That’s right, I’m finally saying something controversial. Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand (DSotBH) has probably the worst reputation of any supplement that White Wolf has ever published. Even Anthony Jennings relatively forgiving review describes it as “not the worst RPG book that I've ever read, but it’s close.” There were some vague attempts to fit this unholy monster into the general World of Darkness soon after it came out, but the publisher quickly gave up on that. When it came time for Revised to be released, the True Hand was wiped out pretty much “off camera” and it’s remnants left to wither.
|How can you not love this face?|
For those who don’t know, DSotBH created an entirely new sect for the World of Darkness. While consisting mainly of Kindred, it also included a few Werewolves, Mages, and Wraiths. The idea was that this was the first, true sect of Kindred, existing long before the Camarilla or the Sabbat. Despite it’s meager numbers, the True Hand (as they refer to themselves in the modern days) managed to manipulate and influence both sects from the beginning. The True Hand had two distinct goals--first, to serve the Antediluvians as an Army of Gehenna, and this assist in the destruction of the “false” Kindred. Secondly, they were involved in a “shadow crusade” against Vicissitude. DSotBH explains that Vicissitude is not a “true” Discipline, but instead the result of an extradimensional infection of the blood, which results in the Kindred losing control of himself and becoming something alien and hostile. Among its member are the remnants of the Tzimisce that still remain pure, and are referred to as “Old Clan.”
If you’re looking for a better understanding of the Sabbat, or a greater explanation for the world works for a solid anarch-based street level game, this book is at best worthless and at worst a slap in the face. Also, if you’re particularly invested in the “metaplot” this book requires significant logical twists to even begin to make sense. But, taken on it’s own, its a delightful book.
First off, it shows an entirely different way for Vampire to be played--breaking down and “remixing” various concepts of the game, creating something new, and different. It reminds me a bit of the remarks made in the first Storytellers Handbook --where concepts like “vampire as elite government operatives” or “vampires in Middle Earth” were considered as valid Chronicle ideas as any. It allows for and supports for an entirely different style of gameplay that what we were, and are, used to in Vampire.
Secondly, it what this style of game play is. Instead of the typical “street by street” fighting of a typical Vampire Chronicle, DSotBH is all about the huge, the epic. It really is a game for playing Blade or something equally over the top. This is a book all about Vampires, Mages, and Werewolves teaming up to fight Cthuloid Horrors from beyond Time and Space. Sure, it might throw “personal Horror” out of a speeding bus, but that’s an awesome idea for a Chronicle right there.
See, as much as I love 1st ed style Humanity based anarchs vs. elders games, even I’ll be the first to admit that after a while, those styles of games can start getting repetitive. They’re also not everyone's passion--some players and Storytellers wants to do something different, something with more action and big intrigue. Something where they can bust loose and go a little crazy, and put the focus more on “fun” than “horror.”
Also, many players get frustrated having to ‘start over’ every Chronicle, with their 3 dots of Disciplines. In an attempt to “balance” Vampires with Werewolves and Mages, they allow all starting characters to begin as “elders” or where basically your typical PC is in terms of power at the END of the game. For those who want to finally play around with those level 4 and 5 abilities, heck, maybe even level 6, this can be a godsend. Also, it’s a CROSSOVER. Ever since White Wolf released both Vampire and Werewolf, players have been trying to get a reasonable crossover together. I even played in a few, but they never really worked. The worlds are just two different, and the individuals involved have too many reasons to hate and fear each other. DSotBH works around this by creating a group that can contain all sorts of supernaturals (even a Mummy! Back when they were still cool “true immortals”!), giving a reason for them to trust one another above and beyond their own kind, and giving them a wonderfully weird and seemingly endlessly versatile foe.
Is DSotBH perfect? Nah, I’d be willing to concede many of it’s faults--I’m sure the mechanics are screwy and the artwork leaves a lot to be desired. But is it a fun and interesting alternative to the standard World of Darkness--you bet! Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and re-examine all the tropes and concepts we take for granted, and rethink them. And sometimes it’s ok to focus on having a fun and enjoyable game, where “over the top” is not something to be ashamed of, but rather something to be relished for its own sake.