Friday, July 15, 2016

Creating NPC's

So, I'm still working on the setting for my new Chronicle, and I wanted to do a quick digression on how I create NPCs, particularly for Vampire. The published sources tend to go into great detail with their tragic and horrible mortal lives, and what has made them the monsters they are today. Well, that's all well and good, but doesn't terribly help me with them in the game. So, when I create my own, I tend to focus on the now of the character, what are they up to tonight, and how are they hoping to accomplish it. Then, I work out anything else I need from there, with particular attention to their feeding habits.

Yeah, I've been accused of making my vamps be "blood addicts." Maybe, but I've also assumed that hunting and feeding are what vampires enjoy; it's not a burden for them. Anyway, I've ranted about this before, so I won't go into it again.

For my current setting, things are a bit different from how I normally setup my NPCs. There's no such thing as a "Personal Masquerade," for one. We are still in the Long Night, and while there is a Tradition for "Silence of the Blood," it is far different from what the Masquerade will be. Secondly, pretty much everyone in this setting is Nosferatu, which means they can both vanish and appear as a dozen different people as needed.

So, the Masquerade isn't a factor. But something else dominates the world--Arawn. He is a religious fanatic with a very warped view of Christianity, and a vampires role in the world. He believes their job is to tempt, harry, and punish mortals in a bid to save their souls. Those that fail are slain, often in a horrific manner, with the justification that their painful deaths might purge their souls of sin.

There are two results to this. First, only Arawn can authorize the death of a mortal. More importantly, only Arawn can allow a Kindred to feed on a mortal--otherwise, they are forced to rely on animals. This is fine for a young vampire like Gauvain; unsatisfying, perhaps, but possible. This is untenable, however, for an elder vampire, such as Mabon. As one ages, animal blood becomes less and less satisfying, and so they scheme and manipulate ever more, hoping to convince their Elder to allow them to drink the vitae they so crave.

Tied to that, is status. This isn't the modern nights, with multiple Primogen and Sects and Coteries feuding over territory and Elysium's and all that. This is the Long Night, and that means the Eldest, Arawn, is the center of the entire social world. If one wants status, or approval, or to shut down a rival, only Arawns approval can grant you such gifts. And so not only is the Beasts desire to feed driven to a warped interaction with mortals, but so is the Mans desire for belonging. Which means, each NPC has some warped and messed up desire to "corrupt" or "harry" man, no matter what cost this inflicts on their souls.

Anyway, here's an example of a sheet I worked up for each major NPC.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Island of the Dead -- New Character

I've worked out the basic setting and ideas for my new Solo Vampire Chronicle. I talked more about it here, but in short it's going to be a geographically isolated locale, ruled by a manipulative and controlling religious fanatic. Now, I need to come up with who my main character is going to be for this world.

I don't have a lot of ideas for the character yet. I know I want to play a Nosferatu. I know I want him to be a male, and of European/Christian descent. I also know I want him to "special" in some way, either a great warrior, or thief, or scholar or...something. He's cut from a different cloth, which is why he, unlike others of his generation, is given all the crappy assignments that make role playing such fun.

I actually rather enjoy not knowing what I'm going to get, and a solid "random character generator" can be a delight, particularly when you don't have a really solid concept in mind. So, given that, I grab my copy of the Masquerade Players Kit. I've used this before, and was pretty happy with the results. Of course, this generator is designed for "modern" characters, and so I'll need to be a little creative with the results to fit the Dark Ages setting for this game. Anyway, let's see what we get!


Now, obviously, not all of this fits my medieval world, but it does give me an idea for a character. First off, I need a name. I'm already shamelessly ripping off Celtic legends and lore, so let's keep going with that theme. The character's name will be Gauvain, a variation on my favorite of Arthur's knights.

Ok, so, Gauvain's father, Cilydd, was a well regarded craftsmen. However, when his wife passed away and let him to care for his three sons, he began to slowly deteriorate, losing himself in drink and eventually being reduced to a nothing more than a hired field hand. Now, given the amount of alcohol medieval folks routinely imbibed...well, that's saying something.

Gauvain has a complicated relationship with his brothers. The eldest, Cai, took on the role of caretaker, and basically raised the other boys and worked whatever odd jobs he could to keep food on the table. His other brothers, Bedwyr and Gahreth, were more competitors to Gauvain than companions.

Still, he was a bright and diligent boy, and Cai was able to arrange for him to be taken in by nearby monks and receive an education. He thrived in the cloistered environment, but he fell in love with the beautiful Anna and left the monastery, eventually finding a certain contentment as a clerk for Lord Peter. Or, most likely, Lord Peter's father.

Not sure about his Supernatural Ally.  It could be his sire, but I want something odder. A Fae could work, and fit the naming conventions. A Ghost is always fun too. I'm putting that aside for now--I need a bit more time to think on this part.

Finally, as an old man, he is embraced. So, who is his sire? I have absolutely no idea. I was rather hoping the tables would inspire me, but I have nothing. Well, time for MORE random rolls! Let's bust out my copy of the Universal NPC Emulator!

This is an awesome book,
and it's free. Get it.
First thing I do is roll percentile to determine gender--my sire is male. Next, I need to know their basic personality, and the UNE gives me a result of:

Confident Beggar

Well, that fits a Nosferatu, but a tad odd. Ah well, let's see what else we get before throwing any result away. The next step is to roll for three sets of "goals" or things the NPC cares about. Here's what I get:

Pursue Patience
Embrace Success
Comprehend Intelligence

Hmm, things area becoming a bit clearer now. He's not a "Confident Beggar." He's a con artist. And he's patient, very patient, and a schemer. He's cunning and manipulative, but he's not smart or educated. He sees the growing influence a man like Gauvain has, and doesn't understand it, but wants to. He embraced not only for Gauvain's already existing mortal ties and knowledge, but also as a teacher. He wants to know for himself this knowledge that Gauvain possess, as well as a liason to the changes that are occuring in mortal society. I decide to call the sire Mabon, after an evil wizard in Arthurian lore, and decide he has some big plans, plans that Gauvain doesn't even begin to suspect, let alone comprehend.

