Saturday, May 23, 2015

GenCon 2000 and GenCon 2015

I’m planning my first trip to GenCon since 2000, and a lot of things have changed in 15 years.  GenCon has grown much larger, more expensive, and even changed cities.  I’ve changed as well.  I have different priorities now, and maybe I’ve matured a little too.  Maybe. 

            My first trip to GenCon was a spur of the moment decision.  I’d just graduated college, and I’d just quit my first post-college job.  I didn’t have much going on, and when some of my friends said that they were going to GenCon, I decided to use some of the money I’d received as a graduation present to go to GenCon.  Those were much different times, and I was obviously an irresponsible twenty-something.  I was playing RPGs, but I was much more interested in TCGs, especially Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) and Decipher’sStar Wars CCG.
All of my friends played L5R, and of course, that meant I played as well.  I was never as invested into the game as my friends.  I’d already spent way too much money on Star Wars CCG, and after I became disillusioned with that game, other TCGs had lost their luster.  My closest friends, however, wanted to go to GenCon to compete in the L5R World Championship tournament.  The mechanics of L5R were different enough from Magic or Star Wars that I was interested too, but I refused to invest heavily into another TCG.  Nevertheless, I was able to build a “competitive” deck thanks to help from my much more competition-oriented friends. Those quotation marks are important as you'll find out soon enough.   
At that time, GenCon was located in Milwaukee, WI, and I remember dreading that long drive from Alabama.  My friends and I really didn’t have any plans for the convention other than playing in the L5R World Championship.  This was GenCon 2000, however, and it was a pretty big year for RPGs.  Wizards of the Coast had just released Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, and they had recently purchased the rights to L5R TCG and RPG from Alderac Entertainment.  WotC would use that license to create their a new version of Oriental Adventures based on L5R’s Rokugan setting. 
At that time I wasn’t playing D&D, and I really didn’t consider playing RPGs to be my “primary hobby” even though I bought a ton of books.  I was mostly playing L5R's tabletop RPG and of course, Vampire:  The Masquerade.  I was spending far more money on comic books and TCGs.  I just wasn’t interested in playing RPGs at GenCon or doing much that involved roleplaying.  In hindsight, it’s a shame, especially, because I really couldn’t have done much else at GenCon because I was playing in the L5R tournament. 

The L5R World Championship at GenCon 2000 was a two day affair.  L5R was probably at the height of its popularity in 2000, and the number of people who entered that tournament was astounding.  I’d never seen a tournament so large, and it was probably only rivaled in size by Magic the Gathering’s Pro Tour Qualifiers. With that many people competing, the tournament took the entire day just to determine who would make the cut for Sunday.  Most TCG tournaments are not single or double elimination; instead they use the Swiss Format A single round usually takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour to complete and with that many competitors playing in the tournament, the tournament lasted nearly 8 hours, if not more, due to the nature of the tournament format. 
I would like to say that I did exceptionally well in the tournament or at least made a good showing, but that’d be a lie.  My first round match is most likely the fastest tournament loss in the L5R's history.  In Magic the Gathering and some other TCGs, winning on the first time or even the second turn isn’t uncommon.  In L5R, winning on the second turn is nearly impossible due to the mechanics of the game.  For those of you who are familiar with L5R, you’ll be astonished to hear that I lost on my opponent's second turn.  A series of province destroying events and very fortunate draw helped my opponent destroy me before I got to take my second turn.  I’d add more details, but I don’t want to bore my audience with the rules, card descriptions, and interactions that led to my greatest defeat.  Even fifteen years later, that loss still hurts! If you're interested in the details let me know and I'll write a full version of that loss.  
My only souvenir from that GenCon was an L5R t-shirt that Wizards of the Coast gave out at one of their events.  The t-shirt is something of a collector’s item as it has both the revised L5R logo with the coins (after the Olympics claimed trademark on any design that incorporated 5 interlocking rings) and the WotC logo.  For a free t-shirt it’s held up well, and I’ll probably be wearing it at GenCon. WotC would later sell the rights to L5R back to AEG a few  years later.  
It’s 2015, and I’m going to GenCon again.  I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am to be able to go.  So much has changed for me!  I’ve grown up, as strange as that is to admit.  I’ve given up collecting comics and playing TCGs, and my bank account is most thankful for that!  This trip to GenCon is far better planned, and I’ve got so many things to do while I’m there. 
My priorities have changed so much!  RPGs are more than a hobby for me.  I’ve been working on this blog for several years now. Although my updates have been sporadic, I enjoy writing about my gaming experiences and reviewing Classic World of Darkness books.  I’ve also started working as a freelancer for Onyx Path Publishing.  GenCon is more than just a vacation and a chance to game.  Now, it’s an opportunity to further my goals as a writer and network with other freelancers and game developers.  More importantly, GenCon is where I can play new games, meet podcasters, bloggers, and other freelancers.  My girlfriend and I are huge fans of the Underdiscussion Podcast, and we’ve been looking forward to meeting them at GenCon for a while.  My girlfriend even has one of their t-shirts that she won in a contest that she wants them to sign. 
I’m not going to GenCon to just play in one tournament; instead, I’m going to explore the variety of offerings available.  But I haven’t left L5R behind either.  The only RPG game that I’ve signed up for so far is an L5R RPG game.  I’ve never had a chance to play the 4th Edition version, and GenCon is the perfect opportunity to try out a new system.  I’ll also be looking for pickup games and pretty much any kind of demos for new games.  My girlfriend is coming with me, and she is just as excited as I am.  We’ve been talking about this trip for nearly two years now.  It’s a perfect year for us to visit GenCon too, Tony DiTerlizzi is the Artist Guest of Honor this year and we are both huge fans of his artwork, especially his work on the Planescape campaign setting. I've been a fan of DiTerlizzi's work since I played the Blood Wars TCG way back in 1994 before I'd ever played one session of an RPG.  

