Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Late Review: Clanbook: Assamite

Clanbook:  Assamite
By Graeme Davis
1995, 66 pages

Offensive accent included free of charge!
            I have a severe bias against the Assamite clan.  When I first started playing RPGs back in the ‘90s, my group included too many power gamers, and Clan Assamite is a power gamers wet dream.  The clan’s disciplines, Celerity, Obfuscate, and Quietus, are a wet dream for any player who wants to make an unstoppable murder machine.  The Assamites operate beyond the laws of the city’s Prince or Primogen.  They answer only to their clan’s leaders (with the obvious exception of the Assamite antitribu).  Most importantly, since most Assamites follow the Path of Blood, they aren’t held to the normal morals against killing; instead, they are expected to kill, ruthlessly and efficiently for their elders.   This combination of factors draws power gamers or just players who want to be “evil” for the sake of being evil.  My bias is based on disruptive nature of the kind of player who loves to be the evil badass assassin that murders at will.           
             However, Clanbook Assamite doesn’t devolve into glorification of the wet dreams of power gamers, but this book does contain some powerful artifacts and new powers to tempt those power gamers who read it.  The most surprising element of this clanbook was a clear and consistent theme of anti-colonialism with Caine as the original villainous colonist destroying the sanctity of the first city.  Using this theme the book expands outward taking the Assamite clan and developing it into its own sect, separate from the rest of Kindred, with its own vocabulary, view on vampire history, and methodology.  Instead of falling into the trap of making the Assamites another paper thin, evil organization, the clan is given depth as well as breadth. 
This fucking guy turned Africa into a graveyard
            While many other clans have an idyllic view of the founding of the 13 clans and the utopia of Kindred rule, the Assamites see a history of invasion and occupation beginning with the arrival of Caine.  Caine entered Enoch, the first city, and turned the king and queen into vampires like himself.  However, Haqim, the Assamite Antediluvian and the general of the armies of Enoch, saw his king and queen corrupted by the invader Caine.  He slew the king and queen and took their blood to turn himself into a vampire.  He battled Caine but was defeated.   Haqim’s most loyal soldiers saved him and together they traveled into the mountains to wage a war against the monster that had conquered his home.  From the greatest of his soldiers, Haqim created the Assamites to continue his war for revenge against Caine’s corruption of his city and king.  The Assamites have since sold their skills as assassins to other Kindred under the theory that they can doubly profit by gaining Kindred Blood, which they use for an elixir to lower their generation  circumventing the Tremere curse and their clan weakness, and they can destroy other vampires which they would do regardless.  
            Without turning this review into a discussion on colonialism and post colonialism, Clan Assamite’s history of the Kindred is reminiscent of any number of colonial adventures, whether it’s the conquest of the Aztecs and Incas by the Spanish conquistadors, the British colonization of India, the Belgians conquest of Africa, or the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan.  Because the Assamites were regarded as a continuation of racist Middle Eastern stereotypes, White Wolf needed to offer a more nuanced view of the clan and move them beyond the stereotype.  By creating a history of colonial conflict from the clan’s founding, Clanbook:  Assamite avoids those same stereotypes, and the author even includes suggested reading material to further enlighten players about Middle Eastern and Islamic culture. 
Revised Edition Assamite
            Of all the clans, the Assamites have the most strict rules on selecting potential initiates who must be selected by the Elders of the clan for introduction into a training program that prepares the initiates for the Embrace and membership in the clan.  Potential Assamites are typically drawn from the ranks of soldiers, freedom fighters, mercenaries, and others with a combat focus, but specialists such as scholars, scientists, and occultists are also Embraced rounding out the clan.  The clan itself is hierarchical with the Master, the Old Man of the Mountain, making decisions alongside a council of Elders, the Du’at, made up of the Assamite warlord, the Caliph, the chief scholar, the Vizier, and the head priest, the Amr.  Below these are the Silsila or the clan’s elders.  Finally there is the clan’s rank and file, the Rafiq, and the newly embraced initiates or the Fida’i.  The clan is divided into three further groups based on their skills:  The Scholars, the Warriors, and the Magi.  The expansion of the Assamites beyond just a clan of assassins allows for a wider variety of potential characters rather than the usual professional soldiers. 
Let's avoid the ninja with big boobs stereotype too, please
            But no matter how rigidly structured or well-trained a group of assassins may be, without a code of conduct, they are just a sociopathic cult.  The Assamites code is the Khabar, and it defines the clan’s activities.  Loyalty to the clan is the penultimate decree.  Beneath loyalty, the Assamites value Brotherhood, Honor, Vengeance, Secrecy, Faith and Community.  The overlapping values of Loyalty, Brotherhood, and Community define this deeper view of the clan while Vengeance against the Kindred who corrupted the First City continues the theme of anti-colonialism.  Also, Clanbook:  Assamite introduces players to first mechanics for the Path of Blood and the morality of the Assamites. 
