Monday, 24 September 2018

Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition - Session One - Three Murders (Part One)

I'm starting to run a Vampire the Masquerade chronicle using the 5th Edition rule-set for a small group of fellow role-players...
Our campaign is set in Los Angeles and features a small group of Camarilla agents sent into the 'Free States' to search for ways to once again bring the Ivory Tower to dominance under the pretence of being disillusioned neonates looking for the freedom of the Anarch way of life...a life which they hopefully won't decide they like better...
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Why LA? - Well it contains a lot of different baronies giving me a lot of interactions to play with, allows me to use some of the more interesting characters from the Bloodlines PC game (which two of the players were familiar with) and is a setting not yet experienced by the players familiar with the Vampire RPG which gives me a chance to keep them on their toes...I've also changed quite a lot and inserted some new characters of my own to make things a bit more interesting...

The now obligatory warning bit - Unlike my other RPG write-ups this one will contain swearing, sexual references and other references that might offend. If you can't tell the difference between real peoples opinions and grown-ups role-playing predators who crave blood then this probably wont be for you. I've also used actual photographs to represent some characters which I'll give acknowledgements to at the end if I've any idea who they are.

The Storyteller
Garreth as Everyone else...
The PC's
Phil as Michael Tomassio - Toreador
Tom as Johnny 'Roach' West - Malkavian
Dave as Vincent 'Vin' Ghast - Brujah
The characters stats and backgrounds can be found HERE should any-one be interested...
The NPC's
Marius Walker - Autarkis Gangrel 'Fixer'
Victoria, Yukio and Heather - Three of Marius's ghouls

As I have written out introductions and dialogue for certain NPC's and some location descriptions I'll post these more or less as I wrote them so they'll be in a 'reading to the group' style...they'll also be in blue so you can tell them apart from the more traditional write-up sections. If I think something needs a bit of out of character explanation then those will get a storytellers note that will helpfully be in red...

Introduction
The three kindred sent by the Camarilla to undermine the Anarch free states in Los Angeles have been operating independently to establish their identities as disillusioned neonates looking for unlives away from the influence of the Ivory Tower but as their activities have drawn the attention of the powers that be in LA the time has come for them to be gathered into a coterie for mutual protection and to pool their resources.

Their contact is an Autarkis Gangrel called Marius who operates as a something of a 'Fixer' within the kindred community of Los Angeles and who apparently owes some-one in the Camarilla a considerable boon. The payment for this boon is to establish three of their agents within the Anarch community, provide them with a base of operations and the resources they need to get started on their campaign. Never one to overlook an opportunity to fob off a job he's not interested in however Marius has given the three the 'opportunity' to establish themselves but this involves untangling a particularly unusual murder case for their patron...three murders to be specific...

The introductory session introducing every-one and establishing their individual covers can be found HERE and is far more interesting than the above couple of paragraphs so you should definitely read it before continuing...please...

Act One - The Small Task...
"Now onto what you can do for me...well for us actually..." "There was a triple homicide in downtown LA, three victims or two victims and a dead accomplice depending on which cops report you read. A man collecting an item for his employer walks down the wrong alleyway and gets the item stolen and himself killed along with two others...some perpetual student and an old bag-lady who apparently picked the wrong doorway to sleep in..." "No trace of the item, no identification for the old beggar and the punk was just some unemployed loser. The police rounded up the usual suspects, got nowhere and filed it away somewhere and I guess it would have ended there...except..."

"The dead delivery boy was a ghouled security guard employed by the Ventrue Baron of Downtown LA...well...most of it not claimed by Therese Voerman at least...Louis Fortier and was apparently one of his childer Catherine Du Bois favourites and the stolen item was a painting purchased by his other childe Elena from the current kindreds favourite..." Marius stops and gestures at the biblical scene on the wall painted by the current local favourite 'Malaki' "one of his in fact...and apparently because this happened two blocks from my particular chunk of downtown LA I'm expected to know something about it..."
Louis Fortier, Catherine Du Bois and Elena Gutierrez

Their host paused briefly as if expecting to be asked if he was involved but as no such questions occurred he continued... "And then as if it couldn't get messier..." "The dead student bears a surprising similarity to one of Jenna Cross's Thin-Blood messengers who definitely (I'm assured) had no business in downtown and certainly didn't spend his spare time stealing works of art...apparently..." The scepticism in his voice wasn't hidden in the slightest and both Michael and Roach detected particular scorn when their patron mentioned thin-bloods. "Also...and this is the fucking weird part I have been informed that a former Nosferatu Primogen 'Gary' is making subtle enquiries about the old dead bag lady which makes no sense whatsoever...Gary isn't even based in Downtown fucking LA, he lives under Hollywood and as far as I know has a whole warren of Nossies to do his grunt work so doesn't need to go about drafting octogenarian street people..." "So now I'm curious..."
'Gary' and Jenna Cross

"So what we have is a good news, bad news situation..." The bad being that three different Kindred of influence are all sticking their noses into the same situation which is a clusterfuck" "The good news however is that gives you three an excuse to wander into their territories asking questions and with any luck the chance to gain yourself a few boons and as they're currently not blaming each other for anything you don't have to pick a side...yet at least..." "As far as they're concerned you're all doing the legwork for me which given the art connection should seem plausible and broadly speaking it's true." "So are we Agreed?"