Not everything has gone perfectly.  Event registration, which was this past Sunday, was a nightmare.  When my girlfriend submitted my wish list on Sunday, the system didn’t process it correctly, and we had to sit down later that night to work through our events again.  Every time we tried to build a wish list and submit our events, the system lost our order.  It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened, but the frustration and anxiety caused by the website’s problems made the event registration process a lot more painful than it should have been.  I wasn’t too thrilled that I had to pay to attend some events, especially after paying $80.00 per badge. 

Once my girlfriend and I registered for our events, the excitement returned.  Maybe it was easier back in the day when I could just go to a convention with no more thought than whose floor I was sleeping on.  I’ve changed too much and have too many responsibilities to be able to go to a convention at a moment’s notice.  Yet, the planning and buildup to the convention has added to my excitement.  I’ve picked out the events that I want to try.  I’m going to meet with both my colleagues and many of the people in the RPG industry that I’ve admired.  I’ve changed and my expectations for GenCon have changed as well, and other than the event registration system, I think both GenCon and I have changed for the better.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Day Late and an Article Short

I'm sorry to say that I won't be offering a new and insightful article or review this week.  Things have been a little busy here.  But I will offer some news that might be of interest to you.

I finished reading Evermeet:  The Isle of Elves by Elaine Cunningham.  It was a tremendous novel that gave a full history of the Elves of Forgotten Realms and turned Evermeet from a ideal, pastoral land of happy Elves into a wonderful place to set adventures that involve intrigue and deception.  I highly recommend this one (along with any other novel by Elaine Cunningham) to fans of fantasy fiction or Forgotten Realms fans. 

I also finished reading Tribebook:  White Howlers.  Jess Hartley has done a great job of not only exploring this extinct tribe but creating an entire campaign setting within a relatively small Tribebook.  Another highly recommended book!  And yes, I will have a full review of this one in the near future. 

As many of you know I'm working as a freelance writer for The Onyx Path so I dedicate most of my time to working on that project.  I'll give you all full details of the project when it's published. 

Finally, I'm hoping to have a full and spoilerific review of Hoard of the Dragon Queen ready for next week.  I just finished running it for my D&D group, and I feel this one deserves a thorough review, not only as a book but as an adventure that has been run to fruition.  There is a big difference between reading an adventure and running it. 

Well, that's it for this week.  See you in two weeks, or maybe sooner if I finish up something early.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Can the Players Kill Luke Skywalker? Or The Evils of Metaplot

Tap for pain!
Metaplot.  Does any word draw more condemnation and frustration from the players of World of Darkness games than “metaplot?”  The mere mention of some of the metaplot from the Classic World of Darkness game line draws bile laced gagging from even the most fanatical of fans.  Decreed from on high by the almighty writers and developers of the system, metaplot is the unchangeable grand plot that infiltrates every book, every argument, and every game.  It is immutable, it is sacrosanct, and it is despised.  But why?  Both Star Wars and The Forgotten Realms campaign setting have an existing metaplot that does not bedevil gamers like the metaplot of Vampire:  The Masquerade or Werewolf:  The Apocalypse.  Is there something to be learned from those worlds, where metaplot is known as canon which can be applied to the World of Darkness?  More importantly, is having a metaplot anathema to a good game?  Is the metaplot only a hindrance to Storytellers and players or can it be used to add more depth to a game? 

