Thursday, May 28, 2020

Ten Tips for Running the Camarilla in V5


V5 Chronicle Tips

2. Ten Tips to Running the Second Inquisition in V5
3. Ten Tips to Running the Sabbat in V5
4. Ten Chronicles for Sabbat PCs in V5
5. Ten Tips to Running the Camarilla in V5
Hey folks,

    My Top Ten Lists for Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition have proven pretty popular and I thought I would do another list about the most popular faction in the game. The Camarilla has gone through some of the most dramatic changes since its inception while maintaining its fundamental core. They are the ivory tower elite, the rich, the powerful, and the eldest of the vampire race. They pull the strings from the shadows and jockey for position among themselves even when they should unite against mutual threats.

    The feudal system of the Camarilla continues past the disastrous Council of Prague and Third Anarch Revolt. It has gained great power and lost much simultaneously. New Blood is not necessarily welcomed but has greater opportunities than ever to claim the power abandoned by Elders drawn to the Middle East.

1. The Camarilla is exclusive

    The biggest change that has happened to the Ivory Tower is the fact that the Camarilla is no longer pretending at representing all Kindred. It has instead adopted the policy that it is an exclusive club that one must earn the right to membership in. In practical terms, you need sponsorship of existing members to be allowed into the same clubs and Elysiums that were previously open to all undead. Thin Bloods, Caitiff, and the other dregs of undead society need not apply. Even then, though, there are exceptions as Prince Helena Panhard keeps a Thin Blood as a "Primogen" just to amuse herself.

2. The Camarilla is stronger, not weaker

    The Camarilla was seemingly weakened by the expelling of the Brujah and loss of the Gangrel to independent status but this is no longer the case. They have absorbed the Banu Haqim and half the Lasombra clan into their ranks. This has resulted in them maintaining their original membership number as well as dramatically cutting down on the infighting. At least on the surface. Vampires being vampires means these newcomers are eager to seize power and prestige for themselves as much as any other Ivory Tower elitist. Both have brought flesh allies, contacts, funds, and resources with them. Also, the Camarilla didn't lose its loyalist Brujah or Gangrel that chose to stay within its ranks. Just because they don't have a Justicar or Inner Council member doesn't mean they are not well-represented.

3. The Camarilla has achieved dramatic victories


    The Camarilla has more or less retaken all of the land on the East Coast of the United States that it lost to the Sabbat in 1999, with the important exception of Washington D.C (see below). It has furthermore taken the cities of Mexico City and Montreal, two of the Sabbat's greatest strongholds. Furthermore, Miami and Rio have also half-fallen to the Camarilla, though they maintain vast Sabbat presences. They have even established a presence in Tokyo, which means that the length and width of the Ivory Tower's shadow has never been larger. Victory on all fronts. This, of course, is a lie.

 4. The Camarilla has suffered humiliating defeats

    The Camarilla's successes are matched only by its losses. The fall of Vienna didn't just cripple the Tremere, it also struck a blow against one of the strongest bastions of Camarilla force. The purge of London also removed any doubt the Second Inquisition could be stopped by the Camarilla and its vampire-less streets remain a monument to Kindred arrogance. Furthermore, the Camarilla badly misjudged the Anarchs and lost both Las Vegas as well as Berlin to their fangs. Marcus Vitel sits on the throne of Washington D.C. as its "Anarch" Emperor. Throw in the assassination of a vampire widely regarded as the leader of the Camarilla, Hadestadt, by one of its own Archons, Theo Bell, and the prestige of the organization has suffered. This is a greater blow than the losses themselves.

