Vampire (the RPG) players, please review my game idea & give advice

After two years of playing Vampire: The Masquerade (in addition to other White Wolf RPGs) with my group of friends, I’m finally ready to take the plunge and become Storyteller for the first time. I used to be frequent Gamemaster for a Star Trek group years ago, so I know how to run an RPG. The odd thing about Storytellers, though, is that they need a story to tell. After racking my brain for the past week and coming up with absolutely nothing worthwhile, I decided to take a break. So, I sit down at the computer, boldly continuing my ongoing endeavor to enter every Magic card I own into an Access-based database, when I come upon the card Wall of Shadows. As my mind is still in a rather vampiric mood, this gets me thinking about clan Lasombra. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a story springs to life.

Of course, “life” is a subjective term. I currently have a premise and a really cool NPC protagonist-slash-MacGuffin. What I’d like you, the Doper Gaming Division, to do for me, is review this idea, tell me whether you think it’ll work in the context of an RPG, and give suggestions as to how I can fill my rather substantial lack of story beyond the premise. So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve got. (I apologize pre-emptively for the fact that this is long as hell, but after all, I wrote it, so that was kinda inevitable.)

Deep in the heart of New York City, two ancient and respected Ventrue elders are more nervous than they’ve ever been over what they’ve just done. One week prior, they had received a most shocking letter. It was written in the phonetic equivalent of a prehistoric language that had passed no mortal tongue in millennia – indeed, even among the Kindred, very few could hope to recognize it – and was sealed with the mark of clan Lasombra. The message it contained was simple, yet nearly impossible to believe: its writer wished to defect from the Sabbat into the ranks of the Camarilla.

The Sabbat, he had written, had become but a shadow of what the glorious entity they were at the time of his Embrace. Over the span of his existence, the Kindred of the Sabbat – most notably his beloved clan Lasombra – were relenting more and more to the terrifying, chaotic inner Beast that dwells within each Creature of the Blood. A true Lasombra revels in the glory of his own being; he celebrates his vampiric nature and embraces what, and who, he truly is. What he does NOT do – what the elder had watched so, so terribly many of his kind fall prey to in recent centuries – is relent to that nature; give himself over entirely to the Beast and relinquish control of his mind and actions. One cannot define oneself by that which is not under one’s control. As such, the elder wrote, the current trend of the Lasombra was a dangerous one indeed; it put at delicate risk the very essence of what it is to be among the Kindred. Desperately seeking a solution to this dilemma, the elder had concluded that the key lay in a dramatic change of mindset. Whereas in the past, he had viewed the Masquerade as a foolish endeavor, undertaken only by those too afraid of themselves to acknowledge what they truly were, he has now come to view it in a different light. You see, he wrote, there are in fact three levels of vampiric existence: the weakling remnants of the Kine, which must be defeated; the glorious damnèd soul of the Kindred, which must be celebrated; and the horrifying and repulsive, yet omnipresent Beast, which must be controlled. I have determined that control of the Beast is best maintained when the Kindred in question maintains a constant awareness of his state of being…something which, loathe though I am to admit it, my own kind tend to lose track of amongst their daily machinations. And what, honestly, he had continued, was the Masquerade, if not an agreement to constant vigilance of awareness of one’s own identity? The purpose was flawed, granted; one should not attempt to disguise oneself from others, but just the same, it encouraged the mindset necessary for proper control over one’s everyday actions. To that end, he had decided to secretly abandon the ranks of the Sabbat and seek temporary refuge with the Camarilla, that he might learn the ways of a follower of the Masquerade, and perhaps teach a thing or two in return about the finer points of the philosophy of the Lasombra. To the Ventrue elders, the meaning of this last part was clear: he was willing to divulge a few of the secrets of the Sabbat. He did not mention why he had contacted the two personally, but in their minds, that part was obvious; when desiring dealings with the whole of the Camarilla, who else would one choose to contact but the eldest and most wise of its natural and rightful leading clan?

