Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vampire session!

We played our second session – first “mainstage” session – of Vampire: the Requiem last night. On the whole it was definitely a big success, and everybody had a lot of fun. I still think I made some mistakes that I can improve upon, but the overall objective of having a good night with my friends was met.

Long long accounting of what went down below. My big notes for myself are to remember to use the atrocity rules to full effect - I was good about polling the group for if they thought new atrocity dice were warranted, but I don't think I ever asked anyone to throw in atrocity dice in place of their regular dice pool. Also, most of the combat that took place was not important enough to merit a full blow-by-blow, so I think I'll read up on the simplified combat rules in Danse Macabre for a more "indy feel.".

A quick note about Danse Macabre: it's probably my favorite "crunchy" Vampire supplement ever. I love the clanbooks as an experience, but Danse Macabre has done the most to change the way I approach Vampire. The idea of tiers inspired my current game in certain ways; even though the players are at the "default" antediluvian tier, the tiers section of Danse unpacked some of the basic concepts of Vampire for me in a very useful way. I also love the atrocity system as a replacement for humanity and the hierarchy of sins, and the simplified combat rules saved my bacon when one ultimately unimportant scuffle threatened to drag out indefinitely with most of the players just looking on.

Danse Macabre is nominated for an Enny at the moment; I think I may just navigate right over and vote for it, in fact.

Long actual play follows:

Play started with most of the Coterie going to track down Little in her territory to get her help doing a job for the Sheriff. The Sheriff had pulled the unusual move – allowed by precedent in the Duchess' domain, but highly unusual – of calling the Coterie together and conscripting them, effectively, to do a job for the Duchess. Great rewards promised, great punishment threatened, etc. The party went to look for Little in one of her hunting grounds, a dangerous, bottom-of-the-barrel club deep in her territory. Little, as it happened, was there, hunting for the vampires that had been crossing her territory for the last few nights.

Vivienne Dominated them all past the bouncer, and they all spied Little in short order – and the vampire she was stalking, a glamorous blonde woman in expensive clothes who stuck out like a sore thumb in the rough club. Cal brashly moved up and started talking to her; she danced with him, refused to give her name, and refused to leave despite Cal's warnings. Actually, she seemed to be looking for trouble, in the form of Little specifically.

Blonde: Are you the vampire who kills people?
Cal: Well, I do kill people...
Blonde: Ok, but are you the vampire who kills vampires?
Little: (appearing behind her) No. But I am.

Even though she'd been looking for trouble, once she found herself surrounded by five Kindred (and dealing with Little's creepy stare) the mystery blonde decided to bounce. Cal went after her, though. Meanwhile, Little started looking for the other vampire he'd seen in the club. The others helped her, except for Brain, who went for the Big Buck Hunter game in the corner.

It was Beckett who found the other vampire, draining a girl in the dark hallway near the bathrooms in the rear of the club. He seperated the Kindred – a man wearing lots of well-traveled leather – from his prey and told him to leave, but the guy just came at him. Little arrived on the scene, however, and proceeded to kick the guy's ass to holy hell, cutting him half to pieces with her knife.

Meanwhile, Cal caught up with the blonde outside the club and she stayed to talk to him a bit.

Cal: How much did you drink? Oh, right, none.

She admitted she'd been looking for a fight, and when he said he liked dangerous fun too, she took it as an invitation and took a swing at him.

This was a slightly difficult moment in the session because I began to play out both fights turn by turn, but the stakes weren't really high enough to go into that kind of detail – plus Beckett, Vivienne and Brain chose to leave thrashing the leather-clad vampire to Little, this being her territory, and there was nothing for them to do (although Vivienne kept anybody from intervening by shouting “Drug overdose!” at any incoming mortals). Eventually I just had Little make one roll to abstract out her ability to take the intruder apart, as she clearly had the upper hand in the fight. Her objective was to disable him so she could question him later, which she succeeded at handily. I wish I'd brushed up on the quick combat rules in Danse Macabre before the session so I could have been a little more scientific about how I did it, though.

Meanwhile Cal's fight wrapped up pretty quickly. Cal's opponent managed to get him in a grapple and was going to give him the Kiss, but he turned on his Majesty and said he'd love to play more later but now he had to go, and I decided she was impressed enough that she wanted to take him up on his offer. There was a cool bit here where he stuck a gun in her face and said something kind of hot, and I was like, “circumstance bonus!” Through out the encounter though, she refused to give her name, always responding to his question with, “I can't remember,” or “I don't much care.”

Brain: So you got punched, didn't get any, and didn't get any info? HA!”

Little went to stash his staked prisoner. As he left through the backdoor of the club, though, everybody saw something strange. A black bird flew out of Little's victim and up into the sky. Little reacted instinctively and stabbed at it, but the blade passed directly through the bird.

Brain started thinking about the vampires they'd seen, and managed to figure out who they were. The woman was Elaine, a rather undistinguished member of the Invictus. Little's prisoner was Sam, an outsider with ties to the Commonwealth Movement (my name for the Carthians, borrowed from Danse Macabre... the term “Carthian” always seemed needlessly opaque to me). He realized that they had no reason to associate, and indeed there was no reason to think they knew each other.

Little stashed her prisoner and the party piled in to Cal's (sweet) car. During the ride over, Brain called one of her research assistants, Ivy, and had her begin looking into Sam and Elaine. Ivy called back shortly after with some news: Elaine and Sam had both recently cut ties with their convenants after erratic, disruptive behavior and gone missing. The car's other passengers noticed a strange preponderance of strange birds – owls all over the city's tree branches and rooftops, making the occasional swoop to catch an unsuspecting pigeon or rat.