5. The Camarilla has embraced mysticism, religion, and superstition

    The Camarilla has always had a hypocritical relationship with ancestor worship, Gehenna Cults, Noddism, and religion. Technically, one of the earliest secular organizations, it denied the existence of the Antediluvians in public while demanding Neonates recite their lineage back to Caine. Recent events have removed the pretense. Cults to Mithras, the Cainite Heresy, Menele, Michael, and others have left the parlors of crumbling mansions to be spread in Elysiums across the Ivory Tower. The Camarilla no longer denies the existence of the Antediluvians even if they do not necessarily admit Gehenna is ongoing. Crazier groups and blood rituals also remove one of the once greatest differences from the Sabbat.

6. The Camarilla has made its enemies stronger


    Rafael de Corazon would be (and probably is) disgusted with the failures of intrigue that his organization has suffered in recent years. Despite the fact it is made of some of the greatest Machiavellian schemers of all time, not all of its members are Caesars or Sun Tzu. Some are Caligulas or Richard II's. The Camarilla has made some of the worst blunders in its 600 year history during the past two decades. This may be due to the Beckoning some of its wisest minds or it may just be due to having so much success it got complacent. The Camarilla is responsible for the Second Inquisition due to attempting to use US government agencies against the Anarchs as well as Sabbat. It alienated the moderate Followers of Set (or "Ministry") into joining the Anarchs by denying its invitation after the assassination of its delegation. It cast out the Brujah over the actions of one in a foolish overreaction. It has also alienated other younger Kindred by closing its ranks and focusing on low-tech communication. Pride goeth before the fall even among Kindred.

7. The Camarilla pretends at eschewing technology 


    The Camarilla has decided that Kindred must remove their internet footprint and avoid using modern technology while conducting Kindred business. This has alienated many Kindred Embraced in the past few years that think of it as going without running water or electricity. As always, the Camarilla has rules for me and rules for thee, though. In a Camarilla city you should expect to see Elders delivering hand-written invitations by courier, pneumatic tubes, or even carrier pigeon. Switch-boards and things from John Wick should be common. However, that doesn't mean their ghouls aren't using cellphones or laptops for their masters. Camarilla Ventrue still invest in Silicon Valley and younger members make their fortunes there to buy themselves into the elite. As with many Camarilla rules, it is theater primarily. The pretext allows Princes more latitude to find a reason for the Sheriff to punish troublemakers, though.

8. The Beckoning is a blessing and a curse

    The exact number of Elders Beckoned to the Middle East is anyone's guess but it is small enough to deny the phenomenon exists but large enough to affect the power base of Camarilla society.  Using Chicago by Night 5th Edition as a default example: Elders Inyanga, Khalid, Menele, and others were Beckoned while others like Critias or Helena avoided it. This has created new openings for younger Kindred like Kevin Jackson to rise to power. This and the exile of "lesser" Kindred has created a safety valve that means there's more room to rise up to higher ranks within the Ivory Tower. It is still a gerontocracy but one where there's been a power vacuum created by Ancients calling them or the Sabbat fangs that await them in the Gehenna War. It should be noted that Beckoned Elders don't necessarily vanish completely. Enough remain in contact with the Camarilla via phone or messenger that they can share how badly the Gehenna War is going. Even if they can't explain why they are fighting it or for who.


9. The Camarilla has made allies in unlikely places

    The Camarilla is moving to becoming a more international institution even as it burns bridges with many of its former allies. What was once ancient "Here be Monsters" lands are now just a phone call or plane ride away. The Ashirra, long considered a no man's land for Kindred, has formed a formal treaty with the Camarilla. This means large portions of both Africa and the Middle East are now available to visit even as the Gehenna War wages around them. Alliances with Blood Cults, the Hecata, and other groups are also things an enterprising Prince or Archon might pursue.

