Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sins of the Metaplot

How I hope all my games end
If there's one thing I really can't stand, it's a damn metaplot. Now, in theory, these should be great. A good metaplot in an RPG can be a wonderful tool to help make the world feel alive and dynamic and chaotic in a way that only the best Game Masters can hope to emulate. Probably the best use of metaplot in service of a game is with Pendragon and its Great Pendragon Campaign, and the players follow the story of Arthurian Romance beat by beat, from the rise and fall of Uther through the Sword in the Stone and the conquests of Arthur to the Grail Quest until finally to the Battle of Camlann.

But, too often, they just get in the way of the game. For one thing, a lot of GM's feel compelled to stick to the published plot as much as possible. And I really doubt any of the designers of these games intend their plot to be YOUR plot. Looking at Pendragon again, there was a question on the forums a while back about Lancelot--a given PC really didn't like him, the big reveal was about to happen (spoiler: Lancelot was hooking up with Guinevere), and this very loyal Knight of Arthur was going to be there for the big fight and, well, the GM was worried that the player just might be able to best Lancelot. Many posters gave various ways to save Lancelot, from boosting his stats to mystical protection to a "Disney death" where his body couldn't be recovered or his death confirmed. Then Greg Stafford (the creator and author of Pendragon) chimed in with "let him kill Lancelot." It your game, it's the players saga, and the PC is more important than an NPC and the precious plot. If it makes sense, let it happen.

And not only are individual GM's hampered by the metaplot, but too often I see it used as a cudgel. Particularly online, though it's been happening this way among geekdom for, well, probably centuries. But I see it more often thanks to being part of various RPG groups. A new player or a returning one will post an idea of a concept that doesn't jive with some of the later books or sources. Instead of giving the new guy some advice, or helping them tweak the concept to fit the books, or, well, anything constructive, the poor poster is harassed for their ignorance. It even occasionally has happened to me, but at least I can roll my eyes and go "fuck off child, I've been playing this game since it was released, and nothing the new LARP rules say about something will ever impact what I do in my tabletop game." But, others, I know get scared away and stop posting. I hope they keep playing.

Lord knows the world needs more gamers and dreamers in it.

You'll always be MY Prince.
So, in general, I ignore metaplot. Even though two of my favorite games of all time are rather well known for their ongoing plots--Vampire and Rifts. I pick and choose what I want for my game, and if it contradicts some source book or other, well, then the source book is wrong. If someone comes up with an idea that involves replacing my beloved Lodin of Chicago with some crazy necromancer witch queen, well, cool--let's talk about making that an awesome game, not about how Lodin is the Prince prior to X and blah, blah, blah.

The more I think about it, the only other game that did metaplot well was Mechwarrior--the RPG component of Battletech. Like a lot of games in the 90's, Battletech spread out among numerous tie-ins--various modules (Battletech is mainly a miniatures game, so a lot of these weren't tied to the RPG at all), novels, video games, comic books...I think there was a TED talk at some point...anyway, there was a LOT to cover, and as a casual fan of a niche part of it, there was a lot going that I never knew about. But, they would come out with various books at various times like "20 Year Update" which would bring you up to speed with everything that had happened in the past, well, 20 years.

Metaplot done right
Now, 20 years is a good long time. You can run several campaigns and never leave that block of time. And a LOT can happen in that time. I mean, multiple wars can be fought in that time, nations can rise and fall, alliances form and shatter, the entire world can change in that time. So, as a GM, I can start the game in the default year, and knowing the great events of the next 20, I can use them effectively as backdrop and to make the world alive and changing, and can use foreshadowing and subtle ways to wrap the players into these greater tales, and allow them to change it.

Not only that, but in the Second Edition of the RPG, Mechwarrior had a really cool "random metaplot generator" which was just lovely. It allowed you to roll for future events and where the major powers swirling around the players were going, and made for a much more dynamic and interesting setting that worrying about what some novel trilogy said about some character.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Scrapping Rifts

The Kickstarter campaign for Rifts for Savage Worlds has launched.  Since Requiem has completely turned me off Vampire for a while, my thoughts turn to this other odd love of mine.

Like many, certain parts of the game always bugged me. One of the big ones is the economy of the damn setting. For example, I just don't see how Triax can afford to manufacturer and sell a suit of power armor in North America, and get 100 million credits for it.

NO ONE has 100 Million Credits. Even for the CS, that's a term used for accounting in national budgets, not something available in hard currency.

In fact, I don't buy much of the "mass manufacturing for credit" economy. Instead, land and people are the key to wealth, and most equipment is custom made by skilled artisans. Yes, even Power Armor. Now, from a macro-economic view, this is incredibly wasteful in time, labor, and material; but the economy of Rifts Earth doesn't really work well on the macro scale. So, gaining raw material that can be converted to something useful is a key part of my idea of Rifts, but I don't want the players tracking down every scrap of rubber they come across.

Oh, and, I assume most MDC materials are ceramic-based rather than metal alloy. Just wanted to put it out there. But, metal is still useful for various structures, as well as wires and high end computer chips, and transparent aluminum for visors and...just all the various components needed to make stuff. The VAST majority of these items are still being "mined" from the wreckage of pre-Rifts cities and recycled. Others are taken as prizes in battle, and some are actually new constructions.  These items need to be processed into something that is useful, and then the final item can begin to take shape.

