khaldoun Khelil, who did the rewriting, has posted both a general overview of his decisions for The Gehenna War chapter as well as a post on Palestine and Ramallah in public posts on his Patreon.

Entry for 1.8.2018 set in Jerusalem removed.

Entry for 19.9.2017 set in Kabul rewritten to be set in Dubrovnik.

Entry for 3.10.2017 set in Baghdad rewritten to be set in Heraklion.

Entry for 5.10.2017 set in Baghdad rewritten to be set in Khartoum.

A finale set on 31.10.2017 in Venice added.

pg 63-71: Chapter: “The Abrek Blight” removed due to international incident. The editor Freja Gyldenstrøm has written a blog post discussing the reasoning behind the chapter. The best and most comprehensive account of the events leading to the chapter being removed is unfortunately only available in Finnish, by Jussi Ahlroth.

Hey Ramzan Kadyrov, is this your cat?

pg 74-68: Credit added to Manfred Vaughn, Steward of Arms. This takes up an entire column and affects the layout of the entire Second Inquisition chapter.

pg 88/84: Flavor text about forcing a Blood Bond on a neonate slightly rewritten.

pg 107/103: Mention of Kowalski majoring in political science removed.

pg 117/113: Entries for the cities of Budapest and Cairo added.

pg 118/115: Entry for Jerusalem added.

pg 119/116: Entry for Miami added.

pg 121/119: Entry for St. Petersburg added.

pg 163-164/161-162: In the section “The Banu Haqim in Mortal Society”, the sentence “It is not racist to admit our clan is predominantly one of many hues.” changed to “Our clan is predominantly one of many hues.”

pg 179: Chapter: The Thin-Blooded. In the sentence “Some pass medical inspections with ease, while others change their gender through strange alchemies using their blood.” changed to “Some pass medical inspections with ease. Others appear to have the ability to change their physiognomy over time.” (Yeah, this was a good change.)

And there we go. I may return later to edit in new material as it turns up.

All the Stuff I Didn’t Write in 2018

It’s time for my semi-annual “imma write more this year i promise” post. Last year was terrible on so many levels, and though my inability to stick to any kind of posting schedule is kinda eclipsed by the President’s office of Chechnya whining about RPGs, this is at least the kind of thing I can affect personally.

Hey Mr President Ramzan Kadyrov, is this your cat?

Well, in any substantial fashion, at least.

Truth be told, there were a lot of posts that I started and then never finished, or that never made it past the outline stage, or that I promised but never even began to write. It’s been an exhausting year and news, gaming and otherwise, make the entire genre of horror fiction feel redundant. Writing about anything of substance – and a lot of perfectly inconsequential things – feels like it carries with it an invitation for abuse from a myriad of online cesspits.

But hey, illegitimi non carborundum. So here’s a turn-of-the-year listing of the ten most interesting posts that never made it off the drawing board but actually really should have, cut down into a couple of paragraphs instead of the nuanced 2,000 words most of them would deserve.

Delta Green Has Aged… Poorly

First of all, let it be known that I love Delta Green. The first edition and Delta Green: Countdown are some of the finest gaming books ever written, and especially Countdown keeps getting named as the best ever. It’s not entirely undeserved. The idea of a conspiracy of agents within the American law enforcement, intelligence, and military organizations fighting against the gribbly things of the Cthulhu Mythos was a really great idea. In the 90s.

The problem with this is, of course, that we’re no longer in the 90’s. The cultural touchstones for FBI agents and American special forces is no longer The X-Files and Hollywood action films. Nowadays it’s Guantanamo Bay, and Seal Team 6’s war crimes, Black Lives Matter, NSA Director Keith Alexander’s megalomania, and a drone strike after drone strike. While as a game DG2E is very good, where it falls down for me is in its lack of acknowledgement that as a member of these organizations the PCs themselves or their superiors at the very latest are very likely complicit or directly guilty of some pretty terrible crimes. JSOC isn’t a heroic background, it’s what you should be fighting against. And it really doesn’t help that Tcho-Tchos are nowadays a legitimate and recognized ethnic minority in the United States with their own anti-racism initiative.