10. The Camarilla plays the Long Game

    The Camarilla is not overly worried about the Second Inquisition, the resurgence of the Anarchs, or even the Masquerade in the 21st century. They are used to playing the long game and plan to deal with their enemies subtlety rather than head on. In the coming years, the Camarilla will attack the Church, CIA, NSA, FBI, and other groups through their funding as well as reputations. They will buy up property in Anarch territories and subvert its members with bribes. They will divide and conquer by pitting their enemies against one another. They will reward whoever betrays their enemies and offer position to the survivors. In the end, they don't have any ideology to protect but ruling the world and who wouldn't want to join the group that does?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Terminal Secrets (Cerberus #2) by Andy Peloquin review


    I was a big fan of CERBERUS: ASSASSINATION PROTOCOL when it came out a few months ago and pre-ordered the sequel after I finished it. It was a solid gritty space opera story about an assassin working for a corrupt government and it ended on a cliffhanger. Now the sequel has arrived on my Kindle and I swiftly read it through in a single day. I very much enjoyed it and while I have a few issues, I am all ready for the third book in the series.

    The premise is Nolan Garret is the assassin Cerberus. A former space marine called a Silverguard, he rids the galaxy of its worst scum for his employer. Unfortunately, Nolan is over a barrel as his brother is imprisoned for treason and his boss doesn't mind using that for leverage. Having uncovered his boss is involved in criminal dealings, he's decided to play it cool and continue to investigate while pretending to be a loyal employee. This sends him back to his homeworld, currently in a mining dispute between corporations, and causes him to face his past.

    I like Nolan Garret as a protagonist and think he's always entertaining to read. He's a man fanatically devoted to the honor of the Silverguard, even when it's increasingly clear that not all of them hold the same degree of nobility that he ascribes to its members. He's also an assassin who makes ample use of technology as well as his wits to do some truly thrilling action scenes. He's a bit too noble but has enough flaws that it's still believable. I also like his relationship with his A.I. who provides a kind of sounding board for a lot of inner character development that wouldn't otherwise be possible.

    This book has a strong contrast to the first one as instead of taking place in a densely packed urban cityscape, it goes to a rural mining community that isn't too far removed from the 20th century. The book takes on the features of a Neo-Western, really, with Nolan being the gunslinger who needs to protect the locals from the big bad newcomers that are polluting the area by extracting heavy metals. They have military grade weapons and a bunch of goons that our hero is going to have to go through one-by-one in order to stop it. Thankfully, this doesn't have to be done on his own time since his target as a government assassin is one of them.

    Complicating this issue is the fact that Moabus is his hometown and it's full of uncomfortable relationships he's left behind like his ex-girlfriend Callie as well as school rival Gavin that is now part of the bad guy's mooks. He's also still suffering from the traumatic death of his parents in a car accident that he was part of. Enough of an event that he never wanted to return to Moabus again despite his lingering feelings for Callie. There's a lot of good action, mystery, adventure, and crazy sci-fi battle scenes through the book. Fans of progressive fiction will also note there's a trans character that Garret knew as a child growing up whose existence gets a, "Oh that's neat. Good for you" reaction.

    Criticism-wise, I have to say I much preferred the gritty megacity setting of the first book. Moabus feels a little too normal and while farmers like Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru can exist in science fiction, it hurt the feel of the book I believe to have things so similar to present times. I will admit to finding humor that flannel and Daisy Dukes survive to the 41st century. I also feel the narrative made an excellent twist about something one of Garret's love interests did to him that was genuinely shocking, only to roll it back and reduce the impact of the event. Finally, there's a character named Hal that I very much liked but didn't think they got nearly enough screen-time.

    In conclusion, I definitely am going to be picking up the second volume. If you like audiobooks, I also recommend picking up the Audible version as the narrator did a fantastic job.

Available here

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Psycho Killers in Love now available for pre-order


 Hey folks,

I have some awesome news. The latest entry into my UNITED STATES OF MONSTERS series (Brightblade, Bright Falls Mysteries, Red Room, Straight Outta Fangton) series is now available for pre-order. PSYCHO KILLERS IN LOVE a homage to slasher movies, slasher villains, and all those wonderful invincible villains as well as their Final Girls.

