Vampire the Requiem is the current version of the Vampire role-playing game, released by White Wolf Publishing. It is hard cover, 300 pages long and provides rules for playing monsters, specifically for running vampires as characters in a role-playing game and retails for about $40.
Starting in 1991 White Wolf changed gaming with the publication of Vampire the Masquerade. Previously Dungeons and Dragons, in its narrow Sword and Sorcerer groove, dominated the RPG market – in that game the player characters may be violent mercenaries, but they usually kill vampires. The Call of Cthulhu deemphasized violence, emphasized social interaction and going bugfuck crazy. Science fiction games ran the gamut between D&D and CoC, only with a science fiction set dressing, costumes and props. Masquerade changed things by letting the players run outright monsters. D&D and CoC were, to some degree, about becoming heroes by battling monsters to preserve society. Masquerade rattled the market because the monsters the PCs battled were themselves and the entire vampire society in which the PCs operate at best had the moral and ethical integrity of an inoperable malignant tumor.
Questions are dangerous things. D&D usually, depending on your interpretations, asks no questions. CoC asks about what disturbs you to the point of madness. Masquerade asked a number of questions, such as how far down the proverbial ladder would you go? Why do you do what do you? At least in theory that is what Vampire, as a game, does at its best. However, even the best of games can turn into a fart comedy at an individual the table.
The old vampire game ran its course and during 2003 and 2004 White Wolf Publishing ended the original game and released a new one. The new game is Vampire the Requiem and it asks all the same questions as the original.
There are no classes in Vampire. Masquerade originally offered seven kinds of vampires too choose from and only a single political affiliation, though as that game line expanded it came to offer more than 13 types of vampires and several political affiliation. The new version offers five types of vampires – called clans in the game – and five political groups – called covenants - from which to choose.
It is a game about social conflict and drama comes from tension. The game runs on the interaction of the five clans and the five covenants, like spinning gears grinding against each other without meshing. There are few dungeons, few horrors in the game the party can simply plunder and kill - mostly the PC vampires have to learn to survive and be able to live with themselves.
The first few chapters of the Requiem book lays out character creation, presents the clans, covenants and covers similar issues. The five clans available present, more or less, five types of temperament and personal disposition, from observant introvert to self-aggrandizing extrovert and on. By comparison, the five covenants present, again more or less, five moral and political philosophies to pursue, from bloody-minded neo-pagans to high bound political conservatives and on. Character creation in this system is one of the most in depth available, in terms of psychology, philosophy and morally. Some of this comes in terms of the game’s version of alignment, namely vices, virtues and humanity. The list of vices and virtues are biblical and the humanity score is the character’s relative morality, which can erode depending on the character’s actions – I will discuss the morality of the game later, during the World of Darkness review.
The first portion of the book also presents the world, the titular World of Darkness, a place where Nightmare on Elm Street is probably a documentary. It is also largely an urban game – vampires are predators and like predictors they stay where the food is located.
This new run of books divides presentation of rules mechanics – the basic rules appear in the World of Darkness book, which I will cover in a separate review. Each of the core books for the main lines adheres to these basic rules and only presents new rules to cover the needed specifics of the creature. In Requiem, the rules for the various vampire powers appear in the middle of the book.
The final chapters provide discussion of how to run the game for game masters – here called storytellers. It also provides adversaries for the PCs. Vampires live a long time, are hard to kill and easily bored. They play sadistic social games to occupy their time and they have lots of time to occupy. However, it is not all-social bickering in the game as there are opportunities for actual combat and a theatrical use of a grab bag of special vampire powers. The PCs might be barracudas, but there are lots of sharks, eels, squids and worse in those same dark waters. This was true in during the Masquerade, though it is more pronounced in Requiem.
In terms of presentation, it is an attractive book. The corollary is that for 20 years, White Wolf has never failed to use 100-words where 40 or 50 words would actually suffice. This makes the pages of text appear dark, dense and thus potentially intimidating. There is less art in the books than there could be, if the writers exercised more restraint and the editors were more proactive. What art does appear in the book is good and personal favorites among the artists include Samuel Araya, Brom and long-time White Wolf go-to-artist Joshua Gabriel Timbrook.
Unfortunately, chapter headings, drop quotes, text at the beginning of the book and at the start of the chapters are stylized and elaborate - too much so, as it can be difficult to read.
All the World of Darkness game lines employ the same mechanic, based on rolling 10-sided dice. Rolls of 8, 9 and 10 are successes and that is too high. 7 is a better place to start as not everything should so difficult as getting an 8 on a 10-sided dice roll. This springs from the basic mechanical system, but it is worth mentioning here.
These issues aside, the game is solid, engaging and good. It is a thoroughly sandbox game, like the first incarnation of Vampire the Masquerade before the old game became a victim of its own successful growth. In Requiem, the in-game structure of the clans and covenants does little to determine the nature of the player characters – those decisions remain in the hands of the players. The world they in which they find themselves might have all the jaw-dropping grandeur of a coral reef at night right after some jackass just chummed the waters, but the characters and players are responsible for making the best of it.
The fact the game questions morality, social conventions and its focus is on perceived outsiders is probably part of its appeal to women, members of the LGBTQ community and other groups.
In any event, those persistent questions the game asks does much else to turn people off from the Vampire as a game. It can be rewarding experience, but simply put, it is not for everyone.
Vampire the Requiem gets a 20 on a d20 roll, though with a special warning of buyer beware.
[5 of 5 Stars!]