Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
Character Creation Quickstart
“The only way he could truly stick out in New Orleans was if he were walking down the street on fire. A businessman in suit and tie would stick out more than the characters Jackson passed on those old streets.”
—Hunter Murphy, Imogene in New Orleans
What follows are our game’s modifications from the character creation process detailed on page 24 of the Chronicles of Darkness Core Rulebook.
|Step One: Character Concept|
|Step 1.5: Make a Character Page|
|Step Two: Anchors|
|Step Two: Attributes|
|Step Three: Skills|
|Step Four: Skill Specialties|
|Step Five: Merits|
|Step Six: Determine Advantages|
Read the Player FAQ
If you’re reading this page, you’ve probably read the FAQ already. In the event that you haven’t, do so in order to familiarize yourself with what the game is like.
Read the Player’s Player Guide
One of the players who’s been around a while put together this advice guide. It discusses various ways that PCs (and players) can be successful in the game and is full of incredibly useful advice.
Download the Rulebook
Go to the Player Resources page and download the Chronicles of Darkness Core Rulebook. You can download the Vampire rulebook (and any of the other titles there) if you like, but we won’t be using it at this stage.
Note that non-players cannot see the download links for the books. To access them, I’ll need to add you to the campaign as a player after you create an Obsidian Portal account (if you don’t already have one).
Read the Relevant Portions
Most of the rulebook isn’t necessary for players to read, the following parts excepted:
• Page 24 to 32 explain the stats like Attributes, Skills, Virtues and Vices that define a character’s capabilities.
• Pages 68 to 77 explain the rules that govern the whole of the game world such as dice rolling, Integrity, and Conditions.
• Pages 86 to 96 explain the combat system and how injury and healing work.
Forewarning: I’ve had a few players skim on reading the rules, which has come back to bite them. The two latest examples are when one PC tried to stake a sleeping vampire and got mauled to death when he woke up said vampire (if he’d read the sections on daysleep and staking, he would’ve realized his PC’s stats were poorly suited to the task), and another PC who checked out of a hospital and ended up taking 24 days rather than 7 days to heal his wounds (as he hadn’t read the section on how damage was damaged).
I don’t think I’m a particularly strict GM when it comes to rules adjudication, but I do consider it a player responsibility to be aware of how rules work for attempted actions. If a player says they’re staking a vampire, I won’t pause the game to explain how staking rules work, I’ll just call for whatever dice rolls are necessary. A working knowledge of game mechanics is an important component to the success of one’s PC.
Read the House Rules
Our game has made numerous changes, major and minor, to the Storytelling System’s rules. Read them over so that you can make informed choices for your character’s mechanics.
Blood & Bourbon is a long-running game. It’s seen around a dozen PCs, all of whom has left marks of varying sizes upon the setting. As a result, the GM has a strong interest in making new PCs conceptually distinct from their predecessors and exploring new corners of the game world with them.
Race and Nationality
Non-Generic White People: New Orleans is famous for its unique blending of cultures and the ancestry of PCs should reflect that diversity. Consult the following page for information about the immigrant groups found in the Big Easy and choose one (or several; intermarriage is a thing) for your PC’s ancestry: “generic white person” does a disservice to New Orleans’ rich cultural heritage. That said, ancestry/national origin is less important to mortal and neonate PCs than ancilla ones, so don’t get too caught up on making your PC a culturally authentic German/Filipino/whatever. It’s simply informative to know where your PC came from, and likely to color interactions with Kindred who were Embraced in time periods when social attitudes were different.
Diversity: As Ray Nagin famously declared, New Orleans is a chocolate city. Racial demographics are 60.2% African-American, 33.0% Caucasian, 5.2% Hispanic/Latino, 2.9% Asian, 1.7% mixed-race, 0.3% American Indian, and 1.9% other. PCs to date in Blood & Bourbon have been fairly racially homogeneous:
• Caucasian (12, 63%): Adelais, Alice, Amelie, Annabelle, Caroline, Cletus, George, Jacob, Jonathan, Lou, Micheal, Rocco
• African-American (3, 15%): Julien, Mouse, Milo
• Latin (1, 5%): Isa
• Native American (1, 5%): Lavine
• Mixed (3, 15%): Baptiste, Clea, Emmett
On a demographic level, this isn’t unrealistic. It’s impossible to talk about race without talking about class, and most PCs (15, or 78%) have been middle-class to rich (Resources 2-5), so we should expect a larger percentage of them to be white in the majority-black, majority-poor city. (As a related bit of trivia, about 52% of New Orleans households live in poverty. Louisiana is also the poorest state in the Union. As of Tom Benson’s death, it doesn’t even have any resident billionaires.)
