If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know that I do love Vampire: the Masquerade. It was my first RPG, the first game I ran as GM (storyteller, in this case), and just a setting that I have long adored. Within the world of Vampire: the Masquerade, my favourite location is the ‘default’ campaign setting of Chicago.
There’s so much material on Chicago. There’s the old Chicago by Night books, the Succubus Club, as well as the material covering the wider area, including Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Gary, Indiana. There’s more, but these were real highlights for me. it was exciting, therefore, when Chicago by Night was announced as one of the first major supplements for the 5th edition of Vampire. Naturally, I picked it up.
I read much of the book, but purposefully did not read the chronicle that was included in it. I didn’t know whether I’d be running it, or someone else, so I didn’t want to spoil it if I were taking part as a player. I don’t get to play Vampire often, as I tend to run it, so I was quite excited when a friend decided to run it. I quickly put together a vampire of Clan Tremere and dove into the campaign.
There will be no significant spoilers in this article, but I do make reference to the central premise of The Sacrifice, which is widely known and discovered early in the first session.
Stanley was an academic who appeared to be in his late 50s. He lived a comfortable lifestyle with a couple of revenants who acted as research assistants. He never was much use in a fight, but he preferred to think his way out of problems. He did have a petty streak, lashing in the ways that he could against those who attempted to assert physical dominance over him. Often this was through use of one of his Blood Magic rituals. Stanley lost direction with the fall of the pyramid. Whilst others chafed against the blood bonds and strict hierarchy of Clan Tremere, Stanley found reassurance in them. He knew his place in the world and was happy to seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge. He disapproved of those who, given their freedom, strayed too far from their previous structures. Carna, for example, was not to be trusted.
As an established member of the kindred of Chicago, and as someone with a quiet but burning ambition, Stanley was willing to take on an ambitious task from the Prince of Chicago, Kevin Jackson (Oh, I miss Lodin…) to protect prominant visitors to the city and then, at the appropriate time, escort them to Elysium to meet the prince and to be formally introduced to the Kindred of Chicago. In taking on this task, Stanley was not to act alone, but as part of a coterie that included a fresh neonate of Clan Brujah, another Brujah who ran a successful second hand car dealership, and a Gangrel former-detective with a love of explosions. Stanley considered the group to be somewhat dysfunctional, but he was aware that he had to work with whomever the prince decided. After all, this was his opportunity to advance and to move up within Kindred society.
I’m not going to go through all of the ins and outs of the campaign. I didn’t keep good notes during this campaign, and I’m keen not to give too many spoilers, so instead I will recount a few of our best interactions or moments that were either fun or particularly intense.
When in Doubt, Burn it Down
As a group, we did not start things off in a particularly subtle way. During an early encounter in the house that served as another Vampire’s haven, things very quickly spiralled. I’ll be honest, I’m even really sure how we got to the point that it seemed like a good idea to our Gangrel detective to put the gas on and allow it to ignite. I’m sure there was some sort of logic there, but in hindsight, it completely escapes me.
Of course, this event came back to bite us, with the vampire we wronged holding something a grudge. Honestly, I can’t blame him. When he did come back at us, it hurt.
Curse Your Sudden-But-Inevitable Betrayal!
Of the two Brujah in our group, one quickly established himself as someone that the rest of the group would struggle to trust. Naturally, this was our used car salesman, Jim. He was useful, having a range of contacts and supplying us with a steady supply of vehicles. At the rate we tore through them, I don’t know how his dealership remained solvent.
From the get-go, it was clear that he was very much out for himself. This is how things should be in Vampire, but Stanley found him to be somewhat crass in how open he was about it. Stanley had the decency to be subtle in his personal ambitions.
He would often go off-grid, isolating himself from the rest of the group, once with the dignitary we were supposed to be escorting. We could never quite trust him, but we did depend on him to an often worrying extent.
Drunken Master is a Legit Fighting Style
At the climax of the campaign, as we entered into a truly pivotal fight, things were not looking good. This was largely our own fault. Once again, we came up with a plan that, in hindsight, I just cannot justify. In order to get into a crack den with less incident, our used car salesman loaded up a suitable human with a ridiculous volume of narcotics before feeding on him. Anyone familiar with Vampire will know what this means – the Vampire was now under the effects of these drugs. He could barely walk, let alone fight. This particular ploy ended up playing no part whatsoever in our ability to get into our destination. None.
The only effect it had was to effectively remove an ally from a challenging combat encounter. Yeah, we were not smart. When we got into the fight it was our detective, as our only effective fighter, who tackled the target with a stake. He lodged it into the target’s chest but was unable to hammer it home before being tossed aside. This was Stanley’s moment. With no skills in brawling or melee combat, I knew that he stood little chance. Instead I focused on just hurling his body at the target. It didn’t have to be pretty or skillful, and I did not care about protecting Stanley from any potential damage. I just had to mash one body against the other. Somehow, the Dice Gods smiled upon me and Stanley “fell at” the target, forcing in the stake and ending the fight.
We’d have been out of danger at that point had the detective not set the room on fire. Because, of course he did…
The Great Debate
At the end of the chronicle, the group was given a choice to make. It was a heavy choice that had the chance to give us significant rewards or leave us ruined. It tested our loyalties and our ability to read the motivations of both the NPCs and each other. Naturally, this led to a long debate.
This was genuinely my favourite part of the entire campaign and I feel that the GM did the right thing by just taking a big step backwards and letting us go at it. Just, removing himself and letting us discuss all of the options. In doing so, we had to reflect on the entire campaign up to that point. We had to reconsider the motivations of several different characters. We had to weigh up the power balance within Chicago as we knew it. Most of all, we had to try to persuade each other. What was the right path? Were we being played? Was there a right answer, or just a least bad one? I. Loved. This.
In the end, we reached a decision and we went with it. I do think it was the right way to go, and we definitely benefitted, but I’m so curious about how things could have gone. I would love to see how different things would have been, and how it would have affected us.
We’re keeping our characters, and are going to continue to play in Chicago and the surrounding area. I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen next. There are plenty of loose ends and little plot points that were left unresolved. There’s also the material in the Chicago Folios to draw on.
It’s exciting times for the Coterie!