Friday, September 20, 2013

Vampire 30 Day Challenge Day 12 Favorite Adventure You Have Ran

In general, I’m not a huge fan of most of White Wolf’s published adventures. Even the award winning epics like Giovanni Chronicles strike me as too infatuated with their own narrative, with the success or failure of the characters dictated by the needs of the plot rather than their own actions or decisions. In contrast the earlier adventures published were significantly more free form and responsive to the players, while keep the great themes and moods that make Vampire so wonderful.
Once I managed to get my hands on these, I began running some of the 1st Ed adventures. In general they were a blast for both me and my players. But Alien Hunger stands head and shoulders over all of them.

Without giving away too much, Alien Hunger is all about those first few nights of being a Vampire, and the horrible things one must do to survive the change. The players play through the prelude as ordinary mortals, until they are all abducted by the same strange man. They awaken hours later in an underground lab, the result of a mad experiment to both artificially create vampires, as well as to cure them of their affliction. This lab-created origin is of course a significant change from the standard game, but works wonders to get the coterie together. The other pillar they use to ensure some sense of coterie stability and unity is having all the characters know each other, at least in passing, as mortals, so that they have a reason to stick with each other and trust one another besides “we’re all in this together.”

Their kidnapper is dead above them, with the entire house in flames. Their first order of business is to escape the lab they are trapped in, with a number of mortals they once knew nearby--likely victims of the players’ uncontrollable thirst. Once they escape, the game opens up, allowing them to approach the change and the world around them in any way they see fit.

It’s still an adventure though, and so the games deals with three roughly distinct scenarios. First, managing the transition from their mortal lives to being undead, all the more difficult with the police snooping around due to their involvement with the arson/homicide. Secondly, they are not Kindred who should exist, and so the local vampires are after them. The final scenario is discovering the nature of their creation, who their “sire” was, and uncovering the cure he had worked so hard to develop.

The players can approach these threats in any manner they see fit. I've seen them engage in brutal street fights with the local Kindred, and resolve it peacefully after a single well role-played sit down. Some are obsessed with finding the cure, others could care less and instead relish their new existence. This is not an adventure that forces the narrative, but instead presents a sandbox for the players to explore and confront in any way they see fit. 

It is this freedom that I find so appealing, and so rare in a White Wolf adventure. It reminds me more of one of the classic D&D modules like Isle of Dread in that it gives you a setting and a cool scenario, but otherwise gets out of the way of the narrative and story that you want to tell. I read a post recently by Venger Satanis that discusses 1st Edition Vampire in comparison to old-school games. While I agree alot with what he said, the more I think about it, the more I do feel that original Vampire is an "in-between game" that features the best of both possible worlds. It had an incredible focus on well-developed characters and their interactions, while at the same time emphasizing narrative freedom and the spirit of "anything can be attempted." It is in Alien Hunger that this is best expressed. I only wish that later White Wolf adventures had followed this path--a gripping opening scenario followed by an open ended sandbox--rather than their "tightly packed narrative that plays like a novel."

Finally, it also has one of my favorite “by Night” cities in its treatment of Denver. Rather than the usual Prince/Primogen/Harpies/Elders vs. anarchs, the Denver of Alien Hunger is divided between the “Court” and the “Independents”—roughly, those who enjoy and desire to socialize and hang out with others of their kind, and those who prefer a more solitary existence. It reminds me of the flexibility and variability that the cities had in 1st Ed, before the sameness of later 2nd became so prominent. While I don’t use Denver that often outside of Alien Hunger, it remains a template of mine for other cities.

One of the reasons I’m such a huge fan of Alien Hunger is that it is the perfect module for completely new players. The adventure assumes you know nothing about the game, other than “you play vampires.” The characters are as new and fresh to the world as the players, and experience things like hunger, the masquerade, and killing to survive for the very first time. Sure, the “lab creation” is a bit of a cheat, but it works extremely well to get and keep everyone together. Well, at least initially.

The odd thing, and part of its charms, is that unlike most adventure modules, it doesn't have a defined “end.” In theory, it should end with the players sitting around, holding the very vials of what may or may not be the cure, and making their decisions, but it doesn't have to—and in fact, it rarely does. The game often naturally develops into other  directions, but that’s a strength, not a flaw.

Due to the heightened tensions of the adventure though, it really only works best as a “one-shot” or a brief Chronicle. The coterie rarely survives the adventure intact, often turning on each other in one manner or another. But if you want to give some new players a whirl through the fear, tension, and exhilaration of Vampire, without committing to a full Chronicle, this is the adventure to run.

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