Monday, August 12, 2013

Late Review: Clanbook Gangrel

Clanbook Gangrel
By Brad Freeman
1993, 66 pages

            While other clans, like the Followers of Set or the Assamites, are independent of any one sect but have a defined internal hierarchy, the Gangrel, depending on edition and metaplot, claim membership in the Camarilla; however individual clan members are almost islands onto themselves.  Gangrels travel between cities, explore the wilderness, and rarely stay in any one spot for very long; as such, Clanbook Gangrel is written as if it were an inworld guide for newly embraced Gangrel.  The authors, Dr. Raoul King and his sire Lord Aston, explain the history and culture of the clan and the clan’s relationships with Lupines and Gypsies. 
            The major theme of Clanbook Gangrel is storytelling.  Everything in the book revolves around how Gangrel pass along stories as they meet in their travels.  According to this clanbook, whenever two Gangrels meet, they will sit and share stories of their exploits or stories they’ve head in the past.  These meetings pass along the oral history of the clan, but this book, as an inworld artifact, is essentially the most important of those stories as selected by Lord Ashton and edited by Dr. Raoul King.  Lord Ashton explains Clan Gangrel’s history and Dr. Raoul King discusses the modern relationships of the Gangrels with the other clans. 
If the name Dr. Raoul King sounds somewhat familiar to you, it is because Clanbook Gangrel is dedicated to Hunter S. Thompson who named the protagonist of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Raoul Duke.  Having Hunter S. Thompson, as a vampire, writing the Gangrel’s manual is not so much a giant leap in logic.  Thompson could well have been just about anything or anyone to any person.  However, the real author of the book doesn’t attempt to mimic Thompson’s writing style.  If you’re going to have one of the most insane journalists of the 20th century as your author, then go all the way. 
The first chapter of Clanbook Gangrel covers the clan’s history as known by the clan itself.  This history deviates from the known history of the other clans.  Instead of starting with Caine, the history of the Gangrels starts with Lilith.  After being expelled from the Garden of Eden, Lilith wanders the world and eventually gives birth to 4 children who are each raised by a different animal, a wolf, a bear, a tiger and a serpent.  These children eventually became the progenitors of the changing breeds.  Ennoia, the child raised by wolves, became the first werewolf, and she gave birth to more.  Eventually she traveled to Enoch, the first city, where she was famed for her beauty.  She also had children with the citizens of Enoch, and these children became the proto-gypsies.   She left Enoch and was eventually Embraced by one of Caine’s childer, and afterwards, she founded the Gangrel clan as she traveled the world Embracing mortals herself. 
Much like their Antediluvian ancestor, the Gangrel never stop traveling.  Eventually Gangrel spread throughout the world.  Often they acted as the scouts for Kindred looking to expand.  They spread to the New World with Vikings and early European settlers.  They spread to Australia before the first Europeans arrived and Embraced Aborigines.  Gangrel have spread to the far corners of the world, and the only continent where they don’t have a presence is Antarctica.  No one goes to Antarctica.
Chapter Two is devoted to a discussion of Gangrel culture.  Brujah have Rants and Toreador have parties.  Gangrel have Gathers, which are essentially the same as a Brujah Rant. The major difference is that Gangrel Gathers have a storytelling component.   A truly great Gangrel storyteller can keep his audience so enthralled they’ll stay up all day listening to hear the ending.  Because of their love for the wild places, Gangrel encounter Werewolves frequently.  Some Gangrel even develop tenuous friendships with the Lupines, and very lucky few have been rumored to have joined Werewolf packs.   According to a section written by Dr. Raoul King, Gypsies are known to help Gangrels on occasion because of their supposed shared ancestry; however it can be a risky proposition as some Gypsies may not welcome any vampires. 
            Given that the Gangrel are shapeshifters and travelers, I understand why they have connections to werewolves and Gypsies.  Clanbook Gangrel puts this in a favorable light because it’s “authors” are Gangrels, but these allegiances are romanticized.  They don’t have the tinge of danger and potential horror that should accompany interactions between Gangrels and Gypsies.  Seeking an allegiance with a pack of werewolves is outright suicide for most vampires, and only the rarest and luckiest Gangrels are going to succeed.  Clanbook Gangrel is meant to provide the beginnings of the connective tissue that will bring the whole World of Darkness together.  Because it was printed in 1993 originally, just after the publication of Werewolf the Apocalypse in 1992, this section on Gangrel and Werewolf relations bridges the gap and creates a larger world where sometimes a vampire and a werewolf can ally.  World of Darkness:  Gypsies came out in 1994 and because both the Gangrel and Ravnos are associated with Gypsies, Clanbook Gangrel offers a hook into that future book as well. 
