"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Thursday, September 20, 2018



A people without the knowledge of their past history, origins and culture is like a tree without roots.

Marcus Garvey

TWO RELATED WORDS come to mind whenever I think of RuneQuest: "cult" and "culture."  Really since the beginning these concepts are what made the game--and its extraordinary setting--unique.  Characters were never defined by something so abstract as a "class" or an "alignment," but rather by what they believed in and where they came from.  Cult and culture not only defined the character, but also the narrative.  Treasure-hunting certainly happened, but most adventures were on behalf of, or in the defense of, a religion or people.


If I have a chief complaint with the new RuneQuest GameMaster Screen Pack, it's that it is a very badly named product.  Yes, there is a gorgeous gamemaster screen in there, 20 pages of handy reference sheets, sumptuous character sheets, tons of maps, and even a calendar (and I will be getting to all of them shortly), but what the team led by Jeff Richard and Greg Stafford have really given us here is a living, breathing culture.  The component they humbly refer to as a "booklet" is in fact a 128-page book detailing the lands and peoples of the Colymar tribe.  It easily could have been sold separately from the "Screen Pack," but Chaosium has never been big on half measures.  Thus the first gamemaster-oriented product in the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha game line isn't just a technical tool kit but also a conceptual one. It reminds the prospective GM that RuneQuest sandboxes are not just dungeons on a map, but a history, a people, and a way of life that generates adventures.


To my mind the centerpiece of the entire product, the RuneQuest GameMaster Screen Pack booklet (which mentally I am calling "Lands of the Colymar" or the "Colymar Tribe Book") is in the fine tradition of earlier RQ products like Pavis, Big Rubble, and Griffin Mountain.  Technically it is a sandbox, an area of play where characters can wander around and find trouble in, but really it is more of a setting, or even an anthropological exercise.  It discusses thoroughly the lands, history, and people of the Colymar, one of the 24 tribes that constitute the Heortling nation of Sartar.  The Colymar are historically (both in this world and in Glorantha) the best known of these tribes, and it is natural that they should be selected as the default homeland for Sartarite adventurers.

The first chapter gives a history of the tribe, as well as details on population, the climate and ecology of their lands, religion, political structure, and the twelve clans that make up the tribe.  We get statistics for the wyter--the genius loci of the Colymar--and for the typical member of the local militia.  

Subsequent chapters focus on important locations, such as Clearwine Fort (the political and cultural center of the Colymar), Runegate, the grave of King Berevenous, and the legendary Apple Lane. There are beautiful, illustrated maps (don't take my word for it, look at the accompanying examples), statistics galore for all important personages, and illustrations of important people.  The statistics are appreciated; RuneQuest is not a complex game but it is detailed, and can take a great deal of prep for a GM.  Much of the heavy lifting has been done for you here.  But the illustrations are where I would like to pause and focus your attention.

There is a tendency to think of the Heortlings and Sartarites as Gauls, Celts, or even the Norse.  This makes a certain sort of sense; they are barbarians, worship a storm god, and were occupied by a foreign imperial power.  But Indra was a storm god too, and the Lunar occupation of Sartar bore more resemblance to the Roman occupation of Judea than Gaul or Germany.  Indeed, the Heortlings are traditionally described as olive-skinned, with black, brown, or reddish hair, not necessarily the fair-eyed, haired, and skinned types we associate with northern Europe.  A better case can probably be made for them resembling the Bronze Age Proto-Indo-Europeans.  I am blathering on about all of this because one of the things that has most excited me about recent Gloranthan products--starting with HeroQuest Glorantha and the sublime Guide to Glorantha--is the art direction, particularly the way it portrays the Heortlings and their deities.  The "Colymar Tribe Book"...er...the RuneQuest GameMaster Screen Pack exemplifies this new trend.  The faces we see looking back at us don't look much like vikings, but more like the ancient migratory tribes that eventually became the Greeks, Celts, and Indo-Iranian peoples.  I like this because really, the Orlanthi are not norsemen...they are Orlanthi.  The new illustrations of them give them more a cultural feel of their own.