Somewhat petulantly Michael pointed out that they didn't really seem have much of a choice in the matter but that they'd need more information to work with than what they had currently. Marius countered by offering to provide files on the significant parties involved and also claimed to be able to get hold of all the police and medical files on the case as well as all the physical evidence courtesy of a 'friend' on the police force.

There's a knock on the door and Victoria's voice announces "Your twelve o'clock is here" 

"Sorry gents, I'll have some files on the principles and the police reports and evidence waiting for you at your new base of operations tomorrow night so there's fuck-all you can do till then so you might as well enjoy your last night as free agents" "I'll have one of the girls escort you out..." He then gets up and leaves you in the room with the seemingly ever-present Victoria to escort you out. Before you leave the meeting room she hands you each a burner phone, a membership card for a place called 'Club Confession' in Downtown Los Angeles which has what you rightly presume is her signature on the back and a plain brown envelope.

They were informed that each of the burner phones contained the numbers of other two devices and an extra number to contact to get in touch with 'them' should they have need of further information or assistance.

The card was for an establishment called Club Confessions, a night club owned by Marius and a British woman called Venus Dare that had several private rooms usable by patrons with the appropriate level of membership. Venus apparently understood the 'special requirements' of certain customers both because she was another of Marius's ghouls and also because he occasionally granted feeding rights to those in need there...in return for favours later of course.

Normally these arrangements were short term but given the circumstances they were assured that they would have access to the facilities 'until further notice' which they presumed to mean 'as long as they were doing his dirty-work for him' but were also warned to be careful and not cause any trouble while there. The brown envelope as expected contained cash that Victoria referred to as for 'miscellaneous expenses' and a quick count put the contents at around two thousand dollars each.

As you're led to the apartment door Marius is escorting a tall slim blonde girl and a shorter brunette both in party dresses upstairs, though the brunette seems to be needing a bit of encouragement the blonde one seems quite keen and is taking the stairs two at a time. 'Roach' turned his aura reading talents to the group as they moved from the stairs, across the landing and through a doorway into one of the upstairs rooms.

The Gangrel's aura was as suspiciously flat as before though the two young ladies revealed more interesting results. The vampiric elements of the blondes aura were virtually none-existent to the point that she could easily have passed for human had his inspection only being a passing one and he immediately categorised her as an extremely high generation thin-blood which seemed contradictory given the scorn in their hosts voice when the thin-blooded were mentioned earlier. The resonance of her blood was distinctly sanguine and her emotional state was somewhere between lust and the enthusiasm that only a truly hopeless addict could exhibit when expecting their chosen fix.

The darker haired girl however was a different matter. Though it was often difficult to detect the clan of a kindred merely from their aura there were certain signs that enabled one to make an educated guess and this young woman exhibited none of them. It was therefore his conclusion that she was a Caitiff, a vampire with no clan but a vampire nonetheless. Her emotional state was far more melancholy, she had the same elements of anticipation that the other had but this was tainted by a hint of fear. For some reason the phrase "Have her scrubbed and bought to my tent" popped into the Malkavians head in the voice of the comedian John Cleese.

Michael's observations were less mystical but he was empathetic enough to pick up the same emotional clues as his Malkavian ally had done in regards to mood. He could also tell by their posture and movements that they were un-used to the outfits they were wearing and had been (in his opinion) brushed-up for the occasion by some-one with a knowledge of contemporary fashion and a grasp of make-up albeit with a somewhat Gothic bias.

As the newly formed coterie reached the door, Yukio intercepted them and handed Vin a leather pouch saying "You might find this a bit more useful than that piece of shit pea-shooter you've been carrying" before strolling back into the lounge area and attempting to extract the television remote from Heather though it's fairly obvious to all watching that Yukio isn't trying very hard. The pouch contained a loaded Glock 17 9mm Pistol with two spare magazines of ammunition.

Storytellers Note - I'd decided last time to reward 'Vin' in some way if he handled the incident with the drunks and his herd from the introduction session well and this seemed like a fairly in character way to do it.

The large dog that was upstairs is now curled up in a corner. All in all it seems strangely...domestic, which is especially jarring considering what you're here for and your hosts chosen business. Victoria is however professional as ever "Do you require a vehicle?, driver? or will a taxi of some description do? "I presume some of you will want to 'dine' before retiring for the day?"