On a cultural level, though, I’ve since felt this results in a portrayal of New Orleans that isn’t as realistic as it could be. As such, players are encouraged but not mandated to pick from non-Caucasian racial backgrounds.
No less significant than a character’s race is where they reside. Look over the Geography page and decide where your PC lives, works, and otherwise frequents. I would especially like to see characters with connections to Tremé and/or the French Quarter, which have received disproportionately little screentime for areas as culturally significant as they are.
This one’s not in the book, so we’ve squeezed it in between steps one and two.
Copy the character sheet that’s posted here and create a wiki page for your character. (To do that, scroll your cursor over the “+New” button at the top of the page, and click “Character”.)
Post a physical description of your character, along with a piece of artwork for their portrait. Biographies are optional but encouraged (and worth additional Beats, per “Bonus XP” below).
Since competition between PCs is allowed in this game, we keep PC stats secret between the player and GM. Click the “Add Player Secret” button and paste the character sheet there. Don’t paste it in the biography section, or anyone will be able to read it.
See page 27 in the Chronicles of Darkness rulebook for in-depth information on Anchors.
Virtue and Vice:
Characters may use Virtue and Vice, or for those players familiar with CWoD’s Nature and Demeanor system, that instead.
Our game uses a more complex Aspiration system than the game’s default “one long-term, two short-term” model, as illustrated on the Character Sheet page. Post your Aspirations in the same page section as your character sheet, where other players can’t read them. (Aspirations are also kept secret, as some of them may incorporate personal secrets the other PCs aren’t aware of.)
Some further words of advice on Aspirations:
• Aspirations you hold for your PC don’t have to be Aspirations your PC necessarily holds. “Get in trouble with the French Quarter’s crooked cops,” for example, might be something you would like to see happen as a player, though few characters are liable to hold such a goal.
• I don’t expect Aspirations to be written in stone. Instead, they should help you flesh out your character and help me adapt the campaign to suit your interests. Many of your characters’ goals will likely change and become invalidated or more vampire-centric when your PC is Embraced. Nevertheless, Aspirations can inform your character’s actions and give some tragic inkling of what their uninterrupted mortal life could have been.
• By that same token, while it’s okay to include a few supernaturally-oriented Aspirations, most of them (if not the most driving ones) should concern your character’s mortal life. If your character’s goals are fleshed out to the point that their story arc could stand on its own, even if they never became a vampire, you’re doing it right. The goal is to make fully actualized mortal characters who have the Embrace happen to them, rather than designing a vampire character from the ground up.
• That also said, your character’s eventual covenant is something you have more control over than their clan, so you can design Aspirations there accordingly. If you like the Lancea et Sanctum, for example, base some mortal goals around the city’s Catholicism/religious elements.
Answer the five questions on pages 29-30. Here are some breaking points for a few example characters:
Matt is making a character for Michelle’s God-Machine Chronicle. His character, Mike Dashell, is a divorcee who owns a small landscaping business. He sets about answering the questions to build Mike’s breaking points.
• What is the worst thing Mike has ever done? Mike got divorced a few years back, but it wasn’t because Mike did something wrong, Matt decides. Instead, Matt decides that Mike got into a bar fight a few years back and broke a beer bottle over a dude’s head. The guy needed 18 stitches in his scalp and was covered in blood. That scared the shit out of Mike—he’d never hurt anyone like that. Matt jots down “Causing visible injury to another person” as a breaking point.
• What is the worst thing Mike can imagine himself doing? Here’s a better place to involve the divorce, Matt thinks. Mike and his ex had a couple of good fights, and while they never turned physical, Mike had to calm himself down a couple of times. He knows, on some level, that it didn’t turn physical because he deliberately kept himself under control. Matt notes “Lose temper and physically hurt a loved one” as a breaking point.
• What is the worst thing Mike can imagine someone else doing? Mike’s a normal guy: he read the news, he sees what everyone sees. He can’t wrap his brain around how someone picks up a gun and shoots kids. Matt writes down “witnessing the murder of children” as a breaking point.
• What has Mike forgotten? When Mike was at summer camp, he went outside the cabin one night to go the bathroom, which was across a path. He saw something sitting on the roof of the cabin. It was humanoid, but short and squat, and it was carrying something long and thing that wriggled like a fish. Mike looked at it, and then ran. In the morning, he thought he’d dreamed it, and by adulthood he’d forgotten it. Matt thinks about what kind of breaking point this might be, and writes down “seeing a supernatural creature lurking in the dark.”