            As far as systems and mechanics, Clanbook:  Assamite offers a selection of the useful and the overpowered.  Alchemical dusts that replicate abilities of the discipline Quietus offer single use items that can be given as rewards to neonate Assamite characters that haven’t developed Queitus fully.  Kali’s Fang, on the other hand, is a weapon that always does aggravated damage and can destroy a vampire if it strikes the vampire’s heart.  Kali’s Fang could be one of the most powerful items in the game, and except for story purposes, Storytellers shouldn’t let players acquire it.  The new Merits and Flaws provide allies for the Assamite amongst the Assamite Antitribu or the Marijava ghoul family and enemies amongst the Assamite Antitribu, the Assamite Elders or the Du’at, the Assamite’s ruling council.  All of these are helpful for explaining why an Assamite might travel with a coterie. 
High level options for the Assamite’s signature Discipline, Quietus, are given including two for the sixth rank and one for the seventh rank and one for the eighth rank.  As with all Disciplines beyond the fifth level, these can be either overpowered or just generally useful.  Some new Thaumaturgy Rituals are also included.  A Level 5 ritual that turns any artificial light source into a potent weapon that replicates the effects of sunlight could be overpowering, but the Ritual only last for two to ten minutes.  A level seven ritual also allows a character to heal aggravated wounds as if they were normal wounds. 
Step 1 is always be sneaky!
New Secondary Abilities, weapons, and combat systems are included that expanded on the Second Edition systems, but these are not useful for groups who have migrated to the 20th Anniversary Edition.  The weapons could be easily brought over into V20 with little work.  However, the existence of these systems and abilities may offer some suggestions for players who want to create a character that uses exotic weapons such as a blowgun or garrote. 
Because of the Assamite’s historic hatred of the other clans, Storytellers will need a reason why an Assamite has joined a coterie of infidels.  The section Leopards Among Jackals offers three reasons methods for a Storyteller to include Assamites in traditional coteries.  The most obvious is Secret Teams where an Elder would assemble a group of neonates to complete a task.  The hiring of an Assamite for such a group adds combat and stealth ability to this “Dirty Dozen” assembled by a resourceful Elder.
The templates section carries a great mix of both stereotypical and unique concepts for Assamite player characters.   The stereotypes are cut from the same cloth representing the most obvious options for Assamite characters.  The Holy Warrior, Professional, Mercenary, and Avenger are typical Assamite warriors.  On the other hand, the Playboy concept is a charming thief who uses guile, seduction, and his wits to take advantage of his victims.  Furthest from the archetypal assassin is the Scholar Template who was a mortal scientist that was hired to find a cure for the Assamite’s curse; he was eventually Embraced so that he could continue his work for the clan for centuries to come.  And unlike the controlled, ruthless assassins that populate the ranks of the clan, the Psycho Killer Template is a serial killer who enjoys the thrill of each new murder.  Each of these concepts twists the usual idea of an Assamite into a unique character.  
The struggles to remove racist stereotypes continues
This clanbook doesn't feature many images outside the of the pages opposite the start of a new chapter and the templates section.  Instead images of weaponry, especially knives and bullets provide the interior art.  This could be a continuation of the Assamite's theme of eschewing material wealth and favoring personal growth.  Another option for the lack of images is the Islamic hatred of idols.  Finally, the author could have just wanted to avoid including images of stereotypical Middle Eastern assassins.  
            Clanbook:  Assamite is one of the best of the First Edition/Second Edition clanbook series because it offers a complete experience, a clan history, clan beliefs, new mechanics, and great templates.  This book expands on the themes of the clan giving the Assamites both breadth, with all of the new character possibilities and depth with the inclusion of a history that provides an alternative to the classic Vampire the Masquerade legends.  For players who always play Assamites, this book is a must have.  Storytellers who have that one power gamer who always plays an Assamite will find this book helpful, too, because of the added depth given to the clan.  Templates and other mechanics may need adjusting for groups using V20, but that shouldn’t be too difficult. 
Clanbook:  Assamite is available at DriveThruRPG as PDF, but unfortunately, there is no listing for Clanbook:  Assamite on Amazon currently, so I would suggest checking Ebay.         


  1. Had a complicated relationship with this one - while the book was indeed everything positive you said of it, the theme could also engender a sort of "us vs them, all kindred are corrupt" mindset that could be very disruptive to the making of mixed coteries, while previously it was possible to be chill about the Assamite attitude, playing them as something between hitman & bounty hunter.

    A power gamer that thinks he's actually role-playing by playing a loud freedom fighter/suicide bomber stereotype can be even more bothersome than vanilla power gamer...

    That said it's the only bone i even have to pick with the whole book and have some fond memories of actually convincing the STs in a LARP i played in of letting me set up a Mission Impossible-style Assamite cell, with each PC actually faking being from some other clan...fun time that.

    Also, trying to think up an Assamite elder of Aztec or Inca origin now. Thanks for that.

    1. The Assamites have always been a draw to power gamers, at least in my experience, but I think the book does a good job of developing the clan. Regardless of the book, players will still try to abuse the Assamite's ideals to power game and diablerize.