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...
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...

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 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...

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 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.

Monday 17 September 2018

Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition - Session Zero - Welcome to LA

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 going to be set in Los Angeles and will feature 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...
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 many ghouls
The Cabbie - Clan Unknown - Kindred 'Transporter'

As I have written out introductions and dialogue for certain NPC's 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...

Act One - Introductions
Each of you has been selected by your respective sires, masters or possibly even by the elders to which they themselves answer to infiltrate the Anarch held territory of Los Angeles or the 'Free States' as the Anarch rabble refer to them as. With losses in traditional Camarilla strongholds such as Berlin and London it has begun to turn its eye to areas where once it held sway in order to determine if they could do so again. 

The Camarilla's last attempt some two decades ago was far more direct. They simply created a Primogen council from those sympathetic to their cause or who could be sufficiently bribed, appointed an ambitious Ventrue to the position of Prince and sent him with a Sheriff with enough personal destructive power to directly enforce his will. Unfortunately for them this attempt was ended abruptly by a plot woven by the Anarch trickster known as Smiling Jack with a punchline consisting of a coffin full of explosives. This time it has been decided that they'll start at the bottom, rather than at the top with a small group of ambitious Kindred who shall be given free rein to approach the manner in any way they see fit. Each it is hoped has the ability to infiltrate a different level of kindred society and can then support each other towards the ultimate goal of Camarilla supremacy in the free states or at the very least weaken the Anarchs enough for other methods to be employed. 

A Gangrel 'Fixer' called Marius who has previously shown some sympathies towards the Camarilla and more significantly owes several of it's important members a large boon has been contacted to facilitate this early transition and has provided each of you with a small but functional Haven and modest resources to allow yourselves to become accustomed to your new environment as well as using his influence to keep you out of trouble while you do so. You have been informed that you'll be contacted when the time is right for you to form your coterie and begin your infiltration campaign. After several months have passed that contact has been made and each of you is to be ready outside your havens at an hour past nightfall where a contact will bring you to your meeting...

Storytellers Note - Every-one got their own initial intro sequence so they could warm-up with their character a little before interacting with the other players characters. certain things I only described the once though as explaining the decor three times seemed redundant as they were all sitting around the same table...

Michael Tomassio - Toreador

Parked on the street in front of your haven is a large black, luxury SUV with tinted windows. In many places such a vehicle would draw attention but this is Los Angeles where such things are relatively common and yours is one of the better neighbourhoods in the vicinity. Waiting casually by it's side is a tall, stunningly attractive and impeccably dressed woman with long dark hair. The rear door of the vehicle is open.
"Mr Tomassio? or do you prefer Michael?"

The handsome and intelligent artist deciding to start off as diplomatically as possible and indicated that he had no particular preference and the lady countered that as they would be spending some time together then 'Michael' might be best. She then introduced herself formally.

"I've been sent to escort you to your meeting, my name is Victoria..." The inside of the vehicle is the height of luxury and has been partitioned off from the drivers compartment by a screen of blackened or possibly heavily tinted glass. "So you're the artist then?"

Michael indicated that he was indeed and proceeded to discuss the details of his particular style. He was pleasantly surprised to find that she was apparently well educated in the field and passed several pleasant minutes discussing his various artistic endeavours. While talking to the woman however he mentally reassessed his initial assessment of 'stunning' as despite sounding warm and engaging he began to get a distinctly predatory vibe from her as if the pleasantries were practised rather than sincere and that he was for want of a better term being 'sized-up'. She subtly deflected the majority of his specific questions about the Gangrel Marius who they were to meet and was downright vague about the length of time she'd been in his service saying only that she'd been with him for a 'long time' and describing him as a fixer of kindred problems.

Victoria Anezka
The drive from your Haven to the meeting is uneventful and the traffic at this time is relatively light so you make good time. You complete your journey outside an old and sturdily constructed building that seems to have been restored at some point recently as several of the features on the outside though skilfully constructed lack the signs of age of the surrounding decor. The sign over the door identifies the building as Hallowbrook Apartments though there is a pale rectangle above the sign which indicates that it might have once had a different name or at the very least a shorter one. The door is opened for you by the driver who you can't help but notice is both armed and wearing body armour. It appears that security is very important to some-one...

