Hunters have always been present in Vampire: The Masquerade – lone hunters, small cadres, hidden government conspiracies, Catholic remnants and offshoots. One of the setting developments with V5 was a ramping up of this element with the introduction of the so-called Second Inquisition – SchrekNet was compromised, the Tremere’s Prime Chantry in Vienna was destroyed, London fell, and the Camarilla responded to these events with draconian new secrecy and anti-technological measures. Following on the heels of Sabbat: The Black Hand, Second Inquisition is a second antagonists book primarily aimed at helping Storytellers deploy the Second Inquisition in their chronicles. There is, however, a lot more mechanically in Second Inquisition, and a lot more to work with for someone who wants to make the hunters the protagonists (and who doesn’t want to wait for the new edition of Hunter: The Reckoning), so it ends up being a more broadly useful book that the basic description might make it seem.
What Is the Second Inquisition?
One question you might have, and it’s the first thing that the book asks, is whether there’s really such a thing as the Second Inquisition. The formal answer given by the book is that, no, there really isn’t a Second Inquisition, it’s more of an event than an organization. However, the actual contents of the book belie this answer, because – although they call themselves “the Coalition,” not the “Second Inquisition” – there is an international organization dedicated to wiping out vampires. At that scale it’s more of an information-sharing group, not a hierarchical organization with a dedicated commander-in-chief – but all of the component organizations are. Those primary component organizations are informally known as the “Five Torches” – the Society of St. Leopold and the vampire-hunting branches of the governments of the United States (FIRSTLIGHT), the United Kingdom (the Joint Threat Response Group, or JTRG), Brazil (the Batalhão de Operações Especiais Secretas, or BOES), and Russia (GRU-N58). Other nations also participate, including Egypt, Sweden, France, Japan, Israel, and Poland. Some of those organizations have subgroups. The United States effort, for example, is run by FIRSTLIGHT (an interagency operation in the U.S. intelligence organizations), but has a military/financial wing in the Information Awareness Office (IAO) (the sort of folks who could strike at the aforementioned Prime Chantry), a federal domestic investigative force in the FBI Special Affairs Division (SAD), and the ability to direct/nudge local law enforcement.
You’ll note that there are a lot of acronyms and initialisms there (pedantic editor’s note: an acronym is when you pronounce the letters like a word, while an initialism is when you pronounce the letters separately; “NASA” is an acronym, “FBI” is an initialism). Before you dive into Second Inquisition, you should pay very close attention to the two-page “SI Lexicon” near the front of the book, because the body text often just throws this stuff around without any sort of explanation. And the body text providing the meat of the information on the organization of the SI (which might make it easier to grok the significance of all of this jargon) is near the end of the book. With the usual Vampire jargon on top of the new SI jargon and the less-than-great organization, Second Inquisition is not the smoothest RPG read I’ve ever experienced.
Second Inquisition NPCs – By far the largest component of Second Inquisition, this collection of stat blocks, special powers, and “OPFOR” (opposing force) types takes up about a third of the page count. The bulk of it is page after page of generic hunter NPCs, usually based on the role or tactic of the hunter. Blackmailers, undercover agents, interrogators, politicos, forensic accountants, investigators, hackers, and muscle. The NPCs are mostly mundane humans, but there’s also a wide selection of hunters with powers – several types of psychics, “cunning” folk, religious types with True Faith, “nullifiers” who can just turn off Disciplines, sorcerers, and ghouls. There are even some new alchemy powers for Thin-blood characters who are working with the Second Inquisition.
The format for these is generally a short introduction, followed by a short-form stat block, and then a special power. For the normal mortals this is a mechanic that represents what the mortal is good at. For the fancier types it’s an actual “power.” As the book notes, some of these powers are quite potent (like shutting down Disciplines) or quite flexible (the Tremere would love to have Blood Sorcery versions of some of these sorcerer powers). Something else that the book doesn’t flag, but is probably good to keep in mind, is the raw number of dice thrown by some of these stat blocks. In particular there are a lot of combat-focused stat blocks that roll 8 or 9 dice in their combat pools. It’s very easy to get in the mindset of “vampires > humans” and forget that the most important thing about combat is winning the opposed combat roll. Most neonates will go down hard to a mortal with 9 dice in melee combat, or 8 dice and a sniper rifle. And most SI operations will try to pit a team of mortals against a single vampire.
