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With V5 announced just recently, and the amount of Vampire content at an all-time high thanks to Storyteller's Vault, groups everywhere are (or are going to be) gearing up to head back to the World of Darkness, or to journey there for the first time.
Setting is a huge deal for the World of Darkness. Unlike a traditional fantasy game, the places in the WoD are fictional analogues of real places and real people, many of which your players are going to be familiar with. So choosing the right city to set your Vampire game in is a pretty important decision. You can't just rewrite a city that's been written out in canon (or, if you do, you'd run the risk of confusing or alienating players with an investment in the existing canon). You need to keep existing canon in mind, as well. Picking a city that's two miles away from a major Sabbat stronghold is definitely going to have an effect on your stories. You need to keep in mind the Camarilla's ideal of 1 vampire per 100,000 people. Of course, you also need a place that you can research and present faithfully.
Unfortunately, many STs tend to fall back on one of three options, in my experience. Either New York, Chicago, or a WoD version of their own hometown (with an inexplicably large number of vampires and a paper-thin justification as to why that is). So if you're looking for a better choice, here's a handful to take a look at.
Canonically, Milan is mentioned in the World of Darkness. The Prince (Lasombra antitribu Giangaleazzo) is mentioned, as is the sheriff (Kasim Bayar, warrior-caste Assamite, unless you're using the V20 canon where he's been appointed Justicar). However, beyond that and the fact that the domain has been cleansed of Sabbat, very little is on record about it. And it's a big domain, from a Kindred perspective. The wider Milan metropolitan area has a population of over 7.5 million, giving a comfortable Camarilla population of 75+ Kindred; enough for the largest of chronicles!
Milan isn't just home to a boatload of people; it also has some gorgeous architecture and a rich history that's perfect material for a Vampire chronicle. The Vampire-centric political intrigues also offer a great deal to work with, since the domain is only recently Camarilla. Giangaleazzo's apparent open-mindedness when it comes to atypical clans (he's one of the only Princes to allow a Schismatic Assamite to hold a position in his court) offers STs and players alike potential freedom with exploring odd clans or bloodlines.
(As a side note, the neighboring domain of Veneto has a fantastic supplement up on Storyteller's Vault. I don't think I've yet seen an ST Vault project with such a high production value. The English version has just recently been added as well!)
The quintessential spring break party spot, Cancun offers a great potential for a chronicle. As recently as 1970, Cancun had a population of 3 (not 3000, just 3), so any undead buildup has been recent. If you'd like a chronicle featuring a young (relatively speaking) Prince or archbishop struggling to prove themselves, you could hardly pick a better choice.
Cancun offers great positioning as well. It's in Mexico, and could be reasonably be Sabbat. It's also relatively close to several Camarilla domains in South America, and could easily be a Camarilla 'frontier town.’ The huge tourist traffic means that the city can support more than the dozen or so vampires that it's permanent population would indicate. If you were so inclined, you could even include a few of the South/Central American bloodlines known as the Drowned Legacies, featured in Beckett's Jyhad Diary.
There are few cities that scream 'World of Darkness' to me more than Havana, Cuba. Although Havana itself can only support a score or so Kindred, no other city on the island can support more than four, so it's not unreasonable to believe that a Prince of Havana could lay claim to a larger portion of Cuba, (which can support over 100 Kindred). With a rich history of conflict that includes battles between natives, between natives and colonists, piracy, revolution, and decades of involvement in cold and proxy wars, Cuba has tons of tie-ins for Kindred of all clans and origins.
Canonically, Cuba's fairly open. Lore of the Bloodlines mentions a bit of Samedi presence, but also reminds us that they are few in number and not terribly politically involved. Crocetta Giovanni declared herself Prince during or shortly after the Cuban Revolution, but her praxis was short-lived, and the Giovanni killed her in a spectacular and public fashion, so STs are open to do whatever the like with the domain, in any configuration of sects.
Dallas has a population of only 1.3 million, but the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metroplex has around 7.4 million, making it a huge potential feeding ground. Only a single Kindred from Dallas is on record: the Malkavian Primogen, Ruth McGinley. Texas's rich history (and the number of times it's changed hands) provide lots of fodder to draw a court of NPCs from.
Dallas's proximity to the heavy Sabbat presence in Mexico make the Sabbat-Camarilla conflict seem like the most pressing, but a savvy ST could potentially get even more mileage from lupine conflicts. The American Southwest is canonically home to a great deal of lupine activity, which could provide a different and deadly set of antagonists. For a good look at some of the local history of Texas and its environs, some historical figures to use as a potential NPC pool, and a particularly terrifying description of the Llano Estacado (a potential base of operations for lupines or fae), see S.C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon.
One of the largest and most important cities in Africa, Casablanca, Morocco is a good choice for those looking for a change of pace from a Camarilla game. Although the Lasombra clanbook tells us that the Archbishop Ferrari is a known asset (along with the Soviet Kilo-class attack sub he uses to carry on the Lasombra tradition of piracy), the rest of the Sabbat presence in the city is open to speculation. Although the domain is a little smaller than some of the others we discussed, it can easily accommodate thirty or more Cainites, with the more lax Sabbat standards allowing that to skew higher.