This is made with love.
In game, it would go like this: Players find various pieces of raw scrap. Scrap is just basic "stuff"--rubber, copper wires, aluminum...whatever. We don't care what it is, it's the crap laying around that is baseline for the economy. There's three basic kind of scrap--Tech scrap, Life scrap, and Magic scrap. Tech scrap is the building block of guns, armor, weapons, etc. Life scrap is food and health, healing, and enhancement drugs. Magic scrap is rituals and magic items and extra PPE to power spells. The scrap can be "worked" by a skilled craftsman into "components"--at this point it gets more specific. Tech scrap could become, for example: melee, ranged, armor, power armor, vehicle, robot or module components. Life could become: food, medicine, enhancement drugs, recreational drugs, or ingredient. Magic would become ritual, artifact, or amulet (PPE battery).  You use the components to make the appropriate items--ranged can be used for pistols or rifles or rail guns, armor for armor, etc. You can even combine between groups--techno-wizard items would need modules from Tech and artifact from Magic, while cybernetics need ingredients and modules.

Instead of HUNDREDS of pages of gear, items are broken down into various defaults. A default light pistol has set values for damage, range, to hit bonus, RoF, and capacity. More components allow you to upgrade these by a certain amount. You can even for a VERY expensive amount Customize the gear, so that YOU get the bonus, but anyone else is at a penalty.

So, i don't have all the rules yet, obviously, so this is a work in progress. But, look at the write up for a CS Deadboy from Mark Craddocks Crossplanes.

C -12 Laser Rifle  Range 50/100/200 / Damage 2d10 / RoF 1 /                               Min Str d8 / Burst Cone                              Notes Auto, Heavy Weapon 
C -12 Laser Rifle  Range Cone Template / Damage 1-3d6 / RoF 5 /                               Shots 200 Min Str d8 /                              Notes Auto, Heavy Weapon 

Special Abilities • Unarmed Attack 1d6 + 1d4 • Block• Heavy Armor (3)• Infravision

I have no idea how official these stats are, but let's pretend they are for now. In my homebrew version, weapons would just go be a "Laser Rifle" and all the features the game offers would be separated out on a list with component cost. Same thing with the Armor and Abilities. Obviously, a number would be "pregenerated" (ie: used as is from the book), but these would be generic templates, not necessarily mass-produced. Though, the "C" series probably is, because the CS I can see having mass manufacturing and dumping the weapons to friendly human groups like the Soviet Union did with AK's and friendly communists.

This is just a rough idea right now, and I obviously don't have the rules for Savage Rifts yet, but this is what I'm working on right now.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Requiem Impression

So, I picked up a copy of Requiem 2nd Edition, hoping to give it a second chance. A lot of people speak very highly of the game, and a Vampire game with a murkier back story, no metaplot, and a stronger Humanity focus sounded perfect.

Unfortunately, I don't think this game is for me. I still can't get into it. I've read maybe half of the core book, and I can't bring my self to finish it, not even to do a few "Let's Compare" posts, let along to run it.  This pains me, because it's not the ideas of the game itself that are turning me off. I mean, there are some really awesome ideas in there, that occasionally make the whole thing tolerable.

It's the art, and the writing. Most of the art is just boring. There's no passion or anything interesting going on, and the bulk of it looks like clip art or something like that. There's no depth of field or tension in it. I don't think I can adequately express why the art is bad, since I do not have sufficient knowledge of artistic terms to describe where they fail. But there are major pages of art that look like they were intended to be the rough draft or "idea" of the drawing, and the publishers just threw them in.

But the writing. Oh my god, the writing is painful. Now, I'm not a good writer. I'm not even a fan of good writing. I appreciate passionate, quirky, arrogant, and engaged writing. I've been gaming for years, and there is some BAD writing out there. I'm fine with bad writing in game books, but never before have I wanted to reach into a book and slap an author and yell "STOP TRYING TO BE CLEVER AND JUST SAY WHAT YOU MEAN."

Well, ok, I did that a few times in some of the later Masquerade books, but at least in those I would say "this guy would write an awesome novel, but they are terribly at writing a game supplement."

And then Exalted 2nd was pretty bad. Ok, look, White Wolf/Onyx Path writers, STOP WRITING BAD. START WRITING GOOD.

Ahem, anyway, I hope to be able to get through the core book, eventually, but I need to put it aside for now.

Oh, one other thing. A number of people described Requiem as a "sandbox" game. I think they're confusing the "tool kit" nature of the game for "sandbox." It's a tool kit, because it has all kinds of cool switches and options that Storytellers can use to customize the game and make it their own.  The best is the Chroniclers Guide, but Damnation City is also a wonderful resource. The XP rules and the "condition" rules pretty clear paint this as a narrative game, not one that is inherently a sandbox.

Can it be used to run a sandbox game? Sure! Sandbox style games are about the GM and the group, not necessarily about the rules. Of course, some games are easier to run Sandbox style--original D&D (I'd say up through AD&D) is almost perfect for it, Traveler, and, more contemporary, Silent Legions. Hell, most of my Masquerade games would fall under the "sandbox" style. But, Requiem, if anything, would be harder to run this way, primarily because of how it handles XP and development. In Requiem, these are based on how well you respond to prompts from the Chronicler, which goes against the Sandbox style of letting the players drive the story.

Anyway, that's my initial review of Requiem. Some cool ideas buried under sub-par art and truly atrocious writing.  Obviously, this is subjective, and other people might find the writing to be beautiful and poetic and clever, and truly help to make the gothic world of Vampire to come to life. For, it was just painful, and I think I need to take break from vampires for a while.  Heck, maybe I'll go grab Rifts and pretend to kill vampires for a while...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Masquerade or Requiem?

