Lore can play an important part in any tabletop game. Many of my fondest memories of Warhammer Fantasy Battle are of the army books with their origin stories and general flavour text. Much like flavour in cooking, the flavour in tabletop games cannot be overpowering or it can ruin everything. Vampire: The Masquerade has been known for quite a chunk of lore over the years since it’s much more about relationships and interaction than straight out combat. I have recently been given the chance to take a look at Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition and before I get down to the nitty-gritty of GMing a game (storytelling a game?) I decided to just read through the book from start to finish and talk about my first impressions of the game.
The first thing you notice when you open up the book for Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition is how it starts out. Beyond the standard contents pages and dedications it starts out with a 10-page letter to someone called Alex. It then proceeds with another 18 pages of similar stuff, letters, phone call transcripts even IM screens. As someone who is returning to the game from a long stint of absence, I found this more than a little overwhelming, I can’t imagine how a new player must feel to be confronted by such top-heavy lore.
The strangest part about this 28-page, in-universe lore dump is that it is actually followed by a much more restrained attempt at world-building which works about 1000 time better. The ‘concepts’ chapter actually starts with a simple, two-paragraph segment about an encounter in a nightclub. It then goes on to discuss some of the core concepts and ideas which form the basis of the game. Honestly, If those opening 28 pages just weren’t there I don’t think that anything important would really be lost.
The introduction isn’t the only time that lore and flavour get in the way of the actual ‘game’ parts of Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition. A lot of the book is sort of put together in a very haphazard way, especially for anyone who may not be that familiar with tabletop RPGs. The lore and rules are not clearly separated, instead of beginning with a section on lore then carefully separating a section on playing or character creation, all 3 are mixed willy nilly throughout the book.
Even when rules are discussed they can be brought up before they’re properly explained. The book goes on and on about different banes, powers and tests before any real discussion has been had about how these things work. The book feels like it is missing some key editorial work. Like a child being forced into a presentation with notes that are horribly out of order.
If you are a first time player of this game then I would recommend having the storyteller help you go through character creation. Even with a character sheet printed out a lot of spaces ended up being blank on my playgroup. Realistically it was a nice idea to want to focus on lore and the different clans or groups a player might belong to, but a less wise idea was bringing up concepts which might mean nothing to a new player, forcing them to read the entire book before they are adequately equipped to understand what is going on.
Fortunately, if you do manage to wrap your head around the book the actual gameplay of Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition is quite simple. All rolls in the game take place using D10 dice, each roll of a 6 or above is a success and tasks require different amounts of successes based on their difficulty. Each skill or attribute gives a player a pool of dice to roll for each test and their vampiric hunger changes some or all of those dice to red D10 which make things get messy on a critical success or failure.
It’s all remarkably streamlined, and also prevents newer players from constantly have to ask ‘which dice is a D10’, something that every GM has wished for since they started out. If the book was put together in a more cohesive manner then the whole thing could have been a great way to get more people interested in Vampire. As it stands the gameplay can be as simple and as streamlined as it likes but with a book more confusingly put together than a religious sermon in a language you don’t understand, don’t be too surprised if not all that many people get into the franchise this way.
Fortunately, that’s not the only good point the book has going for it. Vampire has always had to deal with some pretty intense subject matter and considering that players are usually deeply involved with said subject matter that can lead to certain problems at the gaming table. The writers of the book clearly had that at the forefront of their minds while they were writing the book. There are several pretty sizable segments devoted to how to deal with different dark subject matters, and especially how to help someone who has felt uncomfortable due to certain things going on in an RP session. It’s nice attention to detail which most other games wouldn’t probably have bothered with, and it clearly shows a certain amount of social sensitivity on White Wolf’s part.
The art is another stellar point. A lot of effort has been put into presenting a good-looking book. From photo shoots to traditional art, the book is filled with some pretty impressive examples of decent artwork and design. In particular, the concept art which is used to denote the different clans does a good job of selling what they’re all about, probably better than the book itself does. A lot of the art is so well done that it can act as a visual shorthand for what the text is supposed to be saying.
Overall Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition does a lot right. It handles some pretty dark subjects really well, overall the gameplay is pretty streamlined once you’re used to it, the lore is well written and the artwork and presentation in the book is top notch. The big problem comes down to the fact that the book is just confusingly put together, so much so that I doubt many newer gamers would know what to do with it all. With some series editing, the book could probably present one of the best version of the game to date, but until that happens it’s hard to recommend it based on its usability alone. We will have to see if sloppy editing gets in the way of the actual gameplay.
Have you got a chance to check out Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition yet? If so what do you think about the main book and the game itself? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section down below.