An Adventure Per Year: Bitter Crusade (2001)

In my A Game Per Year project, my goal has been to read one roleplaying game corebook for every year they’ve been published. However, I soon started to feel that it was hard to decipher how the games were really meant to be played. For this reason, I decided to start a parallel project, An Adventure Per Year, to read one roleplaying adventure for each year they’ve been published.

The cover of the Vampire: the Dark Ages adventure Bitter Crusade

In Vampire: the Dark Ages, the Long Night means the period of time in medieval Europe when vampires ruled covertly or overtly. It ends with the Fourth Crusade when humans take charge of their own destiny.

Bitter Crusade is a mini-campaign of three short adventures set in the Fourth Crusade. The Crusaders set forth from Venice with the aim of conquering the Holy Land but end up sacking Constantinople. The adventures also serve as the ending to the story of the Patriarch Michael, begun in Constantinople By Night.

This is the best of the World of Darkness adventures I’ve read so far during this project. The setting is evocative and for once the characters get to be the protagonists of their own story, at least as far as the world of vampires is concerned. Indeed, at the end of the story the Methuselah Michael, believing himself to be an archangel, passes on his Dream to them. The Dream is the idea that vampires can build something of lasting significance in the world instead of just being a predatory and destructive influence.

One of the campaign’s themes is the waning of vampire influence and the resurgence of humans. This means that while the first of the three adventures, set in Venice, is all about debating the direction of the Crusade, in fact none of the discussions mean anything. The Crusade follows the will of the mortals, as per the history books.

I was a bit iffy about this choice because I saw it against the fact that sidelining the player characters is a persistent sin in World of Darkness adventures. However, here it’s never the player characters who try to direct the Crusade but instead supporting characters, so maybe it’s fine.

The three adventures are somewhat disjointed, especially because the middle adventure had the characters suddenly traipsing into the countryside to deal with a Tzimisce settlement that has little to do with the Crusade. However, it’s also the best designed of the three adventures, with plenty of brutal body horror in a style that nowadays compares to Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

The last adventure is set in a Constantinople falling to the Crusade. It’s very open-ended, presenting almost a sandbox for the characters to act in. There are a few preplanned scenes, especially the finale involving Michael, but the game is allowed to take its course.

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