Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Late Review: Clanbook Ravnos



Clanbook Ravnos
By Christopher Walters
1997, 68 pages

            I have never had a player run a Ravnos character in any of my campaigns, and I’ve never used a Ravnos NPC in any of my campaigns.  To be quite honest, before reading Clanbook Ravnos, I knew very little about this clan.  They were vampire gypsies who like to steal or murder or whatever.  Other than their clan weakness and the potential game breaking awesomeness of Chimerstry, their signature clan Discipline, I couldn’t tell you much about the Ravnos.  Clanbook Ravnos changed all of that introducing me to the clan and their beliefs and politics.  I was happily surprised as I read through this clanbook and really couldn’t set it down.
            Written as if it were an inworld document, Clanbook Ravnos’s narrator is a European non-gypsy born before World War II who as a child meets a group of Gypsies whom he was taught to fear and hate.  However, when he sees children playing game no different from the games he played and meets the adults who are no different from his own family and neighbors, the child decides to join them and runs away from home.  Although his parents eventually find him and bring him back home, the narrator’s time spent with this kumpania or band of Gypsy, leaves a mark on him and the narrator travels with the Gypsies whenever he can.  When World War II starts the narrator loses track of his adoptive Gypsy parents and worries for them when he discovers that the Nazis are persecuting Gypsies as well as Jews.  After the war, the narrator searches out the surviving band and discover they have survived but only because of the protection of a Ravnos who Embraces the narrator. 
            The narrator of this introductory story remains the narrator throughout the rest of the clanbook, explaining to the reader who the Gypsies are, who the Ravnos are, and what their goals are.  The narrator is both an outsider and a part of the culture and this is the element that makes this clanbook work.  Many Americans and certainly Europeans and peoples from the rest of the world have very little contact with Gypsies or their culture.  Other than MyBig Fat Gypsy Wedding and the Brad Pitt film Snatch, I know very little about Gypsies.  Clanbook Ravnos pulls back the veil a little letting the reader view the culture and beliefs of the Gypsies of the World of Darkness (not the real world, mind you).  The author also includes a lexicon of language based on Rom, the Gypsy language, which he uses throughout the text.  This list of words is short enough that players could easily use them when role playing without needing to refer back to the clanbook.  The author doesn’t overuse these terms but uses them just enough to flavor the text and make it feel exotic.  I did have to flip back to the lexicon a few times, but soon I was remembering the words without difficulty.  In doing so, the author entices the reader to play a Ravnos which is by far the best thing anyone can say for a supplement.  After reading it, I want to play a Ravnos. 
This picture sums up everything I know about Gypsies. 
            The same narrator as the introductory story presents the history of the Ravnos from their days as exiles from the first city.  The kumpania (the words just fit right in) are traveling across the land along with the ancestors of the Silent Striders clan who were kinfolk or relatives to the Gypsies.  The band encounters Caine one night and allows him to travel with them.  The leader of this Gypsy tribe, a man named Tshurka, took in Caine and sheltered him as they traveled.  Although Tshurka made Caine agree not to feed from his people, Tshurka’s brother, the Silent Strider Pujinka, did not trust this outsider because of his tainted scent.  Caine and this group of gypsies traveled together for many nights, and Tshurka’s son, Ravnos, became infatuated with Caine and his endless life.  When the travelers reached a village, they found it was under attack by some of Caine’s childer.  These vampires attacked the Gypsies as well, killing Tshurka.  Ravnos ran to Caine and begged him to turn him into a vampire so that he could fight Caine’s other murderous children.  When the other vampires had been defeated, Ravnos took it upon himself to protect his tribe with the new powers that he had received from the Embrace.  Pujinka took the Lupines and left the Gypsies behind shattering the tribe into two parts, the Lupinos and the Ravnos. 
            No history of the Ravnos can be complete without also discussing the history of the Gangrel and their Antediluvian Ennioa.  During his travels, Ravnos encountered the beautiful woman, Ennoia, as he approaches a marvelous city.  Ennoia has been banished from the city, but Ravnos invites her to stay with him.  They fall in love, and eventually, Ravnos Embraces Ennoia.  Together they climb the walls of the city and steal from the residents and play tricks on the vampires who reside behind the walls.  However, Ennoia becomes bored with living as Ravnos’s wife; because she is one of Lilith’s children she wants to be free and wild and control her own destiny.  To that end, Ennoia makes a deal with some of the vampires living in the city, offering to turn Ravnos over to them in exchange for her own safety.  Then, she’ll claim that Ravnos told her to take charge of the kumpania and lead them away.  Things go as planned, but Ravnos’s sister has a vision of Ennoia’s treachery.  Ravnos is caught and staked and left to die in the sun, but when Ennoia returns to the Gypsy’s camp, she is caught.  The Gypsies have a trial and before they can punish her, Caine arrives and curses Ennoia to take on the countenance of a beast and to wander alone.  She falls on all fours and turns partly into an animal and races off into the night. 
