Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- ACT VII

Transylvania Chronicles III
Ill Omens
Act VII: Twilight of the Graverobber

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary: It is 1680, nearly 200 years since the characters witnessed the rebirth of Dracula. Maria Asuncion, the last of the Cappadocians and final survivor of the Giovanni purge, comes to the characters seeking sanctuary. If there is a Giovanni character, they are approached separately by their clanmates looking for their aid in hunting down Maria. Word soon spreads of who the characters are protecting, and powerful Kindred from across Europe come to attend a “festival” in the characters domain. There, numerous faction seek to beg, threaten, cajole and bribe the characters to decide the final fate of the Cappadocian. Regardless of their choice, Maria takes matter into her own hands and offers herself up to her foes. Despite this, the decisions the characters made will continue to haunt them going forward.

Key Factors: Final fate of Maria, and which of the various factions--Camarilla, Sabbat, Giovanni, Baali (!), Tremere, etc--the players either worked with or offended in the process.

Initial Thoughts: This was a really solid and fun adventure. I’ll admit, at first I was leery. Another “oh so important NPC” gets involved in the characters lives, oh, this is going to be great. But instead, the characters remain the decisions makers and the stars.  Like Act IV, it’s another party full of powerful NPC’s; only THIS time, they’re coming to the characters, and the characters have the power.

What do the players do with Maria? Honor their agreement and keep her safe? Sell her off to the Giovanni for gold, the Tremere for power, or the Baali for knowledge? Hand her over to the Toreador as a kept pet? Do they make their decisions based on morality, and if so whose morality? For the first time, the Roads and Paths the players are on really do matter, and have an effect of the game. If not morality, than what is their guidepost? Each faction can offer some sort of rewards, but what do the characters really value?

Honestly, I only have a few issues, and all of them are minor. One, is the potential Giovanni character. I like that they included it, but how damn awkward is it for a new player (or at least new character) to be placed in such direct opposition to the rest of the group in their first appearance? It’d be one thing if it was the Lasombra vs. the Ventrue, when they have 500 years of history between them already. As a side note, how damn weird is it that the Sabbat and the Camarilla just sort of...allows the Giovanni to murder the Cappadocians. I mean, I guess you could say that they view it as an intra-clan matter.And, ok, maybe the Venture don’t care about the Cappadocians, but surely a Ventrue cares about a Cappadocian, right?

Finally, I can see how Maria can come across as a “Damsel in Distress,” but honestly she’s really more of a Christ analogue.

Honestly, though, this whole Act reminds me of Sandman “Seasons of Mist” and that’s just fantastic.


Don’t really have one. It’s weird, but this is the first Act in all of the Chronicles that I’d run more or less as written. Now, of course, it’d need to be customized--but that’s something the Act explicitly calls for. You’d want to bring in significant NPC’s based on each character’s past, and bribe and pressure them based on their own desires and previous actions. Even better, it points out how various decisions here will affect the subsequent Acts in Book III.

Ideally, I’d love to base this around party dynamics. In most troupes I’ve played with, a “party leader” naturally emerges, generally based on the one player most willing to make decisions. This character would be the guardian on Maria, and it’s the other characters getting the pressure from the NPC’s. So, there would be real arguments among the players, perhaps based on their own agendas, and the various secret bribes they are receiving behind the other players backs.

Long story short, this is the first Act that I WANT to run. Even if I didn’t end up running the Chronicles themselves, this Act is going to show up in any Chronicle of Ages I end up running.

Seriously, Twilight of the Graverobber is like a breath of fresh air.

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- Intermission

So, I’m halfway through reading and trying to “fix” the Transylvania Chronicles and this seems as good a point as any to stop and take stock of everything up to this point.  Honestly, so far, I’m pretty disappointed, both in the Chronicles and my ability to redeem them.  The Chronicles came to me pretty highly rated, and I was excited to try and run a campaign through vampire history.  What I have read and worked on, though, leaves me tired, and frustrated.

