Review – New Blood Starter Pack (Vampire: the Masquerade)

The New Blood Starter Set is an introduction to Vampire: the Masquerade (5th Edition). Available only electronically (which means that the product can specifically talk about things like what you do or don’t need to print out), New Blood comes with a story book, mostly pregenerated characters for each of the seven core clans, victim and enemy cards, and a reference guide with a somewhat fuller rules presentation, and all for only £5/$7.50.

New Blood takes a learn-by-doing approach. The characters wake up in a meat locker, brand new vampires with no idea what’s going (they don’t even have full character sheets at this point, just half sheets with lists of actions like ‘attack’ or ‘persuade’ that already have dice pools calculated). Sure, it’s a contrived approach, but there’s a reason why “you wake up in a prison with nothing” was a staple of things like introductory D&D sets. The story then walks the characters through the basics of the mechanics and setting of Vampire. They just woke up, so they have to learn how to make rouse checks and about hunger dice. There’s blood, so they have to learn about the urge to feed. When they get out there’s an NPC, so they have to start thinking about the different ways vampires can interact with humans – allies, enemies, or food. The characters will escape from the Second Inquisition, then they’ll have some options in learning how to feed. Somewhere in there the players will get their full character sheets, including vampiric powers and memories of how they were embraced. The characters will meet representatives from the two main vampire factions, the Anarchs and the Camarilla. And, finally, they will have to reckon with the inquisitors, learning how combat works.

The overall story is pretty short – this is a single-session adventure, not a mini-campaign (sorry, in Vampire-speak that’s a single-chapter story, not a mini-chronicle). There’s some guidance to the storyteller on where to take it from here, but it would be an awful lot for a new storyteller to whip up a city from nothing (which can be a big ask even for experienced storytellers). Personally, I would suggest having the players start over with new characters, and then point the new storyteller at Chicago by Night (for a freeform chronicle) or Fall of London (for a chronicle with an established plot). But the option to see how far you can milk that £5 is there.

For experienced players, the presentation in New Blood will feel very basic, but I think it’s important to remember how much of the learning curve we’ve skipped over just by being familiar with Vampire or with roleplaying games. There’s a lot to be gained by making the pre-play learning almost nothing. Note that New Blood is really aimed at not only new players, but also a new storyteller – it’s not designed to required even one experienced hand at the table. On this front the story book has some helpful advice and flexibility for the storyteller. For example, if some event is going to happen that directly affects only one character, picking the character of the player who has been least involved so far.

New Blood indicates that it’s mostly aimed at three audiences – people who are familiar with Vampire but not roleplaying (e.g., people who have watched LA by Night or have played Bloodlines), people who are familiar with roleplaying but not Vampire, and people who are longer-time Vampire players who are looking into V5 for the first time. For the last of these groups, New Blood probably is too basic. They may be new to hunger dice and rouse checks, but with roleplaying experience and setting familiarity under their belts, the slow rollout in New Blood will probably be unappealing. People who are brand new on either side of things will probably feel that the rollout is appropriately paced.

One incongruity of the electronic-only, focused-on-beginners presentation is that everything is still written up in terms of the symbols on the custom V5 dice. There’s an explanation of how to translate, but nobody who is playing New Blood should have splashed out for custom dice (I know we gamers like our dice, but I think prudence dictates playing a game at least once before buying a brand new set that can only be used for this one game). It would have been more new-player friendly to write the story book up for using traditional numbered ten-sided dice.

Unfortunately, the proofreading and copyediting is particularly … not good here. There’s an unusually high density of gaffes like capitalization errors, missing lines, and repeated text. It’s also obvious that, while New Blood is expressly introduced as being location-neutral, it was originally written as based on LA by Night. This results in several references to L.A. in general, but most hilariously in the appearance of the word “Markusies.” This word might be baffling until you realize that they originally used the LA by Night character Victor in New Blood, replaced him with a character names Markus, and then performed a clumsy “find and replace all” – thus transforming “small victories” into “small Markusies.” It’s one of the most entertaining proofreading goofs I can remember.

There are also a few misteps with the character sheets, like places where dice are added for specialties but no specialty is listed. More potentially problematic are decisions like using a different Malkavian bane than in the core book, or applying bonuses from Heightened Senses where they don’t apply. There’s certainly value in leaving things out of a starter set – new players don’t need to be handed every single rules nuance – but changing how character powers work from the starter set to the core book makes it harder for new players to transition. On the other hand, New Blood does specifically tell the storyteller to default to Difficulty 2, which is way better than the default Difficulty 3 in the core book. So maybe I’m a hypocrite about deviating from the core book.

From my point of view, the best thing in New Blood is the victim cards (because this is an electronic product, you aren’t getting fancy pre-printed cards, but that’s OK because you wouldn’t want to keep dealing out the same victims anyway). In my mind, one of the aspects of Vampire that can be hard to get right is that feeding on people is one of the central parts of the personal horror of the game, but feeding scenes can get repetitive and almost necessarily only involve a single player at a time). Like I appreciated the GM kit that came with the random people list, I appreciate the random victim cards here, each with some basic information and what sort of approach the character might be able to take to feed off of this person. I did, however, feel personally attacked by the description of an out-of-place, out-of-shape 40-something trying to recapture their youth at the goth club.

Ultimately, New Blood is a sufficient introduction to V5, but not a great one. It’s unfortunate that, while serviceable, it doesn’t have anything to make it excel as an introductory set. Still, it’s great in that there’s actually an introductory set for Vampire: the Masquerade. I’m really happy to see one, and it’s at a low price point.

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