This post actually did make it out into the world, in the surface-scratch form of a review I wrote for PlayLab!

I Was a Magic Newspaperman

Professor Rabasse. Photo by Przemysław Jendroska.

I played at College of Wizardry again, bringing back my character from College of Wizardry: The Challenge. This time around, Étienne Rabasse was a hotshot young journalist attached to a visiting lecturer position at Czocha College, which meant that I did the school paper again.

This post, if it ever sees the light of day, would be a practical look at churning out several issues of a fake broadsheet during a larp, what the benefits are for the game, how to make the on-site production as painless as possible, and perhaps a different alternatives to how it could be made. I will not even attempt a summary, and to be honest, it’s more likely to be in a future KP book than here, because it’s also going to be rather more rigorous work than my usual word-noodling here and possibly even deserves the dead-tree treatment.

As an entirely tangential side note, I will be playing Professor Rabasse for the third time at College of Wizardry 20 in April. I will not do the newspaper.

Vampire: The Masquerade Fifth Edition – Twelve Hangry Men

I bought and played the fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade. I liked it, especially the Hunger Dice and how they drive the game onwards. I also like the recommendation that combats are played for three rounds and the ended the way things were going. Fighting was always the least interesting bit of Vampire for me. I like the graphic design, though admittedly a part of that is because some of the images are from the 2016 run of the larp End of the Line, which I played.

I also like the Anarch and Camarilla books, except for the Chechnya chapter which really is badly written, though in my opinion if it offends Ramzan Kadyrov that he’s depicted as a bloody-handed tyrant in thrall to a greater power he really should stop oppressing his own people and donate his collection of Vladimir Putin t-shirts to Goodwill or something.

I think the ruleset in general is superior to the older version, and the advances in metaplot and slight rewriting of things make for a more playable setting. Tremere are allowed to do cool shit without being immediately dusted by their superiors. The major sectarian conflict being now Camarilla vs. Anarchs feels like both sides are playable much more than the former Camarilla vs. Sabbat. I’m kinda on the fence about the Second Inquisition, but it’s very versatile in how it can be played.

I backed the Chicago by Night kickstarter. I’m looking forward to future releases, though if Modiphius is really not going to make Camarilla and Anarch available after the preorders are done, that is a shame.

And though the current incarnation of White Wolf made some definite missteps in PR and marketing, their stewardship also saw the production of a Vampire larp in the European Parliament.

Living Greyhawk Ten Years Later

The Living Greyhawk organized play campaign ended ten years ago. The campaign saw the release of over 2,000 adventure modules in its eight years of existence, and it was magnificent. Sometimes it was terrible, sometimes weird, often clunky, but always fun. It was a baroque creation that ran away from its creators as the regional triads started creating their own regional identities and the players took plotlines in unexpected directions. It was simultaneously a marketing scheme and an enormous, unique co-creative work of art. Nothing has approached it since – Pathfinder Society and Adventurers’ League are both too firmly in the leash.

We shall never see its like again, and it should not be forgotten.

I did write a post about Living Greyhawk for Loki, but of course, the language barrier applies.

Fairweather Manor Revisited

I also played at Fairweather Manor. Again. Whereas my last game was mostly serious except when it a scene out of P.G. Wodehouse intruded, somewhat political, and somewhat removed from the scheming of the aristocracy, this time was the complete opposite.

My character was Patrick “Jack” Hennessy, the firstborn son of the Duke’s black sheep brother. He was born in Hong Kong, lived there for most of his life and was stuck in England because of the war along with his younger sister Ginny. He was essentially an entitled brat with no sense of consequence but all the privilege. He was also Buddhist, and Orientalist in a somewhat insipid culturally-appropriative way, and wrote letters to his Chinese mistress in Hong Kong. I folded them all text-side outwards and gave them to servants with the instructions to mail them to Hennessy House in Hong Kong, they’ll know what to do with them. They were signed “Your Monkey, Jack.”

It’s a testament to the robustness of design that what for me in one run was a serious and emotional experience, in another run was transformed into an upstairs-downstairs comedy while still allowing other people to play the experiences they sought. Partly this is due to the sheer size of the game, partly because having a fully realized character also allows you to step into more – or less – serious play when someone else’s game requires it.

