[V5] [Review] Sabbat: The Black Hand - They're back!

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CT_Phipps

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Link: https://booknest.eu/reviews/charles/2322-sabbattheblackhand

4.5/5

SABBAT: THE BLACK HAND is the latest supplement to come out for Vampire: The Masquerade Fifth Edition as well as the first to come from new license holder Renegade Games Studios. The Sabbat have long been one of the three bedrocks of the setting with the other two (The Camarilla and Anarchs) having their own supplements. The fact the Sabbat did not have a supplement before now and were left conspicuously undetailed has been a source of controversy among the fandom. Even more so with the revelation that, even in this book, they would be regulated to NPC antagonists rather than player characters as have been available since 1994.

For me, I've always been a fan of the Sabbat and they are my second favorite sect after the Anarchs. I've played many interesting and fascinating Sabbat characters both as a Storyteller as well as a player. I feel like if there's any gameline that shouldn't judge you for being "evil", it should be Vampire: The Masquerade. Nevertheless, that doesn't automatically discount my interest in this book. I feel like the Sabbat are something the setting desperately needs to be complete and even if I have to make my own rules for playing them, I want as much as I can about them in Fifth Edition. So does the book succeed on that level?

Thankfully, yes. This is easily the best of the main game books, surpassing both sect books as well as the main book, IMHO. I prefer Chicago by Night Fifth Edition and Blood Cults but this is definitely one of the better works done for Fifth Edition. It is written almost entirely out of character and gives clear, concise, as well as informative facts about what the state of the Sabbat is as well as how to run them. There's also ample crunch to be found here as well as lore. The book is more than a little on the short side, though, with 134 pages in length. Given the Camarilla was 204, I have to wonder who decided to not give the writer room to breathe. I don't think anyone would have disliked having more material to follow up on.

The Fifth Edition version of the Sabbat has suffered heavy losses at the hands of the Second Inquisition, their massive Gehenna War, as well as in-fighting. The Sabbat has forfeited most of its territory to the Camarilla and Anarchs with defectors to both sects. Some of the more popular Paths of Enlightenment have also become forgotten with the Path of Beast (Feral Heart), Honorable Accord, and Lilith being all but abandoned. 5E amalgamation has also hit a few of these paths too with the Path of Night and Path of Metamorphisis becoming "flavors" of the Path of Cathari and Path of Death and Soul. There is no Regent of the Sabbat and it is controlled by a loose alliance of warring Cardinals. No sign exists of the (False) Black Hand special forces that once were the deadliest killers outside of Alamut.

However, not all is ill in the Sword of Caine. The Fifth Edition version of the Sabbat is more ideologically committed and united than ever. No Sabbat remain on the Path of Humanity and infighting is practically nonexistent. While they have lost vast swathes of territory, they still maintain Archbishopdoms and strongholds across the world. They do not suffer Stains, have Touchstones, or have penalties for diablerie. Oh and among their tricks are now the ability to raise feral zombies, create Blood Brother-esque mini-vozhd from ghouls, and other abominations against both magic as well as reality. The Gehenna War is all but it is not fought in the Middle East but every corner of the globe against anyone the Sabbat wishes.

The Sabbat is not a swarm of locusts even if their focus is entirely on the war against the Antediluvian. They engage in hot war of Mass Embraces, mass diablerie, and Sabbat Crusades as before but this is only part of the way it's done. Instead, they also engage in cold war using subversion, destabilization, and infiltration that is every bit as intelligent as before. The Paths replace Clans for dividing up the Sabbat with all of them identifying as antitribu now. We get insights into the various ritae the Sabbat perform as well as how each Path treats the process of doing so. We also have a new Path in the Path of Sun that is followed exclusively by the Thin Bloods that may actually have a better time in the Sabbat than the Camarilla.

The art of the books is fantastic and those few fiction elements of the book are well-handled. I was disappointed we didn't get more information on Sabbat NPCs but Lucita is apparently (accent on apparently) still unalive and ruling Madrid. She's now a Lasombra Antitribu. Vykos is also alive, back to referring to themselves as Sascha, and a Tzimisce Antitribu. We also get a part of the book detailing what happened to the Web of Knives and Alamut. It's ridiculously gonzo and I think meant to state we're never going to hear of Ur-Shulgi or the diablerie-happy murder cultists of the Banu Haqim again.

