Stuff to Steal From: The World Around You

I’m still ridiculously busy with work. It is obviously cutting into my posting time and is likely to continue to do so for the next week or so. C’est la guerre.

That said, I do think there is something you can steal from for your game: your life. Seriously.

Look at where you work: what is quirky about that could be used in a modern setting, what would an exaggerated or transformed version of it be like in a fantasy or sci-fi setting? In a world where adventurers guard treasure ships through monster infested waters, I like to imagine there is room for some kind of accounting and/or insurance firm. Use any inside knowledge you have to breathe some true-ish details into whatever form of work you are transplanting into your game.

Look at who you work with: need a believable NPC? Borrow a co-worker. Shows like Community can demonstrate how easy it is to go from fictional character to doubly fictional PC , so why not take a co-worker’s mannerisms, bearing or appearance to bring a minor or major NPC to life? Personally, I’m especially fond of stealing surnames. I mean, there are a lot of great name generators out there, but finding a good name in the wild always adds some verisimilitude for me.

Just Look Around You. There is a whole world out there, the least you can do is steal some it.

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Muerte Las Vegas: ‘The Board’

I continue to be slammed at work and I’m hip-deep in putting together bits and bobs for my players. Today, I’m posting up the Primogen Council of Las Vegas in 1961, known locally as ‘The Board.’

The Board is made up of the Eldest Kindred of each of the major clans and the Prince (effectively representing the Gangrel Clan twice). Each member gets a vote on policy in the city, but the Board’s decision can be vetoed by the Prince. This veto can be over turned by a two-thirds majority, a concession that the Prince wishes he had never made.

Here are the members of the Board as play begins:

‘Bloody’ Bill WilliamsGangrel

Bill is the Prince of the City and the leader of the conservative faction. He is openly angry that the city’s Kindred population has swelled like it has and generally meets out justice with an iron fist. Bill can veto the Board’s decision, but the veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority.

Mildred ‘Red’ RogersGangrel

'Red' Rogers

The city’s Sheriff and Bill’s Childe. Red generally votes with Bill, but less so lately. She’s a Vegas native that was turned in the early 1930s. Red has extensive connections with the LVPD.

Evelyn RiversVentrue

A recent arrival to the city, Mrs. Rivers represents a group of influential Camarilla Kindred who have noticed the growing wealth and influence of Las Vegas. Mrs. Rivers is known for escorting important kindred guests in Vegas and keeping tabs on mortal politicians and corporate moguls as well. She tends to back Paul Kelly, but is becoming a power of her own.

Paul KellyBrujah

A syndicate connected Brujah, who revels in the city’s growth and wants to build a Kindred paradise inside this gambling Mecca. As Las Vegas grows, he is increasingly vocal about transforming it into something magnificent: a nocturnal paradise for all Kindred.

Myrna West - Toreador

Myrna West

Myrna is a platinum blonde visionary who arrived in Las Vegas with Bugsy Siegel and Myer Lansky. Myrna rules the roost among the high-rollers and entertainers in the city, and anyone who is anyone seeks her approval. Myrna backs Paul Kelly’s push to encourage the city’s expansion.

Father RabbitNosferatu

Father Rabbit (or Zachariah) as he is sometimes known, is the self-proclaimed King of Chambermaids and Cleaning staff. Father Rabbit is known as a voyeur with ears and eyes everywhere. Zachariah tends to support the city’s conservatives.

Nil NeumannMalkavian

An enigmatic Malkavian with a German accent, Nil’s vote is a highly coveted swing vote. Consequently, he is often pressured, bribed and cajoled by all factions on the Board. Nil’s own motives are opaque.

Hesh Silberstein

Herschel ‘Hesh’ SilbersteinTremere
The lone Tremere inhabiting Las Vegas full-time, Hesh is an ally of Paul Kelly’s. An absolute whiz with numbers, Hesh oversees the Board’s books, including monitoring all skim operations.

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Muerte Las Vegas: Session 1

This was a pretty standard first session with a fair bit of introductory play to get the rules and the flavor of the game down and a brief investigation to add a little spice.