Still with me?  I apologize for the digression.

After detailing key locations across Colymar lands, there is a chapter of just rumors, intended to inspire your own adventure ideas.  Following this, the "Colymar Tribe..."sorry, the RuneQuest GameMaster Screen Pack, gives you not one but three full adventures.  True to the spirit of Glorantha, all three of these tales are really about protecting your people.  In Defending Apple Lane you protect the fabled hamlet from Tusk Riders.  In Cattle Raid, you defend a sacred herd from predators and a rival tribe.  Finally, in The Dragon of Thunder Hills--easily the most "Gloranthan" of all the scenarios--you go up against a dream dragon demanding to be worshipped as a goddess.  All three are terrific, and serve as models to aspiring RQ GMs what adventures in this setting should look like.

And if all that isn't enough for a "booklet," Chaosium throws in two appendices.  One contains even more adventure seeds.  The second--which really should have been in the core rulebook, ahem--discusses Rune Metals and Magic Crystals.  


The key maps in the "Colymar Tribe Book" (I swear, that is the last time I am going to do that) are also included separately in the pack. One is of Apple Lane, one is of Clearwine, one shows the clans of the Colymar tribe, one shows Dragon Pass and Prax (reproduced from the core rulebook), and one shows southern Peloria (the region just north of Sartar).  All are full color, and most look more like illustrations than maps.



One of these we have already seen from the core rulebook, but the second is a lavish, painted sheet that reminds me a bit of the one Modiphius did for their Conan game.  It is four pages and gorgeous.  I will tease you with the first page of it here.


I admit to be inordinately excited by this.  The Gloranthan calendar holds a cherished spot in the hearts of Gloranthaphiles and this is the best rendition we have ever seen of it.  Reminiscent of the one Avalon Hill included way back in Gods of Glorantha, this version is full color and comes with an illustration of various regions in and around Dragon Pass at that time of the year.  No doubt these are also handed out when one opens a checking account at the local Issaries temple.


Finally we arrive at the item for with the RuneQuest GameMaster Screen Pack was named.  Inside the screen, as one might expect, are all the charts and tables a RuneQuest GM might need running an adventure.  Outside is a beautiful depiction of the Gods Wall just north of Raibanth in the Lunar Empire.  I was very pleased with this choice, as the Dara Happans believe it depicts all of the "true gods" of Glorantha, and it puts the mythology at the heart of the world quite literally front and center.  It is also nice to see the wall--previously always in black and white--in color at last.


It occurred to me midway through this review that what we are really looking at here, finally, is a campaign set in Sartar for RuneQuest.  Despite being Ground Zero for the Hero Wars, despite most characters hailing from their even back in the days of the first and second editions, RuneQuest has traditionally set campaigns everywhere around Dragon Pass BUT Sartar.  HeroQuest has lavished time and attention on the kingdom, but this is the campaign setting I was dreaming of thirty-five years ago when I had a great deal more hair.  

Like the core rulebook and the Bestiary, this is another strike (in the bowling, rather than baseball sense) for RuneQuest.  Or perhaps we should say a "critical hit."  I am having a hard time recalling gamemaster screen packs for any other RPG I have seen this lavish, beautifully produced, or well-written.  What it comes down to is that if you plan on running RuneQuest anytime in the near future you should have already bought this product five minutes ago.  Even if you have no interest in running a game in Sartar (I know, I know, like all diehard RQ grognards what you are waiting for is Robin D. Laws's upcoming books on the Big Rubble and Pavis), there is so much in this pack that you will want anyway.  

And other than opening an account with Issaries, how are you going to get your calendar?

The RuneQuest GameMaster Screen Pack is currently available in PDF format.  Buy it at Chaosium now and get a coupon for the dead an pulped Adryami version later.  



