Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline I, Epilogue

Backroom Deals

Caroline: Caroline’s next stop takes her to the intensive care unit and another, equally unpleasantly necessary conversation over the troublesome dyke and her aunt. As before, she coaches it in terms of blame—suggesting that Kane might even have been in league with or inspired Gettis—and ease for Sarah on her road to recovery.

GM: The two Whitneys, especially Lyman, are wholly consumed with grief and worry for their (grand)daughter. They still don’t know if she’s going to wake up as herself or as an invalid with no future and the mental faculties of a toddler. Their only concern besides her recovery is apprehending the man responsible for doing this to her.

Neither man evinces any great interest in Amelie Savard. They have even less in Emil Kane. They agree to support the latter’s removal from NOPD because Caroline has asked.

Caroline: Caroline’s final conversation with Uncle Carson at his home after dinner follows a similar route. She skips out on the emotion gets straight to the point with him: deflecting blame puts another person in the pocket of the family, removes a potential future problem in the form of Kane, and keeps the boat from rocking too hard.

GM: Carson and his wife are empty nesters (their children have long since left home) and seem pleased to have Caroline’s company. They serve a pleasant dinner of steak, mashed potatoes, collard greens, and peach pie. Carson agrees with Caroline’s logic of minimizing the fuss on all those counts.

The Devillers, after several phone calls over several days, seem willing to let things go with Amelie facing expulsion and conviction for the misdemeanors. The largest fly in the ointment is Christina Roberts.

Christina doesn’t fight Amelie’s removal from McGehee, but wants to withdraw her rather than have her formally expelled. The school is firm that it will expel any student facing criminal charges. Christina wants to fight that. Caroline has to convince her that it’s outside the Malveaux or Devillers families’ direct control—or at least that there’s no way they would leverage influence on Amelie’s behalf.

Caroline: There are limits to even Caroline’s influence in her family. Spending as much as she has on Amelie is already a questionable proposition. Made palatable only by her existing relationship with Roberts.

GM: Christina also wants Amelie to squeak by on as few charges as possible, with as lenient a sentencing as possible. She brings up diversion programs, deferred sentence programs, and community service instead of jail time and a criminal record. Her attitude is combative from the start, and Caroline also has to be careful not to make the Devillers feel like they are re-entering an argument they consider finished.

Carson agrees to talk with the DA’s office and have them drop the drug charges that could land Amelie in federal prison. (He says the LSD pills in police evidence will be “taken care of”). That limits Amelie to just two charges with any real real basis: criminal damage to property and possession of alcohol under the legal age. Amelie wasn’t a minor, but she wasn’t 21 either. Christina seems like she wants to fight that charge too, but blaming the other girls is off the table and there’s no good explanation for why Emil would have brought a bottle of chartreuse to the scene. Damaging the LaLaurie House, on the other hand, is something that Amelie actually is guilty of. Additional municipal ordinances make the sentence more severe due to the building’s status as a historic property. Between those charges and how willing inspectors are to overstate (or downplay) damage to the house, Amelie could still face multiple years in prison.

Caroline: Caroline is forced to play mediator between the two parties with utterly opposing goals, and it’s as enjoyable as walking a greased tightrope. Roberts continues to push for less and less for Amelie, arguing with the methodical arguments of the lawyer she once was. The Devillers are still out for blood. The Whitneys are brief spectators amid their much deeper grief for their stricken grand/child.

In the end, Caroline is forced to acknowledge that neither party is likely to be entirely satisfied. She settles on a middle ground. Multiple charges will stick, as will some jail time, but Caroline builds back doors into the sentencing to undercut the impact, especially as she learns more of Amelie’s physical condition.

The girl is likely to face a significant recovery time, and it’s in that ambiguity that Caroline finds her thread to pull on, aided by the knowledge, and promise, that she can probably milk more medical time than is typical with a bit of influence on the medical staff and how they evaluate Amelie’s condition. Neither side comes out thrilled, but both are going to come out heavily in debt to Caroline. She’s willing to sacrifice a little bit of goodwill to keep both in play.

Certainly, her conscience never enters into it. The guilt that someone might feel over summarily ruining Amelie’s life in the first place is not the kind of thing that the heiress to a family like the Malveauxes can entertain… is it?

