In a way this is a review, but not really. This is also a post about what roleplaying can be, at least, within the context of one RPG: Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle (TSC). It is about what roleplaying can be when the constraints of character are large.
TSC is the latest supplement for the Vampire: the Requiem gameline, which is now being handled by Onyx Path Publishing. Unlike the original Vampire: the Requiem, TSC is a standalone book. It has all the rules necessary to play the RPG. It is also a further world revision of Vampire: the Requiem. It’s basically version 1.5, now with boogiemen. If you are familiar with Vampire: the Requiem, I cannot recommend TSC enough.
For all the rest whose eyes glazed over at the last paragraph. TSC is where you play a vampire. Not just any vampire though. You play a Kindred. This is a vampire that tries to maintain some semblance of what it means to be human. You aren’t a monster, least not fully. This isn’t a game about dungeons or solving mysteries. Well, I guess you can to both. Foremost, it is a game about being a vampire.
In Dungeons and Dragons core books there is very little guidance on what it means to be a paladin or barbarian or wizard. In 4th Edition for example, the paladin section might have 1-2 paragraphs on what it means to be a paladin before succumbing to an overload of stats and powers to choose. How should a paladin act in certain situations? How do paladins view paladins of different gods? For better or worse, there is no answer, and roleplaying may at times seem arbitrary in situations like these.
Tangentially I will say that Earthdawn is a tad better in that it requires a certain stereotypical worldview from each character class. Swordsmasters will be flamboyant. Nethermancers will be creepy as spit. Still, this roleplaying guidance only comprises a page or so for each class, and then on to pages and pages of stats and powers.
Back to TSC! In TSC nearly the whole book is written with what it means to be a vampire. On basically the first page it starts:
What are you going to do to make it through tonight? What about tomorrow night? And after the deeds are done and your belly’s full, how are you going to live with yourself? What are you going to do with your damnation that makes it worth all the sins along the way?
That’s the Requiem.
That’s only half the question, though. Mortals are dinner, but they’re also what you’ve got for dates. No matter how callous you become, you’ll need to move among them. How will you keep your connection to Humanity, even as a sham?
That’s the Masquerade.
The song and the dance don’t always play well. Devote yourself to redeeming human sinners and you may discover they’re the only creatures you understand.
Spend your nights in a vault perfecting your monstrosity and you may find yourself trapped, unable to flee through the masses when the hunters bash down the gates.
This isn’t a game about finding treasure or killing things. It is a very human game about being inhuman. Life can gloriously suck, but oh the stories that can be told.
In the Clans section (races), each Clan has three sections dedicated to “why you want to be us,” “why you should fear us,” and most interestingly “why we should fear ourselves.” The last one continues to strike that chord. This isn’t a game where everything is great in paladin land. This is a game where the paladin realizes too late that his god is dead, his religion is corrupt, and his best friend has already sold his soul to the dark side. Only there are rules.
People mostly know the main rules. Vampires hate sunlight. Vampires can be staked. Vampires can have sex. Vampires drink blood to survive. Yes, good, but those rules are reinforced mechanically, which further drives being a vampire. Young vampires with a good human side can be in the sunlight for possibly an hour (it will hurt, but they can do it). An old vampire who has given much to the Beast will be fried in seconds. A stake puts a vampire into Torpor. It’s not death. Want to have sex? It costs power (Vitae) to make your corpse body function as it should, even to pass foods. And blood. Yes, blood is everything.
On feeding, that’s four pages. It goes over the two ways of feeding: aggressive or subtle. It goes over animals. Over making humans forget. Feeding in combat. And creating scenes either with dice or without that shows what it means to be a parasitic corpse.
A lot of the backlash I see is player not wanting to be told how to play their character. That’s not really what TSC is doing. There is lots of wiggle room for different campaigns and different characters. There are many avenues to explore what it means to be a vampire. It’s just that each player will go in with an understanding of how to play one. Players that choose to play a vampire will hopefully realize how to evoke roleplaying a vampire.
If you couldn’t tell from past RPG Ravings, I like very character-centric roleplaying. I don’t want a story told with props moving around a gameboard. I want character exploration. TSC (and it’s Storytelling RPG family) oozes and bleeds with that type of gameplay. And, if nothing else… unlike a dry D&D book filled with feats and charts, TSC makes for a great read.
For a free preview check out the Reap the Whirlwind quickstart adventure and guide.