Tuesday, May 9, 2023

(V: tM) Clanbook: Gangrel

I enjoyed reading Clanbook: Gangrel (James and Ellen Kiley), but even though I just finished, without looking at my notes, I'm not sure I could tell you anything about it.

The Gangrel Clan is really more of a general feeling than it is a series of compelling events and characters. Every single one of them could be anonymous, and I'm not sure anything would be lost. These are the wilderness vampires, the ones that can shapeshift into animals and are maybe just a little less bad for eating human flesh, if only because they embody the natural principle of predator and prey.

They're probably one of the game's best clans when it comes to their overall pitch. I'd go maybe - Ventrue, Tremere, Gangrel, Nosferatu, if ranking clans by their high-concept or Toreador, Lasombra, Nosferatu, Gangrel if ranking by their general vibe, but then if I were ranking on the strength of their associated lore, I'm not sure the Gangrel would even make the top ten. Which makes Clanbook: Gangrel the least essential of the three Clanbooks I've read so far (although put an asterisk on that because Clanbook: Brujah was highly necessary, but in the end failed at what it needed to do).

There is a thing that happens, though. The Gangrel have left the Camarilla and become an independent clan!

This is not the first I'm hearing of it, because it also showed up in Guide to the Camarilla. But while we get a little more context here (a high-ranking Camarilla Gangrel may have been spooked by an antediluvian vampire), it's still one of those plots that feels like motion for the sake of motion. We now know that this is part of setting the stage for Gehenna, but not much more about what Gehenna will actually be. I don't dislike it, because "why are these crude, animal-like vampires hanging out with the fancy conspiracy vampires" was always one of those things that was not quite a plot hole, so the change feels very natural (or, at least, only feels unnatural in the sense that it was long overdue). However, I'm not sure I'm invested enough in the Vampire: the Masquerade metaplot to have an appropriate reaction. I guess this could have made things awkward in long-running Vampire games, but from my perspective, it's long been the status quo. There's been very little Storyteller advice in this series of splatbooks, but I think I would have appreciated guidance on how to run the Gangrel defection as an adventure.

Other than that, there's not much more about this book that I feel compelled to comment on. Most of my notes were about the history chapter, but like I said, "Gangrel" feels more like a general vampiric archetype than a specific family of creatures, so a lot of the history was like "this is a famous Viking vampire, that is a famous Scythian vampire, also, there used to be a bunch of Mongolian vampires, but they were killed by the Chinese vampires we're inexplicably choosing to call 'the alien Asian vampires'." 

I will give it credit for being the first WW book I've read to acknowledge that antebellum America was pretty much an ideal society for vampires (and please, understand, I say this because "you've created a society best fit for vampires" is pretty much the worst political insult I can imagine), but it loses points for me when the narrator then says, "I find the practice of slavery repugnant and the practice of feeding on slaves or prisoners downright repulsive."

It's not that I particularly want to read about a vampire's nostalgia for the old South, but coming from a literal anthropophagic predator, the sentiment rings a bit hollow. And that sends me spiraling on all sorts of world-building and philosophical tangents, trying to figure out how this abolitionist vampire fits into an ethical framework centered on human dignity, and the very weirdness of the question manages to focus me on how gross I was expecting the vampire to be about it, and I'm not sure I was actually spared enough grossness to make it all seem worthwhile. On the other hand, you may also have people reading this book who would be made uncomfortable by the objectification of their ancestors, and that's a valid thing to try and avoid. I guess the way to do it is to tackle the issue head-on and make it a central theme, with the aim of just brutally satirizing white people ("OMG! The Confederacy has been infiltrated by vampires!" "How can you tell?"), but this is not the place for that sort of thing, and WW was not the sort of company you'd want to do it (I have to figure the use of "the war between the states" was an intentional stylistic choice that merely wound up contributing nothing).

Overall, this book was not quite surprising or challenging enough to capture my imagination, nor was it filled with the kind of Gangrel-specific nerdery that would help me create diverse Gangrel characters. But it was pleasant enough to read, and that's enough to bank at least a little goodwill for the upcoming Clanbook: Giovanni.

Ukss Contribution: Gangrel get a custom power that allows them to store their vampiric essence inside a living animal, slumbering through the day as this creature goes about its business. While they're inside, the animal gains sinister features like glowing eyes or iron horns. Furthermore, the animal does not age while it's possessed by a vampire. Wounded vampires may rest inside a single creature for decades or centuries, awaiting the human blood necessary to revive them. Such creatures can enter into local legend.

That's my kind of sinister. My version will probably be a unique antagonist rather than a power possessed by many vampires, but I really like the narrative.

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