This article originally appeared in Pyramid #8

Pyramid Pick


Published by White Wolf Game Studio
Written by Sam Chupp and Andrew Greenberg
Price: $8.95

It's sometimes dismayingly easy to stop believing in the name of The Storyteller System. The word "storyteller" promises plot over tactics, characterization over optimization, and mood over mechanics. The Storyteller System doesn't always follow through on that promise. Certainly the system mechanics -- which tend towards the arbitrary and convoluted, with their heaping handfuls of dice and their countless special exceptions -- aren't particularly conducive to storytelling over mechanics. Nor do the system's players particularly demonstrate the ascendancy of the storytelling aesthetic. Maybe at one time the system attracted a higher caliber of roleplayer, but in the last couple years, since Vampire became the hot game of the moment, Storyteller players are generally pretty hard to tell from any other group of dungeon crawlers or shadow runners, except for the fact that they have fangs instead of swords, and they call their spells "Disciplines."

On the other hand, every so often the White Wolf crew comes out with something really radical that proves that somebody in Stone Mountain really is interested in making roleplaying an exercise in telling good stories. The live-action Mind's Eye Theater line was one such attempt, and The Book of Nod, in an altogether different way, is another. The Book of Nod is not as audacious and revolutionary in concept as Mind's Eye Theater was, but on the other hand it's a much more graceful and well-realized work.

The Book of Nod is a $8.95, softbound, 134-page digest-sized book containing absolutely no rules whatsoever. In fact, the book's only direct allusion to gaming is a single page at the very start, which easily could have (and probably should have) been scrapped.

This purports to be the collected "English translation" of the classic myths, legends and lore of the vampire race. It really is The Book of Nod -- the lost sacred book of the Cainites.

This is an amazingly well-written book. If it's a bit pretentious and angst-ridden, it's only because the subject matter demands a certain degree of both angst and pretension. The authors deserve a great deal of credit for taking these elements -- which in inept hands can spell certain death to readability -- and actually using them to enhance the effectiveness of the work.

The authors skillfully create the illusion that the work is a careful, scholarly translation (complete with footnotes and translators' forwards) of an ancient mystical text. The book is really a long poetry cycle. Real poets probably won't think much of it (real poetry in the '90s must not be either coherent or interesting if it hopes to be respected, and this book is both), but I found it extremely readable.

Here's a sample from the section on Caine's tryst with the enigmatic Lilith:

She used her powers to command me to stop.
Because of her power, I heeded her,
But deep within me a seed was planted
a seed of rebellion
and when she turned her face from me,
I opened myself up once more, to the Night,
and saw the infinite possibilities in the stars
and knew that a path of power, a path of Blood
was mine for the taking
and so I awakened in me this Final Path
from which all other paths would grow

If you've ever read a scholarly (as opposed to poetic) translation of some ancient work like Beowulf or Gilgamesh you'll instantly see how right the style and tone of the above passage is -- a little bit dry and flat in translation, but hinting at the poetic inspiration and depth of the original.

So The Book of Nod is a decent imitation of a boring old philosophical work. So what good does it do for gamers? Plenty, if the focus of the campaign is on storytelling, rather than mayhem. The book can provide enigmatic quotes for elders to taunt the characters with, alarming prophecies to hang adventures on, and historical background to give shape and depth to the campaign. It also answers a few niggling questions left up in the air by previous books, like were the Assamites and the Ravnos around from the beginning, or are they comparatively recent phenomenon (they've been around from the beginning), and gives a few nuggets of interesting trivia, like the names of the three second-generation elders (Caine's heir Enoch, his lover Zillah and Irad, a warrior).

The book does not, however, arbitrarily tie down the traditionally enigmatic and nebulous Vampire history and mythology. It's made clear from the outset that this Book of Nod is just one version among many. The GM can use it as disinformation as easily as he uses it for data.

The Book of Nod is beautifully illustrated, particularly for a book of its size and price. The typesetting and design are audacious and effective, even by White Wolf standards, although there are isolated spots when excessive backscreens and reversed type make the text a bit hard to read. But that's a quibble. The Book of Nod is the real deal for Vampire players everywhere.

-- Chris McCubbin

Article publication date: August 1, 1994

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