Let’s tell a vampire story. Or, rather, let’s continue talking about Vampire stories! Part I of the discussion can be found here.
Stories are built around conflicts. With no conflict, all that exists is a diorama or tableau. Players’ characters are often the X-factors who make things out of the ordinary happen through their actions. The world is alive without them (even if the Kindred are themselves undead…), but the players’ input is what changes the story from “business as usual.” Stories are the precipice of change.
Most important of all, regardless of what kind of story you’re telling, every character in the story wants something, from the skittish thin-blood to the doomsaying Sabbat archbishop. The actions they take, whether players’ characters or Storyteller characters, are driven by their motivations. Sometimes those motivations relate directly to the story (“The fledglings simply want to survive”) or sometimes they help add nuance to the story (“The Prince abdicated when her lover destroyed himself at the Ashen Courts”). Sometimes understanding a vampire’s motivation is one of the central conflicts of the story itself.
And of course, every Kindred is always in conflict with their own Beast Within.
Kickoff: Conflict Drives Stories
Beyond the type of story the chronicle intends to tell, think also of some of the initial conflicts that immediately create tension. Beginning the chronicle with an understandable conflict grips and invests the players in a way that starting with extended expository sequences often doesn’t, in that it gives the characters something to care about and act upon immediately. That’s important in games, because games are about choices.
Your initial, immediate conflict is an excellent way to help frame the stakes of the story and the types of conflicts that will take place within it. Two very different chronicles will unfold if one begins with a lover’s quarrel that becomes fatal and the other begins with Anarchs ambushing some arrogant ancilla who, honestly, probably has it coming.
The players’ characters share a common desire for something. It can be something abstract, like status or influence, or it can be something immediate, like a haven or even survival. That last is something many Kindred can no longer take for granted in the modern nights.
- A pack of diablerie-crazed Sabbat shovelheads sees power in devouring the players’ Kindred, who don’t want to become greasy ash and memory
- The coterie has inadvertently committed a gross domain transgression by being in the wrong Kindred’s territory at the wrong time — fuck that noise, they want to make it theirs instead of showing obeisance
- While feeding, a member of the coterie accidentally puts the bite on a member of someone else’s herd
Defending What’s Theirs
The players’ characters begin the chronicle with something someone else wants. In this case, something immediate and tangible provides an immediate hook into the chronicle’s ambitions. But a skilled Storyteller can threaten the coterie’s possession with antagonists of unclear motive, determining which being the activity of numerous chapters in the chronicle to come.
- A member of the coterie goes a step too far, risking their Humanity in the face of the chronicle’s Tenets
- Among a trove of personal belongings abandoned by a vanished Mawla are several strange documents that turn out to be remnants of a copy of the Book of Nod
- Someone’s threatening one of the players’ characters’ Touchstones, whether knowingly or otherwise
The Best of the Worst
Sometimes there’s no good answer to a conflict. This is particularly true when players have multiple options (or antagonists) to consider. Having to choose from among a number of consequence-fraught options is a hallmark of Vampire. Damned if you do and Damned if you don’t.
- The coterie owns a nightclub, and a shift in mortal tastes finds that nightclub in what is rapidly becoming the Rack — and more established Kindred see it as a chance to “liberate” the club from a bunch of whelps who aren’t using it to its full potential, while a pack of upstart Anarchs want to use it as a burner haven with Blood Dolls on tap
- A longtime bitter rival seeks a truce with one of the players’ Kindred, but a contact informs the coterie that something called “Special Affairs Division” has opened an investigation into that individual
- A member of the coterie is witnessed feeding: How to deal with the observer? To complicate things, what if they have some connection to the Kindred they caught in the act, or someone else in their coterie?
- The city is under Sabbat Crusade and a pack of Cainites on the Path of Power and the Inner Voice is out headhunting. An unlikely informant from a different pack following the Path of the Sun warns the coterie about the impending attack. Why? And can they trust them?
- Look, sometimes diablerie happens. Let’s not dwell on who consumed whose heartsblood, let’s solve the problem. Going to ground would cost the coterie valuable influence, but going to a Tremere to ask for a favor to cover up the transgression? Yeesh.
The Big Picture
Vampire isn’t a genre in and of itself, it’s a condition superimposed over a conflict framework, lending context to that conflict. Pick a conflict, pick a situation, and make the protagonists the players’ coterie and you’re good to go. You can find inspiration from the conflicts proposed by other stories, or you can build your own from the ground up, based on the chronicle Tenets the troupe agrees to adopt. If you’re not at the traditional “game table,” prompt a conflict based on what will bring the players into your sphere of interaction.
What are some of your favorite situations to act upon as a player or Storyteller tips to engage your players?
We hope you enjoyed this two-part development blog! In the upcoming weeks, we will share World of Darkness Stories corresponding to the themes described by Justin for more inspiration.