This first impression is based on access to the Demiplane Nexus Vampire Ultimate Bundle, which I received for review from Adam Bradford of Demiplane. The Bundle, as of this writing, is $179.94, which includes the preorder of the upcoming Vampire Player’s Guide. Before this, I purchased my own copy of the PDF for Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition, and I have purchased my own copy of the Marvel Multiverse RPG playtest from Demiplane Nexus.

My Bloody History

I didn’t get into Vampire the Masquerade in the 90s like many gamers I know. In fact, by the time Vampire was ascendent, I was one of those poor souls that was moving into Magic the Gathering rather than playing RPGs, so I could play over lunch with my coworkers. I didn’t engage with any version of Vampire, Werewolf, or the associated games until the last decade or so, and even then, my vector of entry was Werewolf the Forsaken.

In 2018, Vampire the Masquerade’s 5th edition release seemed like a good jumping on point for me. Because I wasn’t quite ready to commit, I only picked up the PDF. When I did so, there were a few hurdles to my engagement. The first, and most important, hurdle was the very heavy-handed edge factor that worked into the narrative. This edge factor introduced some very poorly thought-out commentary on the real world, in addition to some characters and scenarios that incautiously introduced topics that might be widely uncomfortable for many players. The second hurdle was the format of the book.

Venturing into the Book

Three-column layout. Large splashes of photo-manipulated images, in addition to splashes of red, and shifting backgrounds, with varying colors. It may have been very stylish, and it may have been presenting a specific aesthetic, but my brain just couldn’t engage with it. Given that I picked up the PDF out of curiosity, and that the tone of the setting was outside of my usual comfort zone, that additional challenge pushed V5 out of my list of games with which to engage.

Two things have made me want to reengage with the game. After the development of the World of Darkness passed to Renegade Game Studios, some of the talent brought on to work on the game caught my attention. For example, I’ve wanted to check out Chris Spivey’s work on Chicago by Night since my last interview with him. The other factor was that Renegade Game Studios was branching out to create new editions of other World of Darkness games, such as Hunter the Reckoning and Werewolf the Apocalypse.

After my review of Hunter the Reckoning, I knew that the approach to sensitive topics was much more measured, and the formatting of the book was much more practical. I wanted to touch base with V5, but that core book still made my head swim. At this point, I wanted to make it clear that I’m sure some people love the format and the aesthetics of the book, and my brain and its ability to retain information isn’t, by any means, indicative of how anyone else’s brain might work. I just know what I can and can’t engage with.

While discussing online with what the Vampire Player’s Guide may have in it and discussing my general dissatisfaction with my ability to engage with the material, Adam Bradford of Demiplane offered me access to the Vampire Demiplane Nexus Ultimate Bundle. This bundle currently includes the following resources:

  • Vampire the Masquerade Companion (Online Reference)
  • Vampire the Masquerade Corebook
  • Auld Sanguine (Adventure)
  • Chicago by Night
  • Cults of the Blood Gods
  • Anarch Sourcebook
  • Camarilla Sourcebook
  • Second Inquisition
  • Sabbat: The Black Hand

In addition, this bundle includes the preorder for the Player’s Guide, which is not (at the time of this writing) available.

What’s on the Nexus?

There are several ways to engage with digital access on Demiplane Nexus. On the main Vampire page on Nexus, there are four banners you can click:

  • Digital Reader
  • Vampire Clans
  • Discipline/Powers
  • Character Tools

The Digital Reader presents the book in page order, with the content formatted in the same order as the information in the book, including a list of bookmarks on the left side of the page. For any of the pages that show “handouts,” i.e. story elements that are formatted to look like letters or notes presented as images, you can switch between the text of the page and how that text appears in the book.

Compared to the PDF, the layout of these pages is in a single column. Artwork that was behind the text in the core book appears at the beginning or end of a section. The background is consistently black, since this is scrolling text on a webpage, rather than discreet pages.

The Vampire Clans page has a picture of members of the various clans, the various titles of the individual clans, and a “view clan” button. Clicking on the individual clan pages gives you a description of the clan, as well as their Disciplines, Banes, and Compulsions. The clan pages have a section on information about the clan, formatted by what source the information comes from. For example, there is a section for the information presented in the companion, and the individual sourcebooks, and individual game rules that were introduced in those sources, pertaining to the individual clans, appear on these pages. There are hyperlinks to the Disciplines associated with the clans, and the page ends with clan powers with a drop down button next to them, showing the game rules associated with the powers.

Discipline/Powers has all of the powers in the unlocked sources listed, with the same drop down as the powers have in their summary at the bottom of the clan pages. The Discipline/Powers section has a search bar for searching powers, as well as icons to filter powers by their associated Discipline.

