Posted by: markfender | June 26, 2013

V:tM 20th – The Clans

This’ll probably get long.


Somebody didn’t enjoy the Renn Faire

Before we talk about all thirteen Clans, we have to talk about the Sects. There are basically two: Camarilla or Sabbat. This chapter opens up with how the two operate. The Camarilla is the default Sect that everyone is assumed to belong to unless they declare for another. It’s the typical posturing and political shenanigans amidst a realm of paranoia – perfect for political games.

I prefer the Covenant breakdown in Requiem. The Sects of Vampire map pretty closely to the Covenants of Requiem, however, so you’re not really missing much of choosing one game over another. However, I prefer the focus in Requiem, how they can be more equal to each other, how PCs can join any of them (Go on and try to join the Inconnu.), and how they’ve generally just been made more playable. The Camarilla maps pretty closely to the Invictus with few changes, seeing as how they were the most stable and most gameable of them.

Next we have the Sabbat. Sabbat vampires would not be out of place kicking their enemies into pits while screaming “This is the Sabbat!” They don’t give a crap about the Masquerade (except when they do), engage in pointless orgies of blood and sex, and are supposedly trying to wage war against the Antediluvians. Except I’m not sure how either of those first two things helps with the latter. The problem with the Sabbat is that they’re kind of incoherent with their goals. They also have a big religious slant about how they’re all damned and so they should just go around doing whatever they want because they can do whatever they want. In an attempt to make the Sect make sense, they get double the page count of the Camarilla. But it still fails. I much prefer the Lancae Sanctum of Requiem, which also has the religious angle, but makes its beliefs more coherent: vampires are damned and are now God’s instruments for punishing humanity.

Next, we have the Anarch Movement, which is a sub-group of the Camarilla who wants to try out new ideas like not having leaders, collectivism, and amassing a collection of safety pins in your face. I’ve never really known the difference between this group and the Sabbat as both are just rebelling against the status quo. This section makes it a little clearer. I’m unsure whether this was inspired by the Carthians of Requiem or had received more information in the old line, but its pretty obvious they’re Carthians. Which still manages to make more sense than the Anarchs do.

Finally, we have the Independents, which are the Clans that remain fairly insular and claim no membership in any organization. This section was fairly boring, so let’s talk about the other groups mentioned in the earlier chapter but not mentioned here: notably the Inconnu and Tal’Mahe’Ra. The Inconnu map closely to the Ordo Dracul in Requiem, with the extra benefit of actually having powers and an organizational structure you can belong to in Requiem. This makes them superior to the old Inconnu, which was pretty much just defined as “ooh, mysterious.” The Tal’Mahe’Ra probably has the weakest link to Requiem, but the Circle of the Crone has taken some of their focus, most notably the paganism and blood magic. Their goals are quite different, but the Tal’Mahe’Ra’s goals were pretty explicitly linked with the back story of Vampire so it wouldn’t have fit anyway.

Next up we have Clans. These all share the same general structure you’ve been seeing since the ’90s: a picture, a fancy font that is at times hard to parse, a list of backgrounds, character creation hints, Clan Disciplines, Weaknesses, and a long list of stereotypes of every other group. I was kind of disappointed in this section, as I was expecting more information from the Revised clanbooks to show up here. Maybe expand to four pages per Clan? Provide a little more background that should be possible in such a long book? But, nope. It’s the same stuff you’ve read before with nary an expansion in site. This book has already failed at my reason for getting it: compiling the original Vampire setting into a single tome.

But there’s an even bigger problem with this section: Leif Jones. The artist for all of the pictures of the Clans is Leif Jones. Who is terrible. I mean, he was responsible for this (NSFW), the single worst picture in all of White Wolf publishing history (You are allowed to choose the Savant & Sorceror cover for Exalted as an alternate worst picture, but at least that artist is competent). When they said they were bringing back fan favorite artists for the 20th Anniversary, I was expecting Timothy Bradstreet and Ken Meyers Jr. (which I got), not fucking Leif Jones. Who demanded him? As is typical, all of these pictures are terrible and should be shot.