Our Player Characters were:

Dr. Goodchilde: A scheming surgeon turned Ventrue out to build up his status and destroy his sire, played by J.

Rod Shaftsmen: A Gangrel/beefcake biker who E insists is out of Tom of Finland, but whom I prefer to think of as Marlon Brando in the Wild One.

Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Lapin
: A torch-singing Daughter of Cacophony with ambitions and daddy issues, played by V.

We started off in April 1961 with each of the PCs waking up on the evening when they were to be formally given Citizenship in the City, control of the Silverado Casino in Downtown Las Vegas and the responsibilities that come with this investiture. At 11 pm, they were to make their way to the Fortuna Hotel and Resort, a Board controlled casino on the Strip where they would meet with the Board and other Kindred residents of the city.

Each Player described where their PC camped out during the day and had the opportunity to feed if they wanted (allowing us to slowly introduce this mechanic).

In the course of feeding, Dr. Goodchilde suffered a mishap leading to a dead salesman in a room at the Fortuna that he had to smuggle out of the hotel ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ style with the assistance of his ghoul retainer, Nurse Quinn. He was spotted trying to dispose of the body by at least one notable kindred in the hotel, an act which could be considered, at the very least, gauche.

The actual meeting with the Board and the other NPCs went fairly smoothly, allowing the PCs to interact with some of the non-player characters and get an insight into some of the relationships and conflicts among them. I’d get into more detail, but it might be a dull read.

After the formalities, the PCs were pulled into a corner of the room by Red Rogers, the ‘Sheriff’ (read Prince’s enforcer) of Las Vegas and a few members of the Board. Summer Daye, a lounge singer at the Golden Gate, had been attacked shortly after leaving a bar on Fremont street between sets. She had been bitten in the neck by someone and still showed the wounds. The Sheriff’s contacts with the LVPD sequestered her to a hospital room and the Board tasked the PCs with tracking down the vampire who had violated the ‘Don’t Touch the Headliners’ law and bring them before the Board.

This investigation took up the remainder of the session. Dr. Goodchilde questioned Summer at the hospital and, using misdirection, fed his own blood into her IV beginning the process of bonding her to him. He did this partially to ensure he was getting the answers he wanted and partially because the Golden Gate casino where Summer is performing also serves as the headquarters of his hated sire, Donald Harcourt.

Rod and Lizzie checked out the bar where Summer met her assailant and unsuccessfully chased Martin Meek, a Toreador fan of the singer who had overstayed his welcome in the city. Lizzie managed to charm the entire bar and arranged to sing there in future. She also learned that Summer had been talking to a shaggy, shabby loser who had been scene pacing up and down Fremont street in recent nights.

Between questioning Summer and their other inquiries, the PCs learned that this shabby man was named John, that he had attacked Summer and likely did not really understand what he was.

All three of the PCs wound up upsetting Donald Harcourt at one point in the session, a turn of events that will probably have consequences down the road. They also learned that Martin Meek, the Toreador staying illegally in the city, has been frequenting the Golden Gate.

During the search for this shabby man, Rod used his connections and streetwise to prowl the flop houses of the west side. He also noticed that he was being followed by a number of orange stripped ‘Tiger Kabs’ throughout his search. On the second night, Lizzie tracked down the shabby man to a west-side pool hall that had a number of illegal slot machines in the back room. She stealthily stalked him while she waited for Dr. Goodchilde and Rod to turn up.

There was a bit of a skirmish when she revealed herself and John, the shabby man attempted to flee. When he realized he was surrounded, he prepared himself for a fight, but Dr. Goodchilde and Lizzie managed to calm him down.

The PCs then brought John before the Prince and the assembled Board. The PCs presented John and explained his story in pretty empathetic terms. Nevertheless, we ended the session with the Prince declaring that ignorance of the law was no excuse and condemning John to final death.

