Saturday, December 19, 2020

V5: the Vampire Companion

The 5th edition of Vampire: the Masquerade debuted August 1, 2018. More than two years later, players finally get to see the 5th edition rules for the Ravnos, Salubri and Tzimisce in this free book, the Vampire Companion

Executive Summary: Well... it's free. If I had paid more than a few dollars for it, I would be quite upset at the lack of quality in this book.  

Part I: The Clans and Their Aptitudes 

Well, the good news is that they've gotten past the racist "all Ravnos are gypsies and all gypsies are thieves" clan weakness that's been around since the early days of the game. 

The bad news is that the clan's new Bane and Compulsion are tied into 1999's Week of Nightmares where the clan founder died and nearly all Ravnos went mad and killed each other and then themselves. 

So, setting apart the fact that nearly every single VtM GM that I know of has said "Sod that, the Week of Nightmares was the result of the game publisher shutting down the game line. I hate what they did and I'm going to ignore that garbage"... what if your game is set pre-1999? This is a clan that's been around for thousands of years, and yet there's no provision for pre-WoN Ravnos characters. So if you want to play a Ravnos any time before, you're either stuck with a dumb weakness or have to make your own. That's not just sloppy writing, that's an outright failure of game design.

My Ravnos writeup is superior, as it allows you to play the Ravnos in any era. 

Speaking of my writeup, I am amused by how close the "official" Discipline mix came to my writeup. The original was Animalism, Fortitude, and Chimerstry (illusion powers); I rightly assumed that Chimerstry would be an amalgam of Obfuscate and Presence. I replaced Fortitude with Celerity because I felt it fit the concept better; for some reason, the designers felt that Animalism fit them better instead. I don't care for it, but I suppose I could live with it in a game. 

As for the amalgam powers themselves, they're also pretty close to mine except for the following:
  • There are only 2 of them instead of 3. 
  • The first is a second-level Discipline, which I dislike. 
  • There is no high-level power where you convince someone the illusion actually hurt them. 
  • They use Manipulation instead of Resolve. I get why they did that -- you are after all trying to manipulate someone into believing an illusion is real -- but given the difficulty in crafting an illusion which must be believable, and to some degree persistent, falls more under Resolve in my book.

Thanks, I hate it. 

Here's a clan which, in canon, has a wholly unique power of healing, protection, and peacemaking. It's also one of the original clans. This means that more than any other, it deserves its own discipline, right?

Nope! the Companion replaces Valeran with Dominate, and you get three powers which are amalgams of Auspex/Dominate and Auspex/Fortitude. About the best thing I can say about this is that the authors thought to have a power which healed Willpower damage, and I didn't. My version is still better, though, as it gives you a lot more choices in how you want to build your character: healer, guardian, or peacemaker. 

Their weakness is similarly stupid. In previous editions they were portrayed as the most humane of all vampires, and and such if they fed upon the unwilling they literally damaged themselves. This made sense. However, their new V5 weakness is that their blood is delicious and if another vampire starts to drink, they find it very difficult to stop. 

I'll say that again: This clan, which lasted for THOUSANDS of years, somehow managed to do so with a giant "Eat Me" weakness. No. It's dumb. Go away. 

Their clan compulsion, at least, isn't terrible. But that's because it's close to what I use. 


Look, guys, this shouldn't be difficult. Nearly all of the work has been done for you over the past 20 years. Just convert them to V5 and make sure they are properly creepy, inhuman Dracula-type  vampires and you're good to go. 

Sadly, this isn't good to go. 

On the good side: They've given them the exact same discipline mix as I did (Animalism, Dominate, Protean) for exactly the same reasons. They've also made the Fiends' signature fleshcrafting abilities an amalgam of Dominate and Protean, like I suggested. This amuses me. 

As for Vicissitude, again the designers insist on making the amalgams start at level 2, which bothers me because these were signature powers in previous editions and so I feel they ought to be accessible early. That said, they have the same spread I proposed of "Change yourself, change others, turn into a monster," although some powers don't quite line up. I will go over this later in greater detail because I think there's some good meat on these bones that could be put to use in my version. I do think I covered more rule cases then they did, and so I expect errata for these powers will come out at some point. There's also a Level 5 Animalism/Protean amalgam, One With the Land, which I had not thought of and will cheerfully steal for my own use. 

On the 'meh' side: Well, I don't hate their Bane of "must sleep surrounded by something the define as theirs, be it land, a chosen kind of people, etc" and could live with it in a game. I think that it totally misses the point of a Bane, because there really isn't much of a penalty at all during play unless the adventure calls you out of town or the GM decides to screw with your haven, and it doesn't do anything with the notorious Tzimisce codes of hospitality. Again, I did it better. 

On the bad side: the clan Compulsion is stupid. "Hurr durr. We're called Dragons, and so our Compulsion is to covet and hoard shit like a stereotypical dragon on a pile of treasure." The writers are reaching too far and trying too hard to be cute. 

