Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tommy's Take on Bloodsucker: The Angst

And now...Bloodsucker: The Angst, a Tale-Telling game of bitching and self-delusion. This would be the game that spawned the Shadow World line to begin with, originally in the d20 system and now in the Xpress system (and for the better, in my view). You can read my reviews of its sister games Chav and WizKid by clicking on the titles.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Powered by the Xpress System, a d6 dice pool in which your skills set your target numbers, you roll a number of dice equal to the relevant attributes and add up your successes, Bloodsucker is a parody Vampire: The Masquerade, and annoying gothy types in general. While being fully compatible with Chav and WizKid, everything you need is in this book, although there are three supplements available: Bloodsucker: The Juice (just extra stuff for the game), Bloodsucker: The Batshit (the outcasts if the Bloodsucker society) and the Cliquebook: Gothistocrats (Yeah, a full supplement for one of the Cliques of the setting - the Ventrue parody). Bloodsucker is 116 pages and available in PDF through RPGnow, as well as in print through Lulu (as are the other Shadow World books, I neglected to mention).

Like with Chav and WizKid, the "What You Need For Play" has some cute requirements: pancake-white make-up, clove cigarettes, and a complete collection of either Anne Rice or Laurell K. Hamilton books. There's also a saddening discussion of vampires and how they have (d)evolved...from Nosferatu to Angel (Hey, I LIKE Angel) to Twilight's Edward. We also get a hefty glossary of the groups and terms relevant to Bloodsucker society.

Right before we jump into character creation, we get a "Welcome to Eternal Life" letter, which actually does a decent job of spelling out how Bloodsuckers work (sunlight is okay, the rising sun Is Not, decapitation equals instant death, stakes are just paralysis, etc). The character creation is point buy, starting off with a budget of 60 points to spread over the 10 stats and 70 points to spread over the 40 skills. You also get 9 points for Powers, which cost 3 points a level (and are ranked in three levels). Then you top it off with Merits and Flaws and your "Cool" ranking.

The chapter gives us a basic breakdown of the eight Cliques: Crowleys (they use Magic(k)), Freaks (they're the ones who aren't pretty), Gothistocrats (they wanna be in charge, like the Ventrue), Grungies (they are also "back to nature" types), Moshers, Outcasts, Perkies (yes!) and Pretentious Art Whores. There are nine powers, broken into three levels as noted above: Go Faster, Be Stronger, Be Tougher are fairly self-explanatory. Same with Magic(k). Ignored is the minor invisibility, Venom is kinda like mega intimidation, Transmogrification is shape-shifting, Poinging is, well, being chipper...and Dramatics allow you to become the center of attention.

Chav has corruption and WizKid has Wizdom...Bloodsucker has Angst. You gotta stay angsty if you wanna stay in the game. Get non-emo, and you're out.

The Cliques Chapter is broken down like the similar chapters in the sister games (as well as the Clans in Vampire, and the other games that have borrowed from White Wolf). You get an archetype image from the clan, a breakdown of how they act and so on, and then a soundbite regarding how they feel about everyone else. Crowleys want to become the power behind the Gothistocrats, who do NOT consider the Perkies to be Goths, who don't even notice the Outcasts.

The Dramatic Systems chapter is largely the same as the chapters from its sister games, although Bloodsuckers use Juice and not Bile to power their abilities, although Chavs begin with a greater Bile capacity than Bloodsuckers have Juice capacity.

Skills are virtually identical from game to game (which helps with the mixing and matching), although the actual examples used as more fitting to Bloodsucker.

Much like with the Chav Powers, some of the Powers just add growing bonuses, while others have differing effects at different levels. For instance, Poinging 1 allows Bloodsuckers to spend 1 Juice to overcome fatigue. Poinging 2 can provide Diplomacy bonuses and Poinging 3 can make them completely immune to mind controlling effects, ESPECIALLY if it were going to break their book.

