Review – Chicago Chronicles, Volume 2 (Vampire: the Masquerade)

               Chicago Chronicles, Volume 2 collects two previously published Vampire: the Masquerade second edition supplements – Chicago by Night, Second Edition and Under a Blood Red Moon (cross-branded as both a Vampire and Werewolf book).  Chicago Chronicles 2 is a straight reprint of these two books (unless you count the updated copyright date).  Chicago Chronicles 2 is a 296-page (one page of advertisement) paperback – 200 of that for Chicago by Night, Second Edition and 96 for Under a Blood Red Moon.

The Basics

Chicago was the big iconic city for the original World of Darkness and Vampire (and was also revisited for the new World of Darkness), with the original Chicago by Night released in the same year (1991) as the first edition of Vampire.  The second edition of the corebook was released in 1992, and the books contained in Chicago Chronicles 2 came out at the same time in 1993.

Under a Blood Red Moon is an adventure where the characters will be involved in the werewolf assault on the Kindred power structure of Chicago – either as the werewolves, Camarilla vampires defending the city, or Sabbat stirring the pot.  Note that, as this book is basically a big adventure, it will be thoroughly spoiled in this review.  Chicago by Night, Second Edition then describes the status quo in Chicago after the events of Under a Blood Red Moon.

Layout/Graphics/Editing

Oh, it’s an old White Wolf book.  The editing isn’t great, and the layout is nothing exciting, although not bad.  I personally think that the writing in Vampire improved as the game moved into its Revised edition, and Chicago By Night, Second Edition is definitely before that transition.  The full-page beginning-of-chapter art is already pretty good, but the smaller pieces within the chapters are more frequently “misses” than the art will be later in Vampire’s history, and I wasn’t impressed by it here.  Although it is cross-branded, Under A Blood Red Moon is primarily a Werewolf book, and so its art and writing are in the style of that line.  This, for the art, means that I found little to like.  Although if you like Werewolf art, then I think you’d find the same here as for the Vampire art – better quality from the more prominent, full-page chapter lead-ins.

Under A Blood Red Moon

Although presented second in the book, Under A Blood Red Moon is chronologically before Chicago by Night, Second Edition, so I’ll address it first.

The story of Under a Blood Red Moon takes place over four playable chapters, plus a prologue and aftermath.  Each chapter in the book presents the story with scenes for werewolves, then for Camarilla vampires, then for Sabbat vampires.  The timekeeping can be hard to follow, because the story presented in a chapter for one group does not necessarily happen at the same time as the story for another group.

–          Prologue (~16 pages): The prologue sets out a brief history of Chicago (from a werewolf point of view), a brief look at the status quo (again, primarily from a werewolf point of view), an overview of the various factions involved in the story (normal Garou, Black Spiral Dancers, Camarilla, Sabbat), and a rundown of the events of the prior two weeks that created the flashpoint of Under a Blood Red Moon.  For werewolves, the story so far is that the Sabbat got the Black Spiral Dancers to attack the Camarilla landmark The Succubus Club, which resulted in Prince Lodin calling a blood hunt on all werewolves.  The Sabbat then helped the Black Spiral Dancers take a massive fetish called the Fanum, which is inhabited by the Celestine Jupiter.

–          Chapter One (~12 pages): Werewolves are streaming in from out of town to retake the Fanum, so the PCs can be locals or from wherever.  The PCs investigate a nearby Wyrm lair, but are ultimately sent off to Chicago proper to participate in an assault (where they meet some Kinfolk hosts).  The PCs also learn of, and have to decide whether to comply with, a non-aggression pact with the city’s Gangrel vampires.  For Camarilla and Sabbat, Chapter One is basically the Prologue for werewolves.  Camarilla vamps are at the Succubus Club when it is attacked, then can hunt for Lupines, and may learn that there are Sabbat in town.  Sabbat vampires will basically watch while other characters negotiate the deal with the Black Spiral Dancers, and then help assault the Fanum.

–          Chapter Two (~8 pages): For werewolves, this chapter involves attacking sleeping vampires, having the Kinfolk kidnapped, shutting down O’Hare international airport (which is controlled by the Camarilla), and then getting attacked by Sabbat.  For Kindred, this Chapter involves trying to not get killed by said daytime Lupine attacks.  For Sabbat, it involves opportunistic killing of Camarilla vampires, and possibly mass embracing to ambush some werewolves.

