Monday, September 23, 2013

Vampire: Undeath Makers Review


“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” - James Baldwin

Introduction

Dark Phoenix Publishing Entertainment actually included the above quote in their new sourcebook, the Wastelands of Damnation Makers A Sourcebook Expansion For Vampire: Undeath. It may be the highest point of irony. Ever.

As I sit down to write this review, I’m asking myself (and I’m sure others are asking this too): “Why am I even bothering to do this?”. It’s not like I expect that it’s going to be a wonderful turn-around from the fiasco that was Vampire Undeath. We’re also certainly beyond the point where anyone is going to be disappointed if they accidentally pick up the book thinking it’s a new Onyx Path offering.

The reasoning was just to see the gyrations Mykal Lakim Michael Owens goes through to ignore all of the advice he’s been given. And I forgot Jon Stewart had returned to The Daily Show, so I thought I needed to fill some time amusing myself.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the previous review, you can read it on RPG.Net.

Overview

The Wastelands of Damnation Makers A Sourcebook Expansion For Vampire: Undeath is a sourcebook for Dark Phoenix Publishing’s Vampire[:] Undeath LARP/Tabletop/G.A.M.E./L.I.F.E. system. It is only $2 on Scribd, and contains rules for high level vampires.

It does this - barely. Clocking in at 80 pages, the amount of new material might, might, fill out ten pages. The rest is filler - six pages of an introduction to roleplaying - or largely reprinted material from Vampire: Undeath. There’s 30 pages of character creation and then another 12 pages on running games that are pretty much copy-pasted from the main rulebook. Even if the rehashed content is not 100% identical, it’s at least 95%. There’s also filler in the form of multi-page chapter separators and several full page ads. And coupons. That you can redeem. Called Redemption. I totally killed the joke, didn't I?

Can I get a coupon for my time? 

On the subject of ads, about the only artwork from the book is for the Daemoni sourcebook preview, which has already been known to have been lifted from a Halloween costume website. See, anyone can write like Mykal Lakim! 

Though the skull might be an improvement over the Selena Gomez lookalike
He’s apparently now so gunshy about art he’s even left out illustrations that are referenced in the book: 

“Anytime you need to talk or do something Out of Character, raise your arm at your side, as you see here (to the right). This indicates that you are Out of Character.”

I think these would fit right in

Aside from the reprinted material and recycled costume website art, we get a handful of “advanced skills”, like Administration (“Your character is able to use their leadership in such a way that they can convince someone of something with managerial force emphasis mine), Intimacy, and Seduction - you know, things you need to be really old to know how to do. There’s a few “new” Edges that are mostly expansions of existing ones. Never mind that Greater Blush of Health is pretty much spot on for the Merit Blush of Health from Vampire: The Masquerade. That’s merely a coincidence. Then there’s the Stutter Step Edge, which is particularly useful if you’re playing tennis. There’s also some very brief and non substantive information on a smattering of subjects like Houses and how Makers interact with their progeny. Apparently it looks like a game of 20 questions:

Elder: “Who are you?”
Liberi: “John.”
Elder: “John? Who do you belong to, John?”
Liberi: “I belong to Markus.”
Elder: “What is your House?”
Liberi: “House Eligiere, Sir.”
Elder: “What is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?”
Liberi: “African or European, sir?”

We do get some expanded rules or descriptions on powers geriatric vampires can possess. Such as Hybernate (because we need to randomly put more “y’s” in thyngs). Or Discord, which makes things around vampires get crappier as time goes on (like this game line). Or how Makers feel what their children feel and know where they are. I can already do this by checking my kids' Facebook and turning the GPS tracking on their cell phones on. We get an expanded chart for “blood scrying” (or blood walking, or Obdukemoria which is a completely made-up word that sounds like something Gandalf would say). Delirium is given a full description of its effects, which amounts to various levels of mortals not remembering what they've seen. This is, of course, not inspired by Werewolf: the Apocalypse’s Delirium because it’s obviously for vampires and not werewolves. High level vampire blood is more potent than low level vampire blood. But that’s not like the World of Darkness, because Vampire: Undeath has levels and Vampire has gen…aw, crap. Look, it’s exactly the same thing.

The Main Event

There are so many things Mykal Lakim doesn’t seem to quite get, and all of them are concentrated into this one book. It’s like cargo cult game design - if you ape how other companies set up their books, it’s guaranteed to succeed! Granted, he's not the only one to have fallen into that trap. It's just everyone else did more than a decade ago.


The writing has improved slightly - but not much - and is just awkward in many places. He still likes to define words that pretty much everyone has a grasp on:
By definition, a Skill is “the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, ect. [sic], to do something well, or a competent excellence in performance; expertness.”
It did make for a very anemic Mangling The English Language with Mykal Lakim section for this review, so I apologize in advance. If it makes it any better, read them all in the voice of Morgan Freeman, at least that’s a little funny.

"The skies over their mountain-home a permanent cloudy day almost enabling the monsters who dwell there the ability to walk about regardless of the time without fear of the sun." - I ran this through Google translate a few times and it didn't really make it any worse: "Sky, what they are in the mountain on a cloudy day, almost permanently on the monsters that dwell there is the ability to walk, regardless of the time without the fear of the sun"
"the smell of potent blood perks up most elder ears" - Someone might have a case of synesthesia. “I can hear dandelions! And the salt of the waves!”
"elders are able to keep fighting and injuring themselves while ignoring their wounds" - I...I’ll just leave this one alone.
"As the characters walk down the long corridor, they notice the modern conveniences like red-brick stop after about ten feet and older cement and at long last, carved stone can be seen." - I can still remember a time before we invented brick. And cement. It was a simpler time.
Then there’s his tenuous grasp of copyright law:
Snapshot taken from the PDF. Suck it, fair use FTW. 
Beyond not knowing what a supplement should be or do, and having about as strong of a grasp on copyright law as a limp noodle (or is that a lymp noodle?), we also have Lakim’s biting criticism on the state of roleplaying games circa 1995:

“Vampire: Undeath is not a storytelling game. It is not meant to be played sitting around a table as if the players and Director were having a discussion.“
Of course, he has the perfect solution for improving rpgs so people don't have to have these “discussions” between the players and the Director:

“When in narrator-mode, a Director simply describes imaginary elements or ensures that all players understand the imaginary elements [...]”
So, look, we get it. It’s supposed to be a LARP and you feel the need to try to make Rock-Paper-Scissors seem revolutionary and cool and better than tabletop roleplaying, because otherwise the stream of 17-year old goth girls coming out to the park for the game (or G.A.M.E. or whatever) will dry up.


Conclusion

Makers is an uninventive sourcebook with an identity crisis and a lot of filler material. Even the elements like Obdubukkakemoria have their novelty value spread extremely thin with nothing mechanically unique to anchor them to the game. You could recreate the ability in, say, Fate Core in about five minutes (well, you can recreate anything in Fate Core in five minutes but that’s beside the point). While specifics of some abilities like Discord or how Makers can sense their children might be different from other games (like in the World of Darkness), overall the implementation is just as derivative, bland and uninspired as Vampire Undeath.

Bundle of Holding is pay what you want, and changes frequently. You can get great games, for a reasonable price. Drop your $2 on that instead (I’d suggest a hell of a lot more) and skip Makers. Especially for vampires.