Review – Children of the Blood (Vampire: The Masquerade)

Children of the Blood is the first additional supplement coming out of the Cults of the Blood Gods Kickstarter. It’s now available to everyone on PDF ($15 at DriveThruRPG).

Children of the Blood is, by page count, almost entirely a collection of NPCs. Because it isn’t something like a city book, that makes its primary value depend on how readily the coteries/vampires can be dropped into a chronicle, or for plain old reading value. However, there are also a collection of mechanical tidbits, most notably Loresheets for more the cults detailed in Cults of the Blood Gods (where almost all of the ‘Loresheet’ slots were taken up by Hecata Bloodlines). Being the cynic I am, I presume that these Loresheets were put in Children of the Blood instead of Cults of the Blood Gods because, frankly, it sells more copies.

So I’m actually going to start with the Loresheets and other mechanics, because I think that ultimately that’s what will be the deciding factors for a lot of players. Now, I say Loresheets, but there’s actually another two Hecata Bloodlines, for the Rossellini and the Milliners. The Loresheets cover the Ashfinders, Amaranthan, Cleopatras, Meneleans, and The One True Way cults from Cults of the Blood Gods, plus Starfall Ranch, which is based on a cult presented in Children of the Blood. In another article, I already tabbed Meneleans as one of the best-designed Loresheets. But Cleopatras (Nosferatu only) and Starfall Ranch (Malkavians only) were also on my ‘short list’ for that article (maybe I’ll write about some more Loresheets at some point), making Children of the Blood relatively dense in Loresheet quality. The low-dot Cleopatra options can allow you to discover a targets deepest flaw, re-roll a failed Social roll, or re-roll a failed roll to resist fury frenzy. Low-dot Starfall Ranch options grant two dots in an untrained Skill for a single roll, learn random facts about people, or gain bonus dice to a project launch roll.

But the new mechanics also include new merits and flaws, a relative rarity in V5 so far. Oddly, some of these are only available to members of certain cults. So, if your character is a Bahari, you can take the Bahari Loresheet options as appropriate to what’s happening in the story. But now you can also take the Gardener or Dark Mother’s Song merits. I’m not sure what different there is between a two-dot merit that’s restricted to members of a certain organization and a two-dot Loresheet ability for that same organization. I mean, you can take the merit without using up your one Loresheet ‘slot’, but I don’t know if there’s a conceptual difference. Maybe how easy it will be to convince your Storyteller that, for some of these, the merit isn’t really tied to cult membership. Regardless, I’m glad to see new merit/flaw options. The Church of Caine’s 1-dot Fire Resistant can be potent, reducing the cost to ‘heal’ Aggravated physical damage to one rouse check (instead of three). Church of Set members can Go to Ground, gaining bonus dice to avoid pursuit (like I said, some of these aren’t really tied to the cult). Archangel’s Grace allows the Nephilim to use Performance as Athletics, or vice versa (you go to the gym and dance studio a lot … what can I say, the Nephilim are a shallow bunch). The Ashfinders’ Streamer merit is nifty … but it was also nifty when it was first printed on the Social Media Influencer Loresheet. The available merits/flaws include modifications to Haven and Domain. The Domain ones are the most notable, because Domain so far has just had the generic three. The new merits/flaws are still cabined within the scope of chasse (easier feeding), lien (knowing the mortals in the domain), or portillon (security), but that still leaves a lot of room.

But, as I mentioned, the bulk of the book is NPCs/coteries – 80 pages of them. 60 pages of that is the NPCs, plus another 20 pages of coteries (well, assortments of vampires, really; they aren’t necessarily working together). Most (but not all) of the NPCs is a cultist (or cult leader) of some sort, and the coteries are focused around a cult (or cults). With one exception, the coteries are created from the NPCs in the first part of the book. However, there’s a bit of a disconnect between these two sections, as the NPCs are mostly written to stand alone. The coteries then feel a little cobbled together. The one exception is a coterie of ancillae (running one cult and residing in one place), who are actually designed together as a coterie and have the characters presented in the coteries chapter. They can be dropped in as antagonists for a PC coterie or, in theory, played as a PC coterie (they are all over 100, but their stat blocks aren’t very potent).

