Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Campaign Postmortem: Vampire (Part Three)

Well, I was going to do this post-mortem on the vampire game in three parts, but then I actually found some of my pre-game prep notes that I'd typed up, as well as some of the stuff on the character scenes I mentioned in the last post. So I thought I'd post that so I can comment on how that changed later. This plays into some of the reasons I want to do these campaign PMs.

Doing these serves more than one purpose for me-- The first and obvious one is to look back at what worked and didn't work in the course of the game. While I can't point to everything in retrospect, I can at least identify some things which distinctly worked or didn't. I think only by taking a hard look at what they've run can GMs improve what they're doing. Advice only goes so far, but a GM has to understand their own style first. Without sounding too new age-y, reflectivity on one's own limitations points a path to change. OK, that did sound too new age-y. Another reason for doing this is my curiosity about how what I planned for a game actually matches up with what ended up happening. I'm a little limited in this case in that I don't have my original planning notes, but I'm trying to recreate my original expectations. Lastly, games at the table are an inherently impermanent medium. They're a storytelling system that only lives on through recollections and references in future games. It seems strange to be creating an entertainment experience that really can't be replayed or directly reconsidered. I know some game groups now record their games, but that seems like a strange exercise. The campaign really lives on the whole of the sessions combined with the high points at the table. I'd expect listening to old gaming sessions would be more a tedious exercise than anything else.

BTW, so postmortem is actually one word? (edit: nope, but let's leave this alone for the moment...)

Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part One 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Two 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Three
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Four

Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Five

From my pre-game typed up notes

What do I know about the Vampire game?
*Characters start out as humans in 1999, just before the crisis. There is a sense of tension in the air which may explain what and why people were taken indiscriminately.

*We will do preludes for the PCs. At least one will be taken by a Malkavian. He or she will then have delusions throughout the game. It will take some time for the character to realize this.

*Everyone will pay Caitiff costs for raising disciplines.

*One of the PCs will be an Assamite, likely Sherri, she will be taken to kill her spiritual avatar. This should be a moment of great tragedy.

*Another prelude will see the PC killed by a Vampire, but then saved by the intervention of Merrik and the other non-vampire PCs. They will take her to someone…first a Magi, then taken by Dave to see another.

*The city will be Chicago…a name change in honor of the millennium and an attempt to throw off the bad reputation of the city’s previous incarnation.

*Players will fill out a set of questions from 7-13 questions about their pre-embraced life (seven questions).
1.What does your character do and why does he do it?
2.Who are your character’s three closest acquaintances (friends, colleagues, family…)?
3.Who or what does your character care about?
4.When you’re not around, how do people describe your character to other people?
5.What does your character worry about?
6.Where does your character plan to be in a year? Five years?
7.What is the worst thing that ever happened to your character?
Players may veto up to two of the possible clans. I will draw/choose the actual clan. At first and possibly for some time, PCs will be unaware of the extent of their disciplines.

*The setting will be Hub City, four years after the crisis…which we need a better name for. Ninety-five percent of the supernatural creatures and beings have died. The crisis is particularly troubling for werewolves…scattered as they are. However, Vampires have new problems as well. Most importantly, it takes a significant investment of vitae and energy to make a new kindred. practical and real limits rather than social ones restrict numbers now.

*The city will be governed by parallel courts. There are essentially two “princes”. A general amnesty exists for those who wish to come into the city. Provided an oath is sworn and they are willing to give up some of their vitae, past crimes may be forgiven. This will have to be carefully thought through.

*I will have to come up with the Vampires of the city. Photos and illustrations can come from the Net and scans.

*Consider what the Victorian age segue will be. He will be an Elder, not truly ancient, but older than most. His “dreamtime” will be a Victorian setting, though that shouls not be readily apparent. This dream may also be a reflection of his attempt at Golconda.

*Consider what the roles of the Sabbat, the Anarchs and the Camarilla will be. Need to put this together.

*Characters will start out with almost no support or beginning; they should feel lost and confused. They will have to figure out what they are.

*Besides the obvious stuff, what is the larger goal?

*The character who is bitten by the Malkavian will be identified as “the Prince”? Essentially, the implications being that he is the Prince of the Fairies. There will be notes and such dropped before he is embraced; strange coincidences, etc. He will be visited later on…in secret…by the various fairies telling him to do things. Sherri has also suggested that his romantic interests, especially those who reject him or else threaten his insane reality end up dead.