Wednesday, September 19, 2018



2000 zero zero party over oops outta time
So tonight I'm gonna party like its 1999 

THE YEAR WAS NINETEEN-NINETY-ONE and the world was coming to an end.  Millennialism hadn't reached a fever pitch yet, but it was there in the air, like the smell of ozone before the storm.  Computer geeks were on about something called Y2K, and it was going to throw us all back into the Dark Ages. The fundamentalists--who were seeing vast Satanic conspiracies and blood-thirsty cults pulling global strings behind every scene--were talking more and more about Rapture and writing books like Left Behind.  The Red Scare was over, but fear of the New World Order was replacing it.  Ruby Ridge and Waco encouraged armed militia groups to multiply.  And AIDS?  AIDS was still making sex as scary as hell, and blood-borne disease was in everyone's mind.  So we knew the world was ending.  Prince knew the world was ending.  Even the vampires knew the world was ending.

Enter Vampire: The Masquerade.

Seldom has a game been such a product of its times.  Introspective bloodsuckers were in, put on the map by Anne Rice in her 1985 The Vampire Lestat and 88's The Queen of the Damned.  In gaming circles, "cyberpunk" was the It Genre, either in pure form or mixed with other flavors like "fantasy-punk" or "steampunk."  In the midst of all this Mark Rein-Hagen's Vampire was the perfect storm, tapping into the Millennialism, the vampires, and the punk to create an explosive cocktail.  It entered the scene as a commentary or meditation on the times, but ended up shaping and defining them.  It was the closest to mainstream the hobby had gotten since D&D appeared in Spielberg's E.T.  Hell, even Aaron Spelling wanted a piece of it.

But because zeitgeist was the rocket fuel launching VtM into the stratosphere, no one really expected it to last.  2000 came and went not with a bang but a whimper, Rice had gotten bored writing about her Brat Prince, and D&D 3e was sucking up all the oxygen in the gaming room.  The things that had made VtM hot were now irrelevant, yesterday's pathos.  White Wolf had the good sense to recognize this and so they shut the whole circus down--not just Vampire: The Masquerade, but her sister games as well.  Their setting, "The World of Darkness," had always been about the coming of the end of the world, so in 2004 they let that end arrive in an epic storyline.  The original World of Darkness was dead, and they replaced it with a new one, and with new games rewritten with a lot less zeitgeist dependency.  

So if you had told me awhile back that Vampire: The Masquerade was due for a 2018 comeback (a new edition we'll be calling V5), I would have laughed in your face.  That ship had sailed.  Who the heck did they have who could pull off a VtM Second Coming?

Then I heard it was Ken Hite.


Cold and black inside this coffin

'Cause you all try to keep me down

How it feels to be forgotten
But you'll never forget me now
Though the man has worked on all sorts of games over his storied career, Ken Hite is probably best known for exquisitely crafted modern horror, particularly horror with a conspiracy twist.  He worked on Nephilim and authored both GURPS Horror and GURPS Cabal, he wrote Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade for White Wolf and The Cainite Heresy for Vampire: The Dark Ages.  Later he was responsible for Pelgrane Press's Trail of Cthulhu and Night's Black Agents, a game about modern spies hunting vampires.  For NBA he was part of the team that gave us the masterpiece The Dracula Dossier.  If anyone was going to have a chance at pumping fresh new blood into the sleeping remains of Masquerade, this was the guy to do it.  

Leading a team of writers including Martin Ericsson, Matthew Dawkins, Karim Muammar, and Juhanna Pettersson (the writing credits also include Mark Rein-Hagen and Neil Gaiman), Hite redefines VtM by seeming to ask a simple question; what is the zeitgeist of the current decade?  V5 isn't giving us a new World of Darkness, nor is it a successor game like Vampire: The Requiem.  V5 is the same setting, the same vampires, picking up fourteen years after the story left off.  But it recognizes that our world has changed, and by extension, the World of Darkness has changed as well.  VtM knew what scared you in 1991.  V5 is asking; "what is it that keeps you up at night in 2018?" 

