Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and 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.
Prospective players linked to Blood & Bourbon its Roll20 listing can skip reading this section, as it’s mostly the same info that’s posted there. Prospective players who aren’t from Roll20 should not skip it.
What is B&B about as a chronicle?
Blood & Bourbon is a ongoing Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle started in 2015 that’s set in modern-day New Orleans. The game’s twin focuses are the bread and butter of Vampire: personal horror and political intrigue. While the GM tailors the former to the personalities and relationships of the game’s PCs, the latter’s basic political setup is a three-way 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-fare 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, the latest gossip in Elysium holds the prince is going to enter torpor soon. 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. Yet even as things heat up in New Orleans, the rest of the world isn’t getting any cooler. Tensions between Anarchs and the Camarilla are reaching a boiling point, whispers spread of elders mysteriously beckoned to the Middle East, and a new breed of hunters that’s more organized and deadly than ever is systematically purging cities of the undead. PCs in Blood & Bourbon’s setting immerse themselves in the plots and intrigues of their fellow Kindred to carve out 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 the GM 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 29-year-old guy who’s been playing RPGs on and off since 2008 and GMing Blood & Bourbon since 2015. The game’s current two players, Pete and Emily, are around the same age and RPG and experience level. We’re looking for another one or two players to bring into our gaming group. Newbies and veterans are equally welcome: Pete and several of our prior players were brand new to the World of Darkness when they first joined.
B&B has been around for over half a decade 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 big impacts upon the setting. Everyone involved has put a lot of blood and sweat into the chronicle, and we’re looking for new people who share our level of passion, enthusiasm, and desire to get involved with something for the long haul. The chronicle could last for another five years or more: I have no plans to end it 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. It asks quite a bit of time and effort from players and GM alike.
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 this 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 in this game. They have also changed the setting in big ways that not all GMs may have been willing to let them. I firmly 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 adults with busy lives and scheduling 5-hour weekly blocks would be tough. Players post in their chat rooms 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 several minutes to several 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. If your PC belongs to a coterie (recommended—neonates need allies), your coterie-mates will be NPCs.
What game system do you use?
We use a slimmed-down custom system based off the Storytelling and V5 rules, with many of the more prolix mechanics removed, and some other mechanics added from other sources that struck the GM’s fancy, as well as his own imagination. I enjoy mechanics design and regularly tinker with rules, but prefer them to be unobtrusive during play and to take up a minimum of everyone’s time.
Prospective players can read more about the chronicle’s game system here.
What content is allowed and what content is off-limits?
Graphic violence, sexual assault, racism, misogyny, homo/transphobia, child abuse, incest, domestic violence, and a variety of other 18+ topics are all fair game in this game. I endeavor to treat them with tastefulness rather than play for laughs or shock value. If there are topics you’d prefer not to feature in your PC’s story, I’ll refrain from deliberately steering your PC towards them, but I can’t promise they will be completely absent. If there are some topics you never want to read about, B&B might not be the game for you. By and large, our group is pretty relaxed when it comes to sensitive content: we’re all friends outside the game who know each other and our comfort zones pretty well.
Do I need to get up to speed on anything before playing?
Yep. As stated, Blood & Bourbon has been around since 2015. 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” need to be familiar 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 500+ pages! That is an unreasonable time commitment to ask of people who don’t yet know if they’re playing in the game or not. Read as little or as much as you like right now. Once I contact you over Discord to create your PC in earnest (more on that below), however, you will be required to read most of the setting info pages and adventure logs before play begins with your PC.
Blood & Bourbon asks a relatively big reading commitment of new players, but 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 storylines and to give them connections to the setting’s 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 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.
How to Join the Game
Interested in playing with us? Awesome! Send the GM a private message over Obsidian Portal (his username is Calder_R) or create a thread on the game’s Roll20 listing. Please answer the following:
Prospective players linked to Blood & Bourbon via its Roll20 listing can also skip this section.
