[V:TM] [OWoD] Let's Read Vampire: the Dark Ages

Cassander

Armless Tiger Man
Vampire: the Dark Ages was first released in 1996, a departure from the modern day horror settings which had previously been the focus of the World of Darkness. It was published a year after the first release of Changeling: the Dreaming, and was intended to be the first in a series of historical games.

This first post should probably be called “Let’s look at Vampire: the Dark Ages”, because we are mostly going to deal with the book’s physical appearance. This, generally speaking, is very nice. The cover shows a slab of black/white/purple marble, overlaid with ivy leaves and a red rose, a nice reference to the cover of Vampire: the Masquerade. The end-papers are a lovely bit of tapestry, and the book’s interior pages have a floral border rendered in a slightly naive style (remarkably like some actual medieval page borders); this is, I think, the work of Richard Thomas, though not specifically credited. The chapters each open with a full-page John Bolton illustration, most of which are very nice and which, unfortunately, are in black-and-white; the originals, which were in colour, look even better. There are a mixed collection of interior artists, including Timothy Bradstreet and Josh Timbrook, and a host of others, most of whom won’t actually do much work for the line as a whole. There are a couple of pieces by Guy Davis and Vince Locke; take note of these guys, as they will be doing a lot of work for the game line over the next eight or so years. Even the text is nicely rendered. Sub-headings within the book use the typeface DeRoos, and the game’s logo is a wonderfully nice bit of design by Ash Arnett.

The design is, of course, a product of its era, and will look rather old-fashioned compared to many modern games. Yet it is simple, uncluttered, clear, and manages (for the most part) to avoid unreadable typefaces. The end result gives the reader the feel that they are dealing with a solid and practical book.

One which we might even open in my next post...
 

Motorskills

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I regret to this day selling my all-but complete collection of VTDA. Constantinople in particular was a tour de force.
 

MarkK

Registered User
Validated User
Constantinople by Night, remains, I think, my favourite thing white wolf ever did, to this day. But there was a lot of quality in the VtDA line generally.
 

Sobek

Retired User
Subscribed; there was a haunting quality to the original Vampire: the Dark Ages that I would love to revisit.
 

IanWatson

Pharos
Validated User
Many of you will be pleased to note that V20 Dark Ages will be our next Kickstarter. It a new rulebook in the V20 milieu, and more based on VTDA than on DAV.
 

Sobek

Retired User
Many of you will be pleased to note that V20 Dark Ages will be our next Kickstarter. It a new rulebook in the V20 milieu, and more based on VTDA than on DAV.
Ian, is there an estimate as to when the KS will launch or is it too early to say?
 

MarkK

Registered User
Validated User
Many of you will be pleased to note that V20 Dark Ages will be our next Kickstarter. It a new rulebook in the V20 milieu, and more based on VTDA than on DAV.
Hrm. The overall summary material I've seen for it more seems to place an emphasis on the emerging anarch movement and the coming strife and conflagration of that than VTDA's Long Night. V20 Dark Ages that is.

It's also not like DAV was terrible. I actually really liked how deeply they explored the various roads and their significance, it was a nice touch and something that actually felt missing. I'd hope that survives into this one.
 
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Cassander

Armless Tiger Man
The text of the book opens with a letter from a Cainite named Boukephos to his childe Geoffrey, telling of his conflict with a Gangrel named Aelfred. This is, interestingly enough, the first appearance of Boukephos as far as I can tell, and his Clan is not named here, nor his generation mentioned; indeed, whilst the letter makes clear that he is a powerful Cainite, “Lasombra Methusaleh” is probably not what would occur to most readers.

The letter provides the background to the main section of prefatory text, a letter by a Gloucestershire priest, Friar Offa, to his superior in Rome Monsignor Bernardini. Offa tells the story of his meeting with the Cainite Aelfred, who confesses his sins, and introduces him to the world of vampires. The letter outlines many of the key concepts of the game, such as the clans, feeding, the dangers of fire and sunlight, and so on. Aelfred acts the penitent, but leads Offa to confront an older and more powerful Cainite, Harald Leifsson. Pretending that they are attempting to deal with an ancient and dangerous monster, Aelfred leads Offa to capture the Cainite, who is then, over a number of nights, bound to Aelfred by what is known, in this setting, as the Blood Oath. The tale ends with Offa killing Harald and discovering that his faith, once powerful enough that his touch would burn Cainites, has been drained away by his experiences.

This introduction to the setting is quite serviceable fiction; better, it should be noted, than that which appears in most White Wolf supplements. Moreover, it is a fairly effective way of explaining a number of the game’s core concepts to readers who are complete novices.

The fiction is followed by the book’s formal introduction. The first few pages are given over to the basics of roleplaying. Even here some idea of the themes and scale of the game are revealed. In a section on coteries, for instance, the book states that: “In most cases, the coteries of player characters will comprise all the young vampires in a given area, unless it is one of the largest cities such as Venice or Constantinople.” These details are nice touches to give the reader an idea of the game’s scale; this is supposed to be a relatively small and intimate game, where the player characters are important, in part, because of the relative rarity of Cainites. Later in the introduction the relative scale of the game is revealed, when it is stated that: “A city of 10,000 mortals may have a dozen resident vampires, with half a dozen more in the surrounding towns and villages.” In case we, the readers, are wondering about the book’s tone, we are informed that this is “a grand and terrifying age in which to be a vampire. On one hand, it is a time of fear and superstition, of blind obedience and casual brutality” whilst also being “a time of terror for Cainites” where constant threats, from the mortal world and the hands of vampires, are always present.

What the reader should probably note here is both the strength of the theme, and the efficiency with which it is explained. Whilst none of the details are, strictly speaking, inconsistent with actual history, the tone is closer to the literary genre of gothic horror, than a documentary representation of the past. The details presented here also clearly differentiate this game from early editions of Vampire: the Masquerade. In the earlier game the final death of even a single vampire was a significant event; here, the Cainites are both less restrained, and more at risk, indulging in bloody intrigues at night far more violent than the vampires of modern nights. Of course, these thematic distinctions fade as Vampire moved into its revised edition, with its far greater emphasis on violence. For now, though, we can savour the differences between the two game lines.

To further emphasise the scale of the game, the book notes that the Cainite world at this time is one without sects, populated “simply [by] individual clan elders and princes, all exerting influences on their neighbours for their own disparate ends”. Overpopulation, the book notes, is fast becoming a serious problem, as Cainites multiply with few constraints on their numbers. So, even in 1197, the year in which the book is set, the events which set off the Anarch Revolt are already on the horizon.

What is striking about Vampire: the Dark Ages is that real effort has been given to provide an introduction which is useful in detail and content, and has a strong notion of the game’s theme. It’s a good start.
 
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