Sunday, November 8, 2020

Review: Vampire The Masquerade 5th Edition Part 1

I have always been a huge fan of the Wold of Darkness and Vampire has a special place it my heart. My first two experiences in gaming was Vampire 2nd Edition and AD&D second edition. I then spent a lot of time playing Vampire (and other World of Darkness games) including Live Action Roleplay experiences. After my enjoyment of the iterations of Requiem and Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary edition, I was stoked to learn about a new edition continuing The Masquerade game. The game was suppose to overhaul the mechanics and update the metaplot into the Modern Nights. Well, my excitement as dampened due to some situations that arose during the play testing and my dying excitement was further murdered how Modiphius handled the release (as Modiphius was put in charge of the shipping and distribution). The lack of funds at the release did not help my attitude either. Though, a few years later I was able to acquire the books, read through them, interact with the community, and play in some games. 

Presentation: You get a full color 400+ book that has been printed on high quality paper. The quality is equivalent to the rest of Modiphius RPG releases. Once you start giving it a through look/read through is when the glitter starts to fall off. There seems to be multiple layout styles that is not organized. It feels like the design team had multiple layout ideas/templates, could not decide, and then went with all of the ideas. So you end up with light typing on dark pages, dark writing on light pages, various letter/report pages, different picture and type mixes, etc. It does not flow at all.

Then, there is the art. Most of the art that is used is model art mixes in with digital art. Before I go further, I know a lot of people are going to try to accuse me of not liking the art because I do not like model art. That is not true because my critique of the art comes from the quality/set choices of it and how it fits in with the layout and the rest of the non model art. Most of the model art is high quality but the set/design choices do not seem to match their placement and the tone of what is trying to be conveyed seems off. Once again I feel like there was a bunch of different directions pitched and they decided to go with all of them. The model art also does not mix with digital art and the digital art is of dubious quality. It appears to be taken direct from a video game where they were testing new engines on how to make hair move and things like that. I think the video game art is does not fit the tone, theme, and it breaks immersion. On the flip side, the book is pretty organized and the layouts are clean.

Just so there is not any confusion, Paradox handled all of the writing, art, and layout. Modiphius was the distributor. 


Character Creation: Character creation follows the below steps:

  1. Core Concept: Think of a core concept and what your characters mortal life and unlife like? When where the embraced? Etc.
  2. Choose Clan and Sire Information
  3. Attributes: Take one attribute at 4, three attributes at 3, four attributes at 2, and one attribute at 1. The attribute options are Strength, Dexterity, Stamina, Charisma, Manipulation, Composure, Intelligence, Wits, and Resolve. Health = Stamina +3; Willpower = Composure + Resolve.
  4. Pick one skill distribution: Jack of All Trades (One skill at 3, eight Skills at 2, and ten Skills at 1), Balanced ) Three Skills at 3, five Skills at 2, seven skills at 1), and Specialist (one skill at 4, three Skills at 3, three Skills at 2, and three Skills at 1). There are 27 skills to choose from. Add free specialties to Academics, Craft, Performance, and Science skills. Take one more free specialty.
  5. Disciplines: Choose two of your clan disciplines. Put two dots in one and one dot in the other. Caitiff characters choose any two disciplines and put two dots in one and two dots in the other. Thin-Blooded characters have no intrinsic disciplines. 
  6. Predator: Choose your predator type and apply one of the listed specialties, and one dot to one of the listed Disciplines, and apply any associated Advantages or Flaws. 
  7. Advantages: Spend 7 points on Advantages and take 2 points of flaws in addition to any gained from your Predator Type.

Resolution: Vampire the Masquerade 5th edition uses a modified Storyteller System which uses a dice pool system with d10s. Attributes, Skills, and Disciplines are rated 1-5. The player can create a dice pool in one of the following ways:

  • Attribute + Skill (most common)
  • Attribute + Discipline (common)
  • Attribute + Attribute (uncommon)

Once the pool is determined, the player rolls all the dice vs. a target number of successes or against a contested roll. Difficulty is scaled by the number of successes that is needed and in some cases certain situations will (such as called shots) will subtract the number of success achieved in the dice pool.

