Monday, July 13, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- Act III

Transylvania Chronicles I
Dark Tides Falling
Act III: The Death of Princes

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary: Players are Princes. They gather to discuss recent rumors of Gypsys, the Turks invading, and the growth of the Inquisition in the west. Anatole and Lucita arrive and fill them in on more recent events (Anarch uprising, death of Lasombra, peasant revolts, etc.). Their sires approach the PC’s and demand a Blood Oath. Players are tasked with a “simple” job--help Nova Arpad capture a thief and return various pieces of jewelry.  They track the thief to a gypsy camp. Receive the fortune. Inquisitors interrupt, and they fight. They retrieve the thief (?) from the Inquisitors. No matter what, they fail in some way. Enraged, sires strip them of their domains. More prophecy. Dragomir approaches them about diablerizing the Tzimisce Antediluvian. Players either assist or seek to hinder the anarchs.

Key Factors: Players fail their sires, but can not strike back against them directly.  Involvement with the Anarchs.

Initial Thoughts: This should be one of the coolest damn adventures in the history of Vampire. The theme of personal horror runs smack dab into the theme of the War of Ages, as the players are ground down and spat upon by their elders until they are forced to take drastic action--or is that just a lie they tell themselves? Instead, it’s a mess. The major points-their debasement by their sires and them potentially committing one of the most incredible acts of rebellion in Vampire history--are almost side notes to an otherwise fun, but average story.

Fixes: For this one, I’m going to go through it beat by beat to try and untangle some of these issues. To make this work they I want it to, there might need to be a bit of revision back to previous Acts.

1)  The Players gather to discuss recent goings on and Anatole and Lucita show with more info. Gah, again, THESE two. I’m sure it’s awesome for some players that, like, they’re talking with THE Lucita, but it doesn’t work for me. A lot of this sharing of information SHOULD have been involved in the story itself. If not, I’d relegate it to downtime/blue booking. Something the players can discuss out of character while they’re updating their sheets.

2) The Blood Oath. Ok, this is a tricky one. Looking back, I see how the book has been having the characters take various steps to this point, but it’s still odd. I suppose you’re supposed to bring social pressure on to the players to get them to commit to this. By doing it in game, the players have doomed their own characters. Also, it becomes pretty relevant later on in this Act. I’m still not sure exactly how useful this will be for the narrative as a whole, though--after all, I’ve certainly played rebellious childer who may be loyal and devoted to their sires, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t murder their sires’ ghouls or smash their cars to show how frustrated they are. Basically, I don’t think the Blood Oath necessarily will compel the players to submit gracefully to the revocation of their princedoms later on, as the authors seem to believe. So, I’m not sure how to handle this. I suppose it’s something to table till I read the later Acts, and see if it has any relevance later on.

3) The “simple” job. I know I’ve said this before but...seriously? Ok, it’s actually a pretty fun story. I’ve played through it once and had a blast. You go to a Gypsy camp and it’s all very “Hammer Horror” and then, BAM, big action scene with the Inquisitors where the players get their butts handed to them. Then, the players have to strike back, and it’s like the first time in the entire Chronicles that the players just get to break out and go crazy on someone. It’s awesome. However, the setup leaves a lot to be desired. After all, the players are PRINCES. They’ve reigned at this point for 200 years. I do understand that it is Europe and 200 years doesn’t mean all that much. But, it does mean the players can have their own childer, their own ghouls, their own “allies” who have taken up residence near their city. They very well might be powers in their own right, and they’re tasked with retrieving some jewelry? Do their sires really have no other childer they can send? The players seem less like pawns and more like rooks at this point.  Also, the person you are asked to help, Nova Arpad, is actually one of the more interesting characters in Transylvania by Night with a very cool story attached to her. Alas, it’s a story that the players can NOT do. For one, it takes place simultaneous with Act I. Secondly, if they do, and are successful, then this entire sequence makes no damn sense.

