As a ST for beginners and “local” characters, I’ve always made sure to create settings and stories that would create unforgettable events. So imma gonna write this for you real short and dummy proof
How to create the best campaign ever (BCE) :
First, forget about the campaign part. This ain’t no Dungeons, this ain’t no adventure or all over the world trips. There’s no such thing as a “campaign” for Vampire, deal with it.
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.. and its population, their wage, their specialties, their customs… 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 be sure the foundations of my story were strong enough to build the rest. This is mandatory ! And it's easier than to invent a city.
Once you’ve followed a few night classes in your local university about the history if your city and region, take a timeline with important changes, and going backwards, think about “what was behind” those changes : a change of Prince ? a change of sects ? Some of these changes are canon (the Tremere and the Nazi for instance), but if you’re not convinced by the canon, throw it away like a boss.
Fourth, once your skeleton for “the world of darkness history” of your city looks like a proper something 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 1000 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 placing some Clan Interests.
Your Ventrue clan has strong ties with the Roman Catholic Church ? That’s fine, but what happened during the Reform ? The Toreador had financial interests in Slave Trade in your port city ? How did they manage to get over the changes ? Your Tremere had ties with nobles ? What happened during the different Revolutions ? Your Malks had a local hold on health and mixtures ? What happened when the inquisition (led by the Ventrue ) stepped in to cut down their influences ? etc, etc.
Take every single event, all clans you want, and draft general clan golden eras and loss in interest. My favorite one was the Tremere taking profit from the feodal system, until Industry blew their minds away.
Once these sways are written on your timeline, with different colors for each clan as a whole.. Now interesting shit can happen. Now you get to place your NPCs personal timelines in the city.
You’ve got a decrease in one clan’s power or the other, then it’s a good excuse to embrace new useful Kindred :
1800 is a great time to embrace new ventrue (new financial capitalism to be understood), 1850 for the brujah (universal vote and several revolutions), etc, etc.
Place in the characters that took/lost power, and tie them, each and every single time, to the historical events, both nationally and locally. Why nationally ? Well, to have kindred move around from city to city, and 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 a hedonist Toreador. WWII German occupation of Poland ? The Tremere using the machine to force gain of influence as a whole. Manifest Destiny ? Big Corps, pioneers to “bring civilisation”, Malks 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 exactly had the power before him ? Maybe there was a blood bond somewhere. Does he know ? If he found out, how ? Who helped him get power ? Why did they help him (true reasons) ? Why did they help him (what the prince thinks are the true reasons) ?…
And make sure to add to each character a huge amount of misinterpretation, lies, and of course, plain ignorance. Make sure there are botched embraces, personal drama, and plain errors.
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 : mrgone.rocksolidshells.com/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, but also once about 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”.
What people think is the truth versys what the character thinks it's the truth is enough to create a whole plot around. And it creates 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… And make as much conflict as necessary. Create an unstable balance, a strong status quo, a wtf. 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 a trip actually never left and is being kept captive by a ghoul in need for 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 to try on her own to find out the truth.. and needs to PC to distract the Sheriff to test her theories.
Try to stick to the basics as much as you can : You don’t need a fancy bloodline to have a great character. You don't need paths, or speshul disciplines. Think of the concept of the character first, then think about who could embrace him, then manage to place that inside your city. Extra points for you if you manage to use historical characters (try and take the less obvious ones, like, vice presidents, unheard of captains of the guard…).
A good Prince can have five dots in his clan disciplines, but have shitloads of influences in the right places, as well as people that find an interest in having him in power. Having just Majesty doesn’t make you a lasting Prince. Those Princes ruling just by strength do not last. It's all about politics, bro.
Now.. what ? Just let your players hear about the NPC views on certain topics, and watch it evolve on its own. Force them to make choice : religion, politics, welfare, hate on roms, hate on gitans, hate on capitalists, voting choices, social security, people aging, policy to embrace (or not). Add in marriage, divorces, and some mind blowing events such as launching a god damn mini copper on freaking MARS. Remember all people over 70 find it perfectly “normal” to be racist/nationalist/xenophobic. Up until not-to-far ago, women didn’t have voting rights, or the right to open a bank account on their own. Parental authority was called “father authority” until the 80’s. The Guillotine was used until the 70’s !
So if your kindred was embraced at 20 and lived 80 years as a kindred, well, she’s already crazy enough : British empire ? Binge drinking ? Think about your regular “informatics incompetents” around you, now multiply this, add in megalomania, egocentric leeches who have power trips… Sure they get around technology a little better than your grandpa, but not that much. Make sure to add contrast between their looks and their age. And make sure they say “negro”, “maure” or other very derogatory and insulting words, which they seem to think are perfectly acceptable because that’s the vocabulary they used. Contrast that with the same kindred actually having some deal of charity and good morals… always for a reason, always belittling. Add in a hint of colonization. Get into regular mindset and “context”, and take some of those ideas up to now. And make sure to let your PC understand that if one NPC thinks that civil casualties are wrong in Irak bombings, that it’s amazingly exceptional.. and that this one NPC is mocked and looked down by the Court (some members of which participated openly in the Kosovo war, or the Napoleonic wars, you know, actual total wars).