• What is the most traumatic thing that ever happened to Mike? The divorce was stressful, but not traumatic. Matt decides that it was after the bar fight—Mike was arrested, and very nearly charged with aggravated assault. The charges were dropped when the guy he hit left town and didn’t bother to follow up with the complaint, but the experience of being through the system, being viewed as a criminal, took a toll on Mike. “Being arrested” is the breaking point.
Jennifer, making a character for the same chronicle, makes a former cop named Mallory. Mallory was thrown off the force after her drug habit got too big to hide. She’s recovering, now, but still off the force (obviously).
• What is the worst thing Mallory has ever done? Mallory let a drug dealer go who had dirt on her. A week later, the drug dealer shot a cop and killed him. That moment really broke Mallory (though she didn’t hit bottom until later). Jennifer takes “let a violent criminal go” as a breaking point.
• What is the worst thing Mallory could imagine herself doing? When she was using, Mallory would have done almost anything for a fix. One thing she was asked to do, but refused to do, was steal drugs from police evidence. To do that would have meant betraying everything she was as a cop, not to mention that it would have compromised existing drug cases. “Stealing from/tamper with evidence” is the breaking point.
• What is the worst thing Mallory can imagine someone else doing? As a cop, Mallory’s seen a lot. One of the worst, though, was finding the body of a woman with broken glass under her eyelids. Mallory never found out who did that or why, but the image stuck with her. Jennifer writes down “witnessing torture involving eye trauma” as a breaking point.
• What has Mallory forgotten? When Mallory was in the academy, she went out and got drunk with a few of her fellow cadets. One of her cadets gave her a ride home, but when they got there, the cadet got out of the car, took a few steps into the street, and fell apart. Arms fell off, and head tumbled back and rolled away. Mallory woke up in her bed, surrounded by vomit, and learned that the cadet had left the program. She assumed it was all a dream. The breaking point, though, is “see a person divided into pieces.”
• What is the most traumatic thing Mallory has ever experienced? It seems logical to go back to Mallory’s drug problem. Mallory was fired from the force and she fought it all the way. The union got involved along with Internal Affairs, and her decision to let the drug dealer go nearly came out. “Having my secret revealed” is her fifth breaking point.
Charles is playing Ellie, a sheltered woman who sings in her church choir and works as a secretary for a medium-sized corporation. His character’s breaking points are likely going to be a bit a more mild than the other two.
• What is the worst thing Ellie has ever done? Ellie had a crush on a girl in high school. She never acted on it—her conservative family would never have understood—but it consumed her attention for several months. She spread rumors about the other girl and bullied her in an effort to compensate, and the girl wound up leaving the school. The breaking point here is “deliberately harming another person’s reputation” (the Storyteller asks if “feeling attracted to a woman” might also be a breaking point; Charles says he isn’t sure, but he might add that later).
• What is the worst thing Ellie can imagine herself doing? Ellie sometimes thinks about the money the church takes in through donations and how it sits in the collection box for weeks with no one checking it. She’d never actually take it, but she thinks that maybe, just maybe, if she had a good enough reason, God would understand. Charles notes “steal from the church” as a breaking point.
• What is the worst thing Ellie can imagine someone else doing? Ellie is terrified when she watches the news. She sees stories of murder and violence and tries not to internalize it. The fear-mongering in the media works pretty well on her, though, because the worst thing she can imagine is violent assault on her. “Being physically attacked by another person” is the breaking point.
• What has Ellie forgotten? When Ellie was four, one of her playmates was yanked into a jungle gym by a pair of long, ugly arms. Ellie screamed, but her friend was back a moment later, apparently unharmed … except that he had forgotten Ellie’s name. Ellie doesn’t remember this instance anymore, but playgrounds still make her uneasy. “Seeing a supernatural creature abduct or attack a person” is her breaking point.
• What is the most traumatic thing that ever happened to Ellie? Charles decides that Ellie went to college and tried to rush a sorority, but during the hazing she was asked to drink a lot of alcohol and find her way, blindfolded, out of the house. The girls taped the blindfold on and Ellie fell down a flight of stairs trying to get it loose (she eventually lost a lot of her hair doing it). She never quite got over that feeling of powerlessness, and Charles notes that as “being blinded and/or drugged” as a breaking point.
Hal’s character, Ryan Berenczek, is a former bouncer, fired after he got too rough with a patron. Hal sets about answering the questions to build Ryan’s breaking points.
