Saturday, March 2, 2013

Late Review: Clanbook: Tzimisce

Clanbook:  Tzimisce
By:  Robert Hatch
1995, 68 pages

             Tzimisce was always my second favorite clan after Toreador.  For some reason I was attracted to their utter disregard for their humanity and instead they embraced inhumanity and change.  They were not bound by the confines of their flesh, and instead, they modified and changed themselves through the use of their clan discipline Vicissitude.  Of course, this is a romantic view of a clan whose nickname is “The Fiends.”  The Tzimisce are probably the most frightening clan in the Sabbat.  They are its spiritual leaders and provide some of the most terrifying antagonists for a Camarilla or Anarch centric game.  Vicissitude provides a multitude of ways to terrify or interrogate Player Characters. 
Interior Art Example
Clanbook:  Tzimisce is a digest of the horrors that the clan can visit upon its enemies.  It is filled with stories of terror and the twisted images of sick minds.  What is most striking about the book is the deceptive nature of the cover’s art when compared to the art inside.  Bradstreet’s cover is of a beautiful woman, stretching out, but as soon as you open the book you are confronted by heavy line drawings of grotesque creatures of indescribable anatomy surrounded by horrors.  The interior art maintains a consistent theme of horror as if someone were looking into Rob Zombie’s imagination and pulling out the most disturbing images they could find.  I’m not opposed to this kind of art, but I think that it only shows one side of Clan Tzimisice.  This art portrays the grotesque but not the alien beauty of the clan. 
Later images of Tzimisce show a strange beauty that taunts us to love it while we are being reviled by the alien nature of that beauty.  I believe that art does a much better job of represent the clan.  However, these images come during the transition from First Edition Vampire the Masquerade to Second Edition, and one must remember that even in the Second Edition core rule book the Tzimisce were not included as a playable clan until the release of the Player’s Guide to the Sabbat. 
Corine Marcon will make clothes out of you!
As with other clanbooks, Clanbook Tzimisce is divided into five sections:  A introductory story to set the tone, a history of the clan, a description of the modern clan along with some mechanics for your game, a selection of pre-generated templates for PCs, and finally an appendix which describes some famous or infamous Tzimisce that can be included in a Chronicle.  While Clanbook:  Toreador and Clanbook:  Ventrue provided lots of really good templates for PCs to use and that section was my favorite part of those books, Clanbook:  Tzimisce’s templates were disappointing.  The Torturer, Tattoo Artist, and Fallen Surgeon are kind of obvious choices for Tzimisce NPCs.  Only the Carnivorous Carny stands out as an interesting character to play, and I think that may be because I have wanted to read Midnight Circus, a World of Darkness Adventure about a traveling Carnival.  The Monster Maker is just silly and shows how a character can go off the rails by indulging in all the terrible archetypes of the Mad Scientist.  Supervillain cape and old Carpathian castle are included.  This guy shouldn’t be a Tzimisce; he’s a member of Cobra in today’s episode of G.I. Joe who will be defeated and forgotten by tomorrow’s next episode at 3:00.
A "modern" Tzimisce:  More Elegant in its horror
The Appendix of (in)famous NPCs is also a let-down.  The most famous Tzimisce, Vlad Tepes AKA Dracula, is given the shortest entry and a quick note that more information can be found on him in Who’s Who Among Vampires:  Children of the Inquisition.  Corine Marcon, the fashion designer who weaves her clothes out of strands of the still living flesh of ghouls , is interesting and provides a few great adventure ideas because these “clothing ghouls” are able to report back the secrets of their wearers through telepathy.  However, Doktor Totentanz is another character who embodies all the body horror fears that should be intriguing but all that is lost because the writers needed a Nazi character to complete the roster of evil. 
The mechanics section provides some new Merits and Flaws along with a handful of Disciplines for character who are lower than Eight Generation.  The Servitors section is interesting in that it provides some great ideas for Tzimisce Revenant families and the strange ghouls that are bound to the Tzimisce.  Of course, these lack stats, which is appropriate because it allows the Storyteller to dream up monstrous creations that can challenge the coterie without being bound to a particular block of stats.  Also, I doubt that a “normal” or “average” Tzimisce ghoul exists. 
The best section of the book is the introductory story which sets the stage for a true understanding of the clan as the Sire discusses his beliefs that clan Tzimisce is the highest evolution of the Kindred race while the childe is drawn further into the dark but inviting horror of the Tzimisce’s terrible knowledge.  The reader is witness to the childe’s loss of humanity as a former acquaintance gurgles her name and she looks in on confusion and amusement.  Above everything else in the book, this demonstrates what it means to be a Tzimisce more so than the images of grotesque bodies and Monster Makers and Nazi Doctors. 
The focus of this clanbook is body horror and revulsion.  However, Clan Tzimisce is more than that.  It’s not horror for horror’s sake, but rather it’s the Tzimisce search for a transcendent beauty that both attracts us and disturbs us.  That is the essence of body horror and this clan.  The loss of humanity and empathy is all wrapped in the Tzimisce’s transcendental need to be more than human and more than vampire.  Clanbook:  Tzimisce fails to capture that. 
Nevertheless there are some good moments when you get this book.  When I bought my original copy, it came shrink wrapped with a piece of card stock covering the back cover. I unwrapped it and chuckled at the image of a vagina with teeth which had been sculpted to replace a person’s mouth.  Inside there are some great quotes, including one from Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and most appropriately a quote from Transformers:  The Movie:  “Human Germ!” attributed to the Decepticon Shrapnel.  
Clanbook Tzimisce is available in PDF Format at DriveThruRPG.  You can also purchase an original printing on Amazon.

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