|Written by Geoffrey C. Grabowski and Sarah Roark|
Thieves in the Night
Stolen blood, stolen coin and stolen lives, the childer of Caine know all three. Beyond the courts of princes and voivodes, vampires earn their bloody way in the city streets and bandit warrens. They stake out their own informal principalities among the growing cities and lawless woods. Murder, larceny and trickery are their tools - often used against the very elders who consider them beneath notice.
Flames of Revolt
The Ashen Thief is a complete guide for players and Storytellers of the unliving tricksters, bandits and thieves of Vampire: The Dark Ages®. It covers vampiric involvement in the banditry and growing panoply of crimes in medieval cities. It also covers the sects that use crime and larceny as a cover for their struggle against the princes of the Long Night: the subtle Prometheans and the violent Furores.
Summary: A surprisingly good book, a few flaws detract only slightly from an otherwise informative book.
My skepticism over the possibly quality of this book was well known among my local colleagues. However, after actually sitting down and reading the book, I found my task to be entertaining and interesting, rather than the chore that I expected it to be.
Visually and from a layout perspective, this book is sometimes a mixed bag. The layout and organization are overall good; the information contained within the pages is presented in a logical and orderly way. The only real detractors are the artwork, which varies widely in quality but is often rather laughable (though the full-page pictures at the beginnings of the chapters were good), and the occasional feeling that the numerous informative sidebars are crowding out the main text.
After reading a wonderful piece of opening fiction, I couldn't help but check who the authors of the book were. Geoffrey C. Grabowski and Sarah Roark provide a wealth of useful information in the 96 pages this book has to offer. The Introduction is the usual, describing the layout and purpose of the book.
Chapter One: In Darkened Streets gives the reader a general overview on the wide variety of criminal activity that takes place in the Dark Medieval world. Overall, it seems to be very well researched, and includes a lot of information on topics ranging from the law of the land and of the Church to the sorts of crimes committed by each of the three pillars to the Cainite group known as the Prometheans. The sections on law and crime seem well researched and are quite informative, and useful sidebars are packed into the chapter examining the topics again from a vampiric perspective. The section on the Prometheans is also quite good, being written "in character" by members of a particular cell of the group. Once more sidebars expand on the information herein, though in this case often in an "out of character" and more direct mode. We get a look at the composition of the Prometheans, their goals and their methods. Overall, the entire chapter was quite good, but even though I'm normally fond of opening fiction, having another at the start of this chapter seemed a touch superfluous. However, it could be said in the defense of this fiction that it did serve to illustrate the many kinds of crime and underworld dealings that can go on in the Dark Medieval world.
Chapter Two: Wearing the Wolf's Head details the brigands and highwaymen of the era and their Cainite counterparts. The first part of this chapter is written, much as most of the Promethean section in chapter one, "in character" by an undead bandit leader bringing in some new blood. In the course of his discussions he covers topics ranging from what targets to take, to how to keep up ones band of brigands to where an undead highwayman might lair. Much as in chapter one, sidebars are scattered throughout the text, providing further information on topics of interest to a storyteller or player, including explaining differing terminology, the precise nature of a medieval outlaw, and other concerns. A brief but well-thought section follows with advice for storytelling chronicles featuring outlaws prominently. After this, the end of the chapter is devoted to looks at two different kinds of brigandry and thievery-the rising trend of piracy and the Middle Eastern rogues’ brotherhood known as the Banu Sasan. Sadly, and perhaps as a result of the fact that piracy will not reach its heyday for some centuries, the section on piracy seems rather dry, brief, and none too inspiring. The brief mention of the Banu Sasan, on the other hand, is one of the sections that made me wish there were more space in this book. We are presented with a brief glimpse of a large informal brotherhood of thieves originating in the Arabian peninsula and the Middle East, one which includes enough interesting details that it makes one think some research for a trip to Arabia in-game might be in order. Overall, this chapter was excellent, a good blend of information and presentation.
Chapter Three: Flames of the Furores describes the group (and that term is best applied loosely) of Cainites who will someday become the rising tide of the Anarch Revolt-the Dark Medieval Furores. Since the first Dark Ages main book was published, the brief mention of the Furores and the Prometheans had me curious and wanting more information. Serendipitously, this book provides information on both. Though it doesn't contain any large quantity of "in-character" writing to speak of, this chapter nonetheless gets mood across in several small sections of flavor text. The actual body of the chapter is quite good, detailing the Furores and their concerns, the origin of the movement, it’s (lack of?) organization, general goals, and methods of operation. Recruiting, deception, terrorism, and internal squabbling are all addressed in a sensible order. Three sample Furore groups are also written up, with a varied constituency, from a group of would other Heretics consider Neo-Carthaginians to a sect of the Cainite Heresy heretical even. Closing the chapter out is a very good section on the storytelling concerns inherent in using the Furores in a campaign. Overall this chapter was excellent; I have no real complaints about it.
And of course, what book would be complete without templates? The Appendix: Mavericks and Cutpurses contains four such templates. These are a mixed bag. Some seem to be a bit more creative than others, such as the Lasombra living a double life as a noble childe and underworld king, or the Toreador embraced for the artistry of her thieving. The other two, a Furore Fiend and a brigand leader, are merely okay. Not a huge addition to the boko, but not a huge detraction either.
Overall, The Ashen Thief surprised me with its quality and my interest in it once I began reading. It was largely a very odd book with a few faults, such as some of the art, the occasional dry spot and a lack of space for more information. Still, it does provide an abundance of detail on Dark Medieval law and those operating outside it, both living and dead.