|Written by Jen Claudius, Todd Satogata and James A. Moore|
It sits at the crossroads of the world. Held by Islam, open to Christian pilgrims and longed for by the Children of Israel, Jerusalem is the magnet that draws three faiths to one place. It is here that East and West collide bloodily, where palmers from England and hashishin about their business can pass in the street. And it is here that Cainites gather, drawn by a power far greater than they can comprehend or fight. Enter Jerusalem by Night and learn its ways. Discover the ancient alliances and enmities that have outlasted kingdoms and Crusades. Meet the Cainites who have seen millennia from their perch atop David's city, and pay them homage. But beware, for while everyone is drawn to Jerusalem, only one can possess it.
Jerusalem. A city that has witnessed more miracles and atrocities than any other in the history of mankind. It is a city that figures very prominently in the history of Medieval Europe, and it is somewhat inevitable that it should come under the scrutiny of White-Wolf for the support of their Vampire: the Dark Ages game. It is with some trepidation that I approach the book, as it seems also as inevitable that White-Wolf will make a shambles of the rich material extant on this subject.
Interestingly, when the book is opened, one is presented with the flavour suggesting novel and perhaps controversial ideas. The disclaimer on the first pages reveals that the book 'deals with issues of faith and historicity, and has the potential to offend.' I find it hard to believe that there are many players of Vampire that would be more offended by the subject of the book than the thought of portraying the haunted killers that the Kindred are. Nevertheless I can appreciate White-Wolf wishing to make their stance clear, hoping to avoid the mandatory gnashing of teeth that will resound world-wide should religious activists put their mitts upon the book.
The obscure piece of opening fiction leads to the introduction, outlining the objectives of the book and it's contents. The scope of the book is sketched broadly, and we are told that the book covers not only the history of the city and the majority of Kindred deemed to be present, but that room is also given to describing the different faiths that hinge on the city's glorious past. The mood set out is one of doom, and is it made clear that the inhabitants of the city are expecting the worst - a nightmare soon to be made flesh by the Third Crusade.
The first chapter explores the history, myth and legend of the city. Most pleasingly, the authors choose to begin at the very beginning, outlining the region's earliest days. However, although many of the events described in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran are given historical credence, very little space is spared to explore them. Each incident is robbed of it's flavour and it's import, and is explored with an almost too deliberate neutrality. Even more annoying is the fact that very little mention is made of supernatural involvement in the city, or the events outlined in this chapter. Whereas Constantinople by Night was littered with references to the antics of the local Kindred from the earliest times, in this book the Kindred are conspicuous by their absence. Clans are mentioned in fleeting terms, and are assumed to have played very little part in the religious movements of the area. The only two titbits are concerning the 'Lizard' (a Moslem Caliph who goes mad, claiming to be Allah himself, who goes on to become a Kindred) and the rumour that Malkav himself may reside in the vicinity of the city, thus explaining the constant zealoutry and madness of the place (what the Fountains of Bright Crimson are I have no idea - no other reference is made to this in the book).
The second chapter covers the basic tenets and practices of the three major faiths involved in the history of the city: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The passages are interesting and informative, and are certainly compulsory in detailing an authentic setting for your Dark Ages games. Most interesting are the last passages concerning those Kindred that choose to continue their faith into undeath. As non-Moslem myself it is amusing to learn that blood is a forbidden source of nutrition, and thus to be a diligent Moslem vampire you would have to force yourself into torpor and remain there. Unfortunately these pages are somewhat brief, numbering less than seven in all. It would have perhaps been better to expand on this section, exploring the daily life of each faith, and how they consider their opposites.
Chapter three covers the geography of the city and it's surroundings. As with both Transylvania and Constantinople, there is much attention to detail, and the authors have obviously done their homework. The maps are spartan, but all the locations of note are mentioned, albeit briefly. Again the chapter ends quickly, and I am left wishing for more information than that provided.
The largest section of the book is that allotted to the fourth chapter, which provides descriptions of the Kindred dwelling in and around Jerusalem in 1197. All clans are represented, although there are few characters that stand out. A Brujah reputed to have been pulling strings in the area since her Embrace. A venerable Cappadocian called Abraham who is not linked with the patriarch from the Old Testament, although I would be tempted to assume that myself. A Gangrel who prefers to be a dog, and who owes the Dracon (yes, him) a favour. Al-Hakim, the self-proclaimed divinity, and Kothar, perhaps the oldest Nosferatu described by White-Wolf besides the Hag herself. Despite the grand history of the city, the majority of the characters described are given as Sired after the alleged birth of Christ, and over half date from only the last three centuries of history. Most have colourful backgrounds, and there are a few twists, but there is very little mention of any involvement in the religious or political affairs of the city, except in most recent times. No space is given at all to how the characters should interact with one another, and to what extent they may have shared histories and/or motives. No explanation is given to why there is no overall ruler of the city, or how the city's Kindred should appear to outsiders. I find myself frowning, and again I feel that White-Wolf has been overly conservative at the expense of the material.
The last chapter is again brief, covering several bases in regards to Storytelling in Dark Age Jerusalem. Few novel ideas are offered, and to me it seems clear that either the section was tacked on as an afterthought, or was edited down from a much richer chapter of material.
In terms of presentation, the book is laid out well, as can be expected from all Dark Ages products. The art on the cover is very good, and quite inspiring. The pictures inside, however, leave a lot to be desired. The character portraits are passable, but the full-page plates are atrocious, and seem tawdry and lacking compared to those used in the other Vampire books.
Overall the book is good, although I feel not quite good enough to satisfy me. There are many questions left unanswered, and the book avoids all issues that could be considered even remotely controversial. To my mind, the events described by all three religions are more mythic than historical, and that a more inspiring take on the book would have been to throw a different (and perhaps a more sinister or mysterious) light on the origins of all three religions. Controversial issues aside, it would have been more profitable for them to split the book into three sections, as per the two Libellous Sanguinus books released so far - each section could have been devoted to each religion, and each could have explored the faiths and lives involved in each. The histories of each religion could have been explored without bias, and yet the ambiguity of true events could have bee obscured in the true White-Wolf tradition. In fact, as mentioned above, it does look like the editor has been heavy with his hand, and that much useful, additional material is missing. I am forced to re-write the material from the book to suit my own needs and tastes. I only hope that if the developer of the Dark Ages line chooses to explore another city of the period (Rome, Alexandria?), I hope it is done with a more daring creative hand.