After a brief discussion they accepted the offer of a loan of a driver, before being escorted out of the building via the lobby. The offered driver was waiting for them outside...

Storytellers Note - I was kinda expecting them to visit Club Confession at a later date and start making enquiries about the various kindred involved in the murders first but after checking my notes I think I oversold 'have a night of freedom', 'club confession is awesome' and 'wait till tomorrow', lol.

Act Two - Club Confession
The driver of the car outside introduced himself as Dion and Vin noted that he was wearing good quality form fitted body-armour and was armed with a handgun in a shoulder holster. As the door was opened for them to enter Vin also noticed several signs that the vehicle had been armoured at some point. It was a good quality job and concealment had obviously been given some priority but certain clues were obvious to an experienced observer. "Where to?"

Both Roach and Michael were beginning to feel their hunger growing especially as Roach had been using blood to fuel his scrying abilities and they asked the driver to take them to the Club Confessions mentioned by Victoria as they might as well take advantage of the opportunity given to them. On arrival the driver offered to wait for them in case they needed transporting anywhere later but they declined saying they'd make their own arrangements for travel. "Looks like I get a night off then..." was the drivers only comment as he got back in the vehicle and left them to their own devices.

Storytellers Note - I'm beginning to think they don't trust their new Gangrel friend and his operatives...even if they are about to have lunch in his club...

The club was a large converted church that had been extended considerably but kept in the original style. Many people wearing a variety of fashions were milling around outside and there was a queue of people waiting to get in. Next to the main entrance was a side door manned by a single doorman who was directing any customers who headed that way back to the main entrance. A sign by the entrance declared it was 'Alternate Rock' night though from the clothing of those waiting to get in it apparently attracted a wide variety of people from students through the more traditional fashions to some quite outlandish outfits from a number of sub-cultures. Seeing a potential opportunity to make a bit of cash from some of the students Roach announced that he'd hang around outside for a bit as the others moved to the side entrance.

The guardian at the side entrance was halfway through his obviously well used 'not this entrance speech' when he saw the membership card in Michaels hand and opened the door to let him through though he did also check to make sure that Vin also had one.

The inside of the club was significantly louder than the outside but not quite at a volume that made conversation completely impossible. There was a long bar along the wall they'd entered the club from and several door staff could be seen to the right of them checking people entering via the main entrance-way. The dance floor took up a considerable portion of the floor-space and the outer walls contained many alcoves, booths and various other dark corners where the usual night-club activities were being engaged in. A number of cylindrical cages hung from the ceiling and several others could be accessed from the lower floor and some of these had some of the more attention seeking club-going dancers in them though others looked like they worked for the club.

A set of stairs near the entrance led upstairs to another area of the club while a second set on the opposite side were sealed off with a velvet rope protected by a heavily muscled doorman standing some six and half feet tall. Presumably this led to the private rooms they'd been told about. Michael began to scan the patrons for a socially acceptable target for seduction while Vin was mentally mapping the clubs entrances, exits and observing the groups of people within for possible threats. Roach meanwhile was still outside...

Several of the student groups outside were known to Roach from his drug-dealing activities and it wasn't long before he was approached by an existing customer wanting something to help his evening along. A brief conversation and an exchange later Roach had his first sale of the evening and thanks to the first customers referrals he picked up a little more business and a couple of invites to join a few later for a drink before he then decided to join his fellow kindred inside.

Michael had ingratiated himself with a group of clubbers consisting of a man and a woman who were obviously a couple, a single man who the Toreador presumed was homosexual given the tone of his conversation and the attempt at flirting with him and two female friends who he had decided would be his best chance of success as he had kept his mortal sexual preferences. Already blessed with good looks and playing both the 'pale and interesting' and 'charismatic artist' cards he was reasonably sure he could separate one from the group with a little more work.

Roach on the other hand had located a pair of students who he was familiar with from outside who he was reasonably sure wouldn't need need much more motivation than the combination of free drink, free drugs and 'I have a private room' to lure away. Not particularly keen on waiting to be served like the rest of the patrons the Malkavian managed to make brief eye-contact with one of the barman just long enough to issue a brief command with the dominate discipline to "Fetch me three beers..." which further impressed the two students at how he was apparently able to jump the queue but did leave a slightly confused barman wandering why he'd only got halfway through pouring some-one a shot of whiskey before stopping to serve a man at the back of the crowd.

The bouncer guarding the stairway to the private rooms went from intimidating to positively subservient after seeing the signed membership card merely stepping aside and quietly letting them know that rooms five and six were being used but that the others were available. Taking the first room and offering some of his more potent weed to the two girls he let them get nicely stoned before moving towards the first ones neck. The pleasure of the bite soon overwhelmed any lingering resistance before he moved onto the second and the pairs drugged blood satisfied both his hunger and his other addiction. Michael meanwhile had managed to persuade his chosen of the two that their discussion on art and architecture would be much easier in one of the quieter rooms upstairs and though she seemed initially reluctant to leave her friend she eventually succumbed to his persuasion...