Given the contentious nature of a Sabbat game, it's good that Casablanca offers so many enemies. Elaine, one of the Inner Circle of the Tremere, makes her home in Algiers. The Silent Striders have a huge caern in Casablanca, if that's the route you'd prefer. The strong cultural ties make it reasonable for an ST to include conflicts with the Ashirra as well. The Laibon are generally more active in Sub-Saharan Africa, although they are no less able to hop a boat or plane than any other Kindred, and have a habit of resisting outside vampiric influences attempting to freely colonize Africa.
At the end of the day
There's nothing wrong with going with a pre-made setting. An already published city gives you a wealth of information to draw on, establishing relationships, characters, plots, and intrigues so you don't have to. Relying on professionally created material to set your games doesn't make you any less of a Storyteller than STs that build entire domains from the ground up. However, if you do want to build your own chronicle, like any good builder you need to pick a solid foundation to work from. Cities like these are the sort of thing that will give you the best basis for a homemade chronicle: rich histories to draw on, large populations and infrastructures to accommodate your vampires, and little to no pre-existing involvement with canon that you need to worry about contradicting.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter, or listen to Don, Jon, & Dragons, his podcast.
Picture Reference: http://whitewolf.wikia.com/wiki/Vampire_(cWOD)
You’d be hard pressed to find a tabletop RPG that veteran game designer Kenneth Hite hasn’t touched in the last few years. Like D&D 5e? His name is on the credits page of the Player’s Handbook. World of Darkness, he’s contributed to plenty, not to mention being brought on as the lead designer of Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition. Cthulhu? In addition to contributing to Delta Green, Ken only wrote Trail of Cthulhu, widely considered one of the best versions of Call of Cthulhu on the market. Google his bibliography, the point is, he’s widely sought after because he’s good at what he does and he knows what he’s talking about.
Vampires have become a fairly ubiquitous subject in tabletop RPGs. Even outside of the obvious culprits Vampire the Masquerade/Requiem, D&D 5e got a playable vampire race in Planeshift: Zendikar, (and before that Vampire was a class in Heroes of Shadow) and just about any game can feature a vampire as a villain. In another of his creations Night’s Black Agents, (a game of super spies versus vampire conspiracies, and yes it is as awesome as it sounds) regarding the possibility of vampire agents as player characters, Mr. Hite says rather definitively, “If it were up to me, nobody would ever get to play the good vampire again, in any medium.”
If that’s the first time you’re reading that sentiment, I know what you’re thinking. It sounds like totalitarian drivel from someone who’s trying to tell me how to run my game. I felt the same way, but, given the pedigree involved, I decided to give it some thought.
Do we humanize vampires too much? A vampire is a predator. A vampire is undead. A vampire doesn’t belong in nature. The question that needs to be asked is, how do these experiences shape the character? How do they affect the way the character thinks, acts and sees the world?
1) The Vampire Is Fundamentally Alone
“When the last vampire is extinct, who will mourn our passing? Will she? Will anyone? Can anyone understand this pain, this loneliness?” - Meier Link, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Do you have a “safety blanket?” Have you ever tried to turn to something familiar after a traumatic or life changing experience to try to regain some feeling of normalcy? Imagine a freshly turned vampire, who has not only faced their own death but come through the other side. What would they turn to for that sense of normalcy and comfort?
Doesn’t matter, it’s all gone. All of it. A vampire is cut off from that which would bring them comfort in a way that we who will live and die as humans will never understand. Their relationship with anyone they could turn to is now forever one of predator and prey.Their loved ones are in danger any time they’re in each other’s company. Should they ignore that fact and selfishly seek them out anyway, they will always feel that pull, that urge to rip open their veins. Depending on the specific folklore, they may not be able enjoy their favorite foods any longer, or any others for that matter. Even if they can, it will never be as satisfying as it once was, never as satisfying as what flows through someone’s veins. Smaller things like a favorite movie or a sentimental gift can sometimes tend to lose their impact for a time following a sufficiently traumatic experience, but even if they don’t, it was made for a world the vampire no longer belongs in. From the moment they reawaken,the vampire has only themselves to lean on, except maybe, if they’re lucky, an even more inhuman monster monster that’s already completed their slide to Hell; the one that turned them.
2) Violation Is A Matter of Survival
“Evil is a point of view, God kills indiscriminately… and so shall we.” - Lestat, Interview With The Vampire
Consider, for a moment, all the institutions put in place to facilitate your survival. If you are hungry, there is very likely a store within a few blocks where you can go to purchase food. If you can’t afford to purchase food, we have programs in place like food stamps and WIC to help you afford it, or at the very least there’s a soup kitchen or a mission somewhere where you can get something to eat once in a while.
We as a society have made absolutely no provisions for the survival of vampires (ignoring the fact that it would be absolutely ludicrous to do so). Ergo, a vampire has no legal means whatsoever of securing the sustenance they need to survive. It has to be taken. It has to be stolen.