I'm really into Vampire: The Masquerade. I really don't know much about nor am I terribly into Vampire: The Requiem.

These are two very, very similar games.

Years ago, as Masquerade was winding down, a friend of mine asked me what some of my issues were with it. As much as I love Masquerade, as the years went by I grew more and more frustrated with many of its elements, and I wasn't terribly shy about sharing these opinions.  Now, this friend of mine was a freelancer for White Wolf at the time--in fact, he's still writing for Onyx Path. I doubt my words had any real impact in the direction Requiem went, but it was still interesting timing. I assume he was just "taking the temperature of the frustrated fan."

You might just get what you want
I wanted a murkier and messier origin story, not this "Caine is the origin, everyone knows it; there is no debate." I didn't want Gehenna. I hated the Sabbat, and wanted them to be mysterious and dangerous and unknown. I wanted fewer Clans, and the few there were to be more unique and distinctive. I wanted vampires to be everywhere, not just defined by Europe. I wanted the Tremere to be a secret, mystical society, not a Clan in and of themselves. I wanted the game to focus on the immediate and local city and location, and not be forced into some massive metaplot. I wanted...well, I wanted many of the things Requiem ended up delivering.

When it came out, another friend, who was never huge into Masquerade, raved about it. He would talk about how they fixed this issue, or that issue, or how its no longer X or Y, and I would grit my teeth and go "that's how it was always supposed to be!" But, he had a point. Many of the issues existed in Masquerade, even if they had only developed among the fandom. And Requiem explicitly called them out "fixed" them. In theory, I should have loved Requiem.

I played a few games, and they were...ok. A bit generic and bland, to be honest. Though, that could have been the Storytellers trying to get a grasp of the system. Vampire, I find, worked best when the players have the most freedom of action. You can write out and preplan short stories and individual sessions, but the Chronicle really needs to be responsive to their actions, and follow where they go, versus being pre-planned. I also wasn't a huge fan of  the mechanics--the "target number and add or subtract dice to the pool" just didn't work for me. Seemed like it was a lot harder to succeed at all in Requiem, even in something you were supposed to be good at.

Also, the "two book" system bothered me. I guess White Wolf at the time was tired of reprinting their rules in every "core" book, so they had an idea. First, release World of Darkness with all the base mechanics everyone needs to know. Then, release Vampire or Werewolf or whatever, and assume everyone has World of Darkness, and so you can just focus on the "vampire" parts of Vampire. As a player, I don't like having to have two damn books, and as a Storyteller, I don't like having to ask my players to buy or bring two damn books. Which is sad, because the World of Darkness game I played in was really fun.

Well, a few years after the Requiem came out, I was playing with some newbies to RPG's. They seemed like the kind of folks who would dig Vampire. I was going to do Requiem, as it was the new thing. But, reading the core books...just bored me. It felt bland, and dull, and I just couldn't get into it. It wasn't a critique--again, I liked alot of the changes, in theory, but I just didn't care.  On a lark,  I grabbed my 2nd Ed Core Book, and suddenly I was on fire. It was messy, and silly, and weird, and self-contradictory, but I was inspired. This was the game I wanted to run! Maybe it's just nostalgia, and I'm willing to admit that's a big part. First love and all that. But there's something fun and charming about the arrogance and passion and warts. It's like comparing U2's "Sounds of Innocence" to "October." Sure, they might be better musicians and produce "better" music today, but the old banged out experimental stuff as a value that can't be replicated.

And, well, we all worked retail then, and asking them to shell out $35 per book for a game they've never played before was just too much to ask. But, I had an entire library of Masquerade books, many of which I've never used before. So, I started a Masquerade game, they loved it, and I was able to grab a number of 2nd Ed Core books for less than $5 each from used bookstores, Goodwill, and online. It ended up being my dream Vampire Chronicle, and I've been on a Masquerade kick since.

Or, maybe I'm just old and a grognard. I like AD&D over 5th Ed. I like West End Games D6 Star Wars over Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars. Hell, I like 2nd Ed Shadowrun over 5th, AND I ONLY GOT INTO SHADOWRUN WITH 4TH!

But, the problems do still remain. And the more time I spend online with my fellow Masquerade fans, the more they bug me. And the new books from Onyx Path have done nothing to excite me. Maybe it's time to give Requiem another look see. The drivethrurpg page says "no other rulebooks are required"--does that mean I don't need to buy a "base book?" I like what they've done with Humanity in this edition, but that's all I know. Is Requiem back? Should I give in another shot? Where should I start?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Memento Mori

In the middle of the 14th Century, the Long Night came to an end.

The Black Death struck Europe, and utterly depopulated it. Best guess is that 45-50% of the population died between 1346-1351, but this is an average. Some communities were spared, while others were completely wiped out. The mortals had absolutely no understanding of what was happening, or why. The undead had even less.

One night, everything was normal, and their eternal existence continued as before. The next, half their mortals were dead. They had pushed their own population to the breaking point, and could not respond to the catastrophe that was happening around them. Elders seized territory and surviving herd to support themselves and their favorites. Others were cast out to fend for themselves. Mortals began looking for scapegoats, and as the undead should have remembered from the Cultics, once mortals begin looking in the shadows, their time grows short. More childer were cast out to reduce the risk of exposure, and others were offered up to the enraged masses to end their hunt.  Once loyal childer were sacrificed for no cause, and others were disenfranchised and exiled. Bitterness, fear, and hunger seized their hearts.

