|Year of the Reckoning|
|Written by Kenneth Hite, with R. Sean Bergstrom and Jason Langlois|
|Developed by Richard E. Dansky|
|Cover Art: Mike Danza|
In the Name of the Sire, the Childe and the Holy Vitae From the parishes of England to the catacombs of Rome, they make a mockery of all that the Church stands for. They have taken the sacraments and drowned them in blood, taken the faithful and perverted their worship. The Children of Caine have sowed heresy throughout the world. Now it is time to reap their bitter harvest.
This Is a Blasphemer's Soul Do you dare examine the soul of heresy? Here for the first time is the secret history of the blasphemy that has flourished for centuries. From the diabolic rites these heretics perform to the extent of their unholy influence over Rome and the Holy Land, The Cainite Heresy takes a look at an aspect of the Dark Medieval™ world that makes even vampires shudder.
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
This is a beautiful book, I cannot stress that enough. Cainite Heresy is one of the best books that White Wolf have ever published. This book is paced full of brilliant ideas as well as concrete and accurate historical facts. Ken Hite is a master of Obscure Occult Knowledge And Such Stuff, and he brings that talent to the fore with this Vampire: the Dark Ages book.
While the opening fiction is rather bland and stereotypical, it does serve to show just how dark and twisted the Cainite Heresy is to the medieval mind. I would have preferred a story that didn't have a self-absorbed sodomite priest who uses those under his purview to fulfill his whims and fancies, but his outraged reaction to the Heresy (that's the Cainite Heresy) was something that should be kept in the mind.
The in-character document that followed the story more than makes up for any failings in the story, however, as it provides hints and fuels the imagination when you read it. I did not find the font as difficult to read as some did, and I enjoyed the look, but it was secondary to the content of the document, which is a layout of some of the basic ideas of the Heresy. Derived from historic Heresies, the document has a certain validity and strength to it. The number of ideas I got simply reading this bit made the book good. I kept thinking of Kult, myself.
Following that is the introduction obligatory to all White Wolf books. Reading the Lexicon, you get a feel for the book you're holding. Touching upon countless heresies throughout history, I learned more simply reading that than I had in the entirety of my history classes. I have never been big on heretical knowledge, coming into the occult interest later than some I know, and that Lexicon set the tone for the book. I was going to learn when I read this.
The first chapter details mortal heresies and their immortal influences. This was an enthralling read, to say the least. I read about heresies that I had never heard about before. I learned that much of what I thought about the history of the heresies was wrong, and that their traditions extended back even further than I had thought. This chapter filled me with knowledge and nearly made me burst with plot ideas. From Procopius and his blood-scribed Euagetaematikon derived from the Book of Nod to the Setite influenced Ophites and their reverence of Caine and the Serpent, this chapter is filled with details that could be expanded into a huge chronicle. Hite tosses aside comments and facts like candy, and, like hungry children, you can't help but snatch up the next morsel and unwrap it, anxious to see what's inside this time.
The next chapter details the Heresy itself, the Cainite Heresy proper. Hite does what many writers fail to do, he shows us a detailed and vibrant religion, complete with rites and tenets of religion. He tells us that many in the Heresy believe that the End will come in 1239, and Gehenna will begin. Hite writes about the Commandments of the Heresy. He shows us plausible schisms within this dark Church. We get rites and practices, the rituals that the believers use in practice of their faith. He looks at the Heresy according to geography as well. Hite continues, providing the reader with iconography, symbology and architecture used by the Heresy. He tells us just what images the Heresy puts in stained glass, what saints and martyrs they revere, what verses of the Bible they quote, and even how the architecture of Heretical churches are often "off," skewed slightly. There are secret orders in the Heresy, tools of powerful Elders and Methuselahs. The Giovanni interaction with the Heresy is mentioned, and it is noteworthy that the "See of Nod" itself is in Venice, held by an ancient Lasombra. Hite also gives mention of other Heretical bishops, some of which are actually believe in the Heresy. This is not a stock religion to simply be used as a tool by all.