            What is Metaplot?  A working definition of metaplot might be “the ongoing story in the published materials of a role playing game that creates and moves forward a story that changes elements of the setting and system or explains changes in the mechanics of the game.”  On its face, that definition is neutral, but the first issue of metaplot is that it lacks player agency.  The changes occur regardless of the efforts of the players and perhaps even happen despite the players’ efforts to change those events.  The metaplot is the “Word of God” demanding changes that may or may not be asked for by the players.  The metaplot explains changes to the setting, the inclusion of new options, the removal of other options, changes to well-known and loved character types and updates to the game system.  
            Critics and fans of Vampire:  The Masquerade often regard it as the biggest offender in terms of metaplot interference.  When Vampire:  The Masquerade changed from Second Edition to Revised Edition, a number of changes occurred.  Most notably an Assamite Methuselah, Ur-Shulgi, awakened from Topor and removed the curse that Tremere had afflicted upon the Children of Haqim.  Ur-Shulgi also decreed that Assamites must give up their devotion to other gods and worship only Haqim.  Long associated with the Middle East and Islam, Ur-Shulgi’s decree shocked many Assamites and created a rift in the clan.  Those loyal to Haqim and Ur-Shulgi killed those who refused to set aside their religious beliefs whether Islamic, Christian, or other.  Those who survived the purge fled to Europe and the Americas.  As Gehenna approached, the fleeing Assamites attempted to make peace with Camarilla and join its ranks.         
            The Tremere are at the heart of another metaplot change.  Tremere-antitribu, who had left behind their clan to join the Sabbat, were all inexplicably destroyed one evening.  During a ritual in which nearly every member of the Sabbat Tremere were in attendance, some force destroyed them all.  No one is sure exactly what happened, only that no more Tremere-antitribu exist.  That event must have been a shock to Tremere-antitribu players at the time.  Suddenly, their characters were gone and nothing could be done about it. 
            The most egregious metaplot changes came from Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand which described another faction of vampires known as the Tal’mahe’Ra or True Hand.  Suddenly the Tzimisce discipline Vicissitude was an extraplanar disease that infected the entire clan and slowly took over the bodies of the Tzimisice and other users of Vicissitude.  The True Hand was dedicated to defeating this other worldly menace and save the world.  Vicissitude no longer worked like other Disciplines and now had special rules that changed not only the cost for learning the Discipline but threatened players with the loss of their characters if they progressed in the Discipline. 
            Metaplot in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Many of the best RPGs have a metaplot to some degree.  Star Wars undoubtedly has the strictest metaplot.  Better known as the canon and released in a series of RPG supplements, books, movies, and TV shows, the Star Wars canon (or Extended Universe) sought to fill in every space of that distant galaxy.  West End Games, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics and dozens of writers have sought to define every aspect of Star Wars for good and ill.  Simple mistakes in the wording of a script have turned into entire novels, such as when Han states that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.  Rather than letting a simple screw up slip by, writers defined the Kessel Run as a trip near a group of black holes known as the Maw Cluster.  Traveling closer to the Maw Cluster would decrease the travel time of a ship from Kessel to its destination but with the added risk of the starship becoming trapped in the gravitational pull of the black holes and being destroyed.  Later readers would learn that the Maw Cluster hid an Imperial Research installation where the engineers built and tested a prototype of the Death Star.  Later, some of these elements were retconned by the Prequels.  Role playing supplements had to offer stats and information on these regions or create new regions themselves such as the Corporate Sector which started as an element of a novel, “Han Solo at Star’s End,” which led to a West End Games supplement entitled “Han Solo and the Corporate Sector Sourcebook” that built on the information from the novel. 
Heroes of the Realms
            The Forgotten Realms has undergone a variety of changes as Dungeons & Dragons has changed editions.  Unlike Vampire:  The Masquerade, the change in edition created a change in the setting.  When Dungeons & Dragons transitioned from 3.5 to 4th Edition, the developers changed the magic system and included both Dragonborn and Tieflings as player races in the Player’s Handbook.   Although Forgotten Realms was not the core campaign setting of 4th Edition, it was the campaign setting for Organized Play requiring the developers to explain how the magic system changed and the introduction of two new races into the setting.  Dragonborn were an incredibly popular race from the Eberron campaign setting, and due to their popularity and the popularity of Eberron, they were included in the Player’s Handbook (Update:  Dragonborn orignally appeared in Race of the Dragon and later were included in Eberron  I need to learn more about Eberron).  Introducing them into the Forgotten Realms required a bit more work though, The Spell Plague.   The Spell Plague and the death of Mystra reshaped the Weave, the source of magic in the Realms, and the merging of Abeir, Toril’s twin planet and Toril (Toril is the name of the planet on which Faerun is located.  Fareurn is the continent which is the primary setting for the Forgotten Realms.) brought with it the Dragonborn.  The Spell Plague changed entire regions, made magic items non functional, and brought the Dragonborn whose kingdom replaced the kingdom of Unther. 
            When Dungeons & Dragons changed editions once again, once more the Realms changed.  This event known as The Sundering explained how the magic system changed once again and of course, kept the popular Dragonborn in the setting.  A series of novels about the Realms explained the events of The Sundering in detail, much like previous shifts in editions, such as the Time of Troubles. 
