Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood & Bourbon
Player FAQ & Metagame Policies
“Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour—but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands—and who knows what to do with it?”
Two Preliminary Notes
First, one of the game’s long-time players put together his own aptly-named Players’ New Player’s Guide. It’s worth a read for anyone who wants a fellow player’s opinion on what the game is like.
B&B’s wiki is huge! What stuff should I read first, and in what order?
You’re right, the wiki is huge! The layout can be confusing to new players. I recommend reading the pages off the Main Page in the following order:
1. Theme and Mood. This will tell you about, as the name implies, the game’s themes and moods.
2. History. This will tell you about how things came to be the way they are and provides the context for the city’s present conflicts. Vampires are immortal creatures and New Orleans is an old city: history informs the actions of many characters.
3. Political Primer gives you a rundown of the setting’s political factions and their present-night conflicts with one another, as well as what vampires hold what titled positions in the city.
4. Laws and Customs tell you about the city’s Kindred culture, including local variations on the Traditions and how the prince handles crime and punishment.
5. The Character Portal is perhaps the wiki’s most important page, as it contains information about the game’s mortal and vampire NPCs. Blood & Bourbon is a heavily character-driven game. Players use the Character Portal as their primary resource when developing sires and other NPC connections with the GM.
X. The Adventure Logs are readable before or after any of the above pages, so they get listed as Step X. Since B&B is a text-based game, these are full transcripts of the game sessions that read more like a book series than a summary of past sessions. They’re probably my favorite part of the Obsidian Portal wiki: everything else is ultimately supplementary material to playing the game, and the logs are the game as it’s been played.
Beyond that, the wiki has a bunch of other pages you can explore in more or less any order. They’re all linked to on the Main Page.
Prospective players linked to Blood & Bourbon over its Roll20 listing or Google Form survey can skip this section, as it contains mostly the same info that’s posted on those platforms.
What is B&B about as a chronicle?
Blood & Bourbon is an ongoing Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle started in 2015 that’s set in modern-day New Orleans. It’s an open world sandbox game whose primary focuses are political intrigue, personal horror, and exploring the city of New Orleans. While the GM tailors personal horror to the individual personalities and relationships of PCs, the larger city’s political setup revolves around a power struggle between the prince and two rival elders. The prince is an iron-fisted Old World Ventrue who believes in absolute order enforced at any cost, no matter how bloody. His Toreador rival takes a more laissez-faire and easygoing approach to rule, but permits his Kindred subjects within the French Quarter to indulge their most decadent appetites without hindrance. Their mutual foe is a Samedi houngan who protects the city’s often poor and disenfranchised Vodouisants, but traffics with dark forces and cares nothing for the lives of those who do not number among his followers.
Due to the actions of PCs, it’s come out that the prince is overdue to enter torpor and must soon take his rest. The already tense city has become a powder keg waiting for a match to set it off: the prince’s supporters now jockey to position themselves as his heir while his rivals smile and sharpen their knives. PCs in Blood & Bourbon’s setting immerse themselves in the plots and intrigues of their fellow undead. Those with cunning and drive can carve out domains and power bases of their own, yet the dark deeds power requires may turn them into monsters as awful as any of the elders they wrest it from.
An ambitious neonate can go far in this city, but all power has a price. What will you pay?
Who’s in the group and what players is the game looking for?
Hi there! My name’s Calder (pronounced “Call-der”), thanks for your interest in the game. I’m a 31-year-old RPG geek who’s been gaming on and off since 2008. The game currently has three players named Pete, Emily, and Allison who are around the same age and RPG experience levels. We’re not currently searching for new players, but if any should fall into our lap, the group has room for another one or two. Newbies and veterans are equally welcome: Pete and several prior players were brand new to the World of Darkness when they first joined.
B&B has been around for eight years (as of this 2023 writing) and produced thousands of pages of text logs. Our chronicle is geared towards fixative nerds who seek to emulate series like A Song of Ice and Fire and Malazan Book of the Fallen in depth and complexity. All of the PCs have grown and evolved over years-long story arcs and made significant impacts upon the setting. Everyone involved has put a lot of blood and sweat into the chronicle, and ideal new players will share our level of passion, enthusiasm, and desire to get involved with something for the long haul. There are no plans to end the chronicle anytime soon.
And just to be clear about what our game is not, B&B is a terrible game for someone looking for a more “beer and pretzels” or casual pick-me-up experience.
What is the game’s playstyle like?
The game’s playstyle has been described by one of the players as, “An open sandbox in a city with NPCs actively advancing their own plots. Players are characters in the city advancing their own plots, typically also getting involved in NPC ones willingly and unwillingly as is the nature of the setting. Game is heavily intrigue, politics, and social focused, with a rules system that’s pretty simple. Heavily rewards accomplishing goals and accepting setbacks, as well as playing to your character instead of simply most optimal move. Player interests and goals can be as simple and low level as carving out a comfortable life in an uncomfortable existence, or as complex as trying to maneuver with the highest levels of politics in the setting.”
No character in B&B’s setting is too big to fall. If PCs diablerize the setting’s elders, go them! By that same token, PCs aren’t too big to fall either. The GM is your cheerleader and roots for your character’s success, but will not cheat PCs out of victories by sparing them from defeat. Multiple PCs have died and/or suffered horrible fates over the course of the chronicle. They have also changed the setting in big ways that not all GMs may have been willing to let them. I believe the possibility of real failure makes success all the more sweet.
What is the game’s medium and when do we play?
Blood & Bourbon is played over Discord via text. The experience is more like writing a novel together than conventional tabletop play. There are no scheduled session times: we’re all 30something adults with busy lives and scheduling 5-hour weekly blocks of play would be tough. Players post in their channels when convenient and the GM responds when convenient. If we’re both online at the same time, we effectively have spontaneous mini-sessions that can last anywhere from minutes to hours. I’ve come to prefer this format over traditional scheduled sessions, as we get to play whenever we want.
What is the party dynamic like?
The party is not a party. PCs do not belong to the same coterie, but will cross paths with one another over the course of the game, sometimes as friends and other times as foes. PvP is allowed but not compelled: it’s up to PCs how they interact with each other. In practice, most players have preferred to befriend fellow PCs, but they have worked against one another too. If your PC belongs to a coterie (recommended—neonates need allies), your coterie-mates will be NPCs.
