I still think of it as “new,” but the fifth edition of Vampire: The Masquerade (V5) was released four years ago. Now, with the new edition of Hunter: The Reckoning, an additional element of the World of Darkness has finally expanded beyond the flagship Vampire line. In Hunter, the player characters are a small cell of otherwise normal humans who have learned that the supernatural exists – and are determined destroy or otherwise deal with it. Hunter presents a distinctive approach to the World of Darkness, not just because the protagonists are not supernatural, but because it is heavily mission-focused. Hunter eschews the expansive mechanical and setting elements of other World of Darkness games in favor of a more straightforward approach.
Note: Hunter: The Reckoning was one of the last games released during the original World of Darkness run back in the 1990s. That game has little, if anything, to do with this one, so this review isn’t going to attempt a comparison. Also, because of the term “V5” you may see this version of Hunter referred to as “H5,” but there weren’t any intervening editions of Hunter: The Reckoning so don’t worry about tracking them down.
The mechanics in Hunter are the same as those in Vampire – characters have ratings in attributes and skills (theoretically from 1-5, but really not more than a 4). These values are referred to as ‘dots’ because you fill in a matching number of circles on the character sheet. A character generally combines one attribute with one skill to attempt an action (so 2 dice if you’re pretty bad at it, and 8 if it’s the thing in the world that’s your absolute strong suit). As with every other World of Darkness game ever, these are 10-sided dice.
Each die that comes up with a 6 or higher is a success, with higher difficulty actions requiring more successes (1-2 for basic tasks, 3-4 for moderately challenging tasks, and 5+ for really hard to effectively impossible). A pair of tens is a critical, which is worth 4 successes instead of 2. When characters are going head-to-head, instead attempting a static challenge, then both characters will roll dice and compare successes (this is how basic combat works). It is suggested that, outside of combat, the storyteller apply an automatic win rule – if the number of dice to be rolled is twice the number of success required, the character automatically succeeds. Storytellers may also give players the option to ‘win at a cost’ if their roll includes at least one successes, but not enough to win the challenge. Characters can also spend Willpower to reroll a few dice in hopes of getting a better result.
In addition, the characters as a group have desperation dice. The number of dice increases as the Hunters get more, well, desperate – they get hurt, their quarry escapes, their quarry harms others, that sort of thing. When a Hunter’s desperation dice field applies, they can add these dice to their action pool, increasing the possibility of success. But two negative consequences can arise from using desperation dice. For each “1” rolled on a desperation die, the Danger level goes up. The Danger level modifies some aspects of the threat being hunted (e.g., there might be [Danger] guards who show up, or a difficulty [danger] roll to avoid detection). The other consequence is Despair, which occurs when a character fails a roll despite using desperation dice. This results in the character losing access to desperation dice until they have been redeemed. How a character is redeemed depends on their Drive – basically their motivation for being a Hunter in the first place.
Character creation starts with a concept, of course, and from their is pretty mechanically straightforward. Unlike Vampire, there’s no big supernaturally defining thing about a character. Characters have Creeds, which are kind of presented as if they were splats, but they aren’t really. In fact, there is exactly one mechanical consequence of a character’s Creed, and I’ve already mentioned it – it defines the desperation dice field. The Creeds aren’t even creeds in any normal sense of the word; they aren’t about beliefs but more about methodology. The five creeds are:
- Entrepreneurial: Can use desperation dice when building things, repairing them, and the like while on a Hunt.
- Faithful: Can use desperation dice in any direct conflict (not just physical ones) with the supernatural.
- Inquisitive: Can use desperation dice when trying to gather information.
- Martial: Can use desperation dice during any physical conflict.
- Underground: Can use desperation dice when being a sneaky git.
Characters also have a Drive, but for that too we’ve already covered the only mechanical effect – it defines how the character regains access to desperation dice when they’re lost in Despair.
Just like in Vampire, characters get a standard spread of dots in attributes, of which there are nine – Physical (Strength, Dexterity, Stamina), Social (Charisma, Manipulation, Composure), and Mental (Intelligence, Wits, and Resolve). Health is derived from Stamina, and Willpower is derived from Composure and Resolve – these three attributes tend to be ‘defensive’ in nature, more often used when resisting the effects of someone else’s action. Characters get a single attribute at 4, a single attribute at 1, and the rest 2 and 3. I don’t know about you, but picking which attribute the character only gets a 1 in is always a bit painful.
There are three different ways presented of handing out skill dots, but in short there’s a method that produce characters with lots of dots but no really high stats, a method that produces characters with focused but relatively few dots, and one in between. (Vampire had a “life path” method as well, which I wasn’t a fan of, so I’m glad to see it not taking up page count here.) Again, same skills as in Vampire.
