Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
Theme and Mood
“Way down in New Orleans, it’s the same old thing.”
If we were to set about creating a brand-new fictional city to personify the aesthetic of Vampire, we could not do better than New Orleans. Few cities embody the Gothic-Punk aesthetic as well as the Big Easy. It is the old intertwined with the new, the fearsome with the holy. Hoary cathedrals boast fearsome gargoyles and stained glass windows in intricate and often disturbing patterns. Ornate aboveground tombs fill the city’s cemeteries, large and complex enough to be their own cities and have their own street signs. The droning of prayer lies beneath the sounds of traffic, a solemn undertone that promises no relief in this life—and almost certain damnation in the next. In New Orleans, faith stands front and center, prevalent in almost every aspect of everyday life, yet it offers little hope. And hope itself, so fleeting and fragile a promise in even the best of times, is itself something to be feared.
Like the Kindred, New Orleans is a creature of dichotomy. Founded on faith, it is home to two separate thriving religions, boasting a Catholic majority and a significant Vodoun minority. Yet, it is known far and wide as a city of vice, drawing millions of tourists who come to shed their inhibitions and partake in activities the likes of which they might never consider back home among their families, friends and employers. Many of them return injured in spirit, if not in flesh, and some do not return at all. New Orleans is a city that perverts what is good and exalts what is perverted.
New Orleans is, in a very real sense, a vampire itself.
One of the primary themes at work in New Orleans is paradox. The city was built on religion, and yet it has become synonymous with depravity and sin. It is a glittering Mecca for the living and for life, yet the dead continue to hold as great a sway as they ever have. Like the striking harlequin masks one sees floating through her streets, New Orleans wears a dual face—the light and dark, the agony and ecstasy. This stark juxtaposition parallels itself again in the world of the Kindred, where the city’s devoutly faithful prince tries to enforce order amid a sea of chaos. Through unwavering enforcement of the Traditions, he has managed to keep overt Kindred conflict to a minimum, but at a mortal cost some believe too high—for many years, New Orleans has had one of the highest murder rates in the United States. Given the prince’s increasingly extreme policies, the city seems intent on carrying this status into the foreseeable future, and given the barbarity that exists elsewhere in the World of Darkness, this grim claim only grows all the more unsettling.
In the Name of Faith
People cling to many beliefs in a desperate attempt to force the world to make sense. The Kindred are no different. In fact, their clearly unnatural state seems almost to serve as proof that something, be it God, the loa or what have you, exists beyond the realms of mortal comprehension.
The Kindred do an infinite number of unspeakable things in the name of that higher power. New Orleans is a city built on faith and houses numerous worshippers of two interrelated yet mutually exclusive religions. Catholic Kindred struggle to maintain the dominance and “purity” of their faith against a pagan religion that dares to usurp the Catholic saints into its pantheon of spirits. Vodouisants demand acceptance but must labor under the lash of a prince who sees their very existence as anathema. Each faith is convinced that they are in the right, that God and the other powers of the divine are on their side. And each faith commits atrocities to maintain or advance their position, “knowing” full well that they will be forgiven. After all, if they were not intended to be violent predators, they wouldn’t have become vampires, would they?
Because New Orleans is so heavily steeped in the traditions of two different religions, it’s entirely appropriate for characters to regularly face the ethical and moral quandaries of their faith. Are they prepared to preserve their faith by committing acts that fly in the face of that faith? Can they even reconcile their beliefs with the Requiem, their former faith with the state of undeath? (Just because many Kindred can doesn’t mean they all manage it. The process by which characters figure it out can make for a dramatic story all its own.) Are they so confident in their own faith that they’re willing to declare someone else an enemy for holding differing beliefs? So much of New Orleans’ Kindred conflict is the result of opposed religious dogmas. Even those vampires who wish to stay out of such partisan struggles may find themselves drawn in against their wills.
The Ravages of Age
New Orleans is an old city, at least so far as American cities go. It boasts a venerable prince and several entrenched elder Kindred. And all of them, city and vampires alike, are past their prime and clinging to the past with both hands. Popular rumor says torpor threatens Vidal even as Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed the Big Easy itself, and both seem to have an instinctive sense that they’re running on borrowed time.
