World of Darkness: Blood-Dimmed Tides

WW 3350 $17.95 Mar-99
Written by Sean Jaffe, Clayton Oliver, Ethan Skemp, Adam Tinworth

Review by Derek Guder (6 May 1999)

Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 3 (Average)

The seas have long been ignored by White Wolf, but for a good reason. What vampire lives on the sea? What Garou takes the fight to the Wyrm under the waves? Mage, however, has a reason to go into the oceans, and with the Rokea in Werewolf, the seas got more populous. So White Wolf finally put out an ocean book, Blood-Dimmed Tides. It's an adequate attempt to detail the waters of the World of Darkness, but don't look at the cover when buying the book. Just don't, it's better that way.

The fiction piece is one of the best I've seen in a White Wolf book because it is very understated. The story ends once you realize what is happening and you get to fill in the details on your own, nothing is spoon-fed to you. It is an attempt not to explain the setting, but to explain the mood of the setting. Quite well done.

The first chapter starts out with brief descriptions of the oceans of the world, talking about everything form the Indian to the Arctic. A nice, baseline description is fine. We also find out that there are no caerns/freeholds in the ocean, that role is taken up by the Rorqual, which are basically spiritually-active whales that harvest and collect the Gnosis and Glamour of the seas and provide it to the locals that need it. A very interesting idea, although I would have liked more development. That is followed by brief descriptions of the various supernatural races on and under the waves. I found this kind of out of place, as the next chapter goes into detail on them. It seemed like they were opening sections that grew too large, but weren't cut down. The information for Mage should have been in the Mage section in the next chapter, not here. This should have been a "real-world history and setting" chapter. It would have worked better like that, I think.

Speaking of Mage, I have to say that Project: Deepwater, the only concrete information given about Mage on the seas, was disappointing. It was the typical "Technocracy = Evil" schtick, and it was also strained and milked for everything to make a cross-over with the other games. Some reason, no matter how odd, was given for every game to have an interest in doing away with the base. I did not like that, especially the Wraith and Changeling stretches.

It is the next chapter that the meat starts. The Gangrel Mariners are described as almost a bloodline of Gangrel who use a version of Protean that is just a bit different from their land-bound brethren. There is some interesting discussion of the Lasombra antitribu fleet as well, but no where near as much as I would like. The Werewolf section is sparse, giving several paragraphs to the Garou Nation, some more to the other Changing Breeds, and then another bit for the Rokea. I understand that the breedbook is being planned, but some more information would have been infinitely helpful. Next is that pathetically small and lean Mage section. No where near the level of information I wanted. Wraith was next, and it got a large section (more than any of the previous lines) detailing the watery Shadowlands. I loved this section for the most part. Well done and interesting, it explains some of the ways that the factions of the dead use the oceans. Hierarchy, Heretic, and Renegade ships are all mentioned, as are just how ships function in the underworld. Also included are rules for wraiths and water (it's solid to them, they need to go incorporeal to swim) as well as new Arcanoi uses. I also loved the Heike Crabs, but that's because I'm familiar with the Tale of the Heike. I found them perfect for Wraith. That is followed by an even more extensive section on changelings and the sea, including a nicely-done in-character description of the two undersea kiths (merfolk and murdhuacha), but I have to complain on general principle. In a book this size, the space could have been put to much, much better use - there would have been more room for Mage for example. The Changeling bit also suffered from a "good = pretty and evil = ugly" stereotype. The murdhuacha have finally made me hate the idea of the thallain. They should be stricken from Changeling for all time. The new Arts are amusing, and somewhat interesting, but nothing hugely noteworthy. My final problem with this section was that while the changelings under the sea were described as "rare" and "even more uncommon than on land," it also mentioned five (formerly six) coral cities. Full-blown sprawling metropolises under the ocean and the fae are rare? And that's only one of the kiths.

The next chapter is the White Wolf obligatory storytelling chapter, but it is actually better than most, it wasn't a chore to read. Some interesting stuff, but nothing ground-breaking.

The Lurkers chapter had information on animals and monsters in the sea. I have to say that I really liked the fomori presented, especially the flavor text for the bane lampreys. That's how the World of Darkness should be, and it makes me pine for a mortal game where the average fomori makes half the part become alcoholics while the other half goes insane and commits suicide. Generally a good chapter, it also introduces the Chulorviah, an aquatic mind controlling race of squid. Interesting, perhaps, but it merely made me feel like the World of Darkness just had another person squeeze into the "Supernatural races, 13th floor" elevator. I can feel the cable straining.

Oddly enough, it is the rules in the Appendix that I found to be one of the best parts of the book, and I usually don't like rules. Ideas like depth sweat for vampires to lose vitae are really nice, as well as just how much Fortitude is needed to survive crushing depths. Very nice rules overall.

In summary, Blood-Dimmed Tides is a solid book. Taken as a whole, it is not great because of the distinct and saddening lack of Mage material. It seemed like White Wolf had decided that since the first three game lines got so much attention that they would swing the other way, but they went too far. Neither Vampire nor Werewolf has as much of a possibility for an ocean based campaign as Mage, Wraith, and Changeling. Of those three, only Wraith got the treatment it deserved. Mage was almost ignored and Changeling had some strengths but also very strong flaws.

A good book, for Wraith and Changeling. The other lines are more tangentially dealt with.