Saturday, August 24, 2013

Late Review: Clanbook Malkavian

Clanbook Malkavian
By Daniel Greenberg
1993, 65 pages

            Clanbook Malkavian is one of the infamous examples of the idiosyncrasies of early Vampire the Masquerade supplements. This clanbook is loved by some players as a great example of how the book itself is a reflection of the clan.  On the other hand, many people were not happy with the purposefully bad art, silly layout, and backwards pages.  For the record, I am not a fan of Malkavians.  In too many games that I’ve played in or run Malkavians have been mostly a disruptive presence at the table.  I’ve already covered this in a previous article:  Fishmalks and Wareadors.  Malkavians are not always bad; some players are exceptionally good at playing lunatics and mental patients.  The bad experiences that I've had with them just outweigh the good.  Clanbook Malkavian is at its best when it is exploring the terrifying insanity of the clan but at its worst when it’s reinforcing the disruptive class clown archetype. 
            The theme of Clanbook Malkavian, however, is enlightened, collective madness.   Unlike Clanbook Gangrel, this one is written from a non-Malkavian point of view with the assumption that this clan’s madness has a greater purpose (although they may have no purpose).   Assuming they have a purpose, according to specialists on Clan Malkavians, is safer.  The Malkavian’s madness is explained as both enlightenment and sickness.  Malkavians don’t become insane; they embrace their insanity purposefully shattering their former views of reality.  To do otherwise will cause the Malkavian to become a gibbering lunatic. 
            The Introduction is a story about a newly Embraced Malkavian named Adam who is struggling against the Malkavian madness as his Sire, Mistress LaVeel, tries to guide him through the process of becoming a Malkavian.  He escapes from the basement where she’s holding him and races out into the streets.  He runs blindly trying to come to grips with his new state of being and the twisted thoughts in his head.  He runs down an alley where he encounters another Malkavian, Crazy Jane, who helps him finally sever his connection to reality and allow his madness to envelope him. 
            Chapter One explores the core beliefs and history of the clan.  The Malkavians have a large number of contradictory beliefs that other Kindred have developed to explain the Malkavian’s greater purpose.  These beliefs range from anarchy for anarchy’s sake, the ascension of personal will over consensual reality, and evolution of the Malkavian’s mind to a higher state to just pure nihilism or no purpose at all. 
Fans of Mage the Ascension will recognize these purposes as being similar to concepts in that game.  Malkavians also have a connection to Changeling the Dreaming because they are trying to undo the static reality that keeps Faeries from traveling to the real world.  The shared references of static reality and consensual reality that are part of the core Malkavian philosophy espoused in this book inject too many of the themes of Mage and Changeling into Vampire the Masquerade.  The idea that Malkavians understand the greater truths of reality is a good one and that they have gone mad because they understand those truths is a good one, but using the same language that Mages and Changelings use to describe reality dilutes Malkavians rather than making them stand out.  Although the various game lines by White Wolf (Vampire, Mage, Werewolf, etc.) have always struggled with how they fit together, this method just undermines what makes Malkavian's different from the other clans.  Rather than going into more depth about the Malkavian's madness, this book just attaches that madness to the concepts of other games.  
One of my favorite characters in Bloodlines.  Jeanette made crazy cool!
The history of the Malkavians doesn’t diverge much from the general history of the other vampires, except that Malkav, the clan’s progenitor, is thought of as a man who has greater vision and spiritual understanding than the other Antediluvians.  It is Malkav who is trying to follow Caine along the path to a reality shattering enlightenment.  He is still trying to perfect his vision, and the Malkavians are each a little experiment to test how reality works, supposedly.  Since the clan’s founding, the Malkavians have spread across the world shattering, seemingly at random, the carefully laid plans of other vampires.  Some traveled to Arcadia and made alliances with Faeries and they tried to maintain the contradiction and possibilities that allow Faeries to exist.  They even visited the Far East where they made met the strange Kindred of the East. This history puts Malkavians as the point of connection between too many other supernatural groups.  Later, Malkavians were instrumental to the outcome of the Anarch Rebellion.  Originally the Malkavians stayed neutral playing pranks on both sides, but they decided to side with the Camarilla which swung the balance of power to the Elders.  However, one of their number, Princess Vasantasena, left the Camarilla and joined the group that became the Sabbat and thus created the Malkavian Anti-tribu. 
According to Chapter Two, The Malkavians have seven (or eight) intra-clan Traditions that they follow, maybe.  Although seven are listed and number three is given two different Traditions, these guidelines represent the most interesting section of the book as it gives insight into the workings of the Malkavian clan.  The most important Malkavian Tradition is “Breaking the Mirror” which explains that Malkavians should shatter their own reality before the blood of Malkav drives them insane.  The Fourth Tradition is probably the most fun and disruptive, the Tradition of Pranking.  Sometimes pointless, sometimes dangerous, and often cruel, Malkavian pranks may act as lessons for the high and mighty or just a silly gag that’s meaningless. 