*The historic background of the world: heroes, techno-heroes, vigilantes, the changes in the 1990’s. Detroit Firebomb. Recently, Gary burning. Not worrying about putting too much emphasis.

*My plan for the HCI game is to use the idea of the Unseelie Court and Autocthon as the major villains. Therefore, I don’t want to overlap with that. I don’t want to muck with the Mages or the Werewolves as major villains. That leaves few options. First, classically the Sabaat could present a serious problem. Second, Anarchs could, Third, we could do something with the Wraiths…an attempt to bring through the Dark Kingdoms, Fourth the Kuei-Ji could be the major invasion. [Or perhaps the Kuei-Ji and the Dark Kingdoms of Jade].

*The story needs to begin with them forced to rely on their own wits. They find themselves with little guidance, in a city, several years after they were taken. Events and friends have passed them by. Eventually they will find themselves encountering tangents, crossing paths with other Vampires. But…at first they need to consider the horror of their existence being the only vampiric ones.

*One of them may have briefly been to the Mage’s estate…this could given them a seed or a place to start.

*Is it some kind of mechanism which wakes them up or perhaps an accident? There has to be something to return them from their torpor and back to life.

*Once you believe sufficient time has been spent on these opening stories, then move on to the Vampiric Soap Opera.

*Romeo and Juliet stories.

*Cops and Robbers?/Addiction

*The stalker horror. Someone following them to make them a vampire…

*What are the various explanations for what happened? When I diagram the city, I need to consider what each person believes.

*I like the idea of two Vampires who have blood-bonded mutually in the past, but have slowly fallen out with one another.

*One of the sires of the PCs has been transformed into a human. He might be a prisoner of one of the Princes for experimentation. There could be a single Tremere in the city, trying to figure out what has happened to the blood.

*Something in what they find in the tombs should suggest to them that they are the only ones left.

*Need to consider what the other preludes will look like. I have Sherri and Kenny’s in mind. The idea of tying the third into the events of the previous game will work (probably) for a third. I like the idea of the stalker boyfriend/girlfriend; that could be really obnoxious, especially if the one still lives after the turning of days. Another idea has to do with the roadside awfulness…perhaps tied into Chicago’s supernatural history.

*Eliminating one of the clans. Unless someone decides to push for it, I plan to eliminate the Nosferatu. The only thing I might do with a PC is to make them one of the subtle ones, whose deformities could be hidden under clothing or through other means. As well, they might suffer from a variation of the Gangrel curse, meaning that when they rage, they would acquire a new deformity. The Nosferatu of the city could be infected/affected by something, perhaps allying themselves with the new power which is coming. They should be a shadowy threat to the city or at least to the Camarilla of the city. The Word might be the only Nosferatu unaffected.

*Part of the peace should be kept by the moderator between the Vampires and the Werewolves. This would be Merrik. He doesn’t like it, but he also has seen a lot of people die. He knows that both sides could destroy each other in a battle. Mostly he’s nervous at the loss of life among the WW should it come to that. They might not ever be able to regain their strength. This doesn’t endear him to the younger folks on either side and he doesn’t necessarily have the power to back up his position, just a title and such. Plus he’s willing to bring in the big guns.

*Eventually their patron, sponsor will be Dave’s old character. The implication being that he will protect/oversee them for their training period, but then they’ll have to make their own alliances. He will be a bearer of strangeness. He has come to realize that his role is something different than he expected as an immortal.

*Possible theories of what happened: A). Someone who knows something about Mages might believe that they did this. They would have had some contact with Edige’s organization and have come to understand something of how that operated. Most people wouldn’t understand and so they won’t talk about it much. B). It was Gehenna and the Book of Nod and all of that stuff was just metaphorical. Most died in the conflagration, but now it is a new night for Vampires. C). That was simply a prelude to what is coming. Eventually things will be very, very bad…a war is brewing and everyone is going to get embroiled in it. The ancient ones took the energy from the various supernatural creatures to feed themselves and soon they will rise. D). For a Vampire who has had contact with the Garou, he may believe that the battle with the Weaver has gone horribly badly. E). It is a punishment F). God has left the building H). God has returned I). It is the fallout from some battle in Europe between factions that no one is quite sure about…perhaps even a Tremere trick. J) They’re all dead K). Some kind of human program to eliminate the supernatural…this person would be very nervous about human agents.