This is another game I will be revisiting in 2019. Having played two of the three male pacifist characters in the game, I thought I’d go for an officer.

We did some fencing. Photo by Kamil Wędzicha.

War of Agaptus: Fate of Ashes Review

This is actually something I was supposed to do over a year ago, but a computer malfunction ate around a thousand words of text, and I was too pissed off to continue, and then it was just one distraction after another in real life, around the same time as my output here generally petered out. I’ve returned to the review now and then to noodle around with it, but I’d really need to re-read the book to do it with the proper depth. So here’s the short version.

War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus is a new [okay, was new] fantasy role-playing game from Evil Hat. Like most of the company’s games, it’s got FATE System purring gently under the bonnet.

The lead designer on the project is Sophie Lagacé. Fate of Agaptus is actually based on a pair of miniature wargames from ZombieSmith, called Shieldwall and Shieldbash. To capitalize on an existing miniatures range, Fate of Agaptus contains a more detailed combat system, involving the use of those miniatures. The book itself is 370 pages long.

The setting is an early Medieval fantasy that eschews the D&D cast of fantasy races and instead presents the four factions: Elvorix, Vidaar, Jarl, and Kuld. The Elvorix are a formerly great civilization now in decline, the Vidaar are an aggressive offshoot of the same race that are raiders and pirates, the Jarl are militarist expansionists, and the Kuld are beastly creatures that are coming down from the north to eat everyone. The sun is growing dim and the inhabitable area of the world is growing smaller, driving everyone to fight for resources. The game calls its aesthetic grimsical. It’s The Muppets in the ranks of The Black Company.

The setting is designed for a wargame and unsurprisingly there’s a lot of combat rules. Some of the stuff adds on to the standard FATE set, such as the froth phase in combat, a cultural feature of the world, where the warriors psych themselves up and try to intimidate their enemies before the bloody business starts. There are occasional asides where the writer highlights this or that thing and explains why it works the way it does, which I like.

Overall, it’s a cool game and executed well, but the setting has a very specific aesthetic that will inevitably divide opinion. Definitely worth a look.

Just a Little Lovin’: A Larp About AIDS and the 80s

In June, I played in the Finnish run of Just a Little Lovin’. It is a larp about the AIDS crisis in the USA, and is set over three consecutive 4th of July parties from 1982 to 1984.

It was one hell of a larp. I have never had my emotions manipulated with such deftness and elegance. It is a larp about friendship, love, and death. It’s regularly described as a life-changing experience. I can likely never hear Dusty Springfield’s “Just a Little Lovin'” or Dolly Parton’s version of “Star-Spangled Banner” without a part of me returning to the yard outside Mr T’s summer retreat, saluting a flag as Dennis, a veteran of Vietnam and a member of a free love commune. It’s weird to miss people who are not real. It was a deeply emotional, sad, sometimes sexy game with the warmest, kindest, most supporting player community around it that I have been a part of. 

I’ve had several abortive attempts to write about it but trying to unpack the staggering complexity of the larp and my personal experience feels like a daunting task. There’s a book about the 2013 Danish run of the game available as a free download, and I feel like explaining everything I have to say would probably take another. And then I always have to answer the question of who the hell am I even to tell this story? I belong to none of the communities hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic. It is emphatically a story that I have no ownership of. It’s a question that occupied me even about the game itself, and throwing up a wall of text about it on my blog is something I’ve yet to find the confidence to do. 

Just a Little Lovin’ will be run in the UK in the summer of 2019. Signup is now open. The photos on that site are all from the Finland run, incidentally, if you want to see what it looked like.

In Memoriam – Greg Stafford

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the passing of one of the greats of the field. Greg Stafford was the father of Glorantha and creator of King Arthur Pendragon. It’s one of my favourite games even though I’ve only managed to play it a couple of times. Stafford’s grasp of mythology was tremendous, and the influence of his work runs through the DNA of many modern role-playing games.

I never met him, though I did see him in passing when he was at Ropecon many years ago. Unfortunately, I had yet to discover Pendragon at the time.


Hell of a year. I have plans for 2019, but they warrant their own post.