Review – The Book of Nod (Vampire: The Masquerade)

If you scan through our archives, you’ll find a lot of Vampire: The Masquerade content over the years. This review is unique. Because this is a review of my single favorite Vampire: The Masquerade book ever. It’s so good that the similar books style of books that echo its presentation – Revelations of the Dark Mother, the Erciyes Fragments, The Fragile Path – are all fantastic in their own right, while still not quite managing to capture the glory of the original. Or maybe, with the passage of decades, the Book of Nod isn’t as good as I remember?

The Book of Nod, written by Sam Chupp and Andrew Greenberg, was originally published in 1993 in a softcover version, with a deluxe hardcover arriving in 1997 (silver page edging, a built-in bookmark, that sort of thing). A reprint of the hardcover is being released by Renegade in October 2021 (they hope). The content in the Renegade version is the same (except for the credits), although there are some physical differences between the printings. Some of this is minor, such as whether the bookmark ribbon is black or red. The spine just lists the title, and (for obvious reasons) no longer mentions White Wolf or the “WW” product number. But the most noteworthy difference is that the Renegade printing is slightly larger. When you compare the two, you can see that there are parts of the original graphics and art that are actually cut off. It’s like the Renegade version if the “correct” size and it was the old White Wolf one that was a bit two short. On the other hand, the Renegade printing uses glossy paper, while the White Wolf version did not. The Renegade paper is probably ‘fancier’ in some objective sense. However, given the dark nature of the subject matter, I preferred the non-glossy paper better. There’s a lot of art in the book, it’s all black and white, and – especially on some of the pages with a lot of black – the “shiny” of the paper in the newer printing somewhat detracts from the art. A few pages feel noticeably lighter in tone because of this.

The Book of Nod, from an in-character perspective mostly written by Aristotle de Laurent and fan favorite Beckett, laid out in a definitive way the founding mythology of vampires as progeny of the third mortal and first murderer, Caine, of Caine’s creation of other vampires, and the origins of the Antediluvians who would found the 13 vampire clans. Or, as definitive as you can have in a game line where there is rarely absolute truth, everything written in character is fallible, lots of books (including this one) are internally inconsistent, and they’ve had to update the end times mythology to account for the fact that the game is still being published. That’s about half of the book, with the other two main sections covering a collection of sayings (supposedly) from Caine or clan founders and some prophecy about Gehenna.

The Chronicle of Caine

First and foremost in the Book of Nod, then, is the Chronicle of Caine, which lays out that creation mythology. I think it’s the most important part of the book. And I think it’s the best. Written in a “Biblical” and poetic style, it starts with Cain and Abel and uses rhythm and repetition to flow from point to point in their story. “I dream of the first times … I speak of the first times … I sing of the first times.” Cain and Abel seek to please God, but Caine grows plants and Abel herds animals, and so God is more pleased when Abel spills the blood of his sacrifices. So when God calls for sacrifice again, we get to the most powerful part of the whole book:

I cried tears of love as I,
with sharp things,
sacrificed that
which was the
first part of
my joy,
my brother.

It’s just dripping with angst, which is exactly the sort of thing one was probably looking for in a Vampire: The Masquerade book as a teenager in the 1990s. And so much of the language there calls back to earlier verse. The first part of his joy, the sharp things – these have been framed in the text before they’re recast here in a different light. And it takes that lyrical power and applies it to the very heart of the vampire creation mythology, where Caine becomes the first murderer. It’s not just the words, either. The words quoted above are the entirely of the words on that page, which the majority of the page occupied by an image (by Andrew Robinson, I believe) of the murder splashed across the two-page spread, with Abel on the alter and Caine in rage above him and blood spatter sprayed around them. If there’s a flaw in the Book of Nod, it’s that the single most potent moment comes very early in the story – there’s no drawing things out and saving the best for last here.

After the murder of Abel Caine is, of course, cursed and cast out. Caine meets Lilith, who Awakens him (yes, that’s a capital A, for you Mage fans out there). It is in the house of Lilith that Caine encounters the archangels, rejects their mercy, and is plagued with vampiric weaknesses. Michael curses him with a weakness to fire, Raphael curses him to hide from the sun, and Uriel curses him to drink blood and live eternally. Again, the scene with the archangels is powerful because of the fundamental significance of the events, because of the lyric repetition, and the art (again wrapping this section up with a two-page spread of anguish). The final archangel (Gabriel) tells Caine about Golconda, and having been Awakened by Lilith Caine develops the basic disciplines (Celerity, Potence, Fortitude, Obfuscate, Dominate, Presence, Protean, Animalism, Auspex). Lilith seeks to keep Caine, but he breaks free (of course, you can get a very different version of these events in Revelations of the Dark Mother).

Caine falls in love with Zillah, and in learning to win here ‘love’ is is subject to a blood bond, is compelled to Embrace another, and in so doing his blood is empowered to bond others. The same Crone who tricked Caine then falls to his trickery, and she teaches him to pierce the heart of a vampire with living wood, only to be staked herself as Caine outlasts and overcomes the blood bond (see, some might say, Caine really is a model for the Sabbat). Caine embraces more, found the first city (Enoch), his childer embrace, the survive the flood of Noah, and then the curses of progeny bear fruit, as the third-generation vampires overthrow their sires, and the 13 Antediluvians create a second city.