*Part of the reason that HC/Chicago has gained a relatively larger population of creatures is that it was one of the last places to be hit by the accelerating wave of chaos. Those who weren’t here just before it happened didn’t see the strangeness that went on. But eventually people came here; there was a refugee situation just before the crisis, but that ended in a bloody battle and a lot of dying and dead. People look to 2000 as an especially awful time, all across the country. A number of people came here later, once things had calmed down, in an effort to find a society and companionship…or at least support. Given the new limitations of the powers of the Kindred, they were driven to. In other places, wars still break out between the handful of Cam, Sab, Anar and others that survive. Many places are entirely abandoned; the nasty people have bonded into packs.

*Part of the atmosphere should be the idea that people are actually afraid to leave the city. Many of those who left have not been seen or heard from again; the case of their one-time Leader, Amar is a case in point. Since he left for Europe and Turkey he has vanished. Some believe that he is rallying the Assamites. Some believe he died on the voyage Others believe that Europe is a place non-grata to the supernatural anymore. No undead have been heard from there in the last few years. Now, the Vampires here aren’t exactly going to offer up that knowledge, but eventually they should be able to wheedle that out. There should be rumors that particular clans: Giovanni, Ventrue, Lasombra, Tzicme, Tremere have been able to contact their peers there through certain measures which they have kept secret.

*One of the subjects of tension should be a real suspicion about the Tremere. There are several parts to this nervousness. First, a general rumor that Tremere…supposedly loyal to the Cam…were involved with something awful in Mexico City (perhaps an appeasement of an Anteduv). Second, as the youngest clan and one who created themselves, they have been viewed as upstarts. They killed off another clan and committed enough awful deeds to keep rumor mongers busy for years. Third, the incident began in Europe where they have their most secret cabals and where they might have collaborated with the Magi. Fourth, given that the present circumstances seem to point to a “curse” on their already cursed blood, it could be that the Tremere have weakened everyone, such that they find it difficult to make childer and create ghouls. The closing off of Europe could merely be stratagem in their plots. They may, in fact, have diablerized all the Kindred there and now be protecting their new territory.

*Assuming that I want to do a kind of mirror world for the lands of the dead to the real world, then it should be as solid and as real to them as this world. There should be certain rules for how they pass through. Since I have done it enough, I don’t want it to be a case of either a. randomly falling through or b. an established portal to the other side. There needs to be something in between. Perhaps there are portal keepers, something in between, a set of them (11 in number). They are Vampires that were both killed and reborn during the event…or something like that. In any case. They can serve as the door. OOH it might be that one of their group could possess the ability to see through or move through to that world. I like the idea that this particular city is built on top of or around Metropolis. It would be interesting to draw in the Abyssal stuff…so long as it doesn’t start running into the ideas for the other game. But I also like the idea that the Kingdom, whichever one, is trying to absorb the part of metropolis that is below that. The image of the city in the water…either in the Deadworld or else in the real world.

*What have we determined. First, I believe that Brandy will be the one I do the Malkavian thing to; though it would be tempting to do it to Chris instead. Between them, I believe that one will be a Nosferatu who is just beginning to change and the other will be a Malkavian. OOH, the Malkavian thing might be hard to pull off. I need to think about that. The other possibilities are someone with some kind of necromantic or at least sympathetic attachment to the other side. A Tremere would be interesting, but I like the idea of them as separate…plus to gain abilities they’d have to tie themselves to the Tremere. I’m pretty settled on Brujah for Sherri. Though the question is: do I want to do the Assamite thing? Should that be the role that the Elder played or shall I have Sharon do that?