What game system do you use?
Blood & Bourbon is a predominately freeform roleplay of the Free Kriegsspiel style of play. Players create characters, decide their personal capabilities and social connections, and the GM tailors narrative challenges around those. Someone who wants to play a low-generation Elysium power broker will face challenges from the other social sharks. Someone who wants to play out “slice of unlife” stories with a thin-blooded waitress will face more modest adversaries, like how to pay next month’s rent. Players of more powerful PCs have described the game as feeling harder rather than easier.
We sometimes roll dice to decide the outcomes of conflicts that could go either way, or when we’d like to inject chance and uncertainty into a scene. For more information on how we do that, see: Playing the Game.
What content is allowed and what content is off-limits?
“I gotta be honest, I’ve played in a lot of games where people are all ‘rah rah equality’ and it’s kind of nice to explore like actual issues and stigmas instead of just sweeping things under the rug, as weird as that sounds. Since, you know, I bitch constantly about the sexism in gaming.”
“I mean, I think there’s a difference too depending on who you’re with. It’s one thing to explore those issues with a group of people who you are (at least fairly certain?) don’t actually believe that women deserve to be paid less and are just objects of sexual desire, vice with a group that’s glorifying said topics and making jokes of them. […] I’d feel a lot more uncomfortable about some of the messed up stuff that’s happened in this game if I thought Cal believed it was anything less than a commentary on how fucked up the world was."
Graphic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, racism, sexism, homo/transphobia, incest, pedophilia, and a variety of other 18+ topics have all come up in B&B. PCs and NPCs have been victims and perpetrators. The game’s players and I trust each other to explore these topics tastefully, and trust each other a lot in general.
If there are topics you’d prefer not to feature in your PC’s story, I can (if informed) refrain from deliberately steering your PC towards them. I also don’t promise such topics will never come up period. For example, if your PC chooses to approach a pedophile NPC without knowing they’re a pedophile, they’ll stay a pedophile.
If there are topics you’d prefer never to engage with, you should probably give B&B a pass. The game is primarily geared towards people with content preferences along the lines of, “I’m okay with any content, as long as the GM doesn’t act like a teenage edgelord,” or “I don’t particularly enjoy Content X, but if it comes up it won’t ruin the game for me.”
Do I need to get up to speed on anything before playing?
As stated, Blood & Bourbon is an 8-year-old game. Most of its storylines revolve around character relationships and the ongoing political machinations of those characters. In many ways, the game is like a book series the players and GM are writing together: since “writers” benefit from familiarity with previous material, new players are asked to familiarize themselves with the game’s existing characters and storylines, which they do by reading the OP wiki.
I do not expect prospective players to read all of its 500+ pages! That is an unreasonable time commitment to ask of people who aren’t yet players in the game. Read as little or as much as you like right now. Once we begin creating your PC in earnest, you’ll be asked to read most of the setting info pages. These will aid you in creating a PC who’s well-integrated into the campaign world. You’ll also be asked to start reading the adventure logs of the PCs currently in play. This is to aid with understanding of the setting and NPC relationships, illustrate pattern of play, and to avoid overlap with the characters and narrative arcs of PCs currently in play.
Blood & Bourbon asks a significant reading commitment of new players. I believe that pays dividends with more narratively relevant and socially connected PCs. Newcomer PCs in the game do not have backgrounds like “I’m from the next city over and recently moved to New Orleans, where I’m a total newcomer with no connections to anybody.” The GM works hard to integrate new PCs into the setting and to give them connections to its plots and characters. Players and I collaborate to give their PCs allies, loved ones, rivals, superiors, minions: everything they need to be central to the game’s ongoing narrative once play begins. While you will not immediately be as emotionally invested in your character as the players of the years-old PCs, my goal is to give us tools so that can happen as quickly as possible.
Joining the Game
I’m interested in playing. How do I join the game?
Fill out this Google Form survey. That’s it!
If I know you from somewhere else (another game, real life, an online forum, whatever), don’t bother filling out the above form: I already know what your playstyle is like. (New players, that’s the point of the form.) Just let me know you’re interested in playing and we’ll go from there.
Additional Game Info
This information is not posted over Blood & Bourbon’s reddit or Roll20 listings (for any players who’ve found their way from those).
Accuracy: How accurate is the game’s wiki?
The campaign wiki and the information it provides offer great insight into the game’s setting, but not all of the information it contains is accurate. The wiki contains lies, omissions, and distortions that differ from the game’s living narrative. For example, suppose that one of the city’s Ventrue is lying about their lineage, and is actually a Caitiff. The wiki will say they are a Ventrue. Or, as another example, suppose a successful criminal on the Street or Underworld pages made a pact with a vampire, demon, or other supernatural being and murdered their brother to get where they now are. The wiki won’t mention that.
The details of the game world are obfuscated and events twisted by the public narrative that exists within the game. The only absolute truths, such as they are, can be discovered in-game by PCs and found within the game’s logs—and even those do not always contain a fully accurate version of events. Sometimes PCs misinterpret things. Far more often, NPCs lie to them, omit information, or misleadingly present facts. PCs see through these obfuscations (and don’t) with varying degrees of success. Other times, PCs themselves are unreliable narrators, and believe things or act on conclusions that are untrue or only partially true. Some PCs may even broadly be more reliable narrators than others.
At the end of the night, vampires are a race of liars. Find the truth where you can, and never completely trust what you read.
Coteries: Why don’t PCs all belong to the same coterie?
First, due to the fact we don’t play for weekly scheduled sessions, players aren’t all online at the same time. If PCs regularly hung out as part of the same coterie, more people would have to wait on each other for the rooms to advance and the game would slow down; either that, or the currently slower-posting players would get left in the dust and be a less relevant part of scenes next to the faster-posting players. That’s the biggest reason. Some others include:
• When the PCs don’t belong to the same coterie, we can tell more stories by exploring the viewpoints of more factions and seeing more of the setting than we otherwise would. The chronicle takes on a grander scope akin to A Song of Ice and Fire where we see things from the POVs of many characters. Imagine what that series would be like if we only had POV chapters from the Starks: no Tyrion, Daenerys, Cersei, or any of the other big names. It’d still be a good series, but it’d be less than it’d otherwise be.