Storytellers Note - His first roll wasn't terrible but wasn't great either so I made him work for it a bit more. As these were their first 'hunts' of the campaign we spent some time on them as imo it's an important part of how a vampire character shapes themselves but can get stale if you do it in excruciating detail every time. I'll go with however the players want to deal with it though. I presumed that Vin just planned on mugging some-one on the way home...

Michael negotiated his way past the bouncer as Roach had done noted as he did the complete change in posture and attitude that occurred when he saw the card and the name upon it. The empathetic Toreador theorised that he'd had a bad experience with the owner of one of those cards in the past and that it hadn't gone well for him at all.

As he passed the first room upstairs he could see the Malkavian with his head buried in the neck of one of two very stoned looking young women and moved to the next room along and shut the door behind him. Michael still had enough of his humanity left to be able to fake the act of love-making if not actually enjoy it as a normal human would using it mainly as a cover for the pleasure of the bite. Enhanced by his powers of Presence his own kiss left the near ecstasy of a normal vampires kiss in the dust...

Storytellers Note - Lingering Kiss in mechanical terms adds bonuses to the vampires Charisma tests when used against the bitten subject in the future. The victim can resist the effect eventually but it may take them awhile depending on the level of the vampires ability with the discipline. It also can have negative effects on the psychological state of the victim so I may explore the morality of using it in a later session...

Vin had the lay-out of the establishment well worked out and had mentally noted the best routes in and out, ascertained that all the door-staff were more than likely human and noted which of the people in the club were either capable of looking after themselves or at least thought they were. One of the booths seemed permanently occupied by a man who was obviously the local drug dealer but seemed to be a minor player as he had no henchmen with him. He had watched his two new allies take their meals upstairs to ensure they had no unforeseen surprises for them and once they had returned from the various activities the three left for their private havens by their own means.

Act Three - Playing Detective
As promised each of you awakens to find a message giving the address of the location of what is eventually to be your new haven, though Vin instead finds a map posted through his front door with a large arrow drawn on it in deference to his inability to read. There's also a set of keys and an access code. 

Once you all have arrived and the shutter is raised a large glass shop front could be seen with a set of double doors in one corner. The doors led into a reception area though there were still signs of construction going on and a currently empty gallery area in the rear. A set of stairs led down to a currently sealed off basement area and a set up led to a second floor containing several store-rooms which had been hastily converted into three rooms, a bathroom, some former cupboards which were now un-used and a meeting room that still had a long table in it presumably from whatever business occupied the building previously. There were a number of chairs around it but these seemed to be a random selection salvaged from the rest of the building. On the table were several large boxes, a number of files, police evidence bags and several document boxes. In the corner a computer had been set up but this also looked like one salvaged from the previous occupants of the structure.

Michael selected the largest of the improvised rooms on general principle while Roach opted for the one nearest to the fire escape at the rear. Vin as usual couldn't care less about such things and just took the one that was left after first doing a quick recon of the entrances, exits and checking the security system was operational. The new coterie started to work through the evidence and files looking for a decent starting point, Vin of course mainly looked at the pictures.

Storytellers Note - We spent a long time on this bit as they asked questions about many different things and bounced a lot of ideas off one another. The next bit of the write-up is therefore what they thought was important and the conclusions they reached compiled into a logical order rather than every tiny bit of back and forth which would fill about five articles, lol. This bit took a lot of prep time but the resulting enthusiasm of the players to get stuck into the mystery made it worth the effort.

The Victims
Regan Petersen - Ghoul
The ghoul of Louis Fortiers childe was named Regan Petersen and based on the information on the police report was an ex military man now employed as a security guard by the Fortier estate. Some hand-written notes added to the files presumably by Marius pointed out that as Louis and 'family' rated looks quite highly in their employees the not particularly handsome Regan must have been very good at his job indeed to have risen in their service at all.

The handgun that had been used on both him and responsible for the three bullet wounds in the students chest was the security mans own and was a legally registered Colt M1911A1 Pistol and had two sets of fingerprints on it, one was his and the others were unknown. The wound that had killed the ghoul was in fact the stab wound which had pierced his heart not the bullet wound to the head which had apparently been delivered post-mortem while he lay on the ground. The weapon responsible for the stab wound was a Ka-Bar combat knife found next to the student and had only his finger-prints upon the handle. From the angle of the thrust and the technique used Vin was adamant that there was no way that the student had inflicted the killing blow whatever the fingerprint evidence said. For a start the angle of entry indicated a much taller attacker had made the textbook military blow and the lack of defensive wounds meant they took him completely by surprise or were very fast indeed. Vin put the number of attackers at at least three, possibly four.

