21st Century Bloodsuckers – A V5 Overview

DISCLAIMER FROM THE AUTHOR:

“I’m not sure I can be totally unbiased, but then again who can.
I’ve spent time with a lot of the people at the new WW, and a lot of my enjoyment of this product might stem from a misplaced sense of fellowship with the crew of the new WW and the community of WOD.
But, I might be fair handed as well. So, you decide.”

What is Vampire the Masquerade?
Well, if you don’t know that, this review might be a bit confusing. It’s most a review by a fan for the fans. But, to put to it bluntly. Vampire is a game about, well, vampires in a dark mirror of the modern world, a horror game about losing your humanity in a world with even more horrible monsters and conspiracy. It was published in 1991, and garnered a cult following as a role-playing game that rivaled D&D in popularity.
Now, it’s time for it’s Fifth Edition. It is also a game that deserves both the Mature Content Warning in the front, which I urge you to read, as well as the Appendix on Safety in Playing a game like this.

In this article, I’ll examine the setting and rules, hopefully give an overview of those, as well as my own views and talk a bit about some of the most common criticisms of this product.


SETTING

Well, do you remember the time when Shadowrun 4th Edition kicked off?
I was in high school back then, and I was deeply entrenched in 3rd Edition. When SR4 rolled around it made me walk away from the setting in frustration. To some people, it’s going to be the same with “Vampire: The Masquerade” as the game, nicknamed V5 by most fans, is now a very different beast than in 1998 when the last edition rolled around.
(But, to be completely fair, this game has changed a lot between editions.)
So, I can understand if people walk away in rage, as “their” game has changed.

That being said, let’s take a look at the world of the Kindred in 2018.

The Second Inquisition happened.
Despite the name, it is not a monolithic entity rolling down towards the vampires, but when the age of information got going and the immortal undead of the Camarilla decided to use the increased surveillance state to fight their enemies, things backfired. Immensely. Then, the intelligence community began noticing dead people pulling strings from the shadows. In this day and age, Van Helsing works for NSA, and has far more resources than the old huntsman.
From the mid-00s, the intelligence services worked together with occultists and religious hunters, pooling resources and began surgically striking havens and dragging vampires into the sun. Of course, that was never revealed to the public. No one wanted panic.

And after nearly 12 years of constant fear, we now again join with the Vampires.
Scattered, fearful and paranoid, the Camarilla has withdrawn into it’s ivory tower, leaving the bottomfeeders to fend for themselves, in a display of history repeating itself from the Dark Ages.
The Anarch Movement, trying to topple said Ivory Tower, has adapted to the new world, hoping to survive against all odds, and are thus far doing a good enough job that they have managed to hide. The Clans themselves have changed.
Clan Brujah stood with the disenfranchised youth, and joined with the Anarchs, alongside the Gangrel. The Ventrue and the Toreador remained pillars, holding
the Camarilla on their shoulders.
The Tremere, the former monolith, have been shattered and divided as the Inquisition destroyed their leadership. Among the Anarch factions, Caitiff and Thin-blooded gather to find some refuge, in spite of their outcast nature.

In the Middle East, the fanatic Sabbat has launched a crusade against the Antediluvian, the oldest of all vampires, using and worsening the mortal bloodshed in the region as a cover for their own warfare against the sleeping progenitors. Ancient vampires who perhaps are not as slumbering as we might have assumed before.
To fight their war, the progenitors call upon their childer, and their childers childer, now mighty millenia-old vampires themselves, Beckoning them to their side, making Elders all over the world leave their domains in the care of younger Kindred.

It leaves us with a setting filled with opportunity, in spite of breaking with the former theme of ever-present elder oppression. The previously overlooked vampires, the Neonates and the Ancillae, vampires younger that three centuries, are now the main actors, fearing both the reach of shadowy elders who might return, as well as the younger vampires trying to carve out their own part of the pie.

The Second Inquistion is the element of the ever-chasing hunter. I had my doubts, but the SI as is, can be used to simulated a threat large enough that the Vampires are not going to just shrug it off, just like Dracula never just shrugged off Van Helsing.
The entire setting is open, and even though the corebook is focusing on the nature of the vampire itself, it’s clear that they’re aiming to build up the world on this foundation, as the lore part of the core itself is pretty damn short.

Everything has burned down. It’s time to build on the ashes.


Setting Summary:

It’s a new world of vampires, set in the 21st Century. A lot of logical leaps have been taken, and probably not in directions that most of us fans would have done, and would like more explanations for.
I’ve always liked the WOD to have a sliver of real world in itself, and currently they’re aiming at commenting on the current state of affairs. In some cases, it’s cyberpunk without the cyber.
In other cases, it’s very much the same game, just set in the background of a catastophe.

