For years, Vampire: The Masquerade (and the rest of the World of Darkness offshoots/Storyteller line) was my go-to game for tabletop. I ran multiple campaigns during semesters, it was our default game for summers, and I even brought it with me during my travels to Japan (and I still have conversations with one of my players, who has been running it as an ST ever since).
My stint with the World of Darkness was mostly with the materials leading up to the Time of Judgement, which was the death knell (literally) for this game line as it was replaced with the New World of Darkness (now Chronicles of Darkness) line of games. This game line had some nice ideas, but for me, it just wasn’t that great due to some mechanical quirks and a complete revamp of the metaplot (I wasn’t a fan). I was pleased with the 20th Anniversary editions and how they cleaned up a number of rules, but I didn’t expect a new edition.
When I heard that there was a new edition coming out, I have to admit I made an audible groan. I did not want to see another Requiem, but I also didn’t want to count on the game having it’s Final Death.
I decided to brace myself, spent a point of Willpower, and get into the newest version of the Vampire 5th Edition (V5) Quickstart rules to see what was about to happen with my beloved World of Darkness.
Writer’s Note: This is a review of a playtest document and my opinions of that document. Changes (and artwork) may be made to the final document and final game upon launch. All artwork pulled directly from the World Of Darkness website.
==The Early Pitch==
Outside of being “The Return of Vampire: The Masquerade” (and it looks like Rein-Hagen is back at the helm), there was little pitched outside of the basics.
V5 portrays a world darker than our own, with denizens of darkness influencing the world as they work machinations against each other. Of course, these denizens were once human, with many of them striving to hold onto some semblance of their humanity as they feed upon their former fellow human beings.
V5 is a game of modern gothic horror, in which you are the monster in this gritty world.
==What You Get==
The current playtest packet consists of two files: a Player’s Packet and a Storyteller’s Packet.
The packets are 75 and 104 pages, respectively. For the most part, the packets are identical in that they provide the exact same rules and character sheets, with the Storyteller’s Packet including the one-shot “Rusted Veins” as part of the playtest.
The current files do not include art, per se, but rather some stylized bits of text, images of dice, and everything you need to run the game and get a head start in grasping the mechanics.
==How Does It Work==
If you are an old hand of the World of Darkness in either iteration, I can comfortably say that you will feel right at home.
Once again, we see a pool of d10s being built, based on Attribute+Skill. This has been a go-to in Vampire, but this time, we see a 6 being the number to beat (as opposed to 7 in Chronicles and variable numbers in classic Vampire), and “Difficulty” now represents a number of successes needed to complete (and succeed) at a task. 1 is the default, and it scales up to 10.
Of course, Specialties have returned (this time it’s +1 die to the pool), Contested Rolls are still used when necessary (whoever gets the most successes wins), and Willpower is still a usable resource (but this time, it’s a re-roll and not bonus successes).
As this is Vampire, we see a return of Disciplines (vampiric powers), and are given the first three levels of Animalism (communicate with/control animals), Auspex (super senses & seeing the supernatural), Celerity (enhanced reactions and movement), Dominate (mind control), Fortitude (physical resilience), Obfuscate (remaining hidden), Potence (enhanced might), and Protean (shapeshifting).
Interestingly enough, we see a return of the Virtue and Vice mechanic from Chronicles of Darkness. This mechanic works just as it did before: if you act upon your Vice, you may recover one Willpower, but if you act in accordance with your Virtue at a cost to yourself, you regain all of your Willpower.
From there, things get a bit different.
From a roll mechanic perspective, we see “Criticals” and “Messy Criticals.” Specifically, if you have multiple 10s on a roll, you gain a special effect or bonus in addition to succeeding. “Messy Criticals” are tied to Hunger, but still lead to some interesting successes.
One of the other new mechanics is a Succeed At Cost option. If you miss succeeding by a single success, you can still get what you needed…at a cost. Maybe you are trying to convince someone to fall for a con, but you accidentally left your real name behind. Maybe you are trying to pick a lock, and instead rip the door off it’s hinges in a fit of rage.
Instead of a Blood Pool, all Vampires have a Hunger score, rated from 1-5. When you wake up each night or heal a point of Aggravated damage, you add a point of Hunger. As you heal damage, enhance your attributes, gain the “blush of life” (look living), or activate Disciplines, you make a Hunger roll by rolling one die. As long as you roll a 4 or higher, you do not gain any additional Hunger, but a 1-3 will add a Hunger point to your pool.