And, at least so far, none of these characters is of great metaplot relevance (although some are references back to Milwaukee/Let The Streets Run Red or prior editions of the book, none of them seemed noteworthy). To me, this is like getting a city book, but not as interesting – there just isn’t the same sense of cohesive creation. So, the utility of the majority of the material in Children of the Blood is (1) you are a ST looking for characters to drop into a chronicle (which is totally a thing that I’ve done) or (2) you just like reading Vampire stuff. Which is why I talked about the mechanical content first – I think that for most players that will be the main selling point of Children of the Blood (except for those of us who just buy every Vampire book, in which case I suppose the main selling point is that it says “Vampire: The Masquerade” on the cover).

With the acknowledgement that evaluation of plug-and-play NPCs is pretty subjective, some of the ones I found noteworthy included:

  • Faith Corrigan: I first noted Faith because there’s a tie-in to the Red Question, who are discussed at length in the V20 Anarchs Unbound supplement, which is probably the best Anarch book ever made. Her mortal life focused on cybercrime, but now she’s a travelling preacher for the Church of Caine.
  • Roberto Vega: Vega (whose cult connections are basically irrelevant) is a Tremere “Chaotician” who combined algorithm know-how with Blood Sorcery to be able to create predictive algorithms. He’s on the run from the Tremere after (accurately) determining that it would be a bad time to visit Vienna (note: they probably need to stop making Tremere NPCs who are wanted by the Tremere for mysteriously being absent from Vienna when the Prime Chantry got blown up). Also, one of his retainers works for AOL, which I want to make fun of (and I say this as a person with an AOL e-mail address that’s old enough to have a graduate degree), but AOL is still a $5 billion company.
  • Zhou “Jenni” Guang: Gay character with a religious upbringing who believes that their embrace confirms that God exists? I’ve played this character. Except Jenni, being embraced into the Church of Caine, has a neater solution – “God” is really the Demiurge (yes, Children of the Blood correctly identifies that the Demiurge is the bad guy in Gnosticism, unlike Cults of the Blood Gods) and the prohibition on your love is a product of that evil.
  • “Dr. Starr”/Starfall Ranch: Dr. Starr has a real name, but it isn’t terribly important, as his entire personality has essentially been overwritten by a Malkavian Methuselah. Now they use the Cobweb to generate new personalities and obtain new experiences through other Malkavians (and without having to kill them first, like with Ashe). After all, “Malkavian” is just a single entity with thousands of bodies, right?
  • Belinde Buch: A Nosferatu whose curse is rather distinctive. It is, for lack of a better word, smoothness. Smooth skin, with things like hair, lips, and fingernails losing definition, and a face that is perpetually locked in an unblinking half-smile, effectively incapable of displaying emotion. But that’s a lot better than most Nosferatu are stuck with, and Belinde spent centuries rising and holding on to power (she’s held praxis in Copenhagen for 300 years). She has many more Ventrue and Toreador allies than Nosferatu. She strongly “encourages” the latter to join the Cleopatras, forcing them to try to make their appearances better conform to beauty norms.

Note that the selection above might skew young compared to the average age of the vampires in Children of the Blood; this book is not a collection of neonates, and many are centuries old.

On the editorial front, there were a few too many places where the text was garbled – missing word or a couple of ‘jumps’ as portions of sentences are lost between pages.

Overall, the highlight of Children of the Blood a nice selection of additional mechanics, including well-designed Loresheets and new merits/flaws. It’s interesting how different mechanical content feels in V5 as compared to V20. With the enormous amount of mechanical content in the core book, I never really felt like there was much mechanical content in V20 supplements that I cared about. The value of a book for my personal use was almost all in the fluff. But in V5, with its much slimmer mechanical content in the core book (and sloooooow release schedule) I really look forward to seeing new mechanics.

But the bulk of Children of the Blood is just NPCs. That’s not inherently a bad thing, although it’s not as interesting to me as a more coherent collection of characters. It does not, for example, hold up as well as The Chicago Folios (the first supplement from the Chicago by Night Kickstarter). But I don’t think that it’s the sort of content that has a widespread audience – if city books and splat books (which I do get excited about) are considered too niche for traditional printing these days, I can’t imagine a collection of NPCs getting anywhere near a traditional print run. But this is, after all, a PDF supplement to a traditionally printed book (Cults of the Blood Gods).

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