Houston, Texas – June 19th, 2004
As a Kindred diplomat and negotiator of many years’ standing, Etienne de Vaillant had more than a passing familiarity with the biased nature of vampire politics in general and Toreador clan snobbishness in particular. He had made three attempts—two of them before Dr. Hewitt and his fascinating artifact had even arrived—to contact Ms. Laeticia Robicheaux, the childe of his late friend and client Colonel Beauregard Litton. But to her secretary’s deepest and sincerest-sounding chagrin, Miss Robicheaux was always regretfully unavailable for any appointment whatsoever with Mr. Copperfield of Tremere. She was out, or taking another call, or simply ‘not receiving this week.’
One might think that for Dr. Hewitt of Ventrue she’d be terribly busy washing her hair or something, but no—one call and he was on her schedule. Never mind that Stephen Copperfield of Tremere had been one of Colonel Beau Litton’s oldest business associates, and Hewitt was a merely a visiting Kindred professor from the other side of the country she’d likely never even heard of before.
But Hewitt was Ventrue, a member of the clan of bankers, businessmen, aristocrats and princes. And Etienne was Tremere—a clan whose mysterious powers of blood sorcery and secretive ways had never put them at the top of anyone’s social call list. True, he probably could have pulled rank, used his real name and title to force a meeting, but there were equal disadvantages in revealing his true identity and age in a city where he knew nothing of the political dynamics and how his presence, if known, might set them all askew. Especially since he hadn’t even revealed that identity to Hewitt as yet. So as much as it galled him to be treated like an unwelcome salesman at the door, retaining his anonymity and accepting the advantage of Hewitt’s Ventrue heritage was—at least for now—the more prudent course.
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*…).
We don’t use backgrounds as strictly written in the books (we do very little exactly as written in the books, and the books say we’re allowed to do exactly that). But backgrounds are very important when creating characters—whether that character is a spur-of-the-moment NPC, a carefully detailed adversary, or a player character.
We just don’t worry about the dot values as much.
That being said, the most important and vital background (which has multiple equivalents in the rules, depending on which approach you take) is: Connections. This really encompasses all the various official Backgrounds on the character sheet, but it may be a different way of looking at them. Because what matters isn’t the dots one has in Mentor, Ally, Status, Domain, Retainer, etc. What matters are the connections that trait represents, and how they can be used to draw the character into a story where those connections are relevant and mean something.
I have to say…. Mages. The rules for Mage: the Ascension (as I recall them, I don’t own the book) seemed to be as far from anything like traditional magic (or even D&D magic) as one could get. The intention as I understand it was to get away from the limited spellcasting rules of D&D type games and give players some real freedom and creativity with casting spells, which to be fair, it did. But magic is always easier to create consistently in fiction than in a game. Magic is hard to quantify, reduce to mathematical formulas, statistics and clearly defined levels of skill and accomplishment. Within the context of a Mage chronicle, it probably worked fine. But it made them almost impossible to use in crossover—mages always seemed way overpowered compared to vampires, and the whole cosmology didn’t seem to match up.
I know there are a lot of Mage fans out there, but it just never clicked with me at all.
I did like the Mage: the Awakening system – but I’d still hate to try using it in crossover. (Though it was fun to let Regina fry Loki’s ass when he tried to ambush her in Three Shades of Night. Stupid punk vampire. Shoulda known better…..)
But anyway. If I have a least favorite, the Mages would be it.
(Okay, the Exalted come in pretty high on the scale, too, but that’s an entirely different world and game system).
Personally, I blame Dan Curtis and Jonathan Frid. Because Mr. Curtis created the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, which introduced the brooding, haunted, and sexy vampire monster-turned-melancholy-hero Barnabas Collins, played so well by Mr. Frid. That was my first introduction to the vampire. Now the show is very dated to my adult eyes, but to me as an impressionable young teen, it was utterly enthralling. (Yes, I really am that old. And yes, I wrote fan fiction. Thank you, M. Katherine Davis for encouraging me and sharing in my insanity.) I also read Dracula in high school. And watched The Fearless Vampire Killers at slumber parties. My friends and I were weird that way.
The definition of Methuselah (in terms of the Vampire: the Masquerade universe) is either a vampire of the 4th or 5th generation, or one that has attained a millennium or more in age. In other words, a vampire old enough to predate both the sects, and to pretty much do what he or she damn well pleases. Such vampires are exceedingly rare, their predator’s nature being what it is—they have a tendency to kill each other off long before reaching such august age. Which means those that do survive are very, very smart, exceedingly ruthless, and exceptionally good at… surviving.
Player characters who tangle with one, or thwart such an ancient being’s will, should keep that in mind.
My favorite of the published methuselahs (outside of the cast of Lair of the Hidden, that is) was Marcus Vitel. Not quite as he was written—but smarter, more ruthless, and definitely not a prince one would want to cross. But there was another who really has to be my favorite, and he’s not in any of the books.
The original game topic for today was Changeling, but I’ve never actually played it. I would LOVE to, it’s one of the settings that fascinates me, the whole crossover between Faerie and the modern world. I enjoy urban fantasy, that’s part of the appeal of Vampire for me too. It would be fun. I even bought a couple of the books. But I haven’t played it (yet), and I’m not planning any Vampire/Changeling crossovers, so… I’m changing the topic to another WoD Entity that wasn’t listed on the 30-Day List: Demon: the Fallen.
(Sartael and Nikanuuranu, this is for you….)
I’ve never played Wraith either. I did really like the concepts, though, particularly the Revised edition. Nothing like playing a ghost story from the point of view of the actual ghost. Or someone who can pass as a ghost temporarily. Until—if bad things happen—they actually become one for real.
Which brings us to hauntings, ghost stories, and the Underworld.
In other words, more neat ideas I can steal and import into Vampire, regardless of whether they’re included in the sourcebooks or not.
I’ve never played Mage or Sorcerer. I did rather like the setting for the New WoD Mage, but haven’t done anything with it other than confabbing on a crossover fiction project (Three Shades of Night). Now, the 20th Anniversary edition might interest me in the future, but for now, let’s put aside the usual WoD idea of Mage, and just talk about Magic.
Because we all agree (and I’m sure this is why people play Mage, too): Magic is awesome.
Luna conjuring her Patronus (Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix)
I have played Werewolf exactly once, for a one-shot convention game (and we were all Kinfolk, trying to be heroic when the big furry guys were unavailable…). It was fun, but I don’t really have a lot to say about Werewolf. (Some werewolves did show up in Heart of Darkness, though. Sarah was in charge of that part. It was… interesting. Educational for all involved. Everyone survived. We counted that as a win. It also goes to prove that if you’re running from the Black Hand, there are in fact a FEW places they will NOT follow you into—and Garou territory is one of them.)
Normally, I’m not that keen on crossover. It can work (and it did), but you have to be careful to make sure relative ‘power’ levels are balanced (in terms of STORY, not necessarily in terms of a fight – unless a fight is what the story is about). Werewolves make good (actually, pretty damned deadly) adversaries for a vampire story (and vice-verso). But there’s one part of the whole Garou setting and mythos that we did import over to Vampire, and it worked very well, especially with these particular characters.
That was the whole concept of the spirit world, which overlapped nicely into Spirit Thaumaturgy.