• It isn’t really plausible that PCs from a number of the city’s political factions would work together. Some of the factions can play nice in that regard, while others aren’t as likely to. Vampires are individuals and inherently self-interested creatures first and foremost, but social pressure to pick a side in the city’s conflicts is considerable and a disparate enough coterie would likely be forced to or else disintegrate from internal strife. PvP, as mentioned, is an allowed part of the game.
• We can explore more of the setting, as New Orleans has tons of characters to meet and locales to explore. If the PCs were tied to one anothers’ apron strings, they’d only get to explore one corner of the gameworld at a time. When the PCs are independent operators, they can separately explore 4+ at once. One of text-based gaming’s benefits over voice-based gaming is that the GM can run multiple chat rooms simultaneously for all PCs, which doesn’t require players to sit out while one person’s PC does things on their own.
• Finally, players drop out. I prefer to GM for tightly-knit, long-term gaming groups, but player attrition is an all-too frequent, if still regrettable, part of online games. Player attrition and absences are easier to accommodate when the PCs don’t belong to a party, as I can let one player go without impacting things as greatly for the others.
Discord: How is the game’s Discord server set up?
That’s answered on the (now somewhat dated) Guide to the B&B Discord Server page. It has information on what the various channels are all for and what notification settings the GM recommends using.
It’s also irrelevant to people who aren’t yet players in the game, as you obviously won’t join its Discord server until then. Prospective players can feel free to skip the above link until/if the GM contacts them over Discord.
Friends: Can I invite a friend to play in B&B?
Ask the GM. Gaming with your pals is awesome, but there may or may not not be room for more players at the current point in the game. If there isn’t room, we can avoid getting your friend’s hopes up for nothing.
If there is room, you or I can refer them to this page and they can fill out the Google Form to give me a sense of what their playstyle is like. I don’t promise I’ll accept your friend into the game, but I’ll give their form at least the same consideration as any other prospective player. (And probably more consideration, if they have a current player vouching for them.)
GM Trickery: What’s your philosophy on the GM deceiving players?
Our game attempts to keep a firm divide between OOC player knowledge and IC character knowledge. One of the most classic instances of this is Dominate: if a vampire erases a PC’s memories, I usually won’t tell the player, “They use Dominate to make you forget.” Instead, I’ll call for a dice roll: perhaps “disguised” as a roll for something else, perhaps not specified, or perhaps even secretly rolled by me. (I prefer to let players roll their own dice, so this last option only comes up if there’s no apparent way to avoid tipping my hand.) If the roll fails, we’ll jump in media res to whatever point the PC remembers next, with no OOC explanation for what happened during the interim. If the Dominate user was subtle, nothing untoward might even seem to take place, but the PC might later (or might never) run into evidence suggesting gaps in their memory. The player stays on the same page as their PC.
Dominate isn’t the only example of this sort of GM trickery, just the game’s most notorious example. (Players can be delightfully paranoid about whether elders are secretly Dominating them.) I might also use these sorts of “dirty GM tricks” with other supernatural powers, mundane subterfuge, a PC who’s been unhinged by trauma or madness, and other weirder, less quantifiable phenomena. Sometimes I may call for bullshit rolls (whose results have no consequences) simply to increase tension and heighten paranoia. Not all dice rolls have immediately obvious consequences.
The point of this FAQ section isn’t to give away how to see through GM trickery. If that ever become a recurring concern with a player, I’d just make their “sensitive” dice rolls in secret.
Rather, the point is to let prospective players know what the game is like. I’m aware that not all GMs attempt to maintain this same “fog of war,” and I don’t want it to be a surprise to new players when they discover they can’t always trust their PC’s memories and perceptions. There are many things in the game world that can deceive them.
Multiple PCs: Can I play more than one PC?
Yep! B&B is largely confined to New Orleans, but it’s still a big setting. There’s lots of characters and locales, and no end of clan/faction combinations a potential PC can be. Players who wish to more fully explore the setting’s diversity of experiences may play more than one PC. This tradition started when Lou’s player, whose PC was an independent ghoul, wanted to participate in a major Elysium event with a vampire PC who had stronger motivation to participate in that event and greater ability to affect its outcome.
• PC-PC Interactions: Secondary PCs won’t ever directly cross paths with the same player’s primary PC. Even if they’re attending the same social event in the same room, their presence will be glossed over. I might have NPCs reference the non-active PC, or even give them a brief cameo, but the two PCs won’t ever directly interact unless the player wants to temporarily turn over one of them to me as an NPC.
• Treading New Ground: I will generally steer secondary PCs away from interacting with the same NPCs and pursuing the same storylines as primary PCs. I am more likely to be okay with that if the secondary PC approaches these characters/storylines in a distinct way; e.g., being antagonistic towards Tommy Tremere rather than buddy-buddy. The point with these characters is to do something new. If a player wants both of their PCs to be friends with Tommy Tremere, that’s generally to be avoided.
• How Many PCs? You can have more than one secondary PC. I’ve yet to encounter a player who wanted to have more than two PCs in simultaneously active play, though, as I suspect past that point it would become too much effort.
• Tertiary PCs: Tertiary PCs are like secondary PCs, except instead of playing them full-time, you play them as basically guest star characters. They pop in and out of the story as the fancy strikes us, rather than for sustained character arcs, and the player’s Aspirations for the PC are primarily geared towards the short term rather than long term.
Newbies: I’m new to Masquerade, can/should I read any books to learn about the setting?
You don’t have to. If you’re brand new to Masquerade, we’ll start you off with a PC who’s also brand new to the world. Everything necessary to play is posted on the B&B wiki.
If you want to read more about Masquerade, you absolutely can. It’s a rich game with a decades-long history and dozens of published books. The GM has read most of them, and savvy players will be able to spot many references and callbacks in B&B (many of the names listed in the genealogies of Kindred NPCs, for example, are canon characters). I’ve made links to a bunch of Masquerade books available on the Player Resources page.