Each result of 6+ is considered a success. Each pair of 10s is considered a critical success and counts as 4 successes instead of two. If there are more successes then the target number of successes then the action happens as the character wants or if the character has more successes then their opponent. 

The book then goes on to advise that rolls should be kept to a minimum and conflicts should last a maximum of three rounds. 

Speaking of conflict, conflict is split into rounds and initiative is considered to follow the narrative. All the characters declare their action and follow this basic order:

  1. Existing Close Combat
  2. Ranged
  3. New Close Combat
  4. Other Actions (this includes disciplines) 

Conflict happens has contested rolls simultaneously and depending on the narrative, the winner of the roll deals damage. Some exceptions to this is if a character is shooting at a target that is to far away to close into melee range and other situations like that. For a character to take two actions, they must split their dice pools. A character who is acting purely on the defensive does not have to split their dice pools to avoid multiple attacks.  

Damage is split into two forms. Superficial damage and Aggravated damage. Superficial damage is things like being being punching in the face, falling from a small height, etc. Aggravated damage is things like knives, firearms, car accidents, explosions, claws, swords, etc. Now everything does Superficial damage to vampires (except sunlight, fire, and various supernatural effects) and vampires half all superficial damage. Humans also half superficial damage as well. Damaged is calculated by the damage bonus of the weapon and the number of successes achieved over the opponent on the contested roll. 

Crunch: Outside of the base resolution system, there are some various sub systems that are prominent.
  • Rouse: A rouse check happens when the kindred calls upon the power of their vitae for mending (healing), blush of life (to appear and feel human), boost (adding a bonus dice to a discipline for an action), using a discipline that requires a rouse check, and waking up for the evening. When a Rouse check is required or called on by the ST, a single Hunger die is rolled (a d10) and on a success the kindred's hunger does not increase. On a failure their hunger increases. 
  • Hunger: The classic blood pool has been replaced by hunger dice. The dice are different colored d10s that replace one of the dice in the players dice pool. All characters start with one hunger die and when their hunger increases, they replace another normal die with an additional hunger die. Hunger dice ranges from 1 to 5 and the only way to truly get rid of the hunger is to drain a mortal dry (killing them). At hunger 4 or 5 things get really edgy with the kindred and frenzy. Hunger dice can also cause bestial failures and messy criticals. 
  • Bestial Failure: These happens when a "1" (or skull on the themed dice) show up on a hunger dice at the same time the roll failed. The beast is able to take heavy influence over the kindred and they suffer a compulsion that needs to be role played until the conditions are met. Each clan as their own clan compulsion, there is also a list of generic compulsions for different situations, and the ST can create a thematic appropriate compulsion. 
  • Messy Critical: This happens when a "10" (or a fanged ankh on the themed dice) is part of  the critical and the hunger dice is always counted first. The result is still considered a critical but the beast takes a hand in it. Like if the kindred is trying to open a door quietly but after a messy critical, the kindred ends up ripping off of the door, etc.
  • Frenzy: When it is required for a kindred to resist Frenzy, the player rolls their characters current Willpower + 1/3 (round down) of humanity rating vs. a difficulty set by the ST. 
  • Willpower: Willpower can be spent to re-roll three normal dice. Hunger dice can never be re-rolled. 
  • Advanced Combat: There is a section on advanced combat that provides a Dungeons and Dragons like initiative system. 
  • Blood Potency: How effective the the power of the blood is.
  • Succeed at a Cost: The ST can offer an option to the player to succeed at a cost. 

Final Thoughts: There is a lot of to unpack here I am not sure where to start, but here it goes. 

The tone of this game is greatly improved as it really focuses on the personal horror aspects and has gotten away from high fantasy/superheroes with fangs/trench coats and Katanas elements of the 90s. The presentation of this new adult oriented tone (there is a 18+ warning on the book) is hit and miss. In some areas it is a very serious tone, in others it seems to be tongue and cheek, and yet it others it seems things are presented for shock value alone. The tone suffers from what I can only guess is multiple writers not being on the same page in regards to tone or a lack of direction from an editor or project manager. 