Your princess is in THAT Castle.
4) It’s pretty much a given the Inquisitors will make off with the Ravnos the players need for their mission. And that’s fine. As I said, the players now get to go on the offensive. The one glaring crime of this part of the story is the lack of this taking place in a Fortified Church! Ok, technically this would be slightly anachronistic, as they generally didn’t develop until the Ottoman era, but come on, it’s a Fortified Church! I totally want to run this part like freaking Shadowrun--the players have the job “extract the Ravnos” and a time frame (depending on what’s going, either “till this morning” or “three nights”). Then, let them come up with their plan. I have the floor plans, the guards, the defenses,-- the rest is up to the coterie. Let the players be as badass and awesome as they can be at this part. Especially because...

5) They must fail. It’s odd, for all my issues with “can they EVEN fail” so far, but the forced failure thing is odd. I mean, I get it. You want the players to be frustrated and annoyed and down right ANGRY at their sires for being such petty asses about this. I just don’t think the story has earned this so far. Part of this is writing since the sires aren’t pre-determined NPC’s. But part of this is also not being upfront with the Storyteller’s ahead of time. The sires need to be much bigger jerks earlier on, far more mercurial and temperamental than what little information we have on them. I mean, you have a 200 year old childe who has done EVERYTHING you asked up to this point, and is (potentially) an established Prince with his own domain and followers. And you throw all that way over something like that? Again, I get what they’re going for, but there’s way too many landmines here. For one, the player(s) might openly rebel, as my character did. He would never kill his sire, of course, for he loved him. But he was still more than willing to raise his army to defend his rights. Secondly, and this is anecdotal, the players might get completely side tracked thinking that a Malkavian was driving their sires mad, because their behavior was so out of the ordinary.

So, the fix to all this is simple. Don’t let them be Princes. Their reward in Act I is their “freedom”--they get a small piece of territory in their sires domains, like a neighborhood or a collection of villages. Of course, their freedom is merely that of a loose leash, as they learn when it gets jerked back. When their sire kicks them out for failing them, it’s not just their word--their bootlicker of a younger childer is there, as well as enough ghouls and allies to make it stick. Hopefully, the public humiliation will increase the character's rage.

6) I am so sick of this damn prophet. Seriously, when other people ran this, did the players even care when this asshat shows up? Later on, the players need to do some research, let’s have the prophecy be in there.

7) The Diablerie of the Antediluvian. This is going to require a bit of revision--it’s way too big of a deal for the little amount of time and space they give here. First, the players should be approached not by Dragomir, but someone who they actually trust. Dragomir is a fine character, and I want him involved, but it needs to be someone they can get behind. Back in Act I, I mentioned the childe of their patron as having been sent first to Tihuta pass. This is who approaches them--someone who owes them basically a Life Debt, who is coming to them with a chance to do something great.

Secondly, they mention a Library the PC’s are supposed to have. I must have missed this in Act I, but it would definitely be something cool. Also, the players shouldn’t have access to it--let them rebel by sneaking into their own library and stealing what they once had. It can be a little fun, and they get to tweak the noses of their sires/the ones who supplanted them.

Thirdly, even approaching the monastery in question should be a bit of a challenge. The way I’m currently thinking, the Monastery has four basic layers of protection. The outlands (the various small villages and towns that are around the monastery and answer to it), the monastery itself (populated by an inbred and degenerate ghoul family that are more like the priests from 300 than anything remotely Christian and their slaves/servants), the catacombs and dungeons beneath the monastery (populated by vozhds and other monstrosities), the outer tomb (populated by a number of Tzimisce methuselahs), and then finally Tzimisce itself. Each “ring” has a rating or “defensive value”

Ready: The area is prepared for a major fight. Guards are posted, they have anti-vampire/disciplines in place to counter almost anything the players might have. Violence or any commotion is met quickly with overwhelming force, though a core group remains in reserve, leery of feints or diversion. Social and stealth based approaches are almost impossible.
Prepared: The area is aware something MIGHT be coming, and cautiously on the lookout. Violence and the like are met quickly, but quick and decisive action, or clever stratagems can overcome them. Social and stealth based approaches are difficult, but clever plans and good roleplaying can carry the day.
Un-prepared: The area has heard something might happen, and are leery of strangers or odd noises, but not prepared for fighting or direct action. They will almost certainly fall for clever strategy or a good lie.
Defenseless: they have no reason to think anything is out of place, and are settled into their century long routine. Strangers are objects of curiosity, not fear. Odd noises and ignored unless the persist. Violence will cause a panic.

