Monday, August 19, 2013

Late Review: V20 Companion

V20 Companion
By Justin Achilli and Eddy Webb
2012, 79 pages

            As the first supplement for Vampire the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition, the V20 Companion offers expanded information on the World of Darkness Setting including titles for various sects, Prestation rules (trading favors) for each sect, how vampires exploit technology, and finally a selection of locations for use in any Vampire the Masquerade Game.  Those topics have been covered in a variety of other books; so for long time Vampire the Masquerade players, this book may not seem a necessary purchase.  However, because V20 left out the rules for running a Caitiff, players and Storyteller must have access to this book just for those two pages.  Besides those two pages, the rest of the book offers some useful information and ideas for games. 
            Chapter One covers the various titles available for all of the major sects:  Camarilla, Sabbat, Anarchs, Tal’mahe’ra (True Hand), and Inconnu.  The Camarilla and Sabbat titles should be familiar to anyone who already owns V20.  Prince, Sheriff, Ductus, or Priest are all titles that are familiar to anyone who has a copy of V20 or has played Vampire the Masquerade in the past.  Some additional titles have been added like the “Chancellor,” who is responsible for keeping track of the favors owed and who owes them.  If the Storyteller is emphasizing Prestation, favor trading, then this new position in the Prince’s court will be a great help.  The Sabbat has the usual series of titles, including the title “Shovelhead,” which is for just Embraced Sabbat who have yet to prove themselves and earn the title “True Sabbat.”   The Anarchs have several titles but essentially operate the same as the Camarilla titles.  A “Baron” runs the Domain, a “Reeve” keeps order for the “Baron,” and so on. 
            The Tal’mahe’Ra also have series of titles, but it is in this section of Chapter One where the V20 Companion offers its first real revision to the World of Darkness.  While the core principles and history of the Tal’mahe’Ra remain the same as in Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand, the V20 Companion updates the tone of this sect, making it darker and more fitting for the World of Darkness.  Just the update to the tone of the True Hand makes this chapter worth reading.  The V20 Companion emphasizing the sect as a death cult that kidnaps mortals and tries to further its goal of vampiric supremacy. 
There is no way these characters are going to get along! 
            As the least worldly and most secretive sect, the Inconnu are given only two titles.  Beyond those titles the mystery of the Inconnu is still intact which stays in line with past works on the Inconnu.  On the whole this chapter reinforces the information already available in V20, but if you are interested in running games involving Anarchs or the Tal’Mahe’Ra, you’ll find this book helpful in fleshing out the domains.  Beyond just a short description of the title, each entry offers some advice on how the title fits into the sect’s goals and world view. 
Finally, there are several clan-specific titles that are written broadly enough to fit just about any clan.  Titles such as Mystic can be modified to fit either the Tremere or their hated enemies, the Assamites.  My favorite title out of this entire chapter is “Consul” which is a diplomat between Sects, clans or any other groups.  This title offers opportunities for designing cities with visiting clan members that may not normally be there without them necessarily being antagonists.  Now an Assamite or a Giovanni could be in a Camarilla city and be protected by this title, and not just hiding out in the city hoping the Sheriff doesn’t notice them. 
Chapter 2 explains the rules for Prestation for Kindred.  Prestation, of course, is the practice of trading favors or boons.  This represents the other currency for vampires, the first being blood.  This material has already been covered in a variety of other source books, but this is the first time it’s been put in print since the release of V20.  The interesting part of this Chapter is that the Prestation system has expanded beyond the Camarilla.  Every sect has its own approach to trading favors and even trading favors with vampires of different sects; so, even sects that are spilling each others’ blood are meeting and talking and trading favors regardless of animosity.  Of course, if a Sabbat member is caught trading boons with a Camarilla member then things might get unpleasant for both of them.  Storytellers will love having updated and expanded rules for Prestation for their games. 
Technology in the World of Darkness is the focus of Chapter 3.  According to the V20 Companion, vampires can become stuck in the era in which they were Embraced.  Because of the rapid pace of change in technology in the modern nights, vampires can be quickly overwhelmed or lost as technology overtakes them.  Older vampires who were Embraced hundreds of years ago may struggle to understand modern technology such as computers and smart phones.  Newly Embraced vampires, however, can understand modern technology quickly because they’ve been surrounded by it for their entire lives.  Technology becomes a weapon that smart Neonates can use against their Elders.  Elders, on the other hand, are not wholly defenseless against techno-savvy Neonates; they ghoul mortals who are capable of managing that facet of the modern world.  Even scarier, the Elders make a point to stay up to date with technology. 
Technology allows vampires to conduct attacks from distant domains.  Anarchs can lead rebellions from the safety of the Anarch Free States.  Sabbat can give orders to distant packs with just a tweet.  Technology can be used in a variety of ways in the World of Darkness.  Not to mention that maintaining the Masquerade in the modern world with ubiquitous use of smart phones with video cameras is becoming more and more difficult.  Stories can be built around stopping the spread of a viral video or tracking down its source.  This chapter offers many hints at story ideas that Storytellers can build upon for their campaign, but none of the topics are explored in depth. 
The new art is beautiful!  All the V20 art has been awesome!
Chapter Four offers a variety of locations for adventures in the World of Darkness.  These locations range from an up to date Succubus Club, that travels between cities putting on various shows for the Kindred residents of those towns, to the Cathedral of Flesh, a Tzimisce created building made from the flesh of hundreds of mortals that may still exist in the modern nights.   Twenty-five locations are described, and each location has about three paragraphs dedicated to it.  The location, itself, is explained along with some NPCs who might be present, and a story hook is hinted at.  Although each location description is little more than a tease for the potential of an adventure set there, the variety of locations that games can explore is awe-inspiring.  Whether the game’s tone is gritty and street level about the perils of being neonates or a pulp adventure with a group of vampires seeking lost artifacts, there is a good location in this chapter.
As an aside, for people interested in how The Onyx Path and White Wolf Publishing are taking advantage of modern technology in game development, the Introduction and the Appendix of the V20 Companion explains how fans have contributed to what is actually in this book.  The authors explain why certain material was cut, such as a mechanical system for titles, or why certain material was expanded upon, extra clan-specific titles were cut because of lack of space.  It’s exciting to see the publishers are listening to the people who play the games and making changes to the works as they are being written.  So, make your opinions heard on the upcoming books because they are listening.
The V20 Companion reused this art, and so am I!
The V20 Companion is not a book necessary to play or run a Vampire the Masquerade game except for the fact that this is the only book that has the rules for Caitiff.  For Storytellers looking to explore Prestation rules or are looking for new locations, this books has plenty of both.  However, the biggest problem with this book is that it doesn’t go indepth on any of the topics.  Each chapter, aside from the chapter on Prestation, could have been expanded into a book on its own.  Because technology is so pervasive and has changed the world so much in the last 10 years, that any discussion of Technology in the World of Darkness is going to require more than just one chapter.  As with everything else in this book, more space is needed to really explore the topics addressed in this book.  The V20 Companion is useful for Storytellers, and one person in your gaming group should probably have it just for the information on Caitiff.  In truth, I wish the information for playing Caitiffs should be made available in a free format because it should have been in V20. 
The V20 Companion is available at as either a PDF or Print on Demand formats! 