What I dislike (so far)
  1. Lack of player agency. Not only in the railroaded “you have to do THIS” which is pretty much expected in any large published module, but in general. There’s little for them to do, or challenges to overcome, in any of the Acts.
  2. Dracula.
  3. The history seems thin. The players are involved in an early act of the Anarch Revolt. Then they do an escort mission. Then they are present for the big Treaty. Then they skip 200 years and avoid the Sabbat War.
  4. Escort missions, in general.
  5. NPC’s. Quite a few of them are interesting, but the players never really get to know any of them in any significant manner. They might meet one in passing in one Act, only to see them again later in a later one, but with no real meaning.
  6. Nothing seems to change. This is partly the fault of the writers of Vampire: The Dark Ages and I can’t blame them too much for this. They went with the most “playable” society for the Dark Ages, but I find it unsatisfying.
  7. Easy and constant travelling. It’s one thing to do this in a modern game of cars, RVs, private planes, and hotels. I always felt that in the Dark Ages travelling more than a couple of hours away from your home should be terrifying, and a major risk.

What I like (so far)
  1. Kupala. I don’t know what’s going on with this thing, but seems like a solid framework for the campaign. I wish more was about the sleeping demon.
  2. The NPC’s.

Shit just got real.
I will still keep going with the project. As we enter the back half and new writers come on board, I’m hoping that things start clicking into place. But, based on what we have so far, I don’t think I’d run Chronicles. Instead, I’d want to run my own. Something more intimate, something concentrated in a single locale. With a smaller cast of characters that the players really get to know, and struggle with and against. I want to span the centuries and see how time changes this one area, and its inhabitants. I want to see how the Black Death affects the characters, how they respond to its challenges. I want things like the Anarch Revolt and the founding of the Camarilla and Sabbat to be personal, and immediately impactful.  What happens when they revolt directly against their own sires? What happens to their friends, allies, and lovers in the chaos of revolution, inquisition, and war? How does time change things, and how to the players respond to it all?

I’m not sure I’ll be able to pull all this off, but I know that so far the Chronicles isn’t what I had hoped it would be, and I don’t know how much I can change before I’m no longer playing it.

Ah well, now that Dracula has been embraced, I’m sure he won’t be popping up again and hijacking the Chronicle from the players any more. So, we have that to look forward too.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- Act VI

Transylvania Chronicles II
Son of the Dragon
Act VI: Prophecy in Amber

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary: Zelios the Master Mason summons the characters to meet with him at Bran Castle.
This is NOT Dracula's Castle. Because THAT
would be going to far.
There, he tasks them to head to Arghes Castle, where Dracula is hiding. They need to mark another rune there in order to maintain the binding of Kupala. He offers them two items of treasure as payment for the task--a brooch of amber than once belonged to Nova Arpad, and a golden tome. The coterie heads to Arghes and there meet their old friend Dracula. He welcomes them and allows them to mark their rune, after spending a few days. Perhaps the begin a romance with him, or perhaps not. A pack of “sabbat” assault the castle, only to be intercepted by a force or Camarilla Justicars and Archons. Dracula uses the distraction to strike at both forces, and captures two Sabbat vampires--Lambach and Tabak. If not embraced by a PC, Dracula arranged his own embrace and soon after commits his first act of diablerie. The players return to Zelios and receive their reward, After uncovering the secret of the amber brooch (which Zelios explains), the players discover an unsettling message.

Key Factors Receive the ancient message. Behold the transformation of Dracula into one of the undead.

Initial Thoughts: Oh, thank god. It’s another Dracula adventure. Man, that guy is so cool. I especially enjoy how in Act IV they make a big deal about how the players can NOT embrace him--I suppose because he’s amazing blood is necessary to take down the Cathedral of Flesh. But now, if they are cool enough, Dracula and a character might become lovers and they are allowed to embrace him.