All of these Clan write-ups also feature the always-spectacular Stereotypes section, in which the Clans express how they’re better than everyone else in exhaustive detail. Seriously, are these ever useful? All they are is the listed Clan shitting on every other group. No hints of potential like-mindedness, potential allies, suckers to use in plots, or anything with any cognizant thought – just a long list of derogatory language, including such words as “dago,” “slope-browed,” and “queens.” Stay classy, White Wolf.

So, the Clans. Assamites are first. As one of the independent Clans, they have their own structure and basically work as assassins for the other Sects. I think their back story is pretty interesting, but their general make-up is pretty much the poster child for bad character concepts. Oh good, a Clan of murder-hoboes.

Next, we have the Brujah, who also have an interesting back story. Too bad they’re an entire Clan of punks. Because the game with rebel Sabbat groups pillaging across the countryside and the Anarch Movement breaking down power structures needed an entire Clan of rebels. There are too many rebels in this game! How does anything get done if everyone is just spitting at the Queen? Time for an aside:

ASIDE: As a game adopted by Gen Xers, who are not known for rebelling with any real feeling or heart, the game’s emphasis on the punk ethos seems misguided. As the first generation to make less than their parents, Gen Xers want to complain about previous generations, not actually do anything with their rebellious streaks. In that way, a roleplaying game about usurping the old guard, and in which the game mechanics make it impossible to overcome the old guard, seems like the perfect medium for Gen Xers. That may be the real genius of Vampire. Plus, all the sexy vampires. That probably didn’t hurt either.

The Followers of Set are next and they’re one of my favorite Clans. Granted, that’s because my longest played character was a Setite, but I’ve got a soft spot for the ‘snakes.’ It certainly has nothing to do with how they’re always tempting everyone to betray everything they love and following basic gnostic thought in their reasoning. I do find their Serpentis Discipline to be pretty stupid, though. I don’t remember reading any vampire books about people turning into snakes, but then I’m not that well-read on vampires. Their Weakness gets stronger in this particular edition, also.

Gangrel are your savage vampires, running around in the woods and biting the heads off farmers. There’s certainly a place for that in the mythology, but not one that I’ve ever been intrigued by. They’ve always had one of the worst Weaknesses, as well. Permanently gaining an animal characteristic whenever they frenzy? This isn’t “you suck at this one thing” or “this source of damage is particularly painful,” but “your character will be relatively unplayable in a few sessions.” This book tries to downplay this a little bit, making the gain a temporary one with the option of becoming permanent. Unfortunately, it remains rather hand-wavey, not giving any times for how long the temporary drawback should last, when to check for a permanent one, and only the vaguest suggestions on game effects of these features.

Giovanni are next. They’re necromancers! But also the Mafia! This makes them one of the worst Clans, because A) White Wolf had wildly differing systems for ghosts over the years, making their Discipline kind of suck and B) all the fiction makes them act like Tony Soprano (too soon?). It’s difficult to reconcile the image of sweatsuit-wearing muscle-heads with cloak-wearing crypt dwellers and the game has varied between these two depictions at various times. Which is why I prefer the Cappadocians.

Lasombra are the Clan of secrets and shadows, making them my next favorite Clan. In fact, my second-longest played character was a Lasombra. They’re very much the “secondary rulers” Clan in the setting (behind the Ventrue), which makes them perfect for Power Behind the Throne shenanigans, which is pretty much my favorite character archetype ever. Their Clan weakness got, well, weaker. My big problem with the Lasombra is that they’re almost all in the Sabbat and the Sabbat doesn’t seem like it matches their generally subtle methods of ruler ship. It’s a dichotomy that’s often confused me. They’re the ones placing the religious strictures into the Sabbat’s structures, but even this doesn’t seem to make the Sabbat any more than drunken frat guys raping their way across campus. I guess I just hate the Sabbat.