Like I have stated before, the mechanics are an improvement over the Revised Storyteller System and the even Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition. With that being said, the system suffers from lack of clarity in certain areas and the explanations (especially in the conflict/combat section) are horrible. It took me reading The V5 Combat Primer (this is a treatise of conflict and its examples) that was written by players to fully wrap my head around how conflict is suppose to work, etc. There are other instances were rules are not explained well and some seem even contradictory. I am not sure if this is by design or just something to be aware of but small dice pools are relatively weak. This article breaks down character creation on a pure mechanical level and discusses some of the pit falls of it and how to be more efficient.I was having a discussion about this games mechanics with someone and they said, "it is like halfway through the design process they realized they were not making Vampire: The Requiem and continued with a Masquerade mindset." Also, during the initial release of the book their ended up being two pages of errata and most of the errata seemed really important not to miss (like an error in the character creation instructions). This errata is in addition to the original print run missing lore sheets and three whole appendix's including one talking about inclusion at the table and things revolving around that - which I think it very important. The PDF of the game has all of these things included and so does the Second Printing of the physical book. 

As I move onto hunger, this new feature seems to be the thing that people get heated about the most. To be honest, when I read it I did not like it at all. After some experience with it, the hunger dice has started to grow on me and I understand why it was designed the way it was. It really keeps the beast present and makes so that feeding is an actually conscious act of the-  characters and not something that just happens in the background or on the sidelines. I think it is still a little heavy handed and I think the same objective could have been achieved by altering with the blood pool mechanics (and no I do not have an idea for this). 
I think various damage ratings of weapons need more variance and they are grouped together oddly - like the 9mm and the .308 deal the same amount of damage. This is something I have been thinking about house ruling but I am not sure how as of yet. I also think it is odd that humans also halve bashing damage but the templates for humans are relatively weak and on average players will be a rolling a lot more dice in their pools then humans (outside of special characters). 

The final aspect that does not sit well is something I am on the fence about. The merits and flaws have been seriously reduced which is good because it got rid of a lot of pointless bloat and flaws that never game up in game (as in V5 you are required to pick flaws). On the other hand, I think they have been reduced to a point where there is a lack of variance and some of the flaws do not fit every character concept. I hope we see some more options in the future.

I think some of my favorite things about the book is how the metaplot has advanced (this is going to be a whole post in itself), the lore sheets, and how the game really focuses on new vampires to vampires of a few hundred years old. Lore sheets have dots like a background and is considered an advantage. Lore sheets really allow characters to become directly involved with or connected to various instances of the metaplot. This can be in the from of famous well known characters or various events that have happened. The way the game has been designed the need or drive to be elder is almost non existent There is no generation background (and other such backgrounds) and a lot of the discipline levels have been moved around so we see a lot of the old powers that were on the 4+ levels in the current 1-3 levels of the the disciplines. Some of the more oddball stuff has become amalgams/lore sheets and most of the unique disciplines are non existent as they are not really needed anymore. It really brings the game to a more street level and realistic feel of vampires in the modern nights. 

The last two things I really enjoy is how individual characters do not need to take the Haven background as they are all considered to have a basic safe place to sleep. The coterie gets points to spend on a domain that is very helpful. The second one being the succeed at a cost - I really like it when games provide this option in the rules.

So, in conclusion I think Vampire: The Masquerade is an almost great game. It could have really used another 6 months or so in production to clean up the mechanics, the explanations, to catch the important errata, and make sure all sections where included. It could also have used a more coherent direction in art, layout, and tone. The mechanics surpass the Revised/20th Anniversary edition but falls short of the smoothness and solid game design of Chronicles of Darkness. 

With that being said, I do enjoy the game, have most of the books, and I recommend it. Another bonus is that the community has been really great and welcoming. 

You can find it here...
Something that I give a lot of props to Modiphius for is that the core book, the Camarilla Book, and the Anarch book all come with PDF codes. You can also email Modiphius with a proof of purchase for the Storytellers screen and they will send you a free code for the PDF.  
Onyx Path has stated they do not offer a PDF coupon if you purchase the book separately (from various vendors) but can get a discount on the pdf when ordered through drivethru rpg as a physical/PDF combo .

On the downside of Modiphius (besides what has already been discussed) is that they have cantinued to have distribution issues with the game (and their other products from what I have read) because my local store checked three different distributors and the Vampire 5th Edition books were unavailable.  


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. I have also updated it with some new information that has come across my desk in regards to what companies handled what part of the game.