Beyond these stat blocks are suggestions on building an opposing force and two sample OPFOR (including dozens of character bios and a some pages on preferred tactics). There are some background-style dots assigned here (reach, scope, and more ‘normal’ things like allies, influence, and contacts). The dots don’t seem to add anything, but the descriptions of different sorts of opposing forces are handy – ferreting out vampire influence, commandeered local law enforcement, guards, recon, mobile forces, amateur hunters, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, much like many vampire coterie types, many of these OPFOR types have jargon-y names that make it hard to keep track of what they are (I dare you to tell me what a cenacle, minotaur, or special deployment team is without looking it up).
Armory, Equipment, XTech, Artifacts – There’s some fancy tech and religious artifacts here, but half of it is just mundane stuff, and I’d wager that half will get used a lot more. It includes some basic things that could come up in any Vampire chronicle – flare guns, tasers, flash-bangs, explosives, armor and armor-piercing rounds (for the mortals), observational/spy gear, and some vehicles. There’s about ten pages of that, so it isn’t a ton. But – despite the fact that it is a book they printed several versions of back in the day – I’ve never felt that Vampire/World of Darkness needs or benefits much from a vast array of gear. So I think the spread here is a good length.
The other half of the chapter is XTech and artifacts, for when the Storyteller really wants to make the characters miserable (not that you can’t do that with a decent GPS tracker or a SWAT helicopter). The XTech kicks off with way too many bloodborne pathogens aimed at infecting vampires, which shows how far the Second Inquisition is willing to go. Combine a willingness to infect humans in some overly-convoluted plot to infect vampires with a tendency to kidnap and torture Touchstones for information and there’s definitely the possibility of some Nietzschean moral comparisons, whether it’s a traditional Vampire chronicle or a game where the hunters are the protagonists (“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”). Other tech can detect obfuscated vampires, simulate sunlight, and a chemical weapon that causes aggravated damage to vampires but doesn’t affect mortals (just give the SI a nuke and they’ll have a WMD trifecta).
The artifacts are varied, including an Enochian sarcophagus, mummified hearts prepared according to the writings of Ibn Sina (better known to native English speakers as Avicenna), an aspergillum containing a bone of St. Francis, a dagger constructed from a werewolf claw, and several relics from Catholic figures associated with driving out the dead. Given the Catholic origins of the original Inquisition and the presence of a Catholic religious organization as one of the Five Torches, it’s no surprise that the religious artifacts lean towards the Catholic and Christian. But that definitely is not the only sort of source presented here.
The XTech is a bit of a stretch to include in non-SI chronicles, unless you’re willing to accept random mad scientist hunters coming up with one-off high-tech devices. But, like the mundane gear, many of the artifacts can easily be placed in the hands of a lone hunter of religious persuasion for inclusion in a chronicle that wants a smattering of hunters but not the whole shebang.
Ideas and Systems for Running SI Operations – This chapter could have been entirely devoid of dice-rolling. It’s got a treasure trove of ideas for hunters to employ when going after vampires (many of them linking back to the NPC types). They cover investigative methods (analyzing hunting patterns, informants, infiltrating herds), putting pressure (disrupting blood supplies, gentrifying hunting grounds, direct surveillance), and plain old attacks (kidnapping, extortion, simple attacks, or just blowing up Elysium with all of the vampires inside). But there are also mechanics for all of those leading-up-to-the-attack activities too (mechanics for attacks already exist in combat rules). These mechanics are a bit out of place in this book, however – there’s even a warning in the chapter that the mechanics, which frequently involve the Storyteller making uncontested rolls – can amount to “Storyteller solitaire.” I imagine that, in many games, the Storyteller will just have the tactics of the hunters work out as seems dramatically appropriate, given the chronicle and the PCs’ actions. But there are several uses for them. First, they could be used to support a hunter chronicle without having to wait for Hunter: The Reckoning to come out again. Second, even in the scope of Vampire game, they can still be used to help the ST let go a bit. I am reminded of one of the agendas of the excellent Monsterhearts – “Keep the story feral.” It’s very easy, in a game about controlling manipulators, to try to lay out a controlled sort of story. Rolling the dice can work to counteract that tendency. Even so, this would only work because most of these rolls can be made outside of the session – they represent long-term actions by the hunters. I don’t think I would ever use these “Storyteller solitaire” mechanics during a session.