Even if a vampire decides to prey solely on animals, the animals have to come from somewhere. They might be able to live off pigeons and sewer rats for a time, but there’s a litany of studies out there to show what happens to a population when a new apex predator is introduced into an environment. It’s only a matter of time before little Timmy’s puppy goes missing. It’s only a matter of time before the neighborhood runs out of puppies.
Let’s say our fledgling vampire was lucky enough to find a human friend that consents to letting them take blood from them. What happens if one day the vampire needs more blood than their donor is willing or able to give? What happens if the vampire desperately needs blood and their donor isn’t around? Just by drinking blood or killing animals, the vampire has most likely already made a compromise they never saw themselves making. As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as paragons of morality, the sheer fact of human nature is, once you start giving an inch, the next compromise is only just another inch. Eventually, just to continue “living” the vampire is going to have to break the law. To continue “living” the vampire is going to have to completely disregard the law. They give another inch, and they’re attacking people. They give another inch, and they’re killing people.
3) Eternity Fans The Flames
“Gazing out across the plains of possibility, do you not feel, with all your soul, how we have become like gods? And a such, are we not indivisible? As long as a single one of us stands, we are legion. That is why, when I must sacrifice my children to the void, I can do so with a clear heart.” - Kain, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
You can only have never killed someone before once. You can only not be used to killing people for so long before it becomes just another Tuesday. At this point the fledgling has long ago discarded the rules and moralities of others as a matter of survival. They’ve seen human lives come and go, and they realize that they’ll most likely see the cycle continue for generations to come unless they’re destroyed. A vampire at this stage would have absolutely no respect for human life. It’s just a human, and we would reproduce like rabbits to their worldview. This is why so many elder vampires think nothing of killing indiscriminately, either a stranger or a servant. It’s just a human, and humans are a dime a dozen. Consider the casual disinterest of Rudolph Hoss, the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz who, when tried for his crimes expressed that his only regret was not spending more time with his family. He was 46 when he died. What would someone be like who’s had hundreds of years to become desensitized?
So, do we humanize vampires too much? Honestly, when we create a “good guy vampire,” I think the problem is that we don’t humanize them enough. What if the real horror of the vampire is not that they’re inhuman, it’s that they might be too human. It may be as small as the guy who cuts you off in traffic, or the guy on the internet who feels comfortable displaying his cruelty behind anonymity. It could be as big as the drug pushers and human smugglers we see on the news. Either way, does humanity not constantly display how callous and self serving it can be? What if the nature of the vampire is simply what happens when mankind is forced outside of its societal obligations and tribe mentality, no longer forced to uphold a false veneer of empathy? Never forget, humans tell stories of monsters to reflect upon humanity. What does the vampire reflect about us?
Chaz Lebel is a fiction author and member of Caffeinated Conquests, a YouTube channel dedicated to nerd comedy and tabletop gaming. He and his team once produced some promotional videos for High Level Games that they probably wish they could forget. Chaz can be found on Twitter @CafConIsOn
Picture Reference: https://lefturn.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/vampire-art-wallpapers-by-artist-avelina-de-moray-vampires-9800318-1600-1200-jpg/
HLG Review: Beckett’s Jyhad Diary
System: Vampire the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
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The summary on the back boasts “Beckett’s Jyhad Diary is as fascinating to read as to use in your game Chronicles.” This is absolutely not an exaggeration. BJD reads like a novel. In fact, being a collection of notes, audio recordings and journal entries, it’s remarkably similar to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I can only assume was deliberate. I started reading the same night I got my hands on it. Before I knew it, it was four in the morning and I was 200 pages in. It routinely stole at least 100 pages of my time per night as I was working on this review, and I don’t regret a single moment. I can’t honestly say if I was so captivated because it was a world I was already deeply invested in, or if it was a compelling story in its own right, but either way I’ve never had that experience with a sourcebook before, and my library is not small.
First and foremost, this is a book for Storytellers, the name for the Game Master in World of Darkness games. Beckett’s Jyhad Diary offers little for players in terms of character options: A Merit that allows your character to tap into flashes of insight, the 16th Generation Flaw (gain extra points at character creation at the cost of starting considerably weaker), and the Dhampir, a new character type that severely weakens the character’s Disciplines (vampire powers) in favor of immunity to many of the vampire’s traditional weaknesses.
While these additions are awesome and have the potential to make for some truly memorable player characters, these tiny islands of crunch buried nearly 150 pages into the tome only serve to highlight the glaring omission of certain other mechanics, such as those for The Drowned Legacies, a new range of vampire Bloodlines with unique powers and weaknesses. BJD spends an entire chapter chronicling their exploits in South America, but it doesn’t include any of the crunch required to actually make one. Certainly, the brief descriptions given for each one provide enough information for an enterprising Storyteller to infer their various abilities, if they don’t mind building a few of their own Disciplines, but in twenty pages we’re given nothing concrete.