*I like the idea that the city over there is relatively uninhabited. The
Names: Lodge and Cabal/Cable. The House of Flowers. For people: Candlestick, Mizrahi,

Notes 3/17/03:
The Elder Brujah is buried beneath the city. His dreams are powerful and some are touched by them. No one, of course, would admit to that. Most of those who are drawn into his dreams take on the personas there. The time which the Brujah draws them into is Victorian London, when he was the lieutenant to Mithras. At that time he had toured the far east with Mithras and came back with him when he returned. He was secretly following a path of humanity. What happened then, and what broke his spirit, was his betrayal of a Kindred (or other creature of the East) whom he had come to love and who ended up going to her final death and being confined to Yomi. This then, is also the source of the invasion by the Dark Kingdom of Jade…the power of an Elder, who has taken other powers upon himself, and who wrestles with his own failings, his fall from the Path of Humanity. Note that the group should also meet Palladino and Clocke here, when they were still in love with one another.
An early plot line can be hunting down a renegade “turned” thing, essentially a husk. This thing could be biting people, potentially violating the Masquerade and not being able to slake its thirst. Unclear who created it. This could be an interesting hunt down; evidence could be turned that

Twenty five Vampires: No Nosferatu Recognized,
Tremere 2
Ventrue 3
Toreador 5
Gangrel 3
Malkavian 2
Brujah 4
Lasombra 1
Ravnos 1
Giovanni (hidden) 1
Caitiff 3

Two Scripts for Preludes
Michael Adell (Chris)
I. The first is establishing the characters in the background. The last day of his life: getting up, his morning rituals, trying to practice. Doing laundry, practicing the guitar.

II. Call from foster sister (Hazel Lynch), really upset because she saw the molester guy last night (Silas Hoover)…can she come by later tonight after he gets off his shift.

III. Midday to early evening hours at the bar; buddy the producer comes in (Rick Dobyns “DJ ChromaTone”)…has some new stuff he’s putting out on the internet. Asks him if he would hold some stuff for him; play it off as much as he can. Package of things.

IV. Bartender friend comes in, nice chat with him (Keith L. Cantu). He’s having some money troubles but thinks he’s found someone to help him out. Later on, ex-girlfriend swings by to return a couple of things (Rosanna Renee Fuentes). She’s kind of a one that got away…tough little gal.

V. Get home in the evening. Stress the decay of the city, bad neighborhood. Make him think something is following him. Remind him of the memories his foster sister dredged up. He gets home; tossing things around.

VI. Eventually he gets a call… “Michael, this is your mother (Melissa Meredith Booker)” [Memory of her drifter boyfriend…a guy named Dave… her dropping him off at the theater and never coming back]. Cracked voice, *knock at the door*, if he stays on the line, it becomes clear that she needs money for a fix. If not, she holds while he gets the door.

VII. As soon as he steps up and close to the door…it explodes inward…a burst of speed…Arab man (Aman) jams stake into his heart. He drops to the ground…three people, the Arab plus a bulky guy with silver hair (Merik) and a younger man in a trench coat (Joshua). He begins to die, agony and paralyzing pain. He’ll pick up bits and pieces of conversations going on…clear that the other two are pissed at the Aman…not a Vampire…not our informant. Joshua asks Aman to do something…he declines, citing “the Prince” (which he says dismissively). Merik shakes his shoulders. Joshua tells them he’s going to do something.

VIII. Cut to the two of them alone…driving with him bleeding in the back of the car. Mention the song Wendy. They get to the estate. Bundled on to stretcher…lots of people around. Some kind of confusion. Joshua clearly doesn’t get the answer he wants. Eventually he gives up and stuff Michael back in the car.

IX. He drags Michael's near-death corpse down into the sewers, after first laying hands on him. Eventually he finds a place and Michael is left alone in the dark with rats scurrying across. Eventually he returns and sees the giant figure with the tight hood and the white cross. The smell of burnt flesh. Argument between the two. “Permission”…”Risky”…”Leave” (regarding taking the stake out)…”Yours”. The actual sizzle when the hood comes off, closing the eyes. Then the death, and the feeling of the Embrace

X. If this is the first person at the table, take the time to describe the feeling of having one’s soul killed. Dying and then getting pulled back, a feeling of utter rejection and abandonment. Afterwards, the Word ripping the heads off of rats and pouring the contents into his mouth…”Sleep”…then torpor.

II. Naomi Asterlind (Sherri)
This is more a summary, I think than a script
Naomi Asterlind, Red Cross Civil Engineer and Rescue Technician, is woken up by the call. After a trip on the “L” she finds herself in the high heat of midsummer at the scene of an old apartment block where an explosion has leveled great portions of the building. She has come because she knows that these kinds of events require skilled engineers. However, she finds herself sidelined as the police seem to be getting contradictory orders and battling over territory. The cadaver dogs are search about and Naomi can smell the smoke and rumbling fire.