Chapter Two also includes the new mechanics for Malkavians.  The first is a new Secondary Ability, Malkavian Time, that allows Malkavians to access the shared consciousness of the Malkavian Madness Network that allows all clan members to hear the plans of other Malkavians but not share their own.  Three new Auspex powers are included here as well.  The most useful for Storytellers is the eighth level Auspex power, Malkavian Madness Network, that lets someone who possesses this power call a meeting of nearby Malkavians.  A good Storyteller can make use of this power for many different plots.  A new seventh level of Obfuscate, Visit Faerieland, gives Malkavians a method of traveling to Arcadia and back.  However, this noteworthy Discipline is too high level to be useful for average games and serves to keep the intended Malkavian-Changeling connection out of reach of most players. Also, it really doesn't fit with the lower levels of Obfuscate which involve disappearing or disguising oneself.  I guess you hide yourself so well that you wind up in Arcadia surrounded by Changelings and Faeries? 
I don't think Pinky Pie is the best role model for role playing a Malkavian, do you?
This chapter also includes a couple of pages on how to better role play a Malkavian.  This page is the most useful page in the entire book for players because so many players struggle to properly play their derangements or have trouble balancing their Malkavian’s mischievousness, kookiness, and terror of this clan.  Playing a Malkavian is difficult for most players because role playing a derangement is difficult to get right.  Some players overdo it, and other players don’t play their derangement at all.  Finding that balance is important for players.  Finding the right amount of “crazy” to play is also important because too often a player will become disruptive and ruin the mood of a session by over-playing the kookiness of his character.  Having this page with the text reversed is just frustrating because the author and editors have made the most useful information the hardest to read. 
Chapter Fore (their spelling not mine) offers a variety of madmen to play.  Some are sedate like the Detached Scientist who sublimates his emotions and tries to remain detached while below the surface he’s about to explode in violence.  Others are raving lunatics like the Raving Lunatic who screams and yells and can’t control himself at all.  Each of the templates offers a different take on the Malkavian’s inherent madness.   Although the descriptions of each potential character offer a good idea as to what the character’s derangement might be, the character sheet doesn’t specify it explicitly.  If the character’s derangement was specifically listed, then the author could have created characters that didn’t necessarily know their own derangement or their derangement is different from the madness that you might expect.  However, these templates offer players who have never role played a Malkavian a good selection of madmen and lunatics to base their characters on. 
The Appendix (or Kidney One) offers the usual Who’s Who of Among Malkavians, but unlike the other clanbooks, this section is well integrated with the rest of the book.  Crazy Jane, who appears in the introductory story, is given a better write up here.  Vasantesena, who led a faction of the clan into the Sabbat, is described here as well.  The most interesting character introduced in this section is Rasputin, the mad monk of Russian history.  This is one of the few historical figures that I don’t mind seeing as a vampire since so many myths have sprung up around a man who was nearly impossible to kill. 
            Most Vampire the Masquerade players who haven’t read this book are still familiar with it because of the number of injokes including the infamous page XX that was missing from Werewolf the Apocalypse or the Nosferatu Corrupt Industrialist character sheet are found in this book.  Along with the upside down and backwards pages, these jokes fall flat after nearly 20 years.  The interior artwork is a mishmash of the usual 90’s style Vampire the Masquerade art and the kind of stuff that a teacher would call the cops about if she found those drawing stuffed in a second grader’s Trapper Keeper.  The artwork is supposed to represent the kind of art the Malkavians would create themselves such as the first grade vampire daisies or the messy stick figure drawings.  Also, the layout of the book is designed as if the book was put together by the Malkavians themselves which is strange since the book was not written by a Malkavian.  One page is black with white ink, another is upside down and most frustratingly one page is printed backwards.  And worst of all, Clanbook Malkavian tries too hard to associate the Malkavian to Mage the Ascension and Changeling the Dreaming. 
Delirium on the other hand...
            If you are looking to learn more about the Malkavians or want to improve your ability to role play as a Malkavian, then this book offers some good information.  However, much of that good information is overshadowed by the quirky lay out and the forced connections to Mage the Ascension and Changeling the Dreaming.  On the other hand, if you are a Vampire the Masquerade Storyteller looking to bring Changelings into your Chronicle, this book has a few good ideas that can be used to that end.  Overall, this book is frustrating to read and too busy associating Malkavians with Changelings and Mages to be of general use to players just interested in Vampire the Masquerade.  Nevertheless, for old school fans of Vampire the Masquerade and Malkavians this book is a must have if only for its quirks and the nostalgia associated with its silliness.
            Clanbook Malkavian is available for sale on DriveThruRPG as a PDF.  If you want an original printing you can find it on Amazon.  


