The Hunters Hunted II (Vampire; The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition)
Publisher: White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing
Page Count: 185
Cost: $20 (PDF for Kickstarter Backers)/ $45 (Physical Copy for Kickstarter Backers)/TBD (Non Kickstarter Backers)
Release Date: 05/08/2013 (Kickstarter Backers’ PDF Version) TBD (Physical Edition)
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com (Eventually)
The Hunters Hunted II is the fifth Kickstarter based project for Onyx Path Publishing, who has taken the reigns from White Wolf as the purveyor of both versions of the World of Darkness. Out of those six Kickstarter campaigns, three have been for Vampire: The Masquerade products and, oddly enough, even though V:TM was one of my big three games as a kid (along with Shadowrun and Call of Cthulhu), I’ve found those releases to be much weaker than the non-V:TM pieces like Werewolf: the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition and Mummy: The Curse for the current World of Darkness. Is it changing tastes or simply that Onyx Path has learned with each passing Kickstarter how to put out a better product? I have to say the latter, because The Hunters Hunted II is the newest and the best V20 release to date. Of course, considering how terrible The V20 Companion was and how mediocre Children of the Revolution was, it’s not a hard contest for HH2 to win. Still, The Hunters Hunted II, while rife with typos, missing mechanics and other errors, is a noticeable improvement on the two previous V20 Kickstarter products and as most, if not all, of the technical and grammatical errors will no doubt be fixed before a public release (trust me, OPP has already been sent lists of errors by Kickstarter backers), I won’t harp on any of them.
What I will say though is that as good as HH2 is, most of it is written… oddly. You see, The Hunters Hunted II reads like it was written for someone new to Vampire: The Masquerade rather than its actual audience, which is comprised of a small niche group of tabletop and LARP gamers that have kept the setting alive long after it was abandoned by White Wolf. So much of the text in the book reads like a “how to roleplay” section from a Player’s Manual or “How to run a game,” from a Storyteller/DM/Keeper/whatever’s Guide. I would guess that only a fraction of the 185 pages that make up this book are actually new material rather than things V:TM gamers already know instinctually after being told it many times before in other White Wolf products. What is new, such as redefined rules for Hedge Magic, Numina, Merits, Flaws, Backgrounds and the like aren’t organized in a manner I find very useable. The book organizes things by specific hunter groups or affiliations and then presents their specific new character creation bits right after the description. I would have preferred to have all the descriptions in one area and then all the character creation mechanics in their own area. It’s going to be quite hard to use this book when you’re flipping around trying to remember where that one Background trait was, or where the definitions of what a three point relic is compared to a three point Requisition and so on. For example, some generic backgrounds and general character creation bits can be found in Chapter 2 (Character Creation), but they can also be found in Chapter 4 (Numina), and scattered haphazardly through Chapter 6 (Organizations). My hope is that they’ll lay this out better in the final product, although because that would take a massive bit of editing, it probably won’t happen. Because of this, any players or Storytellers using The Hunters Hunted II will want to make use of a lot of reusable Post-it-Notes to help you recall where everything is.
Aside from layout and editing issues, I really liked The Hunters Hunted II. It is so well written in terms of introducing new players to the World of Darkness and what it means to be a human in it, that I’d probably use this as an introduction to the setting rather than throwing players right into V:TM, W:TA or what have you. The problem with most V:TM or WoD fans is that we know the setting inside and out, and so playing a hunter becomes a bit hard since you have all this Player Knowledge that can, and will, intrude on character knowledge, even if you don’t mean it to. Get a bunch of V:TM vets playing hunters and it can also make the story not as thrilling as it would be to newcomers. “Oh, the vampire doesn’t cast a reflection. Get ready for Obtenebration!” or instead of “Holy crap, that vampire turned into a snake. My entire preconceived notions of what a vampire is has been shattered!” becomes “Oh. Follower of Set. Sweet. They take extra damage from sunlight.” So yes, HH2 is a great book for new players and Storytellers to enter the World of Darkness with. The problem is that there aren’t that many new people taking up the old version of the World of Darkness. Fans of these games have slowly shrunk as the line stopped being supported, and now it’s mainly people in their thirties, forties, or older that know the game so inside and out that a “how to play a hunter/run a hunter based game” book is a bit redundant or unnecessary for them. If anything, HH2 serves as a wake up call for fans of the system, and perhaps OPP itself, that nostalgia based Kickstarters can only take the license so far and that new blood (no pun intended) is what we truly need to keep the old World of Darkness alive.
The Hunters Hunted II consists of nine sections and eight pages of Kickstarter backer names. The first section is “Here Goes Everything,” a short piece of epistolary fiction as it is a letter from a hunter informing someone of what may be their last act. From there, we get a three page introduction that talks about the thematic differences that come with playing one who hunts the supernatural in the World of Darkness. It’s short, sweet and to the point.
Chapter 1 is entitled “Alone in the Night” and is a basic primer for new hunters (both characters and players). It’s told from the perspective of a grizzled old hunter who is teaching the intricacies of his art and the collected knowledge he has learned to a newcomer; whether he wants to hear it or not. You can see the “twist” ending coming almost from the beginning of the tale, but it’s a nice piece of meta-fiction that covers just about everything you need to know about the World of Darkness and hunting – from the perspective of a monster hunter anyway.