As she’s getting coffee and out of eyesight of others, Naomi is approached by a man who asks her name. He, Barnaby Rostow, brandishes a gun and asks her to come with him. She stands her ground and asks why. When he tells her it is to rescue someone, she goes with no other question. Rostow across the street to an apartment which has been cleared of people. She asks why, and he leads her down through the basement, to a tunnel which apparently connects to the collapsed building. They crawl through rubble and wreakage to make their way in. Naomi can smell the fire and see that this part of the building has had makeshift power and other amenities added to it, quietly stealing from the grid.

Eventually they find their way into a collapsed sub-basement. Artwork on the walls indicates that someone lives here. She can see that the roof has collapsed in half of the room. Rostow direct her to crawl through rubble into another this collapsed area to see what can be done to stabilize and rescue the person trapped inside.
Naomi crawls through, cut and burning herself in the process. In an open space, she manages to get her mag-light around. In the beam she sees a man pinned and pierced by rubble and rocks. Some portion of the plumbing and pipes have dropped down from the floors above, driving them into him. The entire area seems ready to give up at any moment and the smell of fire is more intense. Namoi notes that the man has clearly ripped himself up and down on the poles there and blood covers everything. He has frenzied, but now seems to have submitted to the pain.Naomi continues her reassuring rescue patter, but then the man’s eyes flicker open and her ask her name. He speaks briefly, seemingly resigned. He ask her “to tell him that he was not strong enough near the end and that he is sorry for Jin Shan.” He begins to fade as Naomi see the fire drop into the room, freakishly igniting the body. As it goes up, she see a third eye appear on his forehead.

In a desperate race, she run-crawls her way out, but Rostow will be gone. She manages to escape running out through the burning tunnel. As she exits into the night, she is stopped by a police officer, (Rex Moody). He checks her ID, asks her a few quick questions and sends her on.

Some month later, late at night, she comes home to her apartment. He roommate is gone for the evening, but she finds someone there. Older looking and serious, he orders Naomi to sit as she considers escape, Unable to resist, she finds her compelled to sit and listen. He gives his name as Caleb Dusk and asks her about the incident at the apartment building some months earlier. She evades the question, but he is across the room an clearly angered. He asks again and names the man she saw in the basement, Candlemas. Naomi continues to evade, saying that what he said was meant for Rostow. Dusk corrects her and tells her that Rostow was merely a servant who sent him to her.

Naomi tells Dusk what she saw and with each detail the man grows more and more distraught. As he holds his head in his hands, she sees blood running between his fingers as he cries tears of blood. When she mentions Jin Shan, an edge of anger grows in him. Though she doesn’t want to, Naomi tells Dusk about the third eye she saw. When he hears this, he goes mad with a screaming despair; he arm swings out to ward off the emotion. This swing connects with Naomi’s shoulder, powdering the bone, lifting her out of her chair and smashing her against a support post. Though the back of her skulls has collapsed and she can no longer feel her legs, Namoi tries to crawl away. In the fading in and out, she hears Dusk’s repeated apologies… sorry…sorry. Then there is the embrace and as she dies, she feels the pain of the moment gone and knows that see will be unable to accomplish anything she desired. She lies there, dead…hearing Dusk on the phone…and then takes the second breath. And with that her soul is destroyed.

She awakens, hungry, with Dusk gone and the door to her apartment swung open. She crawls to her feet, the hunger blotting out any realization that she can walk again. He neighbor across the hall looks in, checking on the noise and she leaps across, her new strength and desperate hunger forcing her to knock the old man down. She has no fangs, but must feed and so tears at his neck and ear with her teeth as he screams. Spitting out the gob of flesh, she drinks. And then, he is dead.

“Asterlind” she hears from the end of the hall. She looks up and see the cop from the crime scene. He speaks calmly. Hands out in front of him. She listens, more out of shock and disorientation, as he tells her to take the body back into her apartment. He shuts the door behind her, keeping a wary eye on her. He tells her to get a towel and as she turns, he drives the stake into her back. Naomi looks down at the point jutting from her chest.

“You missed” she says, hoping and praying for death, but knowing this is not it.
“No…this is torpor…you need to sleep.” Moody says.
And then there is blackness.

Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part One 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Two 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Three
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Four
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Five

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