It sounded too good to be true…and, being Ventrue, and not having been Embraced yesterday, they quickly concluded that it probably was. Still, the opportunity was just too delicious to dismiss out of hand. After much deliberation, they responded with a tentative affirmative, but requested some credible assurance that the offer was genuine. The answer came back: During daylight hours, send a ghoul to the address below. When he reports what he has seen and gives you what he has found, you will have your assurance. The ghoul was sent, and the following night, he returned with a scrap of paper and this report: “The place where you sent me is a studio apartment. This note was on the door, but I couldn’t read it – it’s in some bizarre language I’ve never seen – and there were curtains on the window, so I went in. The room was empty except for three expensive-looking caskets and a small refrigerator full of blood. I peeked into the caskets, and there was a vampire…at least, I think they were vampires…in each one. Nothing weird about 'em. That was it, so I left.” At this, the elders fed on him, sent him on his way, and turned their attention to the note. It read: The Kindred in this room are three trusted among my clan. Each holds a position of some honor and respect in Sabbat society. On my orders, they entered this room, and they shall remain here until I personally instruct them otherwise. They know not precisely where they are, nor have they any inkling of why they are there. For the moment, they are yours; though I would not recommend disturbing them. Just leave them be, and consider them a gesture of good faith on my part. And so they had. The message was sent: the Ventrue were willing to negotiate.

The Lasombra’s next message details exactly what he wants. The Camarilla are to select three or four trusted Kindred [NOTE: these will be the players], to be taken into his care for a period (“Do not worry about accommodations; I shall be securing my own.”), so that he may begin the desired exchange of knowledge (“I shall not be dealing with you two personally; were I to do so, you would set up an ambush, capture me, torture me into revealing my secrets, and dispose of me entirely without another thought. I have no illusions about this and you need not deny it.”), in hopes of gaining that which may be used to save his people from themselves. Nobody, including the selected representatives, is to know of this agreement without his authorization. All must be on his terms, and his alone.

The deal is set. The arrangements are underway. The first recorded alliance of elders of the Sabbat and Camarilla is about to begin.

But, somewhere nearby, somebody else has different ideas…

So there’s my premise. I don’t know who “somebody” is, or what different ideas he has, but the setup sure is cool, no? The identity of “somebody” isn’t going to be determined until after the guys have chosen which characters they’ll be using (I know we have at least one Ventrue confidant, so the “representative” angle is taken care of)…all that’s going to happen for the time being is that the characters will receive their briefings from the elders (which won’t include anything about who exactly their new leader is), and the Lasombra will take them into his hideout in the woods, where they’ll conveniently, I mean unluckily, meet up with a werewolf. Just as they’re about to haul ass at full reverse, everything suddenly goes pitch black. The ones with supernaturally enhanced senses will roll perception. If they succeed, I will pass them notes detailing what they can see occurring, and describe to the rest what they hear: the sounds of an intense battle between Lupine and Kindred…which, they’ll notice, is lasting a whole hell of a lot longer than such a battle ever ought to. (During this event, they’re welcome to try to take actions, but oddly enough, they’ll find themselves running into lot of trees.) When the blackness retreats, they’ll see their new friend, looking none the worse for wear aside from some heavily-ripped clothing, standing next to the corpse of a freshly-killed werewolf. Properly awestruck, they’ll follow the Lasombra into his cave-haven, and the story will begin. From there, I have no idea. I’m thinking with having the elder disappear early on, for reasons unknown to the characters. This will serve both to create a mystery to be solved, and to avoid having a permanent deus ex machina around for purposes of combat and necessary occult knowledge. But…what happened to him? What possibly could have happened to him? Any ideas? Oh, and one disclaimer: if you were going to mention something about the heavy-handedness of the setup, our entire group is fond of pretentious psycho-philosophical crap. It’s a key component of most of our games.

Also, I do know who the Lasombra elder is, because I made him up. And his backstory, if I do say so myself, is very cool indeed. I was going to include it here, but this post is plenty long as-is; if anyone’s interested, I’ll be glad to serve it up later. For now, suffice it to say that, whether you play Vampire or not, the odds are excellent that you’ve heard of this elder’s sire. You may even have seen him, face-to-face. And, as you looked upon him, you may have wondered just how, exactly, the thing you were looking at could possibly be as old as it’s supposed to be. Or perhaps, as you stared at the undead one, you thought he was a fake; a mere replica of the original, created by hands of man. Whatever you thought of him, you definitely didn’t take him for the creature he once was…and could become again, if that glass weren’t in the way, and you would just…get…a little…bit…closer…

I put this in Café Society. Really. I did. Vampires moved it. A high-level Lasombra used Shadow Body to enter fiber-optic cables, get into the heart of the Internet, mess around with the packets that composed my thread, and send it to MPSIMS.