If it does, she never lets it on to the parties involved, save perhaps her demand of Christina. She never makes mention of it as part of any of her arguments. What thoughts go on behind her emerald eyes are hers alone. To everyone else they are as cold and empty as those same precious stones. She is Caroline Malveaux. Heiress to the Malveaux family. Daughter of Senator Nathaniel Malveaux.

And to the world she is above such petty things as right and wrong in the pursuit of power.


Pete Feedback Repost

Studies in Failure

When I talk about success and failure in a character, I’m probably grading on a different scale than the GM, and even other players. I know Cal is heavy about having an impact and influence in the game world. Various other players have chimed in that they’re interested in simply ‘having fun’ and telling a story. There’s nothing wrong with the differences, but I would observe that pursuing those nebulous agendas isn’t particularly helpful to new players, and that new players as a whole have continued to experience a steep learning curve in the game. I continue to think that much of that rests in how PCs have been crafted and written, and how certain doors were closed or left unopened as part of what seems to be a firm attachment to a specific vision. Now, I’ve not been perfect in this regard either (just today I spoke with Cal about various Declarations I wished I’d made), but I think it’s fair to say that I was more successful than some. Consider this my (not so humble or subtle) attempt to offer some guidance towards new players and towards new character creations that can hopefully learn from mistakes (including my own) and have more success in the world.

Before touching on creation though, it’s worth noting what I tend to value. The player profile above goes on and on, but the short version is this: At its most basic what I consider to be successful is a character that is able to actively advance their own agenda through their own actions, whatever that agenda may be. Given how character and player objectives tend to shift and change over time this can be a moving target to hit, but at its core a successful character is not passive. He moves the story instead of being moved by it. He has options when confronted by obstacles that, whether or not those options are successful, allow him to act instead of simply react. He also has a place in the world—even if that place radically changes over time (especially post-Embrace). He has connections, potential allies, potential resources, and potential skills that can be leveraged to his advantage. He also has enough blank space that he can be expanded in other directions by back filling rather than rewriting over time.

Caroline has tended to be a PC that fits a lot of that bill, but she didn’t always start that way, and I think it’s somewhat valuable to look at how she evolved as a character idea, and in play, into a character that with a few exceptions has tended to have some success under very pressing circumstances.

For those that need some catch-up, she was Embraced as a neonate when the game started in a game dominated by ancilla PCs. She had no available sire, and indeed her sire was actively hostile in ways that were not obvious as a player at the time (but which affected her story in varied ways). In her first major Kindred scenes she pissed off the sheriff, Father Malveaux, Coco, an entire Anarch gang, her babysitter (Wright), Pierpont McGinn, Adelais (a then harpy PC), and… others that I’m certain I’m missing. I had no idea she had BP 3 (that was hidden information) and knew nothing about her true sire until she was standing at the edge of final death. Her course was very far from easy. Her first day as a vampire was getting dragged out of the hotel closet she was hiding in by a former FBI agent in the middle of the day and getting shot in the head in the following frenzy induced scuffle. That established…

My original pitch was not for the millionaire heiress to a powerful and well-connected family. In fact, there’s a lot of Caroline that evolved over time towards the character she is today. The original pitch was interested in primarily exploring the vampiric condition, the misery it could bring by its nature, and the managing those things.

I pitched a graduate student (I don’t recall if it was always a law student) that was from a well-off family who lived in an apartment in the city, didn’t have a sire, and very distinctly was not immersed in New Orleans politics (Kindred or otherwise). She always had a dog—one she kept after the Embrace despite it hating her, and barking at her. I think she always had a roommate—kept around in part to help feed the dog and care for it because it hated her undead condition. She was also, originally, a Toreador. Much of her concept was drawn from some of the visuals and ideas in the Vampire the Requiem Core Rulebook, as I knew very little about the setting, ruleset, and background of the game. I’d never played any of the World of Darkness lines, and had no real experience outside of d20. I knew nothing about Masquerade, or boons, or princes beyond the very bare minimum I gained by watching other people’s rooms play out.