Each character then gets 7 points of Advantages and must take a couple points of Flaws. Some of the advantages have dot scales like other characteristics (the more points you spend, the more stuff your contact can get you), while others are a fixed point spend for a fixed effect (for two points, your character is beautiful, and gets a bonus on some social interactions). These cover a narrower spread of possibilities than in Vampire, and some of what’s included is less relevant – Hunter just doesn’t drop characters into the same sort of social structure that Vampire does. Options include mortal social connections, a better, safe house, and good old resources. The disparate values of Allies, Contacts, and Retainers have been somewhat cleaned up from V5, but not as much as I would like. Allies are still egregiously bad because you have to double pay for them (paying once for effectiveness and once for reliability). Retainers (which can be significantly overpowered in V5) are weaker than before because there are changes in how they are built (plus no Blood Bonds), although the 3-dot retainer still a problem because they come with their own 10 dots in advantages (more than the actual player character!), which forces the ST to tell the players that, no, they cannot take a 3-dot retainer with 5 dots in Resources and Influence. There are a few new entries. I was amused by the Nutritionist advantages – basically everyone can be healthier because you actually know how to cook.
Edges and Perks
The one “power” that Hunters get are called Edges. Edges provide a basic ability, which can be enhanced with Perks. A character can start with one Edge and two Perks, or two Edges and one Perk. Edges cost more than twice as much as Perks when purchased with XP, so I’m guessing most characters will start with two edges. Edges are divided into three categories – Assets (I can get stuff), Aptitudes (I am good at this thing), and Endowments (I can interact with the supernatural in some way).
The asset edges are arsenal (guns), fleet (vehicles), ordnance (explosives), and library (information). The physical assets might represent supplies that the character already has or can make, or they might represent connections who can supply such items. The perks here tend to get more copies of the physical object, add special features, or secure one-of-a-kind materials.
The aptitude edges are improvised gear (welcome to the team, MacGyver), global access (hacking), drone jockey (Uncrewed Aircraft Systems), and beast whisperer (animals). Perks might let the hacker erase data (instead of just viewing it), arm that drone, or grant access to more types of animals.
The endowment edges are very functionally titled – sense the unnatural, repel the unnatural, thwart the unnatural, and artifact (as in, you have one). These are the only potentially supernatural options in the game, but they don’t have to be. A character might repel the unnatural because the character has faith (note: there are no mechanics for True Faith in Hunter), or they might just have some bit of technology that does the trick.
The mundane nature of these ‘powers’ is emphasized because the book rolls right from “artifacts” into the general rules for gear. In some ways a lot of these powers are substitutes for gear – you don’t have to keep a detailed list of exactly what guns and goodies the team has, because they’re mostly just making it up as they go along.
Antagonists: Threats and Orgs
With no clans, tribes, conventions, traditions, kith, guilds, and no overarching social structure, there’s no big up front worldbuilding in Hunter.
Instead, the flavor of what it’s like to play Hunter, and what the world of Hunter is like, is presented in two antagonist chapters. Of course, the primary antagonists in Hunter are their supernatural quarry. Their secondary antagonists are ‘orgs’ – larger-scale, organized groups of hunters. These might be law enforcement, corporations, religious groups, or less defined groups. Cell Hunters view these groups as compromised, always looking out for some agenda other than the Hunt itself (never mind plenty of Hunters, including an entire creed, are ‘compromised’ in exactly the same way).
The primary antagonists – the supernatural threats – is probably the best part of the book. These aren’t entries like ‘vampire’ or ‘werewolf’ or ‘ghost.’ Instead each is a specific, named antagonist, complete with backstory, stats, objectives, and advice on using the antagonists. Basically, each one is its own story, ready to be plucked and dropped into a chronicle. This is really valuable to the storyteller because Hunter is so driven by these monsters-of-the-month (or however long it takes your group to deal with one of them). The most important part of each of these write-ups might be the suggestions on how a threat might be used in a chronicle. There are 2-4 each each in the categories of vampires, werewolves, sorcerers (and their creations), ghosts, and fair folk (and stranger things). These categories are used loosely. For example, not everything in the vampire section is a traditional vampire, much less the sort of vampire you could create in Vampire: The Masquerade. The monsters use generic-sounding powers so they can be attached to a variety of threats. A vampire written up this way might, for example, have Command and Charm and Resilience, vaguely mimicking Dominate and Presence and the way that vampires can shrug off gunshot wounds – but then those same powers can represent other threats who use other means of mental influence and who are also tough to kill. One downside of these is that several of them are location-specific, and thus requiring some level of modification for most games (unless you set your game in the Philippines, in which case you are good to go) – and I expect a lot of Hunter games to just start with these threats. For the same reason, I also wish there were just more threats presented, and a few that were more generic. Sure, it’s interesting to have the “vampire” who likes fire or vampires and werewolves who might be allies against other supernaturals, but it would be helpful to have a bit more information on run-of-the-mill antagonists.