Now, in my first post, I made a point about how Arawn only allows "redeemable sinners" to be embraced, so I need to know what sin Gauvain committed.  I have no idea, so I roll a d7 and get "Greed." Gauvain loved his wife and the family they created, and used his position at court to manipulate things to secure his children's positions. In fact, I'll say he had 3 children, Florence, Lovell, and Gingalain.  Florence was married to a prosperous merchant in exchange for certain legal decisions going the merchants way, Lovell gained a significant position in the Church, despite being a sinner and ignorant of the Bible, and Gingalain...well, Gingalain kind of ended up the best. He and his father we the most similar, and therefore got along the least. Gauvain managed to attach him as a squire to a Knight.  No one thought he would rise any higher, for he had no noble blood or training. But like his father, Gingalain rose above his station through hard work and passion, and was eventually knighted on the battle field. He has no land, and still seeks his fortune through war, pillage, and mercenary work.

I think that's enough of an update for now. I'm going to work on Gauvain and some other NPC's for the setting, then I should be ready to actually play!



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Island of the Dead -- new Solo Vampire Chronicle

I haven't had a lot of time for Solo gaming lately. Given that what little free time I've had has been taken up with some standard gaming, this is a bit of a humble brag, but I still miss Solo gaming. Given that, and my current thoughts for how I'd like to run a Dark Ages Chronicle, I've decided to go ahead and generate a setting and get a game going.

I've talked a bit before about how I generally like to get a Vampire Chronicle going, and I'm going to follow that outline in a general sense. I have a few vague ideas for a game. Part of the Long Night idea I had is to play up the isolation and ignorance of the world, and so I want the physical setting to be somewhere equally isolated. Really, any town could work for this, as I see medieval travel as being so dangerous for vampires as to be almost unheard of. But, I think I'll go with an actual island, just to emphasize this element. Secondly, I know I want to play a Nosferatu. Partly to play the "monster" and isolated part, but mainly because I really dig Nosferatu and have never really had a chance to play one before. Here's what I have so far:

General Overview
Theme Isolation and Control. The game takes place in a socially and physically isolated area, and in proper "Long Night" fashion, our character can only know what knowledge his "betters" deign to share.  As a result, his mind is as thoroughly controlled and limited as his body.

Concept Character is the new “low man” on the totem pole, trying to find his way in a claustrophobic world.
Setting
The game takes place on the fictional island of Annwyn, a small island in the English Channel. It is fairly well populated for its size, and contains one decently large town, Gwydion, and a handful of villages.

To the northwest lies the Benedictine monastery of St. Collen's.

The eastern half of the island is a pleasant and settled lands of villages and fields. The center gradually rises to rough hills and moors. The center and western half of Annwyn remains wild and untamed.

The Cainites of Annwyn tend to congregate just outside of town, in the limestone caves that dot the hillside.

Saint Johns is the major stone structure in town, and the center of mortal life and interaction.

The Mound Fortress just outside of Gwydion is the major fortified site, and the seat of Lord Peter's rule.

Old Man and the Scythe is the largest tavern on the island, near the port, and the most welcoming location at night.

To the north of Gwydion lies the remains of a once expansive Roman villa, now ruined and mostly buried by growth and age. It once had a small Christian shrine, which is used by the Cainites for their own services.

NPC's
Prince Arawn is the Nosferatu lord of the land, and his rule dominates the Eastern half of the island. He is a follower of Christ, and teaches his children that they are God's chosen. He claims that each was a sinner as a mortal, and thus was doomed to Hell. Only his intervention granted them a reprieve in the form of undeath. Their duty is to test and harry the mortals, to improve them in the hope of saving their souls. Those that fail are often killed in a horrible fashion, in the hope that scouring the flesh will aid the spirit.

Arawn claims to have been saved by Joseph of Arimathea, and was turned into a vampire by the Cup of Christ. According to him, he and Hafgan were two ruthless slavers, pagans, and murderers that Joseph hoped to save. Hafgan, however, forsook Christ and threw his lot in with Satan, and now seeks to destroy all good Christian folks.

Others Hafgan resides mainly on the western side of the island, concealing his small brood from both mortals and the few Lupines who still swell on the land. He is a pagan, and follows the Old Ways, especially the Path of the Beast.  Arawn and his childers mastery of Obfuscate means that he is only vaguely aware that others exist on "his" island, but he is currently planning to move his brood to Gwydion for safety, and a conflict is sure to erupt.

Sir Peter is the current lord of the land, but unsatisfied with his paltry inheritance. He is often away seeking battle for battles sake, leaving the land in the hands of Brother Cafell, a diligent Benedictine.


Well, that's about all I have for now. Normally I'd start working on the first story based on the setting and theme, but since this is a Solo game, well, things are a bit different. The first story will emerge naturally out of the character I choose to play and the results of random rolls. So, my next step will be to create the character I'll be playing, and then creating some additional NPC's based on what I come up with. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Crawling into the 21st Centurty

This blog leans pretty heavy on the nostalgia. I'd call it an "old school" blog, but it's been aggressively pointed out to me that none of the games I dig are "old school," most emphatically Vampire. In any case, it doesn't matter. Most of the games that I'm passionate about are the games from my youth--Vampire, yes, but also AD&D, West End Games version of Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu, etc. Maybe it's just a generic nostalgia for that time in my life, or maybe it's because these are the games that set my standards for what gaming SHOULD be.

