|Year of the Reckoning|
|Written by Dean Shomshak and Sarah Roark|
The Curse of Caine has existed for so long it has finally begun to weaken. Elders' blood, passed from one childe to the next for generations, no longer holds the potency it once had. Too many childer have been Embraced in the Final Nights - a reckoning must come for these illegitimate vampires. If it does not, the world may end. The Time of Thin Blood allows you to portray the hunted childer of high-generation vampires in the Year of the Reckoning. The Final Nights are upon us and this book offers Storytellers a glimpse at one of the events of the unfolding Gehenna. Rich in story and character content, The Time of Thin Blood is the first step toward the world's ultimate demise or salvation.
I must admit that when I first heard about the book, I couldn't help but yawn. A whole supplement devoted to high generation vampires? When only a couple of pages would do? Big yawn. I kept most of my comments to myself on the mailing list, because I hate commenting on something I haven't read. The only reason I wanted ToTB was for the Gehenna information, and especially the info on the fall of Clan Ravnos. That turned out to be the most disappointing part of the book, while the 14th, 15th generation, and damphirs information truly shined.
The opening story was very good, surprisingly so. I usually dislike most game-based fiction (even in the supplements), but this one truly put you in the right frame of mind for the rest of the book. It's obviously a twisted retelling of the birth of Jesus, title and all. But it's Biblical overtones set the stage for the apocalyptic portents to come.
The meat of the book is the information on how to play 14th and 15th generation vampires, as well as vampiric offspring, the damphir. (Sorry if I spelled it wrong. I don't have the book in front of me.) This is a supplement that should have come out a LONG time ago, but I'm glad they waited until now, because they definitely did it right. Excuse me for not wasting bandwidth to explain the rules of their creation, but I'm sure there will be enough discussion on them already. In brief (very brief), they can handle sunlight better, can give birth, are almost human, can create their own Disciplines, and have an uncanny "Insight" into the manipulations of the Kindred. However, they are burdened with so many problems, including higher blood point expenditure, lower Discipline maximums, difficulty (or complete inability) to create fellow Kindred and ghouls, and hunted down like a bunch of rabid dogs by every major Sect and Gehenna Cult in the vampiric world of darkness.
This adds a great element to Vampire. These guys are DOWNTRODDEN, with a capital D. I'm almost tempted to say that this is street-level Vampire, and I'm not referring to your typical Anarch bang-bang festivals either. There's a renewed emphasis on human-mortal relationships, as well as a revival of the horror of vampiric existence - something quite appropriate for any jaded Vampire enthusiasts out there. There's a lot of angst here, folks, so beware. A good comparison would be Poppy Z. Brite's novel, "Lost Souls," for an idea of this supplement's flavor.
The book also has also updated the Gehenna Cults presented in "Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand, including their viewpoints on the Thin Bloods (aka the Last Generation). Also, included are the most relevant quotes from the Book of Nod for those - like me - who really don't like that little $10.95 tome. There's also running commentary from various signature characters included.
The only problem I have with the book is the fall of Clan Ravnos, and this is a minor quibble. Most of the fall of Clan Ravnos is told through fiction, jumping back and forth between a variety of viewpoints, including Cathayan, Technocracy, and Ravnos point of views. I didn't like it for the same reason I didn't care for Clan Novel Toreador: too many things to focus on, no characters that I could really form any empathy with, as well as the fact that such a momentous event can barely be treated in so short a medium. I'm quite aware that they didn't have the room. There's already ton of info crammed in the book. But the fiction was too scattered for my taste, and failed to live up to the drama, focus, and mood of the opening story. (Although I do it see it thematically in the structure of the supplement: it opens with a sign of Gehenna and ends with Gehenna for one antediluvian and his descendants - a perfect wrap around actually.) I think it could've have better been described in expose form, or even from fictitious accounts and commentary from any "survivors". That way there would still be some mystery left to exactly what happened. Plus, the end of the Ravnos doesn't really fit with my vision of the game world. Too epic, too grandiose, too action-movie for my taste. Mountains of mortals dead? Nukes? A personable quibble, nothing more - just a different style.
The information on playing the Week of Nightmares (which is the destruction of the Ravnos antediluvian) is excellent, if not incredibly brief. Essentially an outline. It's an easy way of incorporating the change into almost anyone's Vampire game without having to get all the player characters into Bangladesh, where the Ravnos are annihilated. In fact, the characters would essentially be experiencing the psychic fallout of the antediluvian's death, and coping with it for a week.
