Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- ACT VIII

Transylvania Chronicles III
Ill Omens
Act VIII: Enter the Dragon

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary: It is 1683. The characters are invited to visit and dine with the Impaler at his fortress of Castle Arghes. He desires the return of his sword. If they acquired his sword in Act VII, he attempts to purchase the sword. If negotiations fall apart, he uses magic and force to steal it later. If they did not, he is simply seeking information, and will acquire it from the Tremere on his own later. A few months later, children mysteriously begin disappearing not only from the characters domains, but from neighboring ones as well. The characters are incapable of finding any information regarding these disappearances. A second wave hits, with multiple children taken from each village. The fury, fear, and outrage provokes the arrival of a powerful force of Inquisitors. The weather then turns, reminiscent of when Kupala last rocked the land before the runes put it to sleep. Octavio arrives with more prophecy and key clues that Dracula is attempting to summon the Demon. The characters can travel to the Tremere for then more information to stop the summoning, or head directly to Castle Arghes and confront Dracula. Dracula seeks to summon and bind the Demon to serve his ends, while the players will either need to use social pressure, guile, or stealth to stop the summoning. After the summoning is ended, the characters receive a letter from Anatole and Lucita--Anatole has diablerized Octavio and now bears his visions.

Key Factors: The ritual. Stopping the rise of Kupala. The death of Octavio, and the passing of his visions to a successor (canonically it is Anatole, but it could very well be a PC if it makes sense).

Initial Thoughts: This is an interesting adventure. On one hand, it’s very well written and conceived. Previous player's choices come into effect, there are some excellent “set pieces” and locations, and the stakes are suitably high and personal--having Inquisitors running around your home will do that. There are a couple of inherent issues, however.

First, Dracula. I’ve complained about this guy more than a bit in the past, but he still bothers me as the “rock star” Vampire--I just dislike having NPC’s being inherently more cool and badass than the players, especially when they are written as such. But there’s more to it than that. Once again, the success or failure of this module really depends on the players having some emotional tie to Dracula, but also having an inherent horror at what he is trying to do. If the players don’t have that tie with him, the story becomes significantly less interesting and engaging, as it falls from “meeting with an old friend and lover” to “Mr. Important NPC Guy is going to talk at you for a bit.”

The second issue I alluded to--what if the players aren't terrified of what Dracula is doing? Yes, his ritual is mad, and he is sacrificing a hundred children to perform it. But...what if? What if the players have low Humanity, or none? What if they think that the sacrifice of such innocents (the vast majority of whom are already dead before the coterie can interfere) is for the greater good? What if they think summoning Kupala is an excellent idea? Or, what if they love and trust Dracula enough to put aside their concerns, and let the magnificent bastard give it a shot?

Fixes: This is another difficult one, since I’m not sure what the fallout and effects of this Act will have going forward. This might be a relatively meaningless Act (in the sense that information and actions taken now have no direct effect later), or it could be key in terms of foreshadowing and foreboding.

Does it have to be Dracula? I’m tempted to change it to a different NPC that players have met in their journeys, probably someone they have a more immediate emotional response too. That depends on who and what the players care about, however.

How do I make sure the players are against the ritual? I actively despise the prophetic announcements, unless of course I’m planning on making a PC the heir of Octavio. In any case, I would make sure that those characters with a mystical bent and/or have Auspex are receiving their own prophetic dreams, independent of Octavio. It should be very clear that what is about to go down is very, very bad for not only the world in general, but for the characters in particular. I’m glad to see Kupala make his return, but I want to make damn sure the players know not to try to treat with it .This could just be an issue I’ve seen with some of my players, however, and not a typical response from a typical player.

The missing children. I really dislike statements like “the players should be frustrated in their investigations” until magical NPC shows up with the answer. Figuring out what’s going on with kids, how Dracula is stealing them, and trying to thwart him should be a thing the players do. Them finding out on their own isn’t a bad thing, and actually makes the stakes much higher.

Can they fail? The book clearly states that the players should succeed, regardless of what tactics they use. But what if they don’t? What happens if Kupala DOES rise? I’m assuming that more information on the rise of Kupala is going to be present in Book IV, but for now I want to say that it CAN work. That if it does, it explains a coming centuries of horror. Of course, such a petty figure as Dracula can not hope to control such a being, and it will initially appear to submit to Dracula’s whims, only to slowly subvert and corrupt him, the land, and all their hopes until Dracula is little more than a pawn of the Demon and the Baali that flock to serve it.

Camarilla and Sabbat teaming up to take them down? C'mon, that'd be an amazing adventure!

(Transylvania Chronicles III: Ill Omens, written by Reid Schmadeka with Brendan Moran. Published by White Wolf Publishing, Inc. 1999. Available for purchase at drivethrurpg.)

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