Such treachery cannot go unaddressed, however, and Caine lays on those 13 the curses that become their clans’ traditional banes. There’s even the first ‘clan replacement,’ as Troile consumes Brujah and his line replaces Brujah’s (Troile is of ambiguous gender when one examines the scope of VtM sources, but here is presented as male). Those childer had childer of their own, ruled new cities, and made war on each other. And “[t]he Jyhad continues still.”

The Chronicle of Shadows

The second part of the Book of Nod, the Chronicle of Shadows, is a collections of sayings and guidance. Some is presented as coming from Caine himself, while other parts come from clan founders (Brujah, Gangrel, Malkav, Nosferat, Toreador, Ventrue, and Saulot). Vampires are cautioned on obtaining permission before embracing and instructed on who not to embrace. They are guided to feed from the children of Seth, and to use their blood to bond mortals (human and animal alike). What will becomes Traditions are laid out – no killing your sire, don’t commit diablerie in general, honor your sire, respect the eldest (that is, vampires of lower generation), respect each other’s Domains, don’t reveal yourselves to the humans – as well as some things that didn’t make it as traditions (hospitality, for example). There are a series of cautions on concerning other sorts of supernatural beings – the weakest part of this chronicle, to me, but that’s probably because I prefer having much cross-game-line pollination. Others, of course, love that sort of thing.

The Chronicle of Shadows closes out with a less ancient, epic, and poetic set of proverbs, but possibly more interesting ones. Not epic pronouncements from on high, but folk wisdom. “The first to die in any Jyhad are the Nosferatu.” “Ride the beast, do not let it ride you.” “Watch Gangrel, and when they are uneasy, leave.”

The Chronicle of Secrets

The final major section of the Book of Nod is a prophecy on the coming of Gehenna. In the current-day Vampire, prophecies of Gehenna don’t strike me as terribly important. “Gehenna” has been recast as something cyclical, not an actual end of days (this is really not consistent with the original presentation of Gehenna, although it’s a necessary inconsistency). “Gehenna” is also supposedly here – or, at least, the “Gehenna War” is – which makes prophecies about the coming of Gehenna more than a bit less relevant.

The Gehenna prophesied here is essentially that the Antediluvians will rise and consume their childer, that Caine will return and pass judgment, that Caine and Lilith will battle. That regardless of who wins there will be devastation – the changelings will be gone, the werewolves will be gone, and the Antediluvians will rule. But even back in the day, other than the general notion of the Antediluvians rising and consuming their childer (one of the existential concerns of the Sabbat), the particulars of what would happen at Gehenna were less important than the signs leading up to Gehenna. These would be incorporated into books and metaplot for years to come. The last daughter of Eve, known by the mark of the moon. The Time of Thin Blood. The awakening of the Crone. References to a black hand. Increasing diablerie. And lots and lots of ranting about the clanless (although a completely different kind of clanless from the ones that get attention in V5).

The Chronicle of Secrets then also hands out more advice, which looking back now seems oddly placed. Why is guidance (supposedly from Caine) on not embracing lose you love here, instead of in the Chronicle of Shadows?

The art is strong here as it is throughout the Book of Nod, but the writing doesn’t have the same lyric quality as the Chronicle of Caine. For example, when there’s repetition, it just feels like repetition, instead of calling back.

They are the dark see of our undoing
they will band together with those who
hate us
they are going to kill the dead
they are going to eat our kin
they will scream and bash our doors
they will cry aloud for justice
Clanless, all, they will wash over our walls
Clanless, all, they will know secret ways
Clanless, all, they are newly Awake
Clanless, all, No family, no sign, no
loyalty, no elder.

Other Material

The most prominent other material here is the commentary on the first three sections. Each has endnotes, which commentary from the ‘authors.’ They’re pretty good. Sometimes they tie the ‘ancient’ references to modern events. Sometimes they speculate. Sometimes they clarify the text. Sometimes they muddy it, such as discussing possible alternative translations or how the authors have synthesized differing versions. There are a couple of pages on “The Known History of the First City.” There’s also an afterword by a nihilistic, Noddist Malkavian named Ayisha, who is the vampire ‘actually distributing’ the Book of Nod to the masses (Beckett and Aristotle wanted a smaller number of copies for a more select group of vampires). The independent discusses Methuselahs, the Jyhad, Antediluvians, Caine, and Gehenna, throwing her own more colloquial perspective into the mix. She offers up common theories on these topics, but also pokes holes in them.

Final Thoughts

The Book of Nod was a triumph when it was published, and it’s still pretty good now. As an old-timer of the game, it is still beloved to me. The Chronicle of Caine is still as amazing as it ever was. The Chronicle of Secrets has been diminished as events have overtaken the prophecy contained therein. If this exact book was being released for the first time now, I doubt it would be my favorite. But the Chronicle of Caine alone makes the Book of Nod worth picking up, the Chronicle of Shadows is still relevant. And the Chronicle of Secrets is still an interesting historical artifact.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy of the Renegade version.

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