The secondary antagonists – organizations – are the closest thing to a setting guide in Hunter, because they speak to something about the world as a whole. Most, but not all, of them will be familiar from Second Inquisition and older Vampire books. Orgs are broken up into categories, depending on what their motivations are – academic (Arcanum), government (the FBI, U.S. military, BOES), corporate (Monster-X, Orpheus, Re:Venge), and religious (Society of St. Leopold, Nails of Christ, Order of the Rose). Thankfully there are several ideas given for how to use each org in the game, because I think it’s going to be a lot less intuitive how to work the orgs into a game than it is how to add another supernatural threat. There’s a very “holier than thou” vibe from the Hunters towards the org. Sometimes that’s justified. Sometimes it isn’t. But main difference is that orgs are bigger, better organized, and better resourced.
Chronicle Tenets and Touchstones
In discussing the above, there are some elements of character creation that I just skipped over – Chronicle Tenets and Touchstones. Players of V5 will recognize the concepts, because they play an important role in that game as part of the Humanity system. They appear in Hunter as well, but they don’t do anything. At least, they don’t do anything mechanical. Touchstones are just people who are important to the characters. And it’s not that having background for player characters can’t be important, but they’re presented in a more formalized way that’s at odds with their mechanical irrelevance. This is even more so with Chronicle Tenets, which features text lifted from V5 about how tenets are important because it carries a cost when characters violate them … except those violations don’t carry any cost in Hunter.
Chronicle Tenets and Touchstones also appear in the “Advice for Considerate Play” appendix under the concept of “consequence systems.” When, again, these concepts have no consequences at all. Indeed, it seems problematic to present Chronicle Tenets as a “safety tool” or a way to define what is our isn’t acceptable conduct for characters. Lines drawn as a safety tool aren’t supposed to be crossed at all. Chronicle Tenets, on the other hand, are typically made to be broken – in Vampire it is expected that the characters will cross these lines. There doesn’t appear to be any good reason for Chronicle Tenets or Touchstones to appear in Hunter, except that they were also in Vampire. The other carryover text from Vampire is mostly updated as needed (although there are some amusing things like a copy/paste holdover in the Adversaries background that refers to “1-dot elders” as a possible type of Hunter who might be antagonistic to the character). But the inclusion of Chronicle Tenets and Touchstones isn’t that sort of proof-reading goof, and I find their inclusion in Hunter frustrating. They’ve got a very square-peg-in-a-round-hole feel to them.
Hunter uses the same basic mechanics as Vampire, and is set in the same world, but is otherwise a very different game. The characters in Hunter are human and (mostly) don’t have powers, so there are no extended discussions of how the player characters work or what supernatural tricks they can get up to. There’s no morality system or hunger dice. Hunters operate in isolated cells; there’s no elaborate system of international organizations that the characters are members of. The book doesn’t spend dozens of pages up front laying out to the world for the reader. The book is also physically stripped down, coming it at under 300 pages (V5 was over 400).
Hunter is just more straightforward than the traditional World of Darkness fare, focusing on discrete missions without elaborate power sets and extensive social networking. It probably leans towards shorter Chronicles; maybe a single story, maybe the ST picking their favorite threats from the book and running the characters through those. Ongoing social elements outside the Hunter cell can be worked in by the ST, but they’re less integral to the style and setting in Hunter. Most of the interaction will probably be between the player characters while they’re on the hunt, or with NPCs who are being used as resources in pursuit of that goal. There’s still the same advice about making a relationship map, but without the same sort of social backdrop there are fewer PC-NPC-PC triangles around and it’s more of a hub-and-spokes diagram.
Whether this is good or bad is up to your taste. Players who are looking for something like Vampire or the new edition of Werewolf (announced before Hunter, but still in development) – with all of its tribes and transformation forms and extensive mythology about what werewolves are and what they fight for – may be disappointed (I imagine that the very absence of such things is what enabled Hunter to be released so much more quickly than Werewolf). But, as much as I like Vampire and Mage and Changeling and such … we already have those games (although mostly not yet in a 5E version). So I think that it’s a good design decision to take Hunter in a very different direction.
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