If you’re a video gamer, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines offers a great look at the World of Darkness in action, and is lots of fun in its own right.
PC Death: What’s your philosophy on killing PCs?
In brief, I don’t fudge rolls—either for or against PCs—and I don’t shield them from the consequences of their actions. No character in the game is too big to fall, and victory is meaningless without the possibility of defeat. PC death can and has happened in the game.
As some players have observed, bad intelligence doesn’t get people killed every time. Just almost every time. Consequently, I make efforts to ensure players are aware of the same information their PCs would know. Sometimes that takes the form of dice rolls, or even telling players outright in particularly obvious cases (e.g., if you’re playing a Toreador socialite and Elysium regular, you know the proper term of address for the prince). I’ll relay facts, but will never tell players “you should do this” or “you shouldn’t do that.” Those judgment calls are theirs to make and watching players take the game in unexpected directions is half the fun.
As of this July 2021 writing, six PCs have died as a result of their in-game actions (vs. simply being killed off as a write-out after their players had to leave the game). In two cases, they resulted from bad decisions paired with bad dice luck. One might have been survivable by itself, but not together. The third case was a particularly bad decision paired with average dice luck. The fourth case was a good decision paired with one of the blackest, most awful streaks of dice luck I’ve witnessed in all my years playing RPGs. The fifth and sixth cases resulted from the PCs succeeding on big gambles with life or death stakes, only for the GM to later revoke those successes after discovering the players had cheated on their dice rolls. (The players were subsequently kicked out, and the group switched to a dice rolling bot that’s impossible to cheat with.)
Setting: Does B&B use V5’s setting, V20’s, or something else?
Okay, non-smartass answer: B&B started in 2015 before V5 was a thing. We’ve used a setting that’s mostly V20 with plenty of GM tweaks. Some are big (e.g., the Requiem covenants are a thing, and have had their ideologies tweaked to fit Masquerade’s setting), more are medium (e.g., we don’t use the canon New Orleans by Night), and most are small (e.g., the Giovanni are called the Giovannini). The GM is a huge fan of Masquerade’s lore and loves playing with it and making it the group’s own.
The GM takes what setting elements he likes from V5 and the Revised-era metaplot and leaves out the ones he doesn’t, or tweaks them until he likes them. For example, the implementation of the Second Inquisition (widespread cooperation among intelligence agencies, drone strikes in Vienna blamed on ISIS in 2008) is hard for me to swallow. So is “the Lasombra defect en masse from the Sabbat.” But the basic ideas of “government hunters are more dangerous than ever” or “more Lasombra are in the Camarilla” are perfectly fine ones. I’m a firm believer there’s no such thing as a bad idea, just bad execution of an idea.
So the answer to this question can fairly be boiled down to “hybrid of stuff the GM likes from all editions with lots of tweaks.” We probably have more in common with V20’s setting than V5’s, though. The big changes it made to the setting like “elders everywhere are disappearing” or “multiple clans have left and joined the Camarilla” aren’t really my cup of tea.
Spoilers: Are there any books which spoil the campaign that I should avoid reading?
Much of our game’s inspiration comes from the City of the Damned: New Orleans sourcebook, as well as the New Orleans appendix in Vampire: The Requiem’s 1st edition rulebook. New Orleans by Night (for Masquerade), the Lancea et Sanctum section of Secrets of the Covenants (for Requiem), and the Danse de la Morte adventure demo for 1e Requiem are also inspirations. Consequently, the GM asks of all current and prospective players:
I once had a prospective player who was interested in having Natasha Preston as a sire download City of the Damned to read up more info on her. The guy didn’t see anything wrong with doing that, as he told me outright, but… yeah. Don’t do that. I figure most experienced players will know why they shouldn’t read GM-oriented sourcebooks, but it honestly might not occur to players who are new to RPGs or who haven’t spent any time behind the GM screen. So it gets its own section on the FAQ.
If you have read from those books, you can still play with us. I have changed a ton of stuff from what’s there to make it suit the needs of our setting, as well as added a bunch more wholly originally content. None of the setting’s deepest secrets (what older VtM city books would rate an A- through A+ secret) are inside those sourcebooks and are unique to B&B. Most of the elder characters have received significantly more changes than the neonate characters and may be almost unrecognizable from how they are presented in City of the Damned. Pretty much all characters have had their statblocks changed too.
So it’s not the end of the world if a player has read ahead. We’ve even had a few past players who have. It’s just undesirable (and I explain this for the benefit of new players) because it colors player strategies and tactics based on metagame knowledge, which may well hurt the PC when I’ve changed stuff and they’re acting on false information. It’s also undesirable because there is still material I either haven’t changed, or have changed minimally enough that the book provides clues and insights PCs wouldn’t have.
If you’ve read ahead, let me know what you’ve read. I’ll rewrite whatever parts of the setting are necessary if your PC seems likely to interact with them.
As a final addendum, there are also some obscure and really old fan websites from which I’ve pulled New Orleans-related Masquerade content. Don’t read from those either, please, if you spot anything familiar.
Wiki Info: How much information on the wiki do PCs know?
Short answer: It’s up to you. Really! Your PC can know as much or as little as you feel makes sense for their character concept. The content on the wiki is there to be used.
Longer answer: Less than readers do. There is no way that every PC is aware, for example, that Cécilia Devillers obtained a B.A. in Public Administration in 2012, that Gemma Bernard’s father was lynched by the KKK, or that Katherine Beaumont’s middle name is Calixte and she was born on November 25th.
With that said, though? Most of the information posted on the wiki isn’t actually secret. If your PC has a connection with an NPC, including one as broad as “moves in similar social circles,” it’s safe to assume your PC either knows most wiki information about the NPC or could easily obtain it. Even if your PC has no connection whatsoever with an NPC (e.g., a high society playboy PC interested in an impoverished janitor NPC), we can usually assume they uncover wiki information fairly easily (i.e., no dice rolls required) if the interest is there. Again, most of what’s on the wiki isn’t secret. Remember that it has lots of lies and omissions! The GM keeps the really juicy stuff under wraps. PCs have to discover it in-game.