At first I thought that might be to keep them out of the hands of players. A vocal minority of the Vampire community objects to players having access to Bloodlines, (rare mutations in the various vampire genomes) as they feel it neuters something meant to add mystery and uncertainty to the world, quantifying their abilities for all to see. That thought went straight out the window when I saw the plot hook at the end of the chapter intended for players of Drowned Legacies characters. I considered it might be a way to allow the Drowned Legacies to retain their mystery, their powers differing entirely from game to game and Storyteller to Storyteller, an approach I would actually applaud. I gladly would have, if they didn’t use the same approach with the Laibon, the vampires of Africa.
This is what shoved me straight over the edge from “mysterious with many valid interpretations” to “annoyingly vague and frustratingly incomplete.” The Laibon have already been quantified for nearly 20 years at this point, since the release of the Revised Edition sourcebook Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom. All they would have needed would be an update to the 20th Anniversary Edition, and Vampire is not a game of great gulfs of difference in its various rule sets. Instead, BJD points to the Laibon’s precursor clans in Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition: The Dark Ages. Well, that’s great except their powers don’t match, their weaknesses don’t match, and we’re given little to nothing to infer what they actually do. When the legacy referred to as “The Shadows” don’t have access to the shadow Discipline, while a Shadows legacy NPC presented in the book is supposed to, I’m of a mind to believe that something has gone amiss. Also, counting the Followers of Set from the core book, that’s only six of the thirteen legacies BJD itself says are rumored to exist, and the nine showcased in Ebony Kingdom. Mind you, the Laibon are mentioned in two separate chapters. That’s two settings they expect us to use them in. Curiously, BJD never once refers the reader to KotEK as another source. Maybe there was an internal mandate saying the book wasn’t allowed to refer to sources outside the 20th Anniversary edition, or maybe they thought the handful of differences between Revised and V20 would cause too much confusion. As much as I truly love Onyx Path, however, I’d be lying through my teeth if I didn’t admit to the sneaking suspicion it might be because Onyx Path doesn’t see a cut of Revised Edition sales.
These issues could have been easily remedied with a few extra pages of Appendix. Assuming constraints prevented the book from being larger than it already is, weighing in at a hefty 559 pages, it’s not as if Onyx Path couldn’t have made room for it. I would have greatly preferred, by several orders of magnitude, a few extra pages of resources for my game than a two page spread of a pointless Freudian extrapolation, or an extremely awkward scene where an ancient vampire bites Beckett’s fingernails off. “A Brief History of Beckett” didn’t need to be its own chapter, as not only does it not provide any appreciable history of the character, (by “brief” they mean Post It Note) the salient bits of information would be better served in other areas. The information about the character Marie would have fit neatly in the chapter where she actually appears, and the plot hooks about hunting for rare books could have gone almost anywhere else, as Beckett spends the vast majority of the narrative searching for a rare book. As loathe as I am to admit it, since it’s my favorite setting in Vampire, the Chicago chapter is almost entirely superfluous. With the exception of a few minor nudges, most of which have already been covered in other V20 books, (namely V20 Companion and Lore of the Clans) Vampire’s Chicago is virtually unchanged from what it was in Chicago by Night 2nd Edition.
The book is organized into 31 chapters, most of which chronicle Beckett’s journeys through various vampire domains across the world. The narrative bits set up NPCs and settings for Storytellers to use in their Vampire games, each one culminating in a list of plot hooks and chronicle ideas. This is where the true value of the book lies. Most groups will require years to exhaust the material provided herein, and it’s exceptionally likely it will be used for years since the king’s ransom of story ideas will prove just as useful long after Vampire 5th Edition launches.
Several of the plot hooks deliberately contradict each other, or offer the Storyteller another possibility of “what really happened.” The World of Darkness is a place of nuance, mystery, and unreliable narrators. Allowing disparate groups to establish their own canons, all of them being equally valid, is an approach I applaud and would love to see other games attempt. I can’t help but wonder though, how this sweeping array of individualized canonicity will hold up in the future. Presumably White Wolf will have to at least figure out Saulot/Tremere at some point, let alone the innumerable other intrigues the book highlights. Then again, maybe they won’t. Martin Elricsson of White Wolf has stated before that he wishes to turn control of the metaplot over to the players. Perhaps the dangling plot threads truly won’t be resolved until we pick up our dice to do it ourselves. At this point, only time will tell.
The changing delivery methods help greatly to keep reading from becoming monotonous. The book attempts to differentiate between several in-universe contributors by having each one use different fonts, paper, ink colors, etc. Unfortunately, it’s not always perfect, as some of the fonts can look extremely similar and all rules go out the window when the characters start switching paper. Onyx Path used the opportunity to showcase a cast of Vampire’s iconic characters. Considering the Clan Novel series was published nearly 20 years ago, this was a great opportunity to introduce these characters to a new generation of fans. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely certain they did… The book will liberally introduce side characters who crop up in each domain, but after a mountain of margin notes, Lucita de Aragon (a character important enough to literally have her own action figure) doesn’t receive anything approaching an introduction before appearing as a major character for several chapters. Also, really, we’re not going to mention who Sascha Vykos is outside of a sideways mention of genital throwing? Fortunately, the narrative is far from impenetrable without prior knowledge of these characters. Indeed, perhaps the goal was to make readers want to find out more, in which case, well played. I just fear for readers with less patience being turned off at the prospect of yet another major character being mentioned without context.