Nelson Price - Thin-Blood
The student's name was Nelson Price and he was studying at the university near where Roach kept his haven and was his major source of business. He had no criminal record and no military, security or martial arts training so it was something of a mystery how he'd managed to overcome an experienced ex-soldier and of course that made even less sense in light of the fact that he was riddled with bullets at least two of which would have been fatal almost instantly which probably explained why the police report theorised that there may have been a falling out amongst the thieves.

Having no reason to doubt the Brujah's assessment of the attack this meant that he was either part of the conspiracy or was the victim of a set of near impossible coincidences which seemed unlikely. While looking through the list of items found on the body they noticed that a 'bundle of religious pamphlets' was listed yet they're was no such item in the evidence bags they had been given. It was of course possible that this was just an administrative oversight or they had been deemed unimportant. Roach used the nearby computer to obtain a picture of the student from his social media page so he had something to show around the university bars without it being a picture of a bullet-ridden corpse. Having a good knowledge of the university and it's grounds as well as the students various haunts the Malkavian was sure he could find some information on him with a bit of leg-work.

Dolores 'Doll' Green
The bag lady was known as 'doll' to the few locals who knew of her at all and had been killed by a brutal knife slash across the throat but the medical examiners report was clear that the murder weapon was not the Ka-Bar found at the scene. This further confirmed Vin's theory about the number of attackers involved but he was unconvinced about her involvement believing her to merely be an innocent witness who was silenced.

The only significant possession on her person was a review of an old film that has been laminated at some point to protect it. The paper was very old and faded and the whole thing was well worn as if it had been handled many times. The old film was called 'The Orphan' and after another internet search turned out to have starred a Dolores Green which they presumed was the real name of 'doll'. She had featured along with a famous Hollywood heart-throb of the time known as Gorgeous Gary Golden. Some further research showed them that Gary had apparently died in 1965. Roach immediately made a connection to the 'Gary' who had been making enquiries about her and pointed out the Nosferatu's tendency for ironic embraces shared by Malkavians. A man known as 'Gorgeous' would have been just the sort of person they'd have been tempted by.

The Interested Parties
Having gleaned enough information about the victims Michael and Roach then had a look at the files prepared for them on the principle kindred powers involved in the enquiry. Louis Fortier was a quite rare example of a Ventrue who was actually trusted and respected as an Anarch Baron who controlled the majority of Downtown Los Angeles with the exception of Santa Monica that was now the barony of  the Malkavian Therese Voerman. He was known as a gentlemen amongst the Anarchs and ruled his barony much as he would have done back in medieval France expecting respect to be shown yet is generally considered (by Kindred standards) to deal fairly with those he encounters as long as the proper etiquette is kept. His haven is an enormous and heavily guarded mansion protected by a virtual army of ghouls and when provoked to action isn't afraid to use overwhelming force against his enemies.

He has sired two childer and adopted a third.

The foremost of these is Catherine du Bois who maintains the security of Louis' barony and looks after his ghouls as well as acting as hostess when he receives guests and it was one of her people who had been delivering the missing painting.

Almost as influential Elena Gutierrez acts as Louis's agent in the outside world and is generally allowed to implement his will as she see's best. She also has an artistic eye and is responsible for much of the purely aesthetic beauty that surrounds Louis in the same way that Catherine provides beautiful men and women and the painting had been purchased by her. The effectively adopted childe Mariel St John was an established vampire known for her literal accomplishments when Louis invited her into his home and offered his support and resources to her to allow her work to continue.

Jenna Cross de-facto leader of the thin-blooded of Los Angeles was a different matter entirely. Schooled in the ways of the kindred by the Anarch Smiling Jack and embraced purely on the basis of a crescent shaped birth-mark.

Her sire took her and moulded her into the perfect prop for his plans based around the prophecies surrounding Gehenna and with a growing army of thin-bloods bought to Los Angeles by word of her status as some kind of messiah. Infamous for her part in the death of Prince Tara who replaced Prince LaCroix she has declared the pier at Santa Monica to be both Elysium and the domain of the thin-bloods. Word is that there's now some unrest in her camp as certain elements are disappointed that she didn't consolidate from this move into taking LA for her own and by default for the thin-bloods and caitiff who followed her. Unfortunately politics is as complicated within the Anarchs as it is in any other sect...

Last of the kindred involved in this tangled mess was 'Gary' a Nosferatu who held the rank of Primogen under the Camarilla. He survived the political fall-out amongst those who supported the regime of Prince La Croix when he was explosively removed from power as every-one knew that despite being a Camarilla Primogen, Gary sold his information freely to the Camarilla's enemies, had no bones about flaunting this fact in LaCroix's face, and had no respect for LaCroix, his fellow Primogen, or any members of the Camarilla whatsoever.