Maybe the answer lies in the increasingly divisive politics of out time; we all seem to be at each other's throats.  Maybe, if you are lucky enough to be on the "better off" side of things, you fear the growing threat posed by young and hungry millennials flirting with socialism and change.  On the other hand, if you are one of those millennials, maybe the stranglehold of the "haves" over the "have nots" keeps you awake, the fascist jackboot on your throat.  Or maybe climate change concerns you...the fact that Mother Nature herself seems to be rising against us.  No?  How about the constant threats to your privacy posed by cameras located everywhere, or increased spying online?  If you are in the States, maybe the horror of the opioid crisis, the ravages of addiction, trouble you.  If you live anywhere in the West, it is possible the nearly endless War on Terror, dragging on year after year in the Middle East worries you.  

Hell, maybe all of these things plague you.

Well guess what, dear reader.  In 2018, all these things plague the Kindred too.  Because Hite and his team understand something that Rein-Hagen knew; this game was never about vampires...it was about us.


Driven by the strangle of vein
Showing no mercy I'd do it again
Open up your eyes
You keep on crying
Baby I'll bleed you dry

Let's start at the beginning.

The vampires in V5 call themselves the Kindred.  Many believe they are the children of Caine.  Some 14,000 years ago, as the hunter-gatherer Eden-like age of innocence drew to a close, Caine murdered his brother and was cursed by his god.  Marked to wander for all eternity, repeating his sin of bloodshed, he was eternally damned to struggle with the Beast in his soul.  Some say in the wilderness, the witch Lilith taught him to harness his powers.  Regardless, he learned how to "sire" more of his kind--a process that requires draining a human of blood and then giving the dying mortal your own.  However, any vampire you sire is one generation "down" from you.  The vampires Caine sired where Second Generation, the ones they sired Third Generation, and so on.  Each step down the chain means a decrease in power, as moving away from Caine the blood thins and grows weak.  The highest generation vampires have blood so thin they are practically still human, and are incapable of creating any more of their kind.

Vampires did more than create new vampires.  Caine and his brood were behind the spread of agriculture and the first cities.  These population centers were for the Kindred feeding pens, and the humans in them were their "kine" or "cattle."  In this way the vampires guided and shaped human civilization, reigning over it as ancient god-kings.  The ancient city-state of Enoch was their capital, and from here Caine ruled.  At some point in the ancient past, however, the 13 members of the 3rd Generation rose up against their sires and slaughtered them, stealing their precious blood for themselves.  Caine himself went into hiding.  These 13 usurpers--born before the Flood and therefore called the Antediluvians--sired 13 unique bloodlines in their own images, each with slightly different powers and weaknesses.  In time, the weight of age and constant gnawing hunger drove them into the earth, into a deathless sleep the Kindred call torpor.  

Millennia passed and humanity expanded well beyond vampire control.  The Kindred slowly began to fear the vastly superior numbers of their prey, instituting something called the Masquerade, a formal policy of remaining hidden.  Feeding in secret, protected by the shadows, the centuries ticked by and their hidden society grew ever more labyrinthine and complex.

On the eve of the 21st century--the setting of the original game--two major factions of Kindred, the Camarilla and the Sabbat, held sway.  The Camarilla preferred to remain hidden amongst humanity, ruling over them, while the Sabbat rejected everything human from their natures.  Both lived with the threats posed by the Anarchs, younger Kindred seeking to overthrow ancient power structures, and the looming threat of the Antediluvians themselves.  For it was whispered in Kindred prophecy that these Antediluvians would awake en masse, initiating a vampire apocalypse in which the only thing that would slake their hellish hunger was the blood of their own kind...

2004's Vampire: Gehenna provided four alternate versions of this apocalypse.  V5 gives you a fifth.  It's End of Days is less Revelations and more Ragnarok.  