Many fled to the largest cities, where they met others of their kind for the first time in their existence. Few spoke the same language, and fewer still knew what to make of the strangers. Some were able to adapt, but to many, the very existence of these other vampires violated their faith. Especially those seemed to take such pleasure in defying God. If one is on a Road, then those following a different Road are not just "different"--they are heretics who dare to rebel against Heaven's Plan and must be destroyed. Not merely for their own sake, but for the sake of anyone they might corrupt with their foul beliefs. It is a mercy to kill such a creature.

Of course, they also came to blows with the natives for more base reasons. The cities these hungry vampires fled to had suffered the plague as well, and they could barely feed themselves, let alone the hungry rabble. They were refused, and hunted. But hunger makes one desperate, and so war came to the vampires, as roving bands of fanatical childer roamed the lands. These were the original Anarchs, and they fought under a banner of "every Kindred an Elder!" No longer would they suffer and die at the whim of another; they would be their own masters.

The chaos and fighting lasted for decades, until the mortals struck back. The Inquisition and hundreds of local hunters took the fight to those who claimed to rule the night. As with Rome and Persia before, those that didn't fall to fangs fell to fire. Vampires are, as a group, loathe to change, but those that fail too cease to be.

A compromise eventually came about. Well, two compromises, really. The old way of the Elders was finished. No longer could one claim absolute and total obedience of ones get for all of eternity. But the Anarchs call of "every Kindred an Elder" bred even more hungry neonates, more desperate fanatics, and more violence and chaos. The Tyrants proved a way to bring peace among the undead.

In the urban cores, there arose who used their guile and wit to protect and preserve their kind, and these were soon supported by the mass of vampires, eventually supplanting the Elders and being proclaimed as Prince. Out in the barrens between cities, others rose through violence and bloodshed, and were leading their brethren in daring and successful raids, and were dubbed Ductus, or leader. Both the Prince and the Ductus represented a change, and new way for vampires to exist. Both relied on support from the other vampires for their authority, and both accepted certain limitations. The Prince, for example, could not summarily execute a disobedient vampire, but instead had to prove their had violated a Law, and make their call for death public. Nor could they hold a Kindred in thrall for eternity--once they were presented, they had full rights (no mere privileges) to live as they pleased, within certain constraints. Both retained the power to restrict breeding and hunting for the good of all.

Conflict, of course, soon intensified between the two groups. The Princes began organizing as the Camarilla, initially as a counter to the mortal Inquisition and to force all vampires to disappear with the herd. Few of the Ducti or their followers could accept such a retreat, for many still clung to their faith which taught that they had a special, elevated role to play in the salvation of the world. Eventually, some particularly charismatic leaders rose to bend these divergent Roads into multiple Paths, all leading to the same Truth. But, that is even further in the future.

So, this is a rough overview of my idea for the Long Night. I haven't touched on some things, such as the Tremere or the Assamites or the Ravnos, but it's an outline. More than anything else, though, I want to run a game as small scale and localized as possible. I don't want the Caine myth or Lilith to be even remotely a part of the story.  I want the rulers of the Middle Ages to be the Elders, with the Princes being a compromised solutions, something new in the world of the Kindred that helps bring them into the modern age. And just as the Elders failed at the coming of disease and Inquisition, the Princes fail in a world of cell phone cameras and instant communication?

I'm not sure how I would run a Chronicle in this setting. A lot would be up to the characters, as I like the setting to, as much as possible, reflect the PC's. I imagine the first Chronicle would be a "conventional" one, if one with long time jumps between stories. A Chronicle doesn't have to go one for years. In fact, I'd argue against it. 3-7 stories, maybe 5-14 sessions feels about right. Focus on the immediate conflict and themes and tell the story until that conflict comes to an end, regardless of the characters success or failure. If everyone is still having fun, then tell a sequel Chronicle dealing with the fallout from the first, but exploring different conflict and themes. In my dream, it would emerge over time as a Chronicle of Ages, telling the story of these characters from their creation in, say 1,000, all the way to the modern nights. But, unlike most other millennial Chronicles, I don't want them hopping all over the world. I want them to spend the first four hundred years in one city. Then, MAYBE the leave during the Black Death or the Inquisition, depending on how things go. Perhaps they wander for a few decades, before eventually settling down in another city, or even back home. And then they say there, perhaps the rest of the game, or maybe they go to the New World. A particularly mobile coterie might have three different homes over a thousand years, but most will only have one.

I want them to see and feel the weight of the centuries, and the best way is through their home. From a small collection of villages huddled against a castle to a massive, sprawling industrial wasteland, to a gleaming city of glass and chrome, through war diseases, revolution and oppression, I want them to see how the scars of the past define and limit the future.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Undying, Unchanging

So, what does a world of darkness and stasis, ruled over for eternity by self-proclaimed Elders, actually mean in a game? Well, it means Ignorance, Monotony, and Obedience. Unlike a modern game, where the "truth" of Kindred existence is more or less understood, and a certain degree of toleration and independence is expected, the Long Night character is a prisoner. Not just of the Beast, and not just of geography (though travel is so perilous that few ever leave their home, and even fewer ever return), but of their own perspective and world view. It is this prison, and the tension it generates, that is the heart of a Long Night game.

