Review – V20 Companion (Vampire: the Masquerade)

Following on the heels of the Vampire: the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition was it’s first supplement, the V20 Companion. Originally released in a deluxe version via Kickstarter, if you’re picking the book up these days it’s like as a PDF (or print-on-demand) through DriveThruRPG.

There’s an emphasis right from the introduction on how the V20 Companion is different from similar books in prior editions (player’s guides, storyteller’s guides, etc.). But, really, it never could have been, because the V20 core book was such a massive compendium that everything that normally might have been saved for something like a companion ended up in the core book (all of the bloodlines, an appendix full of merits and flaws, high-level Disciplines, etc.). I mean, I guess the V20 companion could have been secondary skill and even more merits/flaws (and I’ll never turn down more merits and flaws), but the lack of bloodlines to feature would leave it feeling empty.

So the V20 Companion turned to more narrative topics – titles, prestation, technology, and some locations. Oh, and they squeezed a splat in there for Caitiff.

The titles chapter list a variety of titles used by the various sects (from the obvious Camarilla to the so-obscure-they-mostly-aren’t-on-Earth Tal’Mahe’Ra). Most of these titles are familiar, distinguished by a point value of the title (so, if your Storyteller is a closet Malkavian, you can use 7 xp to be a member of the Inner Circle). There are also some new, generic titles that mostly don’t seem to be titles, but rather descriptive labels (mystic, eschatologist, transcendent).

The prestation chapter talks generally about boons and vampires (especially elders) play the game to hold the strings of their compatriots. There are also some ground rules for what is and isn’t generally acceptable. Putting someone in a bad spot and then getting a boon out of them to fix the situation? Perfectly acceptable. Killing a vampire to whom you owe a boon in order to get out of debt? Not so much. There’s some discussion of how sects treat boons a bit different, but mostly all honor them (even across sect lines).

The third chapter, “Kindred and Technology,” is somewhat mislabeled, in that most of it doesn’t relate to technology. So you have some on-point content like the possibility of video of vampires ending up on the internet, wireless access in havens, questions about cross-Domain jurisdiction when vampires can use the internet to mess with each other from the other side of the globe. And then you have other content like keeping up with style, finance, weaponry, transportation, and mercenaries, which seems to have little or nothing to do with technology. Some of this is general ‘this is how it tends to be done’ and some is more ‘here are a couple of examples.’

I found the Inconnu’s presence in these first three chapters fairly amusing, as their write-up mostly consisted of repeatedly saying that nobody really knows how, if at all, they get involved in this sort of thing.

The final chapter (“A World of Darkness”) consists of descriptions of 25 locations. Sometimes these are truly focused on the location. As often they have little to do with the location and are more of a way of providing an update on that part of the world. Which is probably why this chapter feels kind of like a teeny, tiny predecessor to Beckett’s Jyhad Diary (which revisists many of them). Some, however, I wasn’t familiar with (this may mean they’re new, or it may mean that I just don’t recall their prior appearance). Some are of larger significance to the World of Darkness or the history of VtM (Alamut, the Succubus Club, the Vampire Club, the Cathedral of Flesh), while some are more curiosities (a tiny island where vampire’s rule, a particular area of Melbourne, a park in Dallas). All, however, are fairly short, perhaps a third of a page.

From an art perspective, the V20 Companion includes a mix of reprinted art (both iconic and more obscure) and new art. The new full-page art used for chapter lead-ins is from Christopher Shy, which is always a bonus in my book (although in this context I mostly think of him as producing art for Mage: the Ascension). I found the cover art enchanting as well.

Overall, most of the V20 Companion is fairly vague, existing in a zone where it presents small enough snippets that long-time players will already know most of what’s presented in some of the sections of the book. This is particularly notable for the titles, which are often just an introductory paragraph followed by a citation to the V20 core book. Weighing in at only 80 pages, it’s just hard to fit enough in on a topic to really do it justice without consuming a significant percentage of the limited page count. Instead, the V20 Companion settles for skimming a variety of topics while adding meat to very few of them (the prestation chapter is the most substantial.

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