I just downloaded and read the V5 preview that White Wolf made available today. It’s 27 pages, and contains sections from the final, published book (though I hope they gave it one more read-through, as I found one typo without looking very carefully).
Dossier of the Damned
These are interesting snippets of information intended to set the scene – notes from vampires and from those who are researching vampires. The Masquerade simply can’t be maintained in 2018, but the question is, who knows about vampires, and what do they know? This introduces the new terms they’re using for vampires among those who study them – blackbodies, or blankbodies, drawn from the Pre-Alpha scenario and referring to how vampires show up in IR scans.
This is really more like “themes”, concepts the guide you in understanding the World of Darkness and creating a chronicle together. One theme has always been that vampires are not the good guys, and White Wolf hits this theme here as well. You are playing a predator who feeds on human beings. Maybe you cling to humanity and maybe you don’t, but you are not a Good Person.
Basically a few examples of imagery, and the repeated reminder that you can’t dress like a vampire in public. Sort of the “This ain’t the 90s Goth scene” section.
We get write-ups of the Brujah and the Toreador, and both are very much in line with the past of those clans. I like that they list more than one nickname for each clan, and I like the artwork of sample Brujah looks in that section. Well, I like that it’s there, and I like the concept of multiple views. Unfortunately, the four female examples are all models with hooker shoes, and the four male examples are all models wearing fashionably ripped street clothes. I would have much preferred a variety of body types here, as well as some indication that one can be a vampire and not necessarily be fashion-forward. They’re also all posed as if they are at a fashion show instead of caught in the action, so the art fails the test of “Show me what my character can do in the game.” Unless V5 is about standing around and looking cool.
We don’t get the same images for the Toreador, ironically, since that’s the only clan I could imagine composed mostly of people who stand around posing in over-priced distressed clothing. But, again, in both cases, these are recognizably Brujah and Toreador as far as the text goes. Clan flaws are now Banes.
Speaking of which, the Toreador’s Bane got a lot worse in this version. Not only do they lose themselves in beauty, but when surrounded by ugliness (according to their particular aesthetic), Toreador lose dice from all uses of Disciplines equal to the Bane score. So…ouch. Also, flavorful. Why do they surround themselves with beauty? In part, because they have to. Overall, though, this feels like giving them two Banes instead of one (albeit weaksauce) flaw.
Characters begin play with between one and three Convictions, which are up to the player at character creation; things like “Thou shalt not kill.” These are the moral lines that the character has set for themselves (surely to be stressed and pressed upon by the Storyteller). We read that incurring Stains in pursuit of your Conviction might mitigate Stains, which is confusing and, since this is a sample, unexplained. Violating a Conviction might also, at the ST’s discretion, incur a Stain.
I’d have to see the full text but we might have Capitalization Creep here.
Chronicle Tenets are kind of like themes combined with lines and veils from other systems. You are setting the genre conventions, key ideas, and also limits of your chronicle together, and I like the way this is handled. This is the kind of conversation that games increasingly call for, and it looks like these will have mechanical weight, as violating Tenets can apparently be a source of Stains. Basically, you’re postmodern vampires and you are creating a shared morality together that will be in effect over the course of your chronicle.
Touchstones sound similar to what is used in Chronicles of Darkness and Vampire the Masquerade 2nd Edition. They are specific things in the world that keep you grounded in your humanity (or threaten your humanity when they are threatened).
Ambitions are just what they sound like – the general things that drive your character from night to night, beyond the hunger for blood. Desires are specific, and must be connected to something that’s come up in the relationship map for your chronicle already (i.e. must be connected to an existing NPC or key aspect of the setting for the chronicle). I like this – knowing what a character’s Touchstones, Ambitions and Desires are is pretty much all an ST needs to know where to push a character from night to night, and are all of course “flags” that let the player say “This is what I want to see in this chronicle.”
Explicitly recreated so as not to mess with the action economy, Celerity has variant powers for each level (and it isn’t clear if you choose both or have to pick one or the other). The powers also don’t build on each other like previous versions of Celerity, but rather give the character a specific ability or move they can use, often by making a Rouse roll. So you can dodge bullets, rush around the battlefield in a blur, and run across ledges without having to roll to keep your balance. Feels like Celerity to me, and I like it.
These are the most interesting thing in this whole preview, an idea that I love. There has always been a tremendous amount of metaplot layered over Vampire, since 2nd Edition at least. It has been something I have seen integrated into chronicles, and the problem has always been that those “in the know” nod sagely when something comes up that they read in a splatbook while the rest of the players are just in the dark, wondering why everyone thinks this weird name is so important. And I say this as a ST who has included metaplot things in my chronicles to make the in-the-know players nod sagely.
Loresheets give actual connectivity between the mechanics and the backstory of the game in interesting ways. The three examples given are a loresheet for Theo Bell, a loresheet for Helena, and a loresheet for the Week of Nightmares. Each bit of lore is treated like a background, rated from one dot to five dots, with more dots giving you deeper connections to the backstory. For example, one dot of lore in the Week of Nightmares means you tell the story of that harrowing time in a way that vampires find fascinating. You are sometimes invited to retell it in Elysium, and get 3 extra dice to your performance roll. Five dots in Week of Nightmares means you have a vial of the Ravnos Antediluvian’s blood. What you do with the blood is up to you, and the effect it has is up to the ST. That’s…awesome.
V5 feels like it is trying a bit too hard to be fashionable, but then previous editions all felt like they were trying too hard to be Goth, which is just a subset of fashionable. I did feel like the artwork was more fashion and less horror, which was too bad, despite some of it being beautiful (and full-color).
There might be too many things to keep track of, though I’d have to see all of these mechanics in play of course. But Disciplines, Banes, Humanity, Stains, Convictions, Chronicle Tenets, Touchstones, Ambitions, Desires, Disciplines….and that’s just a taste of capitalized words from this 27-page preview. These are all cool ideas, but they make this already a significantly more complicated game than D&D 5E, for example, and it might just be too much for some players to want to keep track of. Again, though, how this all works in play remains to be seen.
And to be clear, I like this version of Vampire. I like the direction they’ve taken. I think this is an improvement on previous editions of the game in many ways – the way morality is seemingly handled, the way Celerity was reworked, and especially the Loresheets to name a few things I really like. I just need to find some players who want to play Vampire.