The big exception to this is information about the setting’s vampires and other supernatural denizens. Mortal PCs obviously won’t have any idea they exist or know anything about them.
Otherwise, if you’re worried about metagaming, don’t. Wiki content is posted so that PCs can make use of it. Proceed with the assumption your PC either knows or it could readily obtain it, and the GM can course correct if that’s ever necessary. (E.g., “It’s a little implausible your PC knows the birthdays of a dozen strangers. Why don’t you describe your PC looking that info up on their social media profiles?”)
Contributing to the Wiki
B&B’s wiki is huge. It would also not be what it is without contributions from the game’s players. Players have posted NPCs, artwork, fiction, and assorted other content that has greatly enriched the wiki. The GM considers it such a valuable addition to the game that it’s rewarded with XP, as detailed below.
(What value is XP in a mostly freeform roleplay, you might ask? That’s answered here.)
Written Content (Part I)
Written contributions on the site are worth (word count / 250) XP. For example, expanding your PC’s posted backstory by 732 words is worth 2.928 XP. Content can take the form of anything from quotes on character pages to fiction pieces to new NPCs to whatever. Your imagination’s the limit. Some of the more common types of past player contributions have included:
• Coming up with original NPCs and posting blurbs for them. These are the mini-biographies you may have read on the Character Portal. They can be mortals, ghouls, or vampires. If they are vampires, keep them neonates. Check first with the GM if you want to add ancilla or elder characters. Ghouls are worth (word count / 200) XP, as the wiki would benefit most from more ghouls.
Don’t be intimidated, either, by how many posted NPCs there already are. More characters are always a useful resource. If I’m running a scene that involves a hospital janitor, I’ll come up with an original character if there are no hospital janitors already posted (though I may also decide to have one of the already-posted NPCs moonlight as a hospital janitor). Likewise, if a player decides to buy Allies (Bureaucracy) 5 or Allies (Media) 3, they don’t actually have a bajillion NPCs to pick from: they have whichever NPCs are posted under those categories for those ratings, which is always a much smaller number. More characters gives everyone a bigger well to draw from and increases the odds that said well will suit our needs at a given moment.
Player-created NPCs have gone on to become major characters in the game. Christina Roberts, Bert Villars, Cécilia Devillers, Cash Money, and tons of other NPCs who feature prominently in the adventure logs are all original player creations, and it was a lot of fun for their authors to watch me bring those characters to life and work them into plots. I can’t promise that every player-created NPC will get the same treatment, as there are simply so many, but they’re worth XP whether they become the next Cécilia Devillers or not.
Written Content (Part II)
• Location blurbs are also popular. Go for real locations here (New Orleans is full of interesting locales) but if you can think up a nifty fictional one, go for that too. Sample.
• So are full NPC wiki pages. These take more time, but are worth more XP, depending how much figurative ink you’re willing to spill. Once again, writeups can be for existing NPCs or ones of your own creation. Writeups must include a fportrait and physical description, which is also worth artwork XP. Sample.
• Full location wiki pages. These are to location blurbs what NPC writeups are to NPC blurbs. Location pages are encouraged but not required to include a photo, which is likewise worth artwork XP. Sample.
• Fiction. Sometimes players have written short stories (and not-so-short stories) about the game’s setting and characters. These are posted on the Tall Tales & Might-Have-Beens section of the Master Logs Page and worth an amount of XP equal to (word count / 250) or the square root of the square root of the word count, whichever is less. For example, a 5,000-word piece of fiction is worth 8.4 XP, while a 25,000-word piece of fiction is worth 12.57 XP.
Fiction is worth a different XP rate because it’s easier than other site contributions to write lots of words for and all three of the game’s players (as of this writing) who’ve written original fiction have written multi-thousand word pieces. At the GM’s discretion, PC backstories that can be described as “insanely long” may count as fiction for purposes of XP awards.
Artwork (Part I)
• Every piece of artwork is worth 0.2 XP. Post them in the logs, on an NPC’s bio page, a random article throughout the site, wherever, so long as they spruce the page up. You can also post them in your PC’s chat room as we’re playing: the GM will add the images you post to the session logs.
Artwork should be consistent with the style of other pictures found throughout the site, and can be either photography or traditional drawings/digital images. Avoid anime, pictures of well-known celebrities, and pictures of attractive people for characters who aren’t also supposed to be gorgeous. The GM always appreciates photos that depict people with realistic appearances and body types.
You can also usually resize images to be no more than 800px large along their smallest dimension. Bigger images won’t show up any bigger on the site, for most computers, and take up more storage space in the Media Library. I’m not worried about running out when we have (as of this writing) 8.87 gigs left and it’s taken us 5.5 years to use 1.13 gigs, but there’s no point in using extra space when we don’t have to.
• Artwork that’s desaturated by 100% is worth an additional 0.1 XP. You should generally desaturate by luminosity rather than lightness, but go with lightness if you think that makes the image look better.
• Artwork with a black border is worth an additional 0.1 XP. Make the image 106% its original size, rounding up to the nearest even number. Make the border the same size across both dimensions. For example, a 1000×2000px image should be 1060×2060px after its border is added (and not 1060×2120). If the image is dark enough that a black border isn’t visually distinct from the rest of the image, make it a dark gray border.
Artwork (Part II)
• Artwork with bbcode formatting in the Discord chat rooms is worth an additional 0.1 XP. Bbcord formatting is what makes the images show up in the adventure logs. To bbcode format an image, go the Media Library and upload the image. After it’s uploaded, click the image, and look at the url. It will read “https://db4sgowjqfwig.cloudfront.net/campaigns/117971/assets/[image number]/[file name].” Copy the image number and paste it into the following line of code, in place of XXX:
[[File:XXX | class=media-item-align-center | Pic.jpg]]
Copy the modified line of code and either DM it to the GM, or paste it in the relevant Discord channel. Players aren’t restricted to doing bbcode formatting for their own images: you can do them for images posted by the GM and other players too.
• Artwork posted in the Discord chat rooms during the same scene is worth either the above XP rate or (square root of the total number of images posted) XP, whichever is less. Past a certain point, more images add a diminishing amount of pizzaz to a scene.
