Vampire: 20th Anniversary Edition – Tabletop Review

Two decades of bloodsucking


These are the final nights. Dark streets and crowded metropoli hem in the teeming masses of humanity. Amongst these defeated and drained mortals are the Kindred, vampires who thirst for human blood and can live forever so long as they keep their wits about them and play their parts in the grand Jyhad. The thirteen vampire clans scheme and plot and kill and feed. They own everything behind the scenes thats worth owning and mortals cater to them knowingly or unknowingly. And in the deepest shadows, the elders stir and thirst for the blood of their childer. These are the final nigthts. And you are one of the damned. You are one of the children of Caine. You are a vampire.

Back in the early 90’s, vampires were still cool. There was none of this sparkling vampire crap. The media was full of dark and brooding undead. Some were sexy like the vampires of Ann Rice (though not really my speed), some were balls-out terrifying (The Lost Boys or Near Dark). They had achieved almost the pinnacle of their media relevance.

It achieved its pinnacle with Vampire: the Masquerade.

“Who the hell would play a game where they were a vampire?” I remember my dad saying. “They’re bad guys.”

I think dad was missing the point.

The vampires introduced by White Wolf in those fateful days of 1991 were in fact some pretty bad hombres. Mark Rein-Hagen introduced a game in which you could play these dark and terrifying creatures of the night via a simple and straightforward game mechanic that is still in existence today with slowly formed permutations. It was a grand departure from the traditional game for me. In my past, we played heroes who banded together to fight the forces of evil. In this game, players often times played against each other as often as they cooperated, and the things you had to do to survive were less than heroic. Instead of saving princesses and slaying dragons, you had to kill witnesses who caught you being what you were and more often than not killed people who got in your way for the thinnest of pretenses.

How’s that fun? If you’re asking that, you’re missing the point. Vampire wasn’t a game about right and wrong. It was a game of personal horror. The things you were doing were supposed to scare you. At its core, V:tM was a horror game. And that was a very different thing for me and my circle of gamers.

Now, it’s twenty years later and after much anticipation, I finally got a hold of my copy of the Vampire: the Masquerade – 20th Anniversary Edition rulebook. After skimming through it, I thought I should write a little bit about this for two reasons. First, because it’s one of my flagship games. Second, because by all first impressions… it’s kind of badass.

We’ll start with what makes it a flagship game. In Dungeons and Dragons, you pick out a class. You then pick out a race. Then you get a handful of skills. And then, you go out and kill monsters and take their money and stuff, and hopefully gain levels. You can listen to the die hards and let them talk about their epic stories… but more often than not, D&D ends up doing exactly what it’s digital descendant, World of Warcraft does now. Make character, find quest giver, kill x creatures and bring back x items, get loot and experience. It’s pretty formulaic, and V:tM completely blew that out of the water for thousands upon thousands of gamers who were getting old enough to see that D&D might just be a little too simple in approach. It turned the dungeon crawl on its ear. The goals were hazier now. The overarching goal – having fun – was still there, but a +3 sword seemed like a paltry goal next to deposing a rival and taking his place within the political structure of the damned. Being a tenth-generation Cainite with the power of a small corporation working as a catspaw to advance your mortal schemes. It was a whole new level of gaming.

The impressive thing about this collected edition was its comprehensiveness. This bastard comes in at some four hundred pages and covers, from what I can see… everything. V:tM had a long run. About thirteen or fourteen years. While much of it was rules revision and metaplot developments, the content slowly built up over years. I bought a LOT of these books. The core rules. The Storyteller Guide, The Guides to the Camarilla, Sabbat and Anarch sects. Individual Clanbooks for almost all of the clans. There was a lot of rich detail to the World of Darkness when it came to vampires and I ate that stuff up. I learned how Clan Tremere usurped the right of vampirism from Saulot and his brood. I learned of the secret machinations of the Black Hand. I and my fellow players contributed to the battles between Camarilla and Sabbat vampires in the final nights. I learned a lot of stuff, and a surprising amount of it is condensed into this volume. The stuff they packed in seems comprehensive I dare say. You won’t find Dark Ages or Victorian information here, but that’s okay. It’s Vampire: the Masquerade, and that’s the cosmopolitan setting. For that… goddamn. I’m impressed.

The price however will hurt you, maybe even make you drop a few blood points. It’s a $30 PDF all on its lonesome, and if you get the print edition along with it in full color, like I did… $85. Plus shipping. I don’t have my physical copy as of the time of this writing, but I will in about two to thee weeks.

But, the initial prognosis looks good. Makes me want to break out the ten-siders again and turn down the lights while player characters move in the shadows, vying for power.

Ah for the good old days.

Frank has been the caffeine-fueled evil overlord of HeyPoorPlayer since 2008. He speaks loudly and carries a big stick to keep the staff of the HPP madhouse in check. A collector of all things that blip and beep, he has an extensive collection of retro consoles and arcade machines crammed into his house. Currently playing: Chorus (XSX), Battlefield 2042 (XSX), Xeno Crisis (Neo Geo)

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