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More Muerte Las Vegas Details

We met a few of the key NPCs yesterday and, because I’m still silly busy at work, today’s post is about the special laws the city’s Board (the local Primogen equivalent) have set out. The PCs will be charged with enforcing these rules in ‘Glitter Gultch’ the strip of casinos and hotels in Downtown Las Vegas. Already starting to decline in the face of the Strip, the PCs will be dealing with a part of town that invities desperate characters and desperate acts.

The Board’s Rules

Tourists may only feed on Tourists
Vegas is too small a town for visiting kindred to feed indiscriminately. Out of town kindred may only feed on out of town mortals. Trafficking in blood dolls by Kindred is a bit of a gray area that I’m sure my PCs will have to deal with.

No one feeds on Headliners
Unless you have the Board’s permission, any feeding on featured entertainers will be treated as a Masquerade breach. The Prince has been known to punish violaters with final death, particularly if they do not have strong connections locally (or nationally). The Board’s definition of ‘headliner’ is also pretty liberal. It includes entertainers at the shadier lounges and casinos in the greater Las Vegas area as well as secondary acts at the major Strip hotels.

Visitors are welcome to Visit
Out-town kindred must seek permission to stay longer than two weeks. After two weeks, the Board will determine the length of time a tourist may stay. It isn’t uncommon for them to extend a stay for a month or longer (depending upon what the kindred in question can offer). Kindred who overstay their welcome face expulsion or worse. The Silverado Casino, the casino the PCs have been invested with, serves as an Elysium in Downtown Las Vegas and as a location that tourist visitors can check in with. This is a large part of the PCs responsibilities.

Thou Shall Not Steal from the Casinos
Anyone caught interfering with the operation of or stealing from a casino—without the Board’s express permission—will be harshly dealt with. Any kindred caught interfering with or stealing from the skim will suffer final death. This law is pretty absolute as a percentage of the casino skim that heads to organized crime figures back East inevitably winds up in the coffers of important Camarillia kindred.

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Some Vegas Vampires

Posting may take a back seat for a bit while I participate in a major QA push at work. So in the tradition of lazy posting, I’m to paste up some verbatium NPCs I’ve sent out to my players for Muerte Las Vegas!, our Vampire the Masquerade campaign. I hope you can steal them for your own use!

Major NPCs (so far)

Old Bill Williams: The Cowboy Prince
Gangrel Clan
Power Base: The establishment of Old Las Vegas
Stated Goal: A quiet, under control town
Rumoured Agenda: To keep outside Kindred and outside influences out of the city. This includes Kelly’s gangster friends and Evelyn’s Camarilla power brokers

Old Bill Williams has been in Las Vegas since before there was a Vegas. Considered the Prince by virtue of being there first, Williams is determined to keep its kindred population low and under strict control. Williams deplores the transformation of Vegas into a gambling mecca and is not shy about it, however he rarely deigns to interfere with the day-to-day operation of the city. Williams is in a position to directly reward anyone who will help him keep a lid on Las Vegas.

Paul Kelly: The Upstart Gangster
Brujah Clan
Power Base: Kindred and local casino operators with mob ties ‘back east’
Stated Goal: Keep the suckers rolling in and the skim rolling out. Make Vegas the future.
Rumoured Agenda: The city needs a more forward thinking Prince. Why not me?
Paul Kelly is an ambitious Brujah who has furthered the agendas of others for too long. Vegas is his big chance. Kelly came to Vegas in the 1940s just as organized criminals began to transform the city. Representing Kindred with a stake in organized crime in more established cities, Kelly was charged with overseeing their interests in Las Vegas. However, as Vegas grows, Kelly is increasingly vocal about transforming it into something magnificent in its own right, a nocturnal paradise for all kindred. Anyone who helps Kelly achieve his vision will be there to reap the rewards.

Mrs. Evelyn Rivers: The Established Powers back East
(Ventrue)
Power Base: An amorphous mix of Camarilla kindred with political and corporate interests
Perceived Agenda: Build closer links between Vegas and the power players in more established cities and ensure that no undue Sabaat or Anarch influence takes hold.
Rumoured Agenda: The board of Las Vegas should not become a power in its own right. If it begins to look too independent, then the way must be paved for outside leadership.