Purists may dislike the way Onyx Path shook up certain sacred cows of the metaplot, such as an extant branch of the previously extinct Cappadocian line, however I appreciate the fact that they have. Beckett’s Jyhad Diary paints the picture of a World of Darkness that is changing, evolving, and one that challenges previous assumptions. Stagnation is a death sentence, and this newfound forward momentum can only lead to good things for the game.
The Appendix is a collection of advice for Storytellers on how to use the metaplot in their chronicles. Most experienced Storytellers will have already decided whether or not to use the game’s canon in their chronicles, and how they’re going to do so. This was the camp that I fell into, and as such I personally didn’t find anything particularly illuminating in this section, though I’m sure someone will. I did, however, greatly enjoy the overview of themes present in Vampire’s previous iterations. V20 attempts to merge the themes of the previous three versions, though it can be easy for them to become muddled when none are brought to the fore. This section allowed me to reflect on the themes I wish to bring forth in my own games, and while not strictly necessary, it was appreciated.
The art in this book is some of the best Onyx Path has ever produced. The half page illustrations are absolutely jaw-dropping, though unfortunately the portraits of the sample NPCs tend to run the gamut a bit more. Some of them, like Victoria Ash, Khurshid, and Christof Romuald (every time you mention it, someone will say “they made two VtM games?”) look great, with a certain Vampire: The Eternal Struggle vibe that sets my nerd heart alight with glee. Conversely, Smiling Jack is as cockeyed as a chameleon and looks like they colored him with crayons. There’s more amazing artwork than not, but when something is bad, it really sticks out.
I used to advise new Vampire Storytellers that after the core rules, their first purchase should be one of the city setting books, as it would keep them from having to spontaneously generate an entire community and provide an example of how vampire society interacts. Now, my recommendation lies firmly with Beckett’s Jyhad Diary. It offers a multitude of settings, years worth of plot hooks, a litany of sample vampires and a look at the societies of several different factions on multiple continents. BJD is not what I’d call perfect by any stretch, but it offers so much value that its few faults are easy enough to overlook. Unless you’re a collector or you frequently get your books signed at conventions, I’m not certain I’d recommend springing for the full hardcover treatment, as this is not the kind of book you’ll be carting to every session, let alone passing around the table. However, the PDF is a welcome addition to any Storyteller’s arsenal, and worth every penny.
Chaz Lebel is a fiction author and member of Caffeinated Conquests, a YouTube channel dedicated to nerd comedy and tabletop gaming. He and his team once produced some promotional videos for High Level Games that they probably wish they could forget. Chaz can be found on Twitter @CafConIsOn
Picture Reference: http://whitewolf.wikia.com/wiki/File:Beckett_for_V20_Beckett%E2%80%99s_Jyhad_Diary.jpg
Editor’s note: Enjoy reading articles about your favorite hobby and engaging with fellow gamers? We do too, but hosting and producing our site isn’t free. Please consider visiting our Patreon page and supporting us at any amount. We put every dollar back into the site and its production, and your help has allowed us to have certain paid article months for our contributors (such as this month). Thank you for your continued readership and your support!
-David, Blog Manager
Pentex is the everpresent servant of the Wyrm corporation in Werewolf: The Apocalypse. You might also find references to Pentex in other World of Darkness books, but on the whole the evil Wyrm Corp is designed as a nemesis for Werewolves. What follows are a few suggested ways to use Pentex in your games, particularly non-Werewolf chronicles.
1) Ventrue Bait
Imagine you are a centuries old vampire who has made careful planning and sound investment your watchword from day one. You’ve amassed a fortune that is unparalleled, even as it is held in various shell corporations and by various minions. Now imagine there is a force working against the interest of your corporation. At first you assume it is another foolish Ventrue, or one of the Toreador muscling in on your action. Then you slowly uncover evidence that this hostile takeover is being performed by a subsidiary of Pentex. You start trying to seed your ghouls into the organization only to find them having ‘accidents’ soon after they take their new job.
Pentex has been planning this operation for 100 years. They know this Ventrue has power over an entire conglomerate of economic authority. The trap is set. Will the Elder put his foot farther into the deep end, or will they leave their hard-earned wealth? This Elder is smart, of course, so they hire a coterie of Kindred to investigate this… King Breweries to see what sort of mischief they are about.
2) Take Your Medicine, Young Woman
Being a Changeling is amazing. You’ve finally started to feel alive again. You are discovering what it means to be you, and after several rough years feeling like you at 18 feels like an accomplishment. Of course, all of the requirements at court make taking college seriously really hard. In fact, you’ve flunked your entire first semester. Now, thankfully the school is willing to give you another chance and they’ll even expunge the entire semester’s grades if you are able to get a B or higher in your second pass through. Oh, and the school nurse suggests you take some new medication from Magadon Pharmaceuticals to help your concentration.
