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Mind’s Eye Theatre: Vampire The Masquerade Storyteller Secrets review

Available on DriveThruRPG

Almost a year ago, Mind's Eye Theatre: Vampire the Masquerade rulebook was released (and reviewed on this website). During its' original kickstarter, one could order the Storyteller Secrets PDF-only addon. Now it's finally been released.

I didn't preorder it on the Kickstarter (for extra $20, when I had the chance - retail price is $25 now). To be honest, at the time I was not really sure how committed are we going to be to run Camarilla Agram.

Well, we're pretty sure we're committed now. So on day one when it was released we decided to get a copy for our own use. If it's gonna help us make better games... Why not? Camarilla Agram 8 and Sabbat Agram are approaching as we speak.

Disclaimer: this article will use some lingo from the rules. If you don't have them and if you're unfamiliar with general Vampire rules, you can also check out the free quickstart rules which explain the base mechanics and terminology from Vampire. However, I will write in a manner that article remains relevant even if you don't know them.

The first thing I noticed was the sticker shock. The book costs $25 - same as the base rulebook - despite being significantly thinner. Just slightly over 80 pages compared to rulebook's 550 - for the same price? One of the explanations would probably be the different focus - while the rulebook itself is amazing value for the money, it's also being used to push the product. Storyteller Secrets is a more specialized product, with a more limited reach. Besides, I liked the storyteller (World of Darkness term for game masters) bits in the original book, they were good quality advice so I had good expectations from this book.

The book itself contains intro (by Jason Andrew and Jason Carl) plus 13 essays from various authors - not only the By Night Studios team, but experienced larpers and people who wrote about larps. On the first look, the format - and the scope of the essays judging from their titles - reminded me of Knutepunkt books and other larp theory books. I'll review the essays - and I'll also let you know if an essay could be applied to other larps, as well as some of our own experiences. So enjoy the read - or just skip to the conclusion at the end of the article if you're feeling TL;DR.

1. The Economy of Cool by Jason Andrew

Very informative article. It talks about narrative structures, how the impossibility of doing everything helps interaction, and how to generate interest. Some examples are used - both from other media and from the VtM's Merit system.

Over in Camarilla Agram we had a bit shaky start, so we didn't pay enough attention to the stuff like that in the beginning. After some helpful advice from our international friends from VIC and implementing some of the stuff we neglected, we're already going there.

Despite that (and previous GMing experience), I find that this essay has plenty to offer to both running Vampire, and other larp campaigns which are run in a similar way, especially where it comes to world management and narrative structures.

2. The Storyteller Toolbox by Ree Soesbee

The Storyteller Toolbox is a group of ideas about getting organized as a storyteller - physically, mentally and socially (heh, like three attributes in MET:VtM). Physical and Social are good general purpose larp advice, while Mental are largely Vampire-specific.

If a storyteller finds himself or herself overwhelmed and/or not knowing what to do, this essay could help.

3. Roleplaying by the Numbers by Kevin Millard

Also known as: justification for all the mechanics in the rulebook :)

VtM is a rules-heavy larp. But it's a larp which includes a lot of differentiation in the setting, plus things which are quite hard to simulate. And very specific world-management stuff. While there's a lot of really awesome larps which use no mechanics in play - especially from Nordic countries and Germany - they differ in scope to Vampire. Running Camarilla Agram, I've often felt that the rules are like a procedure. They reduced my workload - and in some ways subjectiveness. I'm overall quite pleased.

However, in many ways the rules are different from the tabletop version of the game, which was confusing to some. This part wasn't thoroughly explained in the main rules. The rest of the essay goes through plenty of items from the current system design, explaining why these particular choices were made. The chapter also gives some insight about how customizations would change the game. It's pretty much Vampire-specific.

4. It’s Alive! Tips for Creating Dynamic NPCs by Jen “Loopy” Smith

Good tips for writing (and casting) NPCs! If you feel that your NPCs come out too one-dimensional, you will find this essay useful. If you're already a solid writer, you probably already know most of this stuff - but still, there's a few hints and a very wide perspective that you will find helpful.

Presented a bit differently, this could have been an essay about building any kind of pregenerated characters. If that is what you need, you might be interested in tips presented here.

5. This Mortal Coil: Making More Out of Mortals in MET: Vampire The Masquerade by Jason Carl

While playing vampires, we don't focus a lot on mortals - still the dominant (and overall most dangerous) form of life in World of Darkness. Point taken, guilty as charged.

The essay in general has some advice on running the world, the NPCs (like previous essay), and offers some insight in the design process of the rules. Mostly Vampire-specific.

6. The Dirty Secrets of Running Convention Games by David Bounds

This article, obviously, focuses on running convention games. Several sorts of them too. While it has some useful information (especially about organization and pacing), in general I found this article hard to read, as I'm simply lacking the proper context for some of the stuff mentioned. Apparently, there are some differences between Croatian and American conventions and convention games...

7. A Guide to Encouraging Community Building by Jess Heinig

Making friends. Not my strongest side. Things would be much simpler if I could build a good community by pissing people off, I'm better at that. Thankfully, other storytellers in my Camarilla Agram team are more talented when it comes to that.