Michael though having a passing familiarity with firearms mainly used his charm, social skills and perhaps a liberal sprinkling of the 'Presence' discipline to get his way and to influence those around him. The fact that his contact felt that armoured guards with high calibre weaponry were apparently mandatory gave him a good idea about how dangerous a place Los Angeles must be for the Kindred existing there.

The decoration within is significantly more modern than that of the outside and appears to have been completely redecorated at some point fairly recently. At a counter in the centre of the lobby sits a pair of armed security guards in front of a bank of security monitors presumably connected to the multiple security cameras you can see at various points around the room. Behind the security station are a pair of elevators one of which is marked as private and to the right of the entrance is a doorway leading to a set of stairs and another door labelled as 'Security Only'. Victoria unlocks the private elevator with a security code punched into a digital display alongside and once within the control panel appears to only have buttons to allow access to floors marked P1 to P5 with another separate button below marked 'Sub-Basement 2'. After pressing the topmost button the elevator climbs to what you correctly presume is the penthouse level...

Michael made mention of the significant security measures and Victoria replied saying "Marius is quite keen on physical security, especially as we use this place for meetings". "In our particular business of fixing problems the kindred and occasional person with those problems need to be able to find us...of course the downside to that is of course that kindred know where to find us..." Michael was somewhat reassured by the precautions around him but also had to mentally ask the question about the wisdom of associating with some-one who apparently had enemies that warranted that much protection.

The elevator opens up into a separate lobby with an apartment door ahead and a large set of elevator doors leading elsewhere at the end of a long corridor on the right. Following your guides lead you are invited into an impressive and expensively decorated apartment that seems to have been created from the top two floors of the building as a set of stairs leads up to a balcony and several more doors. There's a seating area with several coffee tables in front of an un-necessarily large flat screen television, a small kitchen area in one corner and doors leading into other rooms along both sides. Sitting at the top of the stairs peering through the railings in your direction is a large wolf-like dog. Victoria indicates that you should wait in the seating area and heads off into a room on right. Apparently you are the first to arrive.

Storytellers Note - Each character is required to finish the creation process with two dots of Flaws. One of Michael's is an enemy in the form of a spurned lover and the other is what is referred to as a folkloric block, basically a classic vampire flaw that for some reason the kindred has. Unfortunately for Michael he cannot cross a threshold to a home uninvited by the owner unless he spends Willpower to do so.

With a keen eye for style it was obvious to Michael that many of the items in the room had been purchased for their value without much care being taken to ensure that they matched each other particularly. Some attempt had been made to group similar style items and arrange them in as aesthetically pleasing a manner as possible but with the material at their disposal they were fighting a losing battle. The artist had his doubts that both these people were the same as the individual attempting to bring order to the chaos had some flair for it and the purchaser obviously did not. At least there were enough items of interest to stave off the boredom while he waited...

Johnny 'Roach' West - Malkavian
Sitting on the bonnet of an old style taxi is a pretty but slightly skinny girl, humming tunelessly to herself, dressed in what passes for fashion amongst the student types that you normally sell recreational distractions to. Unusually for a taxi-cab the windows are slightly tinted making it difficult to see the driver within. As you approach she reaches into a pocket, unfolds a piece of paper and then after carefully reading it twice, returns it to a completely different pocket.
"Is it Johnny, 'Roach' or Mr West?"

The slightly unkempt (yet fashionably dressed for his particular scene) kindred settled on 'Roach' as in his particular side-line having people know your real name can be somewhat inconvenient.

Storytellers Note - As mentioned earlier character creation requires a certain number of dots in flaws and 'Roach' has the two dot flaw hopeless addiction. Basically he needs to get his meals stoned before dining from them...the Dominate discipline which he also has obviously helps too when you're a drug dealer...

She leans in and whispers in a conspiratorial tone "I'm Heather, don't worry about the taxi-driver he's cool with all the vampire stuff..." then without further introduction she opens the rear passenger door of the cab and slides across to the opposite seat. Apparently this is what passes for an invitation where she's concerned. Once within the cab 'Heather' demonstrates the privacy from the driver by sticking her tongue out in the direction of the glass, pulling stupid faces in it's direction and making raspberry sounds which are apparently either unheard or more likely ignored as the driver heads off as soon as your seated. "So you're not the heavy...are you the brains or do you have some other super power?"