A month later, the motley comes looking for their young Pooka friend. But now she’s hardly herself. Her fae mein seems to have disappeared completely. Where she once felt like herself, now she feels like she has to try and be someone everyone else expects her to be. The only clue the motley has is the daily dose of MagLoft the Pooka takes. How did they do this to her? Why did they? Do they do this to all the Fae that come to this school?
3) Omnipresent and Helpful
The hard-pressed cabal of Mages decides to take the night off. They pull into Ten Tickle Ales’ brewpub and have a few drinks. The next morning they take a handful of Magadon Migraine Mauler, and they roll off to face the Technocracy another day. On the way they pass a sign for O’Tolley’s. Man, their burgers aren’t the greatest but you sure get a craving for them whenever you see the ads. After they escape the clutches of another group of Men in Black with their Hit-Mark associate, they fuel up their car at the Endron station at the end of the block.
That’s when someone in the cabal starts to think. Who owns all of this? Are these corporations owned by the Technocracy? If not, by who? Do they control part of the consensual narrative? If so, how and why? Why do I feel like I always need a drink when I’ve stopped at the Endron Mart for gas? Is that because I’m actually thirsty or because there is a subtle mind-control effect going on? Wait, did something just slither out of the gas line into my car?
Pentex is Everywhere, Pentex is Good.
4) Profit Is Good
The Avalon Toy Company makes a lot of great toys. The Red-Eye Air Rifle you got on your 12th birthday is still one of the things you love. You gave it to your son when he was 12, and now it’s your fetter. However, since coming to the other side of the shroud you’ve noticed something about the gun. It has a… sheen on it. The look in your son’s eyes changes when he holds it. It’s not joy, its something… sinister. You can feel something akin to the Tempest upon the whole thing. When you investigate Avalon-R-Us you notice most of the toys are the same. The factory is the same, and the factory on 5th and West Ave sits on the edge of a Nihil.
Does Avalon have a connection to Oblivion? Does it want to kill children, adults, or does it want to corrupt the world? Should your son even have the air rifle? The one you love, the one that helps you stay connected to him? Can you convince your friends to help you investigate Avalon, and figure out what is going on? Or will they shrug their shoulders and focus on more pressing matters related to the Hierarchy?
Hopefully you can get some mileage from these plot hooks. Pentex is one of my favorite elements of the World of Darkness.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 20 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s currently running a Changing Breeds game and writing a lot. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s published adventures here and here.
Picture Reference: https://nerdarchy.com/world-of-darkness-enemies-garou-pentex/
This summer White Wolf released a community content creation website called The Storytellers Vault. The ST Vault is much like the DMs Guild for Dungeons and Dragons. You can create content for the World of Darkness (currently just Vampire: The Masquerade and Dark Ages: Vampire). White Wolf keeps 50% of the revenue and you, the creator, receive the other 50%. High quality templates are provided for Word and Adobe InDesign. Further, White Wolf has dozens of images that have appeared in older books for you to use for free. This gives you all the resources you could need to create the next great World of Darkness product.
1) New City Book
Most Storytellers end up creating their own cities in the WoD at some point or another. You might have roughly sketched these out, or, like some of us, you might have detailed notes that take up entire folders on your bookshelf. You’ve created important locations, you’ve detailed changes between your real city and the WoD reflection. NPCs live within your imagination and the imaginations of your players.Take all of this material and turn it into a coherent product. Detail those NPCs and their reasons for making your city their domain. Write down the backstory for your Prince or Archbishop, draft character descriptions and roleplaying hints. If you have a game that your players have raved about, even years later, take that material and turn it into a product.
There is nothing that says we cannot have a dozen Austin By Nights, all with different characters and stories. If you’ve created it, put it to use and get paid a little bit at the same time. My recommendation is to use InDesign for your layout. This will make your book look much more professional.
Examples from The Vault: Buffalo By Night, Missoula By Night, Rose City By Night, Denmark By Night, Seasons of Fear: Mont St. Michel By Night
2) Bloodlines Or Clan Books
Have you created a detailed bloodline for a chronicle? Why not write them up into a full Bloodline book? Over the years I’ve heard of dozens of personalized bloodlines created by players and Storytellers for the classic WoD. It can’t hurt to collect the lore you’ve developed, the disciplines you’ve designed and make a product that showcases them. Keep in mind, it can’t hurt to pay someone to do an editing pass. Your product will be better if you do so. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in our editing and layout rates. We’re happy to help take your product to the next level.
Examples from The Vault: Clanbook Nahema, Clanbook Lungo Drom, Clanbook Jiang-Chi, Clanbook Bilquis
3) Chronicle Guidelines Or Jumpstarts
Sometimes you need a hook to create your own story from. Reading through city books or clanbooks can be great for this, but sometimes you need something more. We suggest using a short Chronicle Jumpstart, a story that allows you to branch out into more in-depth chronicle ideas. The key for these is to not have them be too much like a fantasy RPG module. You want to provide a Storyteller the tools to launch a deeper chronicle. Give them a political hook, a mystery, or a shocking revelation that drives the players and their characters to dig deeper. Keep in mind when creating something like this to give the ST wiggle room to create elements that work best for them and their players. Don’t make a scene by scene set of commandments, provide a framework and options, and allow the ST to connect those options in a way that is fun and engaging.
