Vampire: The Masquerade is an RPG that was popular through the 90s and early 2000s, focusing on modern-day vampires and the struggles of their afterlives. Vampiric characters had 'disciplines', which are vampiric powers determined by their membership in a 'clan', a group of vampires who trace their lineage back to the same vampiric sire. A large part of the game centered around the debate amongst vampires whether to silently coexist with humanity, and use their powers to rule from the shadows (the Masquerade--advocated by a group called the Camarilla), or to give into their monsterous, beastial nature and use their vampiric powers to crush humanity and feed off of mortals as if they were cattle (advocated by a group called the Sabbat).
In previous incarnations of the game, this conflict drove much of the story. The Sabbat made trouble for the Camarilla, who sought fight off the Sabbat and cover up any sign of supernatural conflict (upholding the Masquerade). This new edition brings us a new story. Humans have wised up. Intelligence agencies around the world have uncovered evidence of vampiric activity, and have acted to take out some of the most powerful vampires. The old order has been turned on its head as once-powerful clans, such as the magic-weilding Tremere have been knocked off of their pedestals. Members of the once brash Sabbat, which didn't care much to hide its power from humans, have either been killed off, driven into hiding, or like many other vampires, have been mysteriously beckoned to the Middle East. In many places, younger, thin-blooded vampires with new abilities have come to power. Vampire has always been a story-telling game, and this edition does a phenomenal job of advancing the game's story into new places. New players can enjoy tales of clashes with ancient vampires and government agents as young vampires rise to the top of the dark world created by their elders, and struggling with their inner beast and hunger for blood. Veteran players have a chance revisit characters that they played 20 years ago, and track down their old enemies if they want to live out the old rivalries. The book even touches on werewolfs, wraiths, and mages, but let's hope we see more of that in another sourcebook.
In terms of the game's rules, each player is a vampire who gets to pick a small set of powers. This version keeps the ruleset simple, offering players the options to pick from the 7 Camarilla clans (previous editions had more clans that were part of the Sabbat or other organizations). However, this edition makes thin-blooded characters another great option for play with some great abilities. Thin-bloods are clanless vampires who can survive exposure to sunlight to some degree, but can't develop discipline powers as advanced as other vampires. Though, some know the secrets of distilling thier blood into alchemical concoctions that mimic the powers of true vampires.
Among the most notable changes is the balancing and condensing of a lot of vampiric powers from previous editions. Veteran players will notice that some disciplines have been folded into one, and some abilities that were previously over-powered have been pared down for balance. A really nice feature is that when a player gains a level in an ability now, they get to pick from a set of powers now instead of having one option. This makes the game much more interesting given that 2 vampires of the same clan, and can have very different sets of abilities. Further, this edition adds rules for blood 'resonance'--a property of blood that gives it flavor and accompanying power. This is a very interesting story point that has rules implications for increasing your character's power, and perhaps becoming something to drive a storyline.
Perhaps the most noticable thing about the book is its aesthetic. Vampire (and much of the other White Wolf games) always had a certain look about them. Their books always paid great attention to the feel of their setting, and they were famous for black and white art that was simple, somewhat erratic, and very powerful in establishing the feel of the World of Darkness. It was so well-known that it was even part of our discussions in building our review system here at Geeks A Gogo. However, the game's 5th edition makes some big changes in artistic direction. It adds a lot of artful photos of live subjects, and a simple page layout that give the book the feel of a fashion magazine. It adds a new air of realism and makes quite an impact that fans will appreciate.
In closing, I want to make a full disclosure: I played a good amount of earlier editions of Vampire during it's heyday, until I got tired of the game and moved on. But just a few pages into the new edition, I can't wait to run a campaign. If you used to play, I recommend getting back into the game. If you're new to the game (and 18 or older), I recommend giving it a try. This classic game is going to new places, and it will keep you thirsting for more.
Read the full review at geeksago-
[5 of 5 Stars!]