In addition, there are a handful of projects that can be used either by or against the SI, such as “Map Blankbody Networks” or “Against the Inquisition: Cleanup.” The player projects seem handy, covering a couple of topics that warrant a roll, but would probably be tedious to play out in little drips and drabs – exactly what the project rules are best for. For the Inquisition projects, take everything discussed above and amplify it – I can’t ever imagine working an NPC organization through the mechanics of a project. This is entirely speculation, but the level of mechanical content here makes me wonder if there’s a prior draft of Second Inquisition sitting around that had rules that were for SI protagonists, and then a higher-up nixed that part of the planned book.
How to Use the SI in a Chronicle – This short chapter presents information on story, setting, and thematic elements a Storyteller might employ in a chronicle focused on the Second Inquisition. There are different chronicle structures – the SI is just poking around, the SI is attacking, or the city already fell and you live in what’s left. There are ideas to draw parallels between the first Inquisition and this one. There’s a discussion on how to best deploy the characters’ ignorance of what’s going on vs. how to scare them with some level of information. How might vampires try to deploy the Second Inquisition against their enemies? There is a bit of repetition as the book tries to slice and dice a fluid situation in a variety of ways (e.g., “Chronicle Structures” vs. “Theaters of Operation” when both are about what level of presence/control the SI has in the city). But overall it’s a solid discussion.
Second Inquisition is much less of an antagonist book that Sabbat: The Black Hand was. Just because of the armory/equipment sections there’s already more for player use. But in broader terms there are actual mechanics for what the SI can do, both individual characters and groups running operations. Sure, there’s no character creation, but since there are also generic human character creation rules, it’s not that far a leap to take those, let each player pick a hunter type from the NPC chapter and its special power, and figure out some sort of XP system for getting more. This book has to have an admonition that some of the powers are overpowered and would be broken when used by protagonists because there are actually mechanics that protagonists could use. Personally, I would rather wait until the new Hunter: The Reckoning comes out and see how that goes, but if you’re dying to make a Second Inquisition hunter chronicle there’s actual material here for that.
What I do wish there was more of was on how to use the SI in a chronicle when you don’t want it to just take over the chronicle. Personally, I haven’t been a big fan of the ramped-up presence of hunters. As some of the material in Second Inquisition accurately reflects, once the hunters are looking for you, it’s almost impossible to avoid them unless you’re dedicating your existence to the task – at which point the war/spy campaign has taken over everything else. Which, sure, that’s a thing you can do – but that’s fairly far from the typical Vampire chronicle. I mean, there’s a reason why you don’t see a lot of chronicles actually following even little things like the “no cell phones ever” rule. It’s a lot easier to have an element of hunters in a campaign when the hunters are few, disorganized, and poorly-resourced. But how do you do that when the enemy has a massive data-collection program that’s constantly running an algorithm for people with a certain type of behavior pattern (all of your social media posts are at night, you never put food or medicine on your credit card, your location data shows frequent visits to high-crime areas, etc.) and has the ability to send a SWAT team into your haven in the middle of the day? It’s not that there isn’t anything for this style – you can use the hunter NPCs without linking them with a global organization, for example. But I still would have liked to see a bit more guidance, because I’m much more likely to run/play in a chronicle with some hunter elements than one where everything revolves around the SI.
Based on a basic description, you might think that Second Inquisition is a pretty narrow book – content for Storytellers who want to run a chronicle that is taken over by the international conspiracy that is the Second Inquisition and its war on vampires. And if that’s all that Second Inquisition delivered, it would be hard to recommend it to a broad audience. But Second Inquisition ends up delivering a lot more than that. Don’t get me wrong; there’s still a ton more for Storytellers than players, like stacks of NPCs to be plugged in or mystical artifacts to slip into hunters’ hands. But even players get a bit of Thin-Blood Alchemy, more mechanical information on gear, and the possibility of playing as a hunter, notwithstanding the admonition that this is an antagonist book. And anyone can enjoy diving a bit more into the backstory of the
Second Inquisition Coalition and its component organizations.
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