Posted by: markfender | February 5, 2014

V:tR – Requiem for Rome and The Fall of the Camarilla

Vampires in togas.

RequiemforRomeLargeThis book presents a historical setting for Requiem. That is, the Roman Republic and specifically the city of Rome itself. This book provides several things for the game that it was missing. Primarily, it provides some history for the game that I’ve complained about the lack of before.

The first section is an Introduction by Ken Hite. They didn’t even need to say that, since his prose is as distinctive as Greg Stolze’s (when you start to recognize the prose of RPG writers, you’ve probably read too many RPGs). This is a long treatise selling you on the concept of vampires in Rome with all the historical antecedents and asides that Hite usually does. So there’s that.

So, Rome. As we learn in the introduction, it’s the foundation of the Camarilla and its subsequent fall. In Requiem, the Camarilla has always been the ancient society of vampires that collapsed in Rome and now we’re gonna see it in action. There’s also a glossary of Roman terminology in which I learned that I’ve been mispronouncing Camarilla since 1992. Woops.

Next up is History. For some reason, this section varies between writing in the past tense and the present tense. Weird. It’s much more interested in exploring the human history of Rome than Kindred history. And it covers all of Rome’s history, even though this book is ostensibly set in the latter days of Rome. There’s also a whole bunch of implications rather than stating events, which can be particularly annoying. For instance, the Morbus bloodline is off-hand mentioned as a historical footnote. But apparently, due to later write-ups, we learn that they’re the first bloodline. So, why not just say that?

This section also mentions two important things that will have have later implications: the Julii and the Strix. The Julii are a “new” Clan that were the precursors to the Ventrue. The Strix are owl spirits that the Julii made a deal with and then reneged on that deal. So now the Strix are hunting down the Julii and, if you’ve played the modern day version of the game, they’ve obviously succeeded. More on both groups later.

The next section covers the differences between modern Requiem and the changes for the past. First up, we’ve got the breakdown of the Camarilla. The Camarilla is broken into Wings. The most important Wing is the Senex, the senate of vampires. They’re a group who are ruling in the absence of a Prince (who’s off in torpor somewhere). They’re the precursors to the Invictus. Next up are the Legio Mortuum, or the military of the dead. It’s a Roman undead Legion, basically. Then, there are the Cult of Augurs, who act as the priests for the various Roman gods. They’re essentially the precursors to the Circle of the Crone. Lastly, we have the Peregrine Collegia, which is the Wing you belong to if you don’t have any other Wing to belong to. In that way, it’s made up of slaves, outsiders, and other ne’er-do-wells and could have some allusions to the Carthians. Those are the four Wings of the Camarilla, but wait…there’s more. There’s a new upstart Wing called the Lancea et Sanctum. They’re an offshoot of the Peregrine and currently an underground group, just like the mortal Christians (Incidentally, the way this book treats Christians is sort of amusing. There’s a few sections where the book talks about the Roman’s attitude towards this new sect and how they just don’t get them. Christians are considered atheists, since they won’t worship the various gods of Rome. And when they’re asked to, they decide they’d rather be martyred than to do so. This attitude confuses Romans as they just don’t get the big deal of worshiping a particular god you may not really care for. After all, they do it all the time. Why won’t the Christians?) Each of these groups provides various game benefits, which you’ve seen before. Cruac is called Veneficia here, but it has the same rituals as before.

Next up are the Clans. These are the same as you’ve seen before with one notable exception. There are no Ventrue. Instead, we get the Julii who are the first vampires descended from Remus. They have the same Disciplines and Weaknesses as the Ventrue, so it’s not a big stretch. The interesting thing here is that each of the Clans are more connected with cultures than they are in the modern version. The Julii, for instance, are Roman and always have been. This, naturally, makes them the leaders. The Gangrel are typically from Germanic tribes, the Mekhet are imported from Egypt, etc. etc. This creates a stronger emphasis on mortal breeding than is seen in the modern version of the game.

There’s a few game elements left in this section. There’s a sampling of Roman names, changes to Skills, and new Merits. The Merits include some Debate styles, which are detailed later. There’s also some new Fighting Styles with Formation Tactics and Gladiatorial combat. So there’s that.

The next chapter is on Rome and the Necropolis. Shouldn’t the city be in the appendix, like all the other books? Anyway, this section covers some particular places that you might have heard about before, as well as generic locations of common buildings in the time period. We get some rules on aqueducts and bath houses, for instance. There’s also stuff on the Necropolis, where the vampires live. One curious thing about the setting is that vampires live underground and don’t interact much with the mortals above them. There’s also a section on life in Rome, detailing some of the common stuff about living in a different time period. For instance, the only source of light is, of course, fire. That can cause some problems for vampires, obviously, so it’s nice that the book points out that fact. Roman houses tend to be quite open to the sun as well, making it difficult for vampires to live above ground. There’s also stuff about slavery, the rule of law, and various other sundries. In a hilarious editing mistake, Christians believe that pagans follow “malevolent demons masquerading as angles of light.” So look out for those angles. This section is quite useful and does the best job of making the alien setting of Rome come alive. Or undead. Whatever.

