Pros: Plenty of handy information
Cons: Tough to reference quickly during game-play; tries too hard to be “bad”
Rating: 3 out of 5
First published 10/15/1997
Previously published on RPGNet
If you want a ghoul in your campaign, then “Ghouls” is worth your money and reading time. It addresses those nit-picky little rules questions you thought of after reading “Vampire: the Masquerade”, and even answers most of them. I was surprised and pleased by the thoroughness of the book; this is definitely better than your average White Wolf supplement.
If you have V:tM, then you have some idea of what a ghoul is. It’s a human who’s fed on the blood of a vampire without being completely drained first. You get some of the spiffy powers of a vampire without those little drawbacks like being burned by sunlight. Of course this comes with a few heavy price tags: a craving for vampire blood (which you must have at least once a month, but oh, do you want it more than that), and, ordinarily, a supernatural Blood Bond to the vampire who feeds you.
I went into this book with a lot of questions (how high can you take disciplines? do you acquire the clan flaw of the vampire who feeds you? how much blood do you need? what happens if you ghoul a mage? ad nauseum). I was surprised by just how many of them were answered by the book. Radner and Skemp certainly did their homework.
There were a few things that were either unclear or slightly contradictory, but if you read the whole thing you can usually find a detail here or there that makes things clear. For example, one of the horrors a ghoul must sometimes face is that of withdrawal; running out of vampire blood is not a pretty thing. However, I didn’t find reference to whether you go into withdrawal at the end of the month when you run out of blood, or before. It does say, however, that ghouls who do drugs in an attempt to curb the withdrawal cravings are liable to spread their tainted blood among mortals by sharing needles. So, you can infer that the poor ghoul’s cravings start before they run out of vampire blood. Yes, it would be nice if it was spelled out, and I would have preferred it if the book were organized better, but at least the information is there. It’s clear that the authors understood their concept and what they wanted out of “Ghouls”.
My experiences using the rules for ghouls have been good. They consisted of taking an existing character and rewriting her for play as a ghoul, and the process has worked well. The book made it easy, making it clear what the character could and couldn’t do, how the process might affect her emotionally, etc. I’ve enjoyed running my new character, and have had no problems implementing the rules. The downsides seem to balance out the new abilities reasonably well.
The real downside I’ve found to the occasional lack of clarity is that while the book makes sense when read as a coherent whole, it has problems as an in-game reference book. If you’re trying to find a particular detail of ghoul physiology in the middle of a run, it can be rather frustrating.
My other complaint about the book would be regarding style. The cover art leaves more than a little to be desired: it’s ugly, it’s pointless, and it’s fairly irrelevant. I can think of a dozen scenes that would have more effectively gotten across the horror of a ghoul’s situation (if only I had any artistic talent to go with). The story is okay, the templates are somewhat interesting; the examples of conflict are good. The authors seemed to have a preoccupation with B&D; I don’t have a problem with that in general, but it interferes with the book in places and gets tiresome after a while. It has the feel of the writers saying “oh, wait, this book is supposed to be ‘bad’. I’d better stick another bondage description in here.”
Thanks to the style problems this isn’t a supplement I’d pick for side-reading material, but if you want to have ghouls in your campaign at all then it’s a very useful book. Just make sure you have the time to read the entire thing.