A recent arrival to the city, Mrs. Rivers represents a group of influential Camarilla Kindred who have noticed the growing wealth and influence of Las Vegas. Embodying Kennedy-era polish, Mrs. Rivers is known for escorting important kindred guests in Vegas and keeping tabs on mortal politicians and corporate moguls as well. She is also dedicated to keeping Vegas within the sphere of the Camarilla and keeping any other disruptive forces at bay. Anyone who follows her will benefit from the national resources she has access to.

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Muerte Las Vegas: Demographics

Yesterday I posted about the general feel of Las Vegas for my upcoming Vampire the Masquerade game. Today, I want to look at the permanent and part time population of the city. This is trickier than it sounds because Vegas was a small city with a lot of visitors, but I think you’ll find that the method I’ve used below makes a little sense. Well, enough sense for an RPG.

From what I’ve read, the full-time population of the Las Vegas metro area in 1960 was roughly 129,000 people. According to the canon figure of 1 vampire to every 100 000 people and my preferred ratio of 1 per 50 000, that is enough of a population to support one or possibly two Kindred residents. Small potatoes.

However, from what I can find (and sources seem to vary pretty wildly) during this period Vegas also had roughly 8 million visitors per year in 1954. By 1961, I feel comfortable bumping it up to an even 12 million. Now a good chunk of these 12 million visitors may be a core of day trippers from L.A. who account for multiple visits, but that is still a lot of mortals moving through a city known for misadventure.

Assuming that these visitors arrive evenly over the course of the year (which is probably a filthy lie), then the average number of visitors in the city at any one time is an easy 1 million visitors in the metro area at any given time. Along with the permanent residents of the city, that puts the Las Vegas mortal population at 1 129 000 on any given day.

In theory, that means the city could support between 11 and 22 Kindred. However, given the transient nature of these visitors and Vegas’ reputation for vice, I think the Kindred have an easier time of it. Consequently, I’ve decided by GM fiat, that the city can comfortably support between 20 and 30 full time residents and about 15 or so ‘guests’ at any given time.

The guests are required not to overstay their welcome and, frankly, the Prince thinks that there are already way too many Kindred in the city. That’s the price of a boomtown.

In terms of how the Clans are going to breakdown, I am running with the chart below, which will help later when I start to flesh out some of the NPCs and their factions.

Overall Permanent Kindred Population

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Muerte Las Vegas: State of the City

Running late today. My toddler experienced his first bout of projectile vomitting over the weekend and that, along with being busy at work, has put me a bit behind in the blog department. So, in the interests of putting something out there, I’ve decided to oost the information regarding the state of Las Vegas’ Kindred in 1961 for my group’s upcoming Vampire: the Masquerade game that I sent out to my players.

The State of the City

Like other cities, kindred in Vegas are ostensibly under the control of a Prince and a council of elder advisors (known as ‘the Board’ locally) representing the dominant clans in the city. I’ve written up three main factions on the Board below with each pulling in their own direction, but we will be doing some group setting creation, so there is room for other players and factions. The three existing factions are:

1) Bill Williams, the Prince, wants to keep the kindred population in the city small and under control. This faction wants to maintain the city’s independence from the vampiric cabals that dominate larger, older cities, in the east.

2) Paul Kelly, a syndicate connected Brujah, revels in the city’s growth and wants to build a kindred paradise inside this gambling Mecca. Should the old guard get in the way of his vision, then it will be a matter of omelettes and eggs.

3) Evelyn Rivers has been sent to keep the city tied to the established national kindred power structure. Should she deem it necessary, she will not hesitate to use her local allies and her national resources to change the regime in Las Vegas.

Around 20 Kindred have the Board’s permission to inhabit Las Vegas full time. There are visitors to the city, and some have lingered for years, but they face expulsion at the whim of the Board. The PCs are relatively inexperienced kindred who have been given citizenship because:

a) they aren’t an obvious threat to anyone on the Board; and

b) as the city grows, the Board needs a group it can trust to enforce its rules and edicts.