Chapter 2 is “Character Creation and Traits” and it’s exactly what you would expect from the title. This chapter shows the mechanics of character creation as well as the important stuff mechanics can’t help you with, such as creating a back story, personality and other aspects of fleshing out your creation. Most of the pages are devoted to the latter, which is a bit of a surprise, if only because 99.99% of the people who pick up The Hunters Hunted II will not only have experience with character creation, but specifically WoD characters. For those that might have missed human/hunter rules in things like The Hunters Hunted and the Second Edition Player’s Guide, it’s very similar to making a vampire, except you have for freebie points and one less Attribute point. I would have loved an interactive character sheet as part of the PDF for this chapter. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a regular one at the end of the book. You’ll also get some new backgrounds, merits and flaws, including one of the new “Pooled Backgrounds” for V20 that have been popping up. In this case it’s a “Base of Operations.” Perhaps the most interesting aspect of character creation for a human is that you can now sub out Conviction for Conscience, which is truly an odd decision and seems more at place with ghoul family rules than monster hunters.
Chapter 3 is entitled, “Tools and Tactics,” and this does talk about one of the most overlooked aspects of a Hunter based game – actually having strategies and tactics in play when dealing with supernatural beings far more powerful than your entire party combined. I’ve seen a lot of Hunter: The Reckoning games where players and storytellers viewed it more as a hack and slash affair or even a dungeon crawl, and that made the game not only suck, but generally ended with dead parties. So this is probably a godsend to anyone who has ever had to deal with that type of Hunter based chronicle. Even better, this chapter really goes into detail about non fighting tactics as well, such as research, stealthy shadowing and giving die bonuses for effective plans and strategies. I also enjoyed the sidebar about how useless guns really are for hunters. It reminded me of the time a player absolutely HAD to have an elephant gun for his hunter and what happened when he dealt with frenzied Brujah full of Celerity and Fortitude. He died. If there is one chapter I would strongly press for gamers of all experience levels to read – it’s this one. I know I’ve pointed out that a lot of this book feels geared for beginning gamers or people new to V:TM or WoD, but this chapter highlights so many things that I see many veteran gamers fail to do correctly, that it’s worth flipping through several times over. Even though it’s V:TM oriented, it can still be applied to pretty much any game setting, be it D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Tunnels & Trolls or what have you.
Chapter 4 is “Numina,” and it’s where you’ll find all the different supernatural abilities Hunters can get. Want to be a Hedge Mage? Look up your options here. Want True Faith? Ditto. A myriad of psychic powers? You’ll find them in this chapter. There are several new Numina that weren’t in the previous versions of V:TM. I especially enjoyed the nod to Shadowrun in one of them, even if it was entirely unintentional. Let’s make a Pyrokinetic Technomancer! WHEE!
Chapter 5 is “Storytelling,” and as you might have surmised, this is the chapter on running a Hunter based game. It’s a very long chapter, talking about the different ways to run a game (action, slow burn mystery), the difference between one shots and longer campaigns, and even how to deal with the myriad of vampiric options within the World of Darkness. After all, hunters running afoul of a Camarilla Toreador will not encounter the same thing as a Sabbat War Party or those who stumble upon an Inconnu’s haven. There’s a wealth of information here, but much of it the average V:TM gamer, especially if they are a Storyteller, already knows.
Chapter 6 is “Organizations and Resources,” and aside from my previously mentioned issues with layouts and content grouping, this is my second favorite chapter in the book. In the original The Hunters Hunted, which was less than half the length of this book with a page count of only eighty-seven pages, actual hunter organizations had such small write-ups that you didn’t get an in-depth look at any of them. For example, the Society of Leopold only got a page and a half entry, and it’s the biggest hunter group of them all! In this book, we get TEN pages, five and a half of which are mechanics. The NSA, Arcanum and the like get similarly expanded history and descriptions, really allowing players and Storytellers alike to come away with a better understanding of the group and their internal hierarchy. A couple groups from the original Hunters Hunted are missing from HH2, like the Center for Disease Control and Children of Osiris, but they’ve been replaced by bits on mob families (Italian, Russian, Chinese and Japanese), the Knights of St, George and two Muslim factions. I will say the this section assumes you know who certain named individuals are from previous released V:TM books, which is unfortunate and completely at odds with the rest of the newcomer friendly text, but it’s a minor issue at best, and even fledgling gamers will still be able to put two and two together here. There’s also some huge gaps of text missing here, like the Sabbat Survivor Merit, which is missing the entire description and point cost, but that will no doubt be fixed when the official release comes around.
Finally we come to the Appendix, which features some pre-generated characters. This is a true White Wolf (and especially V:TM) staple, although oddly enough, the character sheets don’t always match up with the bios givens. Many bios read as if the characters should have specific new merits, flaws and backgrounds, but on the actual sheet they are missing. For example, the very first character, “The Obsessed Detective,” is SCREAMING for the three (or even five) point Flaw “Credulous,” but it’s not there on the character sheet. Or how about the fact the Paranoid Surveyor is missing, oh, the PARANOID FLAW made especially for this book? Little things like that that you won’t notice and that won’t really matter…unless you’re a professional reviewer looking at this thing. I really enjoy the pregens besides these glaring omissions, and the artwork for the characters is arguably the best in the book.
All in all, despite niggling minor flaws scattered throughout the book, I’d say that The Hunters Hunted is easily the best release for V20 so far. Generally the PDF and the Print on Demand versions of V20 books are much cheaper than the Kickstarter versions (because backers get extra perks and special limited editions of the products), so when this does go on sale to the general public, it should probably with a price tag that will make this worth picking up by any V:TM fan, even if they already are more than familiar with the bulk of content betwixt its pages.