It’s the year 2001 again, a 16-year-old me picks up an RPG book at his local game store. The title reads Vampire The Masquerade in hard-to-read grey text over a mottled green background.
A single rose adorns the cover art.
Having a flick through I’m introduced to a goth-punk world of creatures of the night. I originally came in to buy some miniatures but grab this book instead.
Reading on the bus home I miss my stop, completely engrossed in what I came to learn was the ‘World of Darkness’. Bloodlines struggle for power with each other, werewolves roam in packs and hunters seek to protect the ‘livestock’ from these creatures.
But the focus is on vampires, and being 16 years old, wearing a Slayer shirt and spiked wristband, I think that’s the coolest shit ever.
Vampire the Masquerade Fifth Edition Review
I read the rules over and over, I don’t quite get how to play but get together with my mates and struggle through it. We have a ton of fun and slowly collect more of the books, Vampire becomes a staple of our gaming group.
Now, the year is 2018.
I’ve read through the new Vampire The Masquerade Fifth Edition book a couple of times. The book does a great job at painting a picture of the world. It includes current events mixed with fantasy evil.
Scrawled handwriting in notepads, printouts marked in red biro as new information comes to light; there’s a real sense of chaos. But that’s also part of the problem, it was chaotic and straining to read.
If it’s just for flavour then it makes sense, but twenty eight pages of hard to read info at the start of a book can really turn people away. A disclaimer early on warns players of the settings theme, and is repeated multiple times throughout the book to remind players it’s a game.
This game may approach real world traumas or triggers and asks players to have the discussion with their group about what is too far for you personally. This is a great approach to all gaming, RPGs in particular, as we all gather for a great time we don’t want to leave feeling actual dread or fear when a simple discussion can make others aware of triggers.
However, in some bases, the writers then take these warnings as a license to give the reader both barrels of horror and despair, as well as violent sexuality and depravity.
Maybe Tone it Down
These things have always been associated with violence, but readers aren’t necessarily open to being slapped in the face with it. It’s no secret that Vampire has always had strong sexual tones bordering on snuff films and you can tell from the artwork that it’s a cocktail of seduction and death.
That being said, the writers have taken very adult themes and painted them in a very juvenile light, everything needs to push the envelope of edginess. It’s as if the audience has grown up, but the writing stayed the same. Just like looking at pictures of your younger self in whatever phases you went through, it’s impossible not to cringe.
The lexicon of the damned brings new players up to speed with all the night creature slang.
This is great for getting into the spirit of the game around the table and the art is for lack of a better word… beautiful. A combination of illustration and photography paint a rather elegant picture, something that is missing from the writing itself.
The details and information on the clans is perhaps the best writing in the book. Looking past the obvious edginess in the descriptions, as each clan tries to out-edge each other, it’s easy to see a clear divide in approach and principles between Brujah and Ventrue.
A difference which is obvious to veterans of the system but newbies who thought all vampires were the same can quickly identify with their preferred clan.
Edgelord The Masquerade
But what about game mechanics? Well, they are ok. The changes to Health, Willpower and Humanity as damage trackers helps the game run smoothly. Same with hunger.
It provides a streamlined way to resolve these systems instead of adding further mini-games or resource management means. Hunger in particular stands out as it really plays on the beast within, as you struggle to contain your lust for blood. I
t is perhaps the stand out feature of the fifth edition over previous editions, along with the above mentioned artwork.
Character creation is rather simple, which is welcome because walking new players through how to make a character and how it works can perhaps be the biggest barrier to playing the game. Some veterans will grumble that flavour and flaws have been watered down, but anything that lets me quickly generate a character with someone by answering a few key questions then get playing is a winner in my opinion.
The skill system is rather simple, serving as a description of what you can expect from how many ranks you have in a skill, as opposed to a hard and fast multiplier that will frequently get forgotten.
Where’s the GM?
As far as I can tell, the biggest hurdle to overcome is finding a GM who can run a good game of Vampire. I think back to 16 year old me, and all I ran was combat.
Because my players built combat characters and we loved playing action adventure games where combat was the solution. And then it dawned on me, Vampire is really just about being tougher or edgier and stronger than everyone else in the party.
Well, at least that was my experience. I don’t claim to be the best Games Master ever, but I’ve got a wealth of experience and aptitude to run a good RPG session. That being said, I realise I have absolutely no idea how to run a good Vampire game.
Maybe I’ve just grown out of my leather trench coat and acuvue oasys lens inside phase, but Vampire is a really difficult game to run. I can’t help but wonder if the game developers put more effort into helping players run a good Vampire game, then it would gain more traction.
The grumbling veterans will complain no matter what you do, but new blood into the system helps it grow. The chronicles and tools chapters feel very glossed over in comparison to the often retold orgy of blood and theme text that dominate the first half of the core book.
Even if I never pick it up again to play a game I’ll always come back to the book to reference it for ideas for systems that do political horror and a world of chaos better and that gorgeous artwork that really inspires me to want to try and run Vampire fifth edition.
Vampire the Masquerade Fifth Edition was reviewed using digital assets provided by the publisher.