In order to draw even more ire from the "storytelling games suck" crowd, in Forge terms, I'm a Simulationist. I like my rules and mechanics to do a decent job reflecting the reality of the genre they're trying to emulate (fantasy adventurer, horror, etc.), and they get the heck out of the way. The "story" for me is what happens when the troupe (players and GM) interact with each other, the setting, and the mechanics--not something imposed by the GM on the game. Most of the more contemporary games I've seen and played have leaned more towards the Narrativist spectrum, and I've never found that style of gaming to be particularly interesting or enjoyable. Really, no modern games have really inspired me.

Well, now two have. The first is Savage Rifts--the Kickstarter just ended, and I went in big. Rifts is one of my all time favorite games, but the system was making it increasingly difficult to get games going. When rumors first began floating around of Savage Worlds version of Rifts, I was intrigued--if only because it might spare me the need to do my own D6 or D100 version of the game. Now, I wasn't a huge fan of the Savage Worlds system, but that was based on what I little I had heard of it. I ended up picking up a copy of the base rules and, to my surprise, I kind of dig it. It has some quirks that I'm generally not a big fan of, but it seems cool enough that I want to give it a whirl. There are a few things that, having not played it, do bug me though.

  1. Playing cards for initiative. First off, and this is nothing specifically about Savage Worlds, but I generally hate complicated or quirky initiative rules. They just make combat more annoying and longer to resolve--but I'm also the freak who still uses group initiative when I run D&D, which, like even Grognards don't do. Anyway, the cards make sense for Dead Lands, but seem...odd for other genres. Ah well, it gives me an excuse to buy some cool, trippy decks of cards, so at least that will be fun.
  2. Wild Cards and Extras. I don't know why, but I really can't stand dividing the world between "PC's" and "Others." A lot of games have these rules these days--special mechanics for "minions" or "extras" or "whatever name for the meaningless canon fodder the PC's get to mow down to feel important." I don't like it. First, I don't understand how these people survived to be "thugs" or "soldiers of the Dark Lord" or whatever if the are taken out by any hit, no matter how slight. Secondly, I just don't like the math of the world to apply to different people. Now, in my beloved AD&D, the majority of the world is "0 level"--which seems like the same, but it's not. Because the math and physics of that world are based on that 0 level commoner--his 1d6 HP and AC of 10 is the baseline for the entire combat system. Extras are an add-on, that make little sense. 
  3. The name of the core book--Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorers Edition.  I've had friends praise Savage Worlds for a while, and I was curious enough to want to check it out, but I never knew WHICH book to buy. I only figured it out with the Kickstarter for Savage Rifts, and even then it took me working with the clerk at the store (yes, I still buy book in a gaming store--like I said, I'm  Old School. Er, Old School adjacent?) to figure out WHICH Savage World book was the "base" or "core." 
  4. Finally, "bennies." Bennies in Savage Worlds are points you can spend to influence the game--get a re-roll, heal, etc. A number of games have them, and I dislike the concept. I've seen them as "hero points" or "fate points," and they never seem terribly interesting or fun. Except, oddly, in Star Wars. They fit really well into that universe, because I can point to an exact moment in the first movie where a "PC" uses a "Force Point." (That would be the end of A New Hope when Luke uses the Force to target the torpedo.)  See, I like games that do a really solid job not of emulating a movie or a book, but those that emulate the world those stories take place in. So, Star Wars should have "Force Points," because that's a mechanical representation of a real, active element in that world. Indiana Jones, as cool of a hero as he is, shouldn't have "Hero Points"--but a good Indiana Jones RPG should emulate his work of rock 'em/sock 'em high adventure relic hunting/"archaeology."
I know all these are minor gripes, but they're things that have kept me away from Savage Worlds in the past. Having actually read the base book and the various supplements on their web page and the like, I am starting to get excited about it, and maybe I'll be able to overlook or even embrace some of the elements that irk me. The "Extras" thing though, I fear, will always bug me a little bit.

Another one that I thought I'd hate that I'm getting into is Torchbearer. I have no idea why, but for the longest time I thought this was a joke game. Like, somewhere in my head, I assumed it was a "parody OSR game, where you play Nodwick and try to survive wacky high jinks."

I have NO idea why I thought that.

Torchbearer is nasty, and ugly, and brutal. And takes one of my favorite elements of old school gaming--inventory management--and makes it WORK. In theory, encumbrance and what you can carry and bring with you should be a key part of exploration and combat, but the way most games handled it made it just too math intensive to be fun or easy to use on the fly. So, most of us ended up ignoring it. Or, they hated shopping and buying gear, so the GM's just hand waved it, which took away a lot of the hard decisions. But Torchbearer makes those decisions the root of the game, and...ok, honestly, I haven't even finished reading the core book yet. I only have the PDF, and I read PDF's very slowly. My dead tree version is on its way (again, Old School, I like physical books as my base, with PDFs as an add-on), and I can't wait for it. 

I'm excited and hopeful about Savage Rifts. I think I'm in love with Torchbearer. 