Following the Sheriff's directions for the Antiquarian's estate led the party out into the country and down a private road to what proved to be a huge, secluded mansion on a gated estate. The Coterie explained that they were there to take the Antiquarian to “his appointment in the city,” and that was enough to get them let in.

The players were ushered into the richly-appointed mansion, and made some cool uses of their skills to ask questions about the house: Viv's player asked about the art, Little's player asked about security, etc.

The Antiquarian kept the coterie waiting for some time in a library. Beckett made a serious perusal of the books while Brain, impressed in general with the  Antiquarian's setup, just made a pile of what he thought were the coolest books. After making the coterie wait for a while, the Antiquarian made his entrance with an odd guest, a mortal who he introduced only as “Rupert.” Brain and Little, both with enhanced senses, noticed he smelled bad, like rot. He sat in on the meeting and was obviously hostile to the coterie and the request they made of Rupert.

The Antiquarian – Stephen, he said they could call him - heard the party out. At first, Cal did most of the talking. However, the Antiquarian refused to leave the compound with them. He agreed to meet the Duchess only alone, at a neutral site of his choosing – an abandoned building just outside the city – with the coterie, as a nominally neutral party, arriving before either elder to make sure the site was secure. Cal got frustrated that his usual charm and bluster wasn't having any effect and walked out with Beckett, to go get the car; Rupert went with them to “see them out.”
Vivienne continued the conversation in a more civil tone, asking the Antiquarian questions about his history and background. She learned he'd once come from France, like her, and had left to escape enemies among the Kindred there, but he declined to say more than that. She also asked about Rupert, and learned that he was a very old friend. Brain tried to question him about his methods, clearly admiring his setup, and was dismayed to learn that he didn't use research assistants.

Meanwhile Beckett, Cal and Rupert got into a talk outside while they waited for the others to arrive. Cal made an effort to make nice with the strange man, smoking with him, and eventually the three, all travelers, fell to telling stories about their adventures. Rupert told one odd story about a trip to London that caught both Beckett and Cal's attention – they realized after he was done that it was about him, but at the same time it seemed to be about a woman.

Reunited as Vivienne, Little and Brain finally took their leave of the Antiquarian – Brain after leaving his card – the party compared notes and decided on a few things they felt they knew for sure. Rupert, they decided, was some kind of zombie, a dead man inhabited by something else. The black birds were something similar, body snatchers, but afflicting Kindred.

Unfortunately, the coterie had somehow wound up in the middle of all this. They felt sure the meet tomorrow night was a trap, and felt pretty sure that one side or the other would throw them under the bus the second things went south. On the other hand, they didn't see any alternative to the meet.

Brain: We gotta play saps. Because we are saps.

To learn as much as they could and to maximize their odds of survival, they saw a number of things that needed doing, and split them up as follows:

A) Brain hit the books, calling on his retainer Zach to dig into the lore surrounding birds and vampires, and into anything that could steal or use a body. He vaguely recalled something like that from Roman mythology...

B) Beckett checked out the meeting site. It looked clear; a long-abandoned roadside diner, barely structually sound. He found some good sites to check on the morrow to make sure there was no ambush: the decrepit upstairs, the nearby cornfield.

C)Little went back and interrogated her prisoner from earlier. Sam realized who she was and protested he'd never done anything to her, never intruded on her territory. Little eventually bought that he really believed what he was saying; reading his aura, she saw he was more confused and afraid than anything else. She left him conscious but still bound.

Little: How did you get fucked up?
Sam: Was it... you?

D) Vivienne went back and reported their progress to the Sheriff. She decided to let slip some of what the coterie had learned, mentioning that Rupert seemed to be some kind of body switcher. This revelation prompted the Sheriff to tip his hand a little as well: he knew about the body switchers and had been hoping that the Antiquarian would have useful information about them, but Rupert's presence suggested they might be somehow in league. The Sheriff told Vivienne he would meet the Antiquarian in the Duchess' place, and told her that her coterie should still show up and make everything work. Vivienne bristled under his orders but didn't refuse them

Vivienne: I'm a messenger, not a mercenary.
E) Cal kept his date with Elaine. In the end, she found him, approaching him outside of his estate. She drew a gun on him and engaged him in a gunfight that was one part combat, one part foreplay.

We closed on two notes, the results of Brain's research and the end of Cal's encounter with Elaine. Brain read up on a very old vampire legend: the Julii were powerful vampires who ruled ancient Rome. They had been undone by mysterious beings known as the Strix, spirits who seemed, in the vague language of Brain's sources, to roughly fit the description “dark birds who possess vampires.” The Julii had been completely destroyed, and the Strix had disappeared, but according to legend, seven Strix were left behind to safeguard their interests. These seven spirits had eventually given rise to the symbol VII, a symbol of violence and destruction in vampire society.

After some fighting with Elaine and a lot of damage to his house, Cal found himself around the corner from her, armed now with a shotgun. She asked him “Do you like me?” He replied that she was pretty interesting. “Good. I like to make an impression.” She ran by him and leapt out the window. Cal went to look, but the sun was rising and the light was grey. As he watched, she looked up at him, and a black bird flew out of her and into the ground. Moments later, the light grew just bright enough, and she burst into flames, a look of horror on her face.

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