FROM THE BEST-SELLING AUTHOR OF THE SUPERVILLAINY SAGA:
 

What if all the villains of slasher movies were real? What if the movies made about them were just adaptations of real-life killers with supernatural powers? This is a fact known to William and Carrie because their father, Billy the Undying, was one of the worst slashers of all time. So much so that they've spent the past decade in an asylum out of fear they'd end up just like him. Escaping, the two have decided to form a new life on the road. Except, a chance encounter in a dingy diner introduces William to the girl of his dreams.
 

Too bad she's a girl on a mission to kill all slashers. But maybe the best way to catch a supernatural serial killer is with another pair of them.

Enjoy this exciting prequel to the United States of Monsters books!


Available for purchase here

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Addendum: Ten Chronicles for Sabbat PCs in V5


V5 Chronicle Tips

2. Ten Tips to Running the Second Inquisition in V5
3. Ten Tips to Running the Sabbat in V5
4. Ten Chronicles for Sabbat PCs in V5
5. Ten Tips to Running the Camarilla in V5
Hey folks,

I really enjoyed everyone's feedback on my Top Ten Sabbat Tips for V5. It was really helpful and the response was genuinely positive. However, there was one negative reception and that came from the people who were die-hard Sabbat players and were hoping for something that would allow them to continue on with their Sword of Caine games.

This is difficult because of multiple reasons. While it would be possible to do Antitribu or Lasombra characters, there's still no official write-up for Clan Tzimisce. Given the historic role the Fiends have played among the Sabbat, this makes doing a Sabbat campaign more difficult. Also, the new Humanity system seems to preclude Paths and while you could just ignore it and treat Paths as a blood cult with specific convictions, that'll be difficult. I, sadly, have no answers.

I do, however, have about ten Chronicle ideas which I think could be useful to Sabbat players who want to update their campaigns to the V5 era. They're premises that I think could be quite enjoyable to someone who wishes to swear allegiance to the Regent of the Sabbat whoever they may be. I'm sure more focused ideas will come out once we have information on the sect. I hope people enjoy what I've come up with.

1:] Gehenna Warriors

The player characters are Embraced US military personnel or locals that have been sent by the Sabbat to hunt down and destroy ancients in hidden fortresses across the land. They're cannon fodder but have the opportunity to discover ancient secrets and use their specialized skill as well as equipment to earn a place for themselves in the Sword of Caine. They may also attempt to escape from the Sabbat and return to their mortal lives (but is there a place for a monster among them?). One part Three Kings, one part Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones, and one part Apocalypse Now. A good campaign to adapt the Diablerie modules to a new setting.

2:] Lasombra Hunters

The Lasombra have betrayed the sect they've founded and are currently engaged in an unacknowledged Civil War. The PCs have been gathered by a Cardinal to hunt down and destroy the defectors as a lesson to the others that the Sabbat are not going to tolerate the Antitribu anymore than they were before. But is it possible to stem the tide of defectors and what rewards can they expect for trying to deal with the Keeper's treason? Is it anything more than an early grave? It is a Chronicle that will take the pack into Camarilla, Anarch, and Lasombra-ruled territories to take down their prey.

3:] The Last Bastion

The Archbishop is dead at the hands of his treacherous childe and the Templar took his pack to Syria. The PCs are now the highest ranking Sabbat in Miami, Florida with the few older vampires unwilling to do what is necessary. They must secure the city against Camarilla, Second Inquisition, and Anarch attacks. Sabbat refugees are coming to the city but can they be trusted. Are they Lasombra traitors seeking prey to hand over to their Camarilla allies? Or perhaps beings driven mad by what they saw in the Gehenna Wars? Religious fanatics for a blood cult? Or people who can help make a new sect from the ashes?

4:] Walking the Path

The PCs are all Low Humanity vampires who are near-wightdom when they are presented to an aged Sabbat Priest who leads them each on a spiritual journey to find their own Paths. Using variants of the Humanity rules, they must gain Ambitions, Convictions, and undead Touchstones while mastering the secrets of Sabbat spirituality. The politics of the local blood cults and lack of spirituality from other Sabbat in their hometown are things they must deal with.