I do, however, love, Love, LOVE, the idea that the more vampiric blood that is shed, the closer we come to Gehenna. Brings in scary implications for the Sabbat war parties, for the Camarilla pogroms against the Thin Blood, and for the Assamite jihads. The more death, the more likely Gehenna will come. Excellent.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
There were few White Wolf books that I have awaited with such trepidation mixed with expectation and hope than Time of Thin Blood. Only Land of Eight Million Dreams and Wraith: the Great War matched it, that I can recall. The first was horrendously disappointing and the second very nearly lived up to my imagined expectations (an amazing feat indeed). Time of Thin Blood was, in a way, very disappointing as well. Not due to poor material or writing, however, but entirely to a difference of opinion. Very little in Time of Thin Blood is actually bad, and it is all presented amazingly well, but I just could not agree with all of it. It was a difference of opinion that kept the book from being damned near perfect.
The opening story is nice enough, although I do not like it as much as most people seem to. It was good, but since it focused on the dhampir (half-vampires), I did not find it particularly appealing. The allusion to the story of Jesus (especially in the picture) is very amusing.
The first chapter is the details on the thin-blooded themselves, the vampires upon whom the Curse of Caine falls, but not as strongly as you might think. It is this chapter that starts of with the priceless dissertation by Doctor Netchurch on the thin-blooded and their traits and abilities. One of the best written sections of the book, the essay was a pleasure to read, and I was glad that someone finally applied the scientific method to vampires, and did it in a reasonable way. Netchurch is, despite his Malkavian heritage, a scientist at heart. The chapter also delves into the rules for the 14th and 15th generation vampires. It clarifies the definition of the flaw thin-blooded, directly pointing out that not all Caitiff are thin-blooded, nor are all 14th generation vampires so either. All of the 15th generation are, however. As recompense of a sort they endure sunlight as lethal damage instead of aggravated damage. Those of the 15th generation are also capable of siring or birthing children as well, they can get pregnant or impregnate as the case may be. The children produced are called dhampir (oddly enough, the same name as the Eastern half-vampires, of which not one mention is made). This was one of the first disagreements I had with the book. Call me old fashioned, but I like my vampires dead. I can accept the dhampirs in Kindred of the East (although not the name) by virtue of Yang Chi imbalance and similar considerations of the genre. In the West, however, White Wolf has gone to great lengths to emphasize the dead nature of the Kindred, and the half-in/half-out of the world of vampires is already fulfilled both by ghouls and revenants (to whom the dhampir is mechanically and biologically identical). I find them superfluous and simply wrong-feeling.
The other major problem I had with the book is at the end of chapter one. For some reason I cannot fathom, the authors of the book chose to focus and expand upon the single worst element of the Caitiff section in Pariahs: A Guide to Outcasts: the generation of Disciplines. I agree that the idea of the thin-blood spontaneously generation Disciplines is interesting, and that their thin, watery vitae might make the creation of a new power (if only the lower levels) easier, but again and again, Time of Thin Blood clearly states that Discipline creation is almost exclusively the purview of Methuselahs and thin-blooded neonates. That I cannot swallow. I have always seen a Discipline as being easier to create than a bloodline, but Time of Thin Blood all but comes out and says that the latter is merely a symptom of the former. If so, why the are there "bloodline-less" Disciplines in Vampire: the Dark Ages? I like the idea of Disciplines being easier to create than bloodlines because a bloodline is a much more drastic change, and it also serves to keep the number of Kewl New Groops With Speshil Powerz down to a minimum. Admittedly, Discipline creation is not easy for any vampire, but the mood and direction that Time of Thin Blood takes with Disciplines I find completely unpalatable.
The second chapter begins with a great in-character appraisal of the Kindred powers of the World of Darkness from a thin-blooded vampire's eye. It is perfect in emphasizing the lack of education about their fellows that is such an essential element to a thin-blooded campaign. Following that is an equally useful objective view on how the thin-blooded react and interact with other vampires, mortals and supernatural beings. There is also some more information on the dhampir, how they grow up and how they are seen by the Kindred as a whole.
One of the more amusing bits of the book is in the second chapter as well, a large section of the Book of Nod annotated in a smart-assed tone by the signature characters Becket and Lucita, as well as a new Lasombra Noddist, Nahir. The exchanges are quite amusing, especially when Becket asserts again and again that Lasombra is dead. "Oh, and Nahir, your grandsire is still dead." The one and only disappointment in this section was the lack of much of really any new material. Other than Nahir's quiet assertion that the Crone who awakens in the northern woods is not Baba Yaga, there is little that has not already been mentioned or discussed.
