Last Updated on February 14, 2024
Blood-Stained Love is the latest supplement for Vampire: The Masquerade and I have to say that it is a supplement I was looking forward to a lot. I’m a big fan of storytelling supplements that get into night-to-night elements of Kindred unlife and always liked the original World of Darkness books about things like Elysiums, havens, or how to run your own organized criminal syndicate as a Kindred.
As stated, the premise is that this book deals with love among the Damned. Do Kindred love? Are they capable of love? How does that love manifest? How do you roleplay that? What are the boundaries? Distilled to its brass tacks, quite a few players want absolutely nothing to do with roleplaying his or her character’s passionate love affair with Annabelle from Chicago by Night with their Storyteller.
What is my summary of the book’s contents? The book is okay. It didn’t give me a lot of what I’d hoped for and has a few questionable elements but it’s overall a very well-designed sourcebook that strongly emphasizes comfort. Consent too. It gives some basic “romance novel writing 101” tips and hooks that a lot of STs will benefit from. Also, the “should be obvious but isn’t” fact that players and STs can make horrifying destructive romances with power imbalances or terrorized partners without making any commentary on themselves in the real world.
Unfortunately, being “okay” is the worst sort of thing to be when doing a review and you didn’t come here to hear about me talk about the fact it’s mostly basic information about, “Yeah, love triangles are a good source of drama” and “romances across sect lines can have a lot of tension” or even, “The blood bond is artificial and not a true replacement for love.” There’s some decent chronicle ideas and advice here that compromises roughly 80% of the book. It’s just the remaining 20% really is the stuff worth discussing for better and worse. So, take my subsequent discussion of that with a grain of salt.
First to bring up is the book’s discussion of “Bleed” which isn’t a vampire term but a reference to ‘bleeding over’ emotions from roleplaying. Example: When John Wick’s dog dies, you, his player, feel pissed off. This caused a controversy before the book even released as people freaked out about the concept. It’s a big deal in Nordic LARP and encouraged while many gamers in other countries dislike it strongly.
Which brings up to problem two and the fact the authors sometimes seem to think this is a lot deeper “method acting” game of INTIMATE DETAIL versus for, what I suspect, 90% of the player it is, a boardgame. Not even improv theater, just a chance to sling some dice and pretend to be Blade or Selene.
Problem three is the handling of sex and I’m going to put this out there: the sex and intimacy rules suck. Which is to say only Kindred who have Humanity 7 or above can have sex. It’s a stupid rule. It was stupid twenty years ago and it’s stupid now. Of anything to change in a supplement about sex, romance, and intimacy–this is the one they should have. They didn’t even put in the rule about using the Blush of Life to do it.
Interestingly, the book provides many adventure hooks consisting of “players enter a new court and are weirded out by all the complicated rules on love the Kindred face there.” These usually consist of describing the local Kindred with a single paragraph and some possible adventure hook. This is okay content but of questionable utility if you’re playing in a specific area. It’s not bad content but I feel like players would have gotten more out of something like the Daughters of Cacophony or things like Predator type complications.
There are some good tables about High vs. Low Humanity dates and gifts, but an entire chapter is wasted on NPCs when romantic interest is much better to spark organically among them. Countless players have had their characters love everyone from Lucita to Calebros and it’s best to just let interest develop on its own- Any NPC can be a potential LI after all. Still, you’d think of all Signature NPCs, Victoria Ash would be statted here.
In conclusion, Blood-Stained Love is an okay book. It’s an enjoyable little conversation piece with a lot of flowery language and some decent ideas for romance stories. Unfortunately, the books fall for its own press a little bit and tries to make the subject a lot more meaningful than it is. It wants to get meaningful and deep when I suspect most of us are quite comfortable keeping it surface level. I give the book credit that it had a good mix of straight, poly, and queer relationships. I also give it credit for lovely art and suggesting that, shock of shocks, players can tell the difference between fiction and reality. It just needed more of the awareness that some players need a bit more in the way of boundaries.