Vampire: The Masquerade
White Wolf, 1992
What you get/need
Vampire: The Masquerade, Second Edition, $28.00
The Vampire Players Guide, Second Edition, $22.00
Concept - 5
Shouldn't the name just say it all, right there? The basic game premise is that you are a vampire, a blood-sucking spawn of the night. As a sharp-toothed wonder you venture out at night to feed (i.e. suck blood), party, and improve your standing in social circles without letting all the mortals out there know what you truly are (a vampire, natch!). The main sourcebook places your vampire in gothic-punk modern time, circa 1980-1990. Makes for an interesting premise as the main thrust of a game.
Character Creation - 5
Grab your crayons, kiddies! We're coloring dots tonight! Vampire, and all other White Wolf games, work off a dot-based system. All Attributes, Advantages, and Abilities are on a 1-5 "star" rating (just like restaurants and movies), two being average, five being "superb". The player chooses between three categories in both Attributes and Abilities, deciding which category is strongest, weakest, and average for that character. The player then distributes points between the categories, molding the character to the players desire. After those points have been distributed the player then gets 15 freebie points to spread about as he/she desires. To enable the player to spend or gain more points, the Vampire Players Guide also contains Merits and Flaws. The process is relatively easy. Enabling the player to come up with a character customized to their liking, while not being laboriously mathematical or annoyingly inefficient.
Playability - 3
This is the part where a point-based (or dot-based) system breaks down for me. Difficulty defines a target number, and how many numbers hit or are higher than the target number add to the greatness of the success. Higher prowess allows for a greater number of dice to be rolled. I still have a big qualm about the way levels of difficulties are assigned. What may be easy for the player may not be for the GM (or StoryTeller in White Wolf's case), thus the GM could possibly assign it a higher number to target than necessary. Also, having more dice does not necessarily give you a greater chance for success, after all it also adds to the number of times you can fail.
Writing - 5
Rarely has a rule-book been so entertaining, enlightening, and engrossing than the White Wolf books; from the real-life quotes scattered through the book, to the fictional vampire quotes, to the well-organized style has any book been so full of fun padding! Yep, padding. Drivel that will probably never be used or even considered in the game. But even outside of the puffery that turns the rulebook into a 268 page tome the book is still well-written, easy to understand, and easy to read. Way to go White Wolf!
Highs - A fun world, that works well in conjunction with the other White Wolf worlds. Really fun to fill in all those dots!
Lows - That darn dot-based system, while some people may like it I sure don't! Also the sheet needs room for skills that people add in themselves!
Final Call - Are you into Goth? Do you have a thing for people with pointy teeth? This is the game that takes you to the universe... and if you get really bored you can just read the quotes!