Friday, 12 October 2018

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

I'm currently running 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 won't 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
'Vin' couldn't make it to this session but as he was currently recovering from being full of bullets it was fairly easy to exclude him from the narrative...
The NPC's
Marius Walker - Autarkis Gangrel 'Fixer'
Victoria - Marius's ghoul
The player characters stats and backgrounds can be found HERE should any-one be interested...

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. Marius has given the three the opportunity to establish themselves by untangling a particularly unusual murder case directly and indirectly involving several influential of the kindred in LA...or three murders to be specific...the trail has led them to the Elysium of the thin-bloods at Santa Monica Pier where their leader Jenna Cross has just made an appearance...

The introductory session introducing every-one and establishing their individual covers can be found HERE, part one of this particular story can be found HERE and Part two is HERE.

Act Nine - Jenna Cross
Jenna Cross - Thin-Blood Baron
There's a palpable change in the atmosphere and the conversation begins to reduce in volume as the messiah of the Thin-Blood movement and childe of 'Smiling Jack' Jenna Cross arrives at the pier. A number of tough looking men and women accompany her and have the attentive look of bodyguards or trusted advisers. Her hair is long and dark and she's dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans though she in no way screams 'messiah' at you she does have a considerable personal presence and you can easily see how she could attract a following. 

She flows effortlessly through the crowd acknowledging various apparently notable members of her forces before being intercepted by the thin-blood seer Rosa. As Rosa approaches the guards around Jenna move from her path and a circle quickly forms around them as the seer whispers into her ear for several minutes. Once the impromptu meeting is complete Rosa blends into the crowd once more and the guards reform around their charge. After a few more greetings the de-facto Baron of the thin-blood movement makes her way over to where you're standing. "Welcome to our small slice of LA, what brings you out here slumming it with the outcasts?"

As yet unaware of her role in the three murders they were investigating the pair had decided to approach the situation by being broadly honest but keeping away from anything that could be construed as an accusation. They explained that the Gangrel Marius had tasked them with resolving the matter of several murders near to his territory in exchange for his help as a way of proving themselves. "So you're working for the thin-blood murderer then? Well depending on who you ask of course..." It was immediately obvious to both Roach and Michael that the statement wasn't a particularly serious one as she didn't seem in any way upset about his involvement in the situation and was possibly just playing to the nearby listeners. "Perhaps we should talk somewhere more private, there's an office above the arcade where we should be undisturbed" Roach handed his ice-cream that he'd been eating to convince some-one earlier that he was a thin-blood himself to one of the guards who didn't quite know how to react but took it anyway.

Rosa - Visionary
The guards were instructed to wait outside as they are led into what was apparently a security office during the area's normal activities. "Now we can talk about what you really want to ask...Rosa has already furnished me with some details of course..." The two of them explained in broad terms what their investigation had revealed while being careful to keep specific details to themselves conscious that any specific accusations might earn them the enmity of people they couldn't afford to piss off at this stage. Seemingly satisfied that they were there for the reasons they stated Jenna opened up to them with a problem of her own.

"When Prince Tara was destroyed at our hands many of the thin-bloods and caitiff I'd gathered wanted me to declare myself prince. They couldn't help but notice that she seemed particularly proud of this achievement. What most failed to understand was that Tara had broken faith with the Anarch ideal and few if any mourned her passing and so retaliation was unlikely or would be a token gesture at most." "I defeated Tara because she had no allies willing to stand with her, I had the advantage of surprise and...other assets no longer available to me...such as Smiling Jack..." "However if I raised my flag over the pier and declared myself the new Prince of LA I'd have had well over a hundred vampires as enemies and having a few followers who can go out during the day isn't that big of an advantage compared to elders who can tell you to throw yourself in a fucking fire and you'll do it and think it was your own bloody idea, kindred with three centuries of combat experience who can throw cars though walls or predators like your pal Marius who are quite happy to slice a kindred's arms and legs off on a whim and seem to know where everyone sleeps..." 

Both the Toreador and Malkavian erred on the side of caution and mentioned only that there was some evidence of thin-blood involvement but didn't mention specifics. Jenna then continued...

"So as you've probably already worked out a small group of disenchanted thin-bloods are trying to get me to declare war or if that fails start one. I sent a spy to infiltrate their ranks, I thought successfully, he was meant to meet my messenger at a bar on the student campus where both would blend in but unfortunately Jimmy was late and by the time he got there Nelson had left and according to Jimmy had left no word...and then turned up dead in an alleyway after an apparently botched robbery."

