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Minireview: Block By Bloody Block (Hunter: the Vigil)

Block By Bloody Block is a supplement for Hunter: the Vigil, and has previously only been available as a PDF-only product. Later it became one of the few titles available (so far) in White Wolf’s DriveThruRPG PoD (print-on-demand) system, so I decided to give it a try. The book is now also available as a “normal” retail store copy, my edition is the PoD one. To cut a medium-length story short: I was quite happy with the process and the end result. I ordered the book via DriveThru as normal, except that I specified that I wanted a print copy, gave them my address, and paid some extra for shipping to Finland (not something you need for PDFs, naturally). The store notified me that it’ll take a while to print the book, after which it would be sent to me. About 2.5 weeks after the order it arrived in my mailbox in fine condition, and the total price including postage was a bit under 13 euros. Not bad. The book was printed by Lightning Source UK, and it’s hard to tell it’s a PoD book unless you take a close look at some details. The printing is crisp and the binding seems sturdy. There’s a small white border at the top and bottom which is a bit uneven and something you’d probably not get in a “normal” print run, but honestly, this is good enough quality and close enough to a normally printed book that it’s fine with me. Especially since the total price ended up being reasonable and below what it would cost in a store.

So there’s that about the new “print on demand” system, what about the book itself? I’m happy to report that it’s good stuff. It’s a “neighborhood building kit” for Hunter, and contains a pile of sample neighborhoods to drop into your game, all suitably generic so that they can be easily modified – though of course they are based on U.S. locations and need a bit more work to move to some other places. Each place contains a general description, a group which controls it (many but not all antagonistic), some mechanical details on what it would take to grab control of the area, and some NPC writeups. The neighborhoods all mesh together and the groups contain references to each other, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts; you could just use this as your game world city, adding some actual place names here and there and doing modifications as needed. Or, of course, you could just grab a few nice ideas and locations from here and insert them into your game. Both work.

In a way, this is a “light” version of the huge Damnation City city-building book for Vampire, which (as far as I know) contains more elaborate mechanics for generating game world cities. This book has simpler mechanics, but does contain a few side bars on how to integrate with Damnation City if needed.

The neighborhoods are generally very interesting, especially so for the NPC motivations, and the writing is excellent – it was a good and entertaining read. I suspect any Hunter game could benefit from some of the ideas here, and many of the places and NPCs here could just as easily be inserted into a generic urban fantasy/horror game. Also, I liked the structure of the book, it was clearly organized and the way the neighborhood information was presented made sense – the graphic diagrams of NPC interactions and opinions were an especially nice touch. Well worth a look, in my opinion.

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Minireview: Spirit Slayers (Hunter: the Vigil)

Spirit Slayers is the last of the support books for Hunter: the Vigil. Despite the somewhat confusing name, this is (mostly) a book about werewolves, and mostly as antagonists. The title comes form the fact that in the new Werewolf game, werewolves and spirits have a very symbiotic and also somewhat antagonistic relationship. This book attempts to present both werewolves and spirits, and the role of hunters as “spirit slayers”. This duality, while an understandable design decision, somewhat dilutes the book.

It’s not a bad book by any means; the material on werewolves is quite solid and presents them as primal beasts who also have a very human side, and therefore have the potential to also be allies… or at least neutrals. The book follows the same format as the others; we’re given some historical explanations for what werewolves are, so the GM can tailor his/her werewolves as “something a bit different”. Then there are some new Compacts and a new Conspiracy. None of those are really brilliant, but all are quite ok. The Conspiracy, “Les Mysteres”, is perhaps the most interesting, as it presents a disparate group of people who have a tight bond with spirits (much in the Voodoo/Loa direction but not limited to that).

The rest of the book contains simplified rules for werewolves and spirits… and here the fact that the book tries to cover two aspects becomes a small problem. The werewolf rules seem ok, though they are very compact… but that leaves precious little room for rules on spirits. Since spirits in the new WoD can be quite complex entities, this makes the ultra-simplified rules here not worth much. In practice, a GM will probably need at least The Book of Spirits to make sense of things.

The end has the usual GM advice on how to these critters in a game.

While perhaps the weakest of the Hunter support books, that’s purely because it tries to cover a bit too much ground. The writing here is excellent and the ideas presented mostly interesting.

As a whole, the new Hunter game like is very good. It does what most people expected the first Hunter to do, and it does it well and with style. If you’re looking for a monster-hunting game, you’ll want to take a good long look at this one. I can’t find much to criticize in it as a game line (other than it’s a bit short, a book or two extra would not have hurt).

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Minireview: Night Stalkers (Hunter: the Vigil)

Night Stalkers is the second expansion book to White Wolf’s “Hunter: the Vigil”, and it deals with vampires – or more exactly, vampires as antagonists for vampire hunters. If you want to play vampires, you’ll want the full Vampire: the Requiem game. Just judging by this book it’s a bit unclear whether “Night Stalkers” refers to vampires or the the people who hunt them, but judging by the other books in the line (Witch Finders, Spirit Slayers) it’s clear that the reference is to the hunters themselves.

