Blood & Smoke marks the beginning of a new cycle of World of Darkness supplements from the people of Onyx Path, one that updates their earlier work to the rules as first introduced in The God-Machine Chronicle.
Though labelled as a sourcebook, Blood & Smoke is a stand-alone product that allows Storytellers to run campaigns of Vampire: the Requiem without the need to buy the World of Darkness Corebook or Vampire: the Requiem. This is a good thing, as the last thing I wan tto be doing is to be referencing multiple books when I’m running a game.
I have to admit that I found my initial impressions of Vampire: the Requiem to be a little less than stellar in my first round of Let’s Study articles on the game. The groups felt artificial, and while the Clans were neat, I felt that the game lacked a certain edge, a passion that was present in the classic World of Darkness’ Vampire: the Masquerade.
Because of this, I’m happy to report that Blood & Smoke was an absolute surprise to me. Written in a much more interesting and engaging voice, Blood & Smoke reimagines Vampire: the Requiem and drags the reader along to witness the glory and depravity of the Kindred.
Right from the start, Blood & Smoke wastes no time reintroducing us to the Vampire Clans. The new writeups are much more visceral, and take a stronger show, don’t tell angle that does a great job in relaying the feel of the various Clans. Rather than get caught up in jargon and terminology, each writeup paints a sketch of the Clan by use of examples and a small section of “Why you want to be us” is perfect for cementing the motivations of each Clan.
The Covenants were given a similarly drastic change in tone, with a short bit of fiction to show just how they operate, and again motivations and methodologies are called out and communicated in a way that is best suited to getting players to get a strong grasp of their characters.
The vampiric condition is given a thorough treatment as well, though again the tone of the book is one dedicated to teaching by example rather than the less engaging recital of facts.
The Character Creation rules are similar to that of the God-Machine Chronicle, with the use of Experiences, Aspirations and a few interesting new systems.
Masks and Dirges are similar to the Classic World of Darkness’ Nature and Demeanors, but take over the place of a mortal character’s Virtue and Vice.
Touchstones are persons, places or things that remind a character of her humanity and keeps her grounded. Think of them as a memento or sorts that help anchor a Vampire by reminding him of his time as a human.
I won’t go too much into these mechanics but each one is a bit of genius when it comes to managing life as a vampire. I’ve been in too many games where players end up more callous than their characters ought to be. These systems give the vampires something to care for, and a reason to care for them.
I’m not too familiar with the already existing systems for Disciplines in Vampire: the Requiem, but what I’ve read from Blood & Smoke are promising. The Disciplines themselves are flavorful and some are downright creepy, as they ought to be in a game like this.
It’s only after these that the book presents the basic rules of the game, and after the God-Machine rules update, this is pretty much already well ironed out.
The Strix have their own section, talking about what they’re like and their history, but the best part of the section aside from Strix creation rules, are the various sample Strix provided. Each one would make an interesting opponent for the Kindred, with a canny ST being able to maneuver them to become recurring antagonists.
Another remarkable section in the book is the one that deals with the Kindred of other locations from around the world. From Athens to Beijing and Tokyo each one is a mini-setting in itself. Though without the same depth as the treatment of New Orleans in the original Vampire: the Requiem book, there’s more than enough material here to get a long term campaign going.
The book finishes off with an extensive Storytelling chapter, and a list of common conditions to a Vampire campaign.
Blood & Smoke is a beautiful nightmare of a book. It’s taken Vampire: the Requiem and exposed it’s horrifying and alluring nature and made it even more streamlined and accessible with the God-Machine rules update and a re-imagined take on the game itself.
Anyone who has ever felt that Requiem was a less impressive game than Masquerade owes themselves to get a copy of this game. Those who loved Requiem needs to check out the improvements made on it by the new rules.
If this is the new standard of the Chronicle books, then consider me addicted. This has gotten me stoked to actually run a campaign of it and I’m already earmarking funds to pay for the Werewolf and Mage Chonicle books if this is the kind of quality I’ll be getting.