This is of course the sort of thing that greatly endears you to the Anarchs so once the Camarilla influence was gone he carried on exactly as he had before. Marius's notes on Gary were fairly sparse other than mentioning that he had two childer and possibly a third if recent rumours were to be believed. If as Roach suspects he was once the actor Gary Golden that would explain his interest in the matter at hand due to his past connection to the vagrant known as 'doll' from his mortal days as an actor.

First Moves
Roach had perused a list of fences interrogated by the police in relation to the missing painting but he knew most of them and doubted whether any would have been interested in the painting. He read out the list to Vin who was also aware of several and agreed with the Malkavian that the police had just gone through the motions with their 'usual suspects' list. Though he didn't deal in illegal art Michael decided to make some enquiries of his own within the art world as soon as he had some free time. The crime-scene photographs of the victims were fairly good though there was next to nothing of the alleyway where they had been found though the location was obviously in the report. There was also an address for the gallery from which the painting had been originally bought but there was no indication that it had been followed up on in any way.

Vin decided he wanted to look at the murder scene himself while Roach thought the university was a good place to start so they decided to split up and then pool any information gained later. Despite them broadly having permission to investigate in the various barons territory Michael thought it might be wise as a matter of etiquette to at least introduce themselves to the rulers of those areas so he left a message at the contact number Marius's ghoul Victoria had given them asking for how he might go about introducing themselves to the Barons of Downtown, Santa Monica and Hollywood as well as for the Nosferatu Gary. The number simply rang through to a default message on an answering machine but he left his request anyway before deciding to drive Vin to the location of the murders.

Storytellers Note - They missed a few clues that I may have to subtly slot into later enquiries but all in all they were very thorough... 

Act Four - The Investigation Begins
The alleyway was in a particularly sleazy part of downtown and couldn't be immediately accessed from the road so they had to park around the corner and along the street. Three obvious gang-members were on a corner nearby and Vin decided it might be an idea if he had a word with them about the possible consequences to their health of interfering with the vehicle while they were gone.

Unfortunately they felt reasonably secure being on their home turf and having numbers on their side so wouldn't leave the area but the Brujah knew that he'd put enough doubt in their minds to make Michael's car fairly safe for the brief time they'd leave it while looking at the crime-scene nearby. Moving along the side of the building involved navigating their way around several piles of rubbish and refuse which despite being little issue to Vin was somewhat distracting to the Toreador Michael but after a few minutes they found there way to the scene of the incident.

Vin noted that the point in the alleyway that the murders had taken place within was shielded from any overlooking windows and could not be seen from any of the adjacent streets or other alleyways. He also remembered from the police reports that there were no nearby security cameras on any of the shops or buildings and those that did exist had all been vandalised at some point recently. All in all it seemed like a perfect point for an ambush but he couldn't for the unlife of him work out why the security man would choose to go this way unless he was chased or lured there. The lack of any bullet holes or collateral damage from missed shots also concerned him as it meant the attackers were either very good shots, exceptionally fast or had somehow immobilised every-one involved. He upgraded his assessment for number of attackers from 'three or four' to 'at least four' and based on what they'd learned about Louis Fortier and his childer the chance of it being an inside job to 'zero'...

Nearby in a alcove by a boarded up door he could see the typical signs of a homeless persons hideaway which in his opinion confirmed his theory that she had just been unfortunate to have chosen the same place to sleep as the ambush site though the thought that some-one had almost decapitated an old bag-lady for that reason annoyed him considerably. Vin had no particularly strong moral objections to taking a life or an unlife but killing an enemy was one thing, killing a defenceless weakling unnecessarily was a different matter entirely. Having learnt all they could they made their way back to their reassuringly intact car and returned to their new joint haven.

Roach meanwhile was working his way through the local student hang-outs making the occasional deal as he did but hadn't caught a lead yet. As he was a fairly well known face amongst those who wanted recreational chemicals he was using the cover that the gentlemen owed him money and he was looking to collect while still feeling fairly amicable towards them. The implication being that it would be better if he found them sooner rather than later. Eventually he caught a break after a few more disappointments as the barman Frank remembered the man from what after a few prompts turned out to be the night he was killed. Apparently he'd been forced to throw him out after he'd been annoying the patrons by handing out leaflets for some church group though when asked about the aforementioned leaflets told Roach that he'd thrown them all in the garbage out back. Having no desire to climb around in a bin filled with bar scraps he used a subtle bit of dominate to persuade the barman to fetch him one...

With the slightly stained leaflet for what was apparently 'The Church of Repentance' in hand he decided to have a look at the downtown address for it which was handily printed on the bottom leaving a slightly dirty and bewildered barman behind him. The 'church' turned out to be a warehouse building surrounded by a high fence with spikes at the top.