This section also has the debate rules mentioned earlier. These are important since that’s how the Senex decides on issues. This section introduces a new stat, Integrity, which operates like Defense does in physical combat. In fact, the whole system operates pretty much like physical combat, but with extra complications like appealing to an audience. There are also extensive examples, so that’s good.

Next up is Storytelling. We get some grand themes of the setting as well as how to deal with history. There’s also a big section on the conflicts inherent in the setting. Also included is a section on Aspirations for characters. This includes things like Create a Cult, Save the Camarilla, Save the Roman Empire, or Found a Barbarian Kingdom. These are neat and I wish the other books would have had some of these. Requiem is a game about giving your players free reign to do what they want, so a section on some aspirations would have been useful to see in other books.

This section also includes some breakdowns about setting the game in various other time periods of the Roman Empire. It also includes a short cross-section of descriptions of other parts of the world in this time. These are neat background to help expand the book outside a single city, but the sample settings in those outer areas all tend to be lakes with vampires living in them. Seriously, there’s like six of these. Whee.

Antagonists are next, which leads us into a discussion on the Strix (or Striges). As already discussed, these are owl spirits who hate the Julii and wish to destroy them. What makes them good antagonists for vampires is that they can possess inert corpses. Guess what vampires in torpor count as? The only way to stop the Strix is fire or sunlight, so good luck with that. The Strix are a cool idea, as they provide an antagonist outside of the standard mold of exposure to mortals or vampire politics. While there are other White Wolf games you could introduce to act as antagonists for vampires, the Strix provide a foe with explicit ties to vampiric history. They obviously struck a chord with people, since they’ll begin to show up in later books.

Next are Bloodlines of Rome. This includes the Larvae, a Gangrel Legacy of barbarians working for Rome. The Licinii are a Julii Legacy that are actually Nosferatu. At least they have the weaknesses of both groups. Finally, we get the Morbus, the Mekhet bloodline from the main book. I’m not sure why they get a full write-up since anyone using this book would have the first book.

So, that’s the Rome book. I thought the set-up of the society was pretty decent. I just wish it wasn’t as vague as it is in certain places. I don’t quite get how the Julii betrayed the Strix, for instance, despite reading that section several times. Maybe it was buried in the fiction I didn’t read (to be fair to me, however, it had a godawful font)? The History section was also written up quite oddly and lost me a few times. However, I’m glad to have gotten this book because now I feel like the Requiem set-up has some history behind it. That makes it all the easier to have ancient artifacts, bloodlines, and elders show up in modern nights with a full background.

fallThe Fall of the Camarilla is the companion book for Requiem for Rome. It describes a complete campaign about…well, just guess. I’m of two minds about these sorts of books. On the one hand, I appreciate that they exist because not everyone has the time or inclination to create a full campaign (I include myself in that category sometimes). Also, it’s nice to see how the developers of a game intend for it to be played. On the other hand, I didn’t really like this one and I have some issues with how White Wolf writes up their adventures. They’ve got this Storytelling Adventure System format that they use. This consists of set encounters that are rated in dots, Physical, Mental, or Social. The number of dots tells you how difficult the encounter will be in a specific sphere. That’s all well and good, except I don’t really know how they’re judging that difficulty. Does the dots correspond to the level of skill dots that will be needed to complete the encounter? No clue. Additionally, I find these short encounter set-ups to sort of break up the narrative. Reading through the book it can be difficult to sort of parse how the events are supposed to play out. That being said, I think the write-ups of the encounters are probably pretty useful in an actual game session. They usually break out the goal of the encounter and then present a couple of ways to achieve that goal. That would make it pretty easy to quickly skim an encounter and integrate into your game. To facilitate this, they also include even shorter write-ups that are 3×5 card-sized in the back of the book. So you can reference these to quickly get the gist and then go to the specific page number if needed.

As for the plot, it’s not that great. The first part includes some regular business to establish the setting. There’s NPCs who can become allies of the PCs as well as some short missions. These are to establish the setting as well as advance the PCs into places of power. The second section is about a climactic build-up to a Strix attack (as well as some political shenanigans) where a whole lot of NPCs die. The third part is about the slow dissolution of the Camarilla. The last part, in particular, left me cold. One day, there’s a vote in the Senex to dissolve the Camarilla. It passes. And so they do. What an exciting development!

But, there’s a couple other interesting things in this book. For one, there’s a system for running parties. This has now made this the best book ever! (I am not even kidding.) There’s a new Debate style. There’s some really shitty art in the second section. And there’s a write-up on Byzantium as the successor state of Rome. So that’s neat (except the bad art).

This book is hard to judge. Parts of the campaign were quite decent, while other parts let me down. There’s something salvageable here and the additional rules bits are nice. If you’re gonna run a game set in Rome, I’d probably pick it up. But if you’re just interested in Rome for its historical background, I think I’d skip this particular campaign.


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