First up is Ignorance. A neonate in the Long Night knows nothing. They know only what their sires deign to tell them. And since they only know what their sires told them, their knowledge is, at best, limited. Even if they choose to be honest with their childe, the knowledge they impart is most likely completely and laughably wrong. A childe doesn't know about Clans. They know they are vampires, and and vampire behaves like they do, except for the few outcasts and cursed ones they might have met once. Maybe. They know nothing of Generation. Far as they know, the Elder is Lazarus, the First Vampire.  Sure, he's got blonde hair, blue eyes, and speaks with a Danish accent, but who are they to question? Would such a discrepancy even be apparent to the childe? Most likely not. So, the Elder is the 1st Generation, their Sire is 2nd Generation, and they are 3rd Generation. They know nothing of other cities, or that other kindred exist. They don't about the fall of Saulot or the rise of the Tremere. They certainly don't know about diablerie, or how the Blood Bond actually works.

Anything they know can only come from their elders, or be learned from hard earned experience. There's no books detailing this knowledge, no kindly elder anarchs will to share information, and not even other Clans they can bargain with. In the modern day, a sire will most likely fill in their childe with as much information as they can, to better arm them for the struggle to come. In the Long Night, the childes ignorance is key to keeping them in line, and there is no benefit to telling them more than they need to know.

There's also the endless Monotony. Human life and history may change, but for the undead every night is the same as any other. The same people populate your world, and have the same conversations and the same conflicts.  Rarely is there a "new player" in town, Which raises the question, just what kind of Chronicle would this be?

Well, the most obvious would be a Lords of the City Chronicle, with a bit Agents of the, Elder. The players most likely have their own corner of the land, and need to develop and protect it. The same threats in a "normal" game still apply--mortal violence and  criminals, other supernaturals (Lupines in particular) need to be dealt with, Hunters are still a concern, of course. And you're inevitable going to step on the toes of your "family."

While there are only a few vampires in the Long Night city, their relationships are still an issue. In fact, the tangled emotions and tensions between this brood will most likely be the backbone of any such Chronicle. Generally, no one is trying to kill each other. At worst, they'll torpor you and hope you learn your lesson. Everyone is loyal to the Elder, and jockeying for his favor is a major element of the game. Just uncovering what you need to do to please him could be a challenge in and of itself. The Elder is effectively the Prince, Primogen, Harpy, Scourge, and Keeper of Elysium all rolled into one.  The big difference is the scope of time in such a game. Unlike a "night by night" game where there is constant action and intrigue, the Long Night unfolds gradually, over centuries. Decades may pass between sessions, as all involved settle into their routine.

Of course, there's a second kind of monotony when everyone is related. The primary way to run this would be as a Single Clan game. Almost all the characters (both PC and NPC) are the same Clan, and other than a few stragglers, that's all the players ever know. This can work, especially for when the times change and they need to deal with other disciplines and other flaws. But, its possible players won't be content with this setup. Players like having their niches, and while a Single Clan can work fine for a single player, or even two, it might not be as satisfying for three or more.

So, the alternative is get rid of Clans entirely. Or, at least, the Clans as we understand them.  Instead, it's all about bloodline. The way it could work is that any given vampire could sire one of a different "Clan," so long as they have at least one Discipline in common. So, if the Elder is a Ventrue, he can sire three childer--Brujah (Presence), Gangrel (Fortitude), and Malkavian (Dominate/Dementia, depending on concept). Those Childer could then produce, respectively, Toreador (Celerity), Nosferatu (Animialism) or Lasombra (Dominate).  By such methods, almost any Clan can be generated.
Ok,'re all related...
I rather like the alternative idea. It allows for variety while still keeping the claustrophobic family theme. It also explains why the later Camarilla doesn't believe in the Antediluvians, or Gehenna. While bloodline and heritage is key, the Clan idea is a more modern invention. If anything, it's due to the over breeding so prevalent in the modern nights. It takes strong blood to allow a mortal to truly be themselves after death, and this new generation wastes their power by embracing too quickly, and too often. Where once it would take centuries before one could embrace, now neonates are embracing, and their childer are embracing, and the blood grows thinner every year.

This is what free thinking
gets you.
In addition, there would be a sameness of ideology. After all, if all you know is what your are told, how could you ever come up with your own world view?  As such, in those cities where a Road exists, it will most likely be utterly dominant. Even those who do not fully subscribe to its view would still embrace it as a code of ethics and behavior. Those that reject these beliefs are treated as lunatics at best, deranged heretics to be killed at worst. Gamewise, I would let the players pick the Road they want, if any. Everyone would be on that particular Road or on Humanity. Religious pluralism is for a different time, and "toleration" of opposing views is an alien concept. This is an age of conformity.

Finally, this is not the modern day. Obedience and service are virtues, not insults. Everyone, from the lowliest serf to the most powerful King serves someone else, and it is your responsibility to obey, not to question. It does not matter if your lord is "good" or "right" for it is the will of God that places him above you, and to defy your master is to defy the dictates of God himself.  If there is a Road, it is Gods plan that vampires follow that Road; after all, even a Road such as Sin tells the Vampire what his obligations are in the grand Divine Plan.

As such, the players are inherently disposable. They will be the ones sent to deal with the Werewolves, or the hunters, or any other threat. They will receive the worst territory, and still be expected to support themselves as well as provide appropriate gifts and tribute to their betters. And when, after decades of work, the turn the collection of tanning hovels into a vibrant community and have risked their unlives a dozen times, they still have no claim on anything. When the Elder embraces some new Childe, and that Childe demands their territory or their service, they are to give it, and gladly. They are, after all, of the 3rd Generation, and she is of the 2nd.