            Another example of the developers pushed forward a metaplot can be found in D&D 3.0 and the novel series, The War of the Spider Queen and its accompanying adventure.  In this series of novels, Lolth, Goddess of the Drow, has effectively disappeared and her clerics, the leaders of the chaotic and evil Drow society, no longer receive spells from her.  Seeking answers to this dilemma and hoping to solve it before an uprising overthrows the priestess who lead the city, a group of Drow travel the Underdark, to the surface world, and eventually to the Demon Web Pits hoping to uncover the mystery behind Lolth’s disappearance.  Lolth has attained enough power finally to create her own realm separate from the Abyss, and she has cocooned herself at the center of the Demon Web Pits to complete her transformation not caring that her worshippers and priestesses suffer in her absence.  In the end, Lolth completes her transformation and creates her own plane which changes the cosmology of the Forgotten Realms.  
Cover to Dissolution from the War of the Spider Queen novel series
            If that whirl of information has left any readers confused, then the biggest problem with metaplot has become apparent:  information overload.  Only the most dedicated fans of a setting would be able to track the minutiae of those changes.  These game lines and settings have been growing and expanding for decades.  Star Wars released in 1977, for example, and novels began pouring out soon after and the damn finally broke in the 1990s with the release of “Heir to the Empire.”  Systems and universes soon bloated with all this material.  And when Vampire:  The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition released, the developers promised a metaplot neutral game, meaning that players could pick and choose which elements of the metaplot they wanted to use and could ignore the rest. 
            Most experienced roleplayers already realize that the best way to deal with elements of a system or supplement that they don’t like is to modify it or ignore it.  That’s the solution that the developers of Vampire:  The Masquerade concluded as they revamped the game for its new release.  Of course, ignoring the metaplot was a pre-requisite for publishing the new edition as White Wolf had decreed that the entire Classic World of Darkness game line had ended with the publication of their end of the world books, Gehenna, the Apocalypse, etc.   
            Can a metaplot be completely ignored?  Or more specifically, can the players kill Luke Skywalker?  It’s an evocative question, and the kneejerk reaction of most players is going to be “No, absolutely not!”  Luke Skywalker is the lynchpin of Star Wars canon.  He destroyed the Death Star.  He redeemed Darth Vader and brought about the downfall of the Empire.  He brought back the Jedi Order. Luke Skywalker is Star Wars.   He has plot armor that no player character should be able to penetrate; yet, by acknowledging Luke Skywalker’s importance in the events of the original trilogy and the Extended Universe, the game master has decided that a metaplot exists and that players lack any agency in interacting with that storyline. 
Father/son elevator rides don't get more awkward!
            Luke Skywalker and his exploits are the reason why most Star Wars roleplaying games take place in distant corners of the galaxy.  The game master pushes the events of the original trilogy into the background and lays out new storylines that run tangentially to canonical events.  Player characters may interact with important figures like Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, or Leia Organa.  They are much more likely to be given their orders by secondary figures like Mon Mothma and Admiral Piett.  Nevertheless, the players are hamstrung from the outset of the campaign because they are not the most important figures in the greater plot of Star Wars.  Luke Skywalker and his father Anakin are. 
            With that in mind, can players kill Drizzit Do’Urden?  Elminster Chosen of Mystra?  Can players stop the Spell Plague?  Do Dragonborn exist in Forgotten Realms?  Are the Assamites knocking at the doors of the Ivory Tower begging admittance to the Camarilla?   Each of these questions carries the same weight of metaplot as “Can the players kill Luke Skywalker?”  How many times have game masters, dungeon masters, and storytellers defended the metaplot from the brilliant and cunning plans of players? 
            My own experiences are entirely anecdotal, and I cannot speak for all roleplayers.  I have found that players enjoy re-writing the metaplot, making their own mark on a story considered inviolate.  It was a hard learned lesson and left many players completely disenchanted with me as game master.   I heard their criticism, but wasn’t preserving the story of Luke Skywalker more important?  I started roleplaying by running West End Games Star Wars Revised system and immediately railroaded players through events during the Battle of Hoth.  I couldn’t imagine a scenario where the players could actually affect the outcome of that momentous battle.  Just taking part in the battle should be exciting enough for the players, right? 
Who wouldn't want Leia in Cmdr. Shepherd's armor?
            Fast forward over a decade and I’m still running Star Wars although at this point it’s Wizards of the Coast’s Star Wars Saga Edition.   I finally learned my lesson in the last session of the campaign.  The players had been chasing after a rogue Jedi named Kensa Starwind who had become a kind of Old Republic Colonel Kurtz and saw through the false veneer of the Clone War.  She had realized that everything was the doings of Chancellor Palaptine, but the Jedi Council had sent the players to stop her.   My original idea was that the player characters would confront Kensa Starwind and stop her from murdering the “innocent” Chancellor only to be double-crossed by him.  Of course, that meant the players would have to put aside all out of character knowledge.  Instead of fighting Kensa, the player characters talked to her and believed her!  Together with Kensa, the players defeated Palpatine and Anakin/Darth Vader in an epic battle in the Chancellor’s office forever changing galactic history.  I don’t think that I have ever seen players happier or feeling more triumphant than when they thought they had saved the galaxy from the evils of the Empire.
            As the session ended, I added a quick epilogue for each character that showed how they had changed the universe.  It was altogether bleak.  Rather than transforming into the Empire, the Old Republic fractured into a myriad of small and warring states.  The remaining Jedi fought to maintain peace and bring the parts back together.  One of the players whose character had fallen to the Dark Side became a warlord of a region only to be double crossed by his apprentice.   Others had equally dark or heroic outcomes depending on their individual characters.  And this epilogue should have become the prologue for the next campaign that I ran! 