Character portraits and images next to NPC blurbs should have a 110% rather than 106% sized border and fully uniform dimensions (e.g., 500 × 500 pixels). Portraits should be close-ups of the character’s face: generally, there should be no empty space between the top of the subject’s head and the image border, and it shouldn’t be possible to see more than the top of a necktie. Here’s one example and another example.
Canonicity of PC Actions
For a PC’s action to be considered canon, it has to be referenced in one of the in-character chat rooms. Here’s an example of why this matters:
Emmett once stumbled across Emil bleeding to death in his apartment. Emmett wanted to save the guy’s life, but he didn’t want to stick around after the emergency responders showed up and have to answer some really inconvenient questions. Emmett used Emil’s phone (which someone else had previously stolen from Emil and sold to Emmett—long story) to call 911. He then got the hell out of Dodge.
Well, there was also a severed nose underneath Emil’s bed, so the police wanted someone to arrest to keep their unit’s clearance rate high. (Plus, it was unclear exactly who had nearly killed Emil.) Emmett never got rid of the phone, so after interviewing Emil, the cops did their jobs, tracked down the phone that made the 911 call, and arrested Emmett as a suspect in the various crimes.
Or at least, they could have. Emmett’s player thought he’d made clear in the OOC room that Emmett got rid of the phone: the GM didn’t think so. As of this writing, I don’t remember why. Em’s player’s statement might have seemed ambiguous or it might have just gotten lost in the shuffle: the OOC room sees a lot of chatter, and a lot of it consists of banter, posted memes, and other game-irrelevant stuff. The GM always reads everything, but it is still possible for individual messages to get lost.
In contrast, it is very hard for stuff to get lost when it’s posted in the IC rooms. The GM keeps multiple Word docs that contain all of the chat transcripts from all of the IC rooms. It’s a permanent record of everything that’s happened and an extremely convenient format through which to look up even years-old information. The nature of the format leaves a lot less room for misinterpretation, too. If Em’s player posted, “Emmett chucks the phone into some nearby bushes after leaving the apartment,” that leaves things crystal clear for the GM, and the cops wouldn’t track Em down via the phone.
As it happens, that story had a happy ending. Em’s player took advantage of the game’s Declaration mechanic to declare that he had chucked the phone into some bushes earlier. But imagine if we’d gotten to a point where the cops had actually showed up outside Em’s door to arrest him, and it would’ve been too late to take that Declaration (since it would’ve contradicted the present)? Em getting arrested isn’t the end of the world, but the player would’ve been understandably frustrated if it felt like that was happening because of an OOC miscommunication.
So, to nip situations like that in the bud, You can post them yourself or tell the GM so he can reference them in his post.
Canonicity of PC Actions (December 2020 Update)
To further clarify this policy in response to a player’s questions, actions have to be referenced in the past or present tense to be considered canon. For example, if a PC says in-character “I’d like to do Thing X in the future,” that doesn’t make it happen. The future isn’t set in stone and it never goes exactly the way players (or the GM) expect. For stuff to happen, the PC either has to do it in the present (“I am now doing Thing X”) or reference it having happened in the past. (“I did Thing X.”) Depending on what Thing X is, we don’t have to spend a ton of time on it. The different Speeds of play, detailed below, are a thing. So long as Thing X gets referenced in-character, it’s canon.
Dead and Retired PCs
Sometimes PCs die. Other times, a player may retire their PC because they want to play something else or because they’re leaving the game. The following policies apply to all ex-PCs:
Backgrounds: Ex-PCs who don’t substantively use any Backgrounds on their character sheets before their deaths/retirements are considered to have never had those Backgrounds. For example, when Baptiste died, he’d had positive interactions with his sire (who was also his Mentor), so she took steps to avenge his final death. On the other hand, when Isa died, she’d had minimal and less than friendly interactions with the Kindred she shared Status (Coterie) with, so they didn’t particularly care about her final death. B&B is years old and I have no end of storylines I can spin from the consequences of real actions taken by PCs. I’m more interested in having the world react to those than relationships never established through actual play.
Endings: Retired PCs get whatever endings they earn in-game, no less and no more. PCs in positions of imminent peril get killed off. PCs who aren’t in immediate danger may ride off into the sunset, fade into the background, or get killed off, depending on their choices and circumstances up to that point. I’m typically not inclined to keep ex-PCs around as NPCs, since my portrayal is never quite the same as the player’s. Ex-PCs who’ve been played for a while and have fond memories associated with them are likely to get longer and richer epilogues, as well as more dramatic deaths (if it’s their fate to die).
Fudging Dice Rolls (New Answer)
Fudging dice rolls is impossible under the game system we now use, as players roll all the dice. But for people who just happen to be curious what the GM thinks of fudging (which they might actually find some value in, as it’s another indicator of what kind of game B&B is like), I’m keeping the older FAQ answer below.
Fudging Dice Rolls (Old Answer)
Most GMs who fudge rolls probably won’t admit to it. Nonetheless, this a topic worth bringing up, as I consider roll fudging to be one of the worst things that GMs can do to a game. (Or at least, to a game that I’d want to play in.)
The reason I play RPGs, and what I think separates them from books, movies, and other media we passively consume, is that everyone gets to tell the story. Players make choices and enjoy (or deal with) consequences. Dice rolls and character stats exist to impartially arbitrate in what ways (and to what extent) characters get to affect the narrative around them. Without dice rolls, we’re simply playing pretend like we did as kids, or writing fiction together.
When a GM fudges rolls, I believe they destroy the capacity of their players to make meaningful choices and rob of them of agency within the setting. Fudged rolls railroad players onto an outcome of the GM’s choosing, and at that point it’s no longer a group of people telling a story together. It’s one person ignoring everyone else’s voices, so they can tell the story “how it’s really supposed to go.”
That also assumes the GM is being dishonest about fudging. If players are okay with a GM who fudges, the group can and should do as they please. No one can tell someone how to have fun.
If a GM fudges rolls, I believe they should be up front about it before the game begins. I think some GMs aren’t because they’re worried known fudging might drive away prospective players, or will simply make their campaign world feel less dangerous (if the fudging benefits PCs) or impossible to effect change within (if PC actions fail by GM fiat).