And so that is their lot in life--service and obedience to God and the Elder, toil and tribute for their betters, and stalking the mortals whose blood they so crave. It might sound like hell to us moderns, but to the Kindred of the Long Night, they could not conceive of a different world. In fact, and in many ways, most are quite content. Blood is relatively easy to come by, there are few dangers that would put their immortality at risk, and as the mortal population grows, and there is more and more blood, the Elder is ever willing to grant permission for new embraces. Gradually, a 3rd could become the sire of a 4th, and some even give rise to the 5th. While the Dark Ages books put the vampire to mortal population at a ratio of 1:1000, in the Long Night they are less cautious. By the end of this era, the average ratio 1:800 or even 1:500. In some communities, it even approaches 1:100. But so long as the mortal population continues to increase, there is nothing for the undead to fear.

But the time is coming soon when the undead would learn what true fear really was, and then the whole world would tremble.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Fall of Night

Before we can understand vampire society in the Long Night, we must look at how it came to be. Vampires are static, unchanging creatures, locked in place forever at the moment of their death. But even such things can be forced to change by the sweep of history, and the need for survival.

In the earliest days of history, vampires ruled over the mortals as gods. Some proclaimed their divinity, and came to rule directly over the burgeoning cities that were coming into existence. Those of the most powerful blood could claim to be gods themselves, while the weaker were forced to admit they had limitations, and were merely the children of the gods or emanations.  At the time, few mortals cared for such distinctions, and gladly dedicated their lives to these mesmerizing creatures who could bend metal, catch arrows, command beast and man, and whose blood offered life itself. Inevitably, such creatures were unsatisfied with just one city or one tribe, and sought to expand their dominion, to raise themselves up as god over all, and to make their brethren submit to their rule. Those that would not submit were consumed, and thus the Conquerors grew ever more powerful.

It was a brutal and violent time. The most successful inevitably forced the weaker, whose fear and jealousy had been aroused, to conspire together. Though it took a thousand years, the Conquerors were defeated by lies, betrayal, and assassination. Those who survived joined the ranks of the quiet ones, the ones who never sought the throne of heaven, but were merely content to be worshiped by their own cults and their own followers. Of course, the nature of the Beast meant that even among the Cultics there was conflict and death. But not for them the march of armies or the sacking of cities. They used subtler methods, attacking each others herds and followers, spreading lies and rumors to discredit their opponents priests, and using disease and disfigurement to attack their power.

And of course, as always, there were the wanders. Those that claimed the between places and the edges, who drifted between the cities of man and kept their own council. They never pushed history in their own direction, they never commanded anyone, but were always there, on the fringe, watching and waiting.

The rise of the great Empires brought an equally great change to the undead. First Persia, then Greece, then, finally, Rome spread peace and trade throughout the lands. The undead prospered as the mortals did, and they sired freely. Not all of the young ones desired to hide in a cave or an isolated temple; they wished to join the mortals and live among them. Well, live among them as much as an undead thing can. They shook off the robes of divinity, and adapted the clothes of the man. They used their gifts to take over various domuum and villas, lording over the families and the slaves, and proclaiming themselves Patricians. They too, naturally, came into conflict, but they settled their problems like men do--with poison and blades.

Both the Cultics and the Patricians thought of themselves as Lords of Humanity, and told tales of how they had guided man in the direction they desired. The truth was, they were more focused on blood and games and petty conflicts to truly matter to mankind. History continued, but for many, this was the golden age, when the undead walked where they would, took what they desired, and lived as the pleased.

Of course, all good things must end.

First came the Christians. Possessing a power heretofore unknown among the undead, then grew from an obscure cult to a dominant power in an astonishing amount of time. Their faith turned once loyal slaves against their masters, and their mad clerics swarmed through the cities, burning and destroying the old holy places. Even the Patricians were not safe, as those who would not submit to this new religion were singled out. And a vampire, once noticed by the herd, has not long to live.

Then came the diablerists. The followed the marauding hordes of Germans and Huns who swarmed the borders of the Empire, but came not for land. They were vampires, but different than any that had been seen before. They were silent, and fast, and incredibly deadly. They did not battle among themselves, but worked in groups to take down the most powerful and consume them. The destroyed many of the eldest, and the wisdom and knowledge of centuries, perhaps even millennium, passed with them. While their numbers were few, these diablerists first ravaged Europe, then Africa, then finally the East.

Just as things began to settle in the West, if only for most of the vampires were no more, the followers of Muhammad arose in the East. Their swift sword brought the ancient lands under their rule, and they to had no toleration for the blood drinking monsters in their midst. Those that had seen the rise and fall of Babylon not once, but twice, met their end either at the sword and flames of the mortals, or the fangs of the diablerists.

And so few survived in the classical world, but the mortals were no longer united, no longer so driven by their passion for the faith, and no longer did savages claw for their blood. Much was lost, but certain lessons had been learned. If the Cultics were all but dead, the Patricians still carried the blood, and it was to them that the burden of building a new society fell.

This new society is based on power, and domination. No longer will childer be released to find their own, now such travels endangered all. Instead, they are to submit to the rules of the Elder, the most powerful and, perhaps, only vampire. They are to be ruled by their sire, and their sire by their sire, for all time. A concept such as "rights" does not exist--only the Elder has rights, the rest make do with privileges grudgingly granted and quickly snatched away. Few if any remember the days of Rome, and fewer still know of anything from before.  None know the truth, and so the truth becomes a weapon.

The Elders use not just their powerful blood and age to control their childer, but knowledge itself is a tool of control. The Elder can proclaim to be the First Vampire, and who is there to challenge him? Perhaps one of the wanderers who travel by, but these are pathetic wretches, cursed by the Elder (for so they claim, and why would they lie?), and cast out. And if not the First, then the beloved childe of such, and the sole repositor of the knowledge and wisdom the childer crave.