5:] Diplomats of Zillah

The player characters are given the rank of ambassadors by a high ranking member of the Sabbat like Vykos, Gratiano, or Lucita. They are appointed to go to groups of Anarchs, blood cults, Hecata, bahari, or even Thin Bloods to make offers to them to join the Sword of Caine. The Sword of Caine needs allies now and it is the job of the PCs to explain why they are superior to the other options out there. This is a more talking-focused game than combat.

6:] Hunting the Hunters

The Camarilla cowers before the Second Inquisition while the Anarchs provide no leadership. The Sabbat offers an alternative: slaughter them all. The PCs are made into a War Pack with the ghoul of hunting down, interrogating/torturing, and executing every single Second Inquisition hunter they can lay their hands on. The Sabbat was forged in the fire of the Inquisition and now it is their time to be the heroes that the Cainites need by exterminating the food that fights back.

7:] The Return of the King

An adaptation of Under a Blood Red Moon, the PCs are part of a joint Sabbat effort to retake Mexico City or Montreal from the Camarilla. This is going to be done by setting up false flag operations to cause a war between the newly triumphant Ivory Tower and the local shifters. However, there's the hint of infernalism among the allies that the PCs have made as well as hints they are working for other masters when they recruit their own werewolf allies. But is retaking one of the bedrocks of the Sabbat worth working with the Devil?

8:] The Pontifix of Enoch

The Sabbat have managed to take over a new capital like Rio, Rome, Atlanta, or one of the cities mentioned above. It is time to select a new Regent of the Sabbat to unite all the various feuding factions and restore the Sabbat to its once-glorious heritage. Schemes and lies fill the city as everyone wants to forward their favorite candidate. Some may even ally with one of the many new factions present to gain an advantage. The PCs can decide who will sit on the Throne of Caine but will it be who is best for the sect or themselves?

9:] Vicissitude no more

The PCs are sent on a harrowing mission into Transylvania with a mysterious Elder who wants their help in slaying a demon. They successfully manage to kill the creature in a Cathedral of Flesh, only to reveal it was Kupala and their aid was Dracula himself. Vicissitude starts to disappear from the Tzimisce clan across the board and replaced instead with other Disciplines like Protean. The conflict among the Tzimisce that follows is immense but they are now playable again. The PCs can explore how to recreate Vicissitude through Blood Sorcery.

10:] The Fall of London...to the Sabbat

A remix of the Fall of London Chronicle with the PCs answering not to Mithras but Monty Coven. He plans to cleanse London of all its Camarilla filth and declare it the new capital of the Sabbat but he needs a ritual for his Tremere Antitribu allies to make him a 4th generation badass. The PCs must outwith the locals, kill the Camarilla filth, and recruit the few worthy to prepare for the new Regent's ascension. Except Mithras may start pushing Monty out and they must make some hard decisions.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Top Ten Tips for Running the Sabbat in V5


V5 Chronicle Tips

2. Ten Tips to Running the Second Inquisition in V5
3. Ten Tips to Running the Sabbat in V5
4. Ten Chronicles for Sabbat PCs in V5
5. Ten Tips to Running the Camarilla in V5
    The Sabbat are one of the three pillars of Vampire: The Masquerade and the conflict between them, the Camarilla, and the Anarchs remains the central focus of the game. The battle between Elders and Neonates, the Antediluvians and their progeny, plus unexpected groups like the Drowned or Second Inquisition are minor by comparison. However, the Sabbat has only sporadically covered by Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition. So much so that many people wonder if the organization still exists or has been written out. This is very upsetting to those who preferred to play them over other sects and embraced (no pun intended) their inner monster.

