|Developed by Justin R. Achilli|
|Cover Art: Bill Sienkiewicz|
Shadows of the Elder War The Sabbat are depraved monsters, reveling in their Damned state and herding the kine like cattle. Or so it would seem to the uninitiated. In truth, the Sabbat wage a secret war on the elders, struggling night after night to free themselves from the tyranny of the dread Antediluvians and the Jyhad itself. But are their tactics effective or simply horrific?
Cast by the Fires of the Packs The Guide to the Sabbat examines the Sabbat exhaustively from the antitribu, or "anti-clans," that populate its ranks, to the terrifying Disciplines they use, to their methods of waging war on the Camarilla and Antediluvians alike. This book also explores the Sabbat's progress in its war effort, chronicling the Cainites' inexorable spread across the East Coast and back to their usurped territories in the Old World. Hardback.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Following closely behind the Guide to the Camarilla (or coming along with for those lucky enough to get the Limited Edition copies), the Guide to the Sabbat is even better than its companion. The book turns what had been a nearly-unplayable and inconceivable motley of blood-drunken, Satan-worshipping jocks out for a little ultra-violence.
The old Sabbat books painted pictures of cities awash in blood, a sect rife with infernalism, and packs of monsters burning, killing and raping just because "We're evil baby! Yeah baby, yeah! Evil is good, baby!"
Anyone else see the problem there?
The new Guide clears up these problems decisively and clearly, as well as providing wonderful tidbits about both the future and the past of the World of Darkness. A better history of the several Sabbat civil wars is included, and a discussion of how the Code of Milan came to be, and its ramifications. And what about the issues of Lasombra and Tzimisce? Everything is not always as it seems.
The opening story, Smart Money's on Vegas, while good, is not nearly as evocative or as telling about sect culture as the Camarilla one. It's not bad, just not as good.
The first chapter, The Sword of Caine, details sect history, structure, holdings, Clans, and factions. A daunting subject, but the book tackles it surprisingly well. In the history section, we learn about all three Sabbat Civil Wars, which are the reasons why the Sabbat has not won the War already, as well as how each was "solved." Apparently, the Tzimisce "own" New York as a concession in the last war. An interesting note indeed, especially considering the rumors regarding the Zantosa and the supposedly diablerized Antedulivian of the Clan. The history section also ties in mortal historical events, such as the Louisiana Purchase, which generates a much more realistic feel than many other Vampire histories.
The Guide, in addition to purporting the Tzimisce-Lugoj rumor first introduced (which is later expanded upon in the revenant section in the back), we also get yet another tale of the fall of the house of Lasombra. The Guide says that Gratiano (not some unnamed anarch or an Assamite) did the deed, and then accepted an Archbishopric in the fledgling Sabbat. Questions are raised as to why Gratiano would accept that, as well as why Gratiano (and his entire retinue) abrubtly disappeared from view soon after the position was accepted. Lasombra conspiracy theorists, like myself, finally have some evidence to point to, if extremely flimsy and unsubstantiated by anything. Then again, that is the best kind of evidence for a conspiracy.
After the history section, the Sabbat's worldwide holdings and member Clans are described. Interesting secrets and hints are dropped in both, and the Kiasyd, Harbingers of Skulls, and the Salubri antitribu are all introduced enigmatically. Both of the latter new bloodlines have been written-up superbly and evocatively, while the older Kiasyd have been redone to make them much less goofy and more fitting with the mood of Vampire. This is also where the issue of the Tremere antitribu is dealt with. "Pillars of ash with faces."
The organization of the Sabbat is detailed rather well, and the duties and responsibilities of each position in the hierarchy of the sect are described. It actually begins to become a working group of vampires now, distancing itself from past mistakes in publishing.
The factions within the Sabbat are also evocative, and truly provide a political backdrop for the sect which was totally missing before. That lack of politics really detracted from the realism of the sect. This isn't just a re-hashing and re-vamping of old material either, new secrets and changes are mentioned in nearly every faction. A resource for both new and old players alike.
The next chapter, Around the Fires, is perhaps where the book shines the strongest. It is here that each Clan and bloodline in the Sabbat is given the standard two-page spread as a showcase. Done in the wodnerful vein of the Vampire Revised spreads, this chapter changes many of the glaring holes in the old Sabbat books. The Assamite antitribu are explained much better. The Serpents of the Light have a life now. The Ventrue antitribu are more than just Brujah-wannabes. Malkavian and Toreador antitribu are truly dangerous and depraved. The Gangrel antitribu are animalistic and dangerous. The Blood Brothers are interesting. The Kiasyd are now reasonable actually frightening, like a vampire should be. I could go on and on.
