Posted by: markfender | January 21, 2014

V:tR – Damnation City

Okay, this book is awesome.

damnationAnd it’s huge. 400 pages, to be exact. Damnation City sets out to detail the environment in which vampires exist – the city. To do this, it walks a schizophrenic line. It has sections about the physical environs of cities and building a city for your game, but it also has sections about the social aspect of cities, including domain management rules for vampires seeking to exercise control over a city. It tends to skip around a bit, too, detailing some aspect of physical cities before launching into a discussion on the social aspects. Pulling everything together can be a bit of work, but it works out in the end.

The first bit is the standard Introduction telling us theme and mood. It also includes a glossary of specific terms involved in Kindred government. It’s longer than any other White Wolf glossary ever. Seriously, it’s like five pages long, and that doesn’t even include the separate glossary of rule terminology that follows.

The next section details the governmental structure of vampiric societies, the neo-feudal system. This is a decent overview of the concept, explaining the hows and whys. A later section has a description of each of the city’s positions and what they might be doing at a particular time on a particular evening. This is useful for GMs who might not have a good idea what goes into each of those positions, but also handy when you’re sort of out of ideas. Does the Prince just hang around the Elysium all night? Now, you can insert him into some night-to-night activites. However, this section does not have any sort of headings in it dividing the various positions. So it’s impossible to locate a particular position later when you’re flipping through it at the table. Maybe this was a space-saving measure? Either way, I would have preferred to lose a picture somewhere and get some headings here because, as it is, it’s less than useful at the game table.

The next section are the cycles of a city. This helps establish a mood for the city, based on its age. Is it still growing? Collapsing in upon itself as all the manufacturing moves overseas? Interesting stuff that you probably hadn’t thought about, in other words.

The next section is on Kindred Graffiti. These are marks that are left on walls to announce various things, like where the Rack is or the Elysium is. Of course, they have their own lingo so the ‘normals’ don’t know. This section seemed oddly specific. I can’t imagine I’d ever need a full-on system for this, but it’s an interesting background detail.

Then we get short write-ups of some real life cities and how the vampire political system works in those locales. These are bite-size chunks of ideas that can be expanded into full campaign settings.

The next section is entitled 10 Princes(kneel before you (Just go ahead now)) and it details ten possible Princes for your city. These are written up to fit into any city. There’s some wacky ideas in here, like the Carthian Prince with a ghoul Sheriff, an Invictus gang-banger, and a spoiled, rich girl Prince. Some of these are better than others. While I like the idea of a homeless Gangrel Prince, his write-up would necessarily limit a lot of character ideas, due to how his city is run.

The next part gets into the nitty-gritty of physical cities. The first section starts off by talking about skyscrapers and sewers. Okay? I guess that’s interesting but seems a little too focused on two types of structures as setting.

The City of Millions includes 100 random citizens of a city that a vampire could run into in the course of their nightly activities. Since, this is White Wolf, we don’t just get things like “an innkeeper” but “an innkeeper whose wife is cheating on him.” Lot of potential NPC ideas. There’s also a list of 50 things people might want to go along with those lists and an expansion on the Virtue/Vice system to provide motivation. Pretty handy.

Next is Ambiance and Attitude, which includes applying rules to different neighborhoods. Now, you have rules for a “Welcoming” neighborhood. These give dice modifiers to different actions based on the attitutude and ambiance. But there’s also a system on adjusting these values over long periods of time. Now you can gentrify even the worst of neighborhoods.

Hot Pursuit provides a chase system of sorts. It’s a big flowchart with various paths and rolls needed to progress to the next section. It’s not as generic as I would like, but it’s high in details and could provide a visceral chase scene for a game.

The next part is entitled Barony. So it’s probably about how to rule a city. Except the first section is actually building the city. This includes street plans and why they develop that way. These can be cut up and spliced together to create a full-on map of your new city. So that’s neat.

Next up are all the new Merits you’ll need to use these rules. Except the actual rules haven’t been detailed yet. Awkward…

The next section covers creating maps of the social/political dynamics of a city. This includes multiple diagrams of different ways to visually represent this information. We’ve got the axis method, the layer method, and a whole bunch of hierarchies. These include a typical domain, mapping visible and invisible influence, a power web, and how to map all these things onto geography. It’s a pretty interesting section that gets into some cool methods of figuring out exactly the power dynamics of your city.

Finally, in the next part we get into Primacy, which covers the actual domain rulership rules. It introduces a new meta-attribute called Influence. This tells you how many resources you have, how many assets you have, your Protection/Loyalty ratings for your assets, and influence points. Resources are just like the base game’s – money. So, people who rule domains tend to be super-rich. Assets are the mortals that the vampire controls. These are rated in dots and given names and positions. You might control a particular doctor, a university professor, or the mayor. Protection and Loyalty cover how well you can protect your Assets when they’re attacked and how loyal they’ll be if they’re coerced by outside forces. Finally, people with Influence have Agents, which are basically lieutenants who can perform their own actions under your control. The basic gameplay of the Primacy system involves taking away other people’s Assets while protecting your own. Of course, not every Asset is known, so there’s a matter of subterfuge as well. And all of this to influence the Prince into accepting your ideas (which, in a cool rule, is the primary way to regain your temporary Influence Points and increase your Influence score). There’s also regular events happening in the city that require those very Assets to accomplish. The Prince might give you a task to complete in which you’ll need to use your various Assets to complete. Doing so gives you influence points.

So, that’s the basic gameplay of the Primacy system. The Prince has things he wants to accomplish in his city (People are getting attacked!), you try to influence him to go with your plan (I control the police) and then complete that plan (rolling your Assets’ rating to get the proper number of successes). Meanwhile, other people might try to take over those police forces you control, use their own Assets to complete the task before you can, or otherwise screw up your operation. All to gain the Prince’s favor. It’s a neat system that fits perfectly for the typical Requiem politics. This system doesn’t make a lot of sense for more straight-forward domain rulership, but for the particular way vampires operate, it works quite well.

Next up are Districts. These are write-ups of various areas of a city and its important hubs. Things like Airports, Mercantile Sectors, Power Plants, and Slums. These also have statistics that influence die rolls in those areas. Many of these Districts are broken down into multiple types: like the bustling Harbor and the decrepit Harbor. So you’ve got a full range of options.

And then there are Sites, which are individual areas within Districts. These can provide equipment bonuses as well as having full stats so that you an convert them into Havens if you wanted to. There are a ton of these, from the 24-hour Convenience Store to the Used Car Dealership. They also list extras that might be found in those locations, potential story ideas, as well as the the sort of hostile encounters you might run into. These go for 60 pages, so there’s a lot of detail for all these places.

Next up are Subjects, which are basically NPC write-ups for typical denizens. There’s a lot of these, too, which is slightly weird since there’s already been a section of the book dedicated to NPC ideas.

Finally, we get an example city in the City of Newcastle. This includes a lot of maps using the systems already presented to build a fictional city. It also does not include a history section, which might be a first for a White Wolf book. But, as its intended to be inserted into any part of the country, I guess that makes sense. We get full write-ups for all the Districts for the city, which paint a pretty complete picture for a city with no vampiric presence…yet.

I already said this book is awesome, but I’ll repeat it here. It’s awesome. While a couple inclusions seem odd, the basic city building system is useful and well-detailed. The political systems are also pretty good. And both of these sections are focused almost entirely on a toolkit approach instead of lost in specifics. I would recommend this book for pretty much every White Wolf game. I’d even recommend it for other modern games that feature cities as settings. It’s that good. Obviously, not all the stuff presented here will see use in other games, but the simple world-building practicality of the book makes it pretty damned useful.


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