1. Tell me a little about yourself, your playstyle, how old you are, and how you hope to have a fun time in this game.
2. Let me know your background in RPGs in general and Masquerade specifically. Also let me know whether you’ve read any of the sourcebooks B&B makes use of.
Preference is not given based on age, experience, or sourcebook familiarity. I’m much more interested in the quality of your writing and whether your personality feels like a good fit for the group: everything else is negotiable. (Though if you haven’t read the sourcebooks before, please don’t now!) Experience is primarily useful for me to know because it guides character concepts. If you’re brand new to the game, you should probably play a vampire who was only recently Embraced. If you’re an old hat, then you should probably play a vampire with some experience under their belt.
3. Let me know you’re on board with the game’s reading commitment and the reasons behind it.
4. Let me know what your Discord ID is. You can PM it to me if you’d rather not post it publicly.
Your PC Pitch, Part I
For your PC pitch, included in the same PM or post, please answer the following:
1. Sum up your character concept in a couple or so words. Less is more. Examples might be, “Rebel without a cause,” “Sadomasochistic biker chick,” “Vision-plagued surrealist painter,” etc. Don’t include your clan as part of your concept. The best characters stand on their own without it.
2. List several preferred clans and sires. Choose your preferred sires from the personae off the wiki. If your preferred clan doesn’t have a wiki page with any sires, then you obviously don’t have to list any sires. Toreador, Tzimisce, and Ventrue PCs are currently off-limits to new players.
For any players wondering why I ask for multiple listed clans, we’ve seen a lot of PCs from a lot of clans after 5+ years of play, and some are easier fits into the game than others. Some are better fits for some character concepts than others. Listing multiple potential clans gives me more latitude when considering how to integrate your PC into the chronicle. (Too many more isn’t necessarily better, though. If you say “any clan can work,” you’re essentially asking me to decide your clan for you.) Fee free to list them by order of preference, but they should all be ones you think you could genuinely enjoy playing.
Feel free to include clan-dependent tweaks to your PC’s concept if certain clans would play up (or play down) different parts of their identity: e.g., “My PC plays in a jazz band as a hobby if they’re a Brujah, but it’s their full-time occupation if they’re a Toreador.”
Bloodlines are allowed in the game. They have their own system that allows them to be combined with the main 13 clans.
Non-vampire PCs are currently off-limits to new players.
Your PC Pitch, Part II
3. List which of the city’s factions your PC belongs to, chosen from the ones off the wiki. Sabbat PCs and unaligned PCs are currently off-limits to new players.
4. List some mortals who are friends, family members, significant others, or other meaningful figures from your PC’s mortal life, also chosen from the personae off the wiki. Mortal interactions are a very important part of Blood & Bourbon, as I believe they keep the chronicle “grounded” in real life, provide contrast to the supernatural politics, and make the horror horrifying. Please do not pitch characters with few mortal connections.
5. List some vampires who your PC has relationships with besides their sire: coterie-mates, rivals, lovers, associates, ’it’s complicated’s, anyone you feel like they could have an interesting dynamic with. Choose them from the same personae lists.
6. Explain your character’s basic shtick to me in one to several paragraphs. This can be history, personality, whatever gives us both a good preview of the character and makes us excited to develop them further.
One element I want all applications to include is goals. What agendas is your PC pursuing in Kindred society? What do you want them to accomplish in the gameworld? This a pretty sandboxy game that favors proactive characters: storylines tend to develop as a result of PC crossing paths with NPCs who are pursuing related agendas, rather than because the GM is shepherding PCs into an ongoing “main plot.”
I do not want PCs with nebulous or undefined goals, or who want to figure out their goals over the course of play. While interaction with the gameworld will (and should) change your PC’s goals, I want your character to have a clear starting agenda they can pursue.
Dream big, too, where goals are concerned! Some goals may take more time and effort to achieve than others, but very few are impossible if players put their minds to them. Watching PCs change the gameworld in consequential and unexpected ways is one of my favorite things about GMing.
Some Further Tips
• Please do not include game stats for your character. We’ll work on those later.