Nearly everything about New Orleans and its Kindred is a struggle of age versus youth. The ornate and gothic buildings slowly crack and decay, and the greatest efforts of the municipal government can barely slow the degradation. Elder vampires cling to obsolete ways and positions of power, leaving little room for the young. New Kindred and new ideas are put down with an iron fist, as the aged fear the looming loss of everything they have.
Just as the Kindred are beholden to the conflicting interests of the Beast and Humanity, so too must they divide their loyalty to themselves and the numerous factions and faiths that surround them. It is nigh impossible to remain loyal to a single faction in New Orleans, even though many of the local Kindred appear to do so. This is a critical point: No Kindred is so single-minded that she has no ambitions of her own. No Kindred is so simplistic as to be working for a one-dimensional concept such as covenant or clan. Surely, some Kindred may seem that way, but that’s just how other characters see her without understanding her true goals and desires.
Vidal holds power and legal authority, and is certainly a rallying point for faithful Catholic Kindred, but, night by night, his rule grows ever more authoritarian, leaving all but his most zealous followers to wonder if they’re on the right side. Baron Cimitière is a rallying point for both Vodouisiants and the Circle of the Crone, but he is not aggressive enough for some supporters, and his interests in Acolyte doings extends only to how they affect his congregations. Those of Savoy’s supporters taken in by his charm grow disturbed at the company he keeps; those who chose him for political expediency wonder if he can be trusted to follow through on everything he’s claimed he will do when he becomes prince. The conflict between Vidal and Savoy forces members of the Lancea et Sanctum to struggle against their own and to turn to other covenants for aid. Kindred youth feel drawn to their peers, yet see advancement only through serving the needs of the elders. Even the most devout of Kindred must consider acts against their faith in order to prosper, or even survive. Trust is a rare commodity in Kindred circles under even the best of circumstances. In New Orleans, where everyone serves (or at least must acknowledge) two or more masters, trust is practically unheard of.
The “undercover” struggle that is the Requiem for the Kindred bubbles far more closely to the surface in New Orleans than it does elsewhere. The city, with its wild Carnival and strange mixture of religion and superstition, can tolerate a bit more prodding at the Masquerade. The city’s three main factions, which do not fall neatly along clan or covenant lines, add a new layer to the struggle of Kindred against Kindred. Few of the undead in the Big Easy even have the option of being left alone, of avoiding the endless dance. The growing crackdown by Vidal, the constant maneuvering of Savoy, and the omnipresence of Cimitière’s mortal followers threaten to drag even the most solitary and distant Kindred into the morass of this rapidly warming, political cold war. Each one requires more power and influence, either to aid the warring factions or to stand against them, and those who allow scruples to interfere find themselves swiftly overrun. Like the religious celebrations held by New Orleans’ kine, the Jyhad here is loud, boisterous, disorienting and hides a multitude of dangers.
Bound by Invisible Chains
The name of this particular theme is perhaps inappropriate. The chains that bind the Kindred of New Orleans are so thick that they’re hardly invisible any longer. As discussed previously, only the tiniest minority of the city’s undead inhabitants truly manages to avoid the links of fealty and obligation that wind through the Big Easy like serpents. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, in order to avoid or escape obligations to Prince Vidal, most of the Kindred must pledge themselves to another lord, almost as powerful. Staying off the radar and avoiding all obligations is a challenge of its own, a task so difficult it requires nearly all of a Kindred’s time and efforts. Those who do so rarely advance their own positions, remaining fringe elements and drifters at the lowest rung of Kindred society. And even this is not true freedom, for the requirements of secrecy and the demands of the Requiem serve as a chain all their own. In New Orleans, the choice is rarely between serving a higher master or not but simply which master you choose.
