09 June 2020
The first full campaign for Vampire: The Masquerade’s latest edition weaves a haunting story of blood and betrayal intimately bound to the streets and skyscrapers of the capital. At times, however, it feels like the authors rather forgot that The Fall of London is meant to be played rather than read.
Honestly, though, this shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise. Throughout its history V:tM has been a game that wobbles its way between artistry and indulgence, and in many ways The Fall of London is simply following in that tradition.
Perhaps the reason it feels so grating this time around is that the core theme for the campaign, known rather grandly as a ‘chronicle’, revolves an absolute classic RPG conceit – the fetch quest. Within a few minutes of the game kicking off the party are given a shopping list of five ancient artefacts to retrieve from around London, a handful of potential contacts and a not-so-gentle prod out of the door.
It’s not the most inventive plot line out there, but it works rather well as an excuse to get the players exploring the busy streets and interacting with the city’s nocturnal inhabitants. This is good, because simply wandering about town and getting to know the area is where The Fall of London absolutely excels.
The book simply does an incredible job of seizing on everything that makes the ancient, sprawling capital feel special. It blends fashion-design drama with the mysteries of Roman Britain, drags the players through encounters with punks and aristocracy, and propels them from abandoned tube stations to the most exclusive floors of the Shard.
This all works beautifully thanks to another of The Fall of London’s other conceits, which firmly suggests that the players all slip into the coffins of pre-generated characters who have all been unconscious since the 1940s. With this, the players are given free reign to explore the city as strangers, removing any requirement that they already be familiar with either London itself of the wider V:tM history.
So many aspects of the book seem designed to make it easy for players and GMs alike to slide easily and comfortably into the campaign. It’s a little unfortunate, then, that the heart of the book – the writing – leaves a rake lying in the middle of the road.
The issue isn’t that the writing is bad. Indeed, much of it is beautiful and bubbling with dark, bloody imagination. It’s just that there’s so damn much of it.
For example, somewhere in the middle of the campaign, the characters have a chance to run into an enchanting vampiric costume designer who makes her lair in the walls of a theatre. The likely encounter with her is a delightful display of everything that makes V:tM great, but the background information on this relatively minor NPC spans about two and a half pages of text.
When you’re sitting in your armchair, scanning over the book in preparation for tomorrow’s session, this depth is something you can revel in. However, when you get to game night and need to quickly lookup a vital nugget of information with actual impact on the adventure, it can be hard to pluck it from the paragraphs detailing how many brothers they had or their dealings with their accountant.
Even in the main body of the adventure, every scene is fleshed out with as much detail and background information as possible, and while this seems like it should help the GM out, the sheer weight of options and facts it presents can instead feel restrictive. Unless your GM is very confident when it comes to picking and choosing which bits of the text to use, you can expect them to spend a rather worrying amount of playtime with their head buried in a book.
There is an argument to be made that this lush, detailed style is something fans expect from V:tM, but as a gaming tool it’s hard to feel that the book doesn’t toe over the line into indulgence.
At its beating heart, The Fall of London is a well-crafted story and a beautiful exploration of circles that few other RPGs would cross into. If you’re adept at picking your way through walls of prose, or actively prefer the wordier style it’s a wonderful way to embrace the night. Possibly, though, you might find it a rather frustrating one.
PLAY IT? Probably
A beautifully bloody exploration of vampiric London, hampered by a bit of overwriting
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED… Vampire: The Masquerade - New Blood Starter Pack
If you've ripped through the new starter set for V:tM and want to explore something a little meatier, Fall of London is a solid place to get your vamp on.
Designer: White Wolf Entertainment
This review originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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