What thrills everyone though, are the write-ups for the new bloodines. The Harbingers of Skulls and the Salubri antitribu are both enticing and mysterious. Both harken to major shake-ups within the undead society of the World of Darkness, and if the books continue as they are now, it will be an exciting ride indeed.
Following that is the character creation section, which is a good as really any other. There are some new merits and flaws and other traits (personality archtypes, backgrounds, etc), but the chapter is more solid and work-horse than amazing.
The Discipline chapter is nicely done. The higher-level Disciplines are nice, if somewhat underpowered in some cases. There is a new Necromancy path for the Harbingers. Sanguinus is redone with rules (they work too, but it's nice to just have rules for them at all) instead of the nasty work in the Storyteller's Guide. Valeren (specifically the warrior variety) is reintroduced at the hands of the Salubri antitribu, although it's not fixed from the Dark Ages write-up. New Thaumaturgy Paths and rituals are also included, both of which are much better than the old Sabbat books (although I do miss the Path of Morpheus) The best thing in the chapter from my point of view, however, is the reworking of Mytherceria into something recognizable as a coherent Discipline. Kiasyd fans everywhere should be happy. The Vicissitude-as-a-disease issue is also dealt with. The "Souleaters!" idea seems to have been scrapped. Instead, the land to which the Tzimisce are so closely tied has been corrupted, twisting their Discpiline as well. While I don't have the Transylvania Chronicles myself, I'm told that such a turn of events is implies in there.
The next chapter is the Path section, and it is here that the book again shines through the old material. A new Path, the Path of Lillith, is included, and all the old Paths are redone in usable formats. No longer are they the Paths of What I Was Going to Do Anyway, but actual moral codes. The section also remarks at how most Sabbat are on the Path of Humanity, if low on it. Merely become Sabbat doesn't put you upon a monstrous moral code, you have to be taught it. A superb, superb section all around.
Also in this chapter are the auctoritas ritae and ignoblis ritae, and they help turn the "fratboy Sabbat" into the "religious zealot Sabbat". These ritae are the unifying factor among the Sabbat, and they are written up well. Mildly supernatural, they serve mainly to bind the Sabbat together and give it a religious purpose, the Jyhad. Beautiful role-playing devices, the ritae deepen the Sabbat and give it some degree of emotional power.
Following that, after a few more great derangements, is a chapter on using the Sabbat in the chronicle. How do you use the ritae? How do you get the brutality of the Sabbat across? How do you run a political Sabbat game? How the hell does the Sabbat keep functioning from night to night? All these questions are answered rather well in one of the better Storytelling sections in White Wolf books.
The last chapter takes a look at how a Sabbat city is built and how it runs. Populations, positions, webs of intrigue and favors; all things that were complately ignored in the older Sabbat books are looked at in detail here. How does the Sabbat keep from breaking its own Masquerade? Who actually rules a Sabbat city? What do Bishops do? Along with the previous chapter, this section makes the Sabbat come alive and leap headlong into a chronicle. This is something else that was lacking in the older material.
Rounding out the book is the Appendix with NPCs and other information, like the use of ghouls in the Sabbat. More secrets are revealed in the revenants section, and they are dealt with better than before (like nearly everything else in the books). NPCs are reasonable, although I've never been a big fan of them myself. One problem is that there were no stats for vhozd or szlactha. While rare in the extreme, both would have been extremely useful in a Sabbat game. I for one find the pictures of the vohzd in various books rather chilling.
Overall, I have to say that that the Guide to the Sabbat is a superb book from White Wolf. On par with the best publications they have put out. It managed to turn a farce into a nightmare worthy of being in the World of Darkness.
I know that this review is long, and I apologize for it's long-windedness, but I barely even touched upon the wonders of this book. Perhaps that will sway people when thinking about picking the Guide up.
My advice on the matter? Buy it now.
Turning the Sabbat from a group of Satanic fratboys into a sect of zealots fighting a holy war, the Guide is an absolute must for any Vampire game. It's fine presentation and incredibly meaty content show that the "new direction" for the game line continues full speed.