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Saturday, 7 September 2019

A Sanguinary Starter

Legacy of Lies is a jump-start for use with Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Dark Ages. Published by Onyx Path Publishing, it presents an introduction to the Vampire: The Masquerade Dark Ages setting, the basic rules, a complete scenario, and five ready-to-play vampires. It is set in 1242—primarily in Europe at the time of the ongoing Mongol Invasion as Russian forces commanded by Alexander Nevsky defeated an invasion attempt by the Teutonic Knights. Although the Mongol Hordes would suffer defeats they would sweep through Russia, Poland, Hungary, and more, representing an ongoing threat. In the vampire world, the War of the Princes continues, threatening to reach the continent’s most westerly reaches—England. Here in the Roman city of Chester, the Prince, Marcus Verus, seeks to enter torpor and rest, but believes his rivals, including Robert Durand, Baron of Edinburgh, is plotting against him and would take advantage of his lengthy absence. This is the set-up for the scenario at the heart of Legacy of Lies, which sees several vampires (the player characters) brought together by Marcus Versus to investigate possible plots against him.

Legacy of Lies introduces the world of Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Dark Ages with a good lexicon of the terms and phrases used throughout the core rules and the jump-start and explains the vampiric world of 1242, focusing in particular on those clans who are active in the War of the Princes in England, the nature and traditions of vampiric society, and its hierarchy. There is much here that will be familiar to long time devotees of Vampire: The Masquerade—whether in its current or previous incarnations—and so Legacy of Lies will be easy for them to pick up and play. That familiarity though, does not preclude anyone new to Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Dark Ages and the World of Darkness, from quickly grasping the ideas, concepts, and set-up given in Legacy of Lies.

Both Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Dark Ages and Legacy of Lies use the Storytelling mechanics. This means rolling dice pools of ten-sided dice, with results of eight, nine, and ten counting as successes. Rolls of ten allow rerolls as long as a player keeps rolling ten. Anything more than five successes counts as an exceptional result. Under certain situations this grants a character a beneficial condition, such as Informed or Inspired. Penalties reduce the number of dice that can be rolled, but never below a single die. This last die becomes the chance die and only a ten counts as a success on the chance die—and cannot be rerolled—whereas a roll of a one on the chance die counts as a dramatic failure. 

Important to every vampire is his Willpower. It can be spent to achieve automatic successes, to resist automatic impulses—such as flinching away from sunlight and fire, to ignore wound penalties, to resist or control frenzy (when a vampire loses self-control through fear, rage, or hunger and succumbs to his inner beast, turning into a murderous monster), and resist mental powers being used them. It is also used as part of certain supernatural Disciplines that the various Clans have access to and teach. It is gained when a player roleplays his vampire’s nature and achieves his goals, as well as upon waking or completing a story. Obviously, a vampire needs to feed upon mortals for their vitae, or blood, as it is lost upon their awakening each night, for healing damage, to imitate being one of the living, and to use some of the Disciplines. For example, Celerity improves a vampire’s Dexterity and movement, but with the expenditure of blood, can ignore multiple action penalties and increase her speed even further.

Characters or vampires themselves are mechanically defined by nine attributes—Composure, Dexterity, Intelligence, Manipulation, Presence, Resolve, Stamina, Strength, and Wits—and skills in three categories—Mental, Physical, and Social, all ranging between one and five. Similarly, they have Backgrounds (the equivalent of advantages and disadvantages), such as Allies, Domain, Influence, and Status, which are rated on the same scale.  They also have a Nature and a Demeanour, such as a Conformist—someone who believes in the group rather than the individual. Vampires are also members of a Clan. There are some thirteen in Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Dark Ages, but only five appear in Legacy of Lies. These are Brujah, Gangrel, Nosferatu, Toreador, and Ventrue, each of which embodies and includes certain types of vampire. So Brujah are principled warriors, Gangrel are outcasts who prefer wilderness, Nosferatu are physically twisted spies, Toreador are artistes, and Ventrue are natural nobles and leaders. 

Having presented the mechanics and the background to Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Dark Ages, the jump-start presents the eponymous adventure, ‘Legacy of Lies’. This takes places in thirteenth century England, Scotland, and France. The player characters are summoned to Chester to undertake a secret mission for its prince, either because they or their sire owes Marcus Verus a favour. The mission will see them first visit France and learn what they can from an informant before returning to report to Verus, before going on Edinburgh to determine who exactly is plotting against the Baron of Chester. Although amounting to just six scenes, chronologically, ‘Legacy of Lies’ is not a short scenario, taking place over several months to take account of the difficulties and length of travel. The scenario also presents a variety of different scenes, mostly social, but some physical too. So there are opportunities to hunt and feed as well as for combat in between the many social and investigative situations that the scenario presents. In doing so, the authors nicely showcase vampire life in the twelfth century—both the mundane and the arcane.

A pleasing touch is that at the start of each scene, the difficulty ratings—Mental, Physical, and Social—are presented to make the Storyteller’s task easier. The various scenes are well organised and explained, but one issue with ‘Legacy of Lies’ is that the full details of the plot are not fully explained until several scenes into the scenario. This makes preparation more of a challenge than it deserves to be, especially if the Storyteller is new to Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Dark Ages—or even to roleplaying.

Legacy of Lies comes with five pre-generated player character vampires  ready to play. They include a Brujah Irish nun, a Middle Eastern Toreador merchant, an English Ventrue noblewoman, a Mongol Gangrel adventurer, and an English Nosferatu spymaster. If the choice of vampires—all of them neonates of tenth or eleventh generation—feels somewhat traditional, they at least come with a wide range of backgrounds and origins.

Physically, Legacy of Lies is a full colour book, with fully painted illustrations of both the player characters and the NPCs. It is a pity that the NPC illustrations appear in a group as otherwise they would have been easy for the Storyteller to show to her players when they appear in her chronicle. The book needs a slight edit in places, but is otherwise easy to read and digest.

Legacy of Lies is an excellent introduction to Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition Dark Ages. Not just the mechanics of the Storyteller System, but with the scenario the life of a vampire in 1242, both at, and away from court, as well. It showcases what a chronicle can be like and the expectations that are placed on the player characters as much as the chance they have to exercise their vampiric immortality. The scenario itself is involving—though it will require a close read upon the part of the Storyteller—and should provide two or three sessions’ worth of good play, whether as a one-shot or the beginning of a Vampire: The Masquerade Dark Ages chronicle.

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