You Should Be Playing…
Vampire: The Requiem – Blood And Smoke
The day sleep gives little peace, but it is a necessity. Once the orb of the sun has dropped beneath the horizon, the waking world slows down and the sleepless world of the night begins to stir. The modern night is nearly as bright as the day, with electric lights streaming out from 24-hour convenience stores and the susurrant thunder of packed nightclubs numbing the masses to the iniquities of their lives. Everyone is complacent these nights, but no one is happy. Happiness sleeps with the sun, and those who walk the night are driven by deeper, darker needs than simple happiness. The hungry things walk the nights of the city, and you are one of them. Immortality has a price, and that price is a nightly tithe of sweet, hot blood. Every night is like the last, and tomorrow’s night promises nothing different. If it were not for the power, you might go mad from the boredom or mad from the atrocity. It is that other madness, red in tooth and claw, that stares at you behind your dead eyes in the mirror. You are a beast, lest a beast you become. You are a vampire, and this is your eternity, bleeding out one drop at a time.
Vampire: the Requiem – Blood and Smoke is the latest revision in White Wolf’s long standing line of World of Darkness games. Published in 2013, it is an update for their Vampire: the Requiem game which was originally released 2004. Blood and Smoke was designed by Onyx Path Publishing, and it brings Vampire: the Requiem in line with the revised version of the Storytelling Adventures System first released in the God Machine Chronicle (version 1.5) of the base World of Darkness game. Blood and Smoke is meant as a standalone game, using the same setting and system as the other World of Darkness game lines. As such, it is sideways compatible with the God Machine Chronicle as well as being backwards compatible with many of the less system-intense books from the Vampire: the Requiem line. Blood and Smoke is currently only available in PDF format, and it can be purchased from DriveThruRPG for $19.99.
Due For A Reboot
To fully understand Blood and Smoke, one has to first understand the history of vampire roleplaying games released by White Wolf. Beginning in the early 90’s, White Wolf dominated the market on personal horror RPGs. Its flagship game, Vampire: the Masquerade, was the giant in the playground, and it persisted across three editions for a decade as the definitive version of vampires in RPGs. At its peak, Vampire: the Masquerade had two roleplaying lines consisting of dozens of books, a collectible card game line, a highly successful and supported live action roleplaying line and worldwide community, two successful video games from AAA game studios, and a television series produced by Aaron Spelling of Beverly Hills 90210 fame. Vampire: the Masquerade tapped into the zeitgeist created by Anne Rice and Forever Knight, redefining the entire genre of urban fantasy. That legacy, of which Vampire: the Masquerade was part, can still be found in novels, film, and television, from Twilight and Underworld, to Being Human and True Blood. During the early 2000’s, White Wolf began planning the end of their original World of Darkness lines and the creation of the new series. Vampire: the Requiem was released alongside the World of Darkness main book in 2004 to decidedly mixed reviews. Criticized as confused and rushed, Vampire: the Requiem struggled to establish itself in a community still dominated by its now dead predecessor. White Wolf continued on with its new publishing cycle, meeting with continually mixed reviews until the success of Changeling: the Lost in 2007. Eventually, though, White Wolf Publishing shuttered its roleplaying production after its 2006 merger with CCP Games.
The banner of continuing the World of Darkness was picked up by the Onyx Path Publishing group, headed by Richard Thomas, the former Creative Director of White Wolf. Entering into a model of open-source funding and licensing the rights for World of Darkness from White Wolf, it was under the auspices of the Onyx Path Publishing that Vampire: the Requiem has finally found its own voice.
In Blood and Smoke, one plays a Kindred in the World of Darkness. It is important to note that while kindred are the most common form of vampire in the World of Darkness, they are not the only kind. Kindred are what Western Civilization has come to expect from a vampire, being undead nocturnal predators who were once human, capable of surviving perpetually without aging so long as they have access to fresh, living blood. The setting of the World of Darkness is meant as a dark mirror to our own, one almost identical on its surface, but with more crime, less hope, and terrible supernatural things going bump in the night. Kindred must feed on blood to continue their existence, and they lurk in the shadows of human society, inextricably tied to humans as their food source and a constant reminder of their former selves. In these shadows, kindred have created an intricate society for the dual purpose of protecting their unlives and staving off the boredom of eternity. Survival as a kindred is a delicate balance of involving yourself in the mortal world, feeding, and navigating the nebulous web of alliances with other immortal predators. Blood and Smoke brings this all to the forefront in the game.
As if to directly answer the criticisms of Vampire: the Requiem, Blood and Smoke presents a vampiric world that is delicately thought out and detailed. Unlike Masquerade’s Cainites, the kindred of Blood and Smoke cannot trace their lineage back to a Biblical founder, with much of their history existing in the hazy and questionable stories of their sires and grandsires. Kindred history can be traced fairly clearly back to the time of Rome’s pinnacle height, but beyond that is murky. Each Clan, or major lineage of kindred, gives their own perspectives on their origins and their destiny in the modern world. A kindred’s Clan is little more than a loose network of relatives with some shared traits. By contrast, it is the Covenants which serve as the meat of kindred society, the societal ties of kindred that blend the lines of politics, religions, and philosophies. The Covenants of Blood and Smoke are far better put together than they were first shown in Vampire: the Requiem, and they each have need of the other Covenants to survive. Blood and Smoke even gives details on fallen Clans and broken Covenants which litter history, immediately disproving anything in the kindred world as being monolithic. Nothing lasts forever, not even the kindred.