• Write what you know. This is pretty timeless advice, and it’s especially applicable to text-based games. I am a pretty detail-oriented GM and we can play out scenes in lots of depth and specificity: if you want to play a PC who’s a skilled professional at something you don’t know anything about, you won’t play a convincing skilled professional. If you happen to know a lot about a topic, the GM strongly encourages you to make it relevant to your PC in some way. For example, our former paralegal player has a lawyer PC. Our player who works at a salon has a PC who owns a salon.
• PCs with extensively detailed pasts outside of New Orleans will probably be turned down. Your PC doesn’t have to be from New Orleans (the city’s biggest industry is tourism, so it gets ton of out-of-town visitors), but I care vastly more about your character’s goals and relationships in New Orleans than I care about their past outside of the city. Said past will probably be irrelevant to the chronicle’s events. PCs with extensively detailed backgrounds outside of the city are often red flags to me that a player is more interested in playing a particular PC concept that’s struck their interest than integrating their PC into an ongoing (and years old) chronicle. If your PC is not from the city, you should probably spend no more than a single (brief) paragraph on their history outside of New Orleans.
• I would like to see more non-white PCs (the city is majority-black and PCs have been majority-white). I would especially like to see more members of the Baron’s faction, which has been criminally under-explored. However, I would rather bring in a PC who checks none of those boxes than a PC who checks them all if the former has a more compelling pitch. If you are excited about the character, it will show in your writing. Only pitch a Baron follower if you find that faction genuinely exciting to play.
• You can pitch more than one character. This may increase your odds of being accepted into the game if I think the second/third/whatever-th character is a better fit than the first one: I have, for example, turned down strongly-written past applications because the character had too much conceptual overlap with existing PCs. Multiple pitches also may not increase your odds if I think your first PC proposal was already a great fit. If you end up feeling attached to more than one of your character pitches, you might be interested in playing them as a secondary PC (more on that later in the FAQ).
• This is a text-based game, so proper spelling, grammar, and syntax is important. We all make typos, but I am likely to pass over a character pitch that’s riddled with errors.
What if I’ve gamed with you before?
If you have gamed with me previously, either in Blood & Bourbon or another game, you don’t need to submit an application. I already know what you’re like as a player/GM and don’t need an application to “vet” you and get a sense for your playstyle. (New players, that’s the point of those.) Just let me know you’re interested in playing and we’ll go from there.
What happens after I send in my character pitch?
1. If I like your PC pitch and the game has room, I’ll contact you over Discord. If one or both of those things isn’t the case, I’ll shoot you a PM heads up.
2. We’ll do the following more or less concurrently over Discord:
(a. We’ll collaboratively hash out more details on a variety of topics relevant to your character concept, including their stats.
(b. You’ll join the campaign over Obsidian Portal and post a character page for your PC.
(c. You’ll read through the OP wiki to familiarize yourself with the game’s setting, characters, and adventure logs.
Prospective players will have a week to finish steps (a and (b with me before I’ll reevaluate whether to keep them or bring in a different player: when PC creation takes a while, that’s often a warning sign the player can’t fully commit to the game.
3. We’ll run your prelude. This will give me a chance to see what you’re like to game with and how compatible our personalities are. You’ll also continue to catch up on the OP wiki’s setting/character pages and adventure logs.
4. Once the above “interview” is over, you’ll join the channels with the other players and be welcomed into the game proper. We’ll hopefully have many years of fun gaming ahead of us.
If I feel like we’re not a good fit for each another at any point during this process, I’ll let you know and we’ll go our separate ways. If you also end up deciding Blood & Bourbon isn’t the game for you, I’ll likewise appreciate hearing so up front.
Thanks again for your interest in the game!
More Game Info
This information is not posted over Blood & Bourbon’s Roll20 listing.
Age: How old can my PC be?