Look at me, talking about games published this millennium. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sins of the Metaplot

How I hope all my games end
If there's one thing I really can't stand, it's a damn metaplot. Now, in theory, these should be great. A good metaplot in an RPG can be a wonderful tool to help make the world feel alive and dynamic and chaotic in a way that only the best Game Masters can hope to emulate. Probably the best use of metaplot in service of a game is with Pendragon and its Great Pendragon Campaign, and the players follow the story of Arthurian Romance beat by beat, from the rise and fall of Uther through the Sword in the Stone and the conquests of Arthur to the Grail Quest until finally to the Battle of Camlann.

But, too often, they just get in the way of the game. For one thing, a lot of GM's feel compelled to stick to the published plot as much as possible. And I really doubt any of the designers of these games intend their plot to be YOUR plot. Looking at Pendragon again, there was a question on the forums a while back about Lancelot--a given PC really didn't like him, the big reveal was about to happen (spoiler: Lancelot was hooking up with Guinevere), and this very loyal Knight of Arthur was going to be there for the big fight and, well, the GM was worried that the player just might be able to best Lancelot. Many posters gave various ways to save Lancelot, from boosting his stats to mystical protection to a "Disney death" where his body couldn't be recovered or his death confirmed. Then Greg Stafford (the creator and author of Pendragon) chimed in with "let him kill Lancelot." It your game, it's the players saga, and the PC is more important than an NPC and the precious plot. If it makes sense, let it happen.

And not only are individual GM's hampered by the metaplot, but too often I see it used as a cudgel. Particularly online, though it's been happening this way among geekdom for, well, probably centuries. But I see it more often thanks to being part of various RPG groups. A new player or a returning one will post an idea of a concept that doesn't jive with some of the later books or sources. Instead of giving the new guy some advice, or helping them tweak the concept to fit the books, or, well, anything constructive, the poor poster is harassed for their ignorance. It even occasionally has happened to me, but at least I can roll my eyes and go "fuck off child, I've been playing this game since it was released, and nothing the new LARP rules say about something will ever impact what I do in my tabletop game." But, others, I know get scared away and stop posting. I hope they keep playing.

Lord knows the world needs more gamers and dreamers in it.

You'll always be MY Prince.
So, in general, I ignore metaplot. Even though two of my favorite games of all time are rather well known for their ongoing plots--Vampire and Rifts. I pick and choose what I want for my game, and if it contradicts some source book or other, well, then the source book is wrong. If someone comes up with an idea that involves replacing my beloved Lodin of Chicago with some crazy necromancer witch queen, well, cool--let's talk about making that an awesome game, not about how Lodin is the Prince prior to X and blah, blah, blah.

The more I think about it, the only other game that did metaplot well was Mechwarrior--the RPG component of Battletech. Like a lot of games in the 90's, Battletech spread out among numerous tie-ins--various modules (Battletech is mainly a miniatures game, so a lot of these weren't tied to the RPG at all), novels, video games, comic books...I think there was a TED talk at some point...anyway, there was a LOT to cover, and as a casual fan of a niche part of it, there was a lot going that I never knew about. But, they would come out with various books at various times like "20 Year Update" which would bring you up to speed with everything that had happened in the past, well, 20 years.

Metaplot done right
Now, 20 years is a good long time. You can run several campaigns and never leave that block of time. And a LOT can happen in that time. I mean, multiple wars can be fought in that time, nations can rise and fall, alliances form and shatter, the entire world can change in that time. So, as a GM, I can start the game in the default year, and knowing the great events of the next 20, I can use them effectively as backdrop and to make the world alive and changing, and can use foreshadowing and subtle ways to wrap the players into these greater tales, and allow them to change it.

Not only that, but in the Second Edition of the RPG, Mechwarrior had a really cool "random metaplot generator" which was just lovely. It allowed you to roll for future events and where the major powers swirling around the players were going, and made for a much more dynamic and interesting setting that worrying about what some novel trilogy said about some character.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Scrapping Rifts

The Kickstarter campaign for Rifts for Savage Worlds has launched.  Since Requiem has completely turned me off Vampire for a while, my thoughts turn to this other odd love of mine.



Like many, certain parts of the game always bugged me. One of the big ones is the economy of the damn setting. For example, I just don't see how Triax can afford to manufacturer and sell a suit of power armor in North America, and get 100 million credits for it.

NO ONE has 100 Million Credits. Even for the CS, that's a term used for accounting in national budgets, not something available in hard currency.

In fact, I don't buy much of the "mass manufacturing for credit" economy. Instead, land and people are the key to wealth, and most equipment is custom made by skilled artisans. Yes, even Power Armor. Now, from a macro-economic view, this is incredibly wasteful in time, labor, and material; but the economy of Rifts Earth doesn't really work well on the macro scale. So, gaining raw material that can be converted to something useful is a key part of my idea of Rifts, but I don't want the players tracking down every scrap of rubber they come across.

Oh, and, I assume most MDC materials are ceramic-based rather than metal alloy. Just wanted to put it out there. But, metal is still useful for various structures, as well as wires and high end computer chips, and transparent aluminum for visors and...just all the various components needed to make stuff. The VAST majority of these items are still being "mined" from the wreckage of pre-Rifts cities and recycled. Others are taken as prizes in battle, and some are actually new constructions.  These items need to be processed into something that is useful, and then the final item can begin to take shape.

This is made with love.
In game, it would go like this: Players find various pieces of raw scrap. Scrap is just basic "stuff"--rubber, copper wires, aluminum...whatever. We don't care what it is, it's the crap laying around that is baseline for the economy. There's three basic kind of scrap--Tech scrap, Life scrap, and Magic scrap. Tech scrap is the building block of guns, armor, weapons, etc. Life scrap is food and health, healing, and enhancement drugs. Magic scrap is rituals and magic items and extra PPE to power spells. The scrap can be "worked" by a skilled craftsman into "components"--at this point it gets more specific. Tech scrap could become, for example: melee, ranged, armor, power armor, vehicle, robot or module components. Life could become: food, medicine, enhancement drugs, recreational drugs, or ingredient. Magic would become ritual, artifact, or amulet (PPE battery).  You use the components to make the appropriate items--ranged can be used for pistols or rifles or rail guns, armor for armor, etc. You can even combine between groups--techno-wizard items would need modules from Tech and artifact from Magic, while cybernetics need ingredients and modules.