Roach smiled at the comment and then promptly disappeared before a moment later the smoke from a large joint began to appear from the corner where he sat. Having demonstrated his 'super power' he reappeared in the seat which he had of course never actually left despite Heather's senses being fooled into believing he had. "Do you have another of those?" she enquired indicated the joint in his hand...of course if she had known of his particular weakness she might have thought twice about asking.

Storytellers Note - Every Vampire campaign I've run since 2004 has a slightly useless Ghoul named Heather in it...I saw no reason to change that for this one. 

After taking the offered spliff she began to relax a little and began to talk pretty much constantly as the journey continued, as Roach began to wonder if she was very nervous or just an idiot as it was difficult to tell. "So is that how you do it then? You know...get people to let you bite them? Marius says all vampires have their own way of doing it, some jump on you in an alley, some use the 'do as I say' voice, he tends to just have them is this your predator thingy?" Growing bored of her now he lent in close and in a very serious tone informed her that she probably shouldn't ask about such things. On hearing this she slid as far into the opposite corner as she could, flicked her hair over her previously exposed neck and thankfully shut up for a bit only speaking to unnecessarily announce "We're Here..." when the vehicle stopped. She also seemed quite pleased to be out of the cab where she could put some distance between herself and her guest stopping only to inform the driver that his payment was "In the cooler in the boot..."...

Storytellers Note - 'Predator Type' is a new thing in this edition that you select at character creation and gives you advantages with a certain feeding method. Roach's particular predator type is 'Scene queen' which makes it easier to hunt within a particular scene or group of people, Michael's is 'Siren' which helps with seduction and the yet to be introduced 'Vin' is an 'Alleycat' which basically means he mugs people in side streets...more or less...

As you exit the cab there's a moment where you're sure the sign outside the building says 'Hallowbrook Hotel' not 'Hallowbrook Apartments' and a red hue cast from somewhere gives all the appearance of the building having been smeared in blood while all the nearby background noises sound briefly like moans of pain. The moment quickly passes but the picture of a blood-stained basement filled with the dead and dying is strongly embedded in your memory. 

After navigating several security measures between the lobby, elevator and upper landing you arrive in a well decorated two floor apartment and are pointed in the direction of a well dressed gentlemen in sunglasses which (after Heather locates and checks the bit of paper she had earlier which she's unable to remember which pocket she placed in) she tells you is named Michael and is one of the two members of what she refers to as your 'spy-club'. She then walks into the kitchen area in the corner leaving you with your new acquaintance.

Storytellers Note - Toms character 'Roach' has the second dot Auspex power Premonition which combined with he fact that he's a Malkavian is basically a free pass for me to throw slightly odd visions at him whenever it feels appropriate. He can use it himself as well of course...

After the polite introductions Michael took the lead and briefly outlined his particular skill set and enquired what Roach's speciality was. "I suppose you'd say it was stealth...and information gathering" was the reply though he made no mention of the methods he employed presuming that Michael would learn them soon enough when they began to work together. They also discussed their very different experiences of their escorts as Michael had been very impressed with the efficiency and impression given by his whereas that of Roach had been pretty much the opposite. Deciding to find out for himself the Toreador strolled into the kitchen area to converse with the girl who had bought in the Malkavian. Roach meanwhile had found an undoubtedly expensive ornament to use as an ashtray and made himself comfortable.

Michael discovered that before being ghouled Heather had been a student of fashion design and once talking on this particular subject seemed to have a vast array of knowledge on it and came across as intelligent, competent and certainly not the blithering idiot that Roach had made her out to be. Perhaps his new colleague just wasn't as good a judge of character as he himself was.

Interlude One - The Cabbie
Offering a unique service to the kindred of Los Angeles the Vampire known currently as 'the Cabbie' (or sometimes 'The Transporter' by younger kindred) offers transport of any-one or anything from anywhere in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas with no questions asked anytime from nightfall to daybreak. Taking payment in blood, boon, money or valuables he guarantees prompt and guaranteed arrival times and can even be waiting at your chosen pick-up point at the moment you awake at your Haven. How he himself manages to arrive at a time that can only be accomplished by travel during the hours of daylight has never been answered but he has yet to fail to keep an appointment. By mutual agreement his vehicle is considered to have the same status as an Elysium and this is honoured by all kindred and is perhaps the only recorded time of a vehicle being granted this status. It's rumoured that even the Sabbat and the Lupines honour his status as neutral ground though this may be just wishful thinking...several older kindred speak of a gentlemen in the past known as the coachman who offered a similar service in other cities...