I don’t know about you, I find the setting of V5 is Vampire in this day and age, mirroring our world in a way that is maybe a bit too real?
In this version, the vampires are pretty clearly monsters, a fact that was easy to forget back in the days. You go from Anne Rice-vampires to “Near Dark” at the drop of a hat.
To me, V: the Requiem 2e, still did that better, but I can totally jive with this sort of vampyric fiction.
You’re the “young” vampire in this initial setting, and I can find a lot of good ways to enjoy that, but I hope they will expand it sooner rather than later, and even then, it won’t take that much effort to homebrew rules for the older creatures.

Counterpoints
  • “It’s too much like Requiem. Having the monolithic Camarilla become a “evil masons” makes them Invictus instead of the vampire establishment.”
    • Kinda? Kinda not? It’s pretty clear there are clear differences, but it also very unclear how the Camarilla has changed, which will probably be quite clear as the line progresses. I’ll chalk it up to a “wait and see” but, even if it is the case, we might still have a good game.
  • “Lack of the Elders misses the point of the game, which was being oppressed by elders, which sometimes meant being stomped under by a Vampire who saw the fall of Rome.”
    • Did you really like that kind of game? I sure didn’t. Beginning with options for the basic characters might prove for the better game.
  • “I want to play an Elder who saw the fall of Rome.”
    • Yeah. So do I. But we gotta wait. WW said they wanted to cover playing a Elder at some point in the future. There’s a lot to do with the stuff we already have.
  • “They dropped a lot of plotlines from Beckett’s Jyhad Diary!”
    • Maybe? Maybe they just realized that a lot of those plotlines would have to be gradually expanded, and perhaps not in the corebook. We’re dealing with 27 years of Vampire.
  • “I want to play a [Lasombra, Giovanni, Kiasyd etc.], not some of these wieners I’ve already played.”
    • Sometimes, you have to build. I’m pretty sure the world will expand to the old scale eventually, but this is the ground floor, where we need to pick up new people.
      I understand the frustration of going from the book with all of the Clans and Bloodlines in it, to being limited to the original seven and a couple of clanless. But this book has an experience it wants to sell, the night-to-night existence of an vampire.
  • “This version and their focus on vampires as monstrous bloodsuckers is making me uncomfortable.”
    • They doubled down on this being a game set in the horror genre, and focused in on being an actual bloodsucker, which in it’s very nature, is a unpleasant thing to be. Personal Horror is a ingrained part of this edition. So is Political Horror.
      And yes, there is some deeply disturbing material in this book. I can only say, read the Appendix on safe-play, read the disclaimer, be comfortable with your playgroup. Otherwise, this might not be your game. I can recommend Urban Shadows for a similar experience.
      I do understand people that never played Vampire for a horror experience, some for the politics of eternals, some played it for the melodrama of immortals. Some even played it for an dark action adventure, which I’m not dismissing as invalid. It was just never the game as presented.
  • “The Second Inquistion is ruining my gameworld, and it’s unrealistic mortals could do anything against vampires who rule the world.”
    • Well. I can’t help you there. The Second Inquisition is as said, supposed to emulate the danger that Van Helsing posed to Dracula. Maybe… ignore them, if you like V5 otherwise? It’s your game, do what you want to do.

Rules

The rules of V5 are at once quite familiar and quite strange.
We’re still dealing with a dice pool system of d10s. This time, we’re using number of rolled dice above five as successes, and rate difficulties by number of rolled successes, on a scale from 1 to 10.
Pairs of 10s counts as critical successes, which adds successes based on the number of pairs. Why did they do that? According to Karim Muamar, the system designer, it was to make sure you could always half a dice pool of a SPC (Storyteller Played Character) and make a Difficulty equal to half the number of dice rather than an opposed dice roll.

So far, so good. It’s simple, and the stats are still measured in dots, although, the OWOD statline has been replaced by the Chronicle of Darkness version, booting Appearance and Perception, in favor of Composure and Resolve.
There’s also a lot fewer skills, but it makes sense, considering the aim of this edition was to streamline where it was needed.

Combat has been turned into Conflict, and is in it’s purest form a simple opposed dice roll to resolve a situation.
There are advanced rules on Conflicts in a chapter on Advanced Rules, but even then, a rule of thumb says to limit conflicts to a total of three rounds.
A Conflict can damage your Health, but it can also damage your Willpower, as some Conflicts can be social in nature.