Make sure your Kindred have "good and bad sides".
The pro-choice Brujah ? He's a nationalist bastard. The high tech guy ? He's a catholic extremist. The nice and kind novelist ? He hates black people. The diplomatic, consensual Ventrue ? He kills every single of his preys.
Now your city is created… just throw a grain of salt, and a few actual events the PCs hear about; link the characters to the events, and present them the city from their sire’s or contact’s perception of the city and of its inhabitants.
You don’t need a storyline. Players do not follow storylines ! EVER ! Watch your local newspapers closely, as well as national wtf news : watch public works : why are they happening ? Who takes benefit in the Moscow olympics ? What about South Africa world cup ? Who’s founding your local college ? It’s always a consequence of someone’s action, even if it’s not direct, even if it’s not even wanted. Make sure to have a few secrets “which are meant to be found out” (who’s actually a traitor, who’s actually hating the prince, who wants someone else dead…), and make them chose sides, chose who’s “visible agenda” suits them best. Remember that the PCs are the protagonists of your campaign : they're interesting, they're unique, and they have a little more something that NPCs do not have. NPCs would try and get them to be on their side, even if it's not plain obvious. A great example of this is how Maximillian Strauss acts in Bloodlines..
And then, make sure that they can’t do it all, that NPCs will take certain actions unless X or Y happens. They’ll have to chose the less worse path, and at each something they don’t do, there will be terrible consequences. Make sure they feel it. Make sure the job will try and get done by other NPCs who have another agenda to it… And of course, the PCs will get consequences right when they shouldn’t.
Keep a track of general feelings of each clan and each NPC towards each PC : it will let you know easily if the Malkavian Primogen might give them a hand on something (behind the curtains..), or if the Tremere Regent might offer one of them an Inscription that contains the ritual to walk through walls. It’ll also let you know if said or said NPC will believe the PCs and will listen to them.
And this is just in one, sole, lonely city. You don’t need Justicars, you don’t need Vienna, you don’t need Archons, and you don’t even need the Sabbat. Simple, good old, basic tools are always the best, and your players will fall in love with the city and its characters. They’ll imagine “what if…”. They’ll want to know more about why the childe of the Tremere Regent seems so afraid of her sire, they’ll want to know why the Brujah Primogen is so supportive of the Ventrue Prince, they’ll want to know how did they manage borders with Nossie Domain and other domains… And once they learn an important secret (someone lying about their clan..) they’ll have to think about unveiling the secret or keeping it secret : the secret owner may be too important for the City’s balance and Social Peace, and the Truth isn’t worth it.
Keep things personal. And make sure each (public and known) NPC has a very basic concept everyone can understand in a couple of lines. Make sure they think of the character first, before they take into account of their clan. “Let’s see a Gangrel” is like “let’s ask a Texan” ; they all need to have an unique personality and each needs to have made a certain impression on the PCs.
Add mortals, add ghouls (nobody suspects the ghouls), add in a little mysticism, lots of paranoia, and “I need an excuse to kill this guy…”.
Do not guide your PCs, if they’ve got part of the cards (what’s publicly known, what they’ve been taught, and what they think), they’ll use them all fine. Do not create a “tutor character”, nor a “good guy/bad guy” character. And make sure they always suspect a Tremere.
Sabbat games are exactly like Camarilla games, except they are a little more hypocrite and a little more brutal and violent. If someone here thinks the Camarilla is more humane, kinder, you misunderstood completely the whole thing and you were owned by the dogma those fucking elders put up as a vague social corpus. There’s no justice, just vengeance, there isn’t a wish to find out the truth, just making sure you have the least enemies possible…
Some people call it sandbox. I call it “urban scary world of darkness life”
Seriously, even the most uninspired player will be moving around because they have their influences, their comfort, their status or even their survival at stake. I force them to get interested because coincidences make that they’ll be interviewed by a curious journalist about the sudden death of many roms, or someone will notice they aren’t seen during day time.. Link their background to anything that could (and will) go wrong. Make sure that they create their characters in a way that you can link them deeply to your city-setting (common sire, mortal family, something in there is part of their Agenda…).
Use the customs of the people in the city. How about initiation week in the Med School ? Some Brujah can have fun there. What about Mardi Gras ? I'm sure the Prince enjoys his own version. How about
To insecure STs, please understand that being a StoryTeller isn’t sitting and being a referee. It's about you owning the city, the different events that will happen. Your players will be interested or they won't, and if they don't get interested, it will come back to haunt them.
Another detail : I usually tend to give tips to certain players about what their characters may guess or not. We do not all have the same stats as the characters ; we don’t ask the player to have STR. 4, why should we expect them to have INT 4 ?
What do you think ? I'd love your opinions !