The article has plenty of useful advice - most of them appliccable to other larps as well. And some references to earlier articles.

Helpful quotes: "Players in live-action games don’t have to be enemies, nor should they be" and "Characters are Adversaries, Players are Not". Remember that, every larper everywhere.

8. Proper Care & Feeding of the Undead by Peter Woodworth

Focus on hunting and feeding. How to make it more immersive, believable, touchable. Also touches on blood levels, Herd background, beast traits, frenzy... and tips on opening and closing the game.

Good stuff. Vampire-specific.

9. “Yes, and...” How to Improve Your Storytelling Through Application of the Rules of Improv by Jimmy Reckitt

Advice from other forms of arts! Nice. Improvisational theatre, often called improv, is a form of theater where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed and it has a lot in common with larps. So it's not surprising that many of its' principles translate so well to larps.

The essay mostly focuses on applying such principles to the narrative structures you can find in Vampire. Good stuff. It ties in well to several previous articles in creating a dynamic environment.

10. Monsters and Mayhem: How to Run Adult Content in Your World of Darkness Game by Shoshana Kessock

The World of Darkness has some explicit content, such as violence and sex. It can be difficult to implement it right and keep the mood where it should be during a long-term campaign. Some players might have issues with such content or the way it's implemented - and this essay mostly deals with that. Triggers and player safety.

Besides violence and sex, the article also covers other issues, such as sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, religious discrimination, and even some potentially innocent looking things such as car chases. These can be an issue without storytellers realizing it. I was actually a part of many online discussions regarding these, and they are a hot topic.

I like the fact that the article is not about outright avoiding all possible trigger situations (which is the stance some players take, but which would seriously whitewash the World of Darkness), but instead focuses on trigger warnings and managing such issues. While some people might feel that the advice in here is over the top, I like it. Better safe than sorry.

11. Using Nordic LARP Techniques in MET: Vampire The Masquerade by Martin Ericsson

Ah, an essay by a non-American author :) Martin Ericsson comes from Sweden, and gives Vampire some nice, Nordic larp advice which is quite unique in this book - you won't find anything similar elsewhere.

A digression. For some reason, most Croats believe that Nordic larp means larp without mechanics. Which is about as accurate as saying McDonalds is about producing food wrappers and napkins. And often flatly incorrect, if you count some meta techniques as mechanics. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, the essay does have some nice immersion advice - providing another perspective which at times contradicts the info from earlier Roleplaying by the Numbers essay by Kevin Millard. It puts focus on collaboration, has some cool tips for pervasive play and elaborates on some pretty cool meta techniques and workshops.

12. The World is a Stage: How to Stage Your World by Danielle Lauzon

This essay is about planning scenes and decorating game spaces. It's placed a bit unfortunately - it's hard to get impressed with the ideas about using tablecloths to represent a ballroom immediately after reading the Nordic essay which mentions actually renting cruise ships. But it does have some cool ideas for those who wish to represent a lot on a limited budget and in a more symbolic fashion.

13. Breathing Life Into a Clan by Alex Rushing

Clan management is quite important. This essay - the last in the book - fits in well with previous articles which discuss narrative structure. Clans are very important part of Vampire the Masquerade, and this essay touches on what makes them tick and what makes them unique. The essay, however, feels a bit short. I'd love to see the expanded version of it, as I feel this is an interesting topic with a great potential if it's managed properly.

Conclusion

My opinions about Storyteller Secrets are mixed. But first, let me be clear about one thing: if you're considering buying Storyteller Secrets, consider buying MET rules first. At the same price, they also feature lots of good storyteller advice, and you get all the actual rules and fluff on top of that. If you put them shoulder to shoulder, Storyteller Secrets is almost seven times smaller, and it has some recycled full-page art.

Storyteller Secrets is an add-on. It's not crucial if you need to play Vampire, or even run it. This is not a Dungeon Master's Guide equivalent, and all the crucial info (and some extras) are neatly outlined in the base rulebook.

If you're not a Storyteller/GM, you don't need this book. Players won't find much of use here.

However, if you're running MET:VtM and you can spare $25, I'd say buy it (available on this link). It has some very cool tips and ideas which could make your game much more engaging - most of them directly applicable to your chronicle (or very helpful in setting up a new one).

If you're running something else, then Storyteller Secrets might still help you. If you're running Vampire the Masquerade larp using the old rules or your homebrew rules, this will still be helpful and a lot of it can apply. If you're running a Requiem larp, it will also be helpful. If you're running other WoD products (whether larp or tabletop) you'll still be able to find plenty of useful and applicable info here. For other forms of larp and role-playing - the closer your narrative structure is to Vampire, the more relevant will Storyteller Secrets be for you.

If you bought it, leave a comment below and let me know how you liked it.

P.S. They seemed to have corrected the price back to $20 now. Damn. Could've saved $5 if we waited for a few hours. But then you wouldn't have this article in less than 17 hours since the book got released. If you feel bad for me, I recommend buying me a beer. That always works. It's a bit cheaper now, but everything I said for its' old price is still valid. It's a specialized product.

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