Examples include: Dark New England Chronicle Jumpstarts, Monastery of Metamorphosis, Things Go Southy, The Curse Pole, A Singular Darkness, The Templar’s Childe, Obelisk of Oak Island, Contagion: The Berlin Chronicles, New Blood
You’re a fan-fiction writer; trust me, there is nothing wrong with that. Fan-Fiction is an awesome way to teach oneself how to write. It allows you to learn how to match tone, content, and style. Then you can branch out and define those things for yourself. The ST vault allows you to write novels for World of Darkness. So, if you’ve got some form of dark horror Vampire story hiding in your brain or on your computer, put it together and sell it! The Vault allows you to submit works in any language, and my advice is to write in your native language or work with an editor and translator.
Examples: A Golconda Story, My Dreams in Ceoris, The Modern Nights, As Mil Faces da Malkaviana,
5) Yeah, I Could Use That
Maybe you have an idea for something useful that doesn’t quite fit into the other categories? Like a collection of plot hooks. Someone wrote that. Or an armory of weapons to use for your game. There are discipline lists for Elders and for combination disciplines. There are stock images and various other random things that others might find useful. If you have something that you find useful for our campaign, it can’t hurt to put it together in a pdf and share it with others. Try and price things in a way that are actually worth the amount of work you’ve put into them.
Examples: Combination Disciplines, Elder Disciplines, Pictures for Projects, Hunter’s Armory, Logos,
There are dozens of options for ways you to put your creativity to work over at the Vault. I recommend digging into it and seeing what sort of things you can find that interest you, and of course what provides you inspiration to create some awesome things as well.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 19 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s preparing a Changing Breeds game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
Image owned by White Wolf for use in the ST Vault.
The World of Darkness books are filled with great NPC ideas. Sometimes though, you want just the shard of a concept to help build your own. Here is a list of concepts for you to flesh out. Some are serious, some are ridiculous. Run with what works for you.
1) Clinton Perry: Ragabash Red Talon
Clinton was born in the National Zoo. He was freed by a pack of Bone Gnawers. His deed name is “Breaks All the Shit.” Clinton wants to travel far away from home. Something is calling to him.
2) Jung-Ho Park: Ventrue 13th Gen
Madame Park was embraced during the Korean War by a Ventrue who had attached himself to the US military operation. Park is frustrated by her lack of blood power (generation).
3) Miles Morales: Ananasi Hatar
Miles is from Queens. He ate his parents during his change and now struggles with a reduced emotional connection to that act of horror. He pretends to be a superhero to assuage his dwindling conscience.
4) Professor Jazz: Troll
Prof. Jazz is a blues man by nature, and a jazz drummer because it pays the bills. He gets his glamour from watching people watching his videos on their phones.
5) Keshia Jackson: Salubri Antitribu
Keshia was embraced less than a year ago, but she's made the most out of that time. She is encouraging the Salubri to drop the anti label and declare themselves the 3rd Sabbat pillar Clan. Both the clan, and the Panders are listening.
6) Mary Tandy Moore: Unknown
Mary finds themself caught dealing with drug dealers and college professors fighting over a plot of land which holds value to each side. They want nothing to do with it, but they can't stop being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are looking for help from multiple sources.
7) Joaquin Scheder: Sidhe
Joaquin is way out of his element. He doesn't understand why he can see the world the way it is. A dragon is stalking him, and he doesn't know if it is friend or foe.
8) Casper: Haunter
Casper was killed as a child. He really wants to play with the other children, but they run when he shows up. He is particularly fond of Little Mike.
9) Lupus: Black Fury Gangrel Abomination
She doesn't remember who or what she is. She knows she needs blood, and she cries when she sees the moon. A pack of Sabbat and a pack of Werewolves are stalking her.
10) Charles Maddox: Arcanum Scholar:
Maddox is a strange character. He's been a member of the Arcanum for 10 years, and he claims he's onto a major breakthrough related to the Disparate Alliance. Whatever that is…
So there you are 10 basic character sketches that can get you started. What would you like to add?
With 18 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre LARPs and is running a Mage game and a D&D 5th Edition campaign. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
Image Source: John van Fleet
A few months back, I reviewed Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition for my website, Keep on the Heathlands. One of the most fascinating elements of this original edition of VtM, at least to me, was the concept of The Rebirth. What was this? Why did it exist and moreover, why was it removed in Revised and Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition? Will we see it again in 5th edition when it is released from White Wolf’s crypt? In 1st Edition and 2nd Edition Vampire, The Rebirth was this idea that it was possible to somehow escape the Curse of Caine. Or more succinctly, to become human again. Such an idea is anathema to almost everything I thought I knew about White Wolf’s flagship game, and I’ve never heard of any group using the plotline in their games. The idea of becoming human once more was the bailiwick of high level rare disciplines of the most rare of bloodlines. That being said, I think The Rebirth deserves a place at the Blood Feast.