–          Chapter Three (~10 pages): For werewolves, this chapter involves unsuccessfully looking into the disappearance of the Kinfolk, finding out that the half of the Lupines who didn’t assault Chicago all got killed doing something else, getting tipped off that a particular vampire is involved in the kidnapping, getting from that vampire’s haven the location of the Prince’s haven, getting pulled away again to randomly assault the Succubus Club, and then finally finding the Kinfolk – but too late, as they are all now vampires.  Camarilla vampires are largely on the receiving end of all of this – being present at the haven when the werewolves attack and then being present at the Succubus Club when the werewolves attack.  There’s also some intra-Clan politicking between the city’s Ventrue.  Sabbat vampires will try to kill the exact same vampire who was involved in the kidnapping, and then are randomly attacked by werewolf ghosts.

–          Chapter Four (~8 pages): Werewolf characters will go try and kill the Prince, find out that the location is actually that of Al Capone (yes, that Al Capone and, yes, he’s a vampire), who sends them off after the Prince.  The characters kill Prince Lodin, or not, but if they don’t then the Sabbat will.  Then they go retake the Fanum, although one might wonder why they didn’t just do this in the first place, since it’s been the primary objective all along.  For Camarilla, they can also go try to kill Capone, and then get diverted to Lodin – but if they took the other side in the Ventrue politics, then they have little to do in this Chapter except attack some Sabbat (although Lodin always dies, no matter what the PCs do).  Sabbat can also try to take a shot and Capone and/or Lodin.  The Sabbat will also get attacked by an Abomination whose been popping up from time to time in the story.  For those who aren’t painfully aware, an Abomination is a vampire werewolf.  Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds.

–          Epilogue (~6 pages): For werewolves, the epilogue is that everything is back to normal, but the PCs are heroes for helping retake the Fanum.  For Camarilla, the aftermath is basically Chicago by Night, Second Edition and the new power structure in the wake of Lodin’s death (and the deaths of other vamps).  The aftermath for Sabbat is getting the heck out of dodge.

There’s also a large chunk (almost 20 pages) of write-ups and stat blocks for characters that the PCs might run into and potentially engage in combat with.  This includes specific named characters and stat blocks for generic entities like “Experienced Vampire.”

Under a Blood Red Moon is, technically, set up for use by Garou, Camarilla, or Sabbat characters (the book even has two pages of tips for running the adventure for Mummy and such, although I have no idea why one would ever want to do such a thing).  However, as the book advises, it’s mostly aimed at werewolves.  The Camarilla version of events is highly reactive, with the characters having little idea what’s going on, and not really being allowed to affect the outcome anyway.  The Sabbat story is even sketchier, consisting almost entirely of taking advantage of the chaos to engage in random combat scenes.  There are many, many more scenes to play through for werewolf characters than for vampires.

Overall, however, I don’t see the adventure as much fun for the werewolves either.  The long-term effects of the story are much more about the vampires of the city and a setup for the second edition of Chicago by Night.  And, while the werewolf version of the story may be more proactive and detailed than the vampire version, the players are still almost completely railroaded through it.  The story, for whatever type of monster, is replete with paraphrases of “no matter what the characters do, this will happen anyway” (usually someone dying).  The most egregious example is that a character can run into a succubus, who then seduces him, effectively Blood Bonds him, and then over the long-term will corrupt him.  There is nothing that the character can do to resist this, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot.  It’s just some random “screw you, player” tossed into the book.  It’s an “optional” scene, but it’s incomprehensible to me why it’s included at all.

So, in sum, Under a Blood Red Moon presents an adventure where the characters have few choices to make, have little control over the overall situation, and their actions have very few consequences.  Plus you’ve got such early-White Wolf nonsense as an angst-stricken loner super-bad vampire werewolf running around (the Revised sensibility didn’t strike these things from the setting, but it was more of a “we’re giving you the rules for this so you don’t whine, but we frown upon you actually using them” vibe).  If you were going to run a Vampire game taking the characters through the “historical” events of (old/classic) World of Darkness Chicago, you’d want this as a guide to what went on, but you’d probably want to focus the relevant sessions on the (in this year probably relatively young) characters trying to protect their little corner of the city, rather than pointlessly putting them as bystanders to the main events.  Then shift back to Chicago by Night, Second Edition for the characters to now have a chance to move up in the now-shaken Chicago power structure.