            The lesson that I learned from this campaign was not that I should allow players to do whatever they wanted.  Instead, I finally understood the purpose of metaplot.  Metaplot is not something that must be adhered to with the religious fervor of an extremist or ignored and discarded like an empty soda can.  Metaplot is a river that once the game begins players redirect its course by adding and subtracting elements.   The players’ influence can be subtle or dramatic depending on how their actions in the course of a campaign.  The challenge to storytellers is not to allow players to alter the course of the story to create a utopian state.  Change requires sacrifice and not all change is positive.  Those with the best intentions, such as the group that killed the Palpatine and stopped the rise of the Empire, may not create the best outcomes.  The unforeseen consequences of the players’ changes should lead to new opportunities for adventures and new stories.   Players, as well, must keep out of character knowledge separate and distinct otherwise roleplaying games can devolve into an endless series of killing off the key figures of a setting or random acts for the sake of being random. 
            Turning back to Vampire:  The Masquerade, many roleplayers have lamented the plots and setting updates that players cannot change.  The events happen in distant lands and involve powerful beings that the average player character just cannot fight against.  What can a Neonate in Atlanta do to stop Ur-Shulgi?  What can a San Francisco Anarch do to stop the destruction of the Tremere-antitribu?  Yet, the rise of Ur-Shulgi and the Assamite schism offers players a chance to affect the metaplot in new and vital ways.  Camarilla players can offer their voices in support of the Assamites joining the Camarilla or turn away the dangerous assassins.  Anarchs and Sabbat players can offer other options to those Assamite fleeing Ur-Shulgi.   Certainly, the Assamite-antitribu will be happy to welcome their old brothers into the Sabbat.  And who is to say that Ur-Shulgi actually speaks for Haqim or that this Methuselah cannot be killed?  
Paint a target on that guy's head!
            As for the Tremere-antitribu, why should the metaplot stand in the way of a player’s fun?  A surviving Tremere-antitribu is no less farfetched than surviving Salubri or Cappodoccians and offers many more story opportunities for both the player and storyteller.  As the last remaining member of his or her clan, the Tremere-antitribu would be desperate to hide from whatever power destroyed their clan and simultaneously seek to re-establish that clan by Embracing new members.  The Tremere-antitribu survivor is now the leader of that clan with new and potentially overwhelming responsibilities. 
            Both of these hypothetical scenarios assume that the storyteller and players agree to use the metaplot as written.  That doesn’t have to be the case either.  Ur-Shulgi does not have to rise from Torpor.  The Tremere-antitribu don’t have to be destroyed.   And none of the material in Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand needs to show up in anyone’s campaign. 
            Metaplot should not be the driving force of anyone’s campaign.  Rather, it is one more tool in a storyteller’s toolbox and in the players’ toolboxes to help them create the stories that they want to tell together.  And that book with the terrible metaplot about Tzimisce diseases and vampires traveling to the Deep Umbra is not the final arbiter of whether or not that information should appear in your campaign.  It is your book!  And like John Wick says, you can tear out pages and take a black sharpie to the pages and passages you hate and delete them forever.  It’s your book.   You bought it.  Use it how you like!             
            So, can your player characters kill Luke Skywalker?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Update to the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Player Reference Sheets