Instead of HUNDREDS of pages of gear, items are broken down into various defaults. A default light pistol has set values for damage, range, to hit bonus, RoF, and capacity. More components allow you to upgrade these by a certain amount. You can even for a VERY expensive amount Customize the gear, so that YOU get the bonus, but anyone else is at a penalty.

So, i don't have all the rules yet, obviously, so this is a work in progress. But, look at the write up for a CS Deadboy from Mark Craddocks Crossplanes.

C -12 Laser Rifle  Range 50/100/200 / Damage 2d10 / RoF 1 /                               Min Str d8 / Burst Cone                              Notes Auto, Heavy Weapon 
C -12 Laser Rifle  Range Cone Template / Damage 1-3d6 / RoF 5 /                               Shots 200 Min Str d8 /                              Notes Auto, Heavy Weapon 

Special Abilities • Unarmed Attack 1d6 + 1d4 • Block• Heavy Armor (3)• Infravision

I have no idea how official these stats are, but let's pretend they are for now. In my homebrew version, weapons would just go be a "Laser Rifle" and all the features the game offers would be separated out on a list with component cost. Same thing with the Armor and Abilities. Obviously, a number would be "pregenerated" (ie: used as is from the book), but these would be generic templates, not necessarily mass-produced. Though, the "C" series probably is, because the CS I can see having mass manufacturing and dumping the weapons to friendly human groups like the Soviet Union did with AK's and friendly communists.

This is just a rough idea right now, and I obviously don't have the rules for Savage Rifts yet, but this is what I'm working on right now.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Requiem Impression

So, I picked up a copy of Requiem 2nd Edition, hoping to give it a second chance. A lot of people speak very highly of the game, and a Vampire game with a murkier back story, no metaplot, and a stronger Humanity focus sounded perfect.

Unfortunately, I don't think this game is for me. I still can't get into it. I've read maybe half of the core book, and I can't bring my self to finish it, not even to do a few "Let's Compare" posts, let along to run it.  This pains me, because it's not the ideas of the game itself that are turning me off. I mean, there are some really awesome ideas in there, that occasionally make the whole thing tolerable.

It's the art, and the writing. Most of the art is just boring. There's no passion or anything interesting going on, and the bulk of it looks like clip art or something like that. There's no depth of field or tension in it. I don't think I can adequately express why the art is bad, since I do not have sufficient knowledge of artistic terms to describe where they fail. But there are major pages of art that look like they were intended to be the rough draft or "idea" of the drawing, and the publishers just threw them in.

But the writing. Oh my god, the writing is painful. Now, I'm not a good writer. I'm not even a fan of good writing. I appreciate passionate, quirky, arrogant, and engaged writing. I've been gaming for years, and there is some BAD writing out there. I'm fine with bad writing in game books, but never before have I wanted to reach into a book and slap an author and yell "STOP TRYING TO BE CLEVER AND JUST SAY WHAT YOU MEAN."

Well, ok, I did that a few times in some of the later Masquerade books, but at least in those I would say "this guy would write an awesome novel, but they are terribly at writing a game supplement."

And then Exalted 2nd was pretty bad. Ok, look, White Wolf/Onyx Path writers, STOP WRITING BAD. START WRITING GOOD.

Ahem, anyway, I hope to be able to get through the core book, eventually, but I need to put it aside for now.

Oh, one other thing. A number of people described Requiem as a "sandbox" game. I think they're confusing the "tool kit" nature of the game for "sandbox." It's a tool kit, because it has all kinds of cool switches and options that Storytellers can use to customize the game and make it their own.  The best is the Chroniclers Guide, but Damnation City is also a wonderful resource. The XP rules and the "condition" rules pretty clear paint this as a narrative game, not one that is inherently a sandbox.

Can it be used to run a sandbox game? Sure! Sandbox style games are about the GM and the group, not necessarily about the rules. Of course, some games are easier to run Sandbox style--original D&D (I'd say up through AD&D) is almost perfect for it, Traveler, and, more contemporary, Silent Legions. Hell, most of my Masquerade games would fall under the "sandbox" style. But, Requiem, if anything, would be harder to run this way, primarily because of how it handles XP and development. In Requiem, these are based on how well you respond to prompts from the Chronicler, which goes against the Sandbox style of letting the players drive the story.

Anyway, that's my initial review of Requiem. Some cool ideas buried under sub-par art and truly atrocious writing.  Obviously, this is subjective, and other people might find the writing to be beautiful and poetic and clever, and truly help to make the gothic world of Vampire to come to life. For, it was just painful, and I think I need to take break from vampires for a while.  Heck, maybe I'll go grab Rifts and pretend to kill vampires for a while...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Masquerade or Requiem?

I'm really into Vampire: The Masquerade. I really don't know much about nor am I terribly into Vampire: The Requiem.

These are two very, very similar games.

Years ago, as Masquerade was winding down, a friend of mine asked me what some of my issues were with it. As much as I love Masquerade, as the years went by I grew more and more frustrated with many of its elements, and I wasn't terribly shy about sharing these opinions.  Now, this friend of mine was a freelancer for White Wolf at the time--in fact, he's still writing for Onyx Path. I doubt my words had any real impact in the direction Requiem went, but it was still interesting timing. I assume he was just "taking the temperature of the frustrated fan."

