Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- Act IV

Transylvania Chronicles II
Son of the Dragon
Act IV: The Serpents Lair

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary: The characters are summoned by Count Radu, a minor NPC they met in Act I. After discussing with them tales of the Anarch Revolt and other recent events, he asks them to attend a party being thrown by Prince Otto. They are to attend this major gathering of vampires and bring Vlad Tepes (Dracula) with them back to Radu’s fortress in the Tihuta Pass. The characters travel to Otto’s Castle of Hermanstadt. Many prominent Cainites are present at the party, and the atmosphere is tense. There are a few friendly faces (Anatole, Lucita, and Zelios), but in general the party is almost ready to explode. The coterie is to approach Dracula and convince him to come with them to Radu, something he quickly agrees to. Suddenly, anarchs invade the party, causing a brief commotion. Regardless of the coteries actions, the combined might of the party goers makes short work of the interlopers. The castle burns as the coterie and Dracula make their escape. They travel to Tihuta, while Dracula quizzes them on unlife. When they bring him to Radu, he informs them that Yorak, master of the Cathedral of Flesh, has ordered Dracula brought to him for the embrace, instead. The characters bring Dracula to the Cathedral and escort him inside. The Cathedral lives up to its horrific name and reputation. Yorak seeks to embrace Dracula, but a single drop of the Impalers blood incites the Cathedral to an unholy assault upon Yorak. Dracula rides off into the night, proclaiming that he will be embraced on his terms, or not at all.
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Key Factors: Meet Dracula, and hopefully establish a solid relationship for future adventures. Witness the destruction of Yorak and the Cathedral of the Flesh.

Initial Thoughts: I thought Act II was bad, but this is horrible. My first thought after reading this was to stop this whole series and declare the Transylvania Chronicles unsalvageable, and start work on my own Chronicle. The characters have nothing of consequence to do; they are there to be told how awesome Dracula is, how important Dracula is, to try to become Dracula’s friend, and to stand in awe at how amazing Dracula is even when he’s not doing anything. It is nothing but an escort mission, where the escortee is The Coolest Person In The World.

I get it, I do. Dracula is awesome. I love the book, and I love most of the movies. When I first picked up Vampire: The Masquerade, it was Dracula and Lestat that I thought of, and I was excited to be able to be these characters. But I have no interest in standing around--or, worse, forcing my friends to stand around--and gape at how amazingly cool he is. Especially compared to the 300 year old undead bad asses who might have just come off the killing of a near god.

My second thought was to sink this whole Act and rebuild from the ground up--something focused on the more immediate chaos of revolution and Inquisition. But, again, I don’t know how things will play out. So, let’s see what can be done to make this damn thing playable.

Fixes: Like in Act III, I’m going to go through this almost scene by scene.

1) Radu. The players met him in Act I, but he was a fairly minor character in that adventure. So, we need to tweak him into someone more personal for the players. After the events of III, Radu is the one who took the players in and gave them sanctuary. Instead of dramatically being summoned to Birkau Castle, it has been their home for the past 50 years. Well, at least some of them, in any case. When he asks them to retrieve a mortal for him, the request is nothing terribly unusual. They've been battling various foes for a while, and a coterie of vampires excels at “special operations” like this.

In addition, don’t overplay how awesome Dracula is. The players should already know who he is and what it means, you don’t need to hammer it over and over to them. He is NEVER referred to as “Dracula,” but merely as “Vlad.” As far as the characters know, he is merely a mortal prince that Radu seeks to embrace to deny him from their mutual foes. Naturally, those foes will be determined by the players, the characters, and the events so far.

2) Hermanstadt. I’ll admit it, I don’t like running big party scenes. I find them awkward and disjointed--it’s hard to play out the ebb and flow of a large crowd when you are merely one Storyteller. But this is a particularly bad one, as there is very little to do in this scene, and less to find out. Instead, we’re going to run it like a Shadowrun operation again. Vlad and his would-be sire are going to attend this party, where the various powers will be. The players need to get in and get him out, though Radu has stated that he wants no harm to come to the mortal and wants him to come of his own free will. Fortunately, Vlad is already looking for a way out of Count Rustovitch’s grasp. They can crash the party and try to be socially subtle, rely on stealth, brute force (though that will end...poorly), arrange a diversion or distractions, whatever tactics the players feel is best.

Crit Coterie is able to retrieve Vlad, without offending anyone (either through guile or stealth) +2 XP
Success Coterie is able to retrieve Vlad, but either make a mess doing it or let Count Rustovitch know who stole his prize +1 XP
Failure Coterie has to use force to retrieve Vlad, and enrage the various guests in the process.
Botch Coterie fails to retrieve Vlad and is captured for their troubles. When Yorak summons Vlad from Rustovitch, the players are sent along as “sacrifices.”

3) Travelling with Drac. This is pure roleplaying, so hopefully it should work. Essentially, tailor Vlad's personality to best mesh with the majority of the players.

The subtitle should have been a warning
4) Cathedral of Flesh. This could be an amazing scene, if you have a Tzimisce character who has heard tales of this sacred ground. Otherwise, I just don’t know how interesting it would be stand around at this seriously messed up place you’ve never heard of before. I’m thinking of just narrating this scene out, as nothing the players do makes a damn amount of difference. But, players can surprise you.  I would twist the description a bit, to make it as unholy and wrong as possible, by emphasizing how it violates the tenets of whatever Roads the players follow. Well, aside from Metamorphosis, obviously.  If I can get away with replacing any scene, this would be it. As is though, I fear I’m pretty much stuck running it as is.

I’m definitely getting rid of the “Dracula dramatically states his defiance, and rides off into the night” scene. The Cathedral collapses, and Vlad is left for dead--unless, of course, the players are able to get him out in time.

But still, man, the Act stank. I really feel the need to track down some other blogs and actual plays and the like to see what I’m missing from my read through of this, and ways to make this work better.

(Transylvania Chronicles II: Son of the Dragon, written by Brian Campbell and Nicky Rea. Published by White Wolf Publishing, Inc. 1998. Available for purchase at drivethrurpg.)

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