|Written by Cynthia Summers|
|Developed by Richard E. Dansky|
|Art by Anthony Hightower, Christopher Shy, and Andy Trabbold|
THE GOOD: As one of my friends might say, "It's ALLLLLLLLLLL good." Clanbook Salubri contains five chapters and two indices and, from cursory first examination, I can't see anything that I actively dislike. Like the other Clanbooks, CB:Salubri does not exactly wallow in objectivity--the authors are of a distinctly partisan mindset when it comes to the Salubri, and the myth of the Salubri as warrior angels and healers continues intact, spiced with a few new thoughts and possibilities, a new Salubri "caste" (the Watchers), and the Dark Ages origin of the modern Salubri antitribu. I was pleasantly surprised by the somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner in which the Salubri mania for religion and the Salubri habit of having Saulot know every major religious figure since the dawn of time was handled. The ways and customs of the major Salubri castes are defined and a generous supply of Clan history is detailed. The origin of the third eye is extensively debated, as are Saulot's trips to the East. Somebody should just break down and write the "Unauthorized Biography of Saulot." And, as always, Christopher Shy's art is ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.
THE BAD: Uhm. Er. Well. There's templates. I'm sure there are people who hate templates just on general principles.
THE UGLY: Well, some of the art needs help, but that can be said of all WW products. I wouldn't want to be the unlucky lick whacked by a Salubri with the "Sword of the Righteous" level of Valeren. Let us just say "holy fire" and leave it at that. The history of the Baali Wars--though not as ugly as Clanbook Baali's version of the same.
OFFICIAL "I LOVE IT WHEN WW BACKS UP SOMETHING I'M DOING ALREADY" MOMENT: The strange and curious friendship of the Tzimisce and Salubri--pre-and-post Tremere.
OFFICIAL SCREAMWORTHY ADDITION: You know that "Baali creation myth"? The one about how the three founders of the bloodline were Embraced by being tossed into a sacrificial well, and there was an Antediluvian with flesh-twisting abilities, and it was said he came "from where the sky had begun to lighten with the anticipation of dawn"? And everybody thought it just HAD to be Tzimisce, because, well, Vicissitude and the East and all that?
: Clanbook Salubri officially fingers Saulot with the deed in Appendix 2.
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 3 (Average)
With the Vampire: the Dark Ages line, White Wolf has managed to keep up a rather high standard of quality throughout its products, even the Clanbooks, surprisingly, which were a raging sore upon the face of Vampire: the Masquerade. Clanbook: Cappadocian and Clanbook: Baali were both truly superb and exemplary works. The Libellus Sanguinus series of Clanbooks of the modern clans revised for the medieval world (which were packaged in a much nicer three-in-one deal) were also great, always better than their modern-day counterparts.
Clanbook: Salubri, the latest Clanbook for Vampire: the Dark Ages followed hard acts to top. The previous books (Clanbook: Baali especially) were amazingly well done. I held out hope, though, because I had heard that Cynthia Summers had done good work before and I always have confidence in Richard Dansky. Sadly, the book did not deliver. While not bad, neither was is good when compared to other Vampire: the Dark Ages Clanbooks or even the better modern-day ones. It was more an unsatisfying workhorse than an tantalizing and untamed stallion, like Clanbooks Baali and Cappadocian were.
The cover is simply retched. I have nothing against John Bolton as an artist, but the blue-skinned, lip-stick wearing, battle-axe toting, orc-wannabe is not material for the cover of Clanbook: Salubri. It just does not work.
The fiction is serviceable and good enough, but not much more. No real spark.
Chapter Two: the Triumvirate is where the meat begins. Narrated by Simon (who is, if memory serves, the Toreador scholar living on an island in the Mediterranean mentioned in the Libellus Sanguinus II), it has a nice tone to it. Sadly, it is horribly laid out, with bits of history here and culture there and a discussion of Golconda over there. Overall, an unsatisfying read indeed. The writing itself is good, and the peppering of anecdotes and mentions of Salubri who bear them are wonderful, but each "caste" within the clan is discussed separately, with no linkage between the two. Also, there is a distinct lack of definite historical substance. Clanbook: Salubri lacks both the apparent clan focus shown in the history of Clanbook: Cappadocius and the detailed and incredibly inspiring convolutions of Clanbook: Baali. There are a few nice bits, generally those focusing on the behavior of Saulot before and after his two or three trips eastward as well as a hint that the appearance of the Salubri antitribu in the Sabbat during the Final Nights in Vampire: the Masquerade may not be the random accident it seems. Unfortunately, the book was a tease, continually tantalizing me with possible hints that did not develop into the wonder they could have. Spelling errors also peppered the section, and I actually noticed them, which says something about their frequency, since I usually gloss over them completely, but "The Boke of the Watcher" caught my eye.