"Obviously I can't make a move against my own people without a shitstorm starting...of course if some-one else did and then it turned out the victims were in fact 'terrible traitors' then I could ensure there would be no retaliation against those who had gotten rid of the 'traitors to the cause'..."

When asked whether Nelson was likely to have joined this new thin-blood faction she thought it unlikely though she did somewhat cryptically state that he didn't have any loyalty issues "In that particular direction..." but refused to elaborate further. When asked about close friends or acquaintances Jenna did note that he was somewhat obsessed with a kindred author called Mariel St John and vaguely recalled him mentioning having met her at some point. The fact that Jenna seemed blase about one of her group meeting a member of the Fortier clan was somewhat surprising as they were fairly certain that Jenna would have known who Mariel was...

When enquiring about what equipment they might be up against should these enemies of Jenna have a mysterious visit she somewhat un-reassuringly told them that some of the armoury left over from their assassination of the former Prince Tara had gone missing about the same time as the splinter group had become active and this had included body armour as well as guns and ammunition.

Roach realised that as the permission she'd given to remove this threat was spoken in purely theoretical terms, without witness or evidence they would be unable to officially claim any boon from Jenna for performing this task. They could only hope that she had enough personal integrity to keep her word and be willing to return the favour. Taking their leave they spent a little more time mingling with the crowd before heading away from Santa Monica to deal with a little problem of Michael's involving a young lady he'd 'met' a few days before.

While discussing what they'd learned at the meeting Michael came to several conclusions. Firstly if this thin-blood messenger and right-hand of Jenna 'Jimmy' did indeed go to the meeting late, how come he didn't find out that the dead thin-blood Nelson had been there at the student bar which 'Roach' discovered with much less information to go on? Additionally why not mention the leaflets which had the address of the 'traitor' thin-bloods base on it which was also discovered by Roach with about five minutes of basic detective work? In Michael's opinion this meant that either Jimmy was terrible at his job or was involved with this new faction directly. In fact it seemed likely to him that the thin-blood took the leaflets from the church as evidence of the traitors location and when his contact failed to turn up distributed them around hoping that some-one would use them to trace it's location.

Interlude Two - Venus Dare
Michael and Roach managed to arrive at Club Confession an hour or so before closing and while the Toreador went in to see if he could locate his date from a few nights ago before she did something untoward, his Malkavian friend took the opportunity to make a little cash distributing what was left of his dwindling supply of narcotics.

Using the membership card given him by Victoria at their first meeting with Marius he quickly bypassed the door-staff and proceeded to the bar in the hope that he might come across her as he had before. Michael noticed a voluptuous dark-haired woman who was chatting to one of the bar staff and from her demeanour was obviously in charge as he ordered himself a glass of wine and found himself a position where he could see the people coming and going though he realised it was a long shot.

Venus Dare - Club Owner and Ghoul
The woman he had noticed earlier had moved to his end of the bar and removed the glass of wine he'd been nursing. Before he could protest she had reached behind the bar and produced an odd looking bottle labelled with writing he didn't recognise and poured him a fresh glass. "I think you'll find this more to your taste..." she said with a smile. "What brings you here tonight?" As Michael took a sip from the wine glass he could detect the unmistakable taste of blood though it somehow also tasted very much of an exceptional vintage of wine. "Don't worry you can tell me, this is my club...well...half of it is at least...my name is Venus"

Recognising the name of one of Marius's ghouls Michael made some enquiries about the girl he was looking for whose name was Susannah. Venus admitted that she wasn't great with names but she might recognise the group she was with and after a brief description of her drinking party Venus Dare made a connection. "...Oh...so...you're not only the Michael spoken of by Marius but you're also that Michael...wait here..." The owner made her way upstairs to her office and returned a few minutes later with a handful of paper from sources ranging from flyers, cigarette packets and many others each with a phone number on it and some also contained various messages that became increasingly more desperate as the handwriting became worse. "She's been here every night except this one bugging every-one who would listen about you. In fact she was beginning to draw a little too much attention...I was debating ringing Victoria to deal with it..."

Michael assured her that he'd deal with the problem himself and that there was no need to involve any-one else knowing full well that the Gangrel and his inner circles solution to the problem would no doubt be quite permanent. As he got up to make a phone call, Venus reminded him to not leave his drink lying about and with a nod he finished it off and went outside.

The girl Susannah was overjoyed to hear from Michael and in between her babbling about how much she'd missed him, the connection they had, how her friends had told her it was probably a one-night stand but she knew you were special and so on he managed to get an address out of her. Roach was quite happy to make his own way back as there were only a few hours till dawn and he knew Michael had to get to the address, go through the motions of seduction and get out with enough time to get back to his haven...

