Review – Blood Bond (Vampire: the Masquerade)

                I have this stack of old Vampire books here that I’m planning to make my way through and review as the game evolves from the first supplements through to the end of second edition. And I find myself feeling a little bad when I have negative things to say because, for all the flaws of these very early books (editing, artwork, some concepts), they clearly were enjoyed enough at the time to result in the printing of even more books and eventually the improvement to Revised, which I adored. So I decided to make myself feel a little better by skipping over a couple of supplements to one that I feel no chagrin in condemning.

Blood Bond is a 32-page black & white softcover. It was one of the first Vampire books (1991) and like many of them is set in the White Wolf version of Chicago. In the timeline, it is set after the events of Ashes to Ashes and the canon version of Chicago as presented in the original Chicago by Night (it is a first edition book, so it is set before the events of Under A Blood Red Moon). Blood Bond was later re-released as part of Chicago Chronicles, Volume 3 (along with Ashes to Ashes and Milwaukee by Night).

Warning: Not that anyone is likely to be playing through this anymore, but Blood Bond is an adventure module, and this review will spoil large parts of it. So if your GM is actually planning a run through a “historical” WoD Chicago chronicle, go no further.

Blood Bond is the tale of the fall of Neally Edwards, one of the primary lieutenants of Chicago’s Prince Lodin. The characters will, for the most part, simply be present for subsequent scenes of Neally’s degeneration, likely trying to clean up his mess, and then will likely be present for his final conversion to the Sabbat. This degeneration is engineered by Jefferson Foster, a former rival of Neally’s who returns after an unintentional intervention by the characters. Jefferson secretly blood bonds Neally, then tricks him into joining the Sabbat in order to break that blood bond.

I’ll start by saying something nice – I like how the adventure encourages the GM to spread the story out over time in the chronicle, instead of just running through it in one fell swoop. This gives some separation between the character’s original intervention (Neally staked Jefferson and buried him in cement; during a fight with the Sabbat the characters have to be pushed into removing the stake, thus unwittingly freeing Jefferson) and the beginning of Neally’s degeneration, so there is no obvious connection between the two. And it then lets Neally’s degeneration be spread out so it occurs in a more emotionally believable manner.

The negatives, however, far outweigh this positive. From a storytelling perspective, Blood Bond suffers from being an emotional drama between characters who aren’t the PCs. Indeed, it’s unclear why the PCs would ever find out about the backstory between Jefferson and Neally, except for Jefferson monologuing at them. The PCs can’t really do anything to affect the outcome of the story – Neally is doomed no matter what. The adventure also just assumes that the PCs are not only anarchs, but so on the outs with the power structure that they have friendly relations with the Sabbat who are trying to beat them up. It also assumes that a PC is consumed by uncontrollable lust for Neally ghoul, which likely results in one of the PCs being blood bound to Jefferson as well (Jefferson bonds Neally by having Neally’s ghoul drink from him, knowing that Neally will later drink from her).

There are a lot of other things to criticize about Blood Bond. The editing is awful – there are entire paragraphs that don’t really make any sense, and the big final scene of Neally’s conversion is a total hash. The whole plot hinges on a supernatural bit that is just laughable, and that kind of wrecks the actual emotional resonance that Neally might have – Jefferson secretly blood bonds Neally, and apparently because Jefferson is Sabbat, this means that he can basically operate Neally like a remote control car, and orders him to do monstrous things in public. Now, this might be horrific for a PC if it was happening to him or her, but it means that the PCs will have a hard time even relating to what’s going on to Neally – this isn’t the inevitable and slow slide down that is supposed to sit at the heart of the personal horror of Vampire, and which (presumably) the character could see his or her own eventual fate in. Plus, really, remote control vampires? That’s just dumb. There’s a reason this particular aspect of the Sabbat didn’t survive long at all (and this is really early Sabbat – at this point, the Sabbat is listed as a clan affiliation and it seems like being made into a Sabbat turns you into an entirely different kind of vampire).

So, even if you were planning on running through that canon history chronicle of the beginnings of the World of Darkness, you might want to take a pass on this one.

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