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     " While interesting, the Black Hand's entire history and activities could have been easily summed up in a single book, and certain questions should have been answered here and now, not somewhere else and later. "

      Title: Caine's Chosen: the Black Hand by White Wolf

      Format: Vampire Subsect Supplement

      Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong

      The Hype: Many years ago, White Wolf released a supplement entitled Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand, which many Vampire gamers rushed out to buy sight unseen, hoping it would contain information on the Sabbat subsect which has been so popular since the first days of Vampire, the Masquerade. Sadly, this book was about some bizarre cult called the Tal'mahe'Ra, which had almost nothing to do with the Black Hand of the Sabbat, and has gone down in history as one of the absolute worst Vampire supplements ever--in fact, the title is a byword on many White Wolf newsgroups for a supplement which is so useless it literally damages the game simply by existing. Since then, players have waited with bated breath for the real Black Hand supplement to hit shelves. Now, it has. Is it everything you'd hoped for, or will you find yourself wishing they'd just reprint Dirty Secrets instead? Well, no one wants that, but will this be an improvement?

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Story and Drama: Caine's Chosen delves into the history and society of the Black Hand, the Sabbat's paramilitary subsect, who have long existed hidden from the eyes of even their own Sabbat brethren. Long perceived by Vampire players to simply be combat-intensive 'hacksassin' ass-kickers, the Black Hand has waxed and waned in the popular eye, usually drawing the attention of players whose aspirations for characters are of the "Die Hard/the Transporter/the Professional/any John Woo film" persuasion. Many RP purists (of which there are quite a few within White Wolf fandom) looked down upon them as "twinkish," while those converting to Vampire from less story-intensive games perceived them as little more than the Sabbat's version of Navy SEALs (and yes, Genghis Kong is looking down at you all from his high, high horse). This supplement dashes those perceptions and assumptions and replaces them with a dose of purpose, a splash of psychology, and a heaping bucketful of intrigue. Within the first few pages, the Black Hand goes from a smattering of assassins and heavy muscle to a deeply zealous Noddist cult founded by Cainite mystics, possessing knowledge of one of the greatest vampiric artifacts ever discovered. Rather than appearing to be a simple military offshoot of the most violent and anti-human sect of vampires in the world, the Black Hand are shown as a quietly driven society of their own, and it is made plain that their goals currently intersect with the Sabbat but are not necessarily the same as those of the Sabbat. Overall, this is good stuff--the Vampire game line needs just this kind of revitalizing material to work life into these story hooks and ideas that have long been left to languish on their own, unsupported through the changing editions. For the first time in years, the Black Hand have seemed a playable and interesting group rather than a haven for combat twinks and power gamers, and for that, this monkey is ever grateful. 4.5 out of 5.

      Layout and Presentation: This book is set out in standard White Wolf fashion, with an introduction in mood, a written history, a chapter on organization and structure, a chapter on tactics and methodology, information on Black Hand player characters, a Storyteller section for need-to-know information and plot hooks, and an appendix for important NPCs. Those looking for the stats for the Black Hand's heaviest hitters (such as the five Seraphim) should look elsewhere, however--Children of the Night already contains those vital statistics, and White Wolf is actually doing us all a favor by not repeating that information at every opportunity. They're hardly necessary to run a Black Hand chronicle, anyhow. The book is fairly easy to navigate, and the artwork is inoffensive and appropriate to the mood, if not always accurate. David Leri submits a lifelike portrayal of three Black Hand shakari on the hunt, and is one of the better works this monkey has seen on a cover in quite a while. Ken Meyer contributes some fairly good artwork for the full-page chapter spreads, though they aren't precisely memorable, and Kirk Van Wormer has quite a few pieces which, while sketchy at some points, do evoke the right kind of "Black Hand" feel for the book. Mike Danza's work is its usual--skilled and detailed, sometimes a bit rough and brushy, occasionally too dark, but generally pleasant. While nothing special to look at, Caine's Chosen is unlikely to offend the eyes or thwart flip-throughs for information. 3 out of 5.

      Playability: The problem with saying the words "Black Hand chronicle" is that by its very nature, such a thing cranks up the power level of chronicle by at least five notches on the Power Dial. The Black Hand goes where Sabbat fear to tread, and such places are not to be taken lightly. Add to this the complication of Black Hand agents rarely being members of the same Sabbat pack (by rule of the Sabbat leaders themselves) and you've got a recipe for disaster. No matter which way you slice it, an entire pack of Black Hand (called a "column") is not only unusual but against the rules of the Sabbat, meaning such a group would not be able to associate with other Sabbat lest they were also of the Black Hand. On the other hand, if only one member of the pack were to be allowed membership in the Black Hand, the book is totally useless to the other members of the pack, and is just one more group of facts for the storyteller to keep track of--especially since said Black Hand member is likely to be the most combat-oriented skull cracker in the gaming group. So while Caine's Chosen makes for a fantastic read and a detailed look at the Black Hand, its application to a real Vampire tabletop game is not only limited but also possibly harmful to the wrong group. 3 out of 5.

      Desired Content: Players and Storytellers who want to know everything there is to know about the Black Hand will find Caine's Chosen to be informative, insightful, intriguing… and incomplete. There is a lot of important story information that is either intentionally left unanswered, left up to the Storyteller herself (or himself--we're equal-opportunity primates here at GM Press) to decide, or (most likely) to be revealed in later White Wolf supplements. While I can't blame them for wanting to sell more books, I tell you, my monkeys… few things frustrate Genghis Kong as much as a cliffhanger ending in a book which should have been an exhaustive and definitive resource on a given subject. While interesting, the Black Hand's entire history and activities could have been easily summed up in a single book, and certain questions (such as the fate of three of the Seraphim) should have been answered here and now, not somewhere else and later. Still, this is more information on the Black Hand than we've ever seen in one place before, and the lone fact that White Wolf is actually working with the story is good news. There are likewise a lot of neat new Disciplines and combination Disciplines presented, as well as Aljusuri, the Black Hand's own home-brew sorcery. All of this is great stuff, don't get me wrong… but we could have had more. 3.5 out of 5.

      The Verdict:

       It was good, it was interesting, it was informative, but it ultimately left this monkey wanting--rather like the three boxes of Mongolian beef I wolfed down while I was reading it. A couple hours later I was left wanting more detail. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know the truth about the Black Hand of the Sabbat, but don't expect it to answer all of your questions--expect it to raise new questions in their place.

      The Good: Intricate and interesting information on a previously secretive group of vampires.

      The Bad: Too many unanswered questions, and very little in-game use.

      The Overall Ugly: A supplement useful more for its information than for any playable content.

      What it's Worth: Closer to $12 than the $16.95 asking price.

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