You have a couple options as far as your PC’s age:
Last Night: Your PC is Embraced right when their story begins, or perhaps after a mortal “boot camp” story arc. Your PC is brand new to undeath and doesn’t know anything about how Kindred society works. I recommend this option to players with no previous Masquerade experience, as it allows your character’s knowledge about the setting to mirror your knowledge as a player. Lack of familiarity with Masquerade becomes a plus and will help you play your PC’s reactions authentically. I will usually steer more experienced players away from this option for the same reason, as it is harder for them to portray a “total newcomer” PC authentically.
If your PC is Embraced last night, they can be in their 20s or older. I’m generally not interested in telling stories about younger characters.
2010 through 2016: Neonates can be Embraced between these years (2016 is the chronicle’s current IG year) without any special considerations. More Embraces happened towards the end of this period as the city’s population rebounded.
2005 through 2010: Very few neonates were Embraced in the city during these years. Hurricane Katrina caused a huge population drop (454,000 to 208,000 in the city proper, greater metro area excluded) and the prince put a moratorium on new Embraces. However, there are several ways a neonate could have been sired during these years:
• Your PC might have been Embraced illegally and be lying about their age or where they were Embraced.
• Your PC might have been Embraced in another city. Many of New Orleans’ Kindred fled the city during Katrina and settled elsewhere. Some stayed away, but others came back. The majority of these “Katrina refugees” settled in Houston and Baton Rouge. In this manner, PCs can be Embraced beyond the city but still have a native sire.
• Your PC’s sire might have gotten permission from the prince anyway despite the general moratorium. We haven’t seen any instances of such in the chronicle yet, but it could have happened. It should also have a compelling reason. Why was Vidal willing to allow a new Embrace despite the heightened risk more vampires posed to the Masquerade?
Pre-2005: Many neonates Embraced during these years were either killed during Hurricane Katrina by the storm’s assorted dangers, or else left the city and never came back. Only the most stubborn, foolish, or loyal to an elder patron remained in the city when the hurricane made landfall: everyone else got the hell out of Dodge, as the governor’s mandatory evacuation order meant the city was almost emptied of mortals to feed on. Travel is dangerous for Kindred, though, and was even more so during the mass exodus. Many “Katrina refugees” were killed by Lupines, hunters, Strix, and other perils during the 300-mile journey to neighboring Houston. Baton Rouge was closer, but primarily drew Nosferatu, Invictus Kindred, and elders—the much smaller city’s prince was stingy who he granted sanctuary to.
Your PC could have been among these Katrina survivors. Consider where they went (or if they remained behind) during the storm, how those events impacted them, and what drew them back to New Orleans. Displaced neonates returned in smaller numbers than displaced older Kindred, as they had fewer ties to the city and were able to build new unlives for themselves.
Maximum Age: A new player’s PC can be up to several decades old. The GM wants them to be young enough that people from their mortal life are still up and around (vice on their deathbeds in nursing homes). Ancilla and elder characters are not currently available to new players.
Also, a final note: older characters can more easily justify purchasing higher traits. This will matter less to some players than others, but I throw it out as a heads up. The game’s players can testify the GM is a stickler for this and will say “no” to a months-old fledgling waltzing around with 10 Discipline dots (unless they’re a serial diablerist). Characters with a few years of undeath under their belt have more room to grow where supernatural power is concerned.
Clans: Which clans are available to PCs?
As said earlier, pretty much any of the clans except for Toreador, Tzimisce, and Ventrue are okay potential fits into the game. I say “potential” because it depends on the character concept. Some clans have bigger presences in the setting than others, and ones with smaller presences are more likely to be tied to specific storylines that work best for a narrower range of character concepts.
B&B is a long-running chronicle and has seen a lot of PCs, some played for multiple years: consequently, the GM has an interest in exploring clans which have received less screentime than others. As of this May 2021 writing, each clan has received the following amounts of play, determined by adventure log page counts for PCs of that clan:
• 0: Banu Haqim, Lasombra, Salubri, thin-blooded, Tzimisce
• ~40: Nosferatu, Setite
• ~50: Caitiff
• ~60: Malkavian
• ~80: Ravnos
• ~300: Brujah, Hecata
• ~400: Gangrel
• ~600: Tremere
• ~2000: Toreador
• ~3000: Ventrue
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.
