Thursday, January 16, 2014

Late Review: Clanbook Nosferatu



Clanbook Nosferatu
By Robert Hatch
1993, 68 pages

            Too few players want to take on the burden of playing the hideous and disfigured Nosferatu.  Why play an ugly outcast when the beauty of the Toreador or the exotic allure of the Assamites await?  Clanbook Nosferatu offers plenty of great reasons to play a member of this much maligned clan, namely clan unity.  Unlike the Ventrue who claim unity or the Tremere who enforce unity through blood bonds, the Nosferatu band together because no one else will wants them.  Even in the ranks of the damned and undead, the Nosferatu are all but pariahs, only accepted because they act as information brokers and spies.  The Nosferatu loyalty to their clan even transcends their allegiances to the Sects.  Clanbook Nosferatu presents an intriguing but shallow examination of the clan of Sewer Rats. 
            Like the other original clanbooks, Clanbook Nosferatu is divided into four chapters with an Appendix which includes some notable Nosferatu.  However, rather than having a singular narrator like Clanbook Ravnos or an outsider viewpoint like Clanbook Ventrue or Clanbook Toreador, the author uses a variety of sources and inworld documents along with the typical outsider, third person viewpoint to explore the culture of the Nosferatu clan.  These documents such as a research journal of a Tremere who has been experimenting on Nosferatu and the memos of a Nosferatu named Jameson to his sire/mentor/patron detailing his adventures break up the usual monotony of textbook style writing that can plague Clanbooks and other RPG supplements.  These inworld documents along with the purposefully fingerprint-smudged pages and images of trash along the page borders give the reader the sense of holding an actual document written by the Nosferatu without interfering with the readability of the book.
            Clanbook Nosferatu begins with the story of a Nosferatu who refers to himself/herself (the gender is unclear) as Demon or Demon Lover stalking a victim.  Using Obfuscate to change its appearance, the monstrous and deformed Demon becomes the handsome, Goth pretty boy Demon Lover who rises from the sewers to seek a victim at a clich├ęd Goth club.  Demon Lover isn’t looking for a meal; he wants to find a mortal to Embrace.  Rather than chose a worthy addition to the clan, Demon Lover wants to punish a Goth-wannabe who lives a normal life and puts on the guise of a Goth girl to escape from her humdrum life.  After seducing its target, Demon Lover leads her away from the club where it reveals its true nature and Embraces the woman damning her to the same miserable eternity of grotesque unlife.  Demon cataclysmically destroys the woman’s fantasies of the beautiful, undying vampires of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire replacing that mirage with the truth and horror of real vampires at their worst, physically deformed and mentally and spiritually perverse.  One can’t help but wonder if this is also a strike against the pretentious tourists of Goth culture.  A reaction to the growing Goth culture of the 90s with its increasing number of hangers on similar to the way “real Goths” feel about Twilight fans. 
Even the damned have their standards! 
            Beginning with a treatise written by a Renaissance era Tremere researcher who wants to understand if certain Nosferatu deformities are passed along from Sire to childe, Chapter two focuses on the Nosferatu’s weakness, its origins, and how it defines the clan’s culture.  The Tremere researcher concludes that a Nosferatu’s appearance and deformity is entirely idiosyncratic and most likely caused by some unspeakable act of incest or bestiality done by the Nosferatu Antediluvian.  However the treatise is incomplete since the Nosferatu clan did not take kindly to a Tremere capturing and vivisecting its members or his opinions on their clan’s origins.  The researcher was found vivisected by his own tools. 
The next section is a transcript of a Nosferatu telling a gathering of his clanmates the oral history of the clan’s progenitor.  Rather than imagining Caine and his childer as the rulers of a grand city in the Fertile Crescent, the Nosferatu claim that Caine and his brood were living in caves.  The Nosferatu Antediluvian, Absimiliard, was the greatest hunter of his tribe of hunters and gatherers.  He (most likely a he) was both beautiful and prideful.  One of the Second Generation ambushed Absimiliard and Embraced him, but during the fight, Absimiliard was wounded and the wound left a scar on his face.  From that day forward, Absimiliard hated his Sire and planned his sire’s destruction.  Absimiliard Embraced many others and blood bound them; of the many who Absimiliard Embraced only one, a woman escaped the blood bond.  When Caine left behind his growing brood, Absimiliard gathered together all of the Third Generation and led them in a revolt against their sires.  Absimiliard diablerized his Sire in the ensuing battle and when Caine saw this he cursed Absimiliard and all of brood with deformities.  Those Absimiliard had blood bound became the Niktuku, and the childer of the woman who escaped sired the Nosferatu clan. 
            Whether or not the Niktuku exist is a matter of debate amongst the Nosferatu in game and the players out of game.  Supposedly, Caine’s curse drove Absimiliard insane, and he decided that the only way to have the curse removed was to destroy all of his descendents, Nosferatu and Niktuku alike.  Supposedly, the Niktuku became Absimiliard’s assassins tracking the Nosferatu back to their homes and wiping out entire warrens.  They are the Nosferatu’s bogeymen, much the same as the True Brujah or the Ventrue’s Secret Masters, but the Nosferatu are so afraid of them that they band together for protection ensuring their survival and improving their clan unity.  The only thing known about the Niktuku is that they want to destroy the Nosferatu clan, and they are hideously deformed, more so than even the Nosferatu. 
