The Strix Chronicle Anthology (Vampire: The Requiem)
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Release Date: 07/29/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
While World of Darkness and especially Vampire: The Requiem fans sit waiting for the release of Blood and Smoke so that they can get their much touted and anticipated rules update, White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing has released the Strix Chronicle Anthology. Whether or not this will sate readers or make them even more impatient for Blood and Smoke‘s release remains to be seen. This anthology contains thirteen short stories on the Kindred and/or Strix and the $4.99 price point is quite nice, especially when you realize that nets you PDF, .mobi and .epub versions. That’s quite a nice deal.
What’s not quite so nice is the fact the book is not very newcomer friendly. Each story in this collection assumes you are extremely intimate with the New World of Darkness and every minute aspect of V:TR in general. So if you picked this up after say, discovering Reap the Whirlwind on Free RPG Day 2013, you will be completely and utterly lost as to what is going on in some of these stories. This extremely limits who is actually going to enjoy this collection and is a big disappointment to me as I feel any anthology or piece of tabletop gaming fiction should at least try to be a gateway drug to newcomers. Another problem is that the quality of the stories is all over the place, but at least the majority of pieces are well done – at least in my opinion. The Strix Chronicle Anthology is no Shadowrun Returns Anthology, I’ll tell you that up front, but it’s still a book I enjoyed reading. Let’s take a look at each of the thirteen stories in this collection.
1. Waiting. This is NOT a good start to the collection. Let’s just leave it at that. Honestly, there are no descriptors or a sort of explanation as to who the characters are, where they are, or what is going on. It’s just a jumble of word vomit heaved up on the page. Honestly, I’m pretty well versed in all things NWoD and I found this story to be a confusing mess without the slightest attempt at clarity or pacing. God only knows how lost someone who isn’t extremely intimate with V:TR would with this story. Basically it’s just the routine of a Sheriff (the Prince’s enforcer) interrupted by birds and memory loss and filled with bad dialogue, some terrible grammar and a lot of awkward narration. This was just a complete mess and I have no idea how it was accepted into the anthology. Such a terrible way to begin a collection and sadly, the first story needs to hook you and because this does this exact opposite, a lot of people are going to put the book down and not bother with any of the others because of this. Bad writing, bad editing and bad quality control. 0 for 1.
2. Notes From the Dead Girl. This is a really fun epistolary style tale about a young vampire named Bryce putting the pieces together of a strange occult mystery, and not discovering that the conclusion is a bit too much for even the sanity of a vampire. Of course it is rife with subterfuge and backstabbing too. Good job of explaining without hand holding too. 1 for 2.
3. Playing House. Meh. A crappy tale about a crappy abusive vampire and how the dead she is killing aren’t staying dead. Are they not doing their job correctly or are the dead (and undead) coming back somehow after being killed? Poorly written, unlikeable characters and a chore to wade through. It was like reading a middle schooler’s attempt at Black Dog fan fiction. This was littered with some pretty strange typos too. 1 for 3.
4. Fading Away. An interesting story about a very vain man who buys a cursed mirror. It’s an interesting read and one of the few that doesn’t require a truckload of knowledge about the WoD to enjoy. It’s just a nice simply horror story. 2 for 4.
5. Breaking the Surface. A very weird and surreal story about an ancient vampire whose mind has been ravaged by age and for whom two different sects view in wildly different ways. For one he is a saviour and for the other he is a loathsome beast that must be put down. What happens when the two collide? I enjoyed it but like a lot of stories in the collection, a person new to the NWoD will be lost as to what is going on. Still I thought it was well written so we’ll push it into the positive column. 3 for 5.
6. Four Years, Old John. This is the second longest and by far the best story in the collection. It revolves around three Kindred: Solomon Birch, Maxwell and Old John and their “relationship” throughout several decades. A princes rises and falls and perhaps rises again here and we see the power, horror and perhaps the weakness of the Strix. Awesome job here. 4 for 6.
7. Lullay, Lullay. This is my favorite story in the collection and it is also the longest. It not only gave a great look at the Kindred of Peoria, IL, but it was also the only story that really fleshed out a Strix, its relationship with the Kindred and highlighted how awesome a ghoul can be instead of just another generic NPC or portable blood bank for the vampire. The entire story is told from the point of view of a ghoul who works for a vampire called “Little Red” and how a strange creature sets its sight on them. The story is chilling and has many memorable scenesand I was impressed by how much detail went into this twenty-one page narrative. Lullay, Lullay did more to inform a newcomer reader about the Strix, the Kindred and V:TR in general than all the other stories in this collection combined. Nice job! 5 for 7.
8. Night, Winter, and Death. This story is a lot of fun and is told from two perspectives. The first is from the journals of an elder vampire and hir mortal experiences with a Strix type creature. The second is set in the current day by two other vampires looking for this Elder. It was a simple but well told story and I liked the juxtaposition between the two writing styles. 6 for 8.
9. Marple. A very rambly murder mystery. I really hated the narrative writing style/voice of the protagonist. It’s intentionally written that way, but it was like listening to Colin from Animaniacs or Gavin from The Kids in the Hall for a full story. The writing wasn’t bad but the chosen voice was so grating I had to force myself through it. Combine that with unlikeable characters and the fact a good portion of a short story felt like filler thanks to the rambling and I can’t recommend this one. 6 for 9.
10. Owl Sign. Aside from the last few paragraphs of this story that felt like the author had no idea how to end his wonderful story so he shoved a bad “USA Up All Night” style B-Movie ending on to it, I loved this story. It captured the feel of Southern Folklore wonderfully and highlighted how even the most powerful and ancient Kindred can get taken down by a Strix while even a relatively young one can take them down in turn, if they know what they are doing. If anything this story shows what a versatile enemy a Strix can be and how a good Storyteller can use them. Still, aside from that ending, I loved this story. 7 for 10.
11. Noblesse Oblige. Oh god, this was painful to read. The writing wasn’t very good, the story was a bit nonsensical at times, the two main characters weren’t likeable, one entire section was meant to be written from the point of view of Main Character B and was accidentally written from the POV of Main Character A and I just can’t think of anything positive to say about this one. It hurt to read the adventures of two weird Kindred bidding on an owl statue at the estate auction of a late author where things go crazy. 7 for 11.
12. There Are No Owls in Seattle. Wow, I loved this one. Just top notch writing, strong characters that are fully fleshed out and a truly horrific example of how a Strix encounter can affect a Kindred, even centuries after it originally happened. It’s also a great look at Seattle and this story alone inflicts major changes on the locale if you play there. A Storyteller has a massive bonanza of opportunities here in terms of plot threads. Between this and Lullay, Lullay, you will get your five dollars worth out of this collection. 8 for 12.
13. Second Chance. An ancient Kindred who should be in torpor for quite some time longer has arisen, leading the Prince and his team to assume she may be Strix possessed. A Diablerist who knew where said Kindred slept (because he was planning to eat her) is coerced into finding her and seeing if she has an owl inside her or not. Sure, you can see the ending coming a mile away as variants of this story have been done to death, but the characters, story and events that unfold are so well written you can’t help but enjoy this. It’s also a great choice for a closer. 9 for 13.
So, basically we have a 70% quality ratio. That’s pretty good for an anthology and as I’ve said, at least two of the stories are worth the $4.99 price tag alone. Sure there are a lot of grammatical and typographical errors in this collection, but as an e-book, it can easily be updated. I’d hold off on any PoD version until these are fixed, but I think most Vampire: The Requiem fans will enjoy the collection even if it does run the quality gamut from, “I can’t believe someone got paid to write this,” to “I want a whole V:TR novel done by this author.”