Factions: Which factions are available to PCs?
New Orleans has multiple factions known as covenants imported from Vampire: The Requiem. The Character Portal has more information on them. V5 has basically reinvented the wheel there between making the Camarilla more exclusive (Invictus), introducing the Church of Caine (Lancea et Sanctum), House Carna (Circle of the Crone), and splitting the Anarchs from the Camarilla (Carthians).
As with clans, the GM has an interest in exploring covenants which have received less screentime than others. As of this May 2020 writing, each covenant has received the following amounts of play, determined by adventure log page counts for vampire and ghoul PCs of that covenant:
• ~100: Circle of the Crone, Invictus
• ~200: Ordo Dracul
• ~350: Anarch Movement
• ~500: Independent clan
• ~600: House Tremere
• ~1000: Unaligned (off-limits to new players)
• ~1900: Lancea et Sanctum (Savoy)
• ~3400: Lancea et Sanctum (Vidal)
A few notes on covenants:
Dual Membership: Unlike clans, PCs can belong to more than one covenant. There are multiple NPCs who do. They’re also a minority next to single-covenant members: just remember that quote about serving two masters…
As in all things, consult with the GM if you are interested in going this route with your PC. Some covenants are pretty chummy with one another, some have mixed or neutral feelings, and some are bitter enemies: some covenants will be easier and/or more plausible to hold dual membership inf than others.
The Circle of the Crone: The GM would especially like to see a new PC who belongs to the Circle of the Crone. Vodoun is a huge part of New Orleans’ history and culture. While it’s had a presence in the game, it would be a larger presence withf a Crone PC.
In some ways, it’s not a surprise we’ve only had one Crone PC, as most players don’t know much about Vodoun as a religion and have expressed understandable reservations about convincingly portraying a Vodouisant character. There are few things more game-breaking than watching someone try to roleplay their PC as an expert in a subject they don’t know anything about. (GMs have it easier with roleplaying NPC experts, since their scenes are briefer.)
However, there is also an easy solution to this for Vodoun-interested, Vodoun-unfamiliar players: have your PC’s knowledge mirror your own knowledge. Make your PC a newcomer to the religion who’s interested in learning more about it, a “lay member” of the faith (e.g., not a full-fledged houngan or mambo), or otherwise give them ties to Vodoun that don’t presuppose expert knowledge about its practices. We’ve had plenty of Christian PCs, but none of them were priests. Our Jewish PC isn’t a rabbi. Ditto for Vodoun.
Don’t take this as a mandate from the GM to play a Crone, though. If Vodoun isn’t a part of the setting that especially interests you, you will have more fun and better enrich the game by playing a PC in another covenant.
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 shoot me a PM over Obsidian Portal or post a thread on the game’s Roll20 listing with a character pitch, per the process detailed here. I don’t promise I’ll accept your friend into the game, but I’ll give their application at least the same consideration as any other prospective player. (And probably more, since 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 another dice pool, perhaps the pool used simply not specified, or perhaps rolled secretly by me or another player. (I only do this last option if there’s no apparent way to avoid tipping my hand, as I prefer to let players roll their own dice.) If the roll fails, we’ll jump in media res to whatever point the PC remembers next, with no OOC explanation for what happened in the interim. Or 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 will be 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) purely to increase tension, and to make players wonder if something is happening when nothing is—but unable to be sure, when most of their rolls are “real,” and not all of their “real” rolls have immediately obvious consequences.
The point of this FAQ section is not to give away how to see through GM trickery. If a player ever got to a point where I felt like they could consistently do that (none have), I’d just roll their “sensitive” dice pools 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 a ghoul, wanted to participate in George’s/Matheson’s trial with a vampire PC who had stronger motivation to participate in those events and greater ability to affect their outcome. Afterwards, when George’s player enjoyed the brief cameos made by several preliminary PC concepts of his I’d reused as NPCs (Pietro Silvestri and Monty Lestrange, for the curious), I extended the same offer to him.