It seems almost impossible to believe, particularly in light of matters already discussed, but it is possible for New Orleans Kindred to seek redemption, to try to elevate one’s self above the city’s endemic evil, and the evil within a Kindred’s own heart. For all its tarnished luster, all its violence and slums, all its debauchery and decay, New Orleans is still a city of faith, and faith offers hope. God forgives, be he Jehovah or Bondye. The loa have a purpose and destiny to which they guide all their followers, kine and Kindred alike. Surely no curse can be so horrific as to completely remove the victim from all hope of God’s forgiveness? True or not, this is the hope to which some Kindred cling. They see the tyranny of Vidal, the scheming of Savoy, the single-minded obsession of Cimitière, and the pain and suffering caused by all Kindred in their struggle for power, influence and blood. They see it, and they rail against it, certain that there must be another, better way. And even if they stand alone, they will make every effort to find it.
Most fail and utterly give up within a matter of years. The Beast cannot be denied. The powers of the city are everywhere, each one demanding fealty. Like the churches and hounfours of New Orleans, hope grows old and cracked, until it is often little more than a façade, a mask of faith over corruption and despair. Only the rarest of Kindred can stand long against the pressures of the Big Easy. Will your characters be among them?
Home Lies the Heart
Characters may try to rejoin their mortal families in New Orleans, to one extent or another. How well they manage it depends entirely on the circumstances.
Many of the city’s kine may actually have little trouble believing that their loved one has returned as a vampire. This is a city steeped in religion and superstition, one that many believe to be haunted. The notion of the undead is not a foreign one to many of the people here, and even if they don’t truly believe, they likely will not find the idea as shocking as mortals elsewhere.
Of course, this doesn’t mean these people will be accepting of vampires. More likely than not, their response will be to run immediately to their priest, houngan, or whatnot, who either will not believe them, or will rail that their followers are up against the “demons” in their midst. Those mortals who do accept an undead loved one for what they have become might romanticize the Requiem, seeking to become one of the “children of the night” and refusing to accept the Kindred’s evidence of the true horrors of undeath. Such people are victims waiting to happen, and it’s simply a question of whether their own relative loses control and kills them, or whether they follow her to someplace they shouldn’t be and find themselves slain—or even Embraced—by another.
As it cannot help but do, the city’s theme plays into its overall mood. Perhaps the best metaphor to ascribe to New Orleans would be to liken her to a manic-depressive partygoer, one who experiences wild temperamental swings between positively Alpine highs and the lowest of abyssal lows, all in the course of one long night of saturnalia. The difference is that in New Orleans, the party never stops—and neither do the mood swings. This manic disposition engenders some truly frenzied revelry, but it also results in tragedy. Those who wish to partake of the city are wise to be wary of on which side of the pendulum they stand, lest they get caught in its path.
Chronicles set in New Orleans should follow this pattern. Everything is a double-edged sword, nearly every up trailed by a down. Every cause proves ultimately futile, every faction internally corrupt (or ineffective, which, to the Kindred, is even worse.) The characters should have little enough trouble feeding here, for New Orleans is practically a buffet of kine, but what will they have to do to earn their hunting grounds? Whom must they serve, and can they stomach doing so—or do they have the ability to rise above their peers and make a place for themselves? New Orleans’ Kindred have no good options, merely those that are less distasteful.
No story is complete (or even really a story, by strict definition) without some sort of conflict. That doesn’t necessarily mean combat, though there’s nothing wrong with including a good helping of violence now and again. It simply means that the players’ characters must have obstacles to overcome.
Kindred vs. Themselves
It’s worth pointing out again how the dichotomy of New Orleans affects all who dwell within the city. A vampire may face a struggle between their faith and their ambition, their morals and their desires. A believer in Cimitière’s cause may be tempted to become a turncoat and ally with the more influential Prince Vidal. The Kindred may believe that the struggle between the city’s factions is evil, harmful to the Kindred and kine population, yet be drawn to the perks and influence that participation and alliances offer. They may, depending on their religious beliefs, even believe themselves damned to the Requiem as punishment for some sin, developing a deep loathing for themselves (and possibly for God), yet all the while struggling to survive and thrive.
