Saturday, August 31, 2013

V:tM warm-up

The "warm-up set" of Vampire: the Masquerade went swimmingly.  As is my practice, I've been volunteering to run old school paper & pencil, tabletop roleplaying games once a month for the Madison Geekery meetup.

It was a great time!  I had the chance to be Storyteller for a couple people who had never played an RPG before, a couple people with sparse RPG experience, and a few people who used to play V:tM, but hadn't in many years.  In fact, the last time I played or ran Vampire myself was about 8 years ago.  Long time.

A couple months ago, I announced that I'd be starting a weekly home game for V:tM.  Nostalgia called to me, and I've been keeping dozens of Vampire RPG books around since 1991.  So, that was one of my reasons for wanting to try it again as a one-off.  To see where the cracks were.

I fondly remember all those nights gaming in the early to mid 90's.  The ten-siders, the fantastic successes and botches, lost humanity, frenzy, and freshly xeroxed starting characters strong enough to punch through a human's skull.  It's a much different game than D&D.  For instance: upon sundown, I asked each player to describe where their character lived, spent the daylight hours, and what they were doing after rising from their death-like slumber.  Based upon their character concept, resources, and other backgrounds, they came up with a suitable response.  Much more "sand box", except within city limits.

There were a lot of players.  I wanted to be as inclusive as possible (I hate turning people away).  The sign-up allowed for 7 players.  Well, I emailed a couple on the waiting list and said they could join in, too.  Then, one of my best friends and frequent gaming buddy was over at my house watching Hawk the Slayer on DVD the night before.  I was telling him about the game (he's also going to be playing in the weekly home game).  Turns out, he also wanted to join the one-shot.

As luck would have it, one or two people who signed-up couldn't make it last minute, so there were about 8 or 9 players.  Not an easy thing for a Storyteller to negotiate when there's only 3 hours of game time and each character might decide to do his or her own thing - many Kindred are solitary predators.

Thankfully, there was a bar... that old RPG standby; and vampires being former-people, most wanted to socialize and be near others of their kind... for awhile, at least.  That helped.  Besides a single Nosferatu, everyone either played a Gangrel, Brujah, or Toreador.

I decided to use the sample chronicle from the back of the first edition rules.  The game started in Gary, Indiana with Chicago casting a particularly nasty black shadow over the characters' home city of rust, decay, and general ruin.  Even though Vampire is a dark game, there were plenty of light moments.  Everyone had a lot of laughs.  One gangrel tried to use his animalism to summon his pet bear to the bar, but with only a single success - a raccoon answered the call!

The plot revolved around a Chicago biker gang called the Blood Angels who worked for Lodin, Prince of Chi-town.  Modius is slowly losing control of Gary, and constantly antagonized by Lodin and Chicago Kindred.  As usually happens, the session organically evolved into its own thing, beyond my notes and theories about where the night would take us.

I gave everyone a taste of not only vitae but ultra-violence.  There were enough bikers to satisfy everyone's bloodlust.  Good times!  My idea of using Blood Potency instead of Generation also went well.  It seemed more appropriate.  After character creation, I gave everyone a one sentence origin story - vampires were spawned from ancient demons; the last of which slain during the Inquisition.

As usual, the end of the night came abruptly.  Just as the players were becoming comfortable with their character, the rules, setting, motivations, etc. it was over.  "Is that it?  Can we do this again?" A woman asked.  One player suggested we continue another night.  I still hadn't decided on September's game, and suggested a "part 2".  There was wholehearted agreement.

Hearing the enthusiasm and being asked to keep the game going makes it all worth while.  The conclusion will see the character's fighting Kindred, not just mortals with switchblades and 9mms.  Modius is pleased...


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Self-imposed Limitations

This blog post is a little more Devil's advocate than my usual stuff.  After all, I'm a dyed in the wool anti-authoritarian who loves creative license.

Just before falling asleep last night, a vague notion hit me.  Something about Facebook and MySpace... why the former was more successful than the latter.  If I told you that a MySpace page was totally open-ended, you could do virtually anything with it - colors, designs, fonts, images, have all kinds of wild, modular powers of manipulation and choice, and then told you that Facebook was artificially limited, that it imposed lots of regulations and restrictions... you might "like" MySpace over that other social networking site.

Why, then, is Facebook more highly regarded and well respected than MySpace?  Why does Facebook get more traffic and have more gravitas?  How come no one made a movie about the CEO of MySpace?

This is just a theory, but it goes back to man's unconscious need for structure; the world should be regulated.  Human beings say they want loads and loads of freedom, they might say it until their blue in the face, but that doesn't necessarily make it so.  Consciously, man yearns for wide-open spaces.  However, he secretly craves the ground under his feet and familiar scenery at which to gaze.  After all, the void is a scary place.