One of the biggest changes is the focus on being a Predator. In fact, you need to choose one of eight archetypes of Predator, detailing how you feed every night, which will grant you extra powers based of the type.
To some that is pretty cool, as it does force you to remember that you are playing a creature who sustain itself by sucking the lifeblood out of people. On the other hand, it forces you to do exactly that.
Depending on your viewpoint, it can be a good or a bad thing.

Disciplines are still a thing, although they’ve changed a lot with some of them even being folded into other disciplines, which I’m certain will ruffle a lot of feathers in the community.
The loss of Dementation and Quietus, making them a subset of Dominate and Blood Sorcery respectively.
The Thin-bloods are given a sort of Blood Alchemy, a power subset I haven’t looked into, but does contain some interesting facets, as well as few quite disturbing ways to power your magic, which is very much not for the faint of heart.

Leading from Disciplines, we go to one of the biggest changes.
Hunger.
Hunger is the replacement for the Blood Pool, and is rated from 1 to 5. Each level of Hunger turns one of your die in every dice pool into a Hunger Die (suggested colored red). This die has two special results.
If it rolls a 1, and you fail the thing you attempted? You gain a Compulsion, where the Beast force you to do something monstrous.
On a 10, if you gain multiple 10’s, you gain a Messy Critical, where the Beast makes you success quite… yeah, messy is the right word. You let a bit of the vampire inside of you deal with the problem.
Once your reach Five Hunger? You’re ravenously hungry, and cannot Rouse the Blood anymore, and if you fall asleep with five hunger, there’s a good chance you’re not getting up again.

Sounds like a bad time?
Well, for most people, yeah. It’s bad. As a rule, it reinforces the addictive nature of blood to the Cainites.
But, lower Generation vampires (a count on how close your are to Caine)have an easier time, as their Blood Potency grants them better control of their blood, on the cost of it being harder to slake the Hunger once it has gone up.
Blood Potency is connected to Generation as both a minimum BP and a cap, based on how low a Generation you possess. Of course, to lower your generation is possible, as Diablerie is still a forbidden, yet, ever so tempting fruit.
The price? Just your Humanity.

Which brings us to Humanity.
This part of the game has been revamped and rehashed a few times over the years, and V5 draws it’s main inspiration from Requiem 2nd Ed, where Humanity was connected with Touchstones, mortals who reminds you of those Convictions that makes it easier to remain human.
Of course, Humanity was always an odd duck throughout the editions, clearly meant to enforce a certain narrative, but VtM often had other ideas on what sort of stories it wanted to tell.
Before, it kinda meant never breaking the Ten Commandments if you wanted to remain a humane vampire. Nowadays, you communicate with the rest of the table.
I know right? Pretty revolutionary.
When you create characters, you also discuss your Chronicle Tenets, which are rules set up for *your* game, and when the players break the Tenets, they incur Stains on their Humanity, culminating in a Remorse roll, usually at the end of the session. In that roll you figure out whether or not your character drops in Humanity, or feel remorse for their course of action that lead them to this point.

All of this is decided in session zero, where you also make your characters as a group. This forces players to think closer about the characters they’re going to be portraying, and make relationships with their Coterie (a group of vampires) before anything else is decided.
A whole section is also dedicated to make a relationship map, talking about the city and fleshing out the internal relationships between the vampires.
Additionally, the characters are also given Ambitions and Goals, things that can help them recover their precious Willpower.
If you pursue your Ambition, you regain a Aggravated Damaged WP at the end of the session, and if you achieve a Goal, you regain a Superficially Damaged WP.
Fun stuff.

There’s also Loresheets, a series of one-page exposition of the wider setting of Vampire: the Masquerade.
These pages also offer you a mechanical buy-in into the story in question.
Wanna take up arms with the famous Brujah-posterboy Theo Bell and his possé? Buy a merit from the sheet, and you’re golden.
Want to be the heir to the deceased Ventrue lord Hardestadt? Buy the merit from that sheet, and we’re off!
These sheets is a way to connect people to the wide-spanning background of the setting, and avoids the usual sneers when you show up with a character connected with the lore, as if it was some pristine and precious thing.
You paid good points for this.
Of course, you want to remember to have a talk with your ST about it, as some of these Loresheets can be quite loaded on plot, perhaps even to a degree that she did not plan for.