Vincent 'Vin' Ghast - Brujah
Waiting for you at the nearest access road to your basement Haven is a older model Range Rover that appears to be an ex-military model judging from the accessories and equipment. Leaning against the drivers side is an oriental girl who appears to be little older than a teenager wearing a long black leather coat, combat trousers, military style boots and finger-less leather gloves. One of the beggars who keeps an eye on the area for you had already informed you of her arrival and is currently sitting in a shop doorway a short distance away.
"You must be 'Vin', jump in and I'll drive you to the meeting, I'm Yukio"

A kindred of very few words unless threatening some-one and sometimes not even then he merely confirmed who he was and headed for the vehicle as the young lady got in herself.

As you approach the vehicle you spy a group of obviously drunk men making various insulting comments to the beggar about the 'worthless scum on the streets' and other more colourful comments and who have now begun to kick bits of rubbish and debris in his direction. As he attempts to get up the largest of the men pushes him to the ground and proceeds to empty the remnants of a bottle of beer over his head...

Yukio Hayashi
Vin looked at the vehicle then back at the scuffle before telling Yukio "Well I can't let that stand..." Yukio leaned out of the window and gestured in the direction of the scuffle "It's okay we have got a few minutes if you want to deal with that...". Conscious of the fact that he was dangerously close to his haven he decided that intimidation would be his best tactic followed by violence if it didn't work though generally this was Vin's priority system for all situations so it didn't take a lot of consideration.

"What the fuck do you want?" was the opening gambit from the bullies leader but the confidence left his voice quickly as he properly took in the tall, heavily built and extremely unhappy looking person in front of him. Vin had intimidation down to an art form and it took only a stare followed by a few choice words very slightly reinforced by an aura of menace from the Presence discipline before the group of would be hard-men decided to get the hell out of there as soon as they could. Mildly disappointed that he hadn't got to punch any-one he checked the beggar was okay before returning to the vehicle.

"Nicely handled...What do you do when that doesn't work?" enquired Yukio "Fists, blade, guns?" Vin indicated his liking for close-up work though had no strong preference between bare knuckles and stabbing people. He did point out that he wasn't a massive fan of fire-arms though he used them if he had to but this was currently an easy choice for him as his only ranged weapon was an old .22 pistol in terrible condition. They spent a few more minutes discussing various methods of brutally maiming and killing people before his escort turned her attention to the drive.

The young lady is a skilled if somewhat aggressive driver who has an impressive grasp of swear words from a variety of languages and after a short drive she turns down a side-street, through a security gate and into an underground carpark beneath a sturdy looking old building. After parking in one of three empty spaces in a bay marked as 'reserved for penthouse' she leads you to a large freight elevator which seems an unusual thing to have in an apartment building. After punching a code into a heavy duty push button panel and opening not one but two heavy shutters she beckons you into the elevator and presses the button for the upper floor of the building. As the elevator rises you can hear the outer shutters clanking back into place behind you. You notice that despite this being very obviously the bottom floor of the building there are two buttons below the one that lights up for the floor you started on.

Storytellers Note - Vin's flaw is that he's illiterate which adds a surprising amount of issues when you as the Storyteller are trying to describe things, lol. Note to Self - Make sure all cryptic notes delivered by mysterious strangers are handed to one of the other two...

Once in the excessively and un-necessarily decadent two-floor apartment you are pointed in the direction of two gentlemen chatting who you are informed are the other two members of your cell identified as Johnny and Michael respectively. As the two kindred turned to observe their newest coterie member suddenly Heather describing one of the group as 'the muscle' made perfect sense. Once personal introductions are done Michael made some enquiries of the newcomer who told them in no uncertain terms that his brief was to keep them able to do their jobs by making sure any immediate threats went away by whatever means were necessary and assured them he was more than capable of doing so. They then went on to share what few bits of information they'd managed to glean from their various escorts which admittedly amounted to very little.

Interlude Two - Clan Carna
Vanessa 'Ruby' Rubeus
After about fifteen minutes more waiting the corner door opens and a group of four emerges, led by a red-headed girl in a black dress and choker, decorated with various trails of beads. Around her neck are several silver necklaces each of which has a different occult or religious looking symbol on it. The two other women and one man who have formed a circle around her as she crosses towards the door also have several similar symbols either on jewellery or as part of their outfits.

