Rorschach’s RPG Review: Vampire the Masquerade – Fall of London

The Fall of London
A Vampire the Masquerade (VtM) Adventure and Campaign setting

rorschach80Greetings Losties,

It’s been a while since I contributed to this august site, but I had to jump at the chance to discuss a product of one of my top 3 RPGs ever. In this case, I think of VtM as one long system with many revisions, having played since that first book and setting back in 1991. Back then, pre-Vampire Glut, the game hit like a thunderbolt. There was so little quality vampire material in pop culture. SALEM’S LOT was 12 years gone, THE LOST BOYS was 6 years past, and Anne Rice’s THE VAMPIRE LESTAT novel much the same. Beyond those, Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula treatments, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Count St. Germain, we had very little inspiring vampire material. What was most commonly available for Vampire fiction was extremely disappointing (find the Buck Rogers episode The Space Vampire to see what I mean).

Into this void strode a wild new RPG, which uniquely took Storytelling as its basis; and gave us a whole new Vampire mythology that has become one of THE vampire mythologies. My nightclubbing social excursions had shifted from the punk clubs of college to a remarkably vibrant Goth scene in Colorado Springs. So this RPG actually fit in with my non-gamer friends, not just the D&D and GURPS nerds of the time. In fact, the non gamers were actually MORE comfortable with it than the gamer types. For me personally, it could not of come at a better time.

Within a year, there was so much more synergy for VtM in pop culture. A fantastic cult show called FOREVER KNIGHT hit late night CBS, and more than borrowed from VtM stereotypes and the quest to keep humanity. A fun little movie called INNOCENT BLOOD pulled me in and had its way with me. Thanks to video, I rediscovered NEAR DARK. And of course, the beautifully flawed BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA slithered into our lives. What sweet music they make, indeed.

All this goes by way of saying, when it comes to Vampires and RPGs, I know whereof I speak. Even if I have never yet actually played the new system.

For the new Modiphius product, THE FALL OF LONDON, system is the least important thing (though it remains amply covered, including a well-statted 4th Gen). The book is MASSIVE for starters … the main reason its taken me over 2 months to produce this little essay is the sheer amount to read. It also serves many masters and well.

As an intro game for new players, it has a phenomenal hook (what follows is prologue, not spoiler) – the Players are all potent older Vampires, newly awakened in 2012 after 80 years of torpor by their erstwhile liege, the Methuselah Mithras. As they recover their foggy memories, they are charged to enact key elements of his plans to return to power over his favorite city, London. All while the forces of the 2nd Inquisition gather steam for one of the greatest Hunts in history.

So new players have many excuses to not quite feel right in their new skins – they’re foggy after torpor, still reasserting their own will after a time in service to a Methuselah. And greater events are afoot, where the players can safely sneak through the backstage shadows while larger forces clash. Its even possible to play the whole adventure with not one fight, all talk, if players are clever and uncertain on the combat mechanics.

And lastly, for new players, it serves as a crash course in Vampire Clan politics. The main “quest” is essentially an extended Scavenger hunt across London. The sequence is flexible, each chapter can be sandboxed around as needed, or tracked for best dramatic effect by the Storyteller. During this hunt, players will run the length and breadth of London Vampire society. Not to mention the length and breadth of London as well – the city is WELL covered in its massive diversity in story and as background. If a player knows nothing about London before, they will feel like it is home by the end. And this diversity is not just geographic, but social – from the literal tower tops of the ultra rich Ventrue; to the Nosferatu underground; to the dive bars, drag clubs, and galleries of the Toreador; to the wild land and ancient culture aspects of Gangrel; to the rich and modern sites of Asian culture in the city; and to the restless anarchic slums of the Brujah. All this, while the Hunters noose feels ever slightly tighter in each chapter, and the Players must make tough choices to react or relax… like a lobster on the slow boil.

Finally for the beginners, there are five very-well designed pre-generated characters for their use. These are great for pick up and go campaigns, with well-integrated story components either to use or transpose to custom characters.

For veteran VtM players, all these elements should feel like a homecoming to a great setting, and more than an engaging and terrifying challenge, if the Storyteller wishes to turn up the difficulty. While there may be greater powers encountered than the players can possibly fight, they wield plenty of agency, especially if cunning. The feeling produced should be one of being caught up in and driving great events, not just on a side quest of the main show.

For anyone versed in London and British history, the easter egg treats are ENDLESS. And a constant chance to integrate your own character’s past with history both real-world and Vampire.

For those who like the redemption arcs of VtM, the moral choices abound. In fact, this probably leverages the blood lust, frenzy, and humanity mechanics more than any VtM adventure I’ve seen in a long while. It will be a delicate dance, and not everyone might come out unscathed; but it will be memorable to every player if run with care. Even a possibility of working with the hunters, who are as complexly and humanly drawn as any vampire NPC, to ensure a better fate for the city.

When all the dust has settled, the book takes pains to map out what London may be like as an ongoing setting, or even picking up 7-8 years later in the current year. There’s enough story and NPCs and challenges here for a full TV season worth of campaign play; followed by plenty of hooks to keep things going to the next season.

To say more details would start spoiling the fun – so I’ll get to it. Flat up, its my favorite campaign and setting for VtM since the Dark Ages books, and that original Chicago by Night long ago. As I face what may be a long time stuck with “social distancing”, I find myself contemplating some virtual RPG sessions over skype. I’m mentally making a list of those I’d like to recruit. And the number one thing I’d like to run is this book.

The blood is the life, and this book is oh-so rich and sanguine. Drink deep, and happy gaming!