Just to piss me off.

Man, where are the Lupines when you need them?

Alternatively, a mod would do just fine…

Ahem. You mean a low generation Ravnos made you think that you were posting to CS.

Strangely enough, New Jersey.

Now, anyways, a few issues. First off, the major premise of your backstory has some holes in it. Primarily, the Keepers do not, by and large, give in to the beast. The Sabbat encourages the Paths as opposed to attempting to follow Humanity, and many choose the Path of Night.

If it’s in NYC then you’d have to situate it in time. If it’s before the siege of Atlanta then NYC is pretty much Sabbat turf. If it’s afterwards, you’ll need to explain how they keep this meeting secret from the Nosferatu Prince. There’d also be the matter of the Tremere, and Tzimisce Itself, but that might be buried under several layers of Jihad. In addition, you’d need to find a place for these two Blue Blood elders. Is one of them a Primogen? If not, who are they? If they’re that ancient and respected, why wasn’t one of them chosen over Victoria Ash to serve as Prince?

I have trouble believing that an elder Keeper wouldn’t have a bunch of prestation debts built up, in and out of the Sabbat. Most likely, he’d use those contacts, and/or contact a justicar/archon or a Prince. Barring that, he’d most likely choose the former Prince of DC’s route. Why announce that you’re Lasombra when you can trick the Cam? . I don’t believe he’d have gotten to be an elder by caring about such things as sides and ideals.

I find it somewhat squirly that out of three vampires, not one woke up when the ghoul entered, even though it was daylight.

Also, encountering a single Lupine seems unlikely. They hunt in packs, after all. And an elder/methusela Lasombra would reek of Wyrm taint for quite some distance. I don’t quite grok who you’re suggesting his sire is, but if he was fourth or fifth generation then I couldn’t see him involving himself directly in any moves of the Jihad. They have childer and pawns for that sort of thing.

All in all I’d like to hear more, but it does taste a bit funny. Maybe flesh out some ideas and we’ll see where to go with 'em?

Another thought… it seems like you’re trying to involve your PC’s coterie with a massively powerful ancient. My advice… don’t. Unless you’re playing a low generation campaign already, your PC’s will just be along for the ride. And while it may be fun for you as a GM, the whole “you keep running into trees thing” seems like it could become the motif of the whole story arc.

“The super powerful vampire simply overwhelms all of you. Deus ex machina. You lose. Oh, and there are a bunch of lupines coming at you, too.”

I’d be very wary about using any elders with a generation below seventh, sixth at the absolute lowest…

Also, two elder Ventrue would probably double cross each other first, so even if you stick with that story line you should probably have the tale be packed with double crosses as they try to gain an advantage over the other. I just can’t see two elder Ventrue not blood bound to each other acting all nice-nice.

But yeah, about this story, give! More more. Not enough information to make an informed decision. And, remember, we’re not going to be playing it, so spoil the plot twists for us. Hinting at the identity of your Lasombra character does me no good if you want help on building the story. Unless you want me to hint at ways you could improve the story :smiley:

By and large, you are correct. But in Russia, on the edge of Siberia, where a smallish, essentially isolationist clan of surprisingly old Lasombra dwell, this has been changing in recent years. Go with it. None of us follow the set guidelines for which clans are where, when, and with whom. We define cities as Clan strongholds and geographical areas as under Sect influece as needed for the story. Masters of continuity, we ain’t, and we prefer it that way. Probably should’ve mentioned that initially.

Regarding NYC, see above. The Tremere will be involved. The Tzimisce will insert themselves in one way or another; in fact, that’s one of the directions I was thinking of going with the Lasombra’s disappearance. Depends on which other clans join our little adventure.