Storytellers Note - As his seduction methods were tried and tested I just let him broadly outline his intentions and as the plan seemed reasonable I didn't bother with dice rolls.

Act Ten - Mariel St John
Mariel St John - Adopted Childe of Louis
After some discussion of the matter it was decided that Roach would contact Mariel St John to see if she had any insights into the thin-blood involved in the three murder plot as Jenna had claimed that they had met at some point. The fact that Mariel was part of the Fortier household was a connection that couldn't be ignored.

Storytellers Note - He obtained her number last session...

Unsure about how she might react based on their rejection of her conversation offer at their initial meeting with Louis, Roach decided that a friendly text as a conversation starter might let him ease into a request to talk a little better than a blatant attempt. He turned out to be correct as after a little back and forth she agreed to a meeting at the Fortier mansion later that night. Michael was hoping they could meet her somewhere which gave her less of a home-field advantage but as Roach pointed out, if he lived in a fortified, luxurious mansion, surrounded by guards and with blood dolls on tap he probably wouldn't go out much either.

As there was some time before the meeting Roach made a few enquiries about the gang that had helped them out a few days previously through his street contacts and also touched base with some of his drug contacts as his supplies were becoming somewhat diminished. Michael meanwhile attempted to get some painting done in anticipation of their own gallery opening.

Unfortunately the muse was most definitely not with him on this night and after growing more and more frustrated with himself and his lack of success he put his fist though the half complete canvas and hurled what was left out of the buildings rear fire escape where Roach discovered it some time later on his return.

After placing the damaged creation near to one of the dumpsters he went to see if the moody artist was ready for their meeting with Mariel. Wishing to make a good impression on this occasion the Malkavian made some effort with his appearance and put on his best clothes and also arranged to use the cabbie to take them to the meeting.

Storytellers Note - Michael's player rolled two successes on his Craft check but also got a critical failure on one of his Hunger dice...therefore the beast within wasn't happy with the picture, lol. Information on the kindred transporter known as 'the cabbie' can be found in session zero HERE.

The cabbie was ready and waiting for them outside of their haven at exactly the time they walked out of the door despite Roach not being a hundred percent sure that he'd actually specified a time when he had phoned the number on the card he'd been given when he was delivered to Marius's haven a week ago.

Though his cab had all the exterior appearance of a standard model it was obvious from the engine noise that something far superior was under the hood and Roach had a suspicion that the windows were armoured glass. Regardless they made excellent time as every light appeared to be on green as they arrived and they managed to avoid any traffic hold-ups. The only words he spoke to them were "Marius says you have an account...for now..." as they got out

On this occasion the mansion guards were ready and waiting for them as they approached and they were escorted through a entrance in the guardhouse a soon as they identified themselves. Mariel is waiting for you and as the guard attempts to follow she dismisses him with a curt "You are not interesting...go away...". the security man was briefly torn between his apparently standing orders to protect the household and a direct order from a member of that household and after some consideration decided to go with the last order he was given and with a "Yes ma'am." turns and leaves.

You are led back to the reception room and up the spiral staircase that you passed on your way in, along a door flanked corridor and through a set of double doors at the far end. On the other side is a spectacular library filled with shelves packed with leather bound volumes, several chairs and tables and a single antique writing desk which has a number of tomes open on it and piled up at the back. As you have heard that Muriel was and is a writer you imagine that this room is pretty much her domain in the house. She takes a seat at one of the tables and her tone becomes far more business-like than her petulant manner in the meeting room "Make yourself comfortable, so what is it that you suddenly need to discuss with me that you were too busy to do at our last meeting?"


Roach eased into the conversation subtly with a few pleasantries before asking if she knew of a thin-blood named Nelson who may have visited the mansion at some point. She hinted that the name was familiar and that she might have some information for them at her disposal should they be willing to perform a little task for her in return at some point in the future as in her opinion what she had to tell them was quite important.

When asked about why some-one in her position would need a favour of them she pointed out that most of her influence had to be channelled via Louis and that certain other resources were unavailable to her as she'd seemingly made a quip about Marius at a recent 'Rant' that he'd found insulting and taken rather personally and had told all those under his influence that helping Mariel would attract his immediate displeasure. In her opinion he had over-reacted as she thought the comment had been rather amusing though she wouldn't repeat it to them. Seemingly the Gangrel 'Fixer' had more influence than they'd initially suspected.

Roach had been subtly scanning Mariel's aura since he'd entered the room as he was experienced enough at reading the fluctuations to use it as a lie-detector of sorts though the results were at best vague. Michael used his observation skills and his considerable empathy to get similar results and both were of the conclusion that she did have something that she considered worthwhile to tell them but didn't seem to have a firm favour in mind in return. Michael assured her that should the information help to solve the task that Marius had set for them that he could smooth over the issues between her and Marius which she seemed to except as a fair exchange.

Regan - Louis Fortiers Ghoul (Deceased)
While the Toreador was negotiating terms the Malkavian attempted to use his powers of premonition to see if the information could be trusted. He had a brief vision of the thin-blood Nelson talking to a man in the outfit of Fortiers security who may have been the dead ghoul Regan, while Mariel watched and then a separate flash of the thin-blood and Mariel though he never saw all three communicating together. While using his abilities apparently Michael had agreed terms as Mariel continued...

"The dead guard wasn't just well regarded, he was after the top job, head of security...well...under Catherine of course, though he had some competition from one or two other prettier favourites. If hypothetically he'd heard of a plot against the family involving the painting he could be lured almost anywhere if he thought it'd send him to top of that list and the dead thin blood Nelson was his 'man' in Jennas camp. I imagine that adds another dimension to your little enquiry."

Suddenly Jenna's comments about Nelson's loyalties made sense and given Rosa's abilities it seemed likely that Jenna had known he was attempting to gain favour elsewhere. As Mariel pointed out he was bottom of the pile in a faction that was already considered to be bottom of the pile so some desire for advancement was understandable. While they were absorbing these new connections, Mariel casually dropped into the conversation that she had another interesting titbit but this one was of more value than the last and that she'd want something of equivalent value in return. Michael assured her that they'd be happy to reciprocate but would be unwilling to do anything that jeopardised their current position or was against their currently quite small circle of allies. With terms once again agreed, Mariel began...

Arissa East - Anarch 'Harpy'
"About a month ago at one of Catherine's 'parties' one of what passes for harpies in an Anarch domain, a follower of Salvador Garcia called Arissa let slip that she'd commissioned a painting from 'Malaki'...and that she'd 'persuaded' him to use some of her own blood in the painting...of course not to be outdone Elena (with the help of a little 'dominate') did the same. Given that Louis is very much a Ventrue you can imagine how he'd feel about using what is effectively 'his' noble blood in such a frivolous manner (Painting in blood is so last century wouldn't you agree?), Not to mention what a skilled alchemist might be able to do to Elena and maybe even the rest of her bloodline with a sample of that Vitae? of course the potency of our blood does lessen when separated from the body so maybe such fears are unjustified" "Now that information is easily worth a small future favour, don't you agree?"

Combined with what they'd learned at the gallery this made recovering the painting of considerable importance and from their point of view meant it was a useful bargaining chip. Roach had picked up during their various conversations that Mariel seemed amused by the embarrassment of Catherine in general but more specifically was overjoyed that Elena had been made to look foolish and so came up with a plan. If they shared with Mariel some of what they knew about the seemingly active nature of the vitae within the painting and offered her the painting to return this would enable her to supplant Elena from what was effectively the number two spot in the pecking order of childer. This would effectively pay off the boon for the information and put some-one grateful to them into a position of authority within a powerful barony. Even some-one without either of their abilities would have picked up on Mariel's pleasure at the idea they'd put forward and the arrangement was made with almost unseemly haste.

Storytellers Note - This was admittedly a far cleverer use of the painting than I'd considered...but it was also something I could definitely work with from a plot point of view...

With the bargain struck they took their leave and returned to their Haven...

Act Eleven - Fat Larry
With much of the plot unravelled, the location of the painting fairly certain and with their backs hopefully protected from consequence for the thin-bloods elimination as well as a number of potential boons lined up should they be successful their attention shifted to how best to assault the 'church' where the splinter faction from Jenna's forces was held up with their prize.

Despite their confidence in a now almost recovered Vin's ability to put a dent in their enemies now they knew what they were up against Roach was of the opinion that a hefty supply of firepower wouldn't hurt either. Though this was considerably out of Michael's field of influence, Roach had a large number of unsavoury street contacts who would no doubt have some-one in mind who could help out. After a few calls he was pointed towards a fence and dealer in pretty much everything known as 'Fat Larry' who should be able to supply them what they needed. Not one to risk everything that accomplished without a bit more information he did a little more research of his own into this potential new contact.