And what is their knowledge? Some claim to be demons inhabiting mortal flesh. Others are Nephilim. Others still are supposedly Judas, or Lazarus, or the Wandering Jew.  A dozen cities, a dozen variations of the origin, but all telling the same story. The Eldest is important, and singular, and chosen. You are lucky to be alive.

Each community operates on its own. Most contain only a handful of undead, and they approach the world as they see fit. Some seek to be like mortals, others view it as their duty to tempt them, or corrupt them, or to try to redeem them. A few cities contain more of the undead; some are even claimed by more than one Elder. Such arrangements either end in death and war, or a cold stalemate that only leave the Elders even more powerful. For the Elder of one bloodline, no matter how much he hates or fears another, sees no virtue in aiding any rebellious childer. An Elder was an Elder, and all must submit to their whims. The most powerful, the most charismatic, might claim for himself the title of Eldest, but this is rare. More often, they all claim descent from one even more powerful Elder, who either lays tragically dead or deep in slumber, waiting for the time to rise and judge the Childer.

All keep themselves apart. They can not live as the Patricians had, secure in luxury and gold. They keep to the dark places, the caves and the ruins and the catacombs. The forgotten places and the haunted ones. For, above all else, they are damned. And so peace, of a sort, has lasted among the dead for a thousand years. A childe obeys his sire, and the sire obeys his sire, and thus had it been ordained since the dawn of time, and there is no reason to think anything would ever change.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Long Night

There's something about the published historical setting for Vampire that doesn't sit right with me. It's been bothering me for a while, but it really came home to me when I was working on my Transylvania Chronicles series. The Dark Ages, as presented, just didn't work the way I wanted them too.

Part of this is comparing what  I thought the Dark Ages were like to what Dark Ages ultimately presented itself as. I've been a fan of Vampire for a very long time, and when I read the few brief snippets of information presented to me, an image of the world formed itself. An isolated, benighted existence, defined by a claustrophobic entrapment in the few placed that the undead could feel safe, and lorded over by tyrannical elders whose sovereignty went unquestioned.  A world that would terrify even  the most tyrannical Camarilla Prince or violent Sabbat Ductus.

I do understand why the altered this. Above all else, a game needs to be playable and fun. And a community of three kindred huddled beneath the ruins of Rome and lorded over by some two-bit tyrant might work for a one-shot, but is hardly the stuff of epic Chronicles. So, the Dark Ages became something of "the modern day, but with swords." Travel was relatively easy, most domains had a variety of Clans interacting with each other, almost every character was as or better informed than the typical player, etc. Princes rules above all, and the stories and adventures were similar to the modern nights. The only real difference was that the Lasombra could hang out with the Ventrue and the Tremere, and the easy availability of Paths meant that the pesky "no murdering your way out of a problem" wasn't an issue.

And don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the heck out of Dark Ages. I was fortunate enough to play in two exciting and awesome Chronicles, and ran one--not counting my aborted attempt to run Transylvania Chronicles.  But, I still think those idle thoughts of tyranny, ignorance, fear, and damnation. A world so miserable that violent revolution is the only path to knowledge, freedom, and hope. A world of eternal and unrelenting darkness.

So, like any good gamer, I'm going to homebrew that nonsense! This isn't like my take on the Transylvania Chronicles, were I plan to wrestle with the text. This is meant to be a tweak, more than anything else. I'll use most of what is in the books, dump what I dislike and modify the rest. Also, I want the "end point" for my Long Night to be still be the Masquerade. So, still an Anarch Revolt, still a Camarilla, and still a Sabbat. But it is what the world was like before the Anarch Revolt that I want to tinker with. Of course, I have no doubt my players will end up altering everything, but, hey, that's part of the fun.

This will most likely take place in three parts.

I The Fall of Night -- how Kindred are organized during the Long Night, and how it came to be.
II Undying, Unchanging -- what this means for a typical vampire, particularly a neonate.
III Memento Mori -- the Black Death, and the end of an age.

If anyone has every run anything similar, I'd love to hear about what you did, what worked, and any advice you might have.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Complete Transylvania Chronicles Redux

Here is the list of all my posts for my series on the Transylvania Chronicles. The experiment didn't really pan out the way I wanted, but it was still an enjoyable and enlightening read. Hopefully other Storytellers will find these posts to be of some interest

If you're a player who might play these, please note that each of these posts is full of spoilers. They were written from the point of view of a potential storyteller, so please do not read these if you are planning to play.

For everyone else, here they are.

Get it here
I started off with the read through of Transylvania by Night. This is still an excellent resource, if perhaps overly ambitious. I wish they had focused more on a smaller area, such as Transylvania itself. Instead, the book seeks to cover the entirety of Eastern Europe, with mixed results. I'd still recommend it for anyone interested in running a Dark Ages chronicle, no matter where you wish to set it.

Get it here
Dark Tides Rising is the first book in the Transylvania Chronicles. This was a decent book, with some decent adventures and settings. While I had some problems with the Acts in this book, none of them were insurmountable, and customizing the narrative for your own Chronicle can actually be rather fun. 

Get it here
Son of the Dragon is the second book, and my least favorite. I found the adventures dull, the NPC's either boring or offensively over the top. And not in the "it's a horror game, offense is to be assumed" but in the way of "this NPC is so much cooler than anything any of your PC's could ever hope to be." Escort missions are the death of any game, but especially so in Vampire. Sure, Act II had it's escort, but at least you could work a cool heist into the middle of it. These are just...bleh. 