    So, I've decided to do another Top Ten list that I hope will help those fans of the Black Hand know what's going on with their favorite sect. All of the information below comes from the books presently released for 5th Edition or from the developers of upcoming board games like Chapters. Of particular help was The Chicago Folios and Chicago by Night 5th Edition's Lasombra chapter.

1. The Sabbat still exists 


    The Sabbat have taken some heavy blows in the past twenty years. The Fourth Sabbat Civil War after the death of the Regent proved to be less important than the subsequent events. The Camarilla took Sabbat strongholds of Mexico City and Montreal, the Lasombra clan suffered a mass defection, their American branch has abandoned most of its territory, and the Second Inquisition has hit the sect particularly hard. There is also rumors that it is suffering attacks by the Drowned in Central and South America. Nevertheless, the Sword of Caine remains alive but diminished. Its primary focus remains the Gehenna War but packs, infiltrators, fortress cities, and breakaway groups like the Seven Fires carry out their dark mission.

2. The Gehenna Crusade is ongoing
 

    The Gehenna Crusade is a mission by the Sabbat akin to their 1999 war against the Camarilla of the East Coast, except even larger. A massive amount of Sabbat chose to abandon their cities to go seek out the Antediliuvians in the Middle East. It is now the primary focus of their military efforts as well as resources. Perhaps surprisingly, they found a lot of Ancients and have managed to destroy them at great cost. The Beckoning has also summoned thousands of vampires to the Middle East to do battle with the Sabbat, luring out the Elders of the Camarilla in open battle. The Sabbat is winning this conflict according to the Ivory Tower and indulging in massive amounts of diablerie.

3. The Lasombra Clan is divided

    While the statement the Lasombra have defected to the Camarilla makes for good copy, it's not entirely accurate. More precisely, it is good to say that half of the Lasombra have defected to the Camarilla and have attempted to kill their sect mates on their way out. Each Lasombra defector requires an older member of the Sabbat to turn over, staked or destroyed, in order to receive sanctuary. This has certainly resulted in a lot of damage to the sect as well as confusion but many Keepers remain loyal to the mission. If for no other reason than the Sabbat is where they've built their powerbases. Nevertheless, this is akin to a civil war in the Clan and has badly damaged its once-great purity of purpose.

4. The Beast mastered the Sabbat, not the Sabbat mastered the Beast

    An implied recent development is the Sabbat have lost their war with the Beast. Already the most monstrous, inhuman, and "evil" of sects--the Sabbat always had a claim to fame that they had a better control over their monstrous natures than the Camarilla. Paths of Enlightenment, the Vinculum, and brutal dictatorship kept the ranks in line. It appears this has completely failed with the diablerie, blood addiction, and monstrousness of recent events causing many Sabbat members to fall to the Beast permanently. Groups like the Seven Fires are indiscriminately violent and members have begun to turn on each other. Their cruelty was always present and, indeed, a point of pride but now seems to be the point. So much so the Lasombra defection was partially motivated by this degeneration.

5. The Sabbat has lost its monopoly on Kindred religion

    One of the things that has both benefited and hurt the Sabbat is that it ended up winning the culture war with the other sects. The Camarilla has ceased to deny the existence of the Antediluvians while the Ministry has started to propagate religion among the Anarchs en masse. Ancestor cults, the revival of the Cainite Heresy, Lilith worship, and stranger religions are now common place among the formerly skeptical undead. This has severely hurt the Sabbat since those who believe in the Antediluvians and Gehenna no longer have only the Sword of Caine to turn to. Some have even defected to more religious groups from the sect like Doyle Fincher.

6. The Anarchs and Sabbat have switched roles

    The Brujah, Gangrel, and Ministry joining forces has effectively made it a sect every bit as large as the Sabbat used to be with a strong undercurrent of religious extremism. It is now violently seizing Camarilla cities like Las Vegas, Berlin, and more. The Sabbat, by contrast, has abandoned much of its former territory in order to live on the edges of Camarilla territory in secret. Groups like the Seven Fires live in Chicago and carry out their attacks in secret while forming their own independent cells outside of the Prince's control. The new Sabbat work to undermine, corrupt, and convert while paying little attention to holding territory.