You might just get what you want
I wanted a murkier and messier origin story, not this "Caine is the origin, everyone knows it; there is no debate." I didn't want Gehenna. I hated the Sabbat, and wanted them to be mysterious and dangerous and unknown. I wanted fewer Clans, and the few there were to be more unique and distinctive. I wanted vampires to be everywhere, not just defined by Europe. I wanted the Tremere to be a secret, mystical society, not a Clan in and of themselves. I wanted the game to focus on the immediate and local city and location, and not be forced into some massive metaplot. I wanted...well, I wanted many of the things Requiem ended up delivering.

When it came out, another friend, who was never huge into Masquerade, raved about it. He would talk about how they fixed this issue, or that issue, or how its no longer X or Y, and I would grit my teeth and go "that's how it was always supposed to be!" But, he had a point. Many of the issues existed in Masquerade, even if they had only developed among the fandom. And Requiem explicitly called them out "fixed" them. In theory, I should have loved Requiem.

I played a few games, and they were...ok. A bit generic and bland, to be honest. Though, that could have been the Storytellers trying to get a grasp of the system. Vampire, I find, worked best when the players have the most freedom of action. You can write out and preplan short stories and individual sessions, but the Chronicle really needs to be responsive to their actions, and follow where they go, versus being pre-planned. I also wasn't a huge fan of  the mechanics--the "target number and add or subtract dice to the pool" just didn't work for me. Seemed like it was a lot harder to succeed at all in Requiem, even in something you were supposed to be good at.

Also, the "two book" system bothered me. I guess White Wolf at the time was tired of reprinting their rules in every "core" book, so they had an idea. First, release World of Darkness with all the base mechanics everyone needs to know. Then, release Vampire or Werewolf or whatever, and assume everyone has World of Darkness, and so you can just focus on the "vampire" parts of Vampire. As a player, I don't like having to have two damn books, and as a Storyteller, I don't like having to ask my players to buy or bring two damn books. Which is sad, because the World of Darkness game I played in was really fun.

Well, a few years after the Requiem came out, I was playing with some newbies to RPG's. They seemed like the kind of folks who would dig Vampire. I was going to do Requiem, as it was the new thing. But, reading the core books...just bored me. It felt bland, and dull, and I just couldn't get into it. It wasn't a critique--again, I liked alot of the changes, in theory, but I just didn't care.  On a lark,  I grabbed my 2nd Ed Core Book, and suddenly I was on fire. It was messy, and silly, and weird, and self-contradictory, but I was inspired. This was the game I wanted to run! Maybe it's just nostalgia, and I'm willing to admit that's a big part. First love and all that. But there's something fun and charming about the arrogance and passion and warts. It's like comparing U2's "Sounds of Innocence" to "October." Sure, they might be better musicians and produce "better" music today, but the old banged out experimental stuff as a value that can't be replicated.

And, well, we all worked retail then, and asking them to shell out $35 per book for a game they've never played before was just too much to ask. But, I had an entire library of Masquerade books, many of which I've never used before. So, I started a Masquerade game, they loved it, and I was able to grab a number of 2nd Ed Core books for less than $5 each from used bookstores, Goodwill, and online. It ended up being my dream Vampire Chronicle, and I've been on a Masquerade kick since.

Or, maybe I'm just old and a grognard. I like AD&D over 5th Ed. I like West End Games D6 Star Wars over Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars. Hell, I like 2nd Ed Shadowrun over 5th, AND I ONLY GOT INTO SHADOWRUN WITH 4TH!

But, the problems do still remain. And the more time I spend online with my fellow Masquerade fans, the more they bug me. And the new books from Onyx Path have done nothing to excite me. Maybe it's time to give Requiem another look see. The drivethrurpg page says "no other rulebooks are required"--does that mean I don't need to buy a "base book?" I like what they've done with Humanity in this edition, but that's all I know. Is Requiem back? Should I give in another shot? Where should I start?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Memento Mori

In the middle of the 14th Century, the Long Night came to an end.

The Black Death struck Europe, and utterly depopulated it. Best guess is that 45-50% of the population died between 1346-1351, but this is an average. Some communities were spared, while others were completely wiped out. The mortals had absolutely no understanding of what was happening, or why. The undead had even less.

One night, everything was normal, and their eternal existence continued as before. The next, half their mortals were dead. They had pushed their own population to the breaking point, and could not respond to the catastrophe that was happening around them. Elders seized territory and surviving herd to support themselves and their favorites. Others were cast out to fend for themselves. Mortals began looking for scapegoats, and as the undead should have remembered from the Cultics, once mortals begin looking in the shadows, their time grows short. More childer were cast out to reduce the risk of exposure, and others were offered up to the enraged masses to end their hunt.  Once loyal childer were sacrificed for no cause, and others were disenfranchised and exiled. Bitterness, fear, and hunger seized their hearts.

Many fled to the largest cities, where they met others of their kind for the first time in their existence. Few spoke the same language, and fewer still knew what to make of the strangers. Some were able to adapt, but to many, the very existence of these other vampires violated their faith. Especially those seemed to take such pleasure in defying God. If one is on a Road, then those following a different Road are not just "different"--they are heretics who dare to rebel against Heaven's Plan and must be destroyed. Not merely for their own sake, but for the sake of anyone they might corrupt with their foul beliefs. It is a mercy to kill such a creature.