            The antagonism between the Ravnos and Gangrel clans is a core element of this book and the Ravnos culture.  According to this story, Ennoia and the whole Gangrel clan are subject to a curse beyond the curse of vampirism.  Not only are they are cursed by Caine to be bestial and to wander alone, but they also subordinate to the Ravnos clan because it was Ravnos who created the Gangrel.  Clanbook Gangrel gives a completely different version of the events with the Gypsies and Werewolves being the descendents of Ennoia prior to her Embrace.  The hatred between these two clans adds depth to the jyhad, and this history, true or not, explores the genesis of an ages old feud that is at the very heart of Vampire the Masquerade. 
            From the ancient world and into modern day, Gypsies have always been outsiders moving constantly across the landscape.  The Gypsies and the Ravnos has spread across Europe, the Middle East and India and eventually to the New World.  During their travels they have met a variety of strange supernatural creatures including the mysterious Kindred of the East and shape changers such as Bastet in Africa.  When the Ravnos first arrived in the Americas they were surprised to find that some of their clan was already here living amongst the Native American populations.  The Ravnos Neve, or New Ravnos, helped their tribes fight against the encroachment of the Europeans settlers and some Old World Ravnos even assisted.  However, this was in vain.  Most of the Ravnos stayed out of the conflict as it had nothing to do with them. 
            That is one of the key aspects of Ravnos culture: they are not a part of European or American culture, Kindred culture, or any other culture.  The Ravnos follow their own laws and stick to their own beliefs.  The tribal, itinerant culture of the Gypsies and the Ravnos sets them apart from the societies that they travel through.  They don’t respect borders or laws.  They take care of their own and are essentially closed groups.  The Ravnos don’t steal; they borrow things that you aren’t using.  Or at least that’s the reasoning of narrator.  If nothing else this book does an exceptional job of enticing the reader to sympathize with the Ravnos who have long been the victims of oppression and hatred culminating in the Tremere and Camarilla siding with the Nazis to help exterminate both the Gypsies and the Ravnos. 
            Chapter Three describes the three key divisions amongst the Ravnos:  Phralmulo, Georgio, and the Anti-tribu.  The Phralmulo are those Ravnos who were born Gypsies and eventually Embraced by a member of the clan.  The Georgio are outsiders who, for whatever reason, were Embraced by a Ravnos.  The Anti-tribu are the Ravnos who after World War II decided to join the Sabbat to get revenge on the Camarilla for taking part in the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis.  All Ravnos player characters are considered to Georgio, unless the Player purchases a Merit called Phralmulo.  The benefit of the Merit is that the Ravnos doesn’t have to select one vice or crime that the PC must commit; instead, the Ravnos has better control of himself/herself.  Rather than focusing on one crime, the Ravnos Phralmulu uses his criminal impulses as a weapon to retaliate against the Camarilla, Sabbat, or other forces that want to oppress the Ravnos and Gypsies whom they protect. 
The facial shadows are more disturbing than the illusions.
This interpretation of the Ravnos weakness is one of the best parts of this book because it gives a Ravnos PC a purpose beyond just random criminal acts to meet the requirements of their weakness.  Crime is not a crime, but instead a tool for political gain and a weapon to be used against the enemies of the clan.  Theft isn’t for personal gain or desire.  Theft deprives the enemy of necessary resources.  Murder becomes assassination.  The Ravnos aren’t criminals.  They are guerillas fighting an insurgency against the powerful forces of the Camarilla and Sabbat and Anarchs who oppress them.  As a Storyteller, I wouldn’t require Players to spend points on the Merit “Pharlmulo” if they wanted it because this interpretation makes a Ravnos PC more sympathetic and exciting to play.  The Ravnos now have a goal beyond just crime for crime’s sake.  
There are several other groups within the Ravnos clan.  The most noteworthy is the Wuzho who hunt and murder other Kindred.  These Ravnos believe that they must destroy other vampires in order to protect their clan.  Essentially, these are the Assamites of the clan.  The Wuzho would make for great NPCs and antagonists for a Camarilla Chronicle, but Storytellers should be careful about allowing players to use this group because the last thing a player needs is another excuse to PVP.  Another group within the clan is the Urmen who have a connection to the Fae of Changling the Dreaming.  The Urmen enjoy getting high by drinking the blood of the Fae and exploring the wilderness.  They are the masters of tracking down Changelings and draining them of their blood.  These would make a great addition to a mixed group game that involves Changeling and Vampires.  A sidebar in Chapter 3 discusses how Changelings interact with Chimerstry effects. 