Chicago by Night, Second Edition

Chicago 2E is White Wolf’s first updated take on what they have always put forth as one of the iconic Vampire cities.  It is set after the events of Under a Blood Red Moon, where a substantial chunk of the vampires from the first edition of Chicago by Night get killed off.  Most notably, Prince Lodin has been removed, meaning that the city is leaderless and the power structure is much more unstable.  This gives the player characters a much greater outcome to heavily influence the future of their city.

Chapter Breakdown:

–          Introduction (~10 pages): The Introduction seeks to set the mood (suspicion), tone, and theme (the price of power) of the book, the city, the kindred who live there, and the stories that might be told – conflicts have bubbled to the surface, and there is both opportunity and danger.

–          History (~12 pages): A vampire-focused history of the Second City, much of which revolves around the conflict between two Methuselah who have been in the area for centuries (and who still remain).

–          Geography (~30 pages): This chapter includes some of the highlights of downtown Chicago (were the vampires play nice) – and some of the lowlights (where they go to find a snack, of course).  It includes a reasonably appropriate level of detail (such things as actual addresses of actual art galleries is probably more than you need, but it’s not like that takes up a lot of space), including of course the extensive web the vampires of Chicago have strung around the city.

–          The Kindred (~95 pages): This chapter is basically a giant selection of NPC write-ups and stat blocks, arranged by Clan.  The book makes sure to hit everything, so in addition to the usual Camarilla suspects (including Caitiff and anarchs) and some Sabbat infiltrators, there’s a single one each of Followers of Set, Giovanni, and Ravnos, and a monitor from the Iconnu.  The only thing missing is an Assamite.  For those coming from the original Chicago by Night, this chapter also includes a handy list of the named NPCs in that book who have been killed.

–          The Coteries (~25 pages): The prior chapter presented who the players are one by one.  Although these individual bios included a lot of link-ups, it is the coteries chapter that makes a more concerted effort to shine a light on the web of connections and influence that the player characters will have to weave their way carefully through to survive and prosper among the undead.  These write-ups include the use of the galleries of pictures with arrows back and forth with one-phrase descriptions of the relationships that anyone who has ever read a White Wolf setting book will be familiar with.  The groups (often not literal coteries) covered here include the Primogen, the 13(!) vampires vying to be the next Prince, the squabbling children of Lodin (some of whom were at least partially responsible for his death), the losers over in Gary, the Sabbat infiltrators, the allies/pawns (witting and unwitting) of the two Methuselah, and various clan-specific groups (e.g., a Gangrel biker gang, the Tremere chantry, the Toreador party crowd).

–          Appendix: Politics (~20 pages): A guide on using vampiric politics in a chronicle.

There’s even a five-page index, in case you need to look up a city landmark or all of the references to a particular vampire (quite a bit more than was typical for White Wolf back in these days, if I recall correctly.

Chicago by Night, Second Edition, is a decent, if not exciting, old Vampire book.  If you couldn’t tell from above, I generally consider Revised and later Vampire books to be superior to the earlier ones in writing, art, and general conceptual matters.  Chicago 2, however, did not get dragged down in too many over-the-top characters or too much purple prose, and I think did pretty well for its time.  The book is aided, to me, by focusing on one place and one limited set of characters, instead of tackling broader concepts or worldwide structures, where the White Wolf’s weaknesses of the time become more apparent.  As a general matter, I’d always direct a Vampire novice to more recent materials, but if you’re like me and you already own and have read everything published from Revised onwards, Chicago by Night, Second Edition is a decent book to go back and pick up for a little extra fix (including some nice full-page art).  And, if Under a Blood Red Moon is a pretty lousy entry into the setting, at least it probably doesn’t cost you anything extra to pick up the Chicago Chronicles, Volume 2, instead.

Leave a Reply