The chapter rounds out with a re-examination of the Gehenna cults presented in Elysium as well as the clan's reactions to both the coming of the Final Nights and the thin-blooded. Finally, a section on the history of the Scourge and a letter from "Gracchus" to "Hermia" (undoubtedly two members of some Gehenna cult) about the Jyhad. This is one of the best sections of the book, the information on the Gehenna cults and some of the religious manias sweeping the Kindred across the world was very welcome and exceedingly well-done. Highly useful, the peek at the Gehenna cults of the vampiric world allows a peek into the minds of Elders, a very useful peek. The religious manias especially were quite flavorful. The "plague" of weeping blood has wonderful potential.
Then there is the character creation chapter. Like most such chapters, it has its moments but is, for the most part, mainly work-horse. There are interesting bits, however, like the new Background accessible only to 14th and 15th generation vampires - Insight. Allowing visions and foretelling of the Jyhad and Kindred in general (past, present and future), it can easily be used to hasten along the fear and paranoia of the Final Nights. The chapter also explains that roughly half of the 14th generation vampires do have a clan, that they are not Caitiff. Character creation is slightly different for high generation vampires, although I'm still confused about how many freebie points the thin-blooded end up with, but that it likely due to my lack of intense interest in the mechanics of the thin-blooded. The freebie and experience costs for Disciplines are also different for the thin-blooded, freebie points are a bit more expensive but the experience costs are doubled. This is a minor issue for me, but I don't really like that change either. I didn't like the ghoul experience chart at all either though. There are also some very interesting flaws as well, like Decrepitude and Compulsive Counter.
The Dhampir creation rules are here as well, and they are revenants without either a family weakness nor family Disciplines, nor do they have to worry about the revenant's long period of time before reaching adulthood. I just have to say once again that I don't really like the dhampirs. They are not twinky or munchkin-fodder, they are in fact nicely done, but I just do not agree with the basic assumption.
Some more interesting bits from the character creation chapter include a look at just what kind of Disciplines are common and which ones are magical or unique. My one and only disagreement for the most part was on Protean. While it is not as uncommon as say, Serpentis, neither is it easy to learn, especially by oneself. I have always thought that the basic "Camarilla Disciplines" (from Vampire: the Masquerade second edition) with the exceptions of Protean and Thaumaturgy were the "publicly available" Disciplines, all others require either intense and strenuous effort or a tutor. There is also a page on dhampir legends, but I think that, again, this material would fit revenants better than the bastard children of the thin-blooded. The chapter then closes out with a look at the different "categories" of the thin-blooded: the Autarkis; Cleavers (those who try to live normal, human lives); Unbound (Caitiff supremacists); Wannabe (a thin-blooded trying to gain acceptance in a clan); Seers (those high generation vampires with Insight); and another mention of dhampirs.
The storytelling chapter is easily the best part of the book, surprisingly enough. I cannot think of another White Wolf product that managed to do that before. It focuses solely upon running games during the Final Nights. How to use the thin-blooded, how to get the mood of impending doom and paranoia straight, how to destroy the World of Darkness. It includes a step-by-step look at how to structure a Gehenna chronicle. What to take in consideration and some suggestions about how to set it up. The concerns of running either all high-generation or mixed coterie games are also addressed. This chapter is likely so strong because of its frank tone and numerous examples. White Wolf authors would do well to look at it in the future.
The templates were surprisingly fun. Vampire Dad was a hilarious read, and Cinderalla was quite good as well. Thankfully though, there were only five templates, with Dhampir Waif, Seer and Inceptor (one who creates Disciplines) rounding out the batch.
Now for the Appendix I'm sure that you have all been waiting for, the section that details what clan falls.
Here be spoilers.
Anyway, I would first like to ask why it was tacked onto the end of Time of Thin Blood. I would imagine because the book is as much about the times surrounding the proliferation of the high generation as much as them themselves, but somehow the bit didn't seem to be as integrated into the book as the rest of the material. I also think that it would have done much better as an adventure, maybe not on the grand scale of the Giovanni Chronicles, but definitely something the size of Giovanni Chronicles 4. That would have been a much more interesting, informative and useful format. As it stands, the fall of the clan is well-written and instituted, but not that well done in the sense that if I want a metaplot, I would like to be able to interact with it with ease.
