Saturday, 12 January 2019

Vampire the Masquerade V5 - Session Thirteen - The Pasadena Problem (Part Eight)

I'm currently running a Vampire the Masquerade chronicle using the 5th Edition rule-set for a small group of fellow role-players. These are the chronicles of their adventures.
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. Having made a few allies unsuspecting of their greater goal they have decided that in order to gain influence they need to acquire a barony of their own.
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The now obligatory warning bit - Unlike my other RPG write-ups this one will contain swearing, sexual references and other references that might offend. If you can't tell the difference between real peoples opinions and grown-ups role-playing predators who crave blood then this probably won't be for you. I've also used actual photographs to represent some characters which I'll give acknowledgements to at the end if I've any idea who they are.
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The introduction to this campaign, the first story and all the other parts can be found at the following links and are in chronological order...
Welcome to L.A. - Introductory Session
Story One - 'Three Murders' - Part OneTwo, ThreeFour and Five
Interlude Session - One
Story Two - 'The Pasadena Problem' - Part OneTwoThreeFour
Solo Session - 'The Neillson Library'
Story Two Continued- 'The Pasadena Problem' - Part FiveSix and Seven

The Storyteller
Garreth as Everyone else...
The PC's
Phil as Michael Tomassio - Toreador
Matt as Dr Daniel Matthews - Banu Haqim
Tom as Johnny 'Roach' West - Malkavian
Dave as Vincent 'Vin' Ghast - Brujah
The player characters stats and backgrounds can be found HERE should any-one be interested.
As I have written out introductions and dialogue for certain NPC's and some location descriptions I'll post these more or less as I wrote them so they'll be in a 'reading to the group' style and they'll also be in blue so you can tell them apart from the more traditional write-up sections and occasionally an obscure Malkavian premonition will turn up in purple. If I think something needs a bit of out of character explanation then those will get a storytellers note that will helpfully be in red...

Introduction
With an armoury at their disposal and detailed information on the artefacts binding the entity into the service of the Baron Edward Vignes the coterie is as prepared as possible to remove the Baron and free the Baroness Vera and her lover Henry Waters from his control.

Storytellers Note - As usual the players had their various spies and contacts on information gathering duty or were doing so themselves so I had prepared some hand-outs.

Michael
Much of the Vignes families wealth seems to come not from particularly good investments but rather from the inexplicably bad luck of any business rivals. Mysterious fires, sudden changes of mind and terrible business decisions are quite common. Though you can imagine that Edward could arrange the latter himself you have trouble imagining him, Henry or Vera wandering around with a petrol can and an oily rag setting fires so obviously he has some other help.

Roach
You have discovered through various street contacts that Edward Vignes is using his political contacts to sabotage the business rivals of a shady businessman named Solomon Burton who in turn uses his criminal contacts to strong-arm those who interfere with the schemes and plans of his other contacts both business and political in and around Pasadena. He has a number of businesses but you know he tends to do have his less legitimate business meetings in the offices of a storage company he owns. The units being fairly useful places to leave people who cause him problems during these meetings.

Vin
One of the gang members you took your frustrations out on yesterday after the Apex Solutions heist gave you some moderately useful information before passing out. Apparently he and a couple of other thugs have been told to keep an eye on the gallery for some-one called Solomon Burton at the request of Edward Vignes. He claims the two men have an 'arrangement' of some kind. His fellow thug informed you that they're meeting tomorrow (so today) at ten o'clock in the evening but if he knew the location of that meeting he doesn't have time to tell you before the broken ribs poking into his lungs cause him to collapse unconscious.

Daniel
Your ghoul Andrew arranged for his hacker buddy to see what he could find out about Edwards movements and has managed to 'acquire' a copy of his schedule for the following day though it's either in code or Edwards notes are deliberately vague. Seemingly he's meeting some-one called 'SB' today at ten though whether that's a time or location isn't obvious. Apparently Edward is still struggling to embrace modern technology as the hacker described his computer and security as 'a fucking joke'.

Scene Twenty Six - Hurry up and Wait
While Michael and Daniel headed to the lair of Pisha in order to acquire the alchemical potions needed to destroy the fetters binding the entity to Edwards service, Vin and Roach loaded up their chosen vehicle with the recently acquired stockpile of weapons. While on the way to Pisha's Daniel phoned his ghoul Andrew and asked him to look into Solomon Burton, while Michael arranged transport for Vera Vignes and Henry Waters to Michael's personal Haven where they should be safe. Wishing to draw as little attention as possible they ordