Saturday, 27 October 2018

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

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
Dave as Vincent 'Vin' Ghast - Brujah
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 Portrait of Elena
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 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...with the supposed perpetrators of the plot now having met their final deaths it's time to decide what to do about the retrieved painting of Baron Fortiers childe that their patron Marius has made clear he definitely wants to see before they do anything else with it...

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

Act Fifteen - The Elena Portrait
Victoria - Ghoul PA
Roach was having some doubts about whether letting the 'Fixer' Marius get his hands on the painting was a particularly good idea as realistically they knew next to nothing of his motivations. He had of course been fairly generous with assistance up to now but they knew that this was at least in part due to a boon he owed to high-up members of the Camarilla and that until they completed the investigation of these three murders for him in real terms he owed them nothing. Deciding to edge his bets by taking the statement from the Gangrel's ghoul Victoria that Marius wanted to 'see the painting' literally he took a photograph of it with his phone and sent it to Victoria hoping that this would be sufficient. They then left the painting secure in Michael's car which they hid out of the way in a multi-story car-park with a criminal contact of Roach's keeping watch with orders to contact him should their be any sign of the vehicle being approached.

Several minutes later Michael's phone rang and the distinct monotone voice of Victoria greeted him as he answered. "Perhaps I didn't explain the intentions of your benefactor precisely enough. When I said 'See the painting' He meant in person, not via text..." Still trying to avoid handing over their prize Roach attempted to explain his actions by claiming that he believed that they were being followed and was actually doing them a favour by not leading these possibly dangerous pursuers to their doorstep. Victoria's counter was to offer to send Yukio to collect them because she was quite sure that no-one could 'tail' Yukio anywhere and even if they managed it she was quite capable of removing any threats that got in their way. Realising that refusal was going to look suspicious they reluctantly accepted the offer.

Yukio - Ghoul Enforcer
Marius's ghoul enforcer (and they suspected also assassin) turned up at the contact area in one of the no doubt armoured cars they'd seen several times in their dealings with his group. Yukio seemed amused at the situation more than anything and with some heavy sarcasm pointed out that apparently their 'tail' had given up as no-one was watching the car-park and but that she might as well take them the few blocks to Hallowbrook Apartments anyway. Roach was however quite keen that either he or Michael kept hold of the painting.

Having only briefly encountered Yukio before as her main dealings had been with Vin the other two were somewhat surprised about how friendly she was considering her role. It was also evident after being in a car with her for five minutes that keeping up with her in a vehicle would indeed be tricky.

Victoria and one of the security personnel you know as Dion are waiting at 'Hallowbrook Apartments' for you. On this occasion you're led to the third floor rather than the fifth where you previously met Marius. Victoria waves Dion away with a curt "That will be all..."

Dion - Security
It had began to become clear to the coterie that 'Dion' didn't show every-one in Marius's entourage the same mutual respect as the others generally seemed to show one another. The only one he seemed to show genuine respect for was Marius and his fear of Victoria was clearly written on his face whenever she was near. It seemed almost like he was an outsider that they had had forced upon them in some manner and that Victoria in particular was not happy about it.

The third floor is roughly the same layout as the upper floor with a small reception area with a few comfy sofa's and a few side tables, a long central corridor and a service elevator far to the right. There are only four doors along the corridor (two a side) which leads you to believe that the entire floor has been divided into a mere four apartments. Dion takes a seat in the reception area and takes a phone from his pocket and starts to send a text while Victoria leads you to a door along the passage on the left. The door has no room number but is labelled as 'The Salem Suite' Victoria knocks but doesn't wait for a reply before entering "Please come in..."

Michael entered as invited but Roach was less keen as he realised that once they entered they were more than likely committed to whatever actions Marius chose to take and would be in the middle of a building filled with his operatives and guards while it occurred. Pausing only long enough to summon the blood necessary to fuel his soul scrying abilities he followed his fellow kindred inside.

The apartment is broadly speaking open plan with a living room, dining area and kitchen though there are doors off to each side presumably leading to bed-rooms or other private areas. The decoration is mostly natural woods and the majority of the ornaments, paintings and miscellaneous items have a pagan look about them. There are several bookshelves with a range of text books and older looking leather volumes seemingly mixed at random, several shelves filled with jars of various shapes and sizes containing what looks like a variety of herbs and natural ingredients and a large display on one wall containing several dozen knives and blades with a somewhat ritualistic feel to them. There's some gothic rock, dark wave music coming from a laptop in one corner and the whole room smells quite thickly of incense created by a number of burners scattered around the room. Though many of the herbs were unknown to the Malkavian several were familiar to him as being of the narcotic variety.


Seated in the room are a slender platinum blond girl and a dark haired lady both wearing distinctly Gothic styled outfits though the blondes is far more casual than that of the brunette. The blonde is introduced to you as Clara, and the brunette as Sylvia. A frame has already been set up in one corner, presumably awaiting the painting. Victoria announces that she's going to find out "What's keeping Marius..." leaving you alone somewhat awkwardly with the two ladies you've only just met...

Never one for conforming to social etiquette Roach strolled over to the laptop and changed the dark yet folky rock music for something more in the area of alternate rock without bothering to ask first and picked up a wooden bowl from the side cabinet to use as an ashtray. "I'd rather you didn't use that for something so mundane..." stated the blonde girl "There's already an ashtray on the table..." continued the brunette. Noticing the Malkavian eyeing up the herbs on the far shelf and noting the narcotic nature of his own cigarette the darker haired girl pointed him towards one of the shelves on a nearby cabinet. "Second shelf up, third jar across may contain something that'll interest you..." she began "...as long as you don't mind hallucinogenics mixed with your weed" the other finished. Intrigued, Roach went to investigate and to his delight found the jar contained a particularly rare weed that he estimated would set you back about $1500 an ounce even at 'friend' prices so helped himself to a significant quantity and rolled several generously scaled joints from the jar. While his friend was occupied he made some enquiries about what exactly the two ladies roles were in Marius's organisation and got a simple "Wait and see..." from both.

Victoria returns "He says to carry on and assess the picture, he'll be down in a few minutes..." both Clara and Sylvia shrug at exactly the same time and begin to gather various jars from the shelves before selecting a knife each from the wall display, a wavy bladed Kris and a knife apparently made from some kind of crystal. Each cuts the others hand and drips some of the blood into a fairly plain looking earthenware bowl before adding various ingredients. Both begin to chant in a language that inexplicably begins to give you all headaches and the blood in the bowl begins to bubble before emerging from the bowl in the form of several dark tentacles that wrap themselves around the painting. 

Concerned about what exactly the girls were doing to their hard earned prize Roach moved closer in order to interrupt the process should it look like they were going to damage the painting in any way.

The air ripples slightly and the painting begins to glow as the aura previously seen by only Roach becomes visible to every-one only in even more vivid detail than even he could detect using his own abilities...a moment later you hear Marius's voice from behind you "So what are we dealing with then?" There's another ripple in the air as if reality is trying to reassert itself and with an audible popping sound the blood tentacles and aura disappear. You notice that the dark haired girl is bleeding from one nostril though the blonde seems fine other than being slightly out of breath. "Well?"

Storytellers Note - As I have no plans to cross this campaign over with whatever version of Mage appears next, magic in my WoD works exactly how best serves my plot. But broadly speaking I'm using concepts from Mage: the Ascension and the two witches in Marius's employ are of the Verbena tradition...kinda...

The girls explain that whoever did this was a human mage, not a kindred blood magician and the effect he's managed to create seems to be the magic of an untrained perhaps even yet to be truly awakened mage acting purely on instinct. The power is feeding on the emotions of the observers which is keeping the resonance within the blood and given the nature of vampiric vitae the effect is far greater with a kindred's blood than a mundane being. Both seem to be of the opinion that given what they've observed that the link between painting and those who have commissioned them will fade over time as there's no sympathetic connection between the two. However the ones containing actual kindred blood could conceivably last indefinitely. Marius's first question is somewhat predictably "Will killing the mage make any difference?" to which the answer is apparently "Not normally, but this isn't exactly normal in magical terms..."

Marius began to move towards the painting and as his intentions towards it were still unclear Roach began to explain that they had made several promises about the painting that required it to be intact and Michael thought that this was as good as time as any to broach the subject of the deal they'd made with Mariel St John about smoothing over the issues between her and the Gangrel. Still somewhat vague about the reasons behind the dispute Marius would only say that she "Isn't as amusing as she thinks she is...".

Marius 'The Fixer' Walker
Michael agreed that she could be somewhat abrasive but that unfortunately the price of her co-operation had been the ending of his threats of reprisal against any-one who offered her assistance. He also mentioned that their plan was to allow her to return the painting in order to elevate her in the favour of Louis Fortier and hopefully allow them to use that connection for their own purposes.

Marius seemed less than happy about this turn of events as depriving her of resources was meant to keep her in line and now not only was he expected to give her access to previously restricted resources but also allow a situation that gave her even more power via her own patron Louis. As he pointed out "...in her own way she's the most dangerous of them all...she still has the ambition and drive that the others seem to have lost...and she's far stronger than the other two childer...whether they realise it or not" 

He glanced over at Victoria who seemed to be in favour of the plan leading the coterie to believe that the feud between the Gangrel and the Ventrue was more personal than political as otherwise his ghoul would have gone with whatever decision her master had came to. "Very well then...if that's the only way to get you what you want then I suppose I'll have to go along with it in order to fulfil my own commitments to those who sent you in the first place." It was however quite obvious that he wasn't happy about it. "Now I just have one thing left to do and then you can take it away..." As he once again moved towards the portrait Roach again reminded him that they needed the picture intact and was told that he wouldn't damage it. "Too much, at least..."

Marius approaches the painting and the adopted illusion of a boardroom Gangrel drops and his mannerisms become far more like that of an animal as he sniffs the air in front of it like a creature following a scent. There's an unpleasant popping sound as the fingers on his right hand begin to extend, becoming black and leathery. The finger nails extend into long, slightly curved blade-like claws some eight inches long and he runs one down the edge of the painting taking a barely millimetre wide strip from along one edge as if he was using a scalpel. He puts one end to his mouth and tastes it but only for an instant. You hear him whisper "Stupid little girl..." and shakes his head before he hands the strip to Victoria who places it into an envelope. 

As the claws flow back into nails and the black leather becomes skin once more he straightens up and to all intents and purposes becomes the civilised version of himself you first met. "Go claim your prize from Louis, whatever that may be, I'd keep the favour myself but you may have something more tangible in mind..."  "I'm also going to accelerate the work on your gallery as it seems like you'll have the time to get that up and running soon so you'll need to use your original havens from tomorrow night, If I get them working 24 hours it should be finished in three days at the most" As he's leaving there's a cough from Victoria and as he turns to see what she wants you notice her nod in the direction of the two witches "That time already? Well I'm not doing it here, meet me upstairs in twenty minutes..." and then he leaves...

Act Sixteen - Mariel St John
Mariel - Adopted Childe of Louis
It was decided that as Roach seemed to have gotten on best with Mariel at their last meeting that he would contact her and inform her that they had the painting commissioned by Elena that had been stolen from Catherine's security man and that those responsible had been dealt with. He also let her know that Michael had smoothed over the issues she had with Marius and that those of his contacts forbidden from dealing with her had now been informed that they would be able to do so without fear of violent reprisal.

Before their meeting though Roach had some plans of their own for the painting. Having observed the Gangrel taking a piece of the painting presumably as a form of insurance his plan was to do the same. His ability to see auras had shown him that the strange enchantment on the picture that had kept the resonances within the blood hidden within it active were still present on the piece he'd taken.

Michael as an artist himself had access to all the equipment necessary to frame and present artwork so Roach wished to trim a piece from the three un-touched sides of the painting and then hide the fact of their removal by stretching the canvass and then framing the picture. As he had the steadiest hand and most skill with a blade it was decided to let Vin undertake the task and he removed all three edges with almost the precision that Marius had done. Disappointingly however only one of the three pieces had apparently enough blood within to maintain the properties that he was seeking. Meanwhile Michael had selected an appropriate frame and surround for the portrait in order to present it in the best possible manner and wrapped it in expensive but plain paper.