            Written by Dr. Rauol King, Chapter Three explores the relationships between Gangrel and other Kindred as well as hunters (of the Hunters Hunted variety) and other supernatural creatures.  Dr. Rauol King’s opinions on the other Camarilla clans are what you’d expect from a typical Gangrel.  The Toreador are “absolutely worthless” and the Tremere are “manipulative, organized, secretive and treacherous.”  Of particular note is the opinion on the Sabbat because it’s not really negative.  Instead they are called honest and don’t wander around in perpetual angst about their existence.  If nothing else, this is a view that was prevalent during First Edition because the primary conflict was between the Elders and the Anarchs.  The Sabbat weren’t as important in the metaplot, yet. 
            Following the section on “Relationships with Other Kindred” the book finally breaks character and discusses a few additional rules for Gangrels.  One additional level of Protean is introduced along with two Merits and one Flaw.  Also included is another section on how Gangrel can intergrate themselves with a Werewolf pack.  These rules cover how a Gangrel can mimic some of the abilities of a Werewolf and what abilities the Gangrel can never learn.  The many forms of a werewolf, Lupine language, etc. are covered here as well.  Of particular not is what a vampire looks like in the Umbra:  Vampires are pale and surrounded by a cloud of spirits that haunt their steps.  What the spirits are is only hinted at. 
            The section on Disciplines should have been larger.  Protean offers so many possibilities for characters that develop it beyond Level Five.  This would’ve been the perfect chance to introduce variants that would let a Gangrel gain more control over what shapes he/she can take.  Also, because of the amount of material on Werewolves in this book, this would have been the opportunity to include a Level 6 Protean ability that allowed a Gangrel to replicate the Werewolf’s Crinos Form. 
This art is so '90s that I think Rob Liefield may have drawn it!
            The final chapter offers ten templates for players and storytellers to use in their games.  None of the templates are really obvious Gangrel stereotypes, and some of them are really creative.  The Archon in Training is a bruiser with plenty of points in combat abilities and is obviously looking to work his way up through the Camarilla’s hierarchy.  The Biologist is looking to make sense of the vampiric condition through science.  The Stuntman is the real standout because it’s such a simple but fun archetype that mixes action with the charisma of someone used to performing in movies.  As a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, I always picture the Stuntman as Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, driving that big black Chevy Nova SS 396.  He’s so smug and winks at the camera just before he murders the first girl. 
If a player ever smiles like this, you KNOW it's about to get awesome!
            On the other hand, three of the templates are of limited use.  The Survivalist Template is better used as an NPC.  He’s too much a loner but could make a great antagonist for wilderness based stories where a group of Vampires are on the run and find a bunker.  The Lupine Impersonator Template could be fun if the Chronicle makes use of a lot of Werewolves or plots involving Werewolves that are not outright antagonistic to the PCs.  Otherwise, this template could be completely useless or just character suicide.  Finally the Babe in the Woods Template is a probably the most difficult to role play template that I’ve seen.  The Babe in the Woods is a character that doesn’t realize that he/she is a vampire.  Integrating that character into a Chronicle would be difficult at best, but for a role player looking for a challenge, this is the character I’d recommend. 
             The Appendix of notable Gangrel is the most disappointing part of the book.  Three NPCs are introduced, Dr. Raoul King, Karen Anotos, and Harbard, and one group the Waelkyrige.  Only Dr. Raoul King is given a decent write up, and we already know who he is because he part of the Clanbook.  Karen Anotos, an actress, like Elvira, who played vampires when she was mortal, is given such a short description that I’ve just said everything important about her.  The Waelkyrige are a group of Valkyrie who have a better explanation in another book, according to Clanbook Gangrel.  The reason that the Appendix is so disappointing is because of the wasted space that could have been used to further flesh out these characters. 
            On the whole, Clanbook Gangrel is one of the better clanbooks.  The fact, that it’s a book about Gangrel, written by Gangrel, and as guide for new Gangrel, means that the information can be as true or false as the Storyteller and players decide.  It does have shortcomings such as the lack of additional variations on high level Protean and the poor descriptions of the Notable Gangrel in the Appendix.  Storytellers looking to include Werewolves or Gypsies into their games will find this book the most useful.  Any Gangrel player should enjoy reading through this book, especially the history of the Gangrel clan. 
            Clanbook Gangrel is available as a PDF at or you can purchase an original printing at

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