1) The Rebirth is Human
Vampire: The Masquerade is a game about humanity. I don’t mean Humanity, the statistic on your character sheet. I mean people. VtM and vampires in the World of Darkness need humans. They must live among them to feed and survive. Imagine being a person living among pigs. Now, imagine being the type of person who randomly kills, eats, and or tortures pigs when the mood strikes you. You don’t hide it, you do it in front of the other pigs. You think those pigs are going to like you, or trust you? Not likely. Now imagine being a Vampire, you used to be like the humans around you. You are told that being humane is the most important thing, that doing so prevents you from becoming a beast. Yet, you must feed. You hunger. Without the blood of your fellow man you will die; even animal blood only sustains weakly, and not at all for elder Vampires. The Rebirth is a way for you to rejoin those you feed upon. The Rebirth is a hope, ever so infinitesimal, that you can cease being a monster.
2) The Rebirth is Horrific
Sit down for this. Or not; whatever, I’m not your father. The Rebirth is personal horror at its best. I’m your Storyteller, you are playing in a small group of recently embraced Kindred. I offer you a story tidbit: you can become human again. You just have to kill your Sire. I don’t tell you how. I drop this information in a small fragment of the Book of Nod. An elder confirms, “Yes, in the old country I heard of such a thing happening. Surely you don’t want that, as such a thing steals from you all the benefits of immortality.” Now you plot, you plan, you create an entire masterpiece detailing how you are going to kill your Sire and be Reborn! Oh, did I forget to mention how you had to do it? Did I forget to mention that you need to do it within a month after being embraced? Did I forget… oh sorry… you failed your Willpower roll. You think diablerized your Sire seems like a fantastic way to ENSURE they are dead. The sun begins to set on your hope to be Reborn.
3) The Rebirth is Hope
I know, I know, the WoD is darkness on darkness with no hope or light. I think that is reductive. The darkness is only terrifying when there is light for you to retreat to. Despair is only poignant when hope still exists. Those that lose hope don’t care about Rebirth. They care about Blood, and they care about their unlife continuing for another year, or decade, or 1000 years. To have the hope Rebirth is to have the hope that one can escape the Beast, escape the hunger for blood and feel again. The emotions of humanity are stripped away from a newly embraced Vampire. Love, friendship, and empathy are things that are only memories for the Kindred. The Rebirth offers a small potential to return to true emotions once more. That is hope; that hope is something that should be cherished and cared for. Only then should it be dashed and destroyed on the altar of the Cathedral of Flesh.
Use the Rebirth in your games. It is an underused idea in Vampire and it offers all kinds of wonderful plot hooks. Let us Rebirth this torpid story idea and bring it into the new era. What harm can it do?
With 18 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre LARPs and is running a Mage game and a D&D 5th Edition campaign. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
During the last Leveling Up Podcast I talked about some of the surveys I use for my games. I send these surveys to my players using Survey Monkey. Now, I play with all of my players in person, and you might wonder why I use surveys instead of just asking them in person. I do this for two reasons. The first is that I like to give my players a chance to think about answers to some questions. Asking at the table may get a quick response, but it might not be a very considered response and that may not be how they actually feel about something in the long-run. The second is my issue, I don’t always remember the details of my player’s sheets or elements of their character. I remember bits and pieces, but sometimes they have things that I forget about that are drastically important, but don’t come up in play frequently.
I use these surveys to check-in with my players too. If a session was rough, deep, or really awesome I want to hear about it. The table feedback is great, but using these tools helps me to be holistic. A player might think of something awesome to include in the game while they are sitting at work and want to pop that information into the survey. What follows are two survey examples I’ve used recently.
Q1: Where is your character from?
Q2: How does your character dress?
Q3: What goals does your character have that you would like me to take into account?
Q4: Are there aspects of Vampire that you would like to have addressed in our game? (example, descent into the Beast, feeding on other Vampires, Golconda)
Q5: How much combat do you want?
Q6: Is there anything you absolutely do not want to deal with in game?
Q1: Character Name
Q2: Where was your character born?
Q3: What Flaws do they have?
Q4: What are some of your character's goals?
Q5: What goals do you have as a player?
Q6: The World of Darkness can be dark, are there any elements you'd like to avoid in our game?
Q7: What is your highest level skill and why?
These surveys act as a second and third order way of communicating with my players. I want to run the games they want to play. I also want to run games that I find interesting. So these surveys act as another layer of making sure we are both having our interests met by the game. I also do regular conversation check-ins with my people, but those have their limits in social environments if people were to become uncomfortable with answering any of the various questions I have for them. That’s not common, but it has happened before and this is another way of avoiding those situations for the social conflict averse person. You can also check-out a much more in-depth survey here, which I found to be a great resource.
With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He recently launched,www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s a player in Underground Theatre’s and One World By Nights Vampire LARPs and is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.