Blood Dark Thirst in a nutshell is Vampire: The Masquerade as distilled through author Venger’s propensity for an extra layer of darkness or weirdness (these are blood suckers who are possessed by demons!), and a major streamlining of system and theme. This isn’t a game that sells itself on its lavishly developed setting or the complex machinations of vampiric clans or houses, but instead boils everything down to the personal traits that create such beautiful conflict in the modern vampire mythos. For those seeking a quick and dark way to tell vampire stories of personal horror, you can’t go wrong. For those looking for more — more details, more traits, more than just “how does my vampire overcome or succumb to his bloodlust — this isn’t for you. And that’s just fine.
Rating: Content 4/5 and Form 5/5.
Read on for the full review!
Blood Dark Thirst (BDT for short in this review) is a full RPG in the usual style of Venger’s other games: evocative, complete, and succinct all in one package. Somewhat like Crimson Dragon Slayer, BDT is an OSR-style clone of another game, but this time it’s a game nominally set in the modern world: Vampire: The Masquerade. Only that BDT stays true to Venger’s style, because it’s not just vampires, it’s demon-possessed vampires!
The game itself borrows the thematic ideas of Vampire: The Masquerade‘s earliest editions — that of personal horror — and spins them in the usual easy-to-start, fast-to-play style that makes all Kort’thalis Publishing games great, rules-lite pick-up games or introductions for new players and groups that like a gonzo style. Though we’ll touch on some of the short cuts that make this game so fast, it’s important to note that the themes tend towards slightly longer-term play than Crimson Dragon Slayer or Alpha Blue might suggest, and we find most of the mechanics in BDT work well for this, which is a nice surprise in such a sleek, rules-lite system. But that’s all vague; let’s get to the specifics!
The players characters are folks possessed by blood-drinking demons, so they are vampires, but the hunger that drives them is clearly motivated by another force that lives within them. These characters will have a number of special abilities thanks to their demonic possession, but all of this centers around a careful balance of the blood that sustains them (they gotta feed often), the humanity that allows them to move among humans in order to hunt without being caught (it’s inevitable that they’ll lose this humanity over time), and their force of will, pushing them to continue on in this endless internal conflict (their willpower allows them to resist base urges, the domination of stronger vampires, or to create new vampires to help them survive).
Narrative & Mechanical Traits. Characters are built from several narrative traits: things they are good at, things they are bad at, and several personality flaws that suggest dark urges they may give into. Then the more mechanical traits are determined: Blood, Humanity, Willpower, and Health are generally equal for all vampires at the start, but can vary wildly as vampires grow older, and even throughout the night if the vampire gets involved in a lot of conflict.
Levels & Supernatural Abilities. Vampires get “levels” that are gauge of age, experience, and power. As they go up in level, they get more Health and also begin to unlock new supernatural abilities from their vampiric nature (or demonic possession, really). All vampires start with incredible strength, reflexes, and the ability to influence the minds of the weaker-willed, and as they level they pick up abilities such as seeing the memories of those they drink blood from, communicating with the dead, moving without a trace, telepathy, and more. All of these are thematic to some version of the vampire mythos, and some are more blatantly supernatural (or even demonic) than others.
BDT uses the VSd6 system. If you’re character is especially good at something, they roll 3d6 (sometimes more, if you have special items or powers). If they are average, they roll 2d6. If they suck, they roll 1d6. When you roll dice, you simply look at the highest die rolled, and that’s your result: a 1 is terrible, 2 and 3 are generally bad, 4 is okay, 5 and 6 tend to rock. When it comes to dealing damage, multiple 6s mean that you deal more of it. Simple.
As mentioned above, a character has narrative traits that tell you what they are good at and bad at, which determines whether you’re rolling more or less d6s. Supernatural abilities sometimes allow you to gain new things you’re good at, or increase the benefits of the results of a good roll. For example, you rarely roll more dice, but if you succeed at some supernatural strength attack, you might multiply the damage dealt by 3.
That said, the bulk of the mechanics revolve around the major trait drivers of the characters: Blood, Humanity, Willpower (and to a lesser extent, Health).
- Waking up at dusk, activating supernatural powers, healing Health points, and turning a mortal into a vampire all cost Blood to use, and since you only have 6, they go fast.
- Evil acts cost you a Humanity — no more than one per night — and low Humanity causes your appearance to become less and less human, veering towards downright demonic at the lowest levels. Especially good acts can be awarded with your Humanity increasing, but the system seems to suggest that these must be pretty serious, virtuous deeds.
- Willpower can be spent to resist supernatural influence, resist going into a frenzy, turning a mortal into a vampire, or adding 3d6 to your dice pool. Like Blood, you only have 6 points, and you can regain 1 of them (once per scene) by roleplaying your flaws.
There’s a section on vampire weaknesses that speak to legends and myth, telling you which ones are “real” and which ones aren’t. Rules for the blood bond (gaining mental domination over those that drink your blood), hunting for, grappling and feeding from humans without being seen, and combat round out the book. Notably, seizing a victim and remaining sneaky have random tables based on the VSd6 success table, so they act as great springboards for mixing up the results of hunting. Of course, if you feed on a willing victim, you can ignore them, too!
The Black Envelope
An introductory scenario, “The Black Envelope” is included to provide a quick jumping off point that will force the players together over a shared threat. The scenario is incredibly lightly detailed, instead relying on tables to determine some possible encounters and/or final setting for what’s likely to be the climactic encounter, as well as some information (rumors? truths?) about the subject of the players’ consternation: the most powerful vampire in the city!
It’s the kind of scenario that Kort’thalis is known for: evocative but very loosely detailed. It’ll require an experienced GM and either lots of improv or a not-so-small amount of prep to breathe life into the scenario. But let me stress how good it is: ***SPOILER*** the head vampire of the city drops a note at each player’s home during the day (so, probably not personally delivered) that basically says, “Get out of my city or you’re dead.” For those familiar with Vampire: The Masquerade, we’re literally starting with the players under a Blood Hunt. ***END SPOILER***
Blood Dark Thirst is a 25-page PDF (including cover page, one page of credits, and a one page character sheet). The layout includes two columns and there is both a full-color version with a cool “bloody parchment” style background that doesn’t interfere with legibility, and there’s a background-less, printer-friendly version.
There is full-page artwork that breaks up several sections, which really means this is a much smaller document than 25 pages in terms of words, but the artwork throughout is supremely evocative: remember, these aren’t just vampires, they are demon-possessed vampires! And that character sheet! It is gorgeous and laid out beautifully: it has everything you’ll ever need for a character, plus evocative flourishes in the form of symbols for tracking traits like Humanity and Willpower, as well as background artwork that veers from sensual to horrific. This truly evokes what playing in a world of demonic vampires is all about!
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