This was also a big departure from the then-cast of the game, which was a flurry of ancillae including a harpy, a member of the Gerousia, a badass Brujah, Cletus, an elder ghoul, and a college student ghoul (along with a firm admonishment that there would be no future ghoul PCs). I didn’t then realize how big a problem the sire matter was, but then there were a lot of curveballs that Cal threw at me that I didn’t see coming.

Relatively early on Calder pitched to me that, if I was looking for a wealthy PC that was heavy on the mortal investment, the Malveaux family might be a good fit. He explained some of his vision for them, and I was game for the change. It delivered deeper mortal ties for a PC I’d intended to be very mortal-focused and subtly altered my vision for her. I made some chops to her background, adding social extracurriculars appropriate for such a character, and a few others I thought might be useful: fencing, medical background, and debate. Between those potential skills (not all of which were invested in), her law background, and her family, my thought had been to plant seeds for a PC that could potentially do a lot of things and solve a lot of problems independently.

My original intent was never to get caught up in big plots. The idea that the prince, Savoy, and seneschal would ever be interested in my PC was never one I considered. Even well into play my ambitions and goals remained pretty modest. Her aspirations list even well into Rene’s capture were in the long term built around just being an attorney Kindred that performed various services for others related to Masquerade cleanup and related tasks. But… because a lot of doors were left open in character creation she has had some room to move in directions beyond those I originally planned.

That’s kind of my biggest takeaway/giveaway for other PCs: be adaptive. Be fluid. Conceive them with the potential to grow in new areas. I’m not a fan of recent transplants to New Orleans (in fact, I seem to recall an old admonishment in the character creation stuff that PCs should be from the city) as it tends to rob characters of potential relationships and background in it. I’m also not a fan of firmly identifying every detail of a background: significant portions of Caroline’s background were and to an extent still are nebulous. There’s a lot of room to breathe and grow and fit in new allies or introduce new skills.

At David specifically, we spoke for a while, and I identified a few areas for Amelie that I thought you could have gone to build more success than simply being satisfied as the loser dyke trying to fight her way into various social circles. Areas that were not part of her identity or (perhaps) your original vision for her that you could have expanded her without (I think) compromising her identity. Things like aptitude for sports (jock friends, or at least respect—and look, that might help her get a scholarship!) or a strong religious background (Church youth groups of any flavor). Beyond critiques on play or dialogue—which I’m more reluctant to offer—one thing I often felt was that you felt you had to beat your head against the same wall trying to move forward: I don’t think that was the case. I thought you could have laterally expanded Amelie’s interests to generate more of what we in the business call “counter play” to the resistance you were running into at the school / popular kids club / etc.

It’s also worth noting, time and again, that playing to what NPCs want, regardless of room or setting, is far more likely to help them out. We saw Emil piss off his boss by inadvertently (or intentionally?) threatening him and by asking too many questions. We saw Amelie repeatedly approaching others with very little to offer except goodwill.

Caroline I, Epilogue

David Feedback Repost

Since the crossover, I was already kind of expecting that Amelie and Caroline were going to be connected further along the line, rather by her following through with the connections that Caroline was offering, or by a thread of them having a bad interaction and butting heads as Kindred later down the line. Before I start on any of this I’ll preface it all by saying Caroline did the best thing she could have with the information that she was provided, it worked very well for her. But at the same time I’ve got some holes to point out in how things went down. I was first surprised that Vera either didn’t look into or didn’t know who Amelie’s aunt was, considering the gossip she heard from it, or at the very least didn’t bother passing on that “oh yeah, this is the niece of a madame and information broker, be careful what you say.” McGehee is full of students of very important people, the care Vera didn’t put into contracting Caroline was startling. It was my own fault as well that I didn’t come forward with at least my aunts name, as it’s been pointed out, but I’ll also point out as a side note that I think that would make people look into who it is. But that’s neither here nor there, and something to put in the past.