Secondary PCs adhere to the following meta-rules:
• Starting Traits: Secondary PCs begin play with starting character traits. If the GM allows an ancilla-age secondary PC, they begin play with higher traits. (Full guidelines to come if we have another, which we may not.)
While a brand new secondary PC is “lower level” than a primary PC when they begin play, newer PCs usually receive trait increases at a faster rate than older PCs, and that gap will soon close with play.
• XP: If you earn XP from wiki work, you can divide it however you please between your PCs; e.g., if you earn 6 XP by writing a character page, you could give 3 XP to both PCs, 6 XP to one PC, 4 XP to one PC and 2 XP to another PC, etc.
• 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.
• 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.
At the GM’s discretion, tertiary PCs may enter play with different stats than starting PCs (these may be higher or lower) and/or follow a more streamlined character creation process, since there is less expectation the player is going to play the PC often enough to receive regular trait increases or to justify spending wiki work XP on them.
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 of my players and I 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 could know. Sometimes that takes the form of Mental-based rolls, or even telling players outright in particularly obvious cases (e.g., if you’re playing a character Politics or Socialize 5, 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 writing, four 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.
Lessons that future PCs can take from some of those fatalities, incidentally? Showing up to Elysium hungry is bad form, and conducting diplomatic negotiations on behalf of your clan/covenant without actually telling them is likely to tick off your superiors and deprive you of backup in case things go south.
Race: Does PC race matter at all?
Somewhat. There’s two components to this:
Non-Generic White People: New Orleans is famous for its unique blending of cultures and the ancestry of PCs benefits from reflecting that diversity. Consult the Nationalities of the Big Easy page for information about the immigrant groups found in the Big Easy. You can choose one (or more than one; 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 neonate PCs than older vampires, so don’t get too caught up on making your character 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.
Demographics: As Ray Nagin (later sent to prison for corruption charges) declared, New Orleans is a chocolate city. Wikipedia can tell you that its racial demographics are 60.2% African-American, 33.0% Caucasian, 5.2% Hispanic/Latin, 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): Adelais, Alice, Amelie, Annabelle, Caroline, Cletus, George, Jacob, Jonathan, Lou, Micheal, Rocco
• Mixed (4): Baptiste, Celia, Emil, Emmett
• African-American (4): Clea, Julien, Mouse, Milo
• Asian (1): Ayame
• Latin (1): Isa
• Native American (1): Lavine
On a demographic level, this actually isn’t unrealistic. Most PCs have been middle class to rich (Resources 2-5), and most of the city’s poor are also black (and vice versa). Still, I’ve felt that B&B would benefit from exploring this side of New Orleans in greater depth. As such, players are encouraged but not mandated to pick from non-Caucasian racial backgrounds. The GM’s preference stems less from sociopolitical leanings in either direction and more from desire to accurately reflect the city’s racial demographics.
* As a related bit of trivia, about 52% of New Orleans households live in poverty. Louisiana is also one of the poorest states in the Union. As of Tom Benson’s death, it doesn’t even have any resident billionaires. (In Blood & Bourbon’s setting, it has two publicly known ones: Matthew Malveaux and John Dyer.)
Reused PCs: Can I play a PC from another chronicle?
I’ve had several prospective players ask this question. My answer is yes, so long as they re-tailor their PC’s background and concept to fit Blood & Bourbon’s setting.
Here’s an example of how to do this wrong and how to do this right:
Wrong: “My character is a Tremere historian from London with a background in classical history with who joined the Cult of Mithras, a somewhat unusual move given the animosity between the clan and London’s prince. All of his friends and family are in London, but he’ll meet new people in New Orleans.”
Right: “My character is a Malkavian (because you’ve had fewer Malkavian PCs!) historian from New Orleans with a background in antebellum history who joined the Baron’s followers, a somewhat unusual move given the animosity between his sire and the Baron. All of his friends and family are from New Orleans and are chosen from characters off the wiki’s NPC lists, since he’s lived in the city for at least several years.”