My first version of these reference sheets has been very popular.  Actually, it was the most popular post that I’ve had on my blog.  So, I guess a lot of you are happy and sharing this information with others.  I’m so happy that I am able to help out other players and Dungeon Masters by providing these reference sheets.

Nevertheless, they were not perfect and probably never will be.  A list of updates has been provided below.  If you notice any typos, errors, or have any suggestions for improving these reference sheets, please leave a comment below. 

In other news, Wizards of the Coast has released the Player's Companion to upcoming adventure Princes of the Apocalypse.  This companion includes new options for player races including Gensai and Deep Gnomes along with a very large list of spells.

It can be downloaded for free from DriveThruRPG or from WotC's D&D website.

The D&D Adventurers League has also released new material for their next season including a character building guide and new character sheets.  Go to the Adventurers League website for more information. 

Updates include:
Reformatted the entire document to make it fit better on the page
Fixed several typos!  Thanks for finding them!
Added the Attack Action and Cast a Spell Action to the Combat actions
Added Moving around Other Creatures details
Replaced Exhaustion Levels Information with a Table
Formatted Tables for easier reading
Changed the Margins to .5” all around
Changed the spacing to single space

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Late Review: Clanbook: Toreador (Revised)

Clanbook:  Toreador (Revised)
By Heather Grove & Greg Stoltze
2000, 100 pages
            From the very first page, Clanbook Toreador recreates the image of the Clan of the Rose and Kindred society by offering a multicultural perspective that was not present in the previous edition’s clanbooks.   Players are exposed to a variety of different viewpoints on the Toreador, and those viewpoints are especially important in that they are well developed and completely untrustworthy.   Kindred are liars and deceivers who twist the truth into new forms that are not outright lies and that fact makes them far more dangerous.   Some truth is there which makes the lie far more believable.  The danger of these viewpoints in a book such as this is that players could consider a half-truth or an individual perspective as the gospel about the clan.   The half-truths and contradictory perspectives draw the reader into a gaming supplement that offers the same readability as a novel.  Despite the readability of Clanbook:  Toreador, it is uneven throughout and disappointingly leaves unanswered many questions about the Clan of the Rose. 
            Clanbook:  Toreador does not start off well, beginning with its weakest section, a mood setting story entitled Exodus and Embrace.  The narrator is an African Toreador named Anthony Sungbo who explains a piece of his art to a newly Embraced Toreador.  The painting features animals as representations of members of his coterie on the night that a messenger had brought news that a mortal archeological expedition was coming to explore the ruins were they lived.  This terrible news sends the resident Toreador searching for new homes to avoid inevitable discovery.  The story is told in first person, as if Anthony Sungbo is speaking to the reader, but the flashbacks are told in third person.  The shifting perspective distracts from the story’s intent.  Nevertheless, Exodus and Embrace sets the mood perfectly for the rest of the book.  The emphasis of the book is providing a voice for a clan that spreads like a vine and Embraces mortals for their art, for their beauty, or merely on a whim. 
 I couldn't find any interior art images.   So here is a great Toreador image.  Check out this deviant art page
            The Civilized Ones, the first chapter, offers some surprising new viewpoints from two sources:  Katherine of Montpellier, an ancient Toreador Methuselah and Anthony Sungbo, the African painter.  Katherine of Montpellier is newly awakened from Torpor and has no knowledge of the modern world.  She struggles to learn about the rapidly changing world of 2000 but despises anything that emits a noise such an alarm clock or television, making the modern world a nightmare for her.  She rarely leaves her new estate because of a fear of automobiles.  Katherine is being interviewed by a 10th Generation Toreador named Carmelita, and this section is laid out as an interview with Katherine answering questions about the origins of the clan asked by Carmelita.  The second section is an essay written by Anthony Sungbo who explains more recent history.  His views are no less deceitful.  Due to his own experiences as an African Kindred, Anthony’s perspective is anti-European, and he relates a revisionist history that decries the horrific effects of colonization and the Kindred’s part in those efforts.  Both narrators are unreliable as both have ulterior motives, as should be expected from a Kindred.
            Katherine is a petulant and spoiled aristocrat who retains the racist and ethnocentric views expected of a woman Embraced in 1140.  Carmelita, her interviewer, begins by asking about the first city, Enoch, and Katherine is more than happy to offer her version of the clan’s origin by asserting that the city’s name was not Enoch but Ubar.  Her version is an apocryphal tale in which she claims not only that Caine did not curse the Toreador but attempted to protect Ishtar (not Arikel) from reprisal from the rebellious Antediluvians who had been cursed.  Katherine’s rendition continues as she weaves together Sumerian and Greek myths into a story about Ishtar’s flight from the other Antediluvians.  She asserts that Ishtar was betrayed by Giglamesh, the king of Sumer, who chose the Gangrel Antediluvian’s offer of power over her own offer of beauty.  Ishtar escapes and travels to Crete where she is responsible for the creation of the Minotaur and the lightless maze from the myth of Icarus and his father Daedalus. 