            Chapter Three, appropriately titled “Subculture,” explores the society that the Nosferatu have built beneath the streets.  Beginning with a description of the slow and agonizing process of transformation for the recently Embraced, this chapter meanders through a variety of topics.  The most interesting is the methods of selection that leads to the selection of a new Nosferatu.  The “Fortunate Few” describes those who are outsiders and loners or mentally ill that are selected because they can cope and survive the change into a deformed monster.  Others may be chosen because of their skill in engineering, necessary for expanding the underground warrens.  “Leatherfaces” are Nosferatu who have had a psychotic break and fixate on images of murderers from movies like Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street or Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre  which is where the name comes from.  These murderous Nosferatu act out scenes from slasher films, recreating the murders or expanding on them.  Finally there are the “Cleopatras” who are beautiful or prideful people that the Nosferatu Embrace to punish them or teach them a lesson in humility.  Those Cleopatras who survive the Embrace and don’t go insane frequently become clan leaders and protectors of the innocent. 
Leatherface is NOT a role model!
            According to Clanbook Nosferatu, because the clan is physically repugnant, they are more honest.  The Nosferatu are still monsters and commit atrocious acts, but they don’t try to conceal their actions under a veneer of civility.  Unlike those members of the beautiful clans, such as the Toreador or the Ventrue, who whisper a kind word before they stab a rival in the back, a Nosferatu will just stab their rival.  A Nosferatu is supposedly more honest with his or her intentions.  The author wants this to be a redeeming and clan wide quality rather than an idiosyncrasy that some players may have their characters adopt.  Not every Nosferatu should be the “honest monster,” but this does offer a starting point for players who are looking to add a little depth to their portrayals of Nosferatu characters. 
            For players looking to add some variation on their Nosferatu characters’ deformities, the Merits and Flaws section offers a selection of beneficial deformities.  Merits such as Lizard Limbs turn a deformity into a benefit because like a lizard that can shed its tail a Nosferatu with this Merit can shed a limb to escape its bonds.  Tough Hide gives the Nosferatu more dice to soak Bashing or Lethal Damage, and Patagia allows the Nosferatu to use flaps of loose skin to glide like a flying squirrel.  The Flaws are also focused on physical deformities or other gross aspects of the Nosferatu’s weakness.  Stench and Parasitic Infestation need very little description other than their name.  These Merits and Flaws are not necessarily useful and are intended to mitigate some of the negatives of the Nosferatu’s clan weakness by turning it into a semi-beneficial ability.  Individual Storytellers may or may not allow these in V20 Chronicles, but they do provide the player with a few interesting ideas when describing their Nosferatu’s weakness. 
Flying Nosferatu...like a flying squirrel only minus the cuteness
            The most beneficial section to Storytellers is also the section that should have been expanded.  Clanbook Nosferatu is one of the few sources for information on the sprawling underground labyrinths that the Nosferatu call home.  Comprised of sewers, abandoned subway stations, fallout shelters, and Nosferatu carved tunnels, these warrens are a great setting for adventures for players and Storytellers who want to explore underground caverns.  However, Clanbook Nosferatu only details three areas:  the Antechamber, the Chamber of Horrors, and the Spawning Pool.  The Antechamber is obviously where Nosferatu meet guests that they wouldn’t allow deeper into their domain.  The Chamber of Horrors is the central area where meetings are held and the most defensive spot in the warren.  The Spawning Pool is a small pool of clear water where the eldest Nosferatu drips some blood to create guardians for the warrens.  Giant sewer rats and other animals up to and including sewer gators are drawn to the water and become protectors of the warren.  Beyond these three zones, the rest is left to the Storyteller’s imagination.  By increasing the number of rooms detailed, this section of the book would have been indispensible to Storytellers looking to add a dungeon crawl style adventure to his or her Chronicle.  As it is, the information in this section is extraneous because most of it can be found in any of the Vampire the Masquerade core books or extrapolated by a creative Storyteller. 
