Sunday 23 December 2012

Blood of the Night

Vampires have always been a popular part of fantasy and gothic horror. Recent years have certainly seen a surge in vampire-based fiction, from True Blood (based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries book series) to—shudder—the Twilight series. Roleplaying games have also not been bereft of vampiric undead. Vampires have shown up as everything from generic monsters to the centrepiece for entire games and/or campaigns, such as the Dungeons and Dragons Ravenloft campaign setting, which was based on an adventure of the same name.

As Pathfinder is an evolution of the Dungeons and Dragons game, naturally there are vampires in the game. The Golarion campaign setting even has an entire country, Ustalav, which is centred around gothic horror elements like vampires. There are also numerous other areas of the world in which an encounter with a vampire is not an unlikely thing. However, while there has been quite a bit of information about some of these areas (such as Ustalav in Rule of Fear), there has not been much on vampires themselves (even Undead Revisited does not have a section on vampires). Pathfinder Player Companion: Blood of the Night is the first product to focus specifically on the vampires (and vampire descendants) of Golarion.

At first glance, it may seem a bit odd that this is a player’s book, since vampires generally come under the purview of the gamemaster. Indeed, many GMs will likely feel uncomfortable allowing this book into their campaigns and others may restrict its use to only thematically appropriate campaigns. The idea of player character vampires is often thought of as best left to games like Vampire: the Masquerade, not games like Pathfinder. However, there are also many GMs eager to try such an idea and probably many more players eager to try it, not to mention those interested in playing dhampirs (the progeny of vampires) or vampire-hunter characters. Blood of the Night provides resources for those players and GMs.

Overall, the book is a bit of a mixed bag. It tries to please three similar, but still different, groups in the space of only 32 pages, and as a result, comes out a little lacking. That’s not to say it’s a bad book; it’s a pretty good book, all things considered. It’s just that some people may not find it quite to their expectations. People looking to play vampires may be put off by the space devoted to roles and feats for vampire hunters. People looking to play vampire hunters might find the information on the different kinds of vampires invaluable, but be put off by the space dedicated to dhampir heritages. And while the description of the book on the back cover (and on Paizo’s website) is not misleading, the book shares a naming pattern with Blood of Fiends and Blood of Angels. Those books both deal exclusively with the progeny of their respective titular creatures. As such, there may be people misled into believing Blood of the Night is exclusively about dhampirs.

That said, there is a lot of useful information in this book. In fact, I suspect this book will see more use by GMs than players, despite being a Player Companion. I know I’ll get more use out of it as a GM, as my players tend not to be all that interested in unusual races (aasimars and tieflings are about the most “exotic” they ever go). The book begins with an overview of vampires, providing a brief history of how vampires first arose in the world and information on generic vampire desires. It follows this with information on each of the four kinds of vampire on Golarion: jiang-shi, moroi, nosferatu, and vetala. The moroi is the “generic” vampire found in the Bestiary. I particularly like that the moroi have been given their own name to make them a distinct group. It adds just that little more flavour to Golarion that many other worlds don’t have (while many other settings often have different kinds of vampires, there usually still remains a standard vampire that is not uniquely identifiable other than by not having an identifier). As well as containing information on their desires and “secrets”, the sections for each vampire type also contain roles and traits for those vampires. There are then two pages devoted specifically to playing vampire characters, and how to fit them into campaigns.

After this, the book moves on to dhampirs, providing background, roles, and traits for dhampirs in general, then moving on to “dhampir heritages”. Heritages are variant races based on the type of vampire the dhampir is descended from. While this section is only two pages long, it is probably the most useful player section of the book, providing just enough information to make truly unique dhampir characters. There is one oddity, though. Ajibachanas (vetala-born dhampirs) have ability modifiers of +2 Dex, +2 Wis, -2 Int. Despite the Intelligence penalty, the descriptive text makes them out to be scholarly motivated and yearning for knowledge. I have to wonder if there’s a misprint, and that the Wisdom and Intelligence modifiers should be switched.

After dhampirs, Blood of the Night returns to vampires with a new rules subsystem for handling the “Hunger”, the drive vampires have for blood, consciousness, or youth. It provides withdrawal effects for vampires who have not fed in a while, as well as bonuses for the period immediately following feeding. This system will be particularly useful for helping balance vampire PCs with non-vampire PCs. It could also be useful for a game centred around all PCs as vampires. However, some people may find it extra paperwork that they’d rather not have.

The information Blood of the Night has on vampire hunters is the scarcest of the different topics covered in the book. There are four roles (arcane, cunning, divine, and martial slayers) as well as a handful of feats, spells, and magic items specifically for vampire hunters. Some people may be a bit disappointed by this, but it helps to remember that all the descriptive information on vampires and dhampirs is also useful to vampire hunters, providing them with the knowledge set to go along with their hunting abilities. The book ends with new feats (for slayers and vampires), spells, and magic items.

Visually, the book is one of the most beautiful in the entire Player Companion line. The background and border colours work well to set the mood and draw the reader in. The artwork throughout is generally quite distinctive, often with a flavour and style not seen in other Pathfinder books. I do have one problem here, however, and that is with the spread on the centre two pages. While the artwork is really quite beautiful, it serves no real purpose other than to follow a pattern set up by the previous couple of Player Companion books. Considering the redesign of the Player Companion line was, at least in part, to free the books from following specific patterns, it seems odd that this book seems to be falling into the pattern trap. Varisia, Birthplace of Legends provided a map of Varisia drawn in a style that people would actually find in the game world. Knights of the Inner Sea contained a diagram of the “Anatomy of a Knight”. While both those spreads were almost entirely artistic in nature, they were artworks that contained a wealth of valuable information for players. In Blood of the Night, we get a nice picture of a vampire, a wolf, a bat, and some rats, along with three feats that augment a vampire’s transformation abilities. These three feats are spread out across the two pages, with large amounts of space between them. Since the picture filling this space doesn’t actually convey any information, these two centre pages take on the appearance of a lot of wasted space. I hope that this doesn’t become a recurring trend in future books. An artistic spread on the centre two pages is great if it serves a purpose and conveys useful information. Otherwise, there’s no need to treat the centre pages any differently than the other pages of the book.

Overall, I like Blood of the Night. It’s far from the best Golarion sourcebook, but it does contain information that will enrich games containing vampires and/or dhampirs, whether as player characters or as villains. It’s biggest problem comes from trying to do too much in too little space, and ending up not doing enough for any one thing. However, the book has provided me with a flood of ideas for future campaigns, and that is never a bad thing.

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting! I still want to play a dhampir sometime, though that will probably have to wait until we start our all-evil campaign. And that will come after we've played Rise of the Runelords, so it'll take a while :P But when the time comes, I definately want this book!