On the ugly side: Here are sample stats for Szlachta and Vozhd. No, there are no rules for making your own. Worse, apparently all Vozhd and some Szlachta require Blood Sorcery to make. Did I mention that Blood Sorcery is not one of the Tzimisce's disciplines?

Right. So, to make these iconic servants, they need a power which isn't native to them and there are no rules for how to build them in the first place. Fuck you, game designers. This isn't just sloppy, this is outright insulting. 

Also, there is mention of the Sabbat and the Tzimisce membership therein, but nothing specifically about this sect. I can't really call this sloppy as the Sabbat really needs its own companion volume like the Camarilla and Anarchs received, but this absence of information about what the sect is up to in the V5 era is certainly conspicuous and jarring. 

Part II: Clans and Coteries
This is about 2/3rds fluff, 1/3rd crunch. That said, it's fairly good fluff and somewhat useful crunch; the fluff is "how stereotypical clan members act in coteries (read: PC party) and treat the other members (read: player characters)," which is good information for people new to the game and a useful guideline for the GM to show problem players.

The crunch is a clan-specific merit which benefits the coterie in a direct, mechanical way. While interesting in theory, some merits are more useful than others: the two point Tzimisce "Old World Hospitality" merit grants everyone in the coterie an extra recovered Willpower point if they stay the day in the Tzimisce's haven, but the two point Ventrue "Kindred Legacies" merit means that once per session a player can as the GM to reveal a piece of relevant information about the history of a single vampire with whom they’ve come in contact. If you ask me, the former is vastly more useful than the latter, and they both cost the same. 

Oh, fun fact: Despite being introduced in this very book, there is no coterie merit for the Salubri clan. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy! There's no excuse for this. 

Part III: Mortals and Ghouls as PCs

For the most part, this is exactly what it says on the box. Character creation is simple and to the point, and I don't know why this was left out of the main book. 

I would have enjoyed a more in-depth treatment of what is involved to make mortals who are vampire hunters, but there are already books like that out there in previous editions. What we needed was a mechanical update, and we got one. 

The most interesting thing about this is that the rules specifically state that even though humans don't have to worry about their bestial hunger driving them to commit acts of predation, dominance and cruelty like vampires do, they still have a Humanity Rating and that it can go down. Some of you are saying "Well, duh" but I recall more than one hard-headed Person Who Is Wrong On The Internet making the claim that all humans have a Humanity of 10 by virtue of being human. Yes, they really are saying that serial killers have a higher Humanity score than vampires who take pains not to hurt humans. Sit on this and rotate, jerks. 

Again, why was this not in the main book? We have some good fluff about what it's like to be a ghoul, how they interact with vampire society, and so forth. Character generation is almost identical to that of mortals, so I don't understand why it was repeated. 

There are some interesting ghoul-specific rules here, which are nice to see. I was curious how ghouls would work mechanically since the "leaky gas tank" system of previous editions is gone. I personally think more thought could have gone into this, but since a lot of games treat ghouls as speed bumps or staff to handle things offscreen, I can understand why they wouldn't go into more depth. (I, however, might do so later...)

Short version:
  • Ghouls heal twice as quickly as mortals, excepting fire damage. Since they no longer have "blood points" to spend to heal, this is a nice simplification. 
  • Upon ghouling, they get a level one power in any Discipline possessed by their master. 
  • They don't actually have Disciplines, but are considered to have one dot for purposes of using the powers. 
  • They can buy more level 1 powers for 10 points each, even powers their masters don't have. 
  • They cannot buy powers in Disciplines their masters don't have.
  • If they ever have to make a Rouse Check, they take 1 point of aggravated damage instead. 
  • There is no specific ruling on what happens to those powers if their masters die or they get new ones. The Rule of Fair indicates that XP spent in such a manner should not be lost, but whether those points are refunded for reallocation or the old powers remain is left unstated.  
Finally, there are some ghoul-specific merits and flaws. 

This is by far the best and most useful section of the companion, and I feel that it should have been one of the first supplements introduced. 

Part IV: Errata and Rules Update
Why has it taken over two years for errata to have officially been released? That aside, here are the changes:
  • Blood Surge increases by one for all Blood Potency values. 
  • Bane Severity increases in the same manner. 
  • Compulsions now canonically can result from Messy Criticals as well as Bestial Failures. (I say 'canonically' because my GM and others have been using this rule for as long as I've been playing V5.)
  • Taking Half has been introduced as the V5 version of D&D's Take Ten. You count your dice pool, cut it in half, and apply that number as successes. 
  • The "Lingering Kiss" power has been rewritten. 

In Conclusion
The content that most players were waiting for was done poorly, and the good parts weren't long enough. 

It's probably good that it's free, because if people paid money for this they'd be incensed. On the other hand, if it were a paid product maybe the publishers could have afforded to hire better people to write this farce. 

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