Review – Beckett’s Jyhad Diary (Vampire: the Masquerade)

I have long expressed my love for the backstory/metaplot side of Vampire: the Masquerade, such as how the Book of Nod and Revelations of the Dark Mother are two of my favorite Vampire: the Masquerade books and The Fragile Path and The Erciyes Fragments are two of my favorite books from the rest of the World of Darkness. So you can imagine I was more than a little excited when I got around to reading the super-fancy deluxe version of Beckett’s World Tour and Metaplot Update Jyhad Diary, which has more pages (~550) of world-building than all four of those put together.

Unsurprisingly, Beckett’s Jyhad Diary (available at DriveThruRPG/Storytellers Vault) is primarily told from Beckett’s perspective, as the Gangrel hops from country to country, first chasing down the Book of the Grave-War and then generally getting sucked into trouble (and, wow, does Beckett get in a lot of trouble … seriously, if he ever invites your character along, running in the other direction is almost certainly the safe thing to do). Other vampires who appear with some frequency (either directly appearing or making notes on Beckett’s writings) include old favorites Vykos (with the appreciated “they” replacing “it” as a pronoun), Lucita, Anatole, Jan Pieterzoon, Aisling Sturbridge, and Hesha Ruhadze.

Each chapter in the diary presents a variety of in-character snippets. The most common content is transcripts of Beckett’s audio recordings of his conversations, followed by more literal diary entries, and printed out emails and chat room logs (the book makes a long-running jest out of Beckett’s lack of understanding of electronic communications). This content includes a decent amount of ‘hand-written’ script material, but not as much as there might have been, because so much of the material is transcripts or emails. Out of that, there were only a couple of places that I had difficulty figuring out the contents of the script – for almost all of it the text was still sufficiently clear, had enough contrast, etc. so that I could read without problem (alas, these eyes are not always the best, and sometimes I have trouble when there’s something like overly-flowery black script on a grey background, as some of the White Wolf books have done over the years).

This is followed by a (much) briefer out-of character presentation that presents a bit of a god’s-eye view on the situation, along with some suggested ways that a coterie could get involved. There’s also some alternative twists on the metaplot. The former mostly have a “this is stuff that actually happens” vibe, while the latter explicitly are not things that actually happen.

I’m not even going to try to summarize all of the updates (read the book!), but the various locations/plot elements visited include:

  • Carna’s Rebellion/Milwaukee;
  • Chicago/Helena/Menele/Xavier;
  • Washington, D.C./the departure of Vykos and return of Marcus Vitel as an independent;
  • The American South/Camarilla reconquest (and maybe losing New Orleans)/Banu Haqim start to join;
  • London/Mithras-Coven;
  • Jordan/France/The rise of Ur-Shulgi/fragmentation of the Banu Haqim;
  • California/crumbling of the Anarch Free States;
  • Thin Bloods (including V20 character creation rules, the only ‘crunch’ in the Diary);
  • Mexico City/civil war and the general fracturing of the Sabbat/Blood Brothers;
  • Montreal;
  • Haiti/Egypt/Michigan/Followers of Set/Serpents of the Light/Clan of Death (Samedi, Cappadocians);
  • Libertatia (note: not a real place)/East Africa;
  • South Africa/Laibon (note: no real rules for playing Laibon, as the V20 Dark Ages-based suggestions don’t line up with Kindred of the Ebony Kingdoms);
  • Transylvania/Dracula/Kapula;
  • Russia/Death of Baba Yaga;
  • Hong Kong/The Usual Tremere/Saulot Craziness/weakening of the Tremere;
  • Carthage Must Be Destroyed/Tunisia/True Brujah/Brujah/Baali;
  • Macau/India/Eye of Hazimel/Actual Hazimel/wow there are still a lot of Ravnos left;
  • Switzerland/Romania/Italy/Giovanni Chronicles V (just pretend IV didn’t happen)/spirits of the Conspiracy of Isaac/Endless Night;
  • Romania/Salubri/Golconda/Inconnu;
  • New York City/Tzimisce (the Antediluvian, not the Clan)/Well of Souls;
  • Jerusalem/Malkav;
  • Germany/”The False Caine”/Dylan Bruce/Red Listers;
  • Cayman Islands/Constantinople/The Dream;
  • Italy/Egypt/Clan of Death (Giovanni/Cappadocians/Samedi/Harbingers of Skulls/Impundulu)/some Followers of Set to join the Camarilla (and we all know how well that will go);
  • A Brief History of Beckett/A really, really awkward part where Beckett analyzes vampiric stages of life in terms of Freudian psychosexual development;
  • South America/Rasputin/Drowned Legacies (like the Laibon, even more vampires who may or may not be related to the thirteen clans/Caine; note that there are no rules for them);
  • Libya/France/Egypt/Italy/all of the bloodlines all at once at a big party/Keminitriri/Castle d’Ombro/Red List/True Black Hand.

