Houses of the Blooded

September 13, 2008

I picked up John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded, and am still reading my way through it. So far:

What’s Good

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.


  1. Glad to see I’m not the only one thinking a bit of Unversalis in there and the Aspect tagging too.

    It’s interesting to see these things blended.

    I do see it like Skyrealms of Jorune or Tekumel in that the game is wrapped into a very specific vibe and setting so even if you’re cool with some of the mechanics it may not be your thing, or you’re cool on the situation/concept but not the mechanics likewise.

    The good I can see about this is that people who take the time to absorb the text and also take the text’s advice that “actually not everything in the text may be true of the Ven” (e.g., you can vary that) will be off to a good start with shared imaginary space/theme/colour consistency for their play.

  2. This is actually one of the few games where I dig both the setting and the system (in concept, I have to play it to really know).

    After fully reading the book last night, I’ve come to the conclusion that the game works best in the genre of “crazy fantasy shoujo romance”- where you end up cradling the decapitated head of your one true love who turns out to be your half brother who also tried to cut off your hand when you first met but you found yourself obsessing over anyway.

    Or, as my friends call it, “Cracktasticness”.

  3. Thanks for the feedback!

    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.

    I have to say, I completely disagree. Having worked in both the “mainstream” game industry and the “indie” game industry, the creative freedom of not having to answer to producers-who-want-to-direct.

    A much larger issue that I’ll probably write about in my own journal. Thanks for the idea!

  4. Hi John,

    Are you saying that in both situations you -have- complete freedom or that in both situations you do not?

    Either way still says something about the trend of rpgs and lack of representation of characters of color.

  5. What I mean to say is that as my own publisher, everything in the book has my name on it; not just the cover.

    There were choices in L5R and 7th Sea (a LOT of choices in 7th Sea) that were not mine, but my name was on the book. I owned those choices, regardless of whether or not I made them.

    As a self-publisher, I’m responsible for everything. That’s liberating in a big way, but it also means I have to own the mistakes, oversights, etc. I don’t mind that second bit and I love the first bit.

    The game is MINE. And that frees me up and makes me responsible all at the same time.

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