The follow chapter focuses solely on role-playing the Heresy. The special consideration for True Faith or for ghouls is mentioned. Just why someone would join the Heresy is explained, instead of left vague, as is often the case. Some campaign ideas are also presented, as well as discussion of how to use the Heresy to add depth to a character.
Chapter 4 looks at those who oppose the Heresy, mortal and otherwise. The beginning of the Inquisition is explained, as is the Kindred's role in their own Burning Times. Hite looks at just what the Church knows, and what it suspects, and what it can actually do about it. Some Cainite orders that oppose the Heresy are mentioned, including the Order of the Bitter Ashes, and even the Manus Nigrum is mentioned in passing. A look at those Cainites who devoutly believe in the mortal Church is provided as well.
The book then moves on to provide a superb look at the Road of the Devil, revising it into something compelling. I was startled by how good this is. It is much more personalized now, and I think that it benefits from that. The discussion of the relationship between Road and Nature was so useful and helpful that I was amazed that it hadn't been done before. An examination of the other Roads in a similar vein could only add infinite depth and power to a Road-focused Dark Ages game.
The notables chapter showcases several well-crafted NPCs of varying power. There is something useful here for nearly any campaign of any power level. Ancient Methuselahs or ghouls, these characters provide some definition to how the Heresy can affect the dark medieval world, whether you follow the Heresy or not.
The final chapter includes the new traits for the game. There is a new Background and a new Knowledge and several new merits and flaws, all of which are good, a few of which are extremely interesting, capable of spawning entire stories on their own. Imagine the stories that could revolve around characters with either a Miracle of Faith or Scourged by God as they meander through the bloody Heresy.
Overall, this is a truly superb book. This is the hardest reviews I have written yet, Cainite Heresy is hard to describe. It is just good, really, really good. The book is one of the densest and most packed of anything that White Wolf has published. It is rather slim for the price, but it more than makes up for it with content. If you are even thinking about running a religious chronicle for Vampire (in the Dark Ages or not), then Cainite Heresy is a must-have book. Otherwise, it's just a superb book. See the quandry?
Easily one of the best books White Wolf has ever published.
In short this book evokes mixed reactions. The title and the spoiler text on the back lead you to ask a number of questions. Although the book may be well-written, the subject matter is incredibly senstive. In the right hands the book can be a tool for the darkest, most challenging RPG. In the wrong hands, it has the potential to disgust, annoy and upset. I myself am not a Christian, so the portryal of the Church and the various heresies is not an issue for me, but I can see that many people might take it more personally.
The book itself is typipcal WW fare. Just short of 100 pages, the book is divided into various sections - the history of the Heresy, details on the Heresy's practices, tips on role-playing with the Heresy, and notes for the Storyteller on how various factions treat the Heresy. The artwork is mixed, from crude pencils to detailed inks, and although the quality varies, the mood is quite consistent and appropriate. A plethora of details are provided in the book's pages, and as with every other Dark Ages release so far, I am suitably impressed. The authors have taken the trouble to document all the actual heresies of the period, and have then given most of them a twist. The true Heresy is portrayed as lurking behind both the established Church, and the many heresies that the Church seeks to stamp out. The true ringleader of the Heresy is Narses, the Kindred lord of Venice, and through him and his Bogomil peers the religious populace of Europe is corrupted and perverted. In fact, the level of detail is so good that the authors even offer passages from the Bible, as mis-quoted (or not) by most notables of the Heresy.
However, although some hints towards the extant of the Heresy and it's personalities are given, you are left feeling a little in the dark. The book bears the stamp of the 'Year of the Reckoning' line, although there is no measure of the importance of this book within the covers. You are left not knowing quite what WW intended by releasing the book. Dominic Guzman might go on to establish the Inquisition before using the sect to systematically murder European Kindred, but this fact is well-known by most Vampire players anyway. Where the contents of the book fit with the other 'Year of the Reckoning' products, it's difficult to say.
Thus, overall the book is good, although it doesn't give much 'metaplot' or 'canon' material to work with. It *does* give you a very good indication as to what the Heresy is all about. If you're a V:tDA Storyteller then you should definitely read it, and even use it. Otherwise, I wouldn't worry too much. What's more concerning is whether the wrong people *do* get hold of book, and use it to publicly attack gaming in general...