I’m enjoying the Dark Ages Vampire game enormously, which probably indicates the lack of meta-thoughts and general chit-chat about it on this ‘ere blog thing. However, in the last few weeks a few things have happened that are probably interesting enough to warrant a brief discussion.
Specifically, things I regret.
Regret The First
The NPCs. Some of them, to be sure, are fun and funny and get a reaction every time; some of them are very serious business indeed and there were gasps of alarm when it looked like Hark’s sire was about to take a pikestaff to the heart. However, some of them are distinctly superfluous to requirements – they lack a dramatic, social or narrative purpose, or even an interesting vocal performance. Sometimes, you write someone up and they’re just… flat. Nothing there.
While I remain convinced that the Nosferatu holy turf war was a Good Thing, I should have pulled up the body count a bit, killed off a few of the less descript background Nossies and kept the ones we were actually interested in. We could have stood to have one less Tzimisce, too. There are characters that don’t have a voice or role and accounting for them/playing them is a bugger and a half. Fortunately I have the opportunity to get a few of them killed and introduce some more interesting people over the course of the next few weeks of play.
I also really regret not making more of the Cappadocians. There’s been one in the setting since the third or fourth session who nobody’s realistically had the chance to meet yet and I’ve crowbarred in a few more, but given the part of the world we’re running in, the inherent fascination the clan holds for me, and their being very much a Dark Ages thing, I could have made a great deal more use of them. Instead of doing what I thought was worth doing, I got married to published metaplot and saddled myself with a bunch of Toreadors, a clan for whom I have to say I’ve never had any particular attraction.
Regret the Second
The Right of Retcon had to be invoked a few weeks ago. We came to a natural rest point, a chance for the narrative to breathe and relax for a bit, the NPC relationships to be updated, a few tweaks to be made (changing names to what the PCs can remember, unless it’s funnier not to, and changing a few stat allocations around to suit the shape the NPC has ultimately taken in play). I wanted to let the game rest for a couple of weeks but was talked into running an impromptu session where nothing much happened, nobody rolled any dice, and I buggered up the historical dimension a bit.
This, as Ben said at the time, is not something the players would have noticed, but a) it’s something I notice and b) it’s sort of important in a historical game. If you’re going to get something wrong, do it deliberately and for a reason, not accidentally because you’re rushing to get the game moving again. There’s no point in using history if you don’t, well, use history, show some respect for its curves and nuances.
Besides, it was a really boring session and it primed the characters for yet more boring sessions about Who Should Be In Charge Of Vampires In Constantinople, which is exactly what two players hated about their last game.
So I invoked the Right of Retcon* and we sat around with some strong tea and talked through the good bits and the bad bits of the game so far and the problem session, and what the players wanted more of and less of, and we agreed on what was going to ‘stay happened’, and that was that. Now this took some introducing from my side, as at least one player is mortally afeared of metagaming and did not want the game to degenerate into service of the players’ every whim.
I pointed out that I needed to know what they wanted in order to make a poison chalice of it, and that “I want” doesn’t get, and above all that it was more about avoiding things that would be boring and unwelcome than about ensuring everyone’s sense of entitlement received a fillip.
As a plus, we also talked about the prospect of remote play (Skype or forums seem preferable) and of through-the-ages play, alighting on various eras, places and bits of WoD metaplot that the group might be interested in delving into. I’m still thinking too much in terms of How The Published World Works, though – the urge is to break the chains completely, stop worrying about Things That Happen Because The Book Says They Do, and let my World of Darkness go its own sweet way.
So it’s all quite promising, but I still regret running a shitty session instead of being firm and saying “no, it needs a little rest and so do I”, and it still highlights the extent to which I’m embedded in published metaplot rather than my own creativity.
Regret the Third
The PCs – or, more accurately, the PCs and the house rules they’re embedded in.
Capping them all at tenth generation made sense when I did it but I’m starting to regret it now that the game is looking like a long-haul through-the-ages job. At the moment they’re the littlest vampires in the pool wherever they go, and while there will be later, lower generations emerging in later centuries, there are only really three generations left before the Final Nights and that’s not many for eight hundred years.
I think tenth was going a bit far given that there are eight hundred years of Embracing going on before the Final Nights, and so many sixth and seventh generation vampires running around (creating the superfluous NPC links in the chain I was bitching about earlier). I also think the mechanical limitations of being tenth generation may come back to bite me in the arse, as it’s difficult to feel ancient, experienced and savvy when a fledgling of the ninth generation can trigger more mechanics in a turn than you can.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. I did it to make diablerie seem attractive and as the game moves on I want to intensify that, emphasise the potential power that generational leap can offer and the temptation of doing so. Since at least two of the characters have Sabbat potential (in particular, they’ve begun setting out the basis of the Vaulderie, totally unprompted, and I may steer them toward introducing the practice to the nascent Sabbat – that’s how to do metaplot right, surely, make it so your players were responsible for it?), the game might take that sort of drift, encouraging diablerie as a route to applicable power.
If they don’t bite on that hook then it definitely evokes the “after eight hundred years you’re still your sire’s bitch” effect that Vampire is allegedly about – but I want to move the PCs toward centre stage as they grow older, because What Vampire Is Allegedly About is less important than player agency.
I suppose what it all boils down to is “why the hell didn’t I rip off Blood Potency from Requiem as well as the dice mechanics?” Increases as you grow older, but can still be accelerated through diablerie, providing the slow experiential growth and the temptation of a quick nibble and a short-cut, and doesn’t oblige me to include such a long chain of NPCs (since everyone starts off at Blood Potency 1, no matter who sired them).
As it is I’ll stick with it, because diablerie and opportunities for diablerie are interesting, and lording it over the emergent eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth generations will reward the long-term aspect. I’ll just be holding it in mind for the next time that Requiem does what it does and fail to inspire or engage potential players, despite being mechanically and thematically more solid. I don’t know why it does that. It may be the absence of a clear central conflict with that enticing, comforting metaplot (which I fall into reflexively, to my creative detriment and potentially that of the game), or just that I’ve never tried to introduce it to people who don’t know Old Vampire and consequently don’t have the “whaddayamean such-and-such is gone?” reaction.
* – it is Agreed that the Master of Games may remove from existence One (1) Undesirable session of Play from the Chronicle, negotiating with the Players as to which elements shall be retained as Canonical and which shall be cast aside as Tedious or Unnecessary. If Two (2) Sessions of Play do need removal, the Chronicle is sickening and more serious Measures are in Order, perchance a change of Characters, Location, Master of Games or some other major element. If Three (3)… ’tis better to Fizzle than to Be Shite.