Review – Book of Storyteller Secrets (Vampire: The Dark Ages)

Releasing in 1996, the Book of Storyteller Secrets was the first supplemental book for Vampire: The Dark Ages (itself the first ‘historical’ setting line for the World of Darkness, and not to be confused with the later-published Dark Ages: Vampire). It’s a 96-page black & white softcover, although it did come with a full-color, fold-out map of Europe (which is long gone from my copy).

One should take the title of this book of ‘secrets’ with quite a few grains of salt. Approximately 24 pages cover a gazetteer of the vampire-infested Europe and Middle East of 1197. Perhaps two-thirds of that is a survey of real-world information, but even if that isn’t a ‘secret’ it is at least a handy introduction to the generalities of the time frame with an eye towards how the players will interact with the world. A companion to this is about 20 pages on daily life and death in the setting. This section is more tilted towards ‘real world’ information (clothing, the mechanics of walled cities, travel, disease, etc.). Again, this is real-world information that is available elsewhere, but this can still be a handy primer for storytellers (or players) who aren’t inclined to engage in research.

As one might guess for a storyteller book, the Book of Storyteller Secrets includes a dozen pages of advice on storytelling. The overarching structure is fairly generic – atmosphere, obstacles, goals, cast, mood – although these sections do have topical examples. Most of it isn’t terribly illuminating, and is unlikely to be anything new to anyone who has been around story-driven roleplaying games for any length of time.

The final section of the book – Friends, Enemies, and Miscellany – is in turns the most useful and the most ridiculous. Granted, much of this was later published in other books as well, but here is where players and storytellers got extended information on the role of ghouls in Dark Ages (8 pages) and on Gargoyles (background, flight, combat, rituals, etc. over 7 pages). On the other hand, one also gets things like statistics for unicorns and dragons, which (to my mind, at least) have no business anywhere near a Vampire chronicle (to be fair, there is a warning box noting that some groups will not want to use these … but still, there’s got to be a better use for page count). Somewhere in between are a stat block for vohzd (Tzimisce war ghouls – over the top, but by now a long-established part of the setting), alchemy, and ‘magic’ items (possibly best when not actually appearing, such as rumors of the ‘Black Stake’ that Troile used to transfix Brujah; divination magic could fit well, but actual ‘magic swords’ isn’t terribly World of Darkness to me).

Ultimately, the Book of Storyteller Secrets is a bit thin on content these days. Going back and reading vampire-tinged summaries of medieval life and history isn’t quite the fun that reading more heavily fictional accounts is (or, for that matter, an actual history book). And, while maybe it isn’t entirely fair to judge a book based on whether it’s useful 20 years later, a storyteller today is unlikely to be approaching the Book of Storyteller Secrets as it would have been then, an early fleshing out of a brand new product line. It hasn’t aged terribly well, although not in a way that specifically reflects higher (or different) standards today, but simply because it has been superseded and no longer players the role of introduction. The real-world information, established setting elements like ghouls and Gargoyles, and the place of vampires in the setting – they’re all fleshed out more elsewhere (not even counting the 20th Anniversary Edition). The Book of Storyteller Secrets is now more a historical curiosity than something to pick up and use.

 

 

Leave a Reply