Finally, the Memoriam is one rule I’ve been lacking for many years of dealing with Vampires.
How do you allow a lifetime of immortality of affect the story set in the current age? Usually, you had to write long and contrived backstories, or trust
you ST to throw bennies at you. Now, it’s an actual mechanic in the game, where you transport the game back to the time of the memory and work with both players and ST to create a memorable trip down memory lane.
It’s kinda like Highlander in that regard. And, even though one might think that the “young” vampires of V5 are not able to use this for much, I might just add that a Neonate rates in being below a century in age. Having been undead for most of the twentieth century leaves you with a *lot* of options, and even better, a Ancillae could have been made undead as far back as 1768! Plenty of room for narrative fun without the Elders.

Summary of the Rules
V5 is a odd kind of game.
On one hand, it’s a revamped 90’ies behemoth game, and one that still retains the narrative power in the favor of the ST.
Just like D&D5E, which also leaves the majority of the workload in the ST’s corner, even if that is lighter than it once was.
On the other hand, it’s also a mix of innovative rules technology that has been developed over the last ten-twenty years, many of those adapted more or less wholesale into the mix, from games where there is a lot more player empowerment present. It’s an odd duck in that regard.
Some might even argue that the Hunger dice is deprotagonizing, while some might argue that horror is found in free will and choice being taken away from you, and this time, you only got your own existence to blame for loosing your free-will to your hunger.

In any case, there is a lot of ways to play V5, especial thanks to Chronicle tenets, even though it at first glance the book might seem to push a particular narrative onto the reader, which is kinda true in some regards.
They’ve designed the rules to fade into the background as much as possible, which can help you in a lot of ways to play things more like you want them to play. I can recognize that desire from a lot of my own vampire games.

Counterpoints

Do be aware, my answers about rules might often lead to advice on homebrewing stuff.
I’m that kind of systems nerd.

  • “The combat rules suck, they’re not granular enough.”
    • Well. Yeah. They’re not. Sometimes combat is not the focus of a game, why should they be the focus of the rules. I can agree that those rules need a bit of work. But I’ve suffered enough under the OWOD lunacy that I would take anything over that again.
  • “Hunger Dice are taking away my free will, and force me to eat people every night.”
    • If you are uncomfortable with the main premise of being a Vampire, you can always just gloss over it. And you can always just… remove hunger dice and keep hunger?
      As written, yes, the Hunger will make you do horrible shit at times. Isn’t that the point? I can understand that this part is not as malleable as it once was, and that might hamper your way to play it. Modern game design is a lot more aimed at experience design nowadays, and fitting your product to your vision.
      And I cannot strees this enough. If something is not working for you and your group, change it. They still have the Golden Rule in the book, and I know that this will be called out for a Rules Zero fallacy, but there’s just no reason to anger yourself when you cannot change that much about it.
  • “The random element of the Hunger Dice is going to make of slaves to the results. What happen if I roll a messy critical while looking for a book.”
    • Yeah, I can see that. One thing I’ve learned to do is not roll when there’s not Risk involved. They even advice in the book to just take Half when the Difficulty is half or less your dice pool. My person hack would probably not to roll, or maybe even roll without the Hunger Dice, if it is in a calm and quiet situation.
  • “You should not be dependent on stupid Humans to play a Vampire! Why are touchstones even here?”
    • Yeah. They’re not all that easy to implement. I’ll give you that.
      But, for the right group, it will work wonders. If you don’t fancy those? I’ve read that the Touchstones of Requiem 2E are good. Maybe use those? If you don’t like touchstones at all? Well. You can always use the old Humanity Sins without touchstones.
  • “These rules are forcing me to play a specific way.
    • The rules always done that.
      I can agree that it might not have been clear before they were changed, but rules are by their very nature, what shapes our experience in a game. You can ignore and shape your table all you want to, but rules are the way that the designers shapes the experience they would like to communicate to the audience.
      If you don’t like this, there’s nothing forcing you to switch, and I know it’s going to be hard to get new V20 players now V5 is out, but I think any ST with enough passion can get people into any rule-set.

CONTROVERSY:
So. It’s been a bit of a stormy time to be a White Wolf fan.
Vampire 5th Edition made a lot of missteps, that has been hard to navigate around. Even though they’ve shaped up, and begun addressing concerns with a lot more effort, the current state of White Wolf’s goodwill is kinda strained.
A few of these missteps has resulted in some really harsh accusations, following here, where I’ll try to address them for a concerned reader.


Final Score

Since I haven’t played this game yet, I decided to give the chance for a few more infamous parts of the vampire community. I might add a few more interviews and ratings.
I’ll add my own thoughts once I’ve played a game or two of this new thing.
(TBF, there’s a reason why there’s only male vampires here. All of them are facets of my personality and my enthusiasm for Vampire and the WOD. All of them are… well.. me and my gut emotions about this game, not my actual thoughts because those I cannot give until I’ve played the game.)





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