RPG Reviews – Vampire: The Requiem 2nd Edition

Vampire: The Requiem

It’s a good feeling to see one of your favorite games grow over time – to see its rules and themes tightened and honed. To feel that excitement in your gut, the blood rush as you prepare to sink your teeth into the latest version as you prepare for another session of gripping roleplay. It happened when I held my third edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, and it happens now when I scan through the pages of Vampire: The Requiem Second Edition.

Maybe I’m being dramatic? Maybe not… After all, Requiem’s ancestor, the venerable and renowned Vampire: The Masquerade, introduced me (and many, many people), to a wholly new style of roleplaying – a more visceral and personal kind of game. It was a game you couldn’t predict, that challenged you on a deep level. To be fair, I started playing Vampire in high school, and everything challenges you on a deep, visceral level during those years.

When White Wolf Game Studios released the first edition of Vampire: The Requiem in the early 2000s, reinventing their World of Darkness line, I was thrilled to find a whole new game between its covers. I know some feel not enough changed between Masquerade and Requiem, and concern over alienating their existing fanbase meant the designers played it safe. But in my case, it was what I had been looking for for some time.

Jettisoning the deep metaplot and enthralling (but sometimes restrictive) setting and mythology of Masquerade, Requiem presented a streamlined toolkit to play vampires in a modern gothic setting. The world was loose and undefined, but because of that allowed you to mold it to your tastes.

In my mind, Requiem also made the concept of playing as a vampire more personal. The biggest concern of your unlife wasn’t an ancient monster rising from its millennia of sleep to devour the world, it was about staking out your territory and fighting fang and claw to defend it. While there were communities of the supernatural, there were no semi-homogenous global societies pulling strings across continents. This was about your characters.

The Second Edition, now published by Onyx Path Publishing, sharpened those fangs and claws to vicious points. It built on the framework of the First Edition to create a game that beckons me to run it. If nothing else, and there’s a lot “else”, I feel it concretely addressed a concern I’ve had since I started playing Vampire back in the early 90s.

The biggest hurdle for me to overcome when suggesting the game to new players has been the idea of the overly angsty, tortured vampire. It’s not the default archetype in Masquerade (or Requiem), but it’s a common stereotype. Requiem helped me read the game in a way that drove a stake through the heart of that stereotype.

You are playing a vampire – a human changed into an undead predator. By the fact of you existing as a player character in this game you have opted not to end your tortured existence by walking into the sunlight. So what did you compromise to allow yourself to still exist and what will be the next part of your humanity you choose to surrender out of the base desire to keep going? What’s your excuse?

It took years – maybe I was just dense – for me to understand that was the personal horror the game was about. How do you justify your existence in this state? What drives you forward, knowing that the rest of your nights will be in this state? Focusing on being in a tortured existence leads to angst and whining; focusing on why you keep going leads to an awesome character.

Vampire: The Requiem Second Edition is a storytelling game about people who compromised and chose existence as a predator over death. It’s a gothic noir. It’s about unlife in a “cold, half-lit world where always the wrong thing happens and never the right.”

Not every piece of fiction describes vampires the same way. Some have weaknesses and strengths others don’t. Some can walk in the sunlight, others are tentacular parasites living in a human host body. Some even sparkle in the sunlight…

Vampire: The Requiem jumps right in and tells you all about the Kindred, the vampires of the All-Night Society who live out an individual “Requiem” in a great “Danse Macabre.” As one of the Kindred, you can use the power of the blood to become stronger, faster, tougher, and even to heal injuries. Unmolested, you will persist in existence eternally, but the older you are and the longer you have been active, the more difficult it is to fuel yourself night after night. Eventually you may become so powerful you will have to enter a long hibernation that will reduce your power to something easier to manage. If you choose to create childer (new vampires), you will drain your mortal victim of blood, feed it your own, and it will rise as a vampire. This is called “The Embrace”.

The Kindred are divided into five Clans (made up of vampires who share a common ancestry), each of which represents a different major archetype of vampire, and your character belongs to one of these. Clans determine what unique vampiric powers, known as Disciplines, are initially available to a player and how the vampiric curse affects them.

The Daeva are the social vampires, the sexy, alluring monsters that revel in the night, seduce you, and drain you of your blood while you burn for more. Known as the Serpents, they are descended from Lilith, handmaiden of Inanna, goddess of war…or from a plague…or a snow-skinned princess whose wicked stepmother cut out and ate her heart, and now the princess and her progeny rise night after night to fill the void inside. There’s no one mythology behind the origin of any clan, so each entry gives three possibilities, and while there can be some crossover that suggests a mythic common origin, it helps define them as five different kinds of bloodsucking creature that are collectively known as vampires.

