Sunday, December 2, 2012

Late Reviews: The Guide to the Sabbat

The Guide to the Sabbat, Revised Edition
By Justin R. Achilli, with W. H. Bourne, Anne Sullivan Braidwood, Joanne Fitzroy, & Jess Heinig
1999, 224 pages

             When building a campaign involving the Sabbat, a Storyteller has the choice of using the Cainites of the Sabbat as either one dimensional, slobbering maniacs or as deep, ideologically driven antagonists.  While neither option is necessarily bad, The Guide to the Sabbat gives Storytellers a variety of ways to use the Sabbat in their games.  Players can also use the information given in this book to create well rounded characters in a Sabbat oriented game.  The Guide to the Sabbat provides a complex view of the Sabbat which may border on the paradoxical.  This isn’t a bad thing, but any reader must be able to balance the Sabbat’s violence and depravity with its greater ideals of freedom and honor. 
The eyes are really a distraction.
            The book is divided into seven chapters with an introductory story and an appendix for allies and servants along with an index.  (I’m a big fan of indices in RPG books.)  The book is inconsistently illustrated.   At the beginning of each chapter is a beautiful full page illustration, but throughout the book there is a lot of bad artwork too, especially in Chapter Three:  Sons and Daughters, where you’ll find rules for new bloodlines.  While some of the art for the new bloodlines is good, such as the Malkavian-Antitribu wearing a straight jacket and holding some knives with her toes.  Much of the artwork is pretty bad, for some reason the artist couldn’t draw both eyes properly:  Panders, Gangrel-Antitribu, and Ravnos-Antitribu.  The Serpents of the Light example is a complete mess.  I have no idea what the artist is trying to depict. 
            Speaking of the new character options, some of the bloodlines aren’t available to Players at all.  Blood Brothers, Kiasyd, and Harbringers of Skulls are Storyteller only characters.   While creative players could use these bloodlines effectively in a game, generally, they should be avoided.  Otherwise, the options for Antitribu Clans are excellent.  The City Gangel and Country Gangrel division in the Sabbat provides a great variation on a classic clan that fits with the setting and the evolution of the clan. 
            New character creations rules for Sabbat Player Characters are intriguing.  Giving up backgrounds for an additional point in Disciplines is a wonderful option, although I would be careful as a Storyteller since power gamers may try to abuse this system.  The new Disciplines are better used for Storyteller Characters, especially Dark Thaumaturgy or the Disciplines for Blood Brothers or Kiasyd.  Finally, a note on the sidebar Tainted Blood.  This is a holdover from Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand which introduced the concept of Vicissitude as an alien and terrible force from the Deep Umbra which had been brought back by infected Tzimisce.  I wouldn’t use this variation unless I was also using the information from Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand.  Otherwise, the new higher level Disciplines are wonderful and provide some great story elements, but other than an Elder’s game, I doubt I would use these or see them used in a game. 
            Undoubtedly, the best part of The Guide to the Sabbat is the fluff.  The book opens with a history of the Sabbat and how Anarchs (The Proto-Sabbat) rose up against their elders and eventually killed their antediluvian progenitors (maybe).  The book then dissects the Sabbat and shows how diverse the sect is and begins to explore the paradox of the Sabbat.  While the Sabbat professes an ideology of freedom for its members, the sect itself is rigidly structure like a military organization but it is enshrouded by the trappings of religion, especially Catholicism.  However much the Sabbat speaks about freedom or individualism, the sect is just as strictly controlled by its hierarchy as the Camarilla. 
            While I have never been a fan of the alternative paths because I’ve played in too many groups that had Assamites that abused the Path of Blood, some of the paths presented are intriguing.  The Path of Honorable Accord and the Path of Lilith offer great options for players looking to explore moralities beyond Humanity.  As always, Storytellers should be careful with allowing players to use a path other than Humanity, since these allow Power gamers to follow the path of “I do whatever I want.” 
            The book really shines in the final Chapters where we learn the Sabbat’s ritae and their tactics for laying siege to a city.  Every page offers a great story hook.  The Ritae are more than a cinematic event to be used in the course of a game.  Each ritae must be prepared.  For example, The Blood Feast requires pack members to capture several kine or perhaps even a Camarilla vampire to be used as victims.  If you’re running a Sabbat game, the Player Characters can have a difficult time acquiring these victims.  Conversely, in a Camarilla game, the Player Characters could be sent to discover why a favored ghoul or retainer has disappeared and stumble onto a Sabbat Pack’s Blood Feast.  The same is true for almost ever ritae. 
            Chapter Six provides a deeper look into the functioning of the Sabbat as a sect and how individuals operate within the Sabbat system.  Ethics, perception, anti-hero concepts, Sabbat politics, propaganda, use of Ritae, and Sabbat chronicle themes are all covered in this chapter.  After reading this chapter, I felt like I was capable of running a Sabbat Chronicle.  While I have never been a big fan of the gratuitous violence of the stereotypical Sabbat Chronicles, I was sure that I could present a balanced view of the Sabbat in my own Chronicle because of this book. 
            The final chapter provides players and Storytellers with the tactics used by the Sabbat when attacking a city, and some of them are nightmarishly creative.  Whether you are running a Sabbat Chronicle or otherwise, these tactics make for great scenes within a story.  The section on Manchurians is probably the best part of the book, as the writer has some clever ideas on how to use a combination of disciplines to replace vampires in a city targeted by the Sabbat war parties. 
            The Guide to the Sabbat is a must have book for anyone running a game involving the Sabbat as protagonists or antagonists.  The book presents a balanced and complex view of the Sabbat and how it operates on a nightly basis.  While some of the artwork is poor, the text of the book is filled with potential plots for any Chronicle.  Don’t buy this book if you’re just looking for new bloodlines or crunch as most of the mechanical elements are for Storytellers only. The Guide to Sabbat's companion book, The Guide to the Camarilla is just as good, and the pair work together to describe perfectly the two warring sects. 
            While published in 1999, The Guide to the Sabbat is still available for purchase on DriveThruRPG as .pdf or print on demand or if you want an original printing, you can go to 


  1. Better or worse than Guide to the Camarilla, in your opinion?

  2. I'd say they are roughly equal. The art in The Guide to the Camarilla is more consistent with fewer bad illustrations. Honestly, I couldn't run a Camarilla City without that book when I was playing VtM revised.
    So basically, the non-answer is they are both equally as good. But depending on the type of city you run (Camarilla/Sabbat) you'll find more use out of one or the other.
    I'll be doing another Late Review on The Guide to the Camarilla in the future.