            What is surprising is the focus on the ecology and strangeness of the Nosferatu warrens, and some of these elements become fantastical.  As with other books in the Clanbook series, the author offers information that can be useful for any style of Chronicle whether it is a realistic campaign or something more like a pulp adventure.  Some of the elements included for pulp style games are details like giant forests of tree sized mushrooms nourished by the blood of Nosferatu and fed with dead mortals as compost.  Also useful for World of Darkness players who enjoy crossover games is the use of Black Spiral Dancers (from Werewolf the Apocalypse) as competitors for living space in the underground tunnels.  Some Nosferatu have even encountered Wyrmholes where Black Spiral Dancers have recruited them; these Wyrm-infested Nosferatu terrify other Nosferatu.  Other monstrous creatures lurk beneath the earth, and Nosferatu warrens are digging deeper every day, and like the Dwarves of Moria may have awakened evils better left buried.  A new Level 6 option for Animalism, called Song in the Dark, has been included to allow Nosferatu to communicate with these subterranean horrors and eldritch beings.  However, if not everyone’s World of Darkness includes towering fungus or Cthulhu-esque beings living in the earth; so, these elements might be better left aside in order to focus on core themes of the Vampire the Masquerade setting.
The Balrog is the least of your problems if you're prank calling horrors of the deep!
            Chapter Four has a selection of Nosferatu character templates that can be used either as Player Characters or as Storyteller Characters.  Most will need to be updated to comply with the V20 rules, but conversion should be simple affair.  None of the templates are awful, but some do stand out from the rest as excellent examples of how to create three dimensional characters, but any of them could be great beginning points for a new character.  The best character template is the Equalizer who is a gay male character that was attacked by bigots and nearly killed.  After being saved by a Nosferatu via the Embrace, the Equalizer has turned his rage against the system’s injustice and has become a protector of the oppressed.  This is a great concept for a modern character, especially considering that Clanbook Nosferatu was published in 1993.  The Cleopatra, a beautiful character turned into a Nosferatu, and the Leatherface, a psychopathic Nosferatu who imitates movie monsters such as Freddy Krueger, are also detailed.  The most fun character is the Luchador, a masked professional wrestler, who continues to battle in the squared circle after his Embrace, but now his matches only take place at night adding to the mystery of this masked man.  Known as El Diablo Verde, the Luchador is a popular and well known figure in professional wrestling, but any slip could be a Masquerade violation.  Players looking to inject a little humor into their Vampire the Masquerade game will love the chance to pose and speak in a pseudo Macho Man Randy Savage voice as they play this character archetype.
            The Appendix describes four famous Nosferatu characters that could be either NPCs or plot hooks for a Chronicle.  Sergei Voshkov is a former KGB spy master who was Embraced by Baba Yaga and now serves the crone in post-Soviet Russia.  Prudence Stone was a child gifted with prescience in Puritan Plymouth.  Her uncanny insights led the rest of the community to execute her for witchcraft, but a Nosferatu who she had befriended saved her.  Now she leads an enclave of Nosferatu in the Boston area and acts as an undead oracle.  Pusfinger was a Seattle Nosferatu of little renown until he saved the life of a powerful Toreador Elder.  Now the Elder owes Pusfinger a life boon and Pusfinger has become famous for this deed.  Lastly, the “Bat Child” is a mysterious Nosferatu that hides in the caves of Appalachia.  Based on the infamous “Bat Boy” images from the Weekly World News, this character is more myth than real and has only two paragraphs of information neither of which does more than try to wedge a 90’s fringe pop culture reference into the World of Darkness.
Seriously!  This was totally a thing in the 90's. 
            None of these famous Nosferatu are useful characters in terms of gameplay.  Sergei Voshkov and Prudence Stone offer some insight into the happenings in the rest of the World of Darkness.  Only Chronicles that involve the schemes of Baba Yaga could make use of Sergei, and Prudence Stone could be useful as an oracle for characters needing guidance.  Pusfinger’s story is too centered on the 90’s, but his description does offer some ideas as to how characters might gain leverage over more powerful elders.  Bat Boy just isn’t a very interesting character beyond being completely mysterious and a silly article from a now defunct tabloid. 
            Clanbook Nosferatu covers a lot of material, but unfortunately its breadth of information lacks the necessary depth to make the book truly worth buying.  The highlight of this book is the Nosferatu retelling of their Antediluvian’s origin.  This story has a unique setting where Caine lives in caves rather than early Mesopotamian city states.  Because the Nosferatu hate and fear their progenitor, the general theme of the story is different from the other clans who revere their founder and want him or her to be the center of vampire myths.  The details of Nosferatu warrens could be useful for Storytellers who want to set their adventures in sewers or subterranean areas; however, the details necessary to inspire Storytellers to create memorable adventures is missing.  This book offers a lot of starting points for players and Storytellers but lacks the inspiring tone and excitement that other clanbooks brought to their respective clans.  Nosferatu players may enjoy reading about their favorite clan, and some players will certainly find the templates section helpful when they need inspiration during character creation, but otherwise, Clanbook Nosferatu isn’t necessary. 
            Clanbook Nosferatu is available for purchase from DriveThruRPG as a PDF or you can purchase an original printing from Amazon. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