Assuming the player is mature enough to appreciate such a romance. And it makes sense for a 400 year old vampire. Hope your advanced and mature players didn’t pick any of the Roads that would make such a romance impossible.

But don’t worry if they did. Dracula is more than awesome enough to get himself embraced by a very powerful elder and become a badass vamp on his own. And then he diablerizes his way to even more power.

Oh, and something about Kupala and some message. I’m sure the message they received for their troubles is jaw-dropping, but I have no idea. It’s printed with light black text on a dark grey background in that faux handwriting font, so I can’t easily read it. I assume it’s important, but I have no idea. It’s quite clear that having the Storyteller read this and understand what’s going on was not a top priority for the layout team.

Less sarcastically, this could be a fun role-playing focused Act for the right player--one who does enjoy playing the romance between themselves and Dracula and a Storyteller that is able to make that work. Of course, any other players in the game will be placed in a “watch the one PC do something cool” which I suppose is better than watching the NPC do something cool.

Fixes:  I have nothing. If the romance doesn’t work, this is hands down the most pointless Act so far in the Chronicles. Makes me long for the action packed horror of Act II, that’s for damn sure. So, you better hope that the romance works.

Can it? Yeah, I suppose. Hell, one of my favorite sessions of Vampire I’ve ever run was about how a romance bloomed and the player had their character follow their heart. And it was great. But it requires a deft hand, and the Storyteller and player being on the same page. It’s difficult to run a romance, particularly within a single session, and especially when the Storyteller is pushing it hard.

If the romance works, the players have a direct connection to who is clearly shaping up to be a definitive NPC for the campaign. If not, then I guess they get another example of how much cooler and more competent Dracula is than them.

When I run this, it’d really all come down to Act IV. If the players respond to Dracula well and dig him, and I am able to lay some groundwork for romance then, sure, this could work. If not, I don’t think I’d even try to do anything with this. I’d probably have them looking for the golden tome in the beginning, meet Zelios, mark runes in a similar fashion to Act II, and receive their reward. Of course, that assumes the whole rune things pays off in any way. If not, then this is to be replaced whole cloth with a character-driven adventure.

Can they fail? Fail at what? I guess they can piss off Dracula enough that he wouldn't allow them to place the rune, but at this point that feels like a red herring. Otherwise, their success or failure has no baring on the outcome of this Act.

(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.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- Act V

Transylvania Chronicles II
Son of the Dragon
Act V: Haceldema

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary:The characters are invited to the Convention of Thorns, either in person by old friends Anatole and Lucita, or separately by missive. They plan and make the harrowing trek from Eastern Europe to the far away town of Thorns, England. Eventually, they arrive at the Abbey of the Sacred Crown, the location of the “peace negotiation” between Anarchs and Elders to end the raging war. They meet various characters--some old, such as Myca Vykos, but many more new. The exact issues of the peace are heavily debated, with many polling the characters thoughts and concerns. There is, in addition, numerous opportunities for other encounters; many friendly, others...less so. Eventually, peace is declared, as the bulk of the Anarch leaders submit themselves before their Elders. Those few who refuse engage in one final, desperate act of defiance, and wipe the town of Silchester from the map in their rage.

Key Factors: Travelling to the Convention of Thorns. Ending of the Anarch Revolt.  Desperate extremists splinter off to eventually form the Sabbat.

Initial Thoughts: This is a tricky one. One on hand, I can totally see how this would be an awesome adventure for certain troupes. Those who thrive on social roleplaying would find this to be a perfect framework for a kick ass session, as would those who are really into the nitty gritty of the World of Darkness canon and metaplot. Even better, those Storytellers who don’t feel bound by canon can use this adventure as the “point of departure” and enable the players to effect major changes to the game setting, turning it truly into their World of Darkness.