            Katherine’s history of the Toreador leaves the realms of myth and enters into recorded history as she discusses the Toreador, Malkavian, and Ventrue influence over the city of Rome and the Roman wars with the Brujah who controlled Carthage.  Throughout this part of Katherine’s history, the Toreador are always portrayed as the smarter, better, wiser clan who look down on the thuggish way that the Ventrue dominate their servants.  When Rome falls it’s not because the Toreador have failed but because of Ventrue incompetence.  The most interesting section is Katherine’s views on the rise of Christianity from a mystery cult to the Roman state religion.  She emphasizes the early Christian’s faith and how dangerous that was to vampires.  Her awe of the power of religion makes sense because of her upbringing in the Twelfth Century and the Inquisition effects on her life.    
            Everything about Katherine’s story is rumor and conjecture.  She was not Embraced until 1140, and her version of the clan’s history most likely came from stories she’d heard after her Embrace from Kindred storytellers.  From that point forward, Katherine’s story becomes more concrete as she travels Europe supporting the arts and patronizing great artists.  The Catholic Church plays a large part in the history of Europe, and the Inquisition played an enormous role in the history of Kindred.  As the church grew, according to Katherine, the clergy became more pliable and lacked the power of faith that had made the early Christians such a danger.  Yet, the Kindred like to take credit for using the Catholic Church as a weapon against others.  Toreador hid amongst the monks in their monasteries inspiring them to copy and preserve ancient texts so that knowledge would not be lost.  Katherine claims that original Inquisition of the 1200s was a Toreador plot to attack their rivals amongst the Ventrue. 
            Katherine’s history ends at the 100 Years War, blaming the affair on scheming Ventrue in England who were attempting to maintain claims on their holdings in France.  Her discussion touches on the Battle of Agincourt which turned the tide against the French and Joan of Arc who Kindred could not approach within a league of or risk the power of angry God.  The 100 Year War marks the end of chivalry for Katherine, and the end of her history. Katherine remarks upon the switch from chivalrous battle with swords and knights on horseback to the use of gunpowder with sadness and longing for a return to ancient conventions.  It’s a sentiment that she carries with irony since we later learn that the same chivalrous attitudes that she misses were responsible for a marriage to brutal husband during her life. 
Definitely some inspiration for a Toreador anti-tribu
            Anthony Sungbo offers a different perspective on the events that follow.  His viewpoint is more cosmopolitan and modern than Katherine’s but no less deceptive.  Anthony also begins his history well before his own birth, discussing events of which he has no direct knowledge.  Anthony’s view is more appealing to readers because it is a modern, multicultural viewpoint that most would associate with current historiography.  Originally from Nigeria, Anthony has traveled throughout the Americas, the Orient, and Europe.  His version of Toreador history begins with the appearance of Europeans in Africa and the slave trade.  Cainites are the ultimate colonists bringing their own history, culture, and myths with them and overtaking the native culture.  European colonists brought with them their religion, and the Kindred are the ultimate proof of that religion as they are descended directly from the child of the first people, Adam and Eve. 
            As Katherine has constructed a synergy of Cainite and real world mythology to explain the origins of the Toreador clan and their importance over all other clans, Anthony deconstructs history and offers revisionists versions of modern myths such as the “discovery of America” and the founding of the United States.   Anthony sides with the colonized:  the Africans after the arrival of the Europeans, Jews in Spain in the 1600s, and the Native Americans when Columbus arrived.  His history of the clan calls into questions not only the motivations of the Kindred but also the motivations of mortals.  Unlike Katherine’s history, Anthony avoids explaining everything as part of a Kindred plot or plan.  The Kindred fall into the background of Anthony’s version becoming shadows and parasites who follow mortals across the globe. 
            Anthony also discusses new developments amongst the Toreador, such as the Electron Artists, who create digital art.  As of 2000 though, the average Toreador thought very little of this online collective.  Like other Kindred, Toreador are very slow to accept any change, especially in a new medium that few of their elders understand.   The controversies over what is and is not art and what is acceptable continue to dominate the arguments amongst many Toreador and Clanbook Toreador offers the first look at how the Toreador are adapting to their Neonates new interests. 
            Chapter Two, Aesthete Unveiled, delves into the facets of the Toreador as individuals and what it means to be a Toreador.  Like the previous chapter, it is also narrated by two separate Kindred who offer their views on what is and what is not a Toreador.   The first narrator identified only as Goddard discusses what it means to be a Toreador and the fine line that Toreador walk between being a Cainite and trying to appear human.  He argues that the core of a being a Toreador is their relationships to mortals.  Toreador, more so than any other clan, keep mortal lovers, befriend humans, and blood bond those necessary to maintain a “normal” life.  The emphasis in this section is on the importance of Toreador maintaining close ties to mortals to thwart their beast, what Goddard calls a Kindred’s “thwarted death.” 