Of course, they also came to blows with the natives for more base reasons. The cities these hungry vampires fled to had suffered the plague as well, and they could barely feed themselves, let alone the hungry rabble. They were refused, and hunted. But hunger makes one desperate, and so war came to the vampires, as roving bands of fanatical childer roamed the lands. These were the original Anarchs, and they fought under a banner of "every Kindred an Elder!" No longer would they suffer and die at the whim of another; they would be their own masters.

The chaos and fighting lasted for decades, until the mortals struck back. The Inquisition and hundreds of local hunters took the fight to those who claimed to rule the night. As with Rome and Persia before, those that didn't fall to fangs fell to fire. Vampires are, as a group, loathe to change, but those that fail too cease to be.

A compromise eventually came about. Well, two compromises, really. The old way of the Elders was finished. No longer could one claim absolute and total obedience of ones get for all of eternity. But the Anarchs call of "every Kindred an Elder" bred even more hungry neonates, more desperate fanatics, and more violence and chaos. The Tyrants proved a way to bring peace among the undead.

In the urban cores, there arose who used their guile and wit to protect and preserve their kind, and these were soon supported by the mass of vampires, eventually supplanting the Elders and being proclaimed as Prince. Out in the barrens between cities, others rose through violence and bloodshed, and were leading their brethren in daring and successful raids, and were dubbed Ductus, or leader. Both the Prince and the Ductus represented a change, and new way for vampires to exist. Both relied on support from the other vampires for their authority, and both accepted certain limitations. The Prince, for example, could not summarily execute a disobedient vampire, but instead had to prove their had violated a Law, and make their call for death public. Nor could they hold a Kindred in thrall for eternity--once they were presented, they had full rights (no mere privileges) to live as they pleased, within certain constraints. Both retained the power to restrict breeding and hunting for the good of all.

Conflict, of course, soon intensified between the two groups. The Princes began organizing as the Camarilla, initially as a counter to the mortal Inquisition and to force all vampires to disappear with the herd. Few of the Ducti or their followers could accept such a retreat, for many still clung to their faith which taught that they had a special, elevated role to play in the salvation of the world. Eventually, some particularly charismatic leaders rose to bend these divergent Roads into multiple Paths, all leading to the same Truth. But, that is even further in the future.

So, this is a rough overview of my idea for the Long Night. I haven't touched on some things, such as the Tremere or the Assamites or the Ravnos, but it's an outline. More than anything else, though, I want to run a game as small scale and localized as possible. I don't want the Caine myth or Lilith to be even remotely a part of the story.  I want the rulers of the Middle Ages to be the Elders, with the Princes being a compromised solutions, something new in the world of the Kindred that helps bring them into the modern age. And just as the Elders failed at the coming of disease and Inquisition, the Princes fail in a world of cell phone cameras and instant communication?

I'm not sure how I would run a Chronicle in this setting. A lot would be up to the characters, as I like the setting to, as much as possible, reflect the PC's. I imagine the first Chronicle would be a "conventional" one, if one with long time jumps between stories. A Chronicle doesn't have to go one for years. In fact, I'd argue against it. 3-7 stories, maybe 5-14 sessions feels about right. Focus on the immediate conflict and themes and tell the story until that conflict comes to an end, regardless of the characters success or failure. If everyone is still having fun, then tell a sequel Chronicle dealing with the fallout from the first, but exploring different conflict and themes. In my dream, it would emerge over time as a Chronicle of Ages, telling the story of these characters from their creation in, say 1,000, all the way to the modern nights. But, unlike most other millennial Chronicles, I don't want them hopping all over the world. I want them to spend the first four hundred years in one city. Then, MAYBE the leave during the Black Death or the Inquisition, depending on how things go. Perhaps they wander for a few decades, before eventually settling down in another city, or even back home. And then they say there, perhaps the rest of the game, or maybe they go to the New World. A particularly mobile coterie might have three different homes over a thousand years, but most will only have one.

I want them to see and feel the weight of the centuries, and the best way is through their home. From a small collection of villages huddled against a castle to a massive, sprawling industrial wasteland, to a gleaming city of glass and chrome, through war diseases, revolution and oppression, I want them to see how the scars of the past define and limit the future.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Undying, Unchanging

So, what does a world of darkness and stasis, ruled over for eternity by self-proclaimed Elders, actually mean in a game? Well, it means Ignorance, Monotony, and Obedience. Unlike a modern game, where the "truth" of Kindred existence is more or less understood, and a certain degree of toleration and independence is expected, the Long Night character is a prisoner. Not just of the Beast, and not just of geography (though travel is so perilous that few ever leave their home, and even fewer ever return), but of their own perspective and world view. It is this prison, and the tension it generates, that is the heart of a Long Night game.

First up is Ignorance. A neonate in the Long Night knows nothing. They know only what their sires deign to tell them. And since they only know what their sires told them, their knowledge is, at best, limited. Even if they choose to be honest with their childe, the knowledge they impart is most likely completely and laughably wrong. A childe doesn't know about Clans. They know they are vampires, and and vampire behaves like they do, except for the few outcasts and cursed ones they might have met once. Maybe. They know nothing of Generation. Far as they know, the Elder is Lazarus, the First Vampire.  Sure, he's got blonde hair, blue eyes, and speaks with a Danish accent, but who are they to question? Would such a discrepancy even be apparent to the childe? Most likely not. So, the Elder is the 1st Generation, their Sire is 2nd Generation, and they are 3rd Generation. They know nothing of other cities, or that other kindred exist. They don't about the fall of Saulot or the rise of the Tremere. They certainly don't know about diablerie, or how the Blood Bond actually works.

