Book Review: White Wolf’s Horror Recognition Guide (Or: A reminder of how nerdy I really am)

When I started this blog, I decided that only certain kinds of books ‘count,’ for the purpose of book reviews. Namely, I was going to focus on long-form narratives, and not bother reviewing whatever RPG material or comic books I read. After all, the process of reading a Player’s Guide is a bit different from that of a novel. (Though if someone asks me nice enough, I could probably share some thoughts on Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition, or Essential X-Men Volume 4, since those are both on my bookshelf right now).

And for the time being, I’m sticking to that! Technically. See, last week, I just finished reading White Wolf’s, Horror Recognition Guide, which is a supplement for their Hunter: The Vigil gameline. However, the interesting thing is, the book is all “fluff,” (atmospheric fiction) and no “crunch” (stats and rules and stuff. Basically, despite being an RPG book, there’s nothing in there that says “This is a +2 Axe of Headchopping” or whatever) Based on that, I’ve decided it’s fair game for my blog. Woo!

First, some background. Hunter: The Vigil is a tabletop roleplaying game, released by White Wolf studios in 2008. For the less geeky amongst my readership, White Wolf is a company that made a name for itself by making horror-themed games in which you get to play as a vampire, a werewolf, a mage, whatever.

Hunter is the game where you find those guys and kill them, a la Lost Boys or Van Helsing. Well, maybe not as gonzo awesome as Van Helsing, but you get the idea.

So once you get your head around the whole ‘there are monsters!’ premise, the whole book works pretty well as a horror anthology. It’s divided up into a bunch of chapters, or ‘casefiles,’ as the whole book is presented as a collection of article clippings, journal entries, wiretap transcripts, and so on. Each story is about a different kind of “thing,” there’s some straightforward stories about vampires, werewolves, etc, but the more fun ones get into crazy-ass stuff like radioactive Frankenstein gangsters or Lovecraftian things Man Was Not Meant to Know. All the stories are somehow or another connected to Philadelphia, which apparently is crawling with horrible monsters.

The best story of the anthology is “The Market,” which is about a creepy fairy-tale-esque marketplace where witch-things take their payment in memories and so on. However, the gimmick is, the story’s told from the perspective of a banker who’s decided he’s going to destroy the place through economic warfare. It’s a nice twist on the subject matter, and if you’re paying attention, you can actually see how the story ties into an earlier chapter/casefile of the book. There are all kinds of little touches connecting some of the casefiles together- keeping an eye out for them is a fun little puzzle, and adds to the enjoyment of the anthology.

This said, not all of the stories are as good as “The Market.” I think a lot of this stems from the fact that this is a gaming book. Agood number of the stories have a definite arc wherein some poor bastard finds a monster, tries to figure it out, and deals with the monster one way or another. However, there are a couple of chapters that esentially boil down to: “This guy found some really weird and crazy shit. Here’s his description of it. Oh, by the way, he disappeared two days later and we never heard from him again.” It’s a bit unsatisfying as a standalone story, but it makes for good gaming plot hooks.

This said, I did get some enjoyment out of those gaming plot hooks as well! I’m currently playing in a LARP set in the same setting outlined in the Horror Recognition Guide. One of the gimmicks of this LARP game is that you have a bunch of night-prowling critters running around, and they’re all forced to work together to fight horrible Lovecraftian monsters. And amidst all this craziness, you have my character, who’s a regular human with no supernatural powers, and little knowledge of the crazy ass occult stuff going on around him. It’s somewhat liberating, since as a player I don’t know much about the setting, my character in turn knows even less. Think Xander, from Buffy (only without the cute redhead pining after him in the early seasons).

Because of this, I read the Horror Recognition Guide on two levels- the first being as, well, myself, enjoying some creepy stories. However, I was also able to read it ‘in character,’ as well, and so I’m looking forward to applying some of this third-hand information in the game proper. I don’t expect to be quoting the casefiles verbatim or anything, but at least now I figure I’ve got a kinda-sorta grounding for my poor character to get into even MORE trouble as the game goes on.

If nothing else, my character’s going to be staying the heck out of Philly.


1 Comment

  1. Tamesh

    So as a hardcore nWoD fan, I think the biggest appeal to me was sorta a voyeuristic pleasure. There’s a whole bunch of material in the book that’s weird and confusing and the eureka moment when you find out what it is even though the protagonist never does has a certain appeal to it. One of the stories, as I recall, is about a Ukrainian mafioso who seems to be giving people cancer somehow. And when you’re familiar enough with the source material, you know exactly the implications of all that. You completely understand the weird ice lady’s motivations and what just happened to the dude who got frozen half to death. Now those might not be the strongest stories in the book. As the article mentioned, a lot of them sorta go ‘WOW, LOOK, A MONSTER’ and seem pretty content to just leave it at that. and from an objective standpoint that’s probably lazy writing, but there IS actually more to them if the digging is done. And I really like that. It makes the universe feel a little more cohesive, and sorta puts you into the character’s shoes when you’re actually pouring through books yourself trying to piece together this crazy thing you just read. I can totally understand it’s not an appeal for everyone, and it’s not as if it takes a hardcore fan to appreciate the stories, but its certainly an interesting element of the book.

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