Review – Vampire: The Masquerade – Winter’s Teeth, Book One

Vampire: The Masquerade – Winter’s Teeth, Book One isn’t the first Vampire: The Masquerade comic, but I do believe it’s the first one in more than two decades. The 1990’s Vampire comics were one-shots themed around a vampire clan (“Toreador,” “Ventrue,” etc.) or a signature character (Lucita, Beckett, Theo Bell, etc.). Winter’s Teeth, on the other hand, is a more traditional comic with an ongoing story that’s unique to the comic. Winter’s Teeth, Book One collects the first five issues of the series (as I’m writing this, issue #7 has been released).

If you’re new to Vampire: The Masquerade (and, if so, welcome aboard), the general premise is that vampires (they tend to refer to themselves as Kindred) are real, there are a variety of types (“clans”) of them, they have a ruling structure known as the Camarilla where power is generally localized to a city within that city is centralized in the person of a Prince (the title is Prince whether or not the holder of the title is male). Not all vampires are fond of the Camarilla (or, perhaps, they just don’t like the who ended up in charge of their city) to the point of rebellion; these vampires are Anarchs. You’ll get all of this in exposition dumps in the first half of the first issue.

The protagonist of Winter’s Teeth is former Anarch Cecily Bain, a vampire of moderate power, who serves the Prince of the Twin Cities, but would really rather just stick to her “dirty boot” duties (investigation, violence, that sort of thing) avoid getting entangled in politics. Cecily, whose main concerns are being left alone and visiting her sister (Cecily has been a vampire for decades, so her sister is now old enough to be suffering from dementia), has her heart melt a little bit and takes in a fledgling (a brand-new vampire) named Ali (although it is obvious to the reader that Ali is totally not some random helpless fledgling).

From there, they go on a wild rollercoaster of action as Cecily’s recent past comes back to bite her (and help her), some funky vampire hunters cause problems, a coup against the Prince is in the works, and there’s a wild ride of politics and blackmail (so, a typical day of backstabbing in vampire society). In addition to the ‘A’ story of Cecily, there’s a ‘B’ story (“The Anarch Tales”) of a small group of Anarch vampires (including a thin-blood vampire who lacks the full powers and perils of other vamps) as they try to scrape by in the Twin Cities area.

As a long-time VtM diehard, I really enjoyed Winter’s Teeth. Cecily was interesting. I really liked seeing how she interacted with her sister. The politics were ferocious and oh-so-very Vampire. The different plot threads came together well as the story went on, and you could (at least sometimes) go back and see that oh-yeah-that’s-what-that-character-was-doing-back-there. The characters tended to be shades of grey (well, within the parts of the shade available to bloodsucking monsters, anyway). Just because someone is an antagonist of Cecily’s doesn’t mean they are any more of a ‘bad guy’ than she is. The art style fit well with the subject matter.

It’s not quite perfect. Cecily’s motivations are a bit inconsistent early on, as she swings from pointless cruelty in the course of her enforcer tasks to adopting a fledgling at significant personal cost just to help out and then back to more cruelty to said fledgling (Cecily says that it’s not that she’s cruel, it’s just that she’s teaching Ali about life and life is cruel). But this is smoothed out over the course of the series as Cecily’s early viciousness is smoothed out (I mean, she’s still a vampire who drinks people’s blood and has no qualms about killing people who get in her way; she just stops hurting people for the sake of hurting them). There are a few things that might make one familiar with the setting wince a bit. For example, the usually sharp Cecily immediately jumps to the conclusion that Ali is a random Caitiff (a clanless vampire), despite the lack of any evidence to support that notion – those familiar with the setting will know that you can’t just tell a Caitiff on sight.

However, some of what might otherwise be ‘how did they do that?!” from the RPG crowd is dissipated because there are some new RPG mechanics. You see a character crafting magical images out of blood – and then there’s a new Blood Sorcery power in the back that lets one do exactly that (sorry, Blood Sorcery, you still don’t have any good level one powers). Other new discipline powers include an Animalism power that turns animals feral, a Fortitude/Potence amalgam to become immovable, and a Presence/Auspex amalgam to use Presence through a work of art. There are also lore sheets for Minneapolis, St. Paul, and one-that-I-guess-is-technically-a-spoiler-although-it-isn’t-really-important. Most of the Minneapolis/St. Paul options are of the typical “take an X-point lore sheet option, which gives you X+1 points in advantages and then 1 point in a disadvantage” variety – basically giving you ideas for how you could have spent points anyway. The third (Nosferatu-only) lore sheet might have the most interesting option, Blindspot, which gives Obfuscate a boost against supernatural powers that might pierce the veil. For all the words I’ve spilled there, the majority of the back matter is actually write-ups of some of the characters featured in the comics, in case you wanted to import them into a game.

Overall, I would highly recommend Winter’s Teeth to any Vampire: The Masquerade fan. Or anyone unfamiliar with VtM who has an interests in bloody politics and action.

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