Anything they know can only come from their elders, or be learned from hard earned experience. There's no books detailing this knowledge, no kindly elder anarchs will to share information, and not even other Clans they can bargain with. In the modern day, a sire will most likely fill in their childe with as much information as they can, to better arm them for the struggle to come. In the Long Night, the childes ignorance is key to keeping them in line, and there is no benefit to telling them more than they need to know.

There's also the endless Monotony. Human life and history may change, but for the undead every night is the same as any other. The same people populate your world, and have the same conversations and the same conflicts.  Rarely is there a "new player" in town, Which raises the question, just what kind of Chronicle would this be?

Well, the most obvious would be a Lords of the City Chronicle, with a bit Agents of the Prince...er, Elder. The players most likely have their own corner of the land, and need to develop and protect it. The same threats in a "normal" game still apply--mortal violence and  criminals, other supernaturals (Lupines in particular) need to be dealt with, Hunters are still a concern, of course. And you're inevitable going to step on the toes of your "family."

While there are only a few vampires in the Long Night city, their relationships are still an issue. In fact, the tangled emotions and tensions between this brood will most likely be the backbone of any such Chronicle. Generally, no one is trying to kill each other. At worst, they'll torpor you and hope you learn your lesson. Everyone is loyal to the Elder, and jockeying for his favor is a major element of the game. Just uncovering what you need to do to please him could be a challenge in and of itself. The Elder is effectively the Prince, Primogen, Harpy, Scourge, and Keeper of Elysium all rolled into one.  The big difference is the scope of time in such a game. Unlike a "night by night" game where there is constant action and intrigue, the Long Night unfolds gradually, over centuries. Decades may pass between sessions, as all involved settle into their routine.

Of course, there's a second kind of monotony when everyone is related. The primary way to run this would be as a Single Clan game. Almost all the characters (both PC and NPC) are the same Clan, and other than a few stragglers, that's all the players ever know. This can work, especially for when the times change and they need to deal with other disciplines and other flaws. But, its possible players won't be content with this setup. Players like having their niches, and while a Single Clan can work fine for a single player, or even two, it might not be as satisfying for three or more.

So, the alternative is get rid of Clans entirely. Or, at least, the Clans as we understand them.  Instead, it's all about bloodline. The way it could work is that any given vampire could sire one of a different "Clan," so long as they have at least one Discipline in common. So, if the Elder is a Ventrue, he can sire three childer--Brujah (Presence), Gangrel (Fortitude), and Malkavian (Dominate/Dementia, depending on concept). Those Childer could then produce, respectively, Toreador (Celerity), Nosferatu (Animialism) or Lasombra (Dominate).  By such methods, almost any Clan can be generated.
Ok, so...you're all related...
I rather like the alternative idea. It allows for variety while still keeping the claustrophobic family theme. It also explains why the later Camarilla doesn't believe in the Antediluvians, or Gehenna. While bloodline and heritage is key, the Clan idea is a more modern invention. If anything, it's due to the over breeding so prevalent in the modern nights. It takes strong blood to allow a mortal to truly be themselves after death, and this new generation wastes their power by embracing too quickly, and too often. Where once it would take centuries before one could embrace, now neonates are embracing, and their childer are embracing, and the blood grows thinner every year.

This is what free thinking
gets you.
In addition, there would be a sameness of ideology. After all, if all you know is what your are told, how could you ever come up with your own world view?  As such, in those cities where a Road exists, it will most likely be utterly dominant. Even those who do not fully subscribe to its view would still embrace it as a code of ethics and behavior. Those that reject these beliefs are treated as lunatics at best, deranged heretics to be killed at worst. Gamewise, I would let the players pick the Road they want, if any. Everyone would be on that particular Road or on Humanity. Religious pluralism is for a different time, and "toleration" of opposing views is an alien concept. This is an age of conformity.

Finally, this is not the modern day. Obedience and service are virtues, not insults. Everyone, from the lowliest serf to the most powerful King serves someone else, and it is your responsibility to obey, not to question. It does not matter if your lord is "good" or "right" for it is the will of God that places him above you, and to defy your master is to defy the dictates of God himself.  If there is a Road, it is Gods plan that vampires follow that Road; after all, even a Road such as Sin tells the Vampire what his obligations are in the grand Divine Plan.

As such, the players are inherently disposable. They will be the ones sent to deal with the Werewolves, or the hunters, or any other threat. They will receive the worst territory, and still be expected to support themselves as well as provide appropriate gifts and tribute to their betters. And when, after decades of work, the turn the collection of tanning hovels into a vibrant community and have risked their unlives a dozen times, they still have no claim on anything. When the Elder embraces some new Childe, and that Childe demands their territory or their service, they are to give it, and gladly. They are, after all, of the 3rd Generation, and she is of the 2nd.

And so that is their lot in life--service and obedience to God and the Elder, toil and tribute for their betters, and stalking the mortals whose blood they so crave. It might sound like hell to us moderns, but to the Kindred of the Long Night, they could not conceive of a different world. In fact, and in many ways, most are quite content. Blood is relatively easy to come by, there are few dangers that would put their immortality at risk, and as the mortal population grows, and there is more and more blood, the Elder is ever willing to grant permission for new embraces. Gradually, a 3rd could become the sire of a 4th, and some even give rise to the 5th. While the Dark Ages books put the vampire to mortal population at a ratio of 1:1000, in the Long Night they are less cautious. By the end of this era, the average ratio 1:800 or even 1:500. In some communities, it even approaches 1:100. But so long as the mortal population continues to increase, there is nothing for the undead to fear.

But the time is coming soon when the undead would learn what true fear really was, and then the whole world would tremble.