|Written by Geoffrey C. Grabowski, Jason Langlois, and Roman A. Ranieri|
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
Vampire: the Dark Ages is a product line that White Wolf has handled remarkably well. Nearly all the supplements are superbly done. The Libellus Sanguinus series of books are the Clanbooks done right. The Dark Ages Companion and Three Pillars were both wonderful books packed with great information. Wolves of the Sea only continues this tradition. White Wolf has added another great book to a superb product line.
Wolves of the Sea details the culture and lands of the Vikings during the Dark Ages' period. It gives equal weight to both sides of the Embrace throughout the book, and the reader comes away with a greater understanding of Norse traditions as well as those of the vampires that prey upon them.
The opening fiction is good, although not a masterwork. The obligatory Introduction chapter, unlike in most books, was actually useful, providing more than just a glossary and a few cursory words about this being a fantasy game. Several internet resources are included, and they are quite useful and professional sites, a very good resource for those storytellers concerned with historical accuracy. A rather comprehensive Viking timeline (from 793 to 1018) is also included and is quite useful.
The first chapter details Viking culture and history. The authors treat us to a remarkably informative examination of Viking lifestyles and manners. Like the Three Pillars, this chapter is very educational, on a simply historical level. Many of the common myths and misconceptions of Vikings are dispelled and revealed. Social structure, economics, home life, religion, warfare, tale-craft, superstitions; all are mentioned and explored in the first chapter. While most of this section focuses on mortals, there is an interesting section on vampiric legendry, explaining how the einherjar (what the northern vampires call themselves) of the North trace their lineage to Odin, not to some kin-slaying farmer.
The second chapter is a look at the function of the Clans in the North. Obviously, it is the Gangrel that rule supreme in Scandinavia, but they are far from alone. Many other Clans are making their way into the North, or have also established themselves there. The customs of the Kindred of the Northern Lands is showcased, as is their relations with the Garou that claim the lands as well. The only complaint that I have with this chapter is that the Lhiannan are completely ignored. Apparently at some time between the Dark Ages Companion and Wolves of the Sea, the bloodline was cut from being Norse, Celtic, and Germanic to simply Celtic. Personally, I think that was a poor decision, as it simply serves to limit an otherwise very promising bloodline. Those looking for more information on the Lhiannan, Ogham, or their belief in the Crone and associated cosmology (as I was), will be disappointed. Nothing along those lines is in Wolves of the Sea.
The next chapter is focused on character creation and development, and we are treated to a plethora of new traits. New abilities are of course provided, as is a new background for Vampire: the Dark Ages - Fame. There are 3 new metadiscipline powers, and they are extremely interesting and useful. Very well done. There are two new Roads as well, the Vias Einherjar (has some similarities to the Road of Chivalry) and Aesirgard (remarkably like the Road of Heaven). Then there are many, many merits and flaws, and quite good ones as well. Other than the required mundane merits and flaws, there are some very intriguing supernatural ones as well. Second Sight, Foresighted, Runesight, and True Berserk are all very inspiring merits.
The systems chapter covers rules that are needed for gaming in the North. It answers the questions of how the Kindred survive with so few people, and how they deal with the wildly different spans of night through the seasons. There is also a discussion of sea issues, both fighting on it and travelling across it. The chapter rounds out with a look at the special concerns that vampires have in settlements in the North, and a look at running different styles of chronicles, from playing mortals to ghouls to full-blown einherjar.
Finishing the book are three templates (all of reasonable quality, but I'm not a big fan of templates myself) and three "famous" einherjar, all of which are interesting. My only complaint there is that there should have been more. I really like the "notables" sections in books (especially when they sacrifice stats for more room for development) because they often inspire me to great ideas for chronicles or characters. I find them to be wonderful assets in a game.
Quite a good book. An absolute must for anyone intending to run a Viking game in Vampire: the Dark Ages.