• What is the worst thing Ryan has ever done? Hal is tempted to use the incident at the bar to answer this question, but he figures beating a guy up in a bar fight isn’t the worst thing Ryan has ever done. He decides that Ryan hit someone with his car one rainy night. He saw the guy fly over his windshield and land in the street. Ryan doesn’t know if the guy is OK or not and has never attempted to find out. Hal talks with the Storyteller over how to phrase this as a breaking point, and they eventually decide on “causing injury or death through carelessness.” Note that this isn’t to say that deliberately hurting someone wouldn’t be a breaking point to Ryan, simply that doing so carelessly definitely is.
• What is the worst thing Ryan can imagine himself doing? Ryan is accustomed to violence. He can see himself killing someone in a fight. He knows how, and he thinks about it sometimes, but the thought scares him. “Killing deliberately” is the breaking point, here.
• What is the worst thing Ryan can imagine someone else doing? Working as a bouncer, Ryan heard stories about people drugging drinks, but he never actually witnessed it. The thought of slipping someone a roofie makes Ryan livid. It just seems cowardly and sneaky and wrong. Hal phrases this as “drugging someone for purposes of rape.”
• What has Ryan forgotten? Matt has asked the players to come up with answers to this question that call back to the Demon chronicle’s events. Hal smirks, remembering when one of the characters used the Animate Exploit on the statue of a lion outside a church. He decides that Ryan was getting off a bus, drunk, when that lion returned to its post. “Witnessing the city move” is the breaking point.
• What is the most traumatic thing that ever happened to Ryan? Hal decides that Ryan has always had money problems, and a few months ago, he got hooked up with a crew that was going to rob an armored car. The barfight that cost Ryan his job happened the night before the planned heist, and Ryan didn’t show up — he was in the hospital, under police questioning. Every person on the heist was killed. Hal considers “participating in a felony” as a breaking point, but decides that’s going to come up too often. He chooses “picking up a gun” instead.
Example #5: Beth, making a character for the same chronicle, wants to be someone with a background in espionage, but she doesn’t want to make a slick young super-spy. She decides that her character is elderly and worked counter-intelligence during the Korean War. She names her character Earl Givler.
• What is the worst thing Earl has ever done? Earl has shot other soldiers in the line of duty, but that was a long time ago; Beth reasons that time and perspective have dulled the impact of that violence. She decides that Earl lost his temper with his son when the boy was five and smacked him across the face. The force of the blow ruptured his eardrum, and while the damage healed, Earl never quite got over it. “Harming a child” is the breaking point.
• What is the worst thing Earl could imagine himself doing? The recent torture scandals in the US government brought back some unpleasant memories for Earl. He never actually tortured anyone, but there was talk it was happening, and he believes, in his private moments of reflection, that he would have done it if it was necessary. Beth writes down “inflicting torture” as a breaking point.
• What is the worst thing Earl can imagine someone else doing? Earl has seen some pretty horrible things in his life, but his uncle was a World War II vet and brought home stories of concentration camps and death trains. Beth asks if “mass murder” is too extreme of a breaking point. Matt allows it, though he makes it clear that witnessing such a crime would be the breaking point, not committing it.
• What has Earl forgotten? Since Matt has requested that this refer back to the previous events of the Demon chronicle, Beth decides that Earl lives in an apartment building that overlooks an alleyway. Hal’s demon character invoked a soul pact and took someone’s life as a Cover in that alley, and Earl was looking out the window. All he saw was a biomechanical monster touch a person on the shoulder, and that person evaporated into black ash. Earl assumes he dreamed the whole thing. “Seeing a person destroyed” is the breaking point (and Matt makes a note that “destroyed” is different than “killed”).
• What is the most traumatic thing Earl has ever experienced? Earl witnessed an execution in the war. It was an enemy soldier who killed one of Earl’s compatriots after being captured. Earl saw the man forced down to his knees and shot. Although Earl has shot people in combat, seeing someone die helpless, even someone who deserved it (as Earl still believes the man did), haunted him for a long time. Beth takes “killing a helpless person” as the breaking point.
Abby wants to play a stigmatic and asks if she can take any supernatural Merits. Matt agrees to let her take Omen Sensitivity, and Abby names her psychic character Starla Moon (it’s a stage name; Starla is a performer).
• What is the worst thing Starla has ever done? Abby wants Starla’s life to be largely free of violence but to have a lot of supernatural weirdness. She decides that Starla has had prophetic visions all her life; in high school, she saw an omen that indicated that several of the football players were going to die at a railroad crossing. She didn’t say anything, and sure enough, the next weekend three of her classmates died when one of them tried to race a train. Starla has never forgiven herself. Abby takes “withholding life-or-death information from a vision” as a breaking point.