How does this relate to roleplaying games?  I believe the vast majority of gamers dislike RPGs or campaigns with little to no structure.  Sure, they want choice, they want their decisions to matter, but at the end of the day, players want to know there are rules.  I'm not saying sandbox campaigns suck.  On the contrary, a well thought-out sandbox is usually preferable to a strictly linear scenario - as long as GMs are careful to occasionally leave a trail of breadcrumbs and clearly mark clues, plot points, NPCs with useful exposition, etc.

A GM has to lead just as much as he describes.  Not along tracks like a railroad, but in a realm of boundaries and barriers.  Don't characters enjoy the occasional feel of an invisible hand upon their back, gently pushing them in the right direction?  If you asked them, some might deny it.  Nine times out of ten, they're kidding themselves.  Suggest to them an RPG where the setting is anything they want, their character concept can be whatever they choose, and there is no pre-determined objective - it's all open-ended.  Lameness, game session for two.

Does this mean the silliest offenses to conventional storytelling should be thrown out without a care?  Must players give up on playing a Half-Orc, Half-Drow ninja/bard/sorcerer with a magic ring on every finger, a spell-storing bastard sword in each hand who can transform into a Were-Spider when it suits him?  Sure, it sounds cool.  So does a fantasy world of unlimited possibilities where the rules are whatever sound good at the time.  Trust me, the novelty will soon wear off, and then the only people enthused about that game will be the same teens using MySpace.

Have you encountered too much freedom in a roleplaying game, as either a player or GM?  Does the old school renaissance resonate more towards the limitation or unlimited end of the spectrum?  What about modern RPGs?  Does this also apply to horror RPGs?  Because there are few things more frightening than knowing the walls aren't really there.  Perhaps that's for another blog post...


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lovecraftian as always

H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos have influenced much of my life.  So, Happy Birthday to him!  He is a prophet to some of the warped apostles who admire his foetid works.

While fantasy and D&D retro-compatible and retro-clone RPGs have enough adventures, campaigns, and settings to go around (although, there's always room for a few more gems), the Cthulhu genre is deplorably lacking!  I can't objectively judge whether there's a deficit of quality gaming material according to others.  But for myself, I want more opportunities to suss out the Dreaded One and his untenable ilk.  Nevertheless, I think it's relatively safe to say that intrepid investigators could do with plumbing fresh eldritch horrors, for a change.

About a year ago, I got the itch to co-author a modern-day Cthulhuoid campaign.  A year ago, I wasn't actually gaming, so that particular itch was strange in itself; yet, was no doubt still brimming with inspiration from running the beyond brilliant Masks of Nyarlathotep years ago.  Those nights of MoN kept the dream of gaming alive, even if I'd more or less given up on the hobby.  Poppycock to you 4th edition D&D.... poppycock, I say!

Also, I thought co-authoring was preferable because I'm only one man and writing can be a lonely, not to mention, single-perspective pursuit.  Additionally, the word "campaign" doesn't seem right.  Campaigns are for D&D and the various RPGs that evolved from miniature wargaming.  "Chronicle" was born of Vampire: the Masquerade.  What about "sequence" when describing a set of thematically linked adventures in the weird horror/scifi milieu?  Yes, I like it.  "A disturbing sequence of events befell Arkham, Dunwich, and Innsmouth."

Anyways, I soon dropped that idea and picked it up again a few months later...but with a twist.  That's where Liberation of the Demon Slayer began.  I wanted to give D&D another shot by way of the Old School Renaissance.  It worked, and LotDS blossomed along with my passion for roleplaying.  BTW, the old school mega-dungeon should be available early September.

Now that LotDS is almost off my plate (final touches being added as write this), and even though I have dozens of little notes for a follow-up OSR D&D type adventure, I'm still toying with the idea of creating a Mythos-based sequence for those wanting something new but still very much in the Lovecraftian tradition.

I've given up on collaborating with my fellow gamers and HPL aficionados, but not completely... surely as the ichor flows black, hope springs eternal.  So, let this be a warning to the world.  Venger's wheels are turning!  Feel free to throw ideas at me like they were shoggoths... some just might stick.

By His loathsome tentacles,


p.s.  Someday, I'll get around to writing that Lovecraftian novel, too.  Someday...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Seed of a Chronicle

There won't be spoilers because I haven't gotten that far.  I've only worked out the bare bones introduction to my own personal World of Darkness.  The following will serve as the basis for my Vampire: the Masquerade chronicle.  Without further ado...

All (or at least most - I love exceptions to the rule, as long as, their reason-for-being is exceptional) of the PCs are neonates (newly embraced vampires for those who aren't familiar with V:tM jargon).  A city (not sure which one - maybe it will go unnamed throughout the chronicle) has just lost its Kindred population; wiped clean... no survivors.  Most likely the handiwork of a vampire hunter gang.  There are several known throughout the country, but unfortunately (for the Kindred) they keep moving.  Nomadic gangs of vampire hunting badasses are difficult to kill.

