Sunday, August 16, 2015

Transylvania Chronicles Redux -- ACT IX

Transylvania Chronicles III
Ill Omens
Act IX: The Blood of Tyrants

(Massive Spoilers)

Summary: It is 1789 and the players have decided to travel to Paris, the greatest city in Europe. Some might have already moved there, others are invited to partake in its social life, or to learn about new ideas they have heard of such as “Liberty,” or perhaps they’ve come to burn the place to the ground. Initially, they all share a terrible, portentous dream of them chasing a young man through a labyrinthine fortress to the sound of Anatole’s reading/chanting. When they arrive in Paris, they are met by a friendly local (who he is varies based on their history) who welcomes them and prepares them to enter Parisian society. They attend a fantastic ball, where they meet such old friends as Lucita and Anatole, as well as new ones like the scholar Becket, the Sabbat agitator Chatelle, and the Prince of Paris, Francois Villon. After much celebrating (including a potential faux pas), the peace of the evening is ruined by the actions of the mortals storming the Bastille. The players might go the Bastille themselves, or head there with Anatole. Or, they might go off with Chatelle. At the Bastille, they learn of an escaped prisoner with some knowledge of the tablets, as well as of Zelios. Those that go with the Sabbat are either targets of the bloodthirsty Cainites, or welcomed as brothers. For four years, the city of Paris is rocked with crisis after crisis, with each Sect seeking to use the chaos to their own advantage. If they pursue the prisoner and the tablet, they may, over the years find him. If they earn his trust (for his will is too strong for Dominate or Presence), he will guide them back to Innsbruk in Austria, where they will find the tablet and additional prophecies.

Key Factors: Players go to Paris. Paris burns. Players need to find someway to survive amidst the chaos.

I don't care what your Influence is, this is happening.

Initial Thoughts: Is the tablet key? In any other adventure, the players getting the mysterious McGuffin of Prophecy would be key, but it doesn’t seem necessarily so in this adventure. Honestly, though, I have a hard even calling this an adventure. Even the Act itself refers to it as a “mini-chronicle.”

Congratulations on finally being treated like
a noble!
The Blood of Tyrants does have its virtues. It acknowledges that the characters may be following entirely different paths, rendering the ability to tell one neat story almost impossible at this point. They might be aligned with different Sects. They might be fervently in favor of their Sect, or at best neutral to it.  They may not care about the fate of Paris, and instead focus on the Prophecy and what it means for them, or they may focus entirely on the politics of the setting. What they aren’t, though, is a group of nobodies that the Elders can order about with impunity. They are several centuries old, and it’s nice to see the books finally recognize this change.

Ah, simpler times.
And the setting? It’s wonderful. Paris is one of the most iconic and storied cities in the world, and the Revolution one of the great eras of history. It’s a vibrant, chaotic, messy, and fascinating location for a Chronicle, of any length. Not to mention it’s a welcome change from the forests, peasants, brutal lords, and storm-wrecked castles overlook mountain passes.

Even with all that going for it though, I’m still left with a sense of “what the hell is this?” First off, why are we doing an entire mini-Chronicle in Paris. Again, awesome setting. If someone came to me and pitched a Vampire game set in late 18th Century Paris, I’d be all about it. But to take the Transylvania Chronicles away from their home in Eastern Europe for such a long period of time just seems...bizarre.

And then there’s the issue of support. It’s nice to have a “Chronicle outline” but when you purchase a pre-published adventure like the Transylvania Chronicles you expect at least some of the “heavy lifting” to be done for you. Other than two or three local NPC’s, it falls on the Storyteller to generate the various Kindred of Paris, the Sabbat who seek to take over, and the dozens (hundreds?) of vampires who enter the city as refugees in the wake of the Revolution. If it was just a session or two, the lack of support wouldn’t matter. You only need the key players, you make up the rest as needed, and go. But for a Chronicle where the players might be trying to take over the city, or trying to save it, and where distrust and paranoia run rampant...this is a lot of additional work.

This seems like a nice place to stay for awhile.
Finally, there’s the question of why the players are staying in Paris during all this? They have spent centuries building up their power in Eastern Europe. They might be Princes or Bishops of major cities by this point, or if they’re wanderers then they, well, are wanderers. I get that the plot-line of the Prisoner is there to help motivate the characters to stay (after all, their visions eerily remind them of the Bastille, and they have seen the prisoner in their dreams), it still seems like a slim thread to keep the Kindred away from their homes.


I don’t know.

I mean, tracking down the Prophetic McGuffin is such a side plot in Blood of Tyrants, that you really could drop it down anywhere else in the world and it would still work. Perhaps a Chronicle set during the Napoleonic Wars or the like. You really don’t need to run anything else in this Act to keep that information flowing.

But, Paris is awesome, and Revolutionary Paris is iconic. So, let’s assume you wanted to keep that.

1) The characters need to start in Paris. They mention this in the Act, but you need to tell the players what’s going on, and have them come up with their own ideas as to why they would be there. You also want them to be there for at least a decade or so, to have some roots and vested interests in the City. Even if they’re Sabbat and want to conquer the place, they still need to be there for their own desires.

2) Detail the city. Paris is a massive city for this time, with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Even in our world it was a dystopic nightmare between the poor and working classes on one side and the nobility and church leaders on the other. This is great fodder for a World of Darkness game, and so create and detail your own Paris by Night book. Obviously, focus on what you need based on this being a Camarilla focused game, or a Sabbat one. In any case, you’re going to need to generate your own city. I recommend checking out Chicago by Night 2nd Edition or Milwaukee by Night for examples of settings that take place after a massive event shakes the city to its core.

3) Let the players nuke canon. Let them have a shot at conquering it for the Sabbat, or for seizing the Princedom for themselves. Or, the chance to fail, and lose the City to their hated rivals.  I don’t care what Sect is supposed to run the city in the official World of Darkness or who is supposed to be its Prince. If you’re going to stick the players in the center of such a turbulent time period, give them the ability to make or break it for themselves.

That’s really all I can think of, because unfortunately, that’s what the book wants you to do. Running it as is or not, you’re going to need to make your own Paris. If you’re cool with that and the players are too, I’m sure it can be great. if not, well, you’re going to have to create your own Act IX anyways.

(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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