• What is the worst thing Starla can imagine herself doing? The players know from a previous incident in the chronicle that a particular building downtown is Elimination Infrastructure. Abby asks Matt if Starla can know about the gears in the basement of the building and their effect on anyone who steps off the bottom step (in short, anyone who does so is immediately sucked into the workings and destroyed). Matt agrees, and Starla notes “take someone to the basement” as a breaking point.
• What is the worst thing Starla can imagine someone else doing? Starla is a transgender woman. While she has been fortunate enough to avoid any violent confrontations due to this, she is well aware of what other transgender people have gone through. Abby gives Starla “violent sexual assault” as a breaking point.
• How much does Starla remember? Starla has had prescient visions all her life, but she wasn’t born stigmatic. Abby considers whether the God-Machine was present in Starla’s life before she discovered the Infrastructure in the basement, but decides that It wasn’t. Starla saw a vision of the gears as she was about to step off the bottom step (she doesn’t even remember why she went down those stairs), and hasn’t been able to forget them since. Abby puzzles over the breaking point here, but eventually decides on “witnessing the overt manifestation of the God-Machine.” That’s going to come up, of course, but Abby is looking forward to it.
GM’s Note: This question is used in place of “What has X forgotten?” for characters with exposure to the supernatural, such as hunters and ghouls. It’s not not applicable to starting mortal PCs for game, I just haven’t changed it from the book I pulled it from.
• What is the most traumatic thing that ever happened to Starla? Starla has never actually seen anyone get sucked into the gears in the basement, but she’s had visions of it happening and knows she’s going to witness it eventually. Matt asks if those visions are really the most traumatic thing that Starla’s ever experienced, and Abby decides that when Starla went back up the stairs, a security guard with two smoky-glass eyes told her, “it’s not time for you to be here yet.” Then he pointed to another door, and Starla saw herself, leaving the building. Abby writes down “time fluctuations” as a breaking point. Since one of the demon characters knows the Four Minutes Ago Exploit, this has some dramatic potential.
Characters have 12 dots to distribute between Attributes as they please (which, recall, all start at 1). The fourth dot in any Attribute costs two dots to purchase. The fifth dot costs three dots to purchase.
As a bit of a time-saving math, if you up your stats to 2 in everything, that leaves you with 3 remaining Attribute dots to play with.
Characters have 22 dots to distribute as they please. No single Skill may have than three dots at this stage. Every Skill category must have at least four total Skill dots invested in it.
No changes here. Pick three.
Characters have seven Merit dots to distribute as they will. No single Merit may have more than four dots at this stage, and at least three Merit dots must be spent on Social Merits.
Merits may (with a few exceptions) only be chosen from the ones on this list.
Common player question: Why so few Merits?
As a longtime Pathfinder/D&D player, I loved the concept of CWoD’s Backgrounds when I first got into the latter game. There was an actual system for codifying your PC’s social ties to the rest of the world! If you wanted Elminster as your Mentor, you could just buy it with the requisite points rather than try to sell the GM on why an uber-powerful NPC was interested in your PC and why it wouldn’t disrupt the campaign. Thus, I wasn’t a fan of the NWoD’s Merits system, which basically reintroduced D&D’s Feats at the direct expense of Backgrounds. If a player wants to buy Strong Back, those are points they can’t spend on Contacts or Mentor. I don’t care for that, as the WoD is a social setting and I want PCs to have lots of ties to the world around them. I also prefer keeping game mechanics lean and mean, and would rather simply give characters higher Strength or Stamina scores rather than specialized Merits like Strong Back or Iron Stamina. On top of all that, I’ve found that players frequently don’t remember them.
Consequently, GM permission is required to take any Merit not included on the above list. They aren’t universally banned, but I am likely to say no if all the Merit does is give a circumstantial dice bonus.
Common player question: Can I spend XP to raise my Willpower?
I’ve answered this question a couple times for players familiar with CWoD rules and new to NWoD/CofD rules. Under the latter’s mechanics, you increase your Willpower by increasing your Resolve or Composure scores, rather than spending XP independently.
No changes here. Starts at 7 for mortals.
Don’t bother recording this trait, as we handwave it.
Don’t bother recording this trait, as we handwave it.
Initiative is Dexterity + Wits + Celerity rather than Dexterity + Composure + Celerity.
Defense is (higher of Dexterity or Wits) + (highest of Athletics, Brawl, or Weaponry).
Characters start with additional XP equal to the 3/4ths the amount earned by the currently least experienced PC in the game. Players may earn additional XP by contributing to the site and posting wiki pages about NPCs and locales within the Big Easy. See this page for more information about earning extra XP.
Characters must take at least one Condition from this list, or invent one of their own. They are encouraged to take additional Conditions as well—they’re more hooks for the GM and more potential XP for you.