A few weeks back I went crazy and read this rulebook from cover to cover. I’ve been doing this as of late, reading old rule books from cover-to-cover. AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide will be reviewed next.
The premise of Vampire: The Dark Ages is this: you get to play a vampire character in the high-medieval period (circa 1200 C.E.) where you don’t have to conceal your powers from mortals. Vampires pretty much rule the night, but they still have to be careful since its common knowledge, not superstition, that vampires exist and the church and perhaps a few pious villagers know how to fight them.
And, in keeping with the standard White Wolf/Storyteller System theme: your character must struggle to maintain his or her humanity and resist the hungry beast within. Angst. Gravitas. And all that.
I remember buying Vampire: The Dark Ages years ago at used book store for cheap–for something like $5. I’d never intended to run it–just mine the book for ideas, and peruse it from time-to-time. It does have nice layout inside resembling, perhaps, a medieval manuscripts.
Soon after I bought it, a couple of my friends, some die-hard Vampire: The Masquerade types demanded that I run a game. Like on the spot. Without really getting acquainted with the rules.
What happened next was a folly of an RPG session where the players kept telling me, “my character wouldn’t do that,” and “that’s not what the rules intended.” So much for that. Vampire: The Dark Ages went on to languish on my shelf.
I blame part of what happened on the rulebook itself; it’s a dense tome where the rules themselves aren’t explained or fleshed out until chapters 6 & 7. Before then you’ve got to read all of the background information about the high medieval setting and the vampire clans. Vampires belonging to a given clan have a standard array of 2-3 “disciplines” can choose from.
Some clans are better at using sorcery (Tremere), others are good and brute strength (Venture), while others can sneak around (Ravnos).
Vampire: The Dark Ages uses ten-sided-dice to resolve actions. During character creation you get points to purchases “dots” next to your characters skills and attributes. Each “dot” allows you to roll an another die.
To take a given action, you add one of your attributes to skill to get your “dice pool,” say Perception + Alertness to spot a hidden enemy. Then you roll the dice.
The target numbers for most actions are 6 or 7. The more success you roll, the more successful your character’s action, and the Storyteller (the Game Master) describes what happens.
This is one thing that turned me off about the Storyteller system, and part of the reason my players gave me grief back in the day. I just didn’t know the “right” combinations for die rolls. I made a lot of stuff up. The sourcebook text suggested more of “diceless” style of play with certain rolls only happening as a last result.
Another major issue (at least in my case): I’ve never had the inclination to play a vampire character. Running that session all those years ago was a weird experience–especially since I was used to running RPGs like D&D.
Still, there’s a lot to like about Vampire: The Dark Ages. It does capture the tone of the dark medieval world fairly well.
Reading the book again gave me all kinds of ideas for pitting human characters these vampires. In fact, I can easily see some kind of campaign crossover with Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.
Imagine a D&D/d20 game where the vampire don’t have “standard” abilities out of the Monster Manual, but clan disciplines. This would, indeed, make vampires far more unique.
Players wouldn’t know what to expect.
What are you experiences with Vampire: The Dark Ages? Would you ever try playing it again?