Character creation in Blood and Smoke follows the same pattern as it did in Vampire: the Requiem. A character is initially created as a mortal, using a priority system to divide points firstly between their Attributes, and then their Skills. Both Attributes and Skills are divided into Mental, Physical and Social categories, with a player assigning one category of their character’s Attributes each to Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. The higher the category, the more points it receives to be spent. The player does the same to Skills, though they do not need to match their Attributes. For example, a character with Physical Attributes as primary may have Social Skills as primary as well.
Players then apply the Kindred template to their character, choosing their Clan and picking Disciplines appropriately. Disciplines are the special supernatural powers of a kindred, and a kindred’s Clan determines two of their three starting Disciplines. The player then spends their character’s Merit points, purchasing various advantages ranging from talkative friends, safe hiding places, social standing among kindred, and fighting styles. Characters are then given a set amount of Experience to spend, based on the level of the campaign. Actions are performed by totaling a character’s Attribute plus Skill, adding or subtracting any modifiers such as equipment or difficulty, and rolling that number of d10s. Any d10s results of 8 or better are considered a Success. Roll one Success, and you succeed. Roll no successes, and you fail. As with all the Storytelling Adventure System games, Blood and Smoke is a very descriptive and intuitive system.
But They Don’t Sparkle
The kindred of Blood and Smoke are recognizably Western vampires, and barely an aspect of their mythos goes untouched:
- Sunlight, while painful, is not instantly fatal.
- The traditional weaknesses of vampires, such as crosses and running water, develop as a result of psychic scars kindred suffer from losing the parts of their human soul.
- They can laugh off bullets and most weapons, and getting hit by a car will only slow them down.
- They can smell blood from miles away, and can psychically impose their inner predatory nature onto others, making them paranoid, aggressive, or lustful.
However, being kindred is not without its vulnerabilities. A wooden stake through their heart will incapacitate them, and it takes fire or dismemberment to kill them. Damage one enough, and they slip into a state of prolonged sleep which can last years to centuries. When compared to the original kindred of Vampire: the Requiem, the kindred of Blood and Smoke stand truly head and shoulders above humanity, even if they are burdened with a terrible curse. Blood and Smoke has also removed the Virtue and Vice traits of the original Vampire: the Requiem, replacing them with a system closer to the old World of Darkness’s Nature and Demeanor. Kindred here have a Mask and a Dirge – a face they show to the outside world and the truth of the monster underneath. Both have an Archetype, and it is in the nature of kindred to hide what they truly are.
Kindred are also given Anchors, and it is there that Blood and Smoke begins to truly shine as a game. Anchors are the ties that kindred have to the mortal, living world. It could be an object or a place, but usually they are a person. Through involving themselves with their Anchor, kindred can stave off the boredom and madness that come with being an immortal predator. It helps them keep what remains of the human alive in their own minds, and losing an Anchor is shattering. Anchors provides Blood and Smoke the necessary potential plot energy for games to thrive, something sadly lacking in Vampire: the Requiem. The Humanity trait has also been retooled. It is no longer a measure of morality, but how human the kindred feels on any given night. While a blatant disregard for human life will still cause it to be lost, so too will watching your own son die of old age or even watching a happy couple enjoy an evening meal. Humanity is the means the kindred uses to stave off being nothing more than a mindless monster, but it is also a constant reminder of what the kindred is not, which, namely, is living.
Finally, Blood and Smoke reworked the entirety of the Disciplines of Vampire: the Requiem and brought them in line with a far more consistent vision of monsters. Nearly every Discipline requires spending Vitae, the power of blood kindred need to feed on the living to gain, and every last one has been made horrific. Auspex, formerly merely for heightened senses, now taps into the kindred’s monstrous nature to learn terrible truths. Protean, the power of vampiric shapeshifting, now involves surrendering kindred’s flesh over to the will of their inner monster. Even Obfuscate, still the power of cloaking one’s presence from the minds of observers, gives examples of using it to feed on a struggling victim in the middle of crowded subway platform while your victim cries out uselessly for help to those who pass by.
Vampire: the Requiem was a game that struggled to find its core narrative and place in the world. It was considered to have been thrust out into the market before it was truly ready, and it suffered under the large and successful shadow of its predecessor, Vampire: the Masquerade. Blood and Smoke has taken a game doomed to mediocrity and turned it into a worthy successor to the monolithic presence of the Masquerade. It has firmly moved its story of personal horror and survival out from under the years of baggage and stagnation. Blood and Smoke has made me want to play a vampire again for the first time in nearly a decade, and it will do the same for you.
And that is why you should be playing Vampire: the Reqiuem – Blood and Smoke.
David Gordon is a regular contributor to the site. A storyteller by trade and avowed tabletop veteran, he is always on the lookout for creative tabletop games. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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