What I’ve read of Hunter so far has been very good, and this book does not disappoint either. While here the “targets” are much more clearly “hostiles” than in the mage book (Witch Finders), there is still some room given to scenarios where the hunters might cooperate with a blood-sucker (at least for a while) before they go all Buffy on them. This is presented as a very risky option, of course, and so it should be – these are not Twilight-style glow-in-the-dark angsty animal-eating teenagers. These are monsters, usually in the classic sense of the word. It’s not that they’ll just kill you if you threaten them; they’ll also often have the capability (and lack of human morals) to also kill your family and other loved ones, while (potentially) leaving you alive with a ruined life. With ages-old power networks at their disposal, they can make sure that you’re suddenly out of a job, branded a pedophile, homeless, and/or lots of other fun stuff. It’s like fighting entrenched organized crime (and often, in the WoD, there is heavy overlap anyway)… the leaders won’t fight you directly. They’ll just send endless disposable minions after you and everyone you care about, while using their contacts to make your life hell. That’s the real danger of hunting vampires, and the book goes to great lengths to make sure that you use a vampire antagonist in a smart way. Only very young or foolish vampires will look for a head-on fight with a gang of hunters.

The book organization mimics Witch Finders. First we have a ton of historical vampire myths, with different sorts of vampires. While you can use the Vampire: the Requiem model for what a vampire is like, you don’t have to. Having your vampires be something quite unexpected will be a fun and nasty curveball for your players. Lots of suggestions and ideas are presented here; some of them creepy, some a bit silly, and some just weird.

Next up is a overview of how the various Compacts and Conspiracies regard and hunt vampires. Nothing too surprising here, though some of the detail is fun. Then we get some new Compacts and a new Conspiracy; the Compacts aren’t anything all that special, really (one is clandestine political group, one is a college sorority of sorts, and one a street gang)… but the Conspiracy is very cool. It’s the “Cainite Heresy”, and it consists of fanatical vampire hunters who hunt vampires using supernatural methods which they learn from… someone. Or something. It’s quite creepy, and has lots of story possibilities.

The last sections of the book contain some new Tactics, a bunch of “Dread Powers” for Vampires to use if you don’t want to use or don’t have Vampire: the Requiem, and a storyteller section with tips and ideas for running vampires as antagonists in a chronicle.

It’s a very solid book. Sure, the Compacts are a bit mundane, but they’re not bad by any means. The Cainite Heresy rocks, and the rest of the book is crammed full of useful ideas. Like with the other Hunter books I’ve read, the writing style here is relaxed and fun to read.

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Minireview: Horror Recognition Guide (Hunter)

The Horror Recognition Guide is a weird book. In a very good way. It’s a combination of short story collection, an idea source for Hunter: the Vigil GMs, and (possibly) an in-game prop – assuming you print out / photocopy pages from it as handouts. Basically, it’s a collection of 16 short stories, each detailing an encounter with… something, by various hunter groups.

The stories are generally quite good, with the best of them being very creepy. Some work better than others (the weird and intricate Gnosopharm is probably the best of the lot), but that’s normal for a short story compilation. These aren’t quite traditional stories as such, being told via in-game journal entries, email clips and such. You could say that this is a book-size collection of the type of fiction that the old Hunter game was full of. If you liked that, you’ll like this. Likewise, if you can’t stand in-game fiction, you probably won’t like this too much. I’d say that the quality here it higher than your normal rpg book intro fiction, though.

I really liked this book, and it highlights one of the strengths of the new WoD: instead of easily identifiable groups of supernaturals like the old WoD, here we have a lot of just plain weird shit, creatures that defy easy categorization. That also makes these stories work so well, since you’re usually never quite sure (as a reader) of what exactly is going on. Well, sometimes you are, some of the tales are clearer than others (assuming you know something of the new WoD)…. but some are just plain strange and creepy.

There are no stats of any sort in this book, and I think that is a very good thing. It lets you read this as “just” a book of modern horror short stories without stumbling across game crunch, and it also lets you use ideas here without potential over-inquisitive players getting much info about what they are facing. I’m sure that some people will find this book worthless because of that lack of crunch, but I think it’s a strong plus point here.

White Wolf does realize that some people would like game stats for this stuff, so there is a PDF supplement available called Collection of Horrors which contains stats for some of these, and some additional critters. I haven’t read that one yet, but I’ve heard praise about it. You can also buy just the PDF for the one specific creature you want, which is very nice.

As I said, I really liked this book, and wish White Wolf would do more of this sort of thing. Of course, I’m one of those weird people who actually like rpg fiction (as long as it’s decently written), so your mileage may well vary.

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