Get it here
Ill Omens is the third in the series. They changed authors at this point. While I have no idea why they did, there was a clear increase in quality. While McAwesome NPC-Who-Never- Actually-Does-Anything-Cool is still a problem, the adventures start getting really good. In fact, one of them I would want to run "as is" even if I wasn't the running the Chronicles, and another I would want to run with just a few slight tweaks. This is probably the strongest of the series. 

The Dragon Ascendant is the fourth and final book of the Transylvania Chronicles. It's also the most disappointing, though not quite as bile inducing as Son of the Dragon.  It has its fun parts, but large chunks are just a waste of space for most troupes. Though, there are a few I can some troupes really digging.  The final adventure is just...well, it's not a finale. It's not an end. Nothing comes together, nothing is resolved. Plot threads introduced in the first book remain open. And not in a sense of "there's still more" but in the sense of the final adventure feels more like a subquest than an end. As if Return of the Jedi had focused ENTIRELY on taking out Jabba the Hutt. And, at the end, Jabba and Boba Fett had remained alive and free and vowed to mess up Luke, Han & Leia later, and that was it. No Endor (which, ok, no Ewoks), no Emperor, no Death Star II battle, no redemption of Vader just...the characters dealing with a fun and cool adventure, but one ignorant of everything that came before it. Worth it for Act X, but be prepared to write your own Acts XI and XII.

Complete Let's Compare Editions

A little while ago, I went through and compared the various editions of Vampire: The Masquerade. Unlike, say, D&D, Vampire has, at its core, relatively consistent throughout its versions. But, there are still a number of distinct differences. Some of these were unique to 1st Editions, others occurred as the game shifted from 2nd to Revised. V20, the fourth and (for now) final edition of Vampire is a bit of an odd beast.  Not really a proper game in its own right, or at least something too large and unwieldy to hand to a new player and say "make a character." It's more properly viewed as an encyclopedia and rules update. While mainly based on Revised, it also borrows a number of ideas from 1st--most notably how Celerity functions.

Which is my favorite? Honestly, I pick and choose from all the versions myself. I generally prefer 1st, but I do use the Thaumaturgy and Path rules from Revised/V20.

Which is the best? Well, that's for you to discover.

Let's Compare!
Introduction and Basic Rules
Character Creation
Clans & Flaws
Examples of Play

All editions are available through drivethrurpg.

20th Anniversary Edition

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Soundtrack of the Damned

Soundtrack of the Damned

Music has always been one of the backbones of Vampire. The moody atmospherics of the songs blend so well with tales of the damned, that it's unsurprising that it has it's own official soundtrack--Music from the Succubus Club.  In fact, any given fan probably has at least a dozen albums, soundtracks, mix CD's, and playlists that are their "go to" music for a game, be it table top or LARP.

But, I always found the list put together by Rob Hatch for the Storytellers Handbook to be particularly fascinating. Personally, it introduced me to some amazing bands I would never have heard of otherwise. Secondly, it's an interesting glimpse into what the original team had in mind for the mood and themes of the game. So, to preserve this, I've gone ahead and created a Spotify Playlist with most of the music.  If you don't have an account, it's free, and I recommend you checking it out. There's some great music on there, though it is missing a few of the songs from Rob's list. Specifically--

Inside the Termite Mound (Killing Joke)
Vacancy (Scratch Acid)
Police Truck (Dead Kennedys)

In any case here's the playlist. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Solo Module

As should surprise few who read this blog, I've been on a bit of a solo RPG kick lately. Sure, I still have my semi-regular RPG games, though both the D&D and Fireborn game I'm playing are currently on temporary hiatus. For some reason, I don't feel compelled to blog about THOSE games, but the solo ones inspire me a bit more. It's a different experience, but still a heck of a lot fun.

A few months ago, I found a project on Kickstarter for a solo edition-neutral D&D module. Well, it failed to fund, and I only discovered it towards the end of the campaign. Fortunately, the Lair of the Black Dragon is back, and I'm already backing it. Hopefully it will fund this time!

Now, I know nothing about the creator, Anthony Dunkin-Moscato or his company, Infinitum3D. I can't find a website for either, and this is one of those dreaded "Ist created, 0 backed" situations. Ok, 2nd created, since this is a relaunch. He claims the work is already done, so there's no real risk of it failing. Though, this raises the question of why Kickstarter? He could just release it on drivethrurpg if the project is complete.  Heck, if I was him, I'd release part 1 for free (the $2 level pledge) so people can sample it, put the rest up on drivethru/rpgnow, and if you get enough positive feedback, launch a KS for your NEXT project, to fund some of the development and art and what not.

Also, the money thing is odd. The price is low--$1 for the basic intro, $2 for the basic plus new monsters, $3 for the whole thing. Higher tiers ($10 and $25, respectively), are the "prestige" levels where you get to add NPC's and the like to the module. Now, his goal is $1,000. Which means he needs about 334 people to back it at the "whole thing" level. That seems like a lot to me. I'd increase those tiers myself, and plan on getting fewer but more passionate backers.

But, what do I know? He's the one who wrote it, and it's his baby, and he can do with it what he likes.

Anyway, I'm in $3 tier, and would really love to try this module out!  If you're interested in Solo roleplaying, give it a look-see. It's less than a bag of chips, and I'd love to see more "professional" support for a really fun niche of the hobby.

Here's the KS page: The Lair of the Black Dragon

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