Initially, each “ring” is Defenseless (see below for why). But, the players rolling up to the monastery with their usual retinue will certainly draw attention, and increase their defensive value by at least one, if not two. Lot’s of disciplines, or violence, or any commotion in one ring, will ultimately increase the defensive value of the next ring. Basically, stealth and social charm work best.

So, if the players charge up blindly, the DV comes up by two. More subtle methods (bringing only what they need, or the like), increases it by 1. Going in a false direction and then cutting through the woods on their own keeps things subtle. Obviously, the players will probably come up with more interesting approaches.

The conspirators themselves need some personality as well. In addition to Dragomir and the Rescued Childe, there should be a few other Kindred known to the players--maybe a childe of Nova Arpad who is as pissed at her tyranny as the players are, another kindred they’ve met during down time, or a retainer of Myka Vykos. The conspirators number 13, with the players, so most are unknown, but there should be at least a few familiar faces there. Of the 13, 6 (or 7 if there is a Tzimisce PC) are Tzimisce. They all agree that one of them should do the final deed (keep it in the family, and all), though there should be enough Methuselahs to “reward” all the members.  WHICH one will do the deed is up for debate, but they quickly agree to draw straws at the time. Doing it earlier might make sense for planning, but there’s a fear of them turning on each other.The non-Tzimisce PC will be asked to administrator the drawing of lots, and a simple Dex+Legerdemain allows him to “fix” the contest to his liking.

There should be a bit of a debate over which tactics--some advocate going with “guns blazing”, some want to sneak in, some want to try to bluff. The “leader” is a “kill ‘em all” kind of guy, but the Rescued Childe speaks with some authority, and will back the players plan. If they don’t have one, he’ll come up with one that plays to their strengths.  Regardless, the whole thing is handled, again, like a Shadowrun infiltration.

Why do they think this will work? The guards are lazy, inbred, and stupid. Boldness and decisiveness will overwhelm them.  But, they need to strike before Tzimisce can awaken and ruin their chance. Also, one of the conspirators was a former prisoner of the Tremere. During his escape, he managed to get the Chains of Ages--a powerful artifact crafted by Tremere himself, and used for the binding of Saulot. Any Kindred chained by them is held immobile and can not utilize their gifts of blood. In addition, another member is a Koldunic Sorceror who has crafted 13 pendants--for one night, and one night only, they render the bearer immune to Dominate, Presence, and other mind-altering powers.  They have the team, the tools, the information--now is the time to strike for their freedom!

Why will this ACTUALLY work? Tzimisce wants it to. He (it?) is aware of what happened to Saulot and Lasombra. He sees the tide of history, and knows it’s only a matter of time before his own childer turn on him. As per canon, this is a giant fake out to remove itself from the board. It is working through one of Methuselah guardians--they are there to both guard him,as well as to be his first food when the ancient awakens. The first to awake believes that the time is coming, and has no desire to be eaten. Hearing of the death of other Antediluvians, he is working with the anarchs to save himself.  He is the one dismantling most of the mystical defenses, and an old friend/ally of his (a Nosferatu) is actively suppressing the myriad animal guardians.  Finally, Goratrix made damn sure that the Escaped Prisoner got the artifacts needed to pull this off, theorizing that eliminating the Tzimisce Antediluvian would go far to aiding his clans security.

Also, per canon, Tzimisce survives, which I’m sure will come into play later in the Chronicles. HOWEVER, they don’t tell you what “actually” happened. Apparently since it was already published in other books, they felt no need to repeat it here. Which is aggravating as all hell. This is the problem with meta-plot. Don’t assume I’ve read or even own EVERYTHING--tell me what I need to know NOW to run the damn game. I can ignore it, change it, tweak, or run it straight, but I can’t make that decision unless I know what the hell is going on. Seriously, cut out the atmospheric pictures, and tell me what the story is.

Can they fail? Oh, yes. Earlier on, honest failure would be ideal, since the players might feel less railroaded and more like “well, we did F that one up.” Later on, the conspiracy has to succeed, but there’s no need for the players to make it to the inner sanctum--a few years in torpor could work wonders for their rage.

(Transylvania Chronicles I: Dark Tides Rising , written by Brian Campbell and Nicky Rea. Published by White Wolf Publishing, Inc. 1997. Available for purchase at drivethrurpg.)

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