  1. Nice review. If I may, I’ll add some observations not so much about the content as about the way the book came to market.

    I bought this book through the Kickstarter, having backed the excellent V20 book. Off the back of that, which generate quite a buzz for being a lovely, and massive, product, the V20 Companion felt like an incredible slim, and therefore outrageously over-priced, exploitation of the success of its predecessor. In a shop we would have seen what we was buying, and if it had been released we could have read reviews and seen the page count: with Kickstarter you have to trust the company to deliver value for money – and in this case it seemed that they really didn’t.

    In the case of something like V20, Kickstarter can be leveraged to produce a high quality product that gets a lot of fan buy-in and generally to create a real buzz around a product. While the V20 Companion book itself is fine, as your review says, I know a lot of people who are now much more wary of backing games on KS because of feeling exploited by paying for a book that they expected would be much more substantial than this.

    Kickstarter has the potential to be a hugely powerful tool for the industry, and a wonderful enabler for independent developers, but if too many big companies exercise too little control over the value they deliver through it then they could quickly undermine people’s belief in it.

    1. Thanks for giving a quick review of the V20 Companion Kickstarter experience. I bought the book through DriveThruRPG so I had a good idea of what was coming. It seems like White Wolf/The Onyx Path has learned from the V20 Experience because both Werewolf 20 and Hunters Hunted 2 have been excellent experiences, as far as quality of the books. However, the Kickstarter contributors are still waiting for their Deluxe Editions of W20 while people like me already have their Print on Demand copies.