Kindred vs. the Beast
New Orleans can bring out the worst in everyone. It’s got an obscenely high murder rate, and tourists in the city—particularly during Carnival—do things here they’d never consider doing anywhere else. The Beast thrives in the Big Easy, and the Kindred can do little but struggle to keep it leashed. The constant pressure of the tripartite conflict, and even the potential end of the city itself, weighs on the soul, making frenzy a constant danger. The masses of tourists passing through, unobservant, unprotected, and in great quantities, is almost as great a frenzy risk; any vampire may be tempted beyond endurance by the overwhelming tide of blood available during Carnival, no matter how determined she may be to hang on to her Humanity. A few portions of the city are so heavily awash in faith that the Kindred are repulsed, struck by a nameless fear that terrifies the Beast beyond reason. Others call to the Beast like the scent of blood, threatening to draw it forth beyond all control. And so many of New Orleans’ Kindred are angry all the time, as their rivals in the Vidal/ Savoy/Cimitière conflict outmaneuver them, that one wrong word or deed can lead to animalistic rage and violence.
Kindred vs. Kindred
The Kindred of New Orleans have numerous reasons to struggle with and hate each other. The traditional competition for position exists here, of course. In some instances, it’s even stronger, as Kindred who believe they have right to a given domain, having received regency from one lord or another, must struggle against another who received the territory from someone else. Conflict due to religious differences is also common, as the local Kindred seem only to accentuate any friction that might exist between Catholics and Vodouisants. Of course, many people, mortal or not, simply don’t like each other. But many of the reasons for Kindred conflict in the Big Easy go far beyond the individual.
Faction vs. Faction
One conflict unique to New Orleans is that of the city’s various factions. Certainly other cities also have divisions of power that do not fall neatly along clan or covenant lines, but none are precisely the same as the struggle between Prince Vidal, Lord Savoy, and Baron Cimitière. Although open war between the factions is rare—and relatively swift, when it does arise, much like gang—the conflict is constant in more subtle ways. Rivals attempt to take down one another politically, maneuvering for alliances with other Kindred and influence over mortal institutions. The Kindred lords grant domains in their enemy’s territories, forcing them to fight to hold onto what they have. Social cliques snub one another at Elysium or offer insults that threaten to tear away the facade of civility in a burst of frenzy-induced (and punishable) violence.
Age vs. Youth
This is a conflict common to most Kindred domains, but it’s particularly accentuated here. The Kindred never die, unless something violent happens to them, and it may take them several lifetimes even to fall into torpor. This leaves little room for the younger Kindred to move up in the world, as elders rarely vacate the positions they already hold. When they do, it’s often only after they’ve made every effort to ensure someone they’ve handpicked takes their place. This is bad enough in most American cities. In a city with elders as old as New Orleans’, it’s a wonder any of the Kindred youth acquire any power at all.
Where youthful ambition is frustrated, it runs head-on into elder fear. All the Kindred in power in New Orleans have one thing in common: They’re relatively old. In Prince Vidal’s case, and possibly Cimitière’s, it’s not even relative; they are old, even by the Old World’s standards. And each one is determined not merely to hang onto his current power but to gain more. They’ve already got sufficient enemies among their fellow elders; the last thing they need is some young upstart coming along and trying to unseat them. Thus, each in his own way, they direct their energies at keeping the younger Kindred down, powerless so that they cannot grab for more power. In so doing, the elders simply lay the foundations for future conflict, as the neonates and ancillae concoct their own schemes, achieve what influence they may, and plan for the night they can take on an elder lord.
Weak vs. Strong
This conflict usually, but not always, parallels the age versus youth conflict. That is, in the vast majority of cases, the elder Kindred are stronger—politically and personally—than the younger. This isn’t always the case, though. A conflict of weakness versus strength might involve something as simple as a struggle for authority within a coterie, or a number of Kindred trying to outdo one another in order to receive a particular reward or task for an elder. Any sort of “establishment” can be the strength to the characters’ weakness, from one of the given factions to a specific religion to a government agency to the local leader of a clan or covenant. New Orleans, fractured as its Kindred community is, has ample authority figures who can serve as challenging obstacles for stories.
