||Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/11/18/tabletop-review-vampire-
Until 1991, I had only ever played two tabletop RPGs: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes game. I owned a third my father purchased for me called Lords of Creation, but neither my friends nor I had any interest in playing it. So until 1991, my RPG adventures either took place in Greyhawk, Ravenloft or Earth 616. Then that fall of 1991, I saw two games on the shelf of my local B. Dalton (Remember those?). One was Call of Cthulhu 5th Edition and the other was the first edition of Vampire: The Masquerade. Both fascinated me, but I could only get one. Reading this article you’ll be surprised to hear I chose Call of Cthulhu but I would eventually pick up V:TM in 1992 with the release of second edition. I fell in love with it and it became a big part of my life for a while. I even got to do some writing for it (albeit it under a pen name because as Justin Achilli put it to me, “No one is going to look at the credits for this game and believe that’s your real name.”). I ended up playing the game with friends throughout high school and then at college I played V:TM online via WBS.net and later in an official Camarilla based LARP where my Setite actually got to be Prince Pharaoh of Minneapolis. I even ran a White Wolf endorsed online game that had between 100-150 people actively playing it back in 2000-2001. So you could kind of say I was in to Vampire: The Masquerade in a major way. However third edition, the sheer number of books White Wolf was putting out, graduating college, and the eventual move to Vampire: The Requiem eventually turned me off and I ended up moving on and never really looked back. At least, not until this year when White Wolf announced Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition.
As much as I missed the game from time to time, I couldn’t bring myself to pay a hundred dollars for the book. I still had all my old second edition stuff and that was a lot for someone that doesn’t roleplay much anymore. Besides I had my V:TM and Hunter: The Reckoning video games. Depending on the cost of the “print on demand” version of the book, I may get that or I’ll just finally buy the PDF version on DriveThruRPG.com. However, since the announcement of V:TM 20th, I’ve had this craving for the game. Thankfully I was able to get my fix when White Wolf offered me a review copy of Dust To Dust, set in Gary, Indiana of all places. You see, Gary, Indiana was not only the setting for the first adventure I ever played in V:TM, but it was the location most gamers first experienced V:TM in back in the early 90s as the location was the backdrop for the free adventure that came in the back of the book called “Forged in Steel.” It was also the location of one of the first V:TM supplements, Ashes to Ashes. So of course it’s only visiting that White Wolf revisits Gary as they revisit the Classic World of Darkness.
I have to admit, I read the entire fifty-six pages with a huge smile on my face. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed Vampire: The Masquerade (although not the drama that seems to go hand-in-hand with the game), but Dust to Dust brought it all home for me. There were familiar faces like Modius and Juggler and the decrepit hellhole that is Gary, Indiana – all updated for 2011. It was a bit sad to see how both the city and Kindred that dwelt within had fallen, but that’s the World of Darkness for you – it takes a real world locale/situation and darkens it up tenfold. Of course, the real Gary, Indiana is pretty dismal to begin with, so you can only imagine how bad it is in Dust to Dust. In fact, it’s so close to a ghost town that one of the subplots in Dust to Dust involves a Giovanni and her attempts to raise the city in the same way one would raise a zombie. She’s curious to see if a city can be raised from the dead similar to a zombie. The entire “sociological necromancy” was such a great idea, I was envisioning entire adventures or even campaigns that revolve around it.
Unlike most tabletop adventures that take place in a linear fashion, the nine scenes that comprise Dust to Dust unfold in a more organic way. White Wolf has patterned this adventure after a sandbox style video game like Batman: Arkham City or Grand Theft Auto. Basically some scenes happen when they feel appropriate to the Storyteller and others may not happen at all. The adventure mentions how Dust to Dust was run at the Grand Masquerade this year along with what was emphasized and what was left out. Now most Storytellers/GM/Keepers/DMs that make their own adventures are used to things changing on the fly, but for those that run store bought adventures, this is definitely going to be a change of pace. After all, those types of adventures are meant to unfold in a specific order. Not so here. To help Storytellers who are used to a more “structured” adventure style, Dust to Dust comes with a flowchart to help show the different ways things can go. This ensures the adventure can be run in a multitude of different ways. Maybe one Storyteller wants to focus on the sociological necromancy bit. Maybe another wants to focus on the Juggler-Modius feud finally climaxing. Perhaps another wants to run the entire thing in the exact order the scenes were published in. it’s all doable. I love how flexible Dust to Dust is this is one thing that was oft cited as missing from White Wolf penned adventures.