As for the story itself, here is how the fall goes down: In India, the Ravnos have been escalating their war for territory with the local Kuei-jin (the Infitine Thunders Court of Sri Lanka and the Bone Court of China, for those Kindred of the East fans keeping score) for quite some time, and they have not been doing well of late. Resorting to Sabbat-esque tactics of mass-Embracing and throwing neonates at the powerful Cathayans, the Ravnos manage to create a large number of thin-blooded vampires, and they also manage to get an extraordinarily large number of vampires killed, and it is there that is the key to their fall. Apparently, the murder of vampires hastens Gehenna, it tugs on the strings of blood connection all Kindred, awakening their Elders. So some older Ravnos begin to arise and enter the war, and they also suffer heavy losses. It is this enormous amount of Ravnos bloodshed that apparently awakens a blood-starved Ravnos himself, and he turns to his clan for blood, having long passed the "Methuselah's thirst stage." Unfortunately for him, three Kuei-jin Bodhisattvas become aware of his arising, though the sheer disturbance that much power causes. In addition, the Technocracy also becomes aware of the situation and institutes Code: Ragnarok, allowing for any expenses (including civilian lives) to stop the threat. After three days of battling the Kuei-jin to a standstill, Ravnos is bombarded by a barrage of neutron bombs by the Technocracy, unable to part the clouds above the floodplains of Bangladesh where the vampires are fighting. Still shambling along, he is finally destroyed when the hurricane is dispersed and the solar mirrors that the Technocracy had in orbit quadruple the sunlight shining upon the city. Ravnos is finally destroyed, and as he dies, he curses his entire clan to feast upon itself, and the Ravnos across the world fall into diablerie-filled frenzies. Throughout this "Week of Nightmares," seers across the planet are flooded with images and portents of the battle, and Ravnos everywhere find their Chimerstry completely unpredictable, often gaining up to 3 levels in it, regardless of their generation, and the difficulty of all Chimerstry rolls similarly varies randomly. Needless to say, this shakes up Vampire: the Masquerade quite a bit. Although few know of the Technocratic and Cathayan involvement, everyone knows that something happened. The Ravnos Antediluvian has died and there are maybe 100 of the former clan left. If that does not scare the Elder vampires and their secret masters, I don't know what would.
That might sound a little cheesy, but it is well-written and presented in a nice fiction-then-summary format that I found nice. It was refreshing to have White Wolf come out and say something blatantly. However, not everything is perfect.
I would still like to know why it was the Ravnos that fell. It was quite a surprise, and I don't think it was a good one. There was precious little foreshadowing for this, it is just too much out of left field for me. The only hints were the Awakenings of the Ravnos Elders in Vampire Revised Edition and Ghivran Dalaal from Children of the Night, perhaps alluding to the clan's increasing Sabbat-like tactics. The "manner of death" bugs me as well. I love the way Ravnos himself died, but the fact that his clan died because he cursed them into diablerie as he died does not sit completely comfortably with me.
There is also no mention of the further repercussions of this event. Some of the heads of the Camarilla as sluggishly moving to action, including Marcus Vitel of Washington D.C. (a candidate for membership in the Imperial Order of the Master Edenic Groundskeepers if I ever saw one). Tremere is apparently stirring, and feeling none to well. Chimerstry illusions are physical to the changelings across the world, what effect did this all have in the Dreaming? I would have liked some mention of what is going on elsewhere. Yes, this is a Vampire: the Masquerade product, but if the hsien can be brought in to deal with dispatching Ravnos, the effect of his death back upon them could be given some attention. In addition, I got the impression from some of the fiction that there was so much Chimerstry rolling around the world that it was sometimes spontaneously manifesting, granting people their dreams and nightmares. There is little discussion of this.
Finally, the Red Star. There is a tiny sidebar saying that a red star has appeared in the sky that is visible only to supernatural beings. That means that ghouls and vampires can see it fine, but humans cannot. I don't like that one bit. If the star was in the Umbra and the Dreaming, I'd be very happy, but then the vampires would not be seeing it. With Auspex is seems malevolent and evil, but it would have been better is Auspex was a requirement to see it in the first place. It creates a distinction between vampires and mortals where none need exist.
Well, now that this review has gotten so long and bloated, let me close my statements by saying that the entire book was superbly well-written and laid-out. The art by Christopher Shy simply got even better than his previous work. I had seen nearly everything in the book before on his website, it was nice to see his work in print. The piece on page 47 is especially good, and I have the one on page 44 as my Windows background. The art by Vince Locke was surprisingly disappointing actually, and I usually really like his work. Mike Danza's work was nice on the whole. He has some very good pieces in there.
This is definitely one of the few White Wolf books where the presentation exceeds the substance.
An oddly disappointing book, it was not because of bad material or poor presentation. A mixed bag at times, but a well-written one.