As a semi-related observation, I think there is a stronger culture of fudging dice rolls in World of Darkness games than there is in D&D/Pathfinder. PF’s Gamemastery Guide was neutral on the topic of fudging (I remember it saying something to the effect of, “we’re not going to tell you whether it’s okay or not”), while multiple World of Darkness books outright encourage the GM to fudge. My original background as a player is in D&D/Pathfinder, and this is perhaps one way that said background influences B&B. Our game has no fudging of rolls. If I don’t want to deal with a particular roll’s outcome, I’ll head off the situation from happening in the first place and/or talk with the player OOC.
Pacing is a crucial component to running enjoyable text-based games. The medium is inherently slower than conventional tabletop play: every long-running text campaign I’ve participated in has grappled with that particular devil. I’ve come to believe that effectively managing a game’s pacing is just as important a GM skill as having interesting characters, engaging storylines, and strong knowledge of game mechanics.
The key to good pacing, I’ve also come to believe, is not leaving it up to chance. Just as GMs can (and should) revise mechanics that impede play, GMs should also be proactive in managing the speed at which scenes play out. When pacing is left to chance, it defaults to a slower speed. That drags down the whole game. Monte Cook gives some excellent advice on this subject in his Numenera RPG:
Although you want everyone to be happy, you’re in charge of pacing. If you must err, make the players struggle to keep up, rather than letting them be bored and wondering when you’re going to get on with it. Thus, if there’s no compelling reason against it, don’t hesitate to advance time, even in large chunks.
I’ve seen bad pacing ruin more games than probably anything else. Keep things moving. Keep them interesting.
If a campaign takes a year of play time in the real world, you don’t want it to take place in only three weeks of game time. That never feels right.
Scenes are divided into the following speeds so that we can deliberately choose how fast or slow a given scene should be. In true World of Darkness fashion, they have five ratings. The GM will typically use lower Speeds for narratively important or atmospheric scenes, establishing relationships with new characters, and other new things (e.g., your PC’s first on-screen visit to Elysium). Higher Speeds are good at progressing events with established characters, and mostly suck at establishing relationships with new characters.
Pacing: The Speeds
Speed 1 – Line by Line: The player and GM play out every dialogue line in a conversation and describe every dice roll. Example:
GM: “I love you, Bob,” says Jane, stroking Bob’s hair.
Player: “I love you, Jane,” says Bob, stroking Jane’s hair.
GM: “Let’s make love, Bob,” says Jane.
Player: “Okay, Jane,” says Bob.
Speed 2 – Exchange Summary: The player and GM condense individual dialogue and series of actions into shorter summaries. This takes place within a single scene. Example:
GM: Jane tells Bob how much she loves him. If he’s up for it, they have PG-appropriate lovemaking with the sheets on.
Player: Bob enoys the PG-appropriate lovemaking and rhetorically asks Jane if this is all there is once they’re done. “I just feel like there’s more to life, you know?”
GM: Jane shrugs, smiles, and says this is enough for her, until her demonic lords return to consume the world.
Player: Intrigued, Bob asks Jane to tell him more about her infernal masters. Maybe this is what he’s been looking for.
Speed 3 – Scene Summaries: As the above, except the player and GM play out multiple scenes through this format.
Player: Bob makes love with Jane and asks if this is all there is when they’re done.
GM: Jane says this is enough for her, until her demonic lords return to consume the world.
Player: Intrigued, Bob asks her to tell him more about her infernal masters. Maybe this is what he’s been looking for.
GM: She does so. If Bob is amenable, she inducts him into their worship over their coming months. He’s required to sacrifice a virgin over a demonic altar.
Player: Bob slits the crying victim’s throat and pledges himself body and soul to Belphegor, Lord of the 784th Pit of Unending Darkness.
GM: Belphegor is pleased with the sacrifice and commands Bob to continue feeding him souls.
Plaer: Over the coming months, Bob happily sends dozens of souls to the archdemon. Finally, he’s found what he was looking for.
Speed 4 – Four Line Speed: The player and GM play out a single scene with a maximum of up to four lines.
Speed 5 – Referenced Elsewhere: The scene isn’t played as its own scene. The player and GM suss out the details of what happens OOC, calling for dice rolls as necessary, and the player or GM reference what happened at the start of the next of the next scene. Example: “Jane walks into the bar in the French Quarter. She hit up her pal Bob for information about the manager, and he gave her good intel: perhaps the time is not yet nigh to sacrifice him to her demonic masters.” As with everything else, a Speed 5 scene must be referenced in-character for it to be canon. Keeping track of the game’s continuity becomes too difficult if portions are missing from the IC logs.
Playing NPCs: The OOC History
On several occasions, players have asked to play NPCs on behalf of the GM. This tradition started way back in 2015 when George Smith’s player was facing some pretty high-stakes, big-deal scenes with George that he wanted to do further more prep work for, but we had a session starting in only a couple hours. (This was back during the days when we still played weekly IRC sessions rather than the “play when you want” Discord model.) I asked him if he wanted to guest star as the ghoul for an NPC so he could have something to do, and he said sure.
Delaying George for a week actually didn’t lead to the player doing any particularly consequential or scene-altering prep work. It is usually better to just bite the bullet and move scenes along than fret over getting them perfect.
But George’s player did an amazing job playing the NPC’s ghoul (Eric Tantal, to Peter Lebeaux). He took a random ghoul who was probably going to be a largely background character and gave him depth and presence that added lots of color to the scene. Everyone walked away from the session having had a better time for Eric Tantal’s addition, and he went on to become a semi-recurring character long after George’s player left the game. If a PC these days wants to talk to a ghoul of Peter Lebeaux’s, they’ll probably run into Eric Tantal.
Players have occasionally asked to guest star as assorted minor NPCs in the years since then. Sometimes the GM has also offered it when an otherwise absent player didn’t feel they could commit to playing their PC at the time, but still wanted to do something in the game. Thus, some guidelines on the subject:
Playing NPCs: The Guidelines
• You’re a member of the supporting cast. You’ll show up in the logs as “Support” rather than a specific character’s name. The GM may pop in with instructions on how to play the character, or take turns playing them at particular points (if, say, you’ve been AFK a while and the GM wants to move the actual PC’s room along). Don’t sweat it if they die and/or suffer horribly at PC hands. The character is basically a bumper car. Enjoy the ride, expect it to be bumpy, and expect it to be brief, so have fun while you’re behind the wheel.