Caroline as for what actually happened with her as a result of the girls all getting arrested, it was indeed a wild fucking ride. I enjoyed seeing the girls getting processed and humiliated, and I kind of wish that one of them was a PC so that there was more focus on how they were humiliated and brought low for what they did. Even more, I wish that it was Yvette and not Yvonne who was shot in the chest. Sarah being shot was very satisfying though. I’m wondering if there will be a way later on to talk to the spirit of the detective who shot them if it’s still lingering around somewhere, and maybe see who they were working for. It could have very well been a maneuver by someone with a lot of hatred towards those families. Someone who really wanted to hurt them, considering he went after the children and not the adults who were there. Someone wanted to gut the future. Or maybe it was just a bout of insanity, but coincidental events are a lot safer when considered not so very coincidental. Caroline’s actions however were very decisive, she did more than well in getting things sorted. Again, I wish that she’d failed because of personal grudges against those little fuckheads, but it did end up helping Amelie against even worst misplaced “revenge” against her.

Caroline I, Epilogue

Pete Feedback Repost

The flashback with the Devillers / Whitneys was one of my favorite scenes for Caroline of the last couple years. It didn’t require a ton of planning, rewarded smart choices, provided a significant and seemingly organic opportunity to advance Caroline’s position and story, added a ton of context to her actions pre-Embrace, helped establish her moral compass prior to her Embrace (and especially, I think, highlights her morals collapsing in more recent months), and just moved along very naturally. The shooting was a massive shock and shakeup to the world, and I think for the better (even if it did require making some changes to Caroline’s actions in the future—for instance previous conversations with Jessica White about “how’s the dinosaur”—which I’m objectively less of a fan of). I’ve spoken at length about feeling like these kind of outside opportunities haven’t been especially common outside of crossovers (where they’ve usually been at one person’s expense—see Rocco/Cletus, Caroline/Amelie), but this scene jumps out as one of the biggest opportunities for such things. I really love players getting swept up in things happening within the world, and having an opportunity to interact without having to aggressively interject themselves into it. It’s something that CRPGs have really struggled with and arguably one of the strongest points about P&PRPGS that I think goes for them. This scene more than literally any other did more to make it feel like not only was Caroline an active and established part of the world, but that she was an active part of various NPCs’ lives (and that those lives continued to play out in the background).

Caroline I, Epilogue

Calder Feedback Repost

*I was first surprised that Vera either didn’t look into or didn’t know who Amelie’s aunt was, considering the gossip she heard from it, or at the very least didn’t bother passing on that ‘oh yeah, this is the niece of a madame and information broker, be careful what you say’. McGehee is full of students of very important people, the care Vera didn’t put into contracting Caroline was startling.

Calder: I should point out a couple things there
Amelie doesn’t share Christina’s surname, so not many people are likely to spot an immediate connection
It was quite possible Mr. Thurston didn’t know who Amelie’s aunt was when he referred her to Vera, who wouldn’t have had much reason to think “oh, this random girl might be Christina’s niece”
Keep in mind that NPCs don’t know everything, though many of the Kindred ones certainly want to cultivate the impression they do
Also keep in mind the relative stakes of a given situation*

McGehee is full of students of very important people, the care Vera didn’t put into contracting Caroline was startling.

Calder: […]My main point though, anyway, is that not every situation is a high-stakes intrigue where every NPC is going to be intensely suspicious and triple-checking all the factors at play
This was pretty low-key
Girl interested in fencing might be embarrassing the school, Vera passed the buck to Caroline

Jack: true, the price of failure is just being told ‘no’

Calder: Not every NPC is going to be uber-careful in every situation, and not all situations require them to be
(The mark of an intelligent N/PC, though, is knowing what level of caution is appropriate to exercise in what situations)

David: Sure, but to slap a student from McGehee on the hand lightly, I thought Vera might check ‘whose mother is this embarrassment.’ Someone of Vera’s stature could just ask and I’m sure Thurston would have offered to forward her record to her assistant or something. But I see your point.

Jack: i can’t imagine Vera being overly paranoid when it comes to Amelie (she attends a pretty nice school, so she’s still pretty high class by any standard)

Calder: Yeah (David), that’s a lot of work for Vera to have done relative to the stakes of the situation
“Girl is interested in fencing, might embarrass McGehee a bit”
For something that minor Vera was happy to just pass the buck to Caroline

David: That’s fair. I might just be still salty.

Calder: If Amelie had done something that was a bigger red flag to the family, then they might’ve started looking into her past and gotten Ferris involved

Jack: heh, Ferris is such a good character

Caroline I, Epilogue
False_Epiphany False_Epiphany