Each PC has been nominated for citizenship by one of the Board’s factions, when making your character think of why they have been picked and whose agenda they are supposed to serve.

As a group, you will be in charge of the Silverado Hotel, an aging Board-owned casino located in downtown. The Silverado is the downtown Elysium, a neutral ground and safe haven for kindred of all factions. Any out-of-town vampires are required by the Board to periodically check-in there (and are, in fact, encouraged to stay there).

Additionally, you will have the responsibility of policing ‘Glitter Gulch,’ the old gambling district of Las Vegas. Overshadowed by the newer hotels on the Strip, Glitter Gulch is still a bustling tourist destination. This is not your domain (yet), and it is open for any and all recognized kindred to feed there. Your role will be to keep tabs on any out-of-town kindred in the Gulch to ensure they are following the Board’s rules

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Pax Romana by Jonathan Hickman

How would a modern army stack up against Ancient Rome? It’s a killer hook that is explored with aplomb in Jonathan Hickman’s Pax Romana; a comic series about a near-future Vatican plot to save the Catholic Church by sending an army to Rome on the eve of Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge. It’s a great set-up that could be the foundation of a fun campaign. Doing my best not to spoil the series, I’m going to try to suggest a few elements that GMs can thieve from this fine, fine book.

Now Pax Romana is chalk full of plot twists, turns and payoffs, so if you haven’t read it yet I strongly suggest you go down to your local comic shop and pick up a copy before reading on. Then again, if you aren’t a spy bot and you are reading this, I’m just plumb delighted.

The gist of the premise is that in the mid-21st Century, the Vatican gets access to technology that will allow them to send a certain volume back in time. Beset on all sides, they opt to secretly assemble a genetically enhanced military force (led by a Church Cardinal) to go back in time to the days just before Constantine the Great’s unification of the Roman Empire. The plan is to support and guide him (and his heirs due to the soldiers’ enhanced life expectancies) in such a way that the Empire will not fall and the Catholic Church will never be seriously threatened in Europe and the Near East.

Needless to say, this plan quickly goes off the rails; primarily due to differences in philosophy between the force’s military commanders and their spiritual leader. The survivors of this internal dissent then begin to forcefully impose their agendas upon antiquity and the series charts the consequences of both their decisions and the what happens as their individual agendas begin to diverge.

Now the takeaway from the book, for me, is to provide both a great hook for a one-shot or short campaign and to give a solid example of a high-level campaign where the players have the power to dramatically change the world.

As a hook, it would be easy enough to just run a game where the PCs are the leaders of this expedition (or a similar one to another time or world). Give them limited, but powerful resources, a vague mission statement and let them go nuts.

Similarly, as a campaign example it illustrates a few possibilities as to how to keep things interesting when the players represent the biggest single power in your game world. You can still push their agendas against each other, introduce other travellers with a similar remit and have them deal with plots by the very people they are there to help.

Regardless, I strongly recommend you pick up Pax Romana, give it a read and take everything you can from it for your game!

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Undead Frontiers

In Vampire the Masquerade, the Kindred are resistant to change, safest in large urban milieus and vulnerable in the countryside. Travelling when one does not have an established place to hide out during the day is dangerous enough, but gets far worse when you factor in the odds of running into werewolves and uppity mortals who know the pointy end of a stake. Consequently, the default behaviour of any group of vamps is to find a city that is fat with mortals and play ‘king of the hill.’

So generally, by the time there is a decent sized city some place, there is already a Kindred power structure in place. But with the tremendous population growth in the US from the mid 19th century to the present, there are a whack of communities that have boomed from a couple of cow pastures to big cities. So the question is: who are the first kindred to turn up and play ‘King of the Hill?’

In my vision, you would essentially have two kinds of Kindred moving out into the new territories in the hopes of having a city grow up around them: the Loners and the Ambitious.

The Loners

It is safer, easier and less pleasant for a Vampire to survive in a civilized area, but it isn’t impossible for one to survive the sticks. Gangrel and Nosferatu kindred are particularly suited, both culturally and in terms of disciplines, for long term survival in fairly isolated regions. Obfuscate, Animalism and Protean would be huge aids to any such Kindred.