7. The Sabbat are everywhere and nowhere

    The Sabbat are now a far more mysterious and unnerving sect to the Camarilla and Anarchs due to the fact its impossible to know what they're up to. With so many groups operating in secret and in places beyond the Camarilla's reach, they could be changing in ways both unexpected as well as malignant. While the Sabbat was always prone to secrecy and using infiltrators, the military structure at least allowed some sense of what they were about. The divisions and recent changes mean that you are as likely to find wholly unique cults of Sabbat operating in an area than anything resembling uniformity. Do they answer to a single Regent anymore or ten? Anyone at all? Storytellers have a lot of freedom to depict the Sabbat remnants as they wish.

8. The Sabbat is aware of its failures regarding the Antediluvians
 

    During the events of Beckett's Jyhad Diary, the Amici Noctis became aware of the continued existence of the Lasombra Antediluvian. Others became aware of its continued survival during the Gehenna War. It is not absurd to think the Tzimisce came to a similar conclusion regarding the existence of their Antediluvian given that Beckett found out the truth from the surprisingly chatty Lambach Ruthven. This means that the hubris of the Sabbat regarding their Eldest has been shattered and may be why they decided to go on their seemingly suicidal mission to the Middle East.

9. The Sabbat are terrifying

    The Sabbat have always been the designated "bad guys" of the setting but have been depicted with a code of honor and a point to their madness. The Antediluvians are real and will bring about the end of the world, so those who oppose them are good (or the lesser evil). With its focus on street level games, grit, and having human associations--the Sabbat is meant to come off as far more terrifying than it did in, say, Bloodlines. Those little crab-heads murdering people are individuals with names and self-awareness now. A thing to emphasize in V5 is the Sabbat, new or old, are positively pants-wetting fear inducing to Kindred let alone mortals. They are alien, twisted, and horrifying to even their fellow monsters. Really, they always should have been but they've become more so.

10. The Sabbat is divided, not broken

    The Sabbat have priests conducting loathsome rites underneath Montreal, terrorist groups conducting attacks against Chicago's Kindred, and operatives coming back from the Gehenna War shattered in mind but fat with the blood of ancients. Many of them have no idea what their sectmates are doing and are carrying out their own individual plans to rebuild or remake the sect. That doesn't mean the sect is weaker but it means the threat they pose is a different scale. They're less likely to do old-fashioned sieges to take over a city with the Second Inquisition ready to pounce at any moment but more likely to slowly subvert the Humanity of an entire domain's Kindred population. A single Sabbat serial killer may frighten an entire region's Cainites by the fact he simply no longer cares about the Masquerade as a whole and openly kills whoever he likes whenever he likes. Another might be possessed by the Ancient blood he's consumed and have an agenda all his own. We'll have to see what emerges from this state of chaos.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Judgment (video game) review


    The Yakuza series is one of my all time favorite ones in video gaming. This is due to the fact that I am a aging geek and admit to wanting some more works that are written toward the gritty crime drama sort of things than punching out aliens. So, of course, I love a series that includes things like a bunch of brawling men dressed as babies and other wackiness. Okay, okay, the Yakuza series is one with a somewhat bizarrely disjointed tone. The central storyline is usually a gritty Godfather-esque tale of love, honor, revenge, and betrayal that feeds into a greater conspiracy while the subplots are often humorous to the point of ridiculousness.

Japanese lawyers have badges.
    Judgment isn't technically a Yakuza game. It's actually a side story that takes place in the same world as the other games, a heavily fictionalized version of Tokyo's red light district called Kamurocho. The premise this time is you are disgraced lawyer Takayuki Yagami. Three years earlier, Yagami successfully defended a murder suspect only to have said suspect murder his girlfriend a week later. Understandably disillusioned with the legal profession, he's since taken up being a private detective in order to make ends meet.