Clanbook Ravnos also includes several new high level Disciplines and other mechanics that Storytellers could use in their Chronicles.  Ravnos can make use of Samadji, or artifacts, that are passed down from Sire to childe.  Some are beneficial and others are cursed.  Samadji vary in power and usefulness, and unfortunately there are no good examples given on which players can base their own artifacts.  Ravnos are also given a new level 6 Animalism power, Deep Song, a level 6 Chimerstry power, Fata Amria, and a level 8 Chimerstry power, Sensory Overload.  Deep Song, which alters a target’s emotions, doesn’t make sense as an Animalism power.  Animalism either affects animals or another vampire’s Beast.  This does neither and would fit better with Presence.  The Chimerstry powers are wonderful, if a player can ever get to a low enough generation to actually acquire them.  A couple of addenda are included for Fatuss Mastery and Psuedo Blindness that explain how Chimerstry works in relation to the Penumbra and Shadowlands. 
His name is Sir Stabs-a-Lot.  Guess who he's stabbing next?
Chapter Four offers a selection of pre-generated characters that could be useful as either PCs or NPCs.  These templates could easily be modified for use in Vampire the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition, and the descriptions of each character is full of ideas for players looking to create their own Ravnos.  Each template builds on the character’s weakness, the particular crime that the Ravnos must commit, and generates an entire character around it.  Of the templates, two stand out.  The first is the Ace of Spades who is a sociopathic murderer.  The Ace is a dangerous character concept because it, like the Wuzho, could inspire players to build sociopathic loners who kill first and may later ask questions. These types of characters have a tendency to be disruptive unless the Chronicle is focused on combat.   The best character concept is the FX Artist who feels a compulsion to trick people.  Using the illusion based powers of Chimerstry, this character brings to live the horror and scifi film monsters to terrify the real monster of the world.  Rather than steeped in angst, this character concept embraces the fun of living forever and being able to play tricks on stuffy Camarilla Elders.  The other templates run the range from a Subway Conman to a Globetrotting Smuggler showing the variety of characters and adventures possible in the World of Darkness.
The Appendix includes four renowned NPCs that Storytellers can draw upon for their games.  Unfortunately, these NPCs are ciphers.  They are written too broad and rather than have their own personalities, they are designed to be anyone.  One of the NPCs, Ezmeralda may be a Kindred or may be the guise of a number of mortal women over the centuries.  Spider-Killer could be a Ravnos Neve or he could be a were-coyote.  Only Ivan Krenyenko and Durga Syn have any personality of their own.  Rather than including more fleshed out NPCs that could inspire a Storyteller to create adventures around these characters, these NPCs are nothing more than names with no goals. 
Clanbook Ravnos is exceptionally well written with lots of information for players who want to run a Ravnos character or for Storytellers who want to introduce plots involving Ravnos characters into their games.  As good as Clanbook Ravnos is, it does have problems.  The most notable problem is that Clanbook Ravnos is not a standalone book.  The author references World of Darkness:  Gypsies several times.  Apparently Gypsies get access to special powers because of their blood, and their blood is very tasty to vampires for some reason.  Without World of Darkness:  Gypsies, some sections of this book will remain a mystery, and unfortunately World of Darkness Gypsies is one of the most reviled books released by White Wolf.  The artwork for this book lacks a lot of detail and the artist overuse shadow masking half the faces in many of the images.  It looks messy rather than moody.  Along with the problems with the Appendix’s lack of strong and useful NPCs for the Storyteller and issues with the murderous, sociopath archetype of the Wuzho, this book has its problems. 
            Despite these minor flaws, Clanbook Ravnos is an excellent supplement for players and Storytellers who want more information on how to role play a Ravnos.  Like Clanbook Assamite, this book explores and explains the culture of the Ravnos without falling into the trap of stereotyping the clan as just thieves and conmen.  The author makes the Ravnos sympathetic characters by reminding the reader of the ancient prejudice against the Gypsies and the atrocities perpetrated on them by the Nazis.  The best review that I can give for a book is that it has inspired me to want to play one the clan, and so far this one of my favorite clanbooks.  I am really looking forward to playing a Ravnos the next chance I get to play Vampire the Masquerade. 
            Clanbook Ravnos is available as a PDF on DriveThruRPG or you can purchase an original printing from Amazon. 

3 comments:

  1. To be fair, Snatch was more of a Jason Statham movie, but I'm nit picking. Great review as always, i can't wait for more! Especially those Mage reviews I heard rumors about...

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    1. Oh, I would definitely say that Jason Statham was the star of Snatch, but Brad Pitt played the Gypsy fighter in that movie.
      I'm not sure when the Mage reviews will come, unless someone wants to donate the Convention books to me...

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  2. Thanks, Ravnos are my favorite. Great read!

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