• Ask the GM when you want to guest star. Self-explanatory. By default, I assume players are only going to play their PCs. Guest star NPCs will be minor characters who haven’t appeared in the game before rather than established big-name ones like the prince.
Playing NPCs: Another Player’s Retainers
Players have also recently (as of this August 2020 writing) asked if they can play one another’s Retainers too. I’m cool with that if both players are.
Some guidelines there:
• You’re a sidekick. Your goal should be supporting the PC (and probable domitor) in their agenda, making them look cool, and helping them out however you can. Establish the Retainer’s character and make it memorable, but always remember your primary job is to puff up the PC. Shine a spotlight on them.
• Don’t try to introduce new dramatic complications. If the Retainer you’re playing has a Flaw, play it accordingly. If the PC does something mean or offensive to the Retainer, have them react accordingly. But don’t independently seek out trouble or take actions that would make the PC’s life harder. That’s the GM’s job. Any player who has a Retainer picked one up because they wanted the Retainer to be an asset to their PC.
Most games I’ve played in haven’t allowed retcons of PC actions, and neither does Blood & Bourbon. Nonetheless, I recognize that not all players share this prior gaming experience, so to clarify B&B’s position:
We don’t do ‘em. If a player wishes they’d pursued a different tactic to befriend an NPC, we’ll leave the scene as it played out. Try approaching the NPC again later. If a PC forgets to do something important during an earlier scene, let’s see what they can do in a future scene. If a PC spits in the prince’s face and regrets it, sorry. For good or ill, actions taken by PCs are not subject to retroactive change after they’re taken.
With that said, it’s a rare day that players can’t undo the effects of their PCs’ actions. We’ve seen PCs flip numerous adversarial NPC relationships to friendly ones, while the Declaration use for Story Points (Willpower) allows players to retroactively take past actions that don’t contradict established facts in the present. Very few events in the game are unchangeable if the player is willing to put in the time and/or effort to change them.
Follow-Up Question: But why don’t we do them? There are several reasons B&B exercises a light hand with retcons.
• First, it helps players take the gameworld seriously. There would be a diminished sense of danger and consequence if players could walk back on actions they later wished they hadn’t taken. Words and actions always matter.
• Secondly, it’d be an easy source of sore feelings among players when some PCs got retcons and others didn’t. When no one gets them, everyone gets equal treatment.
• Last, it saves time. Text-based games aren’t the fastest medium. Doing scenes over again would take more time.
Retcons: What’s Isn’t a Retcon
• Editing Posts: Players can freely edit or delete any post the GM has not responded to. If their PC spits on an elder’s face, but the player decides that was a bad idea a couple minutes later, they can strike their post from the record. It only becomes a locked-in part of the game’s continuity after the GM replies to it (or the player makes a dice roll as part of that action).
• Prettying Up Posts: Sometimes players aren’t satisfied with their writing and want to polish it up. The GM does this all the time in the game’s posted logs. For example, “he’s wearing a suit” might get changed into “he’s wearing a plum-colored pinstriped suit with a rose pinned to the lapel.” The GM might add, delete, or revise sections of a character’s dialogue. None of this can actually change what happens. The PC who spits on the prince’s face still spits in the prince’s face. But the player or GM could change a description from “spittle” to “bloody spittle” if they forgot that vampires don’t produce (many) bodily fluids besides blood.
Retcons: GM Retcons
The GM can make retcons to the game’s continuity, though will only do so in extenuating circumstances. For example, after one PC was retired, his epilogue had a line which stated he was executed in 2042. When we un-retired him and brought him back to active play, his execution date got changed to 2016. GM retcons follow a pretty simple cardinal rule:
They cannot change the consequences of a PC’s actions.
In other words, retcons are only allowed for GM-dependent details like Em’s “2042 to 2016” execution. No scenes in 2042 were actually played out, so no PC actions were invalidated. It was an off-hand reference that made the difference between the PC being playable and unplayable. Another GM retcon was changing a different PC’s initial age from 17 to 20 to better reflect how she’d been played, which involved editing some NPC dialogue lines and third-person descriptions in the logs.
• Use present tense, not past tense. Example: “Bob opens the door” vs. “Bob opened the door.”
• Use third person. Example: “Bob opens the door” vs. “I open the door.”
• When emoting your character’s thoughts or internally monologuing, use the _ tags instead of quotes. Example: I hate opening doors, Bob thinks.
• Whenever you use italics (whether to denote that your PC is thinking, or just to emphasize a particular word) use ~ tags next to them. Example: Bob really hates opening doors. For those wondering why the GM asks this, my process of converting Discord messages into posted Obsidian Portal logs unfortunately erases italics: the ~ tags, however, are easy to replace en mass with _ characters.
• When your character communicates telepathically, use the _ tags preceded by :: in place of quotes. Example: :: I hate opening doors too, :: Jane’s voice sounds in Bob’s mind.
• When your character speaks in another language, post the non-English translation of what they’re saying (that you’ve probably pulled from Google Translate) followed by the original English version with _ tags and parentheses. Example: “Odio aprire le porte,” says Bob. (“I hate opening doors.”)
• When your character communicates via the written word (whether email, texting, or plain old-fashioned letters), use the _ tags instead of quotes. Example: Dear Jane, Bob writes, I really hate opening doors. You have no idea. Sincerely, Bob
• When the GM summarizes an exchange, respond with a summary rather than line-by-line dialogue. Summaries are intended to briskly move the game along, so it defeats the point when the player types their response out word-for-word. It also keeps the scene’s descriptive tenor consistent. Example:
GM: Jane writes back that she despises opening doors too. Her parents were killed by doors, and hatred has burned hot within her breast for all their kind ever since.
Bob: Encouraged, Bob pens yet another scathing diatribe denouncing doors in all their shapes and forms.