    I really like Yagami as a character as he's a nice contrast to Kazuma Kiryu. Collecting money for the Yakuza as a way to make ends meet, he feels like a slightly more morally flexible protagonist even if it's just at the start of the game. He differentiates himself from Kiryu in his moveset as well, being a more Jackie Chan-esque speedy fighter than Kiryu's hard-ass brawler. He's also more personable with options to two-time his various girlfriends as well as use a lot more guile than the Dragon of Dojima ever did.

Kaito is a lovable lug.
    Yagami's life gets complicated again when he becomes tied-up with a serial killer murdering Yakuza around the neighborhood. The police, not interested in conducting a thorough investigation, arrest Yagami's old associate Hamura and it is up to our antihero to prove him innocent. Except, Hamura is a piece of garbage and possibly tied up with the serial killer. This leads to a complicated plot involving Alzheimers, medical fraud, and real estate. Oh, and as always, it's also tied to Japanese organized crime.

    Yagami also a much broader cast of friends and associates with it actually weaponized in the game system. In order to get certain side-missions as well as achieve 100% completion, Yagami must perform various tasks for all of the citizens of Kamurocho in order to build up trust. This is effectively advertising for his business and gets people to spread the word. I also feel it helps the immersion as Yagami has a reason to odd jobs for the people around town. It's literally his job as they pay him to do things unlike Kiryu, who just does them because he's an emotional pushover.

A gorgeous re-envisioning of a famous locale.
    The cast of supporting characters is also much broader with Yagami's partner Kaito, his law firm, and even the antagonists are all three-dimensional characters that feel deeper than the typical ones in this series. I feel like the wackiness and focus on "honor" and "loyalty" of the main saga were toned down here enough that it feels more grounded. It's not without its humor or even wackiness but I feel it strikes a better balance.

    The majority of the game consists of a beat-em-up combat system that is similar to the other Yakuza games but with a greater focus on stunt moves. You have two fighting styles with Tiger as well as Crane as well as a dozen or more moves that you can buy. You can also focus on improving general abilities with skill points. I happen to like this as you can develop Yagami's fighting style as you see fit.

My favorite villain yet.
    Judgment is beautiful and the Kamurocho inside of it is the most loveliest iteration of the region yet. Given that it is roughly the same map as in seven separate Yakuza games, it's amazing how they've mixed the familiar with the new. The NPCs feel more alive, too, and they bustle around town as well as participate in all manner of activities. The usual subquests are present along with the ones you can get from your legal agency and detective agency. However, I should note there's also some interesting new ones like a Virtual Reality game that provides huge amounts of money for our protagonist if he can get enough passes. This is probably the most unique addition to the game among darts, UFO catchers, karaoke, and other activities.

    Really, though, I have to say that the plot is the best part of the game. The way things move from the relatively simple serial killer plot to an all-consuming government conspiracy that ties into real Japanese issues is organic as well as entertaining. They also incorporate an investigation, interrogation, and legal scenes that seem equal parts L.A. Noire as well as Phoenix Wright. In the end, everyone's motivations make sense and work perfectly within the setting.

    Should you buy this? Yes, absolutely. It's a great introduction to the setting and doesn't require any prior familiarity with the series to enjoy it. I think it's a game that everyone will enjoy with the slightest interest in crime drama. The game also comes with a English dub and it's pretty fantastic. I actually tried them both out during the game and think they're of equal quality. Really, my only complaint is you couldn't romance Saori. If she was a Goth as well as dark and serious, I'd have video game married her.

9.5/10

Saturday, May 9, 2020

A cool video about my books


I'm pleased to say that Matthew Johnson a.k.a Professor Grimdark has done an awesome new video about my book series. It's about eleven minutes long and discusses things like the Supervillainy Saga and the Bright Falls Mysteries. Please check it out if you have the time and inclination.