The Gangrel are the vampire as a beast. These Savages are the ultimate survivors. They stalk the night as a wolf stalks prey and can even take on animalistic traits.

The Mekhet are mysteries and enigmas, lurking outside of sight and hearing. As Shadows, they gather secrets and delve deep into the unknown. They are spies and prophets who go where they will.

The Nosferatu are the vampire as a nightmare. All Haunts control fear. Whether they look terrifying, or their sheer presence unsettles onlookers and makes their skin crawl, they live a lonely unlife.

The Ventrue are the vampire as ruler. Their blood drives them to take charge and command over others. From aristocrats to CEOs to gang leaders, the Lords track their bloodlines, using their own lineage as another tool of domination.

If Clans are where you come from, the Covenants are what you believe in. The Kindred have organized themselves into five major Covenants, based on how they choose to live and their philosophical outlook on unlife. Each Clan entry describes how they view the Covenants and how a member of that Clan fits into them.

The Carthian Movement are the revolutionaries of the Kindred world – idealists who want to bring change through discussion or violence. Firebrands oppose stasis, which they see as the path to destruction.

The Circle of the Crone view their condition as more a blessing than a curse – they are an integral part of nature. Acolytes are monsters because that is their role; they enjoy the bliss of monstrosity by abandoning their restraints.

The Invictus are The System. They operate under a rigid hierarchy and infiltrate mortal institutions in order to obscure the existence of the Kindred from mortals. The First Estate is the default government of the All-Night Society as they are responsible for defining the traditions and common laws of the Kindred.

The Lancea et Sanctum is the organized church of the undead. They are damned creatures called upon to do God’s work, delivering torment to test the faithful. The Sanctified typically ally themselves with the Invictus, as both believe in a rigid power structure, and the Invictus indulge the eccentricities of the Lancea for their support.

The Ordo Dracul are the inheritors of the legacy of Dracula, who became a vampire without a Sire (creator). The Order seeks the deepest truths of their nature, and in doing so, aims to overcome their vulnerabilities. The Defiant stand to the side of Kindred society, as their goal is to become more than vampire, as they once became more than human.

While those are the major Covenants in the modern day, others have existed throughout history, and there are brief entries on a few of them. An excellent “enemy” Covenant exists in the form of VII, a mysterious group of vampire Vampire Hunters, who are left undefined, allowing the GM to create the backstory they like best.

Depending on where you live, certain Covenants may be more or less politically powerful, which will alter the landscape of your city (the typical setting for a Vampire Chronicle). The Lancea may enforce very different laws than the Circle, and a city ruled by a Carthian council will have a vastly different sense of “rights” than one dominated by an authoritarian Invictus.

So what does it mean to be one of the Kindred?

It’s about base needs – blood to survive, shelter from the burning sun.

It’s about the hunt, about predator and prey and making sure you’re the former, and not the latter.

It’s about knowing the only people who understand what you’re going through are potentially your worst enemies, and you theirs.

It’s about your relationship with The Beast – the inner urge and animal instinct that keeps you alive, yet can drive you to become a ravenous monster if not tempered by your Humanity.

The balance of the Beast and Humanity is one of the major themes of the game. It’s also one of the hazards of Kindred society, and reinforces strict adherence to the traditions supported by The Invictus. If you scratch the surface of a vampire you reveal the savage creature inside. – regardless of their outer appearance, inside all Kindred are the same. There are very cool mechanics that provide guidance to emulate the struggle for dominance among and how dangerous it can be for vampires to be around each other.

The basic rules of the game: how you perform challenges, the statistical composition of your characters, combat, etc., are the same as the other Chronicles of Darkness games, and since I covered them in my review here, I’ll just discuss how they are expanded upon in this book. Bear in mind though, that unlike First Edition Vampire: the Requiem, the Second Edition is a stand-alone game, so the Chronicles of Darkness core rulebook is a great addition to your Vampire game, but not mandatory.

Instead of Integrity, vampires have the morality trait of Humanity, which represents how easily they can pass for human. It acts as their conscience and gives them modifiers on social challenges with humans – the lower the score, the more monstrous they act and appear.