Chapter three opens with a discussion of the third eye (with no conclusions being drawn) and then swings right into directly into relations with the other clans and supernatural races in the dark medieval world. After that, it moves back to discussions, on such topics as feeding, loneliness, and on the Embrace. Nice all around, but the organization leaves me flabbergasted. We also learn definitely that the Salubri dislike creating ghouls or Embracing children, and both of those discussions give some interesting insight into the clan's convoluted mindset, but neither addresses it head-on, which is annoying. The discussion of Saulot which moves into the infernal and the Baali Wars is interesting, if not as meaty as the information on other ancients in either Clanbook: Baali or Clanbook: Cappadocian. Again, we see the darker side of Saulot in his seemingly baseless assault and purges against the Gnostics. The Via Dolorosa from the Dark Ages Companion is also dismissed as propaganda against the pure clan.
Chapter five is the worst part of the book, easily. Entitled "Powers of the Righteous," it really saddened me. Blooding is introduced as a way to gain access to special powers, both of which would have been better done as multidiscipline powers or Valeren/Auspex uses. As simple "kewl powerz," they are pathetically disappointing. Blooding provides nothing of use to the game, and with a distinct lack of detail on the culture behind it, Blooding is also hollow. We also get new powers for Valeren. Frustratingly enough, we get new powers for below level 5. A somewhat questionable and dangerous (in my view) precedent set in the Toreador section in the Libellus Sanguinus II, this is just a bad idea, and none of the powers are actually compelling anyway. The higher level powers, which, like the lower ones, are not delineated by warrior or healer path, are likewise bland. Some are downright lame in their uselessness. Not only that, but White Wolf seems to have returned to printing level 10 Disciplines, something I did not like much. Some of the merits are interesting, but others are just sad. An odd bag, and none of them really, really good.
Chapter five begins with one of my favorite pieces of art by Christopher Shy, truly nice. I saw it on his website and loved it then. I'm glad to see that it got printed, unfortunately everything of his that White Wolf has printed has come out darker than the original. This chapter covered the templates. Some are interesting, like the Holy Thief and Electra, and others are just okay, like the Demon Hunter. That is just the way templates are.
The notable Salubri mentioned are okay. Rayzeel and Nuriel are interesting, and Ahab the Traitor (the one who betrayed his fellow Salubri to the Baali) is great. Not as good as some, but good.
The "dirty secret" for Clanbook: Salubri (every Vampire: the Dark Ages Clanbook has had one) is apparently that Saulot did sire the first three Baali. From evidence from a penitent Baali and a weathered tablet, it seems that Saulot ravaged a city of demon worshippers and so spawned the Baali as he returned home from the East. Exactly what this means is uncertain, but I hope that it is drawn out more in Kindred of the East as well.
Overall, a solid book. If you simply must have information on the Salubri, this Clanbook works fine, just ignore chapter five. If you were expecting something to top Clanbook: Baali and answer the questions we have with more intricate and convoluted history, you will be as disappointed as I.
Not bad, but disappointing for a Vampire: the Dark Ages product. Not nearly as good as the other Clanbooks.
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 2 (Sparse)
First off I would like to say that I REALLY wanted to like this book. I have always been a fan of the long lost Salubri clan (for some strange reason, maybe the resemblance to Pai from 3x3 Eyes). I was not building this up in my mind - I realized that it nothing would be exactly as I wanted. What I was not prepared for was how little I got in this book.
Next I should say that while I understand the historical need to keep everything in Judeo-Christian terms, I would have preferred some other information about the clan prior to the coming of the One God (akin to Cappadoicians and Baali and some other, modern day clanbooks).
Short and dirty: Skip this book, grab the character sheet off the web page, and stick to the info given in the Dark Ages Companion and Clanbook: Baali (a much better book by far). Oh, the book also has some very nice Christopher Shy artwork, full page instead of just the head/shoulders of Children of the Night.
The Long, Sordid Version
Well, first off the cover, what is this? It looks like some escaped AD&D ogre or maybe a Changeling Troll in drag. Note to artist - vampires are paler than humans, not blue like Smurfs.
Next the story. I liked it. It clearly showed the kind of danger the Salubri found themselves in, and showed how deep the betrayal had gone.
Chapter Two: A Winter's Tale.
The format. The outsider recording for posterity may have seemed nice at the concept stage but it makes the whole of the book terribly jumbled, and almost unsuable as a source of information. The (in character) writer makes his bias very clear from the outset, and often disregards or minimizes any information that fails to cast Saulot as Christ and his childer as Saints.