For some reason when they first appeared the Malkavian was convinced that they're all wearing pointy hats and cackling a lot...however by the time they'd reached the door they appeared as normal as every-one else had seen them. Both Johnny and Michael noted that one of the symbols around the red-headed woman's neck was a stylised version of the symbol for Clan Tremere who had recently lost many of their elders in an attack on their chantry in Vienna by the second inquisition who had successfully blamed the event on an act of terrorism. The rest of the symbols the group were wearing were seemingly mundane however.

Johnny used the ability to read auras granted by his mastery of the Auspex discipline to attempt to gain further information ascertaining that they were all vampires and usefully that none had committed the act of diablerie in the last year. He could grasp very little about their emotional state however other than a vague impression of disappointment. Using more mundane but effective methods of observation, insight and empathy Michael detected subtle signs that whatever they'd been discussing had not ended with the result they'd been looking for though they didn't seem angry they were certainly not happy.

The lady that one of you knows as Victoria escorts them as far as the door and from there the one you know as Yukio escorts them outside. Victoria then walks over to where you've been sitting. "Marius will see you now, I'll show you in...". She briefly looked sideways at 'Roach' using several thousand dollars worth of bowl as an ashtray and shared a knowing glance with an apologetic Michael before turning and walking towards what you can only assume is a meeting room of some description.

Act Two - The 'Fixer'
Marius Walker - 'Fixer'
The 'meeting room' contains a long antique wooden table, surrounded by high-backed chairs. Several paintings and pictures adorn the walls apart from the rearmost one which instead has two large cabinets containing a wide variety of bladed weapons. Already seated in the chair in front of these cabinets is an athletically built, dark haired man, with a short beard and a thin scar running down the side of his face. He's wearing a dark red shirt and a black leather jacket and a large calibre revolver can be clearly seen in a shoulder holster beneath his right arm. The clothes are very expensive but no great care has been taken of them. "Allow me to officially welcome you all to the city of angels, please take a seat and we'll get started"

Johnny's attempt to scry their host was unsuccessful as his aura seemed for want of a better term 'flat' and gave no usable information whatsoever other than making him slightly concerned about what about his aura their host felt the need to hide as the fact that it was shielded in some-way was obvious to him having encountered such methods before. Vin's interest was more drawn to the cabinets of weaponry all of which were swords of some description in fact there seemed to be pretty much one of each type of weapon that could be said to embody an era or culture. Amongst the selection were a heavy cavalry sabre, a middle-eastern scimitar, a  Japanese katana, a Chinese butterfly sword and a medieval broadsword though there were many others. Though all impressive examples of their kind each was definitely functional and many showed signs of use rather than being purely ornamental.

Michaels interest was of course drawn to the artwork. One of the paintings was a sunset created mainly in red and orange oil colours but had no artists name, there was also an artistic nude of an Asian woman which on closer inspection appears to be a photograph that's had steam strategically added and effects to give the illusion of a piece of artwork. The final piece was a disturbing painting that was seemingly the biblical scene 'the judgement of Solomon' though in this version Solomon looked like a warlord, the baby had actually been sliced in two and both of the women claiming to be it's mother seem quite happy with their bisected child halves. Whether he appreciated the subject matter or not Michael had to admit that the picture had been painted with a masterful grasp of light and technique. The name in the corner was simply 'Malaki' which was some-one Michael as a painter himself was aware of as his works had been condemned by many religious organisations as blasphemous which subsequent publicity had of course pushed their value up significantly.

"It was my hope to give you another few weeks to establish yourselves but unfortunately several Kindred from a number of different areas of influence have began to make enquires about you and so you're going to need each others support if you're not to be picked off individually by those that may decide that they want what is yours"

This of course led to enquiries about whose attention exactly they'd come to. Marius informed them that amongst others this had been Louis Fortier (a Ventrue of considerable influence in downtown LA), or specifically Elena his childe who had become aware of Michael's artistic endeavours and though artists who slept all day and partied all night weren't exactly a novelty the pattern was enough for a fellow kindred to take notice of. Several Nosferatu notables whose names meant nothing to the newcomers but who Marius called Bertrum and 'Gary' had become interested in Vin's burgeoning beggar information network and apparently at least three of Roach's regular customers were thin-blood followers of Jenna Cross. Marius also indicated that a group of vampire scholars who often used the university had also noticed the drug dealers comings and goings.