On Merits and Flaws, I noticed more Bloodsucker Unique Flaws than I did Merits, such as Cannot Eat (you can't hold down anything but blood) and Classic Schtick (like not being able to enter a house uninvited, or being repulsed by garlic).

The Background chapter breaks down Bloodsuckers and their society. Even among the Cliques, there is no One True Way for Bloodsuckers to act...although it is noted that many of them try to adopt either the same cynicism or act ticked at the world, when really, they're just like you and I. Similarly, it is noted that Bloodsuckers often call themselves Pagans and Satanists, but it's usually for attention. We also get the full treatment of Angst and the Table of Sins, like Refusing to Drink Human Blood, thinking Happy Thoughts or gravely insulting the goth scene. The chapter ends with the 20 questions questionnaire, as well as common weapons and equipment.

The Magic(k) spells have some similarities with Chav's Voodoo, although there are some Bloodsucker specific spells like Juicebox, which allows Crowleys to get blood from non-standard sources, Sunscreen 5000 holds off even the morning rays and Overdone Stake is a protection spell that causes stakes to break when used against the Bloodsucker.

The Combat chapter hits the standards, but also delves into vulnerabilities to fire, sunlight and states, as well as a unique state Bloodsuckers can reach: Moping. Lastly, there is Turning, which is pretty standard: Bloodsuckers drain a victim, and then give them Juice.

Bloodsucker Society is set up with a pseudo-royalty, with Kings and Queens lording over each city, Lords and Ladies in charge of the Cliques, Bitches as the "official gossips" and so on. Bloodsuckers also gather into "Murders" which, coincidentally, coincides with however many characters you have in your roleplaying group.

The Shadow World chapter talks about Bloodsuckers around the world. It is worth noting that they are largely non-present in India or the Middle East.

The Antagonists chapter includes the Sparklers, which are Bloodsuckers that...well..guess. Yes, they are an unabashed rip on Twilight vampires. From there, this chapter is almost identical to the Antagonists chapter from Chav. In the PDF I have, there is a "naughty teacher" art piece  right before the Sparklers that covers up some text. I have no idea if that has since been corrected or not.

The campaign chapter offers 20 plot seeds, like the Bitches pushing a Freak into a TV makeover, or the town running out of clove cigarettes.

The book ends with an appendix covering vehicles and chases, plus a character sheet and index.

WHAT WORKS: Well, I get the humor here more than I do in Chav, if only because I'm a bit more familiar with goth types than hip-hop thugs. Despite not being a Vampire fan, I can still make an almost one-for-one comparison to the Clans. The Shadow World games are completely compatible, avoiding the obnoxious issues that old World of Darkness players faced when trying to mix their games.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Well, there was that weird issues with the art piece covering text in the Antagonists chapter. However, and if I had reviewed Bloodsucker before Chav, this would be reversed: I get using the same Skills and such, that just makes sense in the context of having the games playable together. Even with some of the Powers and Merits being the same thing renamed...no sense reinventing the wheel if it already works. The problem is that there are even large sections of fluff that are just cut and pasted from one book to the other, with specific terms changed. Chavs in America and Bloodsuckers in America have the same basic description, for instance, and there's even at least one of the plot seeds from Campaign chapters that is a word for word lift (the Dead Boy in the arcade tournament that I mentioned in the Chav review).

CONCLUSION: On its own merits, Bloodsucker's a great skewering of the vampire groupie fandom, and the perception of vampires in general. I still prefer WizKid over the other two if I had to just pick one, if only because it models the whole Harry Potter thing so well (if you tone down the hard-R rating). Chav and Bloodsucker, unfortunately, cover a lot of the same ground, both mechanically and in the fluff, and I have a hard time recommending someone pick up one if they have the other. Shameless cash grabs are cool (like omitting Bloodsuckers and Chavs from each other's books, as well as WizKid to tempt you to buy them all)...but the copy and paste was a too far.