Yes, one of them is in fact a Primogen. The other is his childe. Neither of them wants to be Prince; too much conflict in NYC to ensure safety. They’re content with pulling strings from behind the “throne”, as the rest of the Kindred have been led to believe they hate each other’s guts. I’ll develop that if needed; depends where the players go. As to Victoria Ash, she ain’t around. See above.

He got to be an elder because not a hell of a lot is going to kill you when you live in a remote location on the outskirts of Siberia. His first real interaction with Kindred of other clans came during the Russian Revolution. I might as well give you the basics of his backstory (yes, this probably clashes mightily with established White Wolf lore, and no, I don’t care).

The elder’s name is Alexei Lenin. He took the name of Lenin as a tribute to Vladimir, a fellow Lasombra whose idea the Revolution actually was. Czar Nicholas, you see, was a Kindred of clan Ventrue, and a particularly head-up-the-ass sort. Prior to Nicholas’ time, this particular group of Lasombra had been content to live in its hardline isolationist ways, followinging the Paths as they so chose and dealing with mortals only as necessary for feeding. When a Ventrue took the throne, however, whispers begun of a planned government-sanctioned incursion into Lasombra territory, on the pretense of searching for minerals. Amidst uncertainty of what exactly to do – after all, old as a few of them were, they still hadn’t dealt with this stuff in a while – Lenin, who’d spent some time amongst the mortals before joining up with Alexei’s band, stepped up with a plan: hit them before they hit you. Fuck the imperialist pigs, and all that. Alexei didn’t have too much faith, so he appointed an oddball Obtenebration sorceror named Rasputin to follow Lenin, and set him off to do as he pleased. Lenin managed to accrue a decent following amongst the Kindred (and the mortals, too, though that was hardly on his list of priorities), and together, they overthrew Nicholas and set the Final Death upon him. In honor and gratitude, Alexei took the name of Lenin (actually, it just seemed to make the guy happy so that Alexei didn’t have to reward him with anything else, and Alexei didn’t really give a damn about his mortal name anyhow), and retains it to this day.

But the contact, limited though it was, that Alexei’s group had had with the other clans and the Kine had planted the seeds of new, less revelatory and more hedonistic ideas within the younger members…a problem compounded by the fact that Alexei had shortsightedly given many the permission to sire a childe during the chaos of the revolution, fearing that an increase in numbers would be necessary if the Camarilla won the war. These new childer brought with them all the “issues” that plagued modern times, and those ideas began to spread throughout the group. By the end of the century, the group that Alexei had led for untold years had started degenerate into something abhorrent to him. He watched as more and more of his Kindred gave in to the monsters inside themselves, and, after years of pondering, was finally forced to admit that that was a problem the Camarilla just didn’t seem to have [keep in mind his level of experience with them]. He knows that the Ventrue are the “ruling class” of the Camarilla, and he sends a letter out to the Ventrue Primogen. [Okay, so I shouldn’t have him know that he’s actually in contact with two people. I’ll fix that.] From there on, our story unfolds.

Now, that’s not to say that these isolationist Lasombra were “nice”. They were just weird. The founder of the group had his own ideas about what the Sabbat were actually supposed to be doing, and that’s reflected in Alexei’s rather odd (for a Keeper) way of thinking. But, he hasn’t had anyone to tell him he’s wrong in, oh, seven hundred years, so he’s rather accustomed to thinking he’s right. He may in fact be in for a rude awakening. We’ll have to see where it goes.

Yeah, I know. What would be a better way to do that? Basically I need the Ventrue to be able to confirm that the three vampires are there without actually interacting with them, because then they’d all try to kill each other, and that would just be nasty. Maybe I can fudge it and say we used a particularly stealthy ghoul.

Regarding the single Lupine: dramatic license. Deal. I wanted a good, exciting start to the story, that doubles as a sign to the characters that this guy is Not To Be Messed With. As to the direct self-involvement, as I said, we’re dealing with an odd bunch of Keepers here, and besides, he has no Earthly notion who he can trust anymore. In fact, he may be being betrayed by one of his own even as he makes his travel arrangements.