This chapter, unlike all other clanbooks, busies itself not with the clan's history but with the distinction between Warrior and Healer. Simply put: Warriors are Paladins, Healers are pacifist Clerics from D&D. There are also a third group, mainly a short-term political one called the Watchers (read: Inconnu) who are trying to decide what the clan should do now. There is little discussion as to how one decides to be Warrior or Healer. From the little historical texts one would assume that it would be dependant on the soul of the individual (ie. one is 'called' to be a Warrior or Healer) but the actual meat (what there is) seems to indicate that it is only a matter of whatever your Sire was.
Chapter Three: Miscellanea et Demonica
This is by far the most poorly formatted chapter I have seen in a clanbook to date. It begins with a pointless discussion of the importance of the third eye, in which the author (C.Summers not Symeon) just waffles back and forth. Next comes, logically (!) outside relations - wherein we learnt hat despite having seperate entries for the Warriors and the Healers, they virtually agree on everything. We also learn that the Salubri really ARE the carebears of the WoD - they like everyone but the 'black hat' groups: Setites and Baali, and more maddeningly, they seem to be liked by everyone (which begs the question - if everyone liked them why did everyone help the Tremere to wipe them out).
Next on this meandering path comes some short essays on how they dealt with mortals (like saints), the loneliness (actually a good essay, but one that looks like old fashioned Rein*Hagen Vampire angsting amidst this flotsam), ghouls, etc.
The chapter ends with a short blurb about the Lamb himself (which seems more conerned about eye/hair colour then anything approaching a psychological analysis) and two pages about the Baali... and it's almost exactly word for word a summation of the Dark Ages Companion. Baali bad, evil, must kill. Holy, Christ-like Lamb, Saulot, goes on bloody rampages, killing whole religions (Gnosticism) and people in his blind hatred for these EEEVVVIIILLL creatures. Oh, but he never frenzies, since that would be wrong.
Chapter Four: Powers of the Righteous
This is the chapter of the half-hearted and the twinkish. First the twinks - it seems Warriors either must buy a 7point merit (and get funky magic powers which would have been much better written up as multi-discipline powers), or they get a free 5point flaw (which renders them next to useless and they never grow a third eye - wow, that's a long term drawback).
The actual discipline powers themselves are not divided according to Warrior/Healer stuff. We also see alternative powers for levels 2-4 - bad move (since that opens up a whole kettle of fish). The powers start making the Salubri out to be Jedi knights (diplomatic powers?). And one high level (7 dots) power just really confuses me - all that for only 2 dice of aggrevated damage, when I can almost be a God with only 14 freebies/XPs (the Blooded power Blessing of the Name). We also get the level 10 - I-Can't-believe-I'm-not-Jesus resurrection power. I thought White Wolf dropped the level 10s (to its benefit it is better controlled/written than before).
The last bit are the merits and flaws. Some nice, some cosmetic, others rather over/underpowered (the Blooded ones, Scent of Other) and the wonderful (sic) merit Sight of Beyond is totally left for the ST to deiced what it does (if you are going to deal with the concept in the book, please deal with it, not just mention it and waffle).
Chapter Five: The Hosts of Heaven
I enjoyed many of the templates. I liked the lawyer one, and the battlefield healer. These are templates that give the shadow of a third dimension (or maybe by this point it's only a second dimension).
I'll keep this part brief. I liked a few of the famous (and dead) Salubri. I felt thatthe warrior-woman quoted in the second chapter should have been included, and that we really don't need another fanged Robin Hood clone running around. The last part shows just how unreliable the book is. I won't spoil it for anyone but it shows just how revisionist this book's author is when it comes to making sure the memory of the Salubri is one of pure Goodness.
As you can see I was greatly disappointed since so much of the book was either lies told for the benefit of non-Salubri in some distant future (and not, like other clanbooks, lies told within/for the clan), or regurgitated information from other sources (notably Dark Ages Companion), nothing new. The author also refused to take a stand on certain notable issues (what IS the purpose of the third eye, what does it see/not see, did they ever deal with demons, was there ever any clan they didn't like, why did all their allies listen to a bunch of greedy upstarts, etc).
This must be one of the most eagerly anticipated Vampire books of all time. The Salubri are the most enigmatic and least documented Clans of all of those presented in WW's Vampire games, and the only subject more obscure and ill-defined would be those illusive masters known as the Inconnu, or the mysterious state of Golconda. However, although many would mourn the additional loss of mystery that this book inevitably brings. the content and quality of material more than makes up for that loss.
The book begins with the mandatory piece of fiction, and thus the opening tones are of apprehension, and of a clan wrongly hunted and misunderstood. The introduction is written from the point of view of a non-Salubri researcher who has painstakingly garnered as much testimony as possible from Salubri that he has met,and had the opportunity to interview. You are then invited to read a number of first-hand accounts of Salubri history and lore, and you are quickly acquainted with personalities behind these stories, and also their own blood-lineage and history.