            The second section of Aesthete Unvieled discusses the Toreador’s opinions and relationships with other clans.  Rather than being an alphabetical listing of each clan and a short paragraph about that clan, this section, narrated by Ferdinand Chu, an ancilla, focuses on the clans that the Toreador consider most dangerous or important rivals.  Ferdinand Chu’s opinion of the Tremere is that they are homely high school girls who know some dangerous magic tricks and are bound in their hierarchy.   The Assamites are diminished to brutes useful for their prowess in combat and easily tricked into accomplishing a smart Toreador’s goals.  The Giovanni are reduced to their grossest stereotype – incestuous necrophiliacs.  Most disappointing, due to the metaplot of the Revised Edition, the Ravnos are barely a footnote.  As refreshing as it is to see more in depth discussions of the Toreador’s opinions on a variety of clans and other supernatural entities, Ferdinand Chu believes that the other clans are tools to be used or foes to be avoided.  He is fearful of most other clans and dismissive of others. 
            New Disciplines are introduced in Chapter Two as well, including a new version of Auspex Six and another version of Presence Six for those playing character of Seventh Generation or lower.  The inclusion of combination Disciplines offers new powers for non-Elder characters that fit the themes of the clan.   Doubletalk, a combination discipline that requires Auspex 2, Celerity1, and Obfuscate 1, allows a Kindred to hide entire conversations in the pauses of an utterance.  Soul Painting which requires Auspex 4 and Presence 2 allows a Toreador to paint an individual and reveal the subject’s Nature.  Rules for using these abilities in Mind’s Eye Theatre are included as well for LARPers. 
Wouldn't the world make more sense if Bowie were a Toreador?
            The final chapter, The Registry, has a selection of pre-generated characters that players can select or use as the inspiration for their own characters.   It also includes the background of Katherine of Montpellier and other Toreador of repute.  From a thespian spy to a waitress to a go-between for Elders and Anarchs, players have plenty to choose from among these archtypes.  Thankfully, the authors didn’t include a Wareador concept in this chapter.  Unfortunately, none of the characters stand out.  Their backgrounds are well written and they are well designed, but none of these characters seem exciting. 
            The infamous Kindred detailed in The Registry include powerful elders such as Victoria Ashe who appears in Clan Novel:  Toreador and Katherine of Montpellier, introduced in Chapter One.  Katherine’s history reads like a Harlequin Romance novel with vampires.  Enver Frasheri, a sociopath known for killing artists more talented than himself, is the brightest and darkest of these famous Kindred.  His history is wild and disjointed.   Revenge is his art – revenge on those composers who outshine him and those who have wronged him.   He is a threat that the Elders can wield against their childer, and a tool they can use against the Sabbat.  Enver is such a perversion the concept of a Toreador that he outshines more famous Toreador like Victoria Ashe. 
            Clanbook:  Toreador is one of the most entertaining and easy to read supplements for Vampire:  The Masquerade.  Perhaps I found it so intriguing because I am a fan of the Toreador, but unlike any other clanbook or supplement I was able to read through it in a single sitting.  However, as a game supplement, I have some reservations about the materials offered.  The goal of any clanbook, regardless of clan, is to provide material to help players portray members of that clan.  However, due to the views of the narrators in this clanbook, players could be led to believe that the opinions of these narrators are the absolute truth and the “correct” way to portray a Toreador.  Clanbook:  Toreador’s narrators are too idiosyncratic and thus lack the ability to offer a balanced viewpoint or model for portraying a Toreador.  Toreador are too individualistic in their approaches to art and unlife to be easily categorized.  
            As well-written as this book is, I don’t believe that readers need another apocryphal version of the origin of the Kindred.   It adds nothing but confusion to the already messy history of the Classic World of Darkness and the Kindred’s myths.  What is most troubling to me is the lack of any real information on the Toreador Anti-Tribu.  Rather than discuss them, they remain ghosts lurking in the shadowy corners of the Toreador consciousness.  They are never addressed directly, except one pre-generated character, a pack priest.  The anti-tribu are more than simply world weary artists or sadists, and the clanbooks should embrace these divergent Kindred.  Exploring the antithesis of an idea (or a clan in this instance) can reveal as much about the idea as discussing the idea itself.  The narrators and authors of this book also discount the power of Toreador in politics.  The Toreador, while frequently dismissed as simple artists, have had a disproportionate number of Princes reigning over major cities.  Art, of any description, is emphasized but at the cost of the Toreador’s ability to manipulate not only mortals but other Kindred which has always made them powerful players in Elysiums across the world.  Ironically, the worst part of Clanbook:  Toreador is its art.  Other than the full page drawings that face the beginning of each chapter, the interior art fails to capture the mood of the Toreador or Vampire:  The Masquerade.  Even the cover image is reused from Vampire:  The Masquerade Revised Core Rule Book.  
            Despite these criticisms, Clanbook:  Toreador is one of the finest examples of the Classic World of Darkness line that I have read.  The authors have created distinct voices for their narrators which provide a large variety of perspectives on what it means to be a Toreador.  The inclusion of Anthony Sungbo as a narrator finally gives a non-Western perspective to the Toreador and Kindred outside of the Assamite clan.  I honestly could not stop reading it because I was so enthralled with the narrators. 
            I would recommend Clanbook:  Toreador (Revised) to any Toreador player or Vampire:  The Masquerade player.  The book is edition neutral except for a few Disciplines which could be easily brought into a Vampire:  The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition game. 
            Clanbook Toreador is available at DriveThruRPG as a PDF or Print on Demand or you can purchase an original printing from Amazon.