Clan vs. Clan
Covenant vs. Covenant
The covenant struggles, as with so much else in New Orleans, often reflect the vagaries of the Vidal/Savoy/Cimitière conflict. The Lancea et Sanctum, which hardly needs an excuse to hate the Circle of the Crone, is even less tolerant of the Acolytes here than they are elsewhere, due to Prince Vidal’s personal hatred of Vodoun and Baron Cimitière. The Invictus largely opposes the Circle of the Crone, if only because most of the Invictus Kindred who hold power do so in Vidal’s court. Both of those covenants also make every effort to quash the Anarchs who are unwilling to “reform the system from within,” an attitude championed by Coco Duquette that has grown increasingly challenged in recent nights. All of the factions keep a close eye on the Kindred without declared allegiance, but they have not yet drawn any major attention. The same holds true for the Ordo Dracul, which has only a very small presence in the city. The Circle of the Crone is keeping tabs on the Dragons, however, though whether this eventually results in alliance or enmity is yet unclear.
Individual vs. Society
This is not an uncommon conflict in New Orleans, and it grows nightly as Vidal’s fist tightens around his domain. Many Kindred, particularly among the modern neonates, do not view any of the three rivals as viable options. To their way of thinking, the power structure of New Orleans is archaic and needs to be rebuilt. Some of them have Anarch sympathies, and wish to see the system changed. Others don’t mind the feudal model; they just want to swap out the Kindred at the top. In either case, the Kindred rail against society as it is built in the Big Easy, unhappy with any of their choices.
Others in New Orleans rebel against Kindred rule for far more personal reasons. Their faith may prevent them from acknowledging the need to bend knee to an undead prince, no matter who it might be. The constant influx of fresh blood may tempt them to violate the laws of the domain, feeding at whim and in any territory, even endangering the Masquerade. Vidal’s refusal to ever grant right of Embrace to certain clans and factions inspires them to sire illicitly, in violation of the laws of the prince and his vaunted Testament of Longinus.
Kindred vs. Mortal World
While the Kindred of New Orleans face the same threats and struggles with mortals they do elsewhere, a few specific varieties are worth calling out as particular to the Big Easy.
The first is the reaction of religious groups to the presence of the Kindred. Catholics and Vodouisants, many of whom are abnormally devout, make up a notable portion of the population. These individuals may detect the Kindred more easily than others, and religious leaders here are more likely to believe reports of vampires or demons in their midst. So many folk already believe that the city is haunted and that houngans can raise spirits; is it really that great of a leap to add vampires to the mix? Neighborhoods that house churches or hounfours, or that are simply occupied by an unusual proportion of the faithful, are danger areas for the Kindred. They must tread carefully, else they might just see, on a small but lethal scale, what the masses of humanity can do when exhorted to action.
Perhaps because of the city’s religious inclinations, or simply because of its reputation as a haven of the mystical and supernatural, New Orleans draws more than its share of mortal vampire hunters. From the fanatic priest who travels from church to church across the nation to small independent groups who are unwittingly played by the Kindred as pawns, they come and go from the city, often hidden among the many tourists. Few are a threat individually, but en masse they can cause substantial disruption in Kindred society—especially since, unlike outsider Kindred who come to town, they are largely invisible to Vidal and his operatives until and unless they begin causing damage.
Kindred vs. Other Supernatural Creatures
For the most part, the Kindred believe they are the dominant supernatural force in New Orleans. Certainly, few vampires report meetings with mages and the other “civilized” entities that lurk beyond the periphery of mankind’s awareness. Kindred who do not leave the city are also generally safe from the terrifying Loup-Garoux. Little in the Big Easy seems to challenge the hegemony of the undead.
Ghosts, however, are another issue entirely. New Orleans’ reputation as a haunted city is absolutely deserved. Between the high death rate, from both traditional violence and Kindred depredation, and the mystical atmosphere, the dead seem very reluctant to depart the Big Easy. It’s obviously not feasible to take a census of ghosts, given that they appear and disappear regularly, often fail to manifest in any detectable form, and new ones constantly appear as the old finally move on to whatever awaits them. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say, however, that they outnumber the Kindred, and a surprising number of local vampires have encountered a spirit of some sort in their years of the Requiem. Of course, ghosts—at least so far as most Kindred can discern—do not organize, rarely have overlapping agendas, and have a difficult time influencing the world around them. Thus, Kindred conclude that ghosts pose little threat to the All-Night Society at large. Ghosts are much more dangerous to individual Kindred, however, and a vampire who angers a ghost—or whose actions caused the ghost to come about in the first place—may find that they have far worse things to worry about than their political rivals.
