Clanbook Revised: Nosferatu

WW 2354 $14.95 Apr-00
Written by Brian Campbell
Developed by Robert Hatch
Cover Art: John van Fleet
Art by Guy Davis, Leif Jones, Drew Tucker, Christopher Shy and John Cobb

Review by Kintaro Oe

Summary: Solid, but neither innovative nor that efficient

Since the release of Vampire: the Masquerade Revised Edition (since its announcement, actually), there has been talk about just what other books in the line will get revised. There was the Guide to the Camarilla and the Guide to the Sabbat, as well as the revisions to books like the Storyteller's Handbook. On the subject of the much-maligned clanbooks from the second edition of the game, the developer Justin Achilli had said that there was no intention to revise them, it would take to long and, in the end, not be worth it. By the time the last one came out, the first would almost be out of date. This stance has since, changed, however. After reading the first showing in the new line of bigger and better revised clanbooks, I wish that White Wolf has stood by its original intent. Clanbook: Nosferatu (revised) seems like it is simply too long for its own good. There are some good ideas and they're handled well enough, but the author just takes too much time to get through them, turning a good supplement into an average one. If the book had been significantly more concise and less meandering, then it would have been a substantially better resource. As it stands, it can only be said to be useful for those who really need information on the Nosferatu themselves. If you're willing to do a nominal amount of footwork and creation on your own, save yourself fifteen bucks and give the book a pass.

At first glance, the book seems fine and dandy. The layout's okay, nothing overly flashy, but the art is very hit-and-miss. While old hands such as Guy Davis, Lief Jones and Drew Tucker nicely follow the excellent John van Fleet cover with moody and gritty-grimy illustrations, White Wolf made the horrendous (and inexplicable) mistake of hiring John Cobb again. I remain unconvinced that the man can draw a good picture - the best he seems to manage is "inoffensive," but he can't even swing that here. The last artist involved in the book, for all my love of him, just seems not to "get" the clan. Christopher Shy, as much as I like his art and how good it is in detail, has a gallery of pictures for the well-known Kindred that reminds me of the horror of Kindred: the Embraced. While two of the six pictures are something resembling "horrific" (and then I'm not sure they're still ugly enough), the rest limit their deformities to things like pointy ears and big foreheads, earning the book the nickname "Clanbook: Space Elf" among my group of friends. Some even whisper that it might be the fable "Clanbook: Elfpants." In the end, the art is both pleasing on one page and then a terrible let down when you turn the page again. The writing itself is good and entertaining on the whole, although it sinks into an annoying tone at times and also takes a lot longer to discuss something than it needs to. The author does have a knack for entertaining section headings, however.

The book opens up with the standard White Wolf fictional piece, and it's written well enough to be entertaining. However, it also harbors one of the most interesting ideas in the book - yet does nothing with it. The neonate in the story admits that she has to create an entirely new "self" upon seeing her face fall off - lest she go insane, but that is not brought up again later on, and in the story she ends up full circle, the creature she was in the beginning.

There is none of the usual White Wolf introduction, and the book jumps immediately into the history of the clan, beginning with its ancient legends. There is the standard tale of Zillah and Nosferatu, except that he Embraced when he fails to destroy her after stalking her. Unfortunately the legend uses the fiat of "impressed by his courage" and Zillah brings him into the night. There is also talk of the Nictuku and a really nice section that voices the doubts that much of the clan has about these legends - but unfortunately that isn't used again either. I would have really liked more attention paid to just how absurd an idea as the Nictuku is. The author mentions is, but doesn't really present much information on how the Nictuku might not actually be real, just the paranoid projections of a paranoid clan. Every Nosferatu has a natural talent for Obfuscate, after all. Few of them ever learn Auspex. The section also one of my increasing problems with the game - the lack of other legends and tales in a world where everyone is supposed to be awash in lies and half-truths. The rest of the history section is taken up with more factual content, first talking about Europe and the Camarilla and then about the other places, like South America and Africa, which is a nice break. While I really liked the strong assertion that not all Nosferatu crawl in the sewers, that many of them live like the hunter their founder was supposed to be, there isn't much of a frame of reference for all the information here. Sure there were Nosferatu in Africa and the Americas for quite a while before the Europeans "discovered" those lands, but the names of kingdoms and deeds doesn't carry the same weight as the traditional Western ones, due to my own almost complete lack of knowledge of African history. Aside from that flaw, the section also suffers from a taste of "nicety" in that a lot of effort is spent talking about how these "barbarian" Nosferatu didn't spend all their time controlling humanity, they were noble and pure and helped the heroes. Sure, it can be dismissed as in-character bias, but that excuse gets old really, really fast.