In this unfolding, the Sabbat--always the enemies of the Antediluvians and their "Jyhad," the manipulative game of chess played with vampires as pawns--have abandoned their cities and hunting grounds to descend upon the ancient strongholds of the Middle East.  Tired of waiting for the Antediluvians, the Sabbat took the Gehenna War to them.

The Antediluvians responded with the Beckoning, a powerful summons that drew the Elders of their bloodlines to them.  Higher generation vampires, rulers of Kindred communities, answered the call and left the younger vampires holding the reigns.    

Thus the wars in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, the so-called "War on Terror," conceals a more terrifying truth; Enoch and its masters have awoken.  

As the Sabbat and the Elders wage this vicious conflict, the Camarilla--deprived of its senior leadership--has been unable to hold back the Anarchs, the rebellious young vampires now rising up in revolution.  The only thing that keeps these two factions from open war is a a greater threat.

The Masquerade has been broken.

While the public doesn't yet know about the existence of vampires, many western intelligence agencies do.  The War on Terror has exposed the Kindred at last.  The FBI, Homeland Security, and the CIA; MI5 and MI6; France's DGSI and Germany's BND, are all among those now coordinating with the Vatican in a sort of "Second Inquisition." Thousands of vampires around the globe have been exterminated in the hunt.

In response, the Camarilla has forbidden any of its members to communicate via the Internet.  NOTHING vampire can be on the Web.  The Masquerade must be tighter than ever.  Even the Anarchs, who reject the rest of the Camarilla's traditions, recognize this.  In a world where everyone has a camera, it is harder (and more important) for vampires to hide than ever.  


Don't be afraid

I didn't mean to scare you

So help me, Jesus
I can promise you
You'll stay as beautiful
With dark hair
And soft skin, forever


Entering the world of the Kindred means becoming part of a specific bloodline or Clan.  Each has its own powers (in the form of supernatural abilities called Disciplines) and weakness.  Fans of vampire film and fiction can easily trace the Clans to their sources: the rebellious Brujah are reminiscent of the vampires from Near Dark; the elegant and aloof Toreador recall Miriam and John Blaylock from The Hunger; the hideous Nosferatu echo Count Orlock from...er...Nosferatu.  There are shapeshifting Gangrel, the aristocratic Ventrue, the sorcerous Tremere, the insane Malkavians, and the clanless Caitiffs.  Adding to these are the Thin-Blooded, not really a Clan, but 14th or 15th generation vampires barely vampire at all.  There are six other Clans, but these were not present in the first two editions of VtM and have been excluded (like the Sabbat) from V5.

Aside from reshaping the world the vampires live in, V5 has reshaped the systems governing the vampires as well.  

The core mechanics remain the same.  To attempt an action, players build dice pools of ten-siders.  This is usually a characters core Trait (something like Charisma, Dexterity, or Strength) plus a Skill (perhaps Athletics, Etiquette, or Persuasion).  Such attributes are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, so your dice pool is generally one to ten dice.

In V5, however, the object is to score a 6 or higher on each die.  Those count as successes.  If you roll a natural 10, it counts as two successes.  You are rolling against a difficulty assigned by the Storyteller (GM).  A routine action requires one success, a challenging action requires four.  A nearly impossible action will need seven.  If you score the number of successes you need, you succeed.  Otherwise you fail.  Any additional successes make your success even sweeter.

This is all considerably more streamlined than previous editions of Masquerade, but where V5 really demonstrates innovation is in the new Hunger mechanics.

Vampires drink blood; this is the core of the concept.  Traditionally Masquerade tracked this with the concept of a "Blood Pool."  Like a tank of gas, feeding "filled you up."  Rising each evening, or calling upon your blood to fuel vampiric powers, burned points from your Blood Pool up.  As the Pool got lower you got hungrier, and needed to fill up again.  The system worked fine, but it focused more on the Blood as a resource than on the actual Hunger which drives vampiric existence.

