Friday, July 8, 2011

Vampire: the Requiem game - first session

So I effing love effing Vampire: the Requiem to pieces. Someday I'll have to get into why - which will involve figuring out why, probably - but for now I'll just tell you I've loved this game for a long time and never really played it. I'm writing about Vampire now because I'm playing it again. We had our first session two weekends ago! We're playing again tomorrow night!

I'm playing with what I guess you could call my role-playing group. They're all close friends with varying degrees and types of role-playing experience. I had wanted to role-play and to run a game for a while, and through various circumstances it emerged they each had an interest in playing one. Our first game was an amazing run of Lady Blackbird. I will always be grateful to John Harper, designer of Lady Blackbird, for that wonderful experience, so thank you, John.  I'll talk about it sometime.

Everyone was so kind to humor my desire to run a Requiem game as well. Two things about Lady Blackbird: it uses pregenerated character, and setting creation is a part of the game (as the politically-correct goblin Snargle or the gigantic gems known as heartstones needed to navigate the Remnant from our game attest). So, playing Requiem provided two challenges for my players they hadn't needed to tackle before: creating their own characters and dealing with an existing setting. 

Read more after the break.

I handled the setting by talking to people about what the World of Darkness is like, and what vampires are like in it. I explained a little and then we developed character concepts, and then over the course of downtime between sessions I sent some brief emails detailing things about the setting. For instance, here's what I wrote about one of the "covenants," the social groups vampires fall into in the setting.

The Invictus
Personally powerful though the Duchess may be (remember she was mentioned above?), her rule still depends upon bureaucracy and support. The Invictus - “the unconquered” - are the backers and office holders who support the status quo and make the Duchess' rule work. The Invictus are viciously, destructively competitive with each other – eternal life tends to cut down on job openings at the top – but joining them is often the best path to wealth and influence.
 Here are the characters this process produced:
  • Pierce is playing Beckett, a serious member of the Ordo Dracul, thoughtful about his life and actions, eager to improve himself.
  • Avery is playing Vivienne, a strong-willed vampire with a tragic past who regrets what she's become. That doesn't stop her from being drawn to...
  • James Calvert, played by Lindsay, a  charming, hedonistic rich boy with a pretty inhuman sense of fun.
  • Chris is playing Little. Little is a cruel, vindictive, and extremely territorial vampire with a dark past.
  • Melissa, finally, is playing Brain, Embraced as an adolescent, blessed with the kind of curiosity that kills cats (and other predators).
White Wolf aficionados will notice there are no clans. Decided not to use 'em. I love them personally, especially after reading the clan books, but I didn't want to have to explain them to the point where people grokked them. Broke out the weaknesses and made everyone pick one, broke out the signature disciplines and restricted them to one-per-character. Seemed to work ok.

In trying to figure out the actual game thing, though, I had a lot of trouble - because the characters had nothing to do with each other, for which I blame myself and a lack of guidance on this point during character creation. Some, like Little, had reasons to actively avoid the others. I asked Chris what Little's relationship with the other characters was like, and his answer was something like, "Well, I guess she would attack them if they came into her territory." A mite problematic for a cohesive play experience. I presented the players with the idea that, in their city, a "coterie" is an organizational tool of the Prince (who goes by "the Duchess" in my city). The Duchess assigns you a coterie, and then you become the problem of your coterie-mates (more about how this works below), to provide a reason why they had to occasionally work together despite their diverse temperaments and background.  

Still, even with that device, I wanted the players to have a sense of history and team like they had almost immediately in Lady Blackbird thanks to that games brilliant use of interlocking keys. So, our whole first session - a Prelude if you will - was devoted to scenes from the character's past associations. They were assigned as a coterie long ago, and since then couldn't avoid dealing with each other to some extent.

For example, the last scene, and perhaps most successful in creating a sense of bond, was about Beckett and Vivienne being tasked with making Little show up at an Elysium, to demonstrate that she was still a member of the community. Little hates going to Elysium and Chris told me that Little would fight literally tooth-and-nail to avoid it. This is how coterie works as an organization tool for the Duchess: Little doesn't care about making nice, but Vivienne and Beckett sort of do. So the Duchess makes her orders for Little Viv and Beckett's problem, and her people don't need to run around after some crazy vampire on the edge of town, they can just go after Viv and Beckett if need be.

Anyway, we'd established that Viv really like Cal by this point, so she called Cal to go with them. They showed up on the edge of Little's territory, and Little came to watch them - not so they could all hang out, just because they were vampires entering her territory. Brain, through his network of spies and informers, heard that all his coterie-mates were moving. That began as a little joke by Melissa about being the only one out of the scene, but I loved it and took the part of one of her retainers describing everything the other characters were doing to her over the phone.

Meanwhile, the others tried to bribe Little into coming to Elysium. She asked them to provide her with a blood vessel, and they all started  hatching plans for getting it. At this point Brain phoned one of them and demanded in on the scheming, when Little broke in and said that the vessel wasn't important - she just wanted to see if they'd go through the trouble for her. Bang, end of session. Closest thing to a group hug I think those characters are capable of. And I mean that in the best sense.

The other scenes were successful to varying degrees. I learned a valuable lesson from a confusing scene in which I didn't provide enough context in my scene-setting; the scene wasn't a complete failure thanks to the players' good faith efforts, but from then on I made sure to be clearer about where the characters were and why. An opening combat scene featuring the three most physical characters - Little, Beckett and Cal - against a strange monster (hint it was a Promethean!) did a good job of flexing some of the rules systems, including frenzy when the intrepid vampires employed fire. Perhaps the most aesthetically satisfying scene was a bit with Viv and Cal trapped in a house with some humans planning to murder all of their dinner guests. Little made an unscheduled appearance, and it all ended with horrible murder - of the would be murderers, as it happened.

The session was definitely a success in that some good role-playing happened, the characters came alive, and I achieved my objective of solidifying the bonds among the coterie-mates. However, it was rough in a lot of ways, by which I mean there were a lot of great takeaway lessons. Give everyone a chance to participate (I think people's energy dropped a lot in the time that they weren't in a given scene), be specific and concrete in your scene setting, and - an important one from Lady Blackbird - DON'T PLAN. All the best stuff that happened was as a result of stuff I made up on the spot, not stuff I worked out beforehand.

Hopefully I'll be able to apply that tomorrow. Here's a little preview image:

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