Anyways, this kind of extermination is a rarity, but it does happen from time to time.  Kindred are practiced at keeping a stronghold for decades if not centuries.  The urban areas are their domain.  Sure, a few Gangrel exist out in the wilderness, but that's werewolf territory.  Kindred need cities to survive, they need people and civilization.  To lose one is definitely a blow to their bloodsucking ego.

There are many reasons for re-populating a lost city with Kindred: contacts, allies, investments... all will run dry if the Camarilla just leaves it be.  Plus, feeding grounds are valuable commodities - a vampire's gotta eat, and the masquerade dictates that a certain population can only abide a certain number of Kindred. So, abandoning the city is not an option.

In go the neonates.  They're the most expendable.  With all those vampire hunters running around (it's been determined that all the city's Kindred were wiped out by vampire hunters, but no one is 100% certain), the elders don't want to risk it and the ancillae are preoccupied with power struggles in their present domains.  Various neonates from several different clans, cities, and (possibly) covenants are being selected to re-populate the city, restore the Camarilla's influence, and, most importantly, eliminate the danger.

This allows players to come up with pretty much any character concept they want and still have a reason for working alongside dissimilar characters in a particular location.  There's a built-in threat to jump start the action.  Plus, great potential for upward mobility.  By the end of the chronicle, perhaps one of the PCs will become Prince of the city...

As for the tone/atmosphere, here's a vague abstraction: dark, gothic, industrial... rust everywhere, black rain falling on mean streets, broken concrete, graffiti, and corroding inner-city slums with traces of decadent opulence for those elitist 1% living behind wrought-iron gates.

Thanks for reading.  If you want to make a suggestion, comment, or pose a question, please do.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Old School Vampire: the Masquerade

This post is just what I've been thinking of and toying with regarding an upcoming Vampire: the Masquerade chronicle.  For the most part, I've decided to stay true to the first printing of the rule book - with a few Requiem changes for good measure.  For instance, I'm using Blood Potency instead of Generation, as well as, obscuring Kindred origins (probably nothing to do with Cain).  

I'm only allowing the original core clans.  The following are the descriptions I sent to the one-off Vampire game I'm volunteering to run for a local geek meetup...

Here's the list of possible clans which will strongly influence the type of vampire you are. Vampires (Kindred) tend to choose certain types of people to vampirize (embrace), those who will best fit into their respective clan. You can play against type, but you need to have a compelling reason for doing so (i.e. your being made a vampire was a case of mistaken identity).

Nosferatu: Physically, they are repulsive. They like to live in sewers, staying hidden or in the background of Kindred society (the Camarilla), trading in secrets rather than showing off in the spotlight.

Tremere: They are vampire wizards, but instead of casting fireball or magic missile, The Tremere use elaborate rituals and alchemical potions containing rare ingredients. The most hierarchical clan - don't expect a neonate (new vampire) to quickly rise in the ranks.

Ventrue: A sophisticated, conservative, calculating, and old-world clan. The Ventrue are power brokers who more or less "lead" the clans, claiming to be Fathers of the Camarilla.

Gangrel: Loners who are in tune with their animalistic roots. Gangrel are most likely to survive outside the city.

Toreador: Hedonists, sensualists, artists, and epicureans. This clan sees vampirism as search for truth, beauty, pleasure, or as a purely aesthetic exercise. Since they also consider themselves sophisticated and refined, Toreador get along fairly well with the Ventrue. If clan Ventrue are Camarilla Fathers, then Toreador would be the Mothers.

Brujah: Rebellious malcontents. This clan despises authority and revels in anarchy. Even though clan Brujah is part of the Camarilla, they are on the outskirts. In that way, they are sort of like the Gangrel; however, the two clans rarely get along.

Malkavian: The Kindred equivalent of a "wild card". These vampires are more or less insane. Very unpredictable. They see things from their own warped perspective, and love a good prank or practical joke.

Caitiff: This is the category for those without a clan. These vampires are definitely on the outside looking in and treated as second class citizens by most, yet they have more freedom than any Kindred belonging to a clan. 

After that, I sent another email.  Here are the questions I wanted each player to think about...

1. What's your character's name? Birth name and nickname or what he/she goes by these days? 

2. How long has your character been a vampire, as well as, the age he/she was embraced (your character's apparent age)? 

3. Does your character have any close mortal friends? If not, then why not. If so, then do they know that he/she is a vampire? Keep in mind that allowing humans to know about the Kindred is a breach of the masquerade. 

4. What is your character's nature and demeanor. Nature is your inner desires, who you really are - the core beliefs you hold. Demeanor is what you've picked up along the way, learned behavior, affectations, and surface bits of personality. Sometimes, nature and demeanor work in conjunction and are very similar to each other, other times they seem downright opposed. A list of nature and demeanor archetypes I found online: [not included here]

5. Who was/is your character's sire? Is he/she still around? If so, describe your relationship. 

6. What are your thoughts on your character's clan? 

7. Describe a typical night for your character. 

8. What was your character like as a person before he/she was embraced?

In a few days, I'll post again, exploring chronicle stories, concepts, themes, motifs, and whatnot.