V5 tosses the idea of Blood Pools and replaces it with Hunger, which like all attributes is on a scale of 0 to 5.  At zero you are sated.  At five, the lust for blood is overpowering.  Rising each night, or using your vampiric powers, triggers a "Rouse" check.  This is the roll of a single die; succeed, and your Hunger remains at present levels.  Fail, and your Hunger increases by one.  More powerful vampiric abilities might require multiple Rouse checks.  The lower your vampire's Generation (the closer he is to Caine), the greater your chance of being able to re-roll Rouse checks (compensating for the fact that in previous editions these characters had larger Blood Pools).

Now, to show the overpowering force of the Hunger on vampires, every dice pool you build (with the exception of things like Willpower or Humanity checks) must contain Hunger dice.  These are dice of a different color.  If, for example, you are making a Charisma + Persuasion roll and have a dice pool of six, and your Hunger is currently three, then half of your dice will be Hunger dice.  Hunger dice work normally...unless they come up 1s or 10s.

If they come up tens, they still act as double successes, but the Beast--the monstrous vampire nature all characters wrestle with--emerges and colors the result.  A vampire trying to pick a lock might lose control and just rip it off its hinges.  A vampire trying to intimidate a mortal might suddenly show his fangs and vampiric features.  You still achieve your goal, roughly, but the Beast emerges and taints your victory.  

If you scored any 1s on your Hunger dice, AND failed the roll as well, your character must act out a Compulsion.  There are standard ones--Hunger, Dominance, Harm, and Paranoia--and there are clan specific ones.  The bestial Gangrel are overcome by animalistic behaviors, the rebellious Brujah pick a fight with authority.  Basically a Compulsion is the Beast taking over and driving the character awhile.  The player is still in control, but must act out the character's darker impulses.

Obviously you want to keep your Hunger under control, and that means feeding.  Completely killing and draining a victim will remove all your Hunger dice...but there are happy mediums like taking a pint or two (slaking 2 Hunger dice) or lunching on an animal (removing 1).  The lower your generation, and the more potent your blood, the more difficult these half measures become.  The stronger you are, the more likely you are to need to kill to keep your Hunger under control.

If you have played Masquerade before everything you remember is still here.  You can still call upon your vampiric blood to fuel feats of physical strength and speed, heal damage, etc.  You are still vulnerable to the Blood Bond (drinking too much blood from another vampire can form an emotional attachment that makes you essentially "fang whipped").  Sunlight is still the enemy, and Humanity is something you will struggle with.

In fact, "Humanity" is front and center again.  Rated on a scale of 10 to 0, Humanity measures how strong the "human" half of you is, as opposed to the vampiric Beast.  With Humanity 10 you feel relatively warm to the touch, have an essentially healthy human appearance, and can even eat and drink food (though not live on it).  The lower you drop from this, the more corpse-like and cold you appear, the harder it is to pass as living.  It becomes increasingly harder to interact with living mortals.  At zero, your character is gone, completely consumed by the Beast within.

Humanity is lost by committing acts of brutality or cruelty.  It is lost by giving in to the Beast.  Thus the vampire in V5 is constantly struggling with Hunger and Humanity, trying to find the balance between the two.

Another interesting mechanic is "Memoriam."  Vampires are ageless, and even the younger ones can have decades of life behind them.  However, the mind cannot hold all that memory all of the time.  It would drive you mad.  Vampires tend to exist frozen in the moment then, but can dive into their past when necessary with Memoriam.  This involves stopping the main story and entering a flashback, something that was a common trick back on TV shows like Forever Knight or Angel.  Memoriam can give you bonuses to dice tests ("Wait, I remember, I have done this before..."), answers to problems ("There is an old secret tunnel dating back to Prohibition that will give us access to that building") or even resources ("As I recall I still have a safety deposit box in that bank from my early years, stealing jewels").  It can only be done once a story, but fleshes out the vampire's long unlife in a satisfying and relevant way.


On candy stripe legs the Spiderman comes
Softly through the shadow of the evening sun
Stealing past the windows of the blissfully dead
Looking for the victim shivering in bed...