What does the “right” PC here do? They retain the spirit of the PC’s original background but rework it to be relevant to Blood & Bourbon’s setting. So long as your PC has that going for them, I don’t care if you’ve played them in a previous campaign before or not. Do a good job fitting them into the setting and I won’t be able to know unless you tell me.
The “wrong” PC has few connections to Blood & Bourbon’s setting and it’s easy to tell they’re a “transplant.” Directly porting over a PC without any changes is also a red flag to me that the player isn’t invested in the chronicle and simply wants to continue playing a favorite PC under any GM who will take them. All power to the player if they can find a willing GM, but that GM won’t be me. I ultimately have no emotional investment in PCs from other games or any interest in continuing their stories, as B&B is its own story. If a player is invested in B&B, they will have more fun playing a “native” character who has meaningful social and thematic ties to the setting.
The GM will freely change events from a transplanted PC’s background to suit the needs of B&B’s setting. If a player’s old PC diablerized a methuselah during the last game they were in, that might get scrapped for the simple reason that it overshadows the chronicle’s events. However, it could get reworked into something like “diablerized one of the elders who disappeared during Hurricane Katrina,” which would be a neat connection to the setting.
Ultimately, if a player wants to re-use an old character, the GM recommends viewing their past incarnation more as inspiration for a PC specific to Blood & Bourbon than as a PC the player should expect to continue playing as-is.
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 like the GM likes with lots of tweaks.”
For more information on what particular stuff the GM likes, and what Blood & Bourbon’s larger setting not endemic to New Orleans looks like, consult the Setting Differences page.
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:
Do not read from those books!
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 players who have. It’s just undesirable (and I explain this for the benefit of new players) because it inevitably 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.
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 original NPCs, artwork, fiction, and assorted other wiki pages and game-related content that have greatly enriched the wiki through their addition. The GM likes it so much when players do this that it’s worth XP, as detailed below.
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.
• 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.
• 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 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.
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.
Fudging Dice Rolls
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 this older FAQ 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.
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.
Invalid Dice Rolls
If a player (or the GM) forgets a bonus or penalty after dice are rolled, and we don’t need to rewrite more than one post to reflect the actual roll results, we factor it in. If we’d need to rewrite more than one post, the described results stand.
If you rolled too many dice, shave off any excess dice and discount their individual results from your final roll result. (For example, if someone rolled a dice pool of four and got results of 4, 8, 5, 9 for two successes, but then remembered a -2 penalty, we would discount the 5 and 9, leaving the player with one success.)
If you roll an unnecessary dice pool (for example, Intelligence + Politics on a piece of information the GM would have told for free), your results get discounted, be they good or bad. The results are not used or substituted for any subsequent rolls.
Players have asked about this in the past and whether they can “keep good rolls.” While the GM’s kinder instincts make him want to say yes, it would then only be fair to make players keep the results of bad rolls, which I don’t think anyone wants to do. So invalid rolls simply don’t get used at all.
Once a player declares an action and rolls a dice pool for it, the action is locked in and can’t be taken back. If a PC attacks someone and rolls a botch, for example, there’s a “conflict of interest” if the player decides that picking a fight was actually a bad idea all along.
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:
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 cryivg 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.
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.
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 players 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 Willpower allows players to retroactively take past actions that don’t contradict 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.
There are a few gray-ish areas that are not considered retcons.
• 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 which influences or is influenced by 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.
• Jumping the Gun: There have been a few times when players posted their PC’s actions before they could roll a Mental Skill check the GM had intended to ask them for. If the player wants to do something differently based on the check results, it’s okay for them to revise their posts.
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.
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.
Rolling Dice When People are Absent
The nature of our medium is such that players and the GM aren’t always online at the same time. Rolling dice when someone else is offline is a helpful way to speed up play.
Whenever a player would normally ask “Can I roll [dice pool X] to do [attempted action Y]?” and the GM isn’t online, they should go ahead and roll dice pool X.
If the roll isn’t needed, the GM can discard the results.
