In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation as to why it is considered so important. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot. The most common type of MacGuffin is an object, place or person. However, a MacGuffin can sometimes take a more abstract form, such as money, victory, glory, survival, power, love, or even something that is entirely unexplained, as long as it strongly motivates key characters within the structure of the plot.
McGuffins are useful in RPGs; it helps sometimes to have a physical (okay, virtual physical) representation of a goal for the players to focus on. It can be an item they already have but are trying to identify; it can be an item they are trying to protect; or it can be one they are trying to locate or obtain (legally or otherwise).
Usually it is not the end goal—merely a step along the way—but it does help to have something distinct and concrete to get a story moving. It doesn’t even have to be an object; it can also be information or another non-physical but important goal of some kind.
Our favorite McGuffin has usually been: Noddist relics. Or anything that even hints that it might be a historical artifact that specifically refers to or contains some element of evidence regarding the murky, mythical past of the Kindred themselves, especially if it dates back before recorded history (or at least, back before the Current Era, when years were recorded in negative numbers*…).
The ancient origins of the Kindred clans are lost to history—theirs is primarily an oral tradition, one that has been considerably influenced by elder politics over the years, so that its accuracy is highly suspect. History, as the saying goes, is written by the winners—and in the case of Kindred, the actual written histories are very rare to begin with. So what most Kindred—both in the Camarilla and the Sabbat—have learned as “history” (assuming they learn much of it at all) is heavily influenced by the beliefs and motivations of whoever is telling the story. Often the history they learn is little more than stories told around a bonfire, or recited by a Sabbat priest, or whispered over drinks at a Camarilla salon. And like all stories, those possibly could contain some kernel of truth—but also may be utterly, totally wrong. And there is no easy way to prove their veracity one way or the other.
Either a young vampire believes what her elders tell her… or she doesn’t. Of course, the elders wouldn’t lie, would they? Not about something so important as the origin of Kindred, the legendary ancestors of the clans, the evolution of Kindred as a species… or apocalyptic prophecies. Right?
Yeah, right. Exactly. That’s why real historical relics are so incredibly valuable—from letters a few decades old, that indicate your sire’s Final Death did not happen exactly as the Prince always claimed—to ancient stone carvings, revealing the presence of vampires living openly in the city of Rome—to cryptic verses written in Greek on centuries old parchment, with commentary by certain infamous elders scribbled in the margins—to mysterious Phoenician temple scripts painted on alabaster and only visible by those who have tasted Kindred blood.
They’re also incredibly rare, and not just because vampires don’t leave relics behind, or don’t believe in writing things down (Masquerade or no Masquerade). Of course, not all historical artifacts survive. Vampires generally don’t leave corpses (or even skeletons) behind, and almost always meet their Final Death by violence—and often their possessions are either scattered or destroyed after their passing. The Inquisition and other hunters were as apt to destroy a vampire’s library as the vampire himself, believing all of it cursed and demonic in nature.
The other risk to historical relics is that both the Camarilla and the Sabbat contain powerful factions who see knowledge of and belief in the mythical past to be a threat to their political power. The Tal’mahe’Rah (otherwise known as the “True” Black Hand) wants to keep their very existence (much less the degree of influence they have—or had—over both Sabbat and Camarilla elders) a secret. Different groups of Noddist scholars within the Sabbat, Camarilla and non-aligned clan academic circles may seek to take ‘dangerous’ knowledge out of circulation, either from academic rivalries or just out of petty spite. And Hardestadt’s agents, particularly Jan Pieterzoon, often go well out of their way to obtain and hide or even destroy any artifacts that might hint that the Noddist prophecies, the Antedeluvians, or Gehenna itself might be something more than a hoary old myth, suitable only for Halloween storytelling.
So any hint of real Kindred-related artifacts dating back to the Roman Empire or older is quick to catch the attention of some of our scholarly types, and following such a trail is one of the easiest ways to get an academically inclined stay-at-home elder out of his haven, way out of his comfort zone, and out on the road to serious trouble.
* Yes, that’s a joke. Gabriel assures me he KNEW it was a joke when he said it.