Reap the Whirlwind (Vampire: The Requiem)
Publisher: White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing
Page Count: 64
Cost: FREE! ($6.99 for just “Into the Void”)
Release Date: 06/15/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Reap the Whirlwind is the fourth Free RPG Day 2013 release we are looking at and honestly, pound for pound, it’s the highest quality piece (and second longest) given out to fans this year. With an ultra snazzy full colour glossy cover to the inclusion of a full length adventure that usually costs $6.99 over at DriveThruRPG.com, Reap the Whirlwind is an amazing deal and one any V:TR or New World of Darkness fan should track down because it contains some of the new rules for the game that will be debuting in Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicles later this summer. As a long time player/storyteller/writer and dramaturgist for all things White Wolf, I absolutely love what they’ve put together here and recommend it highly to other long time nWoD/V:TR/White Wolf fans. As a critic however, Reap the Whirlwind just might be the Free RPG Day 2013 product I’d recommend LEAST to a new gamer because it’s so unfriendly to them and do more to push them away than bring them into the fold.
Problem the first – Free RPG Day 2013 releases go out to participating gaming stores to try and help them drum up business. However, White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing doesn’t supply to brick and motor stores anymore. It’s all Kickstarter and Print on Demand, which makes sense for them as a business and profit model. I totally understand why they do this and think it’s a smart plan for the company. This of course means, if this is the booklet some wide eyed newcomer picks up and decides is the game for him, the store he picked it up from won’t see a penny from his or her newfound interest, except maybe for dice. This to me seems to defeat the purpose of a Free RPG Day offering because it’s supposed to be all about supporting brick and mortar stores and bringing new gamers into them. Although I myself rarely buy dead trees gaming products these days unless it is Call of Cthulhu or Shadows of Esteren related, a lot of people do though, and it sends a conflicting and potentially hurtful message when a gamer comes up to the proprietor of the store and says, “I can’t find any Vampire: The Requiem stuff on your shelf. How come?” What then follows is an awkward conversation that involves the store owner trying to explain that you can only buy V:TR stuff online which leads to said owner being grumpy towards White Wolf for their business practices and the fact they paid for a Free RPG Day release that won’t make them any money, and the new gamer either gets talked out of trying V:TR by the owner because of said bad blood or they go home and try to navigate the insanely complex world of White Wolf gaming on their own, which is rarely a good thing. I can say with certainty that this has happened because I witnessed it three times at different gaming stores while I went around to see how Free RPG Day 2013 was doing on Saturday. I don’t think WW/OPP has done more harm than good here but I do think it’s pretty hard to come up with a way that Reap the Whirlwind actually benefits a brick and mortar store.
Problem the second – Reap the Whirlwind comes with the fun little adventure “Into the Void” as the freebie for players to experience. What’s wrong with this? Well let me give you a bit of text from the adventure.
First, be advised that the characters in the game are meant to be of a fairly high level. These are not neonate characters; they are potent ancillae or young elders, most likely.
Now, does THAT descriptor sound an introductory adventure for new gamers or players? HELL NO it doesn’t. To make matters worse, the Quick Start rules only give instructions on the first two levels of some disciplines, which makes it all but impossible to create high level characters with the Quick Start Guide. At least the adventure’s NPC are scaled down so no one has a Discipline over 2 except for Celerity and Vigor, which will thankfully be easy enough to figure out with this guide…kind of. Compare this to say the lovely little open ended adventure that Vampire: The Masquerade originally came with. “Forged in Steel” is a great introduction to a game and that particular system in general. “To the Void” is kind of a big middle finger to newcomers that is going to intimidate the crap out newcomers, especially the poor sap who gets roped into Storytelling it. Look, again – as a gamer and World of Darkness fan, I think “To the Void” is an exceptionally well written adventure and one that is really rewarding when played by veteran V:TR fans. As a critic, I have to wonder what kind of drugs the Onyx Press Path guys were on when they thought this would be a good idea to throw at relative gaming virgins and/or those new to Vampire: The Requiem. This is just a train wreck.