"I've assured the interested parties that you are all simply kindred who have grown weary of the Camarillas oppression in your home cities and are seeking out the freedom of the free states in order to build an unlife free of the influence of the Ivory Tower" This statement was read with about as much sarcasm as could be mustered "Which they of course believed because that's the kind of bullshit that Nines and the rest are currently shovelling down every-ones fucking throats despite the 'Free States' being nothing of the kind realistically speaking" He paused briefly to check his watch which the Toreador noted was also expensive but poorly maintained. "I've further offered to send some-one to find you and explain how things work here so you don't get into trouble and they've all presumed that I'm just trying to get another few new kindred in my debt so aren't overly suspicious about me being helpful...and so here we are..." "I'll also tell them I have a small job for you to do which will be tomorrow..." "I know you all have your individual bolt-holes and havens and you're welcome to keep the ones I've provided but you're also going to need something communal where you can plan and retreat to for mutual protection should you piss-off the wrong kindred at some point. You're going to need numbers and actual security now and you also may have other needs which I'll try and help you with if at all possible..." "Then we can discuss a small favour I'd like done in return..."
Storytellers Note - Coterie creation is another new aspect introduced in the 5th edition of vampire that's usually done as part of the character creation process but I decided I wanted to do it as part of the session as I hoped it would be more immersive that way. Basically the group has a number of advantage dots to spend to help shape what their purpose and goals are. The book recommends one dot per player or two dots if there's three or less players. As my chronicle requires them to have a physical base of operations I gave them a two dot Haven though as long as it could house three of them in close proximity I gave them free reign to pick what they wanted as well as five additional dots to spend. Furthermore I gave them the option of taking additional dots as long as they took an equivalent number of flaws. In practical terms this was their contact turning over some of his resources to the group in order to pay off the boon he owed the Camarilla. There are several ideas laid out in the core rulebook...all of which they promptly you can no doubt imagine...this took a while...

Interlude Three - Greater Than the Sum of It's Parts...
After some consideration it was decided to take advantage of Michael's growing reputation as an artist to open a studio, gallery and place to sell art as an artists somewhat nocturnal patterns could be explained as the result of a hedonistic lifestyle and artists living in their studios was also not uncommon. Roach was also fairly certain that using his contacts at the university he could get some students with an artistic bent to exhibit their works there either willingly or with a little help from his disciplines. The issue of staff during the day could easily be solved as Michael's ghoul Lisa was already an experienced saleswoman as she sold his art for him anyway. Given the second inquisitions government connections tendencies to look for odd financial transactions the question was asked about the legitimacy of it as a business and they were assured that a more than adequate mask could be created to ensure the business would hold up to scrutiny including having correct documentation, correct bank accounts, etc. 

Marius had a property that could fit the purpose but it was somewhat out of the way in Pasadena. Fortunately the 'Barony of Pasadena' had a vampire population of a mere three, two Ventrue and their blood bound servant and their patron was fairly certain that as long as they hunted elsewhere or bought their own herds with them that he could arrange with them to accept the newcomers as long as they showed them the respect due their age. 

Vin was in agreement with the idea as the gallery idea meant that a high-end security system would not look out of place but wasn't so sure about Michael's insistence on the place being luxuriously decorated a he saw little point in the excess. However as they'd agreed to the security system which was his only concern he conceded the point. Roach also added that if there was anything they couldn't acquire legitimately he probably 'knew a guy' who could.

The Toreador also asked how difficult it would be to get him access to an occult library for research purposes. Marius somewhat reluctantly admitted that it could be done but that the bulk of the spare occult volumes he had available had been acquired after a Giovanni mansion was mysteriously assaulted and that several seemed to be fetters for various spirits. In other words he could have a library as long as he didn't mind it being haunted.

After making some notes about their requirements Marius informed them that what they required would take a little time to sort out but that he'd have the building secured and makeshift havens installed there as a matter of priority and would have the rest of the work done over the next few weeks. One of his own security people would make sure that their location in the building would be undisturbed as work was carried out using the plausible ruse that there were valuable works of art stored in that section though he did point out that they'd have to use their own initial bolt-holes for some of the time as certain work would require access to the whole building.