A large pin-board style sign was on the fence by the gate but had long ago had any notices on it removed or ripped off either by weather or vandalism. Though the area seemed deserted, light could be seen through the windows around the upper area and these were the only windows in the building as the entire ground floor had solid walls and may well have been a warehouse unit of some kind originally. Through the heavily locked front gate Roach could see that the door had a number of heavy duty locks on it and decided to try around the back instead.

The rear gate was less secure being a double set held together by a chain and a pretty standard padlock that opened up to allow access to the car-park at the rear which currently held three vehicles. The rear door however had the same three security locks on it as the front door had but he figured as he was here he might as well have a go at gaining access.

Using some improvised lock-picking tools he easily bypassed the one on the gate and stealthily moved towards the rear door though the locks here were much trickier. He manage to eventually to eventually open the top and bottom ones but the main central lock proved beyond him with the tools he currently had at his disposal. Hearing voices approaching the door to investigate the rattling of the locks he blended into the darkness but could only hear a voice from within admonishing some-one else for not locking the door properly. After some consideration he decided to leave and return better prepared and with some reinforcements.

When the three met up and compared notes they were somewhat surprised to learn that the ambush site and the abandoned church were a mere two blocks apart. Having fed well the night before Roach didn't feel like he needed to hunt this evening though both Michael and Vin definitely did. It being too late to get to a club and engage in his usual feeding ritual Michael instead phoned his ghoul Lisa and invited her over while Vin went out to look for a passerby to inflict an unfortunate mugging incident on. Unfortunately as it was nearing morning an annoying amount of passersby and witnesses were on their way to early shifts making isolating a victim problematic at best so he instead resorted to using one of his street-person retainers who he had instructed to move themselves closer to his new haven. The guard that Marius had promised them to keep the curious away from their sleeping areas during the day arrived just as the coming of day forced them all into slumber...

Storytellers Note - Vin having three dots in 'Herd' sure saved the night for him there...

Act Five - What Could Go Wrong?
Isaac Abrams - Baron of Hollywood
Michael awoke to find he'd received a reply to his enquiries about introductions to the various factions and barons involved in their investigation. Louis Fortier, Baron of Downtown had consented to a meeting at his fortified home at two o'clock in the morning when he and all three of his childer would be present and the message added a curt reminder from Marius's ghoul that correct etiquette would be very important indeed.

Therese Voerman, Baron of Santa Monica was apparently currently unavailable for any meetings and hadn't been seen for a day or two. Her sister Jeanette had been seen out and about but as she was currently lurking around Hollywood wouldn't be much help and Victoria seemed somewhat reluctant to involve what was universally known as the crazy one of the Voermans. Isaac Abrams was similarly unavailable but Victoria passed on Marius's opinion that he was just being a self-important prick and making them wait. Gary however had given a location of an area of Hollywood where they would be given directions from to find him by simply asking any bum in the area for him by name. The location must have been a pretty bad part of town as even Vin described it as a "fucking shit-hole". They were informed that this was an open-ended invitation as the Nosferatu in question couldn't care less about formal introductions and kindred ideas about etiquette.

On the matter of having a second look at the warehouse Roach pointed out the quality of the locks and stated quite clearly that he's need some proper lock-picking gear if they wanted to do this quickly. Fortunately Vin had a contact in a shady pawn-shop and another with an even more dubious fence of stolen goods and was confident that one or the other could get them what they need.

The Brujah's contact was as good as his word and supplied Roach with a decent set of lock-picking gear at an unexpectedly reasonable price. Vin's illiteracy meant that he'd meet all his contacts in person as phones and anything technical was somewhat beyond him so Roach took the contacts phone number to save time on future occasions.

They parked where Vin and Michael had parked previously when investigating the alley as they were sure that there were no working security cameras nearby and planned to walk the few blocks to the location Roach had discovered. The seemingly ever present gang look-outs on the corner noted their presence and Vin was about to go and have another word when Roach suggested that he might have a better approach. After a brief conversation about whether he was with 'The big scary fucker and his boyfriend' Roach confirmed that he was and that he should probably apologise for the fact that his acquaintance was a violent, murderous psychopath and that if they could see there way to making sure nothing happened to the vehicle he'd be very grateful. He then handed over some of his (nearly) best weed as a thank-you in advance. The Malkavian's combination of natural charisma and experience with dealing with such people seemed to win them over and he left fairly certain that the car would be looked after.