So, how does that grab ya? I know the disregard for established story will leave a bad taste in experienced players’ mouths, but just try to accept it as-is. The other players will, I assure you; and Alexei will see to it that they know they’re not dealing with your average Sabbat. What I’m looking for here is not accuracy within the universe per se, but more “what elements of this universe can I use to make my story coherent, cool, and fun”.

On preview:

Which is why he’s gonna go bye-bye right after the characters learn what he’s trying to do.

The characters won’t interact with the Ventrue elders at all, except in the very beginning, and they and Alexei are the only elder characters I’m including. Don’t worry about cheap character deaths; the unwritten rule among our group is that if you don’t do anything overly stupid (“I walk into the Pentex office and start firing automatic weapons at random objects”), you won’t be killed. We’ve had to pull a couple pretty dramatic escapes for people who kept botching rolls in fights they had no business losing, but more’s the fun.

Oh, these two have at least a three-layered deception going on. They’ve each fooled the other into thinking the other likes him, after which they fooled the rest of the Primogen into thinking they hate each other with a passion. I rather hope the characters take an interest in them, because I want to play with 'em, but I rather doubt they will. Oh well, file away for next game.

Whaddaya think? And hey, thanks for your input!

Oh, some Quik Fax:

Alexei is 6th Generation (and rather powerful, yes; he started paying a LOT more attention to Obtenebration after seeing what Rasputin could do).

The Ventrue elders are 6th and 7th respectively (the 6th Gen. is the Primogen, obviously). They don’t fight much, but you don’t get to be as old as the Primogen is without learning some useful skills. The combined party (not including Alexei, obviously) could possibly take the younger of the two if they really really wanted to, but I don’t see why they’d do that, and they’d be killed in short order anyhow.

I don’t know about the player characters yet, save for one 9th Gen. Ventrue trustee. Interpret the term “Ventrue trustee” as you will…essentially, the elders are adequately convinced he won’t flip to the Sabbat at a moment’s notice. Beyond that, well, they have ways of making him talk when he comes back.

I also have plans for the three hostages, who are 9th, 12th and 13th Gen. Lasombra, even loyal ones, do not enjoy being told to sit in a room and wait until further notice. If and when they find out what their boss is up to, there’s gonna be a party in NYC…

Oh, crap. Triple post power!

I should clear something up. The blurb at the end of the OP about Alexei’s sire came from a rough draft of the story (I’ve written three) in which Vladimir Lenin was actually an elder Vampire and Alexei’s sire. That didn’t make any historical sense, so I scrapped it, but I noticed it again when I was looking at my notes to type up the OP. I guess my brain malfunctioned and thought I was still using it, so I threw that teaser paragraph in there at the end. Ignore it.

This is why we don’t post to the SDMB after having been awake for 51 hours. Our mind’s pathways intertangle in strange and frightening ways…

Off to Cafe Society, you crazy kids.

One update, not that anybody’s reading this anymore: upon further reading of the book, I have discovered the pseudo-Sect known as the Inconnu. I didn’t know they existed, because this is my first time as Storyteller and (for obvious reasons) our previous games never mentioned them. Nevertheless, the concept is pretty much perfect to describe what Alexei is. He’s the leader of a group of Inconnu that were originally founded by the progenitor of the Lasombra. The sire of Alexei’s sire, however, disagreed with the Antediluvian’s ideas, and took his childer and settled in the outskirts of Siberia, just close enough to humanity that they could find sustenance, but far enough to be largely left alone. It was there that Alexei was taken to undergo his Embrace.

This explains why he follows the Disciplines of the Lasombra and believes himself to be among them, despite having an extremely queer interpretation of what exactly they, and the Sabbat in general, are supposed to be doing. He thinks he’s Lasombra, and he’s of their bloodline, but the rest of the world would consider him Inconnu. The Ventrue elders in question, though, don’t know the difference; they have no idea where Alexei comes from, and he has given sufficient evidence in their eyes that he is an elder amongst the Lasombra. So there you go. More revisions. Wheeeee!

(Finn? You still out there? 'Cause I’m pretty sure no one else cares…)

I’m interested, and reading this, it’s just that I’m not up on all the World of Darkness status quo. So I can’t be of much help in that regard.

I’m here, but I have to run to class. I’ll try to post some later in the day.