If the roll was needed, the GM can immediately describe the results instead of saying, “Yes, you can roll,” and then waiting for the player to pop back online to roll.
If a roll was needed, but the player used the wrong pool, the GM can add additional dice (per “When a player is absent” below) or shave off excess dice as needed.
If the GM needs a PC’s dice roll results before writing a post for their chat room, he may assume the PC Takes Half (that is, gets an average number of successes for their dice pool, rounding down uneven numbers) to move things along if the player is offline.
The GM may wait for the PC’s player to come online if the roll in question is significant enough.
Shared Beliefs of Players and PCs vs. Mind-Reading NPCs
There have been a couple times where players believed that an NPC was reading their PC’s mind, Presence-ing them into speaking the truth, or simply had an Empathy/Subterfuge dice pool high enough to see through any lies the PC told. Players (it’s been more than one) have then stated that their PC believed something which was less likely to result in negative consequences. When the PC’s beliefs mirror the player’s, that’s okay. When they don’t, that can be a problem. Here’s an example of how:
Player Bob believes that Elder Jane is reading his neonate PC’s mind. Player Bob wants his PC to do something that he also believes Elder Jane would physically or socially retaliate against him for. Player Bob declares that his PC agrees with Elder Jane and doesn’t want to do it, because she’s an elder and she knows best. Player Bob later has his PC “change their mind” and do whatever it is anyway.
That’s metagaming. Combine it with flashbacks, which give players the power to rewrite the game’s continuity and play out new scenes in non-chronological order, and it can result in mental gymnastics that bog down the game with questions of at what time the PC did or didn’t believe in X.
To avoid that, we have a simple rule: PCs believe the same things their players do. Now, if a Tzimisce torture artist PC believes it’s okay to wear their ghouls’ flayed skin as neckties, I don’t presume their player shares those beliefs. But if a player intends to have their PC backstab an NPC (and isn’t simply contemplating the OOC pros and cons of the idea, but intends to follow through on it), that’s what another character who uses Auspex on them can potentially find out.
That’s also the same standard to which NPCs are held: when they lie to PCs, players can roll Empathy/Subterfuge to see through their bullcrap. When PCs use truth-ferreting powers to suss out an NPC’s true motives, NPCs don’t conveniently “change their minds” at a later date. Metagaming is a no-no for the GM too.
• 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.
Dead and Retired PCs
If a PC dies or is retired from play, any new PC the the player creates has starting character stats, plus any XP earned from wiki work. As with secondary PCs, this is less a “nerf” than it may sound, as newer PCs tend to receive trait increases at a faster rate than older PCs.
Ex-PCs and Backgrounds: Ex-PCs who don’t substantively use any Backgrounds on their character sheets before their deaths/retirements are effectively considered not to have had those Backgrounds. For example, when Baptiste died, he’d had positive interactions with his sire (who he’d bought as Mentor), so she took steps to avenge his death. On the other hand, when Isa died, she’d had no real interactions with the Kindred she bought Status (Coterie) with, so by and large they don’t care about her 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 much more interested in having the world to those than relationships never established through actual play.
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:
• You’re probably stat-free. If you’re an NPC, you don’t roll dice, track Hunger/Craving, have Willpower, etc. The GM might tell you what some of your trait dot ratings are, to inform how you roleplay the character, but for the most part those don’t matter. Numbers are only likely to come up if PCs decide to roll dice against you, in which case it’s simply against a DC set by the GM.
• 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 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.
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, and helping them out however you can, rather than stealing the spotlight or introducing dramatic complications. Leave the former to the PC and the latter to the GM. You’re an XP/starting Background investment the PC’s player bought to help themselves out.
• The vampire PC’s player still buys the Retainer with their own starting Background dots/earned XP or obtains the Retainer in-game. Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
• The Retainer’s player rolls dice normally. The vampire’s player and the Retainer’s player both have access to the Retainer’s stats.
• Retainers don’t have Willpower, as they’re sidekicks. If the Retainer would earn Willpower from a Flaw, it goes to their PC domitor instead.