VtM 30 Day Challenge: Day Eleven – Favorite Adventure That You Ran



            Because of the serial nature of the Chronicles that I run, I can’t really pick out a single adventure that was my favorite.  My goal has always been to connect individual sessions together; each session grows out of the previous creating the Chronicle.  One of my favorite plots however that ran over the course of an entire Chronicle was the conflict caused by a pretender Elder who was trying to rise from Primogen to Prince. 
            Colin claimed he was a two hundred year old French vampire, but in truth he was a recently Embraced history professor specializing in French history.  Prior to the start of the game, Colin was able to persuade the entire city that he was a powerful Ventrue, and he was so successful that the Ventrue recommended that he be the Primogen.  Colin surrounded himself with a variety of henchmen and thanks to his access to Backgrounds like Resources, Contacts, and Allies, Colin had an iron grip on the city.  But Colin wouldn’t happy until he was the Prince. 
            Colin was a great villain for a low powered Vampire the Masquerade game for new players.  The risks were relatively low since Colin couldn’t call in favors from outside supernatural beings, but he was powerful enough to be a problem for the players especially with his allies.  The players were forced to figure out the mystery of this character who they could not confront directly because of his supposed power.  However, as the adventure progressed, the PCs learned more, eventually breaking into his sanctuary, and discovered the truth of this pretender.  This reveal led to a gunfight in the streets of Baltimore and Colin being shot murdered by a group of very angry PCs. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

