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What is Bloodstained Love?

Can the Kindred ever truly love?

Expand your game of personal and political horror to include wide-eyed lovers and manipulative monsters.  The book is for Storytellers and players alike, giving you tools, techniques and advice on how to bring romance to the undead. This book includes 6 six fleshed out storytelling characters and six detailed story concepts, all designed to maximize romance potential.

Features

  • How to play your character in stories of romance.
  • How to build your chronicle from the ground up so that the options for romance are maximized or minimized.
  • Six fully fleshed out Storyteller characters specifically designed for romance.
  • Six detailed story concepts created to maximize romantic potential.
  • Advice and tools for safety and calibration, expanding on the corebook’s Advice for Considerate Play appendix.
  • Tools for defining and maintaining everyone’s boundaries at the table.
  • Sections on alternate methods for playing romance.
  • Merits, Flaws and Discipline powers related to romance.

At a Glance

  • Full-Color Hardcover Book
  • Sourcebook for the Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition RPG
  • Minimum Age 18+

Review

BLOODSTAINED 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 admit not entirely for beneficent reasons because my reaction to the premise, “a book about roleplaying love” was basically, “Okay, this will either be awesome or a car crash and I’m there for it either way.” It’s horrible but I’m being honest here and you can’t tell me some of you weren’t thinking the exact same thing. I’m a big fan of storytelling supplements that get into night-to-night elements of Kindred unlife and always liked the OWOD 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 passionate love affair with Annabelle from Chicago by Night with his Storyteller. Historically, V:TM has also had a significant “creep” factor among LARPs that also casts a pall over the hobby. How would it handle gay, polyarmory, and other issues that V:TM touches on but always seemed afraid to directly address. What about sex? Which, oof.

This is going to be a pretty long review and is already getting into depth you might not want so the TLDR summary is: the book is okay. In the spectrum between Cults of the Blood Gods (arguably best book ever written for V:TM) and the Second Inquisition (let’s just say not my cup of tea), there’s Bloodstained Love. 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 actually 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 American (and plenty of other countries too) just noped the hell out of the concept.

Honestly, I think was mostly a cultural translation issue as if you did a find/replace on the discussions with “getting into character”, it would be far less of an issue. However, the book treats bleed as an objective good when it seems to utterly miss the aforementioned “creep” factor that V:TM fandom has always struggled with. When romancing Allicia or Evelyn Stephens from Forged in Steel, I’m writing a story with the ST versus trying to get my freak on. Also, I’d hate to be a gamer and suddenly feel like I’m being hit on by a fellow player. Sorry, but it’s only Mrs. Phipps who gets to do that and she isn’t a gamer.

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. Allow a single passage here to do all of my explaining for where the author goes wrong in their handling of the subject:

From Page 53:

IN PORNOGRAPHIC DETAIL

You can play Vampire in many different contexts, including for the purposes of sexual titillation. One way to do this is to play the game with your sex partner on a one-on-one basis (or with more consenting, informed sex partners), using the sexual exploits of your characters as a form of foreplay

Dude. No. Why would you write this? Oversharing much?

Problem three is the handling of sex and I’m going to put this out there: the sex 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. David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve were sexually active Kindred in love in The Hunger and they murdered two people a week. The book has Victoria Ash talking at length about her lovers and she’s a murderous elder. They didn’t even put in the rule about using the Blush of Life to do it. Physical changes for your Humanity score is stupid and it pisses me off they were left unchanged. Yes, I’ve put too much thought into this.

Which is to say this book is also very rules lite. I’m not asking for Dexterity + Performance rules. I’m wondering about “feeding during sex” dangers, frenzy checks for love, alterations to the True Love Merit, blood bond rules, and other things that would actually be interesting during this. There’s no Loresheets and only a few Tremere rituals when you’d think there’d be at least a couple of interesting ones related to romance or sex.

Interestingly, the book provides a large number of 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’s 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. The NPCs are well-written as are the adventure hooks but I feel like the actual game portion of the book is underdeveloped. 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. Sitll, you’d think of all Signature NPCs, Victoria Ash would be statted here.

Speaking of which, my pettiest complaint about this book is probably something only I will be bothered by and that’s the portrayal of Victoria Ash. Basically, one section where she talks about the most romantic and fascinating clan before declaring it the Tzimisce. She even discusses her romance with a Fiend. Ha-ha funny subversion. Except, literally one of the few really important character beats of Victoria Ash is that she was held captive as well as horribly tortured by Tzimisce fleshcraft. It’s an event that left her horribly traumatized and terrified of the clan. Now, I know maybe the author doesn’t have the kind of lifelong bond with these characters I do. The way some dudes have with Spider-Man or Optimus Prime but this just is especially egregious. Like doing a story about Indiana Jones where you go out of your way to talk about his lifelong bond with snakes.

In conclusion, Bloodstained 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 falls 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.

Available here (Renegade)

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