Vampire: the Masquerade’s 5th edition knows exactly what it wants to be, but has only a hazy, drug-addled recollection of how it got there.
Given that it’s a product of a new (and different) White Wolf, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. They marketed V5 as a triumphant return, a reinvention of an old favorite to a new generation of fans.
What we got was a powerful remix. Sacred cows are gone (and I’d be lying if I didn’t miss the other Clans that they removed from the game) and new systems are introduced to zero in on the core thesis of the game: Vampires are Monsters, and you’re playing one.
The morally bankrupt nature of the Vampiric condition is the highlight of this edition, and the Character Creation and Hunger / Blood Resonance mechanics tie into this beautifully. You can’t help but feel pity for these wretches that eke away an existence in the night, decking themselves out with superficial symbols of power and prestige in some bizarre mockery of life when in the end all of them are less than human.
But where the game stumbles is in making the reader feel for the setting. Beyond the Vampire’s personal struggles, the whole community angle of Clans and conspiracies has been effectively swept away. Old players find that the staples of Kindred society are reduced to ashes, while new players are left to play out smaller scale games in hopes of scrabbling for influence and territorial rights in the local community of Kindred.
In terms of presentation, while the layout is elegant, I’m not entirely sold on the use of photos for the art. It’s not a major nitpick, but I’m just not a fan of that approach.
With regards to the shocking and questionable content in the book, I feel that V5 wouldn’t have made it’s case that Vampires are monsters without them. That said, the entire premise of the World of Darkness is that it’s a game and that people shouldn’t go about emulating the behavior of the depraved monsters that the Vampire are presented as. Adding both the Mature Content Advisory and the advice in the Appendix for playing responsibly goes a long way to establishing that fact.
Overall, I’m finding V5 to be something of a mixed bag. The Personal Horror angle is definitely something they achieved, but they abandoned much of what made the eternal struggle angle interesting. If this is the start of the World of Darkness, then it’s not exactly the best gunstart I’ve seen.
If you like the promise of personal horror and you’re not too invested in the past, then V5 is still a good game to get into. If you’re an old hand appalled at the changes to the setting, then the mechanical elegance won’t save you, and you’re better off sticking to your old editions.
You can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99