The second chapter is divided into two broad sections: the clan from the inside out and the new rules (which is amusingly and a bit appropriately called "A Festering Heap of Game Mechanics"). The first spends a great deal of time to say surprisingly little and the latter has some interesting (and some great) ideas but is also bogged down in Mind's Eye Theatre rules. While I'm all for the MET information, I think it should be solidly differentiated, as it was with the dharmabooks for Kindred of the East. The look at the clan talks about everything from various types of Nosferatu to how the clan organizes itself to how it builds its underground fortresses. There are some really good ideas in here, but they are often buried in regimented and protracted blocks of text. After finishing it, there was little I came away with that wouldn't have come to me with some thought, and I felt that it had just taken too long to get to it - a common trait throughout the book. Unfortunately, is fails to address questions like "How can the clan had any degree of trust and unity when Obfuscate is everywhere and Auspex is rare?", instead spending time talking about how alien the clan is, but not really backing that up. The famed humanity and pragmatism of the Nosferatu seems to have been lost a bit (although their reputation for humanity seems intentionally dispelled). The game mechanics are okay, on the whole, although a few are very ill thought. The merits and flaws are all pretty interesting and good, some are even really good, like False Reflection which allows you to use the Mask of a Thousand Faces power on film or video. Some of the rules are less well done, however, like the largely unnecessary and seemingly weakened rules for "potent combat" (using really big objects like cars as weapons) or the mention that Obfuscate works fine and dandy on (still) film, though not on video - which makes no sense at all. There is also a discussion of each of the clan's Disciplines, which also come across as overly regimented and a great deal longer than they needed to be. On the whole, the chapter is long-winded, but has a few nuggets of goodness.

The rest of the book is taken up by notables and templates, the former of which I usually find much more interesting and useful than the latter. The old clanbooks all had ten templates (most of which were terrible), and the revised books continue this absurd tradition. Thankfully, each template only takes up a single page now, with shrunken character sheets. Sadly, however, character sheets for MET rules are also included, inflating the page count with more useless drivel. While the templates are, on the whole, good enough ideas, they don't need complete character stats in two systems. It's the idea that is hard to come up with, creating the character is childishly simple. MET character sheets (never mind the over-abundance of templates themselves) eat up 5 pages that could have been used for something with any degree of use. Aside from the four page character sheet, the book closes out with the well-known Nosferatu throughout the ages, but I found it only of mild interest, sadly. I found few of them to actually be all that interesting and the wildly inappropriate illustrations didn't help the matter.

Needless to say, Clanbook: Nosferatu is a great disappointment, not because it was an actually bad book, but because it wasn't excellent. I was expecting great things out of the revised clanbooks, to make up for the insults that the old ones often were. Instead, like its predecessor, ironically enough, I got a book of average quality that is only really of use to those without the time or inclination to work on the clan themselves. There were some good ideas, and there were some terrible ones, but the book just felt like an opportunity squandered. The good ideas it has are washed out by taking to long to get to them and the bad choices and few errors the book has (such as the character in the story possessing powers beyond her ken or the Nosferatu of Russia having been isolated from the Camarilla "for centuries"). The book is solid on the whole, but it lacks the zing and excitement that $15 calls for. I'm passing this review copy along and saving my money, I'll be buying the revised clanbooks sparingly, only getting the really good ones - when I had hoped that they would all be that good.