I picked up John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded, and am still reading my way through it. So far:
The basic concept is that you play supernaturally empowered nobles (“The Ven”) in a time before history vying with each other for power.
An interesting twist is that they don’t die- they end up slumbering in a cocoon after a period of time – so they have no concept of an afterlife, which makes murder the worst thing you can do to someone… which sets up Revenge as the big thing of the game.
The system has some neat mechanics which tie together for an interesting combination. The basic Risk rolls has players narrating facts (similar to Universalis in a way) and there’s a bit of FATE’s Aspect system, tweaked a bit more specific. There’s a few larger subsystems- for managing your domains, Romance, Revenge, etc. which I have yet to read deeper into, but look interesting in terms of long term play and possibly doing generational games.
John’s voice is throughout the book- there’s lots of good commentary and advice on how to run the game, funny snarky remarks and stuff that makes it approachable. There’s also the all-important and crucial advice on the difference between playing a friendly player vs. player campaign vs. cutthroat one (It’ll be interesting to see how play in this compares to Burning Wheel or In a Wicked Age, in that regard).
Not so good
So far, the two issues I have are not to do with the game design itself, but rather, around the delivery of the game.
First, the PDF is $5. The book is $45 for a softcover. I’m usually the last to complain about rpg prices (as they have been woefully underpriced for YEARS) and mostly compare the price to an equivalent book in any other bookstore. Still, this felt a little too high and I’ve heard a couple of people put it back down after looking at the price. I’m sure a few folks might do the pricepoint themselves and figure out that printing the PDF at a copy shop might be less than half the price of buying the book. Assuming they actually know they can buy the PDF…
Second, representation wise, this kind of falls in the same category as Reign for me. The characters are described as POC, but… there’s no images of them, the homepage shows quite a different appearance, and the names of the Houses sound much more like pretty standard European names (Steele, Thorne, Burghe, etc.). It’s like the Chinese in Firefly: they’re ignorably there, blink, and maybe it was subliminal or your imagination.
It’s really disheartening to see games where the creators have complete control and authorship, not answering to any corporate PR or Marketing Department still refusing to actually depict characters of color in their games. Maybe the fear is like when Do the Right Thing released, “ZOMG! There’ll be riots in the game stores!”…
All in All
It looks like a really solid game for a blood opera, and I look forward to playing it with some folks. It’ll probably require some retooling and negotiation around the representation issues for the folks I play with, and some summarization, but I we’d have a good time with it.