In the case of the American West during the 1800s and early 20th Century, I imagine that these Kindred would stalk trading posts, water holes and stops along the westward trails. There they could prey upon settlers (many of whom may not be missed should they meet their end) or migrate to boomtowns and settlements as they come and go.

In my Campaign’s Nevada, I’m assuming that the state was home to a small coterie of Gangrel during the 1800s through to the early 1900s when Carson City and Reno really began to grow. Las Vegas had a lone Gangrel stalking it until the turn of the century when this Kindred sired a Childer who will serve as the Sheriff in my campaign’s Las Vegas.

As for the lone Gangrel who had been leading his unlife in the Las Vegas valley before it was much more than a watering hole? At the start of our campaign (circa 1961) he is the recognized Prince of Las Vegas by the simple virtue of being there first.

The Ambitious

While a Loner may be happy to modestly feed on the transients moving through a frontier outpost, Ambitious Kindred are looking for a city where they can make their future. These are the Kindred who would have moved to Deadwood or Tombstone in the hopes that these towns would become cities. These are the Kindred who look to mortal ambitions for places like Atlantic City and see the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the next Chicago or Los Angeles.

These Kindred may be exiles or outcasts, but I don’t think they are any more likely to be Anarchs than any other Kindred; although their ambitions may have made Elders in more established cities see them that way.

In my Vegas game there are two ambitious Kindred who helped shape Las Vegas once it began to boom. The first is a Brujah with criminal syndicate connections and the second a Toredor who was taken by Bugsy Siegel’s vision. Together they muscled their way into the city during the 1930s and early 40s, grudgingly coming to an accommodation with the Gangrel Prince.

And while the city was small and the numbers of tourists low, this accommodation worked. But what happens when a city doesn’t stop booming? I will cover my thoughts on that in my next Vampire the Masquerade post next week.

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Villainomicon Review

The Villainomicon is the rogues’ gallery supplement for Icons: Superpowered Roleplaying. It’s a collection of villains and optional rules that GMs can either use directly in their games or as inspiration for their own creations. Every Supers game needs one of these as they are, essentially, the monster manual of the four-colour set. The question is: how does the Villainomicon measure up?

The Gist:

The Villainomicon contains 52 villains in 2 page entries for GM use as well as rules on villain creation, using disasters (natural and otherwise) in Icons, new specialties and powers. There are also a number of alternate rules that many Icons GMs may find useful.

What’s Great:

More than most types of supplements, I find that the beauty of a rogues’ gallery is in the eye of the beholder. So for me, there were a few villains that inspired. Corsair Queen (a time displaced super-pirate) was cool, Little Auggie Caesar (a chimp gang-lord) was neat and I’m sure I would have found uses for many more of these baddies in the course of a longer campaign.

The villain creation rules add a simple spin in writing up adversaries in order to craft archvillains in that ‘play with your hero’s themes’ kind of way. The disaster rules provide advice on the kinds of difficulties your PCs will have to overcome when surviving or combating avalanches, earthquakes, fires and other catastrophes. The new specialties and powers are pretty much what you’d expect, a handful of new ways you can tweak your characters with a few alternate spins on powers that exist in the core book.

Finally, the Alternate Rules provide some tweaks on damage and determination that I think point to some of the issues with the core game as it stands. I’m not sure any of them would have helped me, but they are worth checking out. The gem of the book, however, is the Success Pyramid section which suggests a solid system to adjudicate your PCs’ efforts to achieve difficult tasks over a longer term. It’s a pretty generic concept and I will be purloining this rule for other games I run where levels of success are differentiated.

What’s Not So Great:

Well, again this is a matter of taste, but some of the villains fell flat for me. This is always a risk for this kind of book as there is inevitably more chaff than wheat.

Final Word:
If you are an Icons GM, I strongly suggest yoinking this book (or especially as a PDF) to use as a resource. If you aren’t an Icons GM, but are looking for some inspiration for new villains, you could also do worse than to pick this book up and adapt any concepts that work for you.

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