The Character Tools section isn’t currently up and running. When it is, it seems like it’s meant to be a character creation tool much like the tools that appear on D&D Beyond for making D&D 5e characters. People with a Demiplane subscription beyond just owning the individual sources will have unlimited character slots. I’m not sure how many characters will be the default, or if there will be a limit per account or by game by account.

Kicking the Tires

I spent some time poking around the site both on my desktop and on my phone. The website works well on my phone, fitting the format of the screen. The upper left hand of the page calls up general Demiplane Nexus links, including sources, game rules, characters, groups, and notifications. When using the Digital Reader function, the source outline appears in the lower left-hand corner of the page. Without using the Digital Reader, there are hyperlinks to the individual sections of the book.

The search bar that appears at the top of the page has a drop down at the right hand side of the page that lets you select from the sources currently hosted on Nexus, and if you access the search field from a Vampire source page, the search bar will default to Vampire: The Masquerade. This may be the time to bring up a concern I have over this format. One of the things that interests me is that Hunter the Reckoning presents various organizations, but also indicates that some of them have more details in the V5 Second Inquisition book.

It’s not too difficult to switch back and forth between sources, but it is interesting to me that it does not appear that the various World of Darkness sources will be linked under a meta-banner. Given that the character builder isn’t up and running, and the only non-Vampire World of Darkness source currently is the Hunter the Reckoning core book, it’s hard to tell how much this may or may not be a barrier to someone pulling from multiple games in the setting.

Because I’m still getting used to the system, in addition to the site interface, I needed a vector from which to guide my use of the site. Despite not having the character builder up and running, I decided one of the best ways to take a tour of the site would be to make a character. I printed out a character sheet and got ready to dive in.

Making a Vampire

Before I made the character, I decided to just run a test on the search function by searching the various terms on the character sheet. Here are a few things I noticed:

  • Even if something is a game term, if it is a term made up of different words, each word gets searched–for example, it will bring up single words highlighted, in addition to the entire phrase, if it finds instances
  • Each of the responses has a general topic under which it is organized–for example, Game Element or Compendium Entry
  • When some game elements come up, some will have a button that says “view source,” which I assumed would take me to the section of the book where the rule is located, but it just opens the table of contents for the source

After playing around with this search bar, and seeing the kinds of responses it yields, the search bar almost feels more useful for finding proper names rather than game rules. For example, if you search for an NPCs name from a source, you can find where they are referenced in a book. If you look up the name of an organization, you can find where it is referenced in an existing source. But the game rules all have that “view source” button that takes you to the table of contents of the source. I’m wondering if I’m missing something about how this is meant to work.

The process of making a character was actually fairly easy when facilitated by the site. Clicking on the character creation of the core rules takes you to the summary for making a character, but what makes this a better experience than trying to bounce around the PDF is the fact that various hyperlinks allow you to have additional tabs open. You can open the clan page, the pages for clans, the pages for Discipline and Powers, and the pages for Advantages and Flaws. And because the core rules kind of backtrack and have you go back and forth adding elements to your character, having all of these open and hyperlinked was extremely helpful.

Normally, when I review a source, I read it from cover to cover, taking notes while listening to the PDF being read out loud. If the character creation process has multiple levels to it, I tend to create a character in the system as part of the process of reviewing. I didn’t perform that level of review of V5, but I feel like the process of clicking around the site to make my character, as well as being able to follow a few links to other rules or setting elements that were referenced, that I know more about V5 over the last three nights than I’ve picked up since 2018 (and more lore elements that I’ve picked up since the 90s).

Final Thoughts
 I definitely think that online rules reference sites are the direction that the RPG industry needs to move in the future. 

I definitely think that online rules reference sites are the direction that the RPG industry needs to move in the future. Having properly linked pages for quick navigation allows people to engage with the rules to answer questions, quickly, and as they come up. That’s important for keeping newly interested players engaged.

I like how the individual sections group all the items that fall under that topic, but there is something that I want the website to address which may be more of a shortcoming of the game itself. By that, I mean, I wish there was a hyperlinked page with game terms in a glossary. In most cases, it’s fairly easy to determine what section of the books a topic would fall, but I would love it if all of those game terms just lived together in one place.

There is a glossary in the core book, but the only items in the glossary that are game terms are those that are both something in the setting that also has game rules attached to it. A game term glossary would be great, but I don’t know that reorganizing rules outside of the structure the designers build is within the purview of a 3rd party making a website for those rules. But I would love it.

I want to revisit all this once the Player’s Guide is out, to see how that source presents the process of creating characters, and once the Character Tools are up and running. I’m also interested to see if there is a good way to implement some of the “shared” resources, like the Coterie powers or the Relationship Map, so that everyone in a Chronicle has access to those things on the same site as the character.