Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- Act II

Transylvania Chronicles I
Dark Tides Cresting
Act II: Trials of Princes

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary: Players are Princes, ruling over various minor cities, and have been researching a demon named Kupala. Their agents find a book on the demon, and while reviewing it, Octavio shows up with more prophecies. Zelios and a messenger arrive--the messenger to bid them fulfill their obligation to Myca Vykos, Zelios to ask their aid in marking Ceoris and other locals with special runes to bind Kupala. Luckily, both requests go to the same place. Myca wishes the players to escort Goratrix to his judgement at the hands of the Tremere. While on the road, they stumble upon a group of Crusaders guarding an ancient treasure; the players can attempt to steal it. Later, the players meet a party of Tremere and even Tremere himself (in an awesome display of power), and hand Goratrix over. Etrius agrees to carve the rune himself in the Tremere fortress. The players then continue and meet the mad Tzimisce Dragomir who they help to calm by carving the rune into his castle.

Key Factors: Receiving background information on Kupala. The prophecy. Marking the runes of various fortresses. Crusader treasure. Meeting with and knowing Goratrix and Etrius. Meeting Dragomir.

Initial Thoughts: Ok, trying to steal the Holy Grail right out from under a small army of Crusaders? Yeah, that’s awesome. And it’s almost enough to redeem this adventure. Alas, not entirely. Far too much of it relies on coincidence and happenstance. Also, why is Kupala (seemingly a pretty major force in the Chronicles) revealed during downtime? Also, the meeting with Tremere is just...bizarre. Showing how mind-numbingly powerful an Antediluvian is seems to work against the next Act, and it again forces a degree of passivity on the players that I don’t like.

Fixes: First off, bring up Kupala earlier, like in Act I. Hell, now I’m thinking of making Zelios more of a potential ally to the players than before. Get them all on board the “what the hell is Kupala and how do we stop this shit” right early on. Octavio remains a giant “ugh.” In fact, I’m going to dump him all together. I’ll keep his prophecies, but as a written scroll that the players find among their research. Some maniac yelling at players vague hints of future plot hooks and “YOU SHALL BE THE WITNESS” does nothing for the game. No one wants to witness the end times, we want to bring them about or stop them, but of our own free will. Lampshading the whole “you’re playing a module and have to do what we say” doesn’t make it go down any easier.

The escort mission is boring, boring, boring. All escort mission are. But, I don’t know what I need to change to make the future Acts work, so let’s try and keep it as close as possible. The players don’t just need to meet up with a staked Goratrix, but instead need to retrieve him. Some other faction has him staked and heading out to the Near East, and the players need to intercept him, steal/kill his minders, and then bring him to Ceoris. I’m not sure about this, but at least the players can DO something. Though, why would the players unstake him? Eh, maybe a ghoul of the captures does it hoping to unleash the frenzied vamp on the players (it does not end well for him).

The Crusaders though? Yeah, that’s gold, that stays. Though, seriously White Wolf, if you’re going to give me a heist based adventure, GIVE ME A FREAKING MAP OF THE INN. You guys were rolling in 90’s Vampire boom money, how much does it cost to have someone draw up a quick map? No one else in the industry seems to have a problem with it. Guess it would take away from critical “moody black and white pictures you can barely make out” and it wouldn’t be a White Wolf book without plenty of those.

The scene with Tremere? That has to go. Making the players sit around and act scared for no damn reason? I get it, he’s powerful. I doubt any player is running around talking shit about Tremere. “Oh, Tremere, that all-powerful mortal mage who killed his away to the top of the Vampire hierarchy? Pfft, yeah, he’s all talk. If I ever see him, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind!” Also, spoiler (er, even more so than normal...I guess?) later on you can get involved in an attempt to diablerie an Antediluvian. It’s a bit difficult to get the players on board with such a plan when their sole previous experience with such a being is “dear lord, what is that thing?” and falling on the ground writhing at the concept of such an alien monstrosity being even slightly aware of their existence.

Do the players have to “meet” Tremere? Does it have something to do with Saulot? Because I really don’t see how or why.

Finally, it ends with the players meeting a mad Tzimisce. Which is fine, but seems anti-climatic. Maybe move it earlier-like, one of the things they do on the way to pick up Goratrix? It’s at least a solid role-playing scene, with the players having lots of options on how to deal with Dragomir.

The truth is, a lot of this Act seems meaningless. The players don’t really have much to do. Despite my desire to keep the game simple, I think I need to add a few things, like additional runic inscriptions that gradually decrease the severity of the storms wrecking the land, battling more kupala spirits, that sort of thing. I’d really like to make it into a Road based adventure, I think. We’re still early in the campaign, so at this point I want to focus on the righteousness of the players chosen Road. The “best” way to resolve various issues is to behave as close to their Road as possible.

So, if I have the character from my previous example (Road of Beast), then beast boy needs to do various things associated with the Road of the Beast. He needs to challenge and kill a “weak leader” (some weak lordling who won’t let them mark the runes and/or is holding Goratrix), end the meaningless torture of others (maybe break up a castrati school or some kind of slave ring), and the like.

Of course, making the Kupala angle more prominent in Act I will hopefully minimize the “why are we doing this BS?” factor, as they will hopefully already have an agenda to stop the demon.

Can the players fail this adventure? Maybe? I mean, sure it’s possible. They could fail to retrieve Goratrix, but he’s still mystically compelled to return to Ceoris sooner or later. The Crusader treasure is a sub-plot that may or may not come back into the game later. So, they could “fail” to get that, but I’m not sure how much that will matter. The runes seem important, but Zelios can always come in behind them to complete what they fail to, and I’m not even sure what would happen if they didn’t get the runes up. While a failure in Act I can be easily rectified by NPC’s, the players still CAN and suffer some degree of consequences as a result. In this adventure, the stakes seem so minor for the players that I’m not sure what failure even means.

The escort mission is just pointless. Again, Goratrix WILL go back to Ceoris, unless he dies. And if he dies, well, that might completely derail future events, which I’m not sure I want to deal with. I mean, sure, his role as the founder of Tremere Antribu could be taken by someone else, but I feel like he has to have some degree of “plot immunity.” Which means the players really can’t “fail” to deliver him to Tremere. Of course, failure with the runes might have some longer lasting implications, but I’m not sure in what way.  

For now, I’m going to need to table Act II. I need to read the rest of Chronicles to see if anything that happens here is critical. Otherwise, I’m thinking of rebuilding it around stealing the treasure.

Now, what if they royally screwed up Act I? That’s fine too. Their sires or mentors can assign them the same basic goals without an issue. If they’re new characters, then I tell them to make them with some kind of goal involving Kupala. If they’re survivors, they’ve spent the past century doing grunt work for their sires, and hoping for a chance to redeem themselves. Of course, this time, there’s no sweet princedoms waiting for them.

(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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