At the agreed time the group made their way to the mansion of the Baron of Downtown Louis Fortier and on this occasion the guards quickly ushered them through apparently having been informed to expedite their arrival. The Malkavian for his part had adopted the confident swagger of some-one completely at home in a location and his attitude seemed to have the desired effect as the security treated them with far more respect than on previous visits as they were shown to the area of the estate that was the domain of Mariel St John. Michael once again confirmed that they'd fulfilled their agreement in regards to her relationship with Marius before offering her the painting. Mariel for her part wished to know how much credit they required and the Toreador replied that how she divided that was up to her as long as she bared in mind what they'd done for her in any future dealings. Seemingly satisfied she beckoned them to follow her to a meeting with the rest of the Fortier 'family'.

Louis Fortier - Baron of Downtown LA
Awaiting them in the meeting room were Louis Fortier and his two Childer, Catherine Du Bois who managed his security and Elena who spoke for him when he was unavailable and kept him socially aware of those who needed to be cultivated. Even without Michael's empathetic talents and Roach's ability to see a person's aura the smugness of Mariel was almost tangible as she casually revealed the painting and presented it to Elena. Several snide comments about looking after things better next time were ignored by Catherine who was more than secure in her position but her other comments about the trouble caused to Louis by Elena's 'silly obsessions' hit home as her position as Louis's spokesperson was significantly less certain.

When asked about the circumstances of the portraits retrieval Mariel informed the Baron that she had obtained several pieces of useful information on it's location which she had passed onto the investigators but gave them the credit for what she referred to as the grunt work but by this point was milking the attention for all it was worth. The Baron's next comment to Elena about how "This is what you can accomplish if you spend your time productively rather than wasting it on the inconsequential" was said with considerable venom and his next statement about "Maybe I should let Mariel speak on my behalf from now on..." seemed to have actual intent behind it rather than being simply a throw away barb. Sure that they had succeeded in elevating the adopted childe of Louis from third to second place in the pecking order and gained themselves a new ally they made their leave before Elena turned her attention to them as a source of her loss of status.

Finale
'Galerie Sanguine' - Ground Floor
News reaches you that your Haven has been completed and is ready for you to move in. Victoria will apparently meet you all there at nine in the evening to sort out keys, security codes and other final arrangements. The building is indeed complete and even with the shutters down you can see that it's been renovated to a high standard indeed and the name 'Galerie Sanguine' is emblazoned stylishly across the front. Victoria is waiting outside with Heather and seems none to happy about it but there's no sign of Marius or his other ghouls or guards. "Marius will be here in a short while...He has a collection to make on the way here...oh and before I forget the key to the van out back is in a box behind the reception counter" Once the locked box containing the motorised shutter controls have raised them you can see a glass front containing a currently empty shop-front display area and set of double doors that lead into a minimalist but quality reception area with all the fixtures and fittings you'd expect including a state of the art zoned alarm system. There's a reception desk and an archway which leads into a large gallery area. 


Lisa - Michael's Ghoul
The displays are empty but there's a large pile of paintings leaning against one wall with notes attached to them in the handwriting of Michael's Ghoul Lisa detailing how much she paid, suggested selling price and a few others marked 'sale or return'. Evidently she's been busy on your behalf. Some of Michael's own works of art are in a separate pile presumably fetched here from his haven. A stairway on the right leads upstairs to a second gallery area with a sign that says 'Drips' There's a separate stack also marked up with price suggestions and the note on top says 'the best of the university randoms' which you presume are the results of Roach's spreading of the word during his travels, filtered for quality by Lisa, also a number of storage rooms and a large meeting room that is now equipped with a table and chairs which actually match one another. 

Victoria points out that your rooms are now the studio apartments over the adjacent building but that you can access them from this side and that the warehouse underneath is completely empty in order to minimise the chances of the apartments being disturbed. Apparently Marius decided that your work over the last week warranted a tangible reward. All the windows are protected by heavy duty shutters operated from the inside. "Michael...there's several crates of books in one of those store rooms and there's shelves within to create the library you requested...I'm afraid you'll have to unpack them yourself...several were obtained from a Giovanni mansion that had a bit of a disaster and are for lack of a better term...a bit...well...you'll see..." 