VtM 30 Day Challenge: Day Ten – Craziest Thing That’s Happened That You Saw




            I had been invited to play in a Vampire the Masquerade game that had been running for a while.  The Storyteller only had 2 players, both of whom were playing Assamites and both had lots of experience already.  Unfortunately, the Storyteller and the players had all played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition and had carried over a house rule from that game that all new characters start at level one; hence, I started as a beginning character.  In VtM that isn’t as big a problem since the chance to hit someone or to do damage wasn’t affected by level. 
            My character was introduced in the middle of the story, and that’s where the problems began.  The two Assamites were hunting another vampire and a chase had begun along an interstate.  My character was introduced, sitting on a motorcycle on an overpass as the other players ran past.  One of the Assamite saw my character, saw the motorcycle and did the most obnoxious but logical thing.  He punched my character in face and snatched the motorcycle and rode off after his prey.  My character was shocked and so was I – easiest role playing moment ever.  As quickly as I was introduced into the game, I was taken out of it by a combination of poor forethought on the part of the Storyteller and the logical yet selfish actions of a player. 
            This was undoubtedly the worst role playing experience that I had.  It’s something that I’ve learned from as well.  I always keep this experience in mind when I’m planning to introduce a new character. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

VtM 30 Day Challenge: Day Nine – Favorite Character That You Haven’t Played



            In the last two years, I have had the chance to play, rather than run, only a handful of times.  Only one of those was a Vampire the Masquerade game, and it was a one-shot.  The character that I played was a Toreador punk rock singer named Sydney.  I usually play female characters.  Don’t judge me!  I set out to make a balanced character who lived up to the punk archetype, tough and capable in a street fight but still a musician.   It was a character that represented all the lessons that I had learned about Vampire the Masquerade, role playing, and myself.  That was two years ago.  I’d like to revisit that character and put into practice the lessons that I’ve learned since then.  
            More so than just playing a character, I’d like to play a character in a long running Chronicle.  That’s the first stipulation to playing “my favorite character.”  Characters shouldn’t come out of character creation as a completed entity.  Characters need time to grow, and players need time to explore the character and find out what direction the character will go over the course a Chronicle.  In the case of my Toreador punk rock singer, over the course of a Chronicle, she could abandon her desire to be a singer as she becomes a part of Kindred society.  The draw of power and influence could be overwhelming, but would she abandon her beliefs to further her place within society.  Or would Sydney be drawn into the politics of the Anarchs?  Would she come to hate the Elders and their games and want to tear down the Camarilla within her city?  Could she join the Sabbat?  What promise could tempt to her?  Could the fear of an impending Gehenna push Sydney to take up the fight against the Antediluvians and their lap dogs the Camarilla?  I won’t know except when I play the character and I’m presented with the opportunities to make those choices.
            Most Vampire the Masquerade characters and especially Toreador start on the Path of Humanity, but the long a vampire survives the more tenuous that hold on human morality becomes.  I’ve already stated that the Path of Lilith is my favorite Path of Enlightenment, so perhaps I’d like this character to transition over to that Path.  Changing paths could take many sessions.  In order to set up this change, I would start the character with one point in Occult and ask my Storyteller if I had heard about the Path of Lilith or some of its heretical teachings.  Then, during downtime, my character would seek out information on that subject, speak to Elders, make deals and get further drawn into the spider web of Elder politics.  After a while, everyone gets caught in the trap of favors given and favors received. 
            Disciplines are another area where a character has a chance to grow and explore possibilities that are not available at character creation.  A Toreador’s in clan Disciplines are Auspex, Celerity, and Presence, and while each of those Disciplines are extraordinarily good in their own right, VtM offers dozens of other options for a character willing to learn and seek out a teacher.  However, just learning a new Discipline has an extraordinary cost; a character must drink one point of blood from his/her mentor in order to activate the potential for that power.  One point blood bound to another vampire is also one point closer to losing control of one’s self.  Not counting the rare Disciplines from extremely rare bloodlines, a Toreador punk rock singer could make use of any of the common Disciplines.  Merely having access to the other physical Disciplines, Fortitude and Potence, would be a boon. 
            The point of this article is not the character, but the process.  Playing the character is not simply just improving the stats on a character sheet but developing the story of that character along with the Storyteller.  Exploring not just what a character may want to do, but also what happens when a character loses interest in one thing and gains a new interest.  Even vampires continue to grow and change. Character creation isn’t the end of creating a character.  A thousand small choices over the course of Chronicle impact the character changing it from what the player had in mind to what the character is at the end of a Chronicle.