Apparently Larry was a tall, somewhat overweight, black man, with a large afro who invariably turns up to meets with his crappy looking van. He was however known as reliable and with good quality merchandise in the weapons and drugs line though everything clothing-wise is invariably counterfeit. He also it was said had a lucrative side career matching criminals to clients for select jobs though would seemingly only approach people he has had several good business transactions with.

Another of the contacts Roach spoke to confirmed that Larry had started as a fence and though it's his primary source of income he also did a good line in weapons and had a variety of drugs available too. His stock of fenced items available varied widely based on what he'd picked up recently. He was now generally the go-to for purchasing guns and ammunition 'no questions asked' for those who don't have cartel or high-end arms dealer connections. he was warned though that he tends to only offer his limited stock of high-end weapons to repeat clientele. This contact also told him an interesting story about 'Fat Larry'.

The story went that he is left alone by jackers and stick-up merchants after an up and coming gang stole his van and stock after putting him in hospital (He apparently made a good account of himself first though) and by the time he was back on his feet his vehicle and stock were waiting for him and the 'gang' mysteriously all died horribly over the time he was incapacitated, tortured to death in a variety of inventive ways. If the subject is broached with any gang they all deny involvement and invariably point to some other gang as 'probably responsible'. The word on the street is that he's 'protected' but by which gang it's hard to pin down. He is however allowed to operate in most of LA without gang interference as long as he lets whoever's turf it is know where he's going to be first.

He also learnt that Fat Larry has a bdsm fetish and specifically likes to be the 'sub'. His dominatrix is a woman called Venus Dare who as well as owning Club Confession also has an interesting side-line as a mistress. This is very much not common knowledge and Larry would obviously like to keep it that way. As Roach shared what he'd learned, Michael mentioned that he'd met Venus Dare and she was a ghoul of Marius's. Roach immediately decided that he'd like an introduction to miss Dare as he saw a way of getting much better terms from Fat Larry....

Storytellers Note - Thorough fans of the Bloodlines game will already be aware of this particular quirk of Larry's...so it's all canon, lol.

Arriving at Club Confession they flashed their membership cards and asked one of the bar staff to go see if Venus was available. Not wanting to hang around the Malkavian made the request to the barman into a command with the help of a hint of dominate and after a short period she emerged from her office and beckoned them to come upstairs. After Michael had made his introductions, Roach mentioned that he knew that her and Larry were 'friends' and wandered if perhaps an introduction could be made. Obviously he did this knowing that if the contact came via the fences 'special' friend they were pretty sure of getting friend rates on anything they bought...especially if he wanted that relationship kept as a private one. Venus did as she was asked and informed them that he would be there in a couple of hours and that she'd get him to park in the private club spaces around the back so they'd have some privacy. About an hour and a half later they were informed that he was around the back awaiting them...

Storytellers Note - It seems only fair to let Larry do his own introduction...


Larry was somewhat apologetic that he hadn't managed to obtain everything they needed but offered them what stock he had available. He showed them three Mossberg 500 12 gauge shotguns, an old but perfectly functional Uzi 9mm and a box of various handguns before revealing something special he'd picked up for them. 

In the final crate was a large, fully automatic shotgun but he did say that he couldn't do much on the price of that as it wasn't exactly cheap when he acquired it. 

After some haggling the best part of $9000 had changed hands and this was the bulk of the coteries available funds. Fortunately Fat Larry threw in a considerable quantity of ammunition in exchange for keeping quiet about his 'hobby' as Roach had failed to take that into his calculations at all.

As prepared as they could be they just needed to get a now recovered Vin and their new armoury together and relieve some thin-bloods of a painting...and their unlives...

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

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 as the combat character had missed a couple of sessions I had to mainly concentrate on the social interactions for the last couple of times. Sorry if you were eagerly awaiting vampires in long leather coats armed with katana's and desert eagles to back flip their way through a scene or two...maybe next time...

The players threw me a curve ball or two this session by (to be honest) being a lot more creative with what I gave them to deal with than I myself had been when I wrote it. Fortunately I've got until the next session to weave all the new possibilities into the narrative. It seems to be going well...let's hope I don't run out of ideas, lol.

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 Matt Bomer, Marius's ghoul Victoria is represented by the model Lorelei Swan, Johnny 'Roach' West is quite obviously a drawing of Kurt Cobain, Rosa is a model and dancer called Mahafsoun and Jenna Cross is currently Rhona Mitra (mainly due to Jenna being described as looking like Lara Croft and Rhona Mitra was the original publicity model for her) while Venus Dare is a glamour model called Sophie Howard who has been far more naked in some of her work so take care if searching for her. 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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