Malkavians are next! Oh boy! The second-worst stereotype ever! Crazy vampires are just an excuse for asshole players who like to dominate games by acting crazy. I also don’t see classic literature about vampires featuring a whole lot of gibbering asylum monkeys (Renfield is a human, so he doesn’t count). They also have a pretty terrible Discipline in Dementation, which is just more proof that they’re assholes of the highest caliber. One of my personal favorite NPCs I’ve used over the years was an asshole Malkavian who was high enough Generation to just implant derangements into everyone’s head around him to make them feel terrible about themselves. He was high enough Generation that no one could really do anything about it. He was a supreme asshole and the fact that I received such joy from inflicting him upon people means that I, too, must be an asshole. You’re welcome.

Nosferatu are your typical ugly vampires. They live in the sewers and act as information brokers, which actually makes them pretty cool. I also liked their Nictuku cousins, who were bent on destroying them (Requiem did something similar with the Strix). Unfortunately, the Nictuku don’t make an appearance in this book, leaving one of the more interesting aspects of the Nosferatu out. Boo this book. Their Weakness gets a little easier to deal with, however, as they now no longer automatically fail all Appearance tests (although, the odds aren’t good).

Ravnos are next and boy, are they a racial stereotype White Wolf is fond of mentioning! They’re all from a faraway place with brown skin. They’re also thieves. Stay classy, White Wolf.

The Toreador are your classic beautiful vampire, which totally explains why Leif Jones’ picture features the second-ugliest female in the book with giant man hands. Their weakness has always seemed a little silly to me, as they get easily mesmerized by art or great beauty. Ookay… I do like this Clan, though, as they like to be elegant and rule over their lessers, which slides naturally into Political Game Stereotype No. 2. Plus, they lead into great melodrama with all of their “emotions” and “feelings.”

The Tremere are probably my third-favorite Clan. They’re all magicians, turned themselves into vampires a long time ago, and have a rigid internal structure that demands obedience. Plus, their Discipline is all kinds of broken (you know, like how wizards are always broken). The Tremere are originally from Jonathan Tweet and Mark ReinDOTHagen’s other game, Ars Magica, which has always been a weird little easter egg for fans of both. You can find their still-human equivalents over in Ars Magica still (They’re probably my favorite group in that game, as well). Their weakness got harsher in this edition, as now they get blood bonded to anyone more easily and not just their Clan elders.

The Tzimisce are next and I still have no idea how to say their Clan name. I like them, too. They’re your traditional Old World vampires lurking in dark Gothic castles. They also practice fleshcrafting and make hideous monsters out of themselves and others. They’re the second Sabbat-only Clan but their monstrous appearance and appetites seem to fit into the Sabbat more than the Lasombra. They also have caused quite a controversy over the years, as it was revealed in Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand that their Discipline of Vicissitude is actually an alien disease. This was pretty promptly retconned out (it’s now connected to a curse upon their land by a demon living in the soil or something), but still arises in discussions of them.

Finally, we’ve got the Ventrue Clan – the Clan of rulers. They’re pretty awesome because they rule things. It’s their Caine-damned right and they are going to do it no matter what everyone else says. It’s hard to fault that. So I like them.

And them’s the Clans. Overall, there’s too many with narrow sthicks that don’t really make a lot of sense. Necromancer vampires is cool, but combining that with the Mafia is rather silly. Likewise for one-note Clans like the Setites or the Ravnos. I much prefer the more general Clans of Requiem where they are based on common tropes about vampires that continually cropped up in fiction: the feral vampire, the beautiful vampire, the ugly monster vampire, the shadowy vampire, and the noble vampire. Yes, there’s crossover between the two games (several even bear the same names across the two games), but then Vampire added all these one-note concepts onto that generally clear idea. However, if you still like some of the Vampire Clans, you can add them back into Requiem with the bloodline system. Tzimisce can now just be a weird bloodline of the Ventrue (maybe the Mekhet?) with powers over flesh. The Giovanni and the Tremere can show up even easier than that, seeing as how there’s at least three Covenants in Requiem that deal with some sort of magic. So, yeah, even the Clans I sort of miss can slot back into Requiem rather easily. Requiem wins again!

Next time: actual rules and/or the lack therof.

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