"Well that's settled then. I'll have Victoria fine-tune the details and the basics discussed should be ready for you by the time you awake tomorrow night" "While we still have a bit of time is there anything else you want to know..."

Understandably their main subject of interest was what areas in the 'Free States' were most unstable and if there were any potential allies of the Camarilla in any of the baronies that might give them support. The news was not particularly inspiring as most of the Camarilla supporters had swiftly left town before the wreckage from the explosion at Prince LaCroix's tower had even hit the ground over a decade ago. The few remaining kindred with Camarilla sympathies didn't exactly broadcast the matter though some such as Therese Voerman made no secret of the fact that she preferred their order over much of the current anarchy though it's unlikely she'd risk her current position to help three random neonates. Her sister Jeanette with whom she'd apparently fallen out with once again was however firmly in the Anarch camp but despite their recent and past differences they had shown surprising unity when faced with a mutual foe. Between the considerable resources and influence of Therese and the formidable network of kindred who owed Jeanette favours they were not a foe to be underestimated and they were advised in the strongest terms possible to be careful how they approached either of them should they do so as their Malkavian natures manifested in some very dangerous ways indeed...

The matter of unstable areas however gave them more hope as they were informed that several baronies were either openly at war and at least one was in a war by proxy due to a certain baron feeding resources to one of the others. Specifically A kindred called Tom Weaver was attempting to take over the Barony of Anaheim by defeating it's current leader Allison Maller but was being supported by the Baron of Santa Ana known only as 'Amethyst and was therefore likely to win. This was a concern even for the other Anarch leaders as many thought that Amethyst would attempt to make herself prince should she have control of two territories from which to build her empire but her anti-Camarilla tendencies were well known. A victory for her puppet wouldn't be good for their long-term plan.
There were also rumours that David Geduld the Baron of Torrance who controlled Los Angeles harbour was actively planning to make a move on the Long Beach Barony of Steve Booth which would no doubt draw in some of the other gangs. Marius's advice was to make as many allies as they could within the Anarchs before making any attempts at a hostile take-over or taking sides as a mis-step this early would be bad for his business and their unlives.
Fortunately for them the Gangrel had a little job for them that he assured them would give them a starting point to gain them some good will with a number of important people...The fact that he hadn't kept the job for himself should have been a warning sign...

To be continued in 'Story' One - Three Murders...

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...
Surprisingly the session went very approximately as I planned. Every-one roleplayed their characters well and I'd put little bits into each of their intros designed to get them talking and to give them a chance to shine a little as individuals and most of these hooks worked...not all admittedly...but enough. Marius is a combination of an old character of mine and an old villain from a previous campaign as his back-story worked nicely with the concept of the chronicle I had planned and it meant I didn't need to do much writing for him. He also gave me a character to attribute events from the Bloodlines PC game too that I wanted to have occurred within my setting without having to explain how a random neonate went from 'just a vampire' to 'had met everyone in LA' in about two nights...if you've played the game you'll know what I mean.

Their choice of haven however threw me a bit of a curve-ball. I had honestly expected them to just pick a fortifiable building and fill it with useful stuff or create themselves a small domain to control. The idea of creating a legitimate business enterprise and pretty much hiding in plain sight intrigued me a lot and though it took a fair bit of time to fine-tune the details I think it's going to create some great plot-hooks and I've already come up with some interesting ideas...well...interesting for me at when players come up with ideas that genuinely excite them and help with their immersion then I'm quite happy to go with it even if it requires a little extra work...

I gave them the standard one point of experience for the session and a bonus one out of generosity for some good roleplaying during the introduction parts.

Hopefully you'll all stick around for the first session proper which I should be posting in a week or so..

I've used pictures of real people to represent some of the characters and art for others so in order of appearance there was Smiling Jack in gif form from the Bloodlines PC game, Michael Tomassio is represented by the actor Dominic Cooper and also in a drawing of his character Henry Sturgess drawn by Lady Avali from DeviantArt, 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, The Cabbie is the cabbie from the Bloodlines PC game, Vincent 'Vin' Ghast is the martial artist and actor Scott Adkins, Yukio Hayashi is a picture that came up when I typed 'Samurai girl with sword' into a search I can do...sorry..., similarly Vanessa 'Ruby' Rubeus is a made up name for a picture from a folder on my PC labelled Gothic redheads...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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