In addition to the individual stops, there is a running them throughout the Jyhad Diary about Gehenna being cyclical – there isn’t one Gehenna, there are many, time after time. The overall quality was top-notch, with a decent narrative and good dialogue running through most of the book, but some of my favorite stops were the intertwining content about all of the aspects of the Clan of Death, Dracula, learning more about Carna, the revisiting of Chicago (even if not a lot has changed), the first trip to Mexico City and the crumbling of the Sabbat, and anything that touched on Tremere/Saulot/the Salubri (disclaimer: I pretty much always love anything about that stuff).

As you can tell from my commentary in the list, I thought that the weakest part of the Jyhad Diary (by far) was “A Brief History of Beckett.” It’s … not good. It’s mostly gibberish, in the way that one might expect when trying to apply a nonsensical real-world psychological theory to a bunch of fictional monsters. It also doesn’t seem to really contribute to the book – there isn’t really any history of Beckett, and the smidge about his childe Marie could have appeared in the prior chapter where she appeared. The other weak chapter was the immediately-following one on Rasputin and the Drowned Legacies … possibly because Rasputin isn’t interesting and I have zero need to introduce new, mysterious ‘they’ve been there all along but you just didn’t know it’ kinds of vampire for every continent. It almost felt like the main part of the book wrapped up, and then they added a few more chapters on.

Note that, while there is a table of contents, it isn’t always terribly helpful, because titles like “The Spark of Civil War” or “Azhi Dahaka” may not be useful unless you’ve already read the book and/or have really good recall of the existing metaplot.

Overall, the Jyhad Diary serves as something of a bridge from V20 to V5. It isn’t entirely a bridge, as there’s inconsistency between the Diary and V5 (beyond the usual ‘inconsistent narrator’ question). For example, Stanford Warwick is dead in the Jyhad Diary but seems to be referenced in the V5 Anarch supplement. While the Jyhad Diary’s section on London focuses on Mithras/Coven, that notion seems to have been blown up in V5. Hardestadt is missing, but Theo Bell is still an archon. There are there are big themes of V5 that don’t show up here (like the Second Inquisition and the new version of thin-bloods). I suspect that the Jyhad Diary will feel more connected as more V5 supplements come out, especially the Onyx Path ones (for example, the section in the Diary on the various Cappadocian variants seems to feed right into the Hecate for not-even-on-Kickstarter-yet Cults of the Blood Gods).

I was really happy with the Jyhad Diary. As noted above, there’s some bridging from V20 to V5, but there’s enough of a break that it isn’t really reliable as a guide to how things are now – oddly, we’ll have to see how the forthcoming Onyx Path and Modiphius books shape up before we can look back and see how ‘accurate’ the Diary is. But mostly I just enjoyed the whirlwind tour of all the familiar people, places, and concepts, with a bit of moving the metaplot forward. And I enjoyed it whether or not there ends up being a break in “continuity” with V5. I think it will be a good read for anyone who’s a long-time Vampire fan.

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