This week, in Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, yer Uncle Von will demonstrate how all this story-game theory comes together into practice. I’ve been harbouring a hankering to run some Dark Ages Vampire for a while now, having botched my first attempt so very badly (wrong game for the group, who were much more Victorian than Medieval in their interests, and a bad start, with ready-made vampires rather than settling into the Dark Ages first and the Vampire second). There’ll be at least two parts to this, maybe three depending on how long it runs.
- Discussing whether to go for the ‘five clans all based on proper vampire mythology’ or the ‘thirteen clans, some of which are cool and others of which are stupid stereotypes for making up the numbers’ approach – new or old Vampire. While we were talking about this, various players’ eyes lit up with mention of particular old-WoD clans, so that’s the way we jumped, with a few rules hacks based on the new WoD system to streamline play a little.
(House rule one: fixed difficulty – eights, nines and tens are successes, with tens counting as two; ones cancel out successes, more ones than successes is a botch. Modifiers come into or out of the dice pool, so a +2 means roll two extra dice rather than ‘add two to the numbers you roll on your dice’. The difficulty numbers on my GM screen indicate numbers of successes required, or at least a benchmark. This is harder to explain than it is to play. Some of the players in this group have trouble remembering what’s a good roll and so having the static ‘eights, nines and tens are good, ones are bad’ to work off is helpful for them. It also helps with cutting down the number of sums that need to be done at table from one per die – applying difficulty modifiers – to one per roll – calculating pools.)
- Someone – in this case it was Ben – will probably come to the table with the beginnings of a character mapped out. Having had issues with the stultifying ‘stand around bickering over who should be in charge of Ancient Rome’ politics of a previous campaign, he was interested in playing a sort of masterless man of the woods type, a hunter-gatherer. He’d been thinking either Brujah or Gangrel in terms of clans, either of which could work – I steered him toward Brujah as they’re pretty easy for new players to get a handle on (strong, fast, charismatic, bad temper).
- Someone – in this case it was Jess – will fall in love with an archetype or option as you discuss what’s available. Jess’ eyes lit up with love as we were talking about Tzimisce and she came up with the idea of a more-noble-than-usual one, an esquire whose enthusiasm for fleshcrafting was less creepy mysticism and more getting the most out of your unlife.
(Someone picking a Tzimisce in the Dark Ages tends to limit you in terms of location – you’ve got major Tzimisce holdings in Transylvania and ranging south toward Constantinople, and they’re so territorial that it’s a bit of a stretch putting them anywhere else. Transylvania’s a bit old hat for Vampire and I’ve done it before, so I suggested Constantinople. We also discussed making Jess’ character a revenant, essentially old family servants and potential recruits for the Tzimisce – she’d know what vampires were, or at least what the Tzimisce were, and be embedded in the Dream of Constantinople – making the best possible place for vampires to live in – before the Embrace. Jess was cool with this.)
- Someone – in this case it was Hark – will be all over the setting (girl loves her some Byzantine Empire shenanigans) and build a concept that makes the most out of that. She definitely wanted to play something Arabic… engage the researchamatron… hmm, what’s that, Muslim population in Constantinople pre-dating the Fourth Crusade?
(Which is when it all starts going down, Dark Ages Vampire wise, and while the game takes place twenty-five or so years later in the aftermath, that’s boring compared to starting the characters off as mortals in a city under siege, which is a fairly familiar medieval scenario, easier to ease into than the daily grind of life in the early C13, and having the Embrace with all its personal changes occur in fairly close proximity to the destruction of Christendom’s greatest city by its own crusading armies over three nights of absolute hell in which half the vampires in town burn and the mortal population is… shall we say ‘drastically reduced’? FAR MORE INTERESTING, ne?)
- Hark’s character needed the most work as she had two options she wanted to explore, either a tomb-raiding treasure-dealing Cappadocian merchant or a fallen-from-grace Saracen warrior Nosferatu. She’s played a tomb-raiding archaeologist fairly recently, so the others suggested following up the Nosferatu. I did promise I’d include some Cappadocian NPCs who she could either take over or have her new character Embraced by if the Nosferatu thing didn’t work out (what a hardship, I have to put conniving necromancers in my game…).
So, that’s three very rough concepts, and we spent an hour or so statting these people up and picking Natures and Demeanours and so on. I have a little pop-psychology question for prioritising Attributes and Abilities (stats and skills) for WoD characters – “Your character’s walking through town one night, they see someone on the floor in a bad way and someone else running around a corner. Do you ask the floor-dweller what happened, jump right in and tend to their wounds, or give chase?” The first answer gives Social as priority attributes, the second Mental, the third Physical. Nobody ended up with Mental primaries, interestingly.
(House rule two: Nosferatu with Social attributes as primary must forfeit a dot as we don’t want them running around with seven dots to split between only two attributes, do we?)
Leading questions also come in very handy for choosing appropriate Natures and Demeanours:
- Asking Hark whether it was ‘resisting the Christians’ or ‘defending your home’ that led her character to stay in the city led to ‘Defender’ (“I live here and I’m not letting you ruin it…”) and ‘Autocrat’ (“… soI have to at least look like I’m in control.”)
- Asking Jess how noble her character’s intentions were led to ‘Celebrant’ (“I don’t do this because I have to, I do it because I love to…”) and ‘Gallant’ (“… and a thing worth doing’s worth doing with style.”)
- Asking Ben whether his character answered to any authority led to ‘Survivor’ (“There’s things out there that are bigger than me and they can make me toe the line to save my skin…”) and ‘Rebel’ (“… but anything I think I can beat gets the finger.”)
So, that’s three characters done. What does this mean in terms of city design? It means I need developed characters and infrastructures for Nosferatu, Brujah and Tzimisce – it also means I need some Cappadocians handy in case Hark wants to leap that way later.