The warehouse was much as Roach remembered it and having previously scouted out the area he guided the rest of his coterie swiftly to the rear entrance using cover he'd carefully noted on his visit last night. The gate lock was swiftly bypassed as he was familiar with the mechanism from last time and his new set of tools helped greatly. The Brujah and Malkavian approached the door quietly being both experienced in moving silently while the Toreador hung back to watch the gate. Roach managed to pick the top and bottom locks as he had before but even with his new tools just couldn't seem to make any headway with the main central security mechanism and began to get more and more frustrated. Unfortunately this gave the beast that all kindred have within them the chance to work it's way to the forefront of his mind and his temper over-rid his common sense...and a voice that was both his own and also not yelled "Vin!!! Just kick this thing fucking down..."

Storytellers Note - In V5 when you create your dice pool you substitute a certain number of dice that matches your characters current Hunger level for the imaginatively called 'Hunger' dice. Any ten or ones on these dice still count as critical successes or failures but these reactions are treated more or less as if 'the beast' scored them rather than you...Hence Roach's massive overreaction to his inability to pick the last lock...

As the door flew open powered by the not inconsiderable strength of Vin and taking much of the door-frame with it both he and Roach entered the rear room of the building as Michael drew his gun and ran forward to help knowing that trouble was imminent. They had a moment to observe a small room containing a pile of old cardboard boxes and a small kitchen area with a coffee machine and some other bits and pieces as the door ahead of them opened and one of the buildings occupants charged straight into Vin who swiftly grappled him and beat him to the ground. He did however hold back from using his full Potence enhanced strength as he was still unsure about exactly what they were facing and his unrestrained strength would easily kill a normal human.

Four men were facing them from inside the room and at least three appeared to be wearing police style body armour, all were reaching for guns that were either on the person or resting on the table that they'd apparently been sitting around mere moments before. Vin slipped a pair of knuckledusters onto his fists as he fearlessly charged into the midst of the group hoping to neutralise some before they could bring their weapons to bear. His first crushing blow shattered the closest mans jaw as he fell to the ground with blood pouring from his face but inexplicably was still moving. As another foe turned towards the door Michael unloaded the full cylinder of .357 rounds of his revolver into his chest where even with the benefit of the body armour he was knocked back. A third of the men was gifted with a set of cracked floating ribs as the fourth unloaded half a dozen rounds from a 9mm pistol into Vin's unprotected back.

The second of the Brujah's victims was reaching for his dropped weapon despite the horrific damage to his face and Michael swiftly reloaded his revolver and and shot him in the arm hoping to prevent him from adding his firepower to that of the others. Realising that their foes were more than human due to the damage they had sustained and with the first of Vin's targets beginning to regain consciousness Roach yelled "Vin we're leaving..." and realising that they had acted prematurely and impulsively Michael followed the Malkavian out of the door as Vin shielded their retreat with his own body absorbing multiple gunshot wounds to his back as he did so. Making a mental note to both use his discipline enhanced strength and bring both his gun and machete next time they tangled with these bastards he staggered out of the door after his retreating comrades expecting a pursuit that never came. As Roach pointed out as they were a safe distance away "It was almost like they were protecting something..." It was also getting close to the time they were meant to be meeting the baron of downtown.

With a bullet-ridden Vin in the back of Michaels car they headed to the mansion of Louis Fortier with the problem of either explaining why their friend was full of holes or possibly insulting him by meeting him with only two of the three kindred he was expecting...

To be continued in 'Three Murders' Part Two...

In Conclusion
I like to do a round-up of how the session went in these features but if you couldn't give a shit what I think then feel free to skip this bit...
So that was interesting...In case it wasn't obvious I definitely wasn't expecting any violence this session but I couldn't really complain as Roach's player Tom role-played the failed hunger roll perfectly and Vin displaying impulse control and not kicking open the door would have been odd as well I suppose.

As for everything else I was pleased with how it all progressed. When you write such a free-form story with so many options available to the players it's always the fear that they'll spiral so far away from anything you have prepared that the whole thing falls apart. Fortunately my obsessive over-preparation helped considerably, lol.

Now I just have to gather three grown-ups with jobs and lives into a room together at the same time for the next session...

Acknowledgements
I've used pictures of real people to represent some of the characters and art for others so in no particular order, Michael Tomassio is represented by the actor Dominic Cooper, Marius's first ghoul Victoria Anezka is represented by the model Lorelei Swan, Johnny 'Roach' West is quite obviously a drawing of Kurt Cobain, Heather is actually a pornographic film actress called Liz Vicious so be careful if searching for her by name, Vincent 'Vin' Ghast is the martial artist and actor Scott Adkins, Yukio Hayashi is a picture that came up when I typed some combination of the words 'Asian', 'Ninja' and 'Hot' into a search engine...best I can do...sorry...The two gothic ladies who were Marius's lunch are named Lady Elbereth and Vera Leto. Everything else is from vampire related folders and searches and is as far as I know is all of the 'fair use' variety...if there's something that you feel should be attributed to some-one then feel free to let me know and I'll happily add an acknowledgement...

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

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