Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vampire 30 Day Challenge: Day 9 Favorite PC

Lord Gregory, Brujah on the Road of Chivalry

Despite my general distaste for how the Paths of Enlightenment are often used in-game, I've always found them to be fascinating. For my first foray into Vampire: The Dark Ages, I wanted to really explore the nature of Feudalism, and what it would mean if it became the end all and be all of a person’s existence. So, when the Storyteller let us pick any Road we wanted, I eagerly picked Chivalry and did my darnedest to play it to the hilt.

First off, Gregory was just a blast to play. He was a passionate and violent Kindred, to be sure, but he was always willing and eager to engage in an adventure or a quest, and to work with others. He was certainly impulsive, but I had hoped that this trait would be minimized by the other two members of the coterie—a Toreador and a Lasombra. Both of the players of these characters stated that they wanted to play “powers behind the throne” types. Neither ever really committed to this dynamic, however, and more often than not Gregory would come up some hare-brained scheme (such as “walk up to their front gates and challenge them to SINGLE COMBAT!”), and look at his companions. They would inevitably look back at him and shrug, leading him to continue down his misbegotten path. Maybe not the most reasonable of interactions, but it certainly led us to highly amusing and dangerous situations.

But more than the sheer fun of playing an active, bold, and loud leader figure was that he ended up having one of the best “arcs” of any characters I’ve ever played. As a Dark Ages game, the Storyteller would often allow significant down time between sessions, allowing us time to deal with repercussions and situations in a way that the typical “night by night” style doesn't really allow. In short, Gregory’s story can be divided up to three arcs—Lord, Prince, and Black Knight.

In the first part of the game, he was the bold and loyal servant of his Prince, eagerly engaging in any challenge or quest the Prince requested of him. But, and this was the key, only within the terms of their feudal relationship. When it came time for Gregory to serve, he would gladly charge the Gates of Hell at the Prince’s request, willing to risk life and fortune to serve his obligations. But, when he felt that his Prince had violated the terms of their agreement (such as, by allowing another Kindred access to Gregory’s domain without his express permission), he was willing to raise the banners of revolt. He would fly into near-Frenzy over violations of his “rights” and more than once almost went on a killing spree at court over matters that, to others, seemed minor or petty. But to him these were literally matters of life and death. These were sins on his Path, after all.

Now, I’m not a Medieval scholar, and so I’ll admit that Gregory’s understanding of the rules and responsibilities of Feudal ties were shoddy, at best. But, I did try to play the Road to the best of my ability, and I both spoke with the Storyteller in advance, as well as wrote down these “rights and responsibilities” which we both agreed to. So, at least when Gregory threatened to start tearing people’s heads off, it wasn't a complete surprise to the Storyteller.
Worse, was that I really intended this character to a monster, a villain ripped from a Gothic Romance. He was married, to a woman who knew exactly what he was, and locked away in a tower except for those moments when he needed her for social obligations. When she fell in love with a wandering troubadour and the two of them fled, Gregory brutally hunted them down and slew the man who had “cuckolded” him in front of her. Later, when the result of their “affair” had come of age, he had one of his loyal men take the child away and kill him—a decade later, Gregory claimed the child’s identity as his own to remain on this throne.

Despite his bravado, Gregory was not a nice person.

Eventually, the old Prince died due to politics and shenanigans. The plotters wisely chose to strike while Gregory was away on a Crusade the Prince had called. With no one else around to whom he viewed as a superior, he crowned himself “Prince” and ruled on his own. It was here that his flaws became manifest.

If as a mere Lord Gregory was a boastful and impulsive warrior, as a Prince he was a Tyrant. He viewed every relationship through the bonds of feudalism, and woe betide any individual who failed to live up to his standards. He would risk all he had to protect those bond to him, but if any of them failed to respond with equal passion and loyalty, they would have an enemy for life. Needless to say, his reign was brief, and plagued by internal dissent, rebellion, and betrayal.

At the end, he stood alone. An alliance of werewolves and Tremere (to this day, I’m not 100% sure how the heck THAT happened) emerged against him, and most of this followers abandoned him. Seeing the end coming, he sent his few remaining allies away (the rest of the party, their sires/mentors, and his own childe), and remained at his keep with only his most loyal ghouls. Of course, no matter how brave or bold these men were, there’s not much that can stop a horde of Lupines when they come knocking, and soon Gregory stood in his burning hall, his ghouls dead, surrounded by foes. He was saved only by the timely arrival of the Fey, who spirited him away to an ally’s land in the Balkans.

This was less of a deus ex machina than it would appear. Earlier, Gregory had saved them from extinction at the hands of the same Lupines who, so this was a life debt being repaid, rather than a Storyteller pulling a save from his ass. Or at least, that’s how we justified it after the fact. Still, I certainly wouldn’t have minded if Gregory had died here, a tragic hero undone by his flaws.

It was in arc three where he really began to change. In utter despair at his failures as a Prince, Gregory made his haven in a ruined church, with only his ghouled stead as company. He could not fathom how it had all gone wrong, and gave himself to self-pity and remorse. He spent decades in self-imposed exile, only leaving his isolated abode for the occasional midnight hunt, striking mainly against the outlaws and bandits that plagued the land.

Through this, he found the closest thing to redemption he ever came to. He began to hear rumors of a “Black Knight of the Woods”—a terrifying figure of darkness who road forth under the moon to punish the evil doer and avenge the innocent. He had become a legend to the people of the land—a monster, yes, but a monster they could believe in.

And thus, he found the answers he sought. He realized that the Road of Chivalry is not for all, but only for the chosen, the elite. And it’s greatest virtue is not in rulership, but in service. In protecting those who could not protect themselves, and in helping the helpless. He became, after his own fashion, something of a hero.

Eventually, he rejoined his former coterie members; but not as Prince or Lord, but merely as an ally, as “Sir” Gregory.  In serving others, he had found himself, and even regained a bit of his old swagger and brashness.

As with all good things, the game eventually came to an end. The Storyteller was running Transylvania Chronicles, and there is a part where the PC’s are scripted to fail, and so to have their Princedom’s stripped from them. Gregory, while not a Prince at this point, refused to yield to what he viewed an unjust and irrational decision by those whose claim to power he could not recognize. Besides, he had come to care for the people of this land, and to be honestly friends with many of the local mortals. He could not abandon them. So, when the others players stepped down, he reluctantly took the throne once again, and laid down the challenge—you can have my Princedom when you tear it from my hands.

Well, the elders who announced the decision lacked that kind of power, and the game came off the rails soon thereafter. The Storyteller asked me to retire Gregory, as he had become too “powerful” and disruptive. I didn't necessarily agree with this assessment, but the Storyteller is the Storyteller, so Gregory went off and I created a new, more “down to earth” PC. The game folded shortly afterwards, and I think the absence of such a dynamic character as Gregory was a major cause.

So, despite his truncated story, he remains my favorite character. He was a mess of contradictions, being both brave and generous, but also petty and vindictive. He was a chance for me to really explore what it means to be a Vampire, to have your comfortable morality stripped from you and be forced to adapt to an alien world, to explore what kind of person could survive and thrive in such an environment, and to go to dark places that made me incredibly uncomfortable, but also to end up finding some sort of peace in embracing the old dictum “a monster I am, least a monster I become."

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