" While not a bastion of drama and story, there are plenty of worthwhile tidbits... "
Title: Dark Ages: Vampire Storyteller's Companion & Screen by White Wolf
Format: Storyteller's screen & supplement for the Dark Ages: Vampire setting
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: The Dark Ages: Vampire storyteller's screen comes packaged with the standard Storyteller's companion to add reference info for rare "new" bloodlines (offshoots of the Thirteen Clans) and unusual Roads (alternate moral/ethical/religious codes for Cainites who have chosen to eschew the path of Humanity). It also includes a set of rules for mass combat during the tumultuous War of Princes. The question is, are they worth fifteen bucks to know?
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Drama: Not surprisingly, White Wolf has found a way to cram a whole lot of story into only eighty pages, creating story hooks and broadening vampiric history for readers. While not wholly unfamiliar to the experienced Dark Ages enthusiast, the six bloodlines detailed in the book (Baali, Gargoyles, Laibon, Lamia, Lhiannan, and Salubri - essentially the six best-known Dark Ages bloodlines) are presented with expanded information additional to that seen in previous supplements for the first edition of Dark Ages material, updated now for the War of Princes era. The six Roads presented (Blood, Bones, Metamorphosis, Night, Paradox, and the Serpent) are likewise familiar, but retouched with greater attention to history and precepts than in previous versions. While not a bastion of drama and story, there are plenty of worthwhile tidbits in these areas, though the book is mostly a rules supplement for material cut previously from Dark Ages: Vampire. 3.5 out of 5.
Layout and Presentation: The book is presented in a fairly standard fashion, with four chapters listed in the table of contents - Bloodlines, Minor Roads, Disciplines, and Storytellers' Toolkit. The fonts and typesetting are nice, though the borders are a bit large, taking up space better used for game text. The first two chapters are easy to navigate, but the rules section is a bit tougher, as things seem crammed together and the order of rules is sometimes hard to follow during a standard flip-through. The cover art is, to put it simply, bad - the cover is ugly and not particularly memorable. There is some truly memorable and impressive interior art by Mark Smylie (Bloodlines) and Rik Martin (Minor Roads), but James Stowe's rather lumpy and repulsive work in the Disciplines section and Mike Chaney's rough line work leave something to be desired. Tom Mandrake does the full-page chapter images, and they're fairly good, though not fantastic. The storyteller's screen itself is by William O'Connor, and is a rather nicely-painted (if somewhat unrealistic) battle scene. It has most of the basic rules on it, making for easy reference, and lacks nothing of true necessity. 3 out of 5.
Playability: This book is a Storyteller's companion for a reason - most of the rules, bloodlines, Roads, and disciplines contained within are not for player characters to use. There are repeated recommendations not to allow players to use the material, with very few exceptions, and the Roads tend to make characters less likely to interact with anyone outside of their belief system. The resourceful Storyteller will find ways to sneak such details into play, and the curious player will want to know the details of these obscure bits of Cainite society, but by and large they have little effect on a Dark Ages chronicle. The mass combat rules are essentially two steps up from home brew large-scale combat rules, which means that they lack in detail and don't factor in a lot of criteria, but they are at least tested for balance and basic accuracy. They're useful for gamers who really don't care how intricate their mass combat is, but experienced war gamers will find them lacking heavily (which is fine, as they were never meant to be the World of Darkness equivalent to Warhammer). Rules on making your own Paths are somewhat vague, and likely to be tossed aside rather than having to deal with player abuse. 2.5 out of 5.
Desired Content: As far as a Storyteller's screen goes, you're getting what you wanted - a quick reference with decent artwork on it that will hide your dice rolls and notes from the prying eyes of players. The book itself provides a lot of interesting information and detail, but experienced players already know about the six bloodlines presented, and the minor changes to their Disciplines may not merit the purchase of an entire book. One neat detail of the book is the two-page spread of 'in-theme' period names from different European nations and regions, thus helping those unable to think up decent and accurate names. There is very little within the Storytellers' Companion that is 'new' to Dark Ages gamers, and that which is new is likely of limited use. A lot of the artwork is impressive, so White Wolf art fans will be greatly pleased, but beyond that there is no particular reason to grab up the Storyteller's Companion unless you directly intend to use one of the bloodlines or Roads within. 3 out of 5.
|So what we find is that the Storyteller's Companion is a solid, well-decorated book full of information that is of limited and occasional use, not for use by player characters and in some cases not particularly detailed. This is, of course, to be expected from a book meant for storytellers. The storyteller's screen is useful and well-made, and in the end what we have is a screen and a book for the price of a screen, had you bought it from Wizards of the Coast, and there's nothing wrong with that.|
The Good: Great artwork, interesting facts about little-known bloodlines, and unusual rules.
The Bad: Nothing in the book is really 'new' except the mass combat rules, which are limited in use.
The Overall Ugly: Useful if you're a storyteller, but otherwise lacking in overall importance.
What it's Worth: Market