Review – Libellus Sanguinis 1: Masters of the States (Vampire: Dark Ages)

Vampire: Dark Ages does have several Clanbooks (Cappadocians, Salubri, Baali), but White Wolf (wisely, I think) did not print individual splat books for the twelve vampire clans that already had modern-era Clanbooks. These clans were not without coverage, however, as they received a similar sort of attention in the Libellus Sanguinis (White Wolf says this means “Blood Diaries,” but I’m not sure that’s an accurate translation) series – four books to cover the 12 clans. The first, Masters of the State, covers the Ventrue, Lasombra, and Tzimisce.

Each clan is covered in its own section (with its own author), and each section includes the usual short flavor introduction, a two-part survey of the clan’s place in the world (this can be history, philosophy, current areas of control, thoughts on other clans, or other topics; it varies within the books and between them), a smidgen of crunch, a handful of character templates (thankfully the character sheets don’t get their own pages), and at the back a page or two of something ‘secret.’

The Ventrue section and, to a lesser extent, the Lasombra section, read as something of a roundup of the current state of the places where the clan holds political sway (perhaps that should be expected from a book called ‘Masters of the State’). This contributes to making the Ventrue section the weakest third of the book, as it reads a bit too much like a roundup of the current political status of France, England, the Holy Roman Empire, and merchant houses. Another thread that comes up in the half of the ‘survey’ section that is presented from an in-character perspective (the other half is a more ‘objective’ presentation) is the “Daeva.” You’re probably more likely to recognize this as the name of one of the clans in Vampire: the Requiem, but here it refers to the concept of “Secret Masters” (it also briefly appears in the original Clanbook: Ventrue, but I don’t think it’s referenced in the revised version), a term that encompasses any sort of powerful supernatural entity or group that’s trying to control the world. I mean, everyone except the Ventrue and their Methusalahs, who are totally fighting against those secret masters, so it’s important you childer do what you’re told. Because we’re totally fighting against them, we promise. *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge.*

As noted above, the Lasombra get some of this too (especially on Iberia/Al-Andalus, but that is much more thoroughly covered in Iberia by Night), but it’s more interwoven with material on the clan’s philosophy and outlook, and with more detailed information on things like how Lasombra’s (the antediluvian himself, that is) stronghold in Sicily is run. And, of course, no discussion of the Lasombra in the dark medieval would be complete without a look at the Church. One touch I like (and it’s used even more heavily in the Tzimisce section) is the sowing of seeds of how the Sabbat will function. There’s substantially more than usual in this chapter on the mechanical front, with an elder discipline power and multiple combination powers (in addition to the usual handful of merits/flaws).

The Tzimisce section is the most distinctive in this book (and, indeed, in the whole Libellus Sanguinus series) for a couple of reasons. First, the half of the overview that’s in-character is in character from the point of view of a Tremere, not a member of the Tzimisce. Second, because the Tzimisce are so geographically localized, and everyone already knows what that geography is, there really isn’t the need to go country-by-country and say what the condition of the clan is there. The clan’s ‘status’ in their lands is, effectively, a story about their war with the Tremere and with the Ventrue’s Eastern Lords (pushing east from what will some day be Germany), which is much more interesting stuff (although this came after the release of Transylvania by Night, which is a better read). The Tzimisce section, like the Lasombra, also lays down a lot of seeds of what will eventually become the Sabbat, which spices up the ‘objective’ portion of this section. As you can probably tell, I found this the strongest section of Masters of the State.

As will be a running theme throughout the Libellus Sanguinis books, there is sometimes a struggle to avoid too much gazetteer-style information. And when talking about clan organization or philosophy, the writers are forced to thread the needle of presenting something of substance, but something that’s not so integral to the clan that it was already discussed in a modern clanbook. The Tzimisce section tackles these challenges well (although it is somewhat eclipsed by Transylvania by Night); the Ventrue section not as much.