On the other hand, those who aren’t as interested in roleplaying through a version of Model UN, or who aren’t terribly interested in the Anarch/Elder war, or who care little for the thrill of being at THE Convention of Thorns--well, they probably aren’t going to terribly enjoy the adventure, as it is presented. Even for them though, simple being at such a major gathering presents numerous adventuring ideas--more action oriented folks can take the role of defenders of the gathering, hunting down extremists who seek to disrupt the proceedings. More investigative types might have to deal with a mysterious murder that might unravel the delicate environment if not handled properly. More so than any other Act, V presents a strong backbone to allow the individual games to tell their own stories. It’s success or failure depends on what the Storyteller does with it. Though, as a mild criticism, this makes for a less than ideal “pre-published adventure,” after all.

In addition, now that we are at the end of the Anarch Revolt, perhaps the pivotal moment in published Vampire history, it’s time to think about the Transylvania Chronicles have handled it. And all I can think of is “poorly.” Act III involves the characters  in one of the major early events as a denouement and as minor figures. Act IV pushes the ongoing war to the background. Act V is its resolution. I’m sure the authors intended each Storyteller to tell their own stories set at this time. However, that’s a poor defense when dealing with such a published book of adventures, particularly since the books don’t even include any advice for either running such stories.

Now, in the author's defense, I feel that they were somewhat constricted by the published canon, particularly by the world as presented in Vampire: The Dark Ages. The conflicts presented feel very much like 20th Century issues and concerns, and the Anarch Revolt and the subsequent events don’t feel nearly apocalyptic enough. It is hard, though, to blame the authors for such issues, and whatever issues I may have belong more properly in a separate post.  

Fixes: Due to the extreme amount of character driven actions in Act V, it is difficult to think of exactly what one would need to do to make this work. As I mentioned, there’s plenty of room for a variety of actions for those players who have little interest in the negotiations themselves. But there are a few things that one should do to get this adventure really humming.

More talk, less slaughter. I thought
this was supposed to be a GAME!
First off, major issues have to be decided by in-between stories, or, as I’m planning on running this, via “blue-booking”/downtime management. Specifically, where the characters sympathies lie, and what sort of status (if any) the characters posses among their allies. Players arriving at the Convention as brutal Archons for the Camarilla will have a very different time than those who are leaders among the Anarchs, or those who seek to maintain a degree of autonomy and separation from the war.

Secondly, I would enumerate the various issues that are left to be decided. Those presented in the book include such things as: how to reintroduce the rebels and Anarchs to Camarilla society, how to handle the Assamite threat, and what structure the enforcement of the Camarilla should take. I’d probably add to these and tweak them based on the characters, and I really don’t think the Assamite issue should be resolved here.

Then, I would detail various NPC’s, and where they stand on the issues. I would also determine various ways to influence these figures--reason and logic, flattery, bribery, seduction, blackmail, and straight out threats. Each would be more susceptible to different means of influence. Some fall easily to bribery, while others react violently to the mere notion. The players would need to figure out who the decision makers are, how best to get to them, and try to play them to support their agenda. Any necessary rolls would be handled by the Storyteller, as the players won’t know what worked and what didn’t until the votes are properly cast.

Can they fail? Oh, yes. The default assumption is that history unfolds as it did. The players can attempt to twist this to their own ends. Let’s say they are hard core Archons seeking to crush the Anarchs finally (and, metagame, prevent the Sabbat from ever forming). Great success, and the Sabbat is reduced from “rival nation” to fringe terrorists in the future. Great failure, and the Convention of Thorns falls apart, with perhaps the Camarilla being a historical footnote, as the Sabbat becomes the force of Cainite life in the future.

Even those who aren’t politicians can face such failure. The Anarch bad asses providing security can fail to stop the Lupine threat, only to see their leaders wiped out and poor negotiators take their place. Or, they success wildly, and even the moderate Elders have to admire their actions in favor of all Kindred, helping the Anarchs to get a better deal.

(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.)

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.)

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.)

New Year, New Character Day 22: Pendragon

  New Year, New Character   Day 22    Pendragon  Pendragon is a game where players take on the roles of knights in Arthurian Britain. That&#...