Problem the final – I love the new V:TR rules. I LOVE THEM, but you know what? Those new gamers that fall in love with this collection? They’re going to go looking for Blood and Smoke not realizing it isn’t out yet and then either get frustrated that they have to wait or pick up the old V:TR core rulebook not realizing the rules are different in it AND also that they will need the core World of Darkness rulebook as well in addition to The God Machine Chronicle to get all the current rules. So that’s between two and four books a newcomer will have to pick up just to start to get a handle on V:TR or ANY NWoD game, one of which isn’t out yet. That’s intimidating and confusing for a newcomer. Thankfully you can get a free PDF of The God Machine Chronicle Rules Update, but said new potential V:TR player will need to buy the two core rulebooks unless Blood and Smoke is going to contain all the rules needed to play a game, thus making the core WoD book unnecessary, but I’ve yet to hear any mention of that (I’d love it and champion the book for the rest of the year if it did though!). I know that when I was a kid being told “I need the Player’s Handbook, Monstrous Compendium and the DM Guide just to play this Ravenloft Campaign Setting that looks neat?” was enough to make me say, “Screw you TSR!” and purchase three different RPGs – Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun and oh look, Vampire: The Masquerade. So basically the nWoD has turned into the exact lumbering behemoth that sent to into the OWoD in the first place. Irony? Such will be the same for other new gamers who gained a spark of interest from this QSR set, but then will run screaming from the amount of tomes needed to wade through, as well as the cost for getting them. Again, as well made as Reap the Whirlwind is and as much as I love what is contained between the pages, I would have loved to have sat in on the editorial decision behind all this and see if anyone at all tried to be the voice of reason or saw the big red flags with this free offering.
Now that all the negativity is out of the way I can talk about all the things that I loved. I know I mentioned through all my constructive criticism that I really enjoyed Reap the Whirlwind in spite of the multiple faux pas the release has. It is extremely detailed, well laid out, easy on the eyes, has some nice art in addition to being easy to read and follow and is the absolute best release from this year’s offering in terms of explaining the mechanics of the game it is promoting. Even better, it gives in-depth character creation rules so that players can make their own vampire instead of using pre-generated characters. This means that newcomer will form even more of an emotional bond with the game because they made their character. Pregens are great but no pregen is ever going to beat a character than a person crafted with his or her own imagination and White Wolf/Ony Path KNOWS this – hence the full character creation rules. Even better, the Storytelling/Storyteller System is so easy to learn, and the rules set contained in the QSR make it so easy I could give the rules to somehow who has never played a tabletop game in their life before (my wife) and ask them to sum up how to play the game in a single sentence and THEY COULD! “Roll x number of ten sided dice based on the one to three linked stats on your character sheet and count the number of dice that have an eight or higher on them while subtracting the ones with a one on them.” That’s how easy to learn V:TR this guide makes it. Which is great until you get to the three aforementioned problems that come up when a newcomer actually wants to PLAY V:TR based on how well written and engaging the QSR portion of Reap the Whirlwind is.
The rules for character creation come first and they are laid out exceptionally well. Attributes and Skills are fully explained, although obviously truncated due to space. Advantages, Defense, Speed and Initiative only get about a sentence each, but are explained enough that newcomers will be able to know how to use them. One thing that isn’t explained in this rules set is Blood Potency, which I found odd and because of this, it severely impacts how one might read the new Sunlight rules, which we will talk about later on. The differences between bashing, lethal and aggravated damage are explained nicely, as well as how to mark them on your sheet, which I think is fantastic. The three types of damage always seem to stymie newcomers, so the added time spent on this is well worth it. Two full pages are also devoted to temporary/permanent conditions, which I loved. I was so impressed by the crazy level of the detail that went into these Quick Start Rules. Sure it might be a little overkill for newcomers, but conversely, what’s here is detailed enough that you can hopefully play for a while until Blood and Smoke gets released instead of buying the outdated V:TR core rulebook if this freebie makes you fall in love with the game.