I really enjoyed the cast and characters of Dust to Dust although it was a bit sad to realize that this would be final death for some, if not all, of the NPCs contained here. I grew up with some of these characters and knowing that Final Death is the end fate for at least one of these characters was a bit melancholic for me. The worst part is that one of these characters knows it’s coming for them too. It’s funny because when Lodin died between first and second edition V:TM, I didn’t care at all as he was a pretty lame character to begin with, but then the thought of losing any of the characters in Dust to Dust had my mind working of ways that the campaign could be run without losing any of them. Juggler and Modius are great examples of how being a vampire doesn’t make someone any less sad, mental, or a poseur than they really are. There are some great new enemies here that deserve a chance to be repeating villains rather than one-shots. Characters like Maria would make for a good potential love interest for players and it’s so rare to see such an unconventional Giovanni like her, that getting her killed seems like a waste. There’s so much potential for a campaign in this adventure, it’s almost shocking.
Although I really liked Dust to Dust, it’s not perfect. For one thing, the adventure relies on a lot of knowledge about canon first and second edition events that happened in Gary and/or Chicago. The adventure claims it can be played by newcomers to V:TM, but honestly, the way it is written, you wouldn’t get much out of Dust to Dust unless you had prior experience with the game and specifically Gary/Chicago. That tends to be a problem with V:TM in general though as supplements are all “in canon” materials as opposed to being more or less optional in other games. Newcomers to V:TM will be lost as to who Sullivan Dane is or why you should care about some of these classic characters and how they’ve changed since first edition. They can still play through Dust to Dust and even enjoy it, but this was definitely written primarily for White Wolf mainstays rather than being friendly to new gamers.
The other issue is the art. I was a bit disappointed to see the art quality here. Usually V:TM products have amazing art. Instead Dust to Dust either reuses old art from first and second edition releases or it uses some truly terrible computer generated art. Perhaps I’ve been working in the video game industry too long, but the “art” here looked like bad visuals from the Playstation One/Saturn/N64 era, or a version of Poseur from the late 1990s. I realize the industry has fallen as a whole over the year, but honestly, the art in Dust to Dust was more depressing than either Gary or its remaining Kindred. Considering the cost of the product, you have to wonder why some of the money didn’t go to art that was of the quality Vampire: The Masquerade is known for. Compare this supplement to similar products on DriveThruRPG.com in terms of page length, and you’ll generally that franchises of the same renown are slightly cheaper and have actually sprung for high quality art. Example: Shadowrun: Anarchy Subsidized.
So Dust to Dust isn’t flawless, but it IS a lot of fun, especially if you’re a long time fan of Vampire: The Masquerade, which definitely puts you into the “older gamer” category. I can’t really recommend it to younger gamers looking to get into V:TM 20th, as the adventure is written in such a way that you should have experience with first and second edition. I’m always impressed how White Wolf’s writers can not only make Gary, Indiana sound even worse than it really is in real life (trust me, I’ve been there a few times. It’s pretty terrible.), but also a fascinating place to set a V:TM adventure or even a campaign. Dust to Dust contains so memorable characters, so potentially appearing for their last time, and I love how flexible the adventure is as opposed to the more rigid and extremely linear adventures that tend to get published by companies. If you’re a long time fan of V:TM, then you shouldn’t hesitate to pick up Dust To Dust It’s only ten bucks after all and it’s great to see everything in the Classic World of Darkness come full circle again.
[4 of 5 Stars!]