Hunger does two things this time around. First, it changes dice to Hunger Dice (so Hunger 2 swaps two dice from your pool for Hunger dice), which can cause you to lose a turn or create a Compulsion based on the current Hunger rating if they come up as one or more 1s, or they can cause a “Messy” Critical if you roll a 10 (succeed but something goes wrong as the Beast comes out, like knocking over a bookshelf when finding a book during a Research roll).
Second, Hunger determines just how hungry you are (denoted by how it impacts your dice pool). Once you hit a 5, you have a chance for a Hunger Frenzy, not to mention the higher-level Compulsions that are tough to hide.
We are also given a new trait called Composure, which is a resource you can spend to avoid penalties caused by a bad Hunger roll (like Compulsions). While it is a limited pool, this removes some of the pressure from Willpower (which fulfilled this role before).
While we see the return of Humanity, it has more life to it now. The only ways to drop Humanity are to create another Vampire (automatic), or have the chance of it dropping when you do something so monstrous that you should question your humanity or lose one of your “Anchors.” Every character has anchors that keep them in the world of humans, such as a family member, a loved one, or even a community. Should something happen to them, such as remarrying or being murdered by another vampire, the Humanity score can be dropped. This is much different than the constant angst associated with undeath, and how each rating had levels of “sins” that were almost impossible to keep up with; accidentally bringing pain to someone, even in self defense, was one way to lose Humanity before.
Among other revamps, we see a cleaner Combat mechanic that also ups the danger. Melee combat, which was the primary way to deal Aggravated damage before, comes with an inherent risk: both sides roll, and the winner deals damage to the loser, even if the winner was the defender. There is a Dodge mechanic that lets you avoid all damage and make progress on escaping, and then there’s ranged combat.
Instead of the mess we’ve had before (with ranges, weapon types, and more changing difficulties), ranged combat is simply a matter of range (2, 4, or 6 for difficulty) modified by situations (cover, using a scope, etc).
As always, damage is the same: Weapon Rating + Successes, reduced by armor. The real difference there is how health is handled.
Characters have Stamina + 5 health boxes instead of a default number, and they deal with Superficial (bruising) or Aggravated (lethal) damage. As long as the boxes are not filled with Aggravated damage, they are still in the running.
That said, Aggravated damage is not very pleasant. Like before, it is harder to heal, but now, Aggravated Damage causes a Critical Injury to be rolled from a table (d10 + # of Aggravated Wounds). These can be debilitating injuries that can take you out of a fight, so avoid them at all costs.
==Is It Good?==
I think that’s going to depend on the definition of good.
I’m absolutely digging the idea of taking what worked in previous versions (dice pool), melding them together (Vices & Virtues), and how much of the game is streamlined.
Some elements of the game seem much harder to break (I can’t count how many times I dealt with a Celerity+Potence+Protean battle monster at my table), while others are promoting narrative fitting for the “Storyteller” system. I absolutely chalk this up as good.
That said, there are a few concerns.
The biggest one is the state of the metaplot. There’s little one can glean from a single adventure, and it is still in Alpha; who knows what will make the official cut, and if that final cut means we have the same feel or not. There’s some good stuff on their website that seems to be blending notes from all previous editions (like “The History Of World As Told By <CLAN>” like in Requiem, but all of the classic clans from Second Edition Revised are back). It’s not much to work with, but there’s some hope.
There are also a few mechanic concerns/debates as well, such as the new melee combat mechanic (winner deals damage, whether attacker or defender) and the long-term impacts of the Humanity score that we haven’t seen in action.
Really, there’s so much we don’t know that makes what we do know hang in a weird state of torpor. Basically, I can’t tell if it’s going to be solid or if it’s going to fall flat, but there’s enough here that gives me hope that we’ll get a solid game.
==The Early Verdict==
While this is still an early document, I have to stand by the same thing I said about Scion: Second Edition: “Color Me Intrigued.”
Unlike some other games that get remakes, this version of Vampire is taking what was mechanically sound across the board, simplifying some elements, and borrowing elements that have been gaining traction in the gaming scene (like failing at cost) to make this classic game better.
Will it survive first contact with everyone after it launches? I’m not sure, honestly. It’s got plenty of great stuff from the previous editions to reel old fans back in, but I am uncertain if it will breach the ennui that has developed over the years regarding the line.
I for one will try to pick this up when it is available to give it the proper review that I feel it will deserve.
You can find the V5 Alpha Playtest packet from White Wolf on DriveThruRPG, and more information at their new website (which also gives us a teaser, but no playtest, for Werewolf and hints to other denizens of the World of Darkness).