Universal Vampire Themes and Moods
The following themes and moods are relevant to all Vampire chronicles, rather than solely those set in New Orleans.
Some themes are inherently part of the Vampire experience, and the Storyteller will either expand on those or introduce their own into the mix.
A Beast I Am, Lest a Beast I Become: Vampire lets you play the monster and makes you morally accountable for it. All of the protagonists are vampires: blood-drinking monsters who dwell in the shadows at the edge of society and subculture. Vampires have tremendous power, but that power comes paired with the Curse of Caine, which carries a Biblical gravity. Players have an emotional stake in these characters, and when we play the game, we see their dark side and watch them wrestle with morality. This timeless riddle implies that all vampires must fall eventually, but when and under what circumstances? These questions are at the root of the chronicles that we play.
The Masquerade: It’s the very foundation of Vampire. Once the character is Embraced, they are drawn behind the curtain, and everything they know is changed. The Kindred try to keep the curtain closed, convincing their prey that monsters do not, in fact, hide among them. Inevitably, cracks appear in the façade and the Damned are revealed for who they are. What happens when this occurs?
The Sins of the Father: People rarely choose to become vampires. In most cases, a sire Embraces them without much regard for whether or not the individual wants to commit to an unlife of predation, scheming, and horror. Likewise, the childe acquires the sire’s clan, and thus his powers, weaknesses, and often predilections. This is all a great allegory for the Biblical idea of Original Sin, and deeply tied to the prevailing religious origin than many vampires attribute to the state of vampirism. God cursed Caine for murdering Abel and, as descendants of that first vampire, all Kindred bear the stain of that primeval sin. This accountability, decided for each Cainite by the actions of her sire, pervades the vampire condition.
A War of Ages: Elder Kindred hate younger vampires because they fear new generations will take away the domains they’ve fought for decades or even centuries to establish. Younger Kindred resent their elders for the ways they selfishly lord over their domains and refuse to allow the young to make a place for themselves. It’s like waiting for a promotion that will never come because the person in the position above you is never going to die or retire—and you need your job to stay alive. Kindred history is characterized by the haves versus the have-nots, most often in the form of the elders versus the neonates. The Anarch Revolt and the subsequent Inquisition were the apex of this struggle in history, but it plays out every night on more localized scales of Kindred community and influences the way all vampires interact in the World of Darkness.
Inherent Conflict: Sect versus sect. Clan versus clan. Rebels versus the status quo. The Man versus the Beast. Everybody’s against everybody in the World of Darkness, and there’s never enough to go around. These conflicts color the other themes of the game, and what your sire has made you—in terms of Kindred, clan, sect, and outlook—automatically buys you a panoply of enemies.
Conspiracy: Wheels turn within wheels. The Kindred as a race are skilled manipulators and deceivers, the better to enact their schemes while maintaining a veneer of deniability. A neonate striking out against a hated elder might actually do so at the behest of that elder’s rival, who incited the turbulent vampire with a clever ruse. Indeed, some Kindred wonder if the whole of the Jyhad is the machination of the Antediluvians, and whether any vampire truly has free will.
Vampire stories can be complex and subtle tapestries that can evoke a variety of moods in individual chronicles. There are some, though, that are common to the World of Darkness.
Sensual: It might be a pang of desire, or it might be an undeniable physical lust, but becoming a vampire is a sexual consummation, as is the act of feeding. We’re dead, sexy things and we’ll never grow old, and we have a license from our maker to indulge our every erotic urge.
Mysterious: Fog and shadows shroud the landscape. This is the mood of Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, of Hitchcock and J. J. Abrams. The imagination is aroused by the things that remain nebulous and hidden, and even the vampires that stalk the night don’t know everything that happens in the shadows.
Dangerous: Nonstop action, full of intensity. The World of Darkness is a dangerous place, and death is always just around the corner. Just when you catch your breath, two guys kick in the door with guns in their hands. The life of the vampire is filled with drama and suspense.
Eerie: There is an oppressive weight in the air, a sense of great evil that hangs over everything. Everything has a strange, unreal quality to it. The World of Darkness is full of the bizarre, and the vampires are not the only monsters around.