In conclusion, this is a solid and entertaining book but I can see where massive amounts of content could have been added that would have made it an even better experience. They could have easily included a Path system and mechanics for running them rather than just say, "Sabbat don't suffer your puny degeneration unless they are nice to mortals or are other kinds of freaks." The seeming loss of the Inquisition and (False) Black Hand is also notable with no commentary on the Harbingers, Salubri Antitribu, or other matters that could have been inserted into the abbreviated history. There are also no Loresheets, even for people who fight the Sabbat or have defected from them. But for what the book is, sharing a truly terrifying fanatical sect that will not be stopped, it does gloriously.

Sabbat: The Black Hand is not presently available in printed form but the PDF is available at a somewhat overpriced $35 (especially for the page content) or free with the purchase of the physical book that is only ten dollars more. I recommend getting the latter if you're not going to wait for the price to go down as at least you'll have more bang for your buck. Even then, the physical books haven't been shipped and you just get the PDF immediately. This will, of course, change with time.
 

The Butcher

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Thanks for the review. I’m still not entirely sold on V5 TBH — I’ve heard the praise for the ruleset but I don’t think they know what they’re doing with the fluff, TBH — and this review more or less compounds this opinion. But it’s still fun to know where the fiction is going… like catching up with an old friend.
 

Ralph Dula

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Hasn't that been mostly true since like halfway through oWoD? :devil:

I still regret all the time I wasted on interacting with an OWOD author who would go on and on about crossover potential between the lines, but the moment you pointed out an inconsistency he flipped over to “All the game lines are their own little universe and don’t overlap.”
 

Trippy

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What clans are included?
None, and all, in a way.

The Lasombra and Tzmisce aren’t linked with just the Sabbat any more (they can be of any Sect or Independent) and they aren’t directly detailed in this book. However, the various Paths are sort of splatted out in the way Clans have been and all Clans can be Antitribu.
 
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CT_Phipps

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A Tzimisce joins the Anarchs

Lief, Brujah: So, you're Tzimisce, right?

Zard, Tzimisce: Shim-A-Shay, yes.

Lief: So, welcome to the Anarchs. I think you'll find it very different from the Sabbat.

Zard: This is my address. *hands business card*

Lief: What?

Zard: It is a two-story mansion with an extensive basement that I will be expanded. Do not enter this property upon pain of death. In exchange, I will proceed to offer to alter any and all of your gang's facial features. I can make them blindingly beautiful, different from their mortal identities, or grotesque but I understand most aren't into that.

Lief: You can't just...what?

Zard: I will participate in your meetings and also any and all attempts to assassinate Elders or Ancilla of the Camarilla or Sabbat. I will engage in diablerie or not as befitting agreed upon terms ahead of time regarding war spoils. Furthermore, I will not feed on any mortals you personally list but require the feeding on the UCLA Mathematics Department be left to me. Do we have an accord?

Lief: Uh, sure I guess.

Zard I find this equitable. Here is a potted plant to symbolize our new status as allies, fellow Anarch.

Lief: It's bleeding.

Zard: You're welcome.

* It's totally based on one of my games.



 

Trippy

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The Tzimisce, Ravnos, and Salubri were the last Clans detailed in the V5 companion that was for free.
They are and, yes, it is free.

However, it is still unsatisfying for some fans I think, who would like to see all the Clans released in some official hardcopy form at some point. The Tzimisce seemed like it could be a Clan they could fit into the Sabbat book, in a manner that the Banu Haqim fitted into Camarilla, The Ministry fitted into Anarchs, the Hecate fitted into the Cults of the Blood Gods book or the Lasombra into Chicago by Night. Maybe they just felt they didn’t want to give the impression of making the Sabbat a playable option?

Overall, though, the Clans seem to be unevenly distributed in supplement books, which awkwardly mirrors the uneven international distribution of Renegade Studios’ books currently, I have to say.
 
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