...And there is nothing I can do
When I realize with fright
That the Spiderman is having me for dinner tonight

Ah Vampire, how I missed you.

In the summer of 1991 was back from college, running a RuneQuest campaign. We were only about four sessions in when a trip to my local game store changed everything.

On the new arrivals shelf was a strange softcover book with a marbled green cover and a rose on it. The game was called Vampire: The Masquerade. I liked horror games; Call of Cthulhu was an old favorite, and I had been running the new Mayfair version of Chill at university. A game about hunting vampires was intriguing. Reaching out to flip through it, it took a few moments to realize the mistake in my casual assumption. With something akin to mild shock, I realized that in this game, you weren't hunting monsters. You were the monsters.

I bought it immediately.

Understand, there had never been anything like this. I'd been game mastering for over a decade, and games were all pretty much the same; you played heroes, and heroes fought the bad guys. These might be James Bond megalomaniacs or Lovecraftian horrors, they might be orcs, scorpion men, or Stormtroopers...but they were all the villains. Yet here was this weird game, and the damn thing was about being the villain. It was about exploring the nature of evil and essential humanity. I stayed up half the night reading it. It was like discovering role-playing all over again.

The next day I called my players to tell them we had to drop RuneQuest and play this game.  They probably thought I was nuts, but it ended up leading to one of my most memorable campaigns in nearly forty years.  

All good things come to an end, though.  As much as I loved the first and second editions, in the years leading up to the revised edition the game rapidly mutated.  The addition of the Sabbat--originally just a shadowy nemesis--shifted the focus from personal horror to being a sort of amoral, blood-sucking badass.  It was less a game of personal horror and more one of acquiring as many dots as possible.

White Wolf understood this and tried to recapture the initial voice of Vampire when they drove the stake through the heart of Masquerade and let Requiem take its place.  Ken Hite and his team also understand this, and have returned to the original ethos of the game.

V5 is far, far closer to the first edition of Masquerade than any of the subsequent iterations.  This is both a selling point, and to many I suspect, a flaw.  If you came on board with the first edition, V5 will speak to you.  It has the same Clans, the same power levels, the same sharp focus on feeding and clinging to your waning humanity.  On the other hand, if you came to Vampire later in the game, when there were tons of Clans, bloodlines, power levels, and backstory (and a lot less pathos), the stripped down nature of V5 is likely to turn you off.  

Weirdly, a turn-off for me was the production design of the book.  Don't get me wrong, White Wolf has turned out a superior product here, glossy, eye-catching, and worth every penny of the price tag.  But the full-color art, a lot of it quite bright and flashy, often made me feel like I was flipping through a fashion magazine.  This wasn't helped by the fact that much of the art is actual photography, with live models playing the Un-Dead.  I guess I remain nostalgic for Tim Bradstreet, but none of this was to my taste.  It's a minor bitch; the book is a fine piece of publishing.

That covers the good and the bad, now the ugly.  And again, this is a personal bitch.

As a writer, as a college professor, as a HORROR fan, I grow increasingly alarmed with the need for trigger warnings and safe spaces.  This version of Vampire is littered with them.  From the Mature Content Warning on the first page to the Appendix in the back devoted entirely to "considerate play," V5 feels the constant need to remind us to use the "safeword."  It cannot seem to make up its mind if it wants to confront personal horror or turn away from it.  In 1991 I was shaken to my core by a roleplaying game willing to go to the dark places.  That is what horror, at its black heart, was all about.  That is what Vampire was about.  In 2018, we all seem to have gone timid. But in tapping into the zeitgeist of its times, V5 had to embrace this bit as well.  Apparently this is something the newest generation of gamers wants and needs.  So be it.

Neither of my little rants takes away from a game that deserves your attention, gentle reader.  V5 has everything I loved about the original game, and manages to drag Vampire into the 21st century, safe spaces and all.  

It gets a definite four out of five stars...or stakes...or whatever.