Heather - Ghoul and Blood Doll
Heather meanwhile is un-necessarily describing points of interest which she is claiming were totally her idea and is obviously getting on Victoria's nerves and as they make eye-contact with one another you hear Victoria tell her to "Find somewhere to sit and shut-up till Marius arrives..." She promptly stops mid sentence, goes to the nearest chair behind reception and sits there with a vacant look on her face. Victoria just shakes her head and indicates that you should have a look around...

The pile of books contained some standard occult text books and cultural volumes, several common vampire tomes such as the book of Nod, Tales of the Dark Mother amongst others and a substantial number of dusty volumes that seemed to cover everything from herbalism to satanism and much in-between. They would obviously take some time to sort though several boxes were inexplicably cold to the touch. The coteries personal rooms were well decorated and en-suite though the one that Michaels belongings had been moved to was the largest of the three and each ones door was sturdy and secure. Downstairs led to a seriously sturdy walk in Vault with four individual caged off areas within for storage of valuables but could also easily be cells or incredibly secure sleeping areas depending on the coteries needs. The security system consisted of cameras within and without as well as the sophisticated alarm system.

While your exploring your new business, second home and base of operations Marius arrives with Yukio and two large gentlemen with the bearing typical of the ex-military. One you recognise as the driver who took you to Club Confession that first night, the other you've never seen before, both are waved outside. Yukio has moved to stand by Victoria while Heather has apparently been released from her early domination and is once again doing what can broadly be described as 'exploring'. Marius clicks his fingers to get Victoria's attention and then heads upstairs to your meeting room "Lets get this done then...Yukio...stay here with Heather, make sure we're not disturbed." 


Once you're all gathered upstairs your benefactor throws some legal documents on the table. "The 'Mask' you required is done and this is now a legitimate business run by you three all official and as far as any-one will be able to tell legal, with bank accounts, 'venture capital' and all the other necessary bollocks." "I was expecting to have to pull in a favour to get this sorted but 'Gary' said it was a freebie, apparently he likes you...he's still a Nossy though so I wouldn't expect too many more favours like it before there's a cost attached"

"So the quite substantial boon I owed the Camarilla is done as far as me and more importantly they are concerned. You're established, have some in-roads into the powers that be hereabouts and have a safe base of operations at no small expense to myself. That in addition to the fact that I kept all the other fuckers off your backs while you got established makes me even with the Inner Circle and you after you sorted the legwork on the murder job are as far as I'm concerned even with me" "So other than the fact that I'm your landlord our business is concluded...if you need my assistance you can contact me in the usual manner you might even get a little bit of preferential consideration..."

With that Victoria hands you a black business card with a phone number on it below the name Aegis Acquisitions and informs you that you may continue to use Club Confession for your meetings but that feeding there would expect to be limited to once a week, perhaps twice if permission is gained in advance and that use of 'The Cabbie' would have to be paid for by themselves then she and the rest of the entourage file out...it looks like you're now on your own to forge your own destiny...

To be continued in a brief Interlude before the next story 'The Pasadena Problem'

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...
Well that's the first story in the chronicle done and though I'd be the first to admit it was mainly a giant tutorial on my version of 'Kindred Los Angeles' the group went in many directions I hadn't foreseen. Fortunately I have taken the precaution of giving even unimportant bar staff names and every-one with names plots of their own just in case the coterie suddenly gets obsessed with a random nobody...which any GM, DM or Storyteller will inform you happens a remarkable amount of the time...

Hopefully you all enjoyed that and will stick around for the next story as the players have informed that there next move is to make a play for the barony of Pasadena where they're currently based and look at securing themselves a bit more in the way of mortal allies...whether witting or not, 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, Johnny 'Roach' West is quite obviously a drawing of Kurt Cobain, 'Vin' is the actor Scott Adkins, Victoria is Lorelei Swan, and while I must admit I've no idea who either of the blonde girls are the Gothic brunette is a model called Elisanth. 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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