Rather than using Virtues and Vices to indicate personality and regain Willpower points, vampires have Masks (who they present themselves as in human society) and Dirges (who they are behind closed doors – the harsh, nasty truth of their nature). They also have Touchstones – an element of the mortal world (usually a person) that positively affect their Requiem, and challenge their priorities and nature. They help a vampire maintain their Humanity.

New Merits are presented, both vampire-exclusive ones and those open to humans. Some Merits are restricted by Covenant and represent secret powers and teachings, others are attached to your Clan and are a specific manifestation of the blood.

Disciplines, classic vampiric powers, include supernatural physical capabilities, mental manipulation of other living creatures, heightened senses, the ability to take on animal aspects, and more. Disciplines are fueled by Vitae, which is a vampire’s reserve of blood, replenished when it feeds. Your available starting Disciplines are determined by your Clan and you can learn new ones over time.

Vitae isn’t only good for powering Disciplines – points are spent to heal wounds, it’s used to create new vampires, it can be fed to mortals to enthrall them, creating a human servant known as a Ghoul, and it can be also used for the Blood Bond. The Blood Bond is formed when someone drinks the blood of a vampire, and causes the drinker to be in a twisted love-obsession with the vampire. This takes effect on Ghouls and a vampire’s childer, who, of course, must drink to change.

The Storytelling chapter guides GMs (or Storytellers, as I should be calling them) through the ins and outs of the Danse Macabre, the world of the Kindred, in which they each “live” their Requiems.

In addition to helpful guidance about using Masks and Dirges, Touchstones, and the necessity of feeding to create powerful roleplay scenes, my favorite part is the section called “Climbing the Ladder.” This method guides the troupe through a process that starts early in the creation of Player Characters and city, and establishes great depth to the characters and their surroundings. By answering a series of questions on a number of topics, it ties the Player Characters to the world. It should give the Storyteller numerous plot hooks and background characters that the players will definitely be invested in, as they helped develop these elements. Vampire is not a game for protagonists who lack a connection to the world.

To assist the Storyteller further, a number of cities are detailed as locations in which to set a Chronicle: Athens, Beijing, Berlin, Montreal, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, San Francisco, Swansea, and Tokyo (which is also included in the other core Chronicles of Darkness books, showing the city through multiple supernatural lenses). Each of these cities has notes on important Kindred, Locations, Secrets, and how the Clans and Covenants are represented. This is especially helpful as it shows that the society of the Kindred is far from uniform, even in cities controlled by the same Covenant.

Unlike the Chronicles of Darkness book, there isn’t specifically a “bestiary” section. There aren’t preconstructed statistics for cops and criminals, politicians and preachers, and that’s totally fine. The Chronicles of Darkness book is available if you need those stats premade, so I don’t feel it’s necessary for this book. There’s a great appendix about incorporating the Living into a Chronicle, and that information is a better use of space than replicating the statblock for a cop. Besides, you get a whole chapter on The Strix, and that’s much more useful (and terrifying) than a patrol officer.

The Strix are antagonists that should make the Kindred weep blood while they huddle in the deepest catacombs for safety. The Strix are vampires, like the mysterious hunters of VII, but they aren’t Kindred. Where the Kindred feed on blood to gain Vitae, the Strix absorb breath. Where the Kindred are reanimated corpses, the Strix are owl-shaped spirits of smoke and shadow that inhabit corpses. They are darker mirrors of the Kindred. With no humanity and no need to keep the Beast in check, they are free to exact cold, calculating hatred against the living, and those who pretend to life. They are myths to the Kindred but are frighteningly all-too-real. There are rules for creating and using Strix as antagonists in your game, along with a wealth of premade Strix, complete with story hooks.

So this is awesome, we’ve got some cool rules for vampires, neat powers, mechanics to help evoke certain themes – now what do you do with them? This is where the game still feels unique – there isn’t a default kind of story, and the stock stories that provide the framework of every plotline will be fundamentally altered because vampires are the protagonists.

Like other RPGs, your characters may perform tasks and jobs for their superiors and allies. They may perform acts of physical and political violence against their enemies and steal their territory or property. They may also delve into ruins and unearth ancient secrets – all of these are possible plotlines and would make very exciting games. But remember to take each storyline personally – your characters are not dots and numbers but beings with hopes and fears, dark desires and darker secrets. The pulse of Vampire is in these fundamentally flawed and monstrous characters and how they cope with the consequences of their actions. This is True Detective, Mindhunters, and The Wire, Big Little Lies, Fargo, and Gossip Girl.

The sun has set. Rise from your slumber to face the darkness. Slake your thirst and join your Kindred.

You’re not human tonight.

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