  1. I think a lot of people just figured that since "Crazy" was the motif for Clan Malkavian is was an excuse to bring back all the sentiment of being "Chaotic Neutral" in D&D. I feel like Jeannette from Bloodlines is a perfect example of how a good Malkavian player can make a character memorable, functional, and interesting all by keeping the crazy to a minimum and embracing the lighter quarks of a mental problem. Hell, just having a Malkavian with extreme OCD is enough to qualify as a functioning and good Malkavian character. Even the Malkavian hacker from the first PC Vampire game was memorable because he was more of an Ed (Cowboy Bebop) character than a delusional savant with computers.

  2. I've always thought that more subtle the Malkavian's madness the easier it would be to portray. IN my last campaign the Malkavian Primogen had OCD, but if things were not in their proper place he could violently snap at any moment and explode into rage. I think the players were more scared of him because his madness was subtle and they couldn't quit figure out what was going on at first.
    I would like to see someone play a more eccentric Malkavian well. Most of those generally become Fishmalks rather than good characters that fit into the themes of VtM

  3. My favorite Malkavian character wasn't out in the open batshit crazy like most people seem to portray them. He was a computer nerd, not very good in social situation and was an obsessive not taker who couldn't help but to dig for answers and the secrets of others.

    But in secret he ran a webpage called 'KNN' or Kindred News Network. With great pains to hide that he was the one behind and it while making it nearly impossible to trace back to himself. He would post up all the dirty little secrets and various information that came his way. A very suicidal thing to do in kindred society to say the least. Needless to say it's what eventually led to his demise which occurred with lots of pyrotechnics.

  4. I like your idea about a Kindred running a webpage or blog that reports on the goings on in a city. Those are actually common now according to the V20 Companion. Although they aren't openly advertised on the Internet. A Kindred Facebook even exists. Everything is online now!

  5. Just wanted to point out that this book was released in 1993 while Changeling: the Dreaming was released in 1995, so it's actually Changeling that recycles ideas already introduced in this book and not the other way around. ;-)

    1. True, this book was released in 1993, but Changeling must have already been in the development process and Clanbook Malkavian was drawing on ideas that were to be used for that. I just don't like how many non-Vampire the Masquerade ideas were used in this book. The Malkavians almost lost their identity. But again, thank you for pointing that out!