There are a few new rules debuting in Reap the Whirlwind that honestly should have debuted in The God Machine Chronicle so as to have all the new rules in one spot. Again, now you’re going to need this (Or Blood and Smoke), The God Machine Chronicle and the core World of Darkness book just to have all the rules in one spot. Anyway, the first big change is with how sunlight damages. I could go on about how sunlight isn’t actually a folkloric vampire weakness and how it didn’t debut as a lethal means of dispatching a vampire until the silent film Nosferatu but blah blah blah from the folklorist, right? The big chance is that both your Humanity and your Blood Potency factor in to how much damage you take. So if your humanity is high, you take little damage from sunlight and generally lethal instead of aggravated damage. Conversely if your Blood Potency is high, you roll more often for damage while if your Blood Potency is low, you roll less often. Thus as a rule of thumb, a newer, weaker vampire takes less damage. Which is odd when you first read it because one would think a more powerful ancient vampire would resist sunlight more ala what we’ve seen in other RPGs like V:TM, Chill and Dungeons & Dragons. The more you think about it, this specifically makes sense for V:TR where the vampire is a metaphor for losing your humanity. Sunlight brings life to the world. It causes plants to bloom, crops to grow, and so on. As Vampires are not alive and actually take life instead of spreading it, it makes sense that in this context of what vampirism is, that sunlight hurts them. As well, it thus follows that the more human a vampire is, the less the sun hurts it as they are still trying to hold on to what they were. Humanity keeps the pain at bay and as one’s Humanity dwindles, the sunlight is a constant reminder of the life lost and thus does more damage – perhaps more psychosomatically than anything else. I interpret the strong Blood Potency actually causing more damage in a similar fashion. The higher the Blood Potency, the longer one has existed and the more the vampiric Beast has infused into them. Thus the more power one contains, the more the antithesis of that power hurts them. It totally makes sense and I love it. However I see two small problems. Because Blood Potency isn’t explained at all in the QSR and how other games use sunlight against vampires, a newcomer is going to read this and, more than likely, view Blood Potency like V:TM Generation or AD&D Armor Class, where the lower number is better. I can also see a large portion of gamers house ruling the inverse of the Blood Potency rules so the older, more powerful vampires take less damage because it’s what they are used to. Again, I personally love the message being sent by the new sunlight rules and think it’s the right way to go, but I’m also not going to fault someone for going “I think more powerful vampires should take less damage from sun” because it’s the convention we all know.
The other big new change is with Humanity. The new rules tackle the Breaking Point concept introducing in the God Machine Chronicle. Basically when one hits a Breaking Point that corresponds to the vampire’s current Humanity level, they have to roll to resist Detachment. If they pass, their Humanity stays where it is at and if they fail, they lose a point and gain a Condition instead of a Derangement ala GMC. As well, the number of dice you roll corresponds to your Humanity level so if you have a high Humanity, you have a higher chance of success. If you have a low Humanity, well, it’s a downward spiral baby! I’m pretty okay with the list of Breaking Points except for the terrible one of “Feeding From a Child” as if a child is somehow more important or more horrifying than anyone else. That’s a terrible concept and really that should instead be something like “feeding from someone you know/care about” which I was surprised isn’t on there. After all, it’s easier to do something bad if you don’t emphasize with or know the person. As well, what if the child is a little psychopath and he or she is trying to kill someone the vampire still cares for? You’re going to lose Humanity for stopping a nutjob and doing something noble or good simply because of their age? What about feeding from someone who has the mental age of a child? Terrible form. I definitely hope Blood and Smoke makes the change because this one Child based Breaking Point is a terrible idea and it could be exchanged for so many better ones that actually make sense.
Besides all of this, you also get rules for actions, a combat flow chart and the very detailed list of the first two levels of Discipline powers. All in all, this V:TR quick start guide is amazing and it’s better written/laid out than some core rulebooks I’ve had to wade through. Excellent job across the board here.
“Into the Void” is the adventure included in the QSR and again, although I really enjoy the adventure I think it’s a truly terrible choice to have this as an introduction to newcomers. It’s too intricate a story and require way too powerful vampires to make work. Basically the story is the same as Under a Blood Red Moon and Chicago by Night, Second Edition where the Prince of a city is dead and the crazy power vacuum that occurs because of it. The adventure is well written and a lot of fun, although the version included in Reap the Whirlwind has some strange layout errors in it. For example, on Page 35, the left hand column talks about the Prince, but then stops abruptly and goes into the Patron on the right hand column, only to have the Prince’s bio finish up on page 36. There are a few other layout errors where it changes from reading a page normally to reading the top of a page first then the bottom, or even in a Z shape pattern. Some of this is intentional but not very well done and some of it just appears to be simple layout error. These issues aren’t in the original stand-alone “Into the Void” release, so I was a bit taken aback that it’s in this. Overall, these errors are distracting but minor, especially since other Free RPG Day 2013 releases have notable typographical and spelling errors throughout them. I can live with a bit of formatting mistakes when the piece is this big, this well done and FREE.
I really love the changes to V:TR showcased in Reap the Whirlwind and I have to say that aside from the adventure choice, this is the best set of Quick Start Rules I’ve ever seen. With this, Mummy: The Curse andThe God Machine Chronicle, the New World of Darkness is poised to have its best year ever in my opinion. I can’t wait to see what all Blood and Smoke has to offer. I can’t deny that there are some big strikes against this piece in relation to newcomers, but for long time White Wolf/OPP fans, this piece is brilliantly done and deserves to be read not only by fans, but by other publishers as an example of how to put together a set of Quick Start Rules (Different adventure though next time guys…)