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…