Layering a Chronicle

While this article is specifically geared towards Vampire: the Masquerade, the ideas presented are applicable to most tabletop RPGs.

As a Storyteller for beginners and “local” characters, I always make sure to create settings and stories that will create unforgettable events.

How to Create the Best Campaign Ever

First, forget about the campaign part. This ain’t no Dungeons & Dragons. There’s no such thing as a “campaign” for Vampire. Instead, Storytellers must craft a chronicle.

Second, pick a city. Any city will do. Study it thoroughly, read about it, memorize the map, print out street views, buy a tourist guide, learn about the history of certain buildings, learn about its politics, its socio-economic strengths and weaknesses, its population, wages, specialties, customs, etc. Pick your own city if it’s interesting enough or a city you know a whole lot about. It took me a good five months just to learn about the history of my city to make sure the foundations of my story were strong enough to build the rest. This should be mandatory! It’s usually easier than inventing a city. If you invent a city, it’ll feel hollow, fake and artificial.

Once you’ve followed a few night classes in your local university about your city's history (okay I’m exaggerating, but at least read some wikis), take a timeline with important changes, and going backwards, think about what was behind those changes: The Prince? Multiple Princes? Sects? Some of these changes may be canon (the Tremere and the Nazi, for instance), but if you’re not convinced by the canon, throw it away. You're the Storyteller!

Once your skeleton for “the world of darkness” of your city looks like a proper history that has no inconsistencies, go back as far as proper writings on the city go. In European cities, I tend to go up to around 1,000 AD or so, but I will make a few lines on the Roman eras (mostly christian Roman empire).

Starting from there, and with the general geopolitical, economical and social background of each century or so, start layering clan interests. Make sure to keep individuals in mind, and not “all of the clan”.

Your Ventrue clan has strong ties with the Roman Catholic Church? That’s fine, but what happened during the Reformation? The Toreador clan had financial interests in the slave trade of your port city? How did they manage to get over the changes? Your Tremere had ties with the nobility? What happened during the different Revolutions? Your Malkavians had a local hold on healthcare and social work? What happened when the inquisition (led by the Ventrue :p) stepped in to cut down their influences? Etc, etc.

Take every single event, all the clans you want, and layer golden ages, points of failure, and when vampire society was out of touch with humanity and historical events. Once these sways are written on your timeline, with different colors for each clan as a whole, interesting things can happen. Now you get to place the personal timelines of your local NPCs.

Place in the characters that took/lost power, and tie them into historical events, both nationally and locally. Why nationally? Well, to have kindred move around from city to city. Sometimes they keep ties and links to former friends, or escape enemies (Schrecknet, Harpy files, Prince collaborations, Tremere chantries in competition…)

Marie-Antoinette losing her head? Certainly a backstabbing to some hedonist Toreador. WWII German occupation of Poland? The Tremere using the machine to force gain of influence as a whole. Manifest Destiny? Big Corporate pioneers bringing civilization, Malkavians needing more people to experiment upon, anthropologist Gangrel thinking they’ve got much to learn, and, of course, religious persecution. Bad public works New Deal? Probably a Nosferatu plot to keep their secret secrets and to render themselves indispensable: one who controls urbanization controls the city.

Now zoom in your timeline and write the whole story again from each important character’s perspective.

Does the current Ventrue Prince know who exactly had power before him? Maybe there was a blood bond somewhere. Does he know? If he found out, how? Who helped him gain power? Why did they help him (true reasons)? Why did they help him (what the Prince thinks and the true reasons)? Does he have allies which he is unaware of? Does he thinks certain allies are in fact enemies who need him in power?

And make sure to add a huge amount of misinterpretation, lies, and of course, plain ignorance to each character and clan... botched embraces, personal drama, and errors in judgement.

For instance, I once had a Toreador embrace a girl he thought was an awesome novelist, but in truth, she was just the Masquerade cover the Toreador Primogen used to publish his works… This botched embrace, the fact that she was good enough an actor to survive her presentation, and make herself become a harpy was interesting enough; of course the Sire lost all status and is still being taunted by the harpies because he didn't check his facts... and didn't recognize the Primogen’s writing style)

Make coterie sheets for them all (the coterie sheet are these : http://mrgone.rocksolidshells.com/pdf/VtM/VtMCoterieChart_4.pdf and Mr Gone is your go-to guy for this kind of stuff) and do them each twice: once about their true feelings to each other and to other clans and again for what OTHERS thinks their feelings are.

“I think Tom Tremere likes Greg Gangrel” isn’t the same as “Tom Tremere owes a favor to Greg Gangrel”.

Create a plot around what people think is the truth vs. what the truth really is, including misconceptions, alliances, coteries, and of course, world domination plots.

Each NPC needs an agenda: things they want done, things they don’t want done, people they’d like to harm, people they’d like to get closer to… Make as much conflict as necessary. Create an unstable balance. The city is too small for kindred. Make sure oppression, politics, favors, and social relations are far more important than a rabid Brujah assaulting the Prince’s haven to get his head. Add in a few secrets too, secrets that are either meant to be found out, or not. Maybe the old sheriff isn't dead, but he turned sabbat… maybe that Toreador who didn't come back from her trip actually never left and is being held captive by a ghoul in need of vitae…

An example is finding out a kindred was murdered; but her remains did not look like her age stated they should have looked like. Was that murder faked? Now the ones interested in finding out the truth can’t investigate on their own because they do not want to believe the Sheriff is lying. They’ll exchange favors with the PCs if they find interesting stuff. This isn't your regular “quest giving NPC”, as the NPC has an agenda of her own to find out the truth and needs the PC to distract the Sheriff to test her theories.

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Authored by Claudia Vonigner
http://secretsofthemasquerade.blogspot.fr/

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