This is a dramatic departure for White-Wolf's standard Clanbook formula, and is a welcome and refreshing change. Nearly all the previous Clanbooks to date have left the reader with a vivid sense of ambiguity, as the narrators are generally nameless, and even if their names are given, little is known to give these names any history or personality of their own. The events and notable characters described in most Clanbooks are also kept vague, and one is always felt a little cheated and disappointed. Not so with this book, however. The personal touch provided throughout, and the detail of the characters portrayed gives the Clanbook much greater depth than it's predecessors.
Nevertheless, the book does indeed have it vagaries. The viewpoints of the three castes of the clan - the warriors, the healers and the watchers - are given in more than adequate detail, but the bulk of the text on Salubri history is devoted to their war with the Baali in Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian times. Very little mention is given to Salubri of more recent times, save their execution at the hands of the Tremere, and their involvement in the crusades. In addition, the *big question* regarding Saulot is left largely unanswered, although plenty of tid-bits are left lying around to fuel the ever-ongoing debate.
The third chapter on the Salubri's perception of other clans and factions is of particular interest, and again we get to read two detailed and personal viewpoints in each case. Even the additional systems of the fourth chapter seem to have been put together with a little more thought and care than normal, and the character templates that follow are not as cliched or as rushed as many from previous books. The NPC portraits and closing comments are also well though out, and provide a modest icing to this very well-baked cake. The production quality is good, and the full-page plates facing each chapter are outstanding.
In short, the book is great. It is a better Clanbook than any other then WW have produces so far, both for it's clarity, it's method of exposition, and it's personal, thematic approach. If you are a Storyteller, or a Salubri player than buy and read this book. Again, the Dark Ages line stands out as the most detailed, absorbing and rewarding of the World of Darkness game lines. The only thing that bugs the hell out of me is, if WW's books can be of this good quality, then why have we put up with so much pap in the past...?
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
To sum up, this book is excellent. It is obviously only for the Dark Ages, not one of the ones you can use to crossover. Cynthia Summers did a fine job writing this. Now on to the larger part of the review
Unlike my last review, I'm going to start at the Front Cover. The only part of the book I did not like. It has a vampire, holding an axe. It has a 3rd eye, which of course fits for the Salubri, and the axe could signify the warrior caste of theirs. Only problem, pale blue skin and bright red lips. Not blood red, lipstick red.
Chapter One: This is a introduction story. It's above-par for a White Wolf Product. Meaning I could read it straight through. It did a okay job conveying the Salubri, but...it didn't pull through as well as it could have.
Chapter Two: Now this is where the book starts. This is where the castes are detailed, and some history is. It is 'written' by a non-Salubri, who has piled data together from many talks with Salubri and some historical texts. This was a nice way of doing it, made it an enjoyable read. The first Caste discussed is the Warrior. The history of their caste, how they choose others for the embrace, their training, and what makes them come from a trainee to a full fledged member. It also details the Warriors and Golconda. The Warrior part was very well written, and conveyed them across.
The next was the Healer. Basically had the same things as the warrior: History, Choosing, the Embrace, Testing. It also tells about the Heretics, and the crossroads the Healers are in. Once again, well written. Conveyed across. The whole book in fact has the doom of the Salubri coming off every page.
The last part of Chapter two, details another Caste. Interesting, not much information on them though.
Chapter Three: This book talks about the origins of the Third Eye, but no conclusion given, and their relation with the other clans. The relations are interesting to read, cause instead of one point of view, you get two. Warriors and Healers. Plus some commentary by the non-Salubri 'writer'. It also speaks of their relations with Mortals, and their views on Ghouls.
Another part of this chapter details what they are going through. The Loneliness they suffer. Really really conveys the doom of this once mighty clan.
Also thrown in is their view on Feeding, on the Kiss, and on Saulot himself. Very interestint the last one. Last but not least is more on the Infernal, Baali wars, Gnostic Purges, and the Via Dolorosa.
Chapter Four: This one is the game mechanics. New Valeran uses, Merits and Flaws, all in all a short chapter. The only nit that I have here is a level 10 discipline, yet it talks as if it's one anyone can learn.
Chapter Five: The Templates. There is about 6 of them. Some are well thought out, some are average. Much better then alot of the older clanbooks.
Appendix One: This details some of the famous Salubri who may still exist. A short chapter, yet informative.
Appendix Two: The Dark Secret of the Clan. I will not reveal it here, but I will say it's well written, and something that has been needed for a while.
Afterwards there's the 4 page character sheet. The one odd thing is, there were no ads in this book. Very surprising. All in all a great book. A great read, and of great use to Dark Ages storytellers.