An uneven book, but a much better core than the original, bland Vampire: The Requiem core. Underneath a confusing title (this should really be named Vampire: The Requiem, second edition), you will fine a refined background, an expanded system, and a focus on a specific set of antagonists (the Stryx) and campaign setting.
The book opens on the usual Introduction which is common to all White Wolf core books, with general knowledge about vampire in the game and what a RPG is. The inspirational media section drew my attention, for it is quite short and precise. It's just odd seeing a series of Vampire fiction works which doesn't include Dracula. Of note is that it does mention some other Requiem books (namely the five Clan Books, the Stryx Chronicles Anthology and Damnation City), which should give you an idea of what the authors are aligning the book with.
Chapter one opens on the first part of a fiction which runs through the book, and then opens with the Five Clans. They haven't dramatically changed, but rather refocused around their theme, and I was pleased with the result. Weaknesses (now called Clan Banes) have changed as well: the Daeva know get attached to those they feed too much from, while the Ventrue quickly grow detached from mankind. The information given here, as through the rest of the book, is very evocative, and immediately inspires stories. We are also treated to stories of some lost Clans, good fodder for stories as well.
Then follows the description of the Covenants. Here as well, there has been a lot of improvement and you get a definite feel for each of the Covenant. The Lancea Sanctum, which suffered from having been the first Covenant to receive its book in the past, felt particularly more vivid to me there. My only disappointment was VII, which is still a big mystery we're not told much about, only now vaguely tied to the Stryx. Similarly to the previous section, we get some info about some lost covenants. Interestingly, there is no mention of Belial's Brood here (possibly to avoid overlap with Stryx-possessed vampires in their antagonist role?)
The next chapter describes "the Night Society", the (un)life of a vampire from the early nights to the possible end. Here again, we get lots of concrete examples, enough to fire up the imagination. We end up with the lexicon which, THANK GOODNESS, has dropped some of the "old people slang/new people slang" which Requiem had imported from Masquerade. I'm glad I don't have to read about "Lupines" anymore.
Chapter 3 gives us the basic character creation rules of the WoD system, as updated in the God Machine Chronicle (aka nWod 2.0). The basics haven't changed much, but some new points are interesting. Vampires drop virtues and vices, and instead gain a Mask and a Dirge, what they present to the world and their true nature. A character also gets a Touchstone attached to his humanity stat - a character, or more rarely an item or location, which keeps them grounded to their human nature. The experience system is also presented, and has been reworked to key off story elements more than ever. Also interesting is that it is a linear rather than exponential system - increase Strength from 3 to 4 costs the same as increasing it from 2 to 3, which I think fits a story driven game (where we always want to see some progression happen).
We then are treated to the rules which govern undead life, some of which have changed in a way that affects the setting. The Predator's Taint is much more complex, having three different aspects. Humanity is closely tied to the Touchstones system, and also vampires now have their own specific "sins" (Finally). I really enjoyed the fact Vampires now must take Banes when decreasing in Humanity (and the Mekhet, as part of their weaknesses, are more vulnerable to them) meaning that you can have some vampires afraid of crosses and garlics, but not others. Merits have also been reworked to include many ones specific to vampires, covenants, or clans, making it much easier to customize a character with fancy abilities. Then we get Disciplines, which are still the same core ones, but have all been reworked. Almost all of them come of as being more "useful", and in particular Protean allows you to really play the shapeshifting role. We then get a much larger list of devotions than any I had seen before, once again allowing to customize a character while standing within the bounds of the main Clans and disciplines. Blood Sorcery and Theban Sorcery remain more or less the same, while the Coils of the Dragon are now on a scale of 1 to 5 - more consistant with the rest of the system, but making it harder for a Dragon to master more than 1.
We then, after being treated to pages of rules specific to vampires, find a chapter which explains the basic rules of the game - one of many questionable layout choices, which will make the book confusing for any new player. The major change here is the use of conditions, the list of which is... all the way at the end of the book. Not the most practical, again.
The next chapter covers the Stryx mentioned in the book's title (it only took 197 pages to get there!) in an extensive manner. Basic rules and a lot of sample characters provide for an extensive antagonists which will doubtlessly help readers to come up with their own ideas. The Stryx are powerful, sinister and enigmatic, a perfect foil to vampires.
The next chapter was a nice surprise, as it describes a few campaign settings based on different world locations (Athens, Beijing, Berlin, Montreal, Raleigh, Swansea, Tokyo, San Francisco). All of them have unique crises they're facing, making them a good mine for story ideas, and many have their own local covenants (some of which get some simple rules to go with it, others not). One thing that piqued my interest is the Jiang Shi, a sixth Clan of sorts with its unique bane (but no unique discipline).
Which finish on a chapter related to storytelling, which I expected to be the same bland advice we found everywhere but actually had a lot of good advice on how to use the vampire-specific system to further support the story, and ways to tweak them. It closes on an interesting "12 steps" campaign creation concept, essentially motivating the players to come up with NPC ideas and the ties between them. I'm thinking of adapting it to other games myself.
Appendix one, the living, describes some of the vampire's mortal relationships, but mainly serves as the most interesting coverage of ghouls I've ever read. Appendix 2 (finally) lists the conditions, many of which are specific to vampires or their victims.
Overall, this is a great improvement on the Requiem line. What this book is:
- A new core book for the game
- A strong support for one to create characters and campaigns
- A story-axed game, with a system to support it
- A Requiem book, moving further from Masquerade and cementing its own mythology
What it isn't:
- A new player friendly book. The Clans ahead of the setting, the vampire rules ahead of the regular ones, the conditions at the end... this stuff is confusing.
- A polite book. I have no issues with the c or f word in real life, but I really don't see the point of including them in a book when not in fiction.
- A well laid out book: there is something weird and inconsistent about how the titles and columns interact, and I often have to look for where to go next.
Despite this minor flaws however, I would still recommend this book for anyone fan of vampire stories - just be prepared for a little bit of extra difficulty if you have never read anything related to Requiem, and a lot if you have never played a RPG.