|Year of the Reckoning|
|Written by Justin Achilli, Phyllis Bowen, Dawn Bromley, Mark Cenczyk, Jess Heinig, Amy Lindgren and Steve Long|
|Developed by Jess Heinig and Justin Achilli|
|Cover Art: Leif Jones|
The Year of the Lotus As the Cathayans spread insidiously throughout the world, conflict and death follow. At last, the vampires of the West confront an implacable foe from the East. The Kuei-jin are more than whispered terrors; they are harbingers of the vampires' Gehenna - an age for which they have prepared carefully.
Meets The Year of Reckoning The powers of Chinese ancients and the philosophies of Pacific Island Dharma-cults come into focus with the even stranger and more exotic side of Asian vampiric society. The Kindred of the East Companion, with updates that make Kindred of the East compatible with the newly revised Vampire, sets the stage for the coming storm as Cathayans invade the halls of Kindred power in the West.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
The Kindred of the East line from White Wolf is a remarkably well-done supplement to Vampire: the Masquerade, and the Kindred of the East Companion certainly does not shame the "basebook" that was published a short while ago.
The book opens with a comic strip, a manga, a tradition sadly borrowed from the Werewolf: the Apocalypse books. I vastly prefer the prose-format introduction story, myself. More can be said, and generally what is written is both of better quality and of more use. The comic's story is simple, quick, and largely uninteresting. The highlights are a trip across the Wall (and dealing with a spirit) and the appearance of the Wu Zao, the scions of Zao-lot the Betrayer (Saulot the Goody-goody to those who have not read Kindred of the East). I was very excited by their appearance, because I had expected them and I think that their very existence is likely a factor in Zao-lot's fall from grace in Xue's eyes. Don't let your hopes get up though, that is the only mention of them in the entire book.
The first chapter of the book, The Hundred Corpse Families, delves quite well into the history of the East, geographic location by geographic location. Organized by Court, the chapter does a superb job detailing both the history of the Kuei-jin and delineating each Court. In the Kindred of the East book, the true separation of the Courts was not really carried through well. The real essence of their political and culture differences did not show in the writing. I had confused the Flesh and Golden Courts, for example. Here we get details on the growth and formation of the Quincunx (the Flame, Flesh, Bone, Blood, and Jade Courts of China), the Uji (the "Court" of Japan, which is organized more into houses than anything else), the Green Court (of Korea), Golden Court (of Southeast Asia), and the Infinite Thunders Court (the Bijali, who rule India, and are based in the island of Sri Lanka - I believe that the tales of a Tzimisce ruling India from the same island are misunderstandings of Flesh and Demon Shintai). Overall, a very nicely done chapter, essential details on setting are provided and secrets are hinted at. The Nagaraja have apparently been welcomed into the Green Court, and provided sanctuary in return for information about the worrying actions of what would seem to be the Giovanni.
The Demon People, the following chapter, looks at various factions and Dharmas within the Middle Kingdom. The Dhampyrs are given rules, although I do not really like them myself, I think that they suffer from the same extreme nature that the revenant and ghouls rules labored under. The Yulan-jin, however, are a truly superb idea. They are basically Kuei-jin who lack a strong bodily connection, so with each "little death," instead of hovering around their body, they simply animate another one that has recently died. This is not very easy however, and often takes a great toll upon their souls and psyches. The Akuma are looked at briefly as well, and it is interesting to note the difference between the methods of the Yama Kings compared to those of their "counterparts" in the West. Following that is a section detailing heretical Dharmas, which may be one of the best sections of the book (next to the history). The Flame of the Rising Phoenix (stressing the human nature of the Kuei-jin), the Tempest of Inward Focus (offering an alternate take on balance), the Face of the Gods (upholding the Kuei-jin as gods upon the earth), and the Spirit of the Living Earth (drawing from native Japanese Shinto beliefs) are all presented. Some, especially the Rising Phoenix, seemed particularly necessary to me. A very good chapter.
The next section of the book is the Disciplines chapter, Ten Thousand Terrors, and it has all the usual toys and temptations that would be expected from level 6+ Disciplines. Most are quite good, but a few seem to suffer from a lack of power, especially when looked at in the light of their cost. On the whole, quite good. Several new Disciplines are also included: Feng Shui, manipulating the flow of magical energies; Hellweaving, the akuma-only Discipline of bringing the Yomi unto the Middle Kingdom; Iron Mountain, the Fortitude-analog that is more than effective enough; Kiai, channeling the P'o through the voice to destroy opponents; Beast Shintai, controlling and taking the aspects of animals; Smoke Shintai, using the powers of smoke and flame; Storm Shintai, channeling the strength of storms; Mibasham, looking to the true nature of the self and others; and Tzu Wei, a hedge-magic like Discipline of astrology.
Chapter four, Wandering Directions, is a short one dedicated solely to explaining how to use the Direction trait in play. Interesting, it provides a great deal of material for thought, but I found it to be among the weaker sections of the book. Interesting, but not completely compelling.
The Breath of the Gods, the fifth chapter, deals solely with the religions prevalent in the Middle Kingdom and how the Kuei-jin interact with them. I think that there needs to be more of this, if anything. A rather good section, it still left me with questions. I understand the press of space considerations, but I think that White Wolf should put some serious thought into a History/Culture/Religion supplement for Kindred of the East. Many of us gweilos know a great deal less than we think we do. I definitely enjoyed this section, and the periodic injections of Kuei-jin interaction and history were quite good.
Speaking of gweilo, that is the subject of the next chapter. Both on the Kin-jin in Asia and the Kuei-jin abroad, the chapter has its strengths and its weaknesses. While it does give many interesting developments and stories, such as the Tremere's sudden interest in Southeast China - they seem to be tossing neonate after neonate into the country, it continues to carry through a very xeno-phobic, "Kill whitey" feel in places. While the reasons behind the hatred of the Kin-jin are explored more deeply (they are corrupted beings, and any Kuei-jin can sense the chi disruption when a Kindred spends a blood point), it is sometimes carried a bit far. We do learn that the Giovanni family della Passaglia have actually managed to acquire position and a modicum or respect in the Middle Kingdom, as well as some signs among the Tremere that worry canny Kuei-jin. Rules are also provided for Kuei-jin who take their Second Breath beyond the Middle Kingdom, and I found them quite good. The weakest part of the chapter was that the whole "invasion" of the Anarch States in California is still completely bizarre and seemingly lacking all motivation and possibility. White Wolf will have to work hard to get that working.
The final chapter, Rules of the Hungry Dead, gives more rules and crossover considerations. Along with updates for the Vampire Revised system, it gives information on jade, more martial arts rules (but I never liked the old ones anyway), and crossover notes for other games, from Vampire to Changeling. Not a bad chapter, but not really outstanding either, simply solid for the most part.
Overall, the Kindred of the East Companion is a really nicely constructed supplement for Kindred of the East. For anyone who enjoyed that book, this is really a must-have, it is a very, very nice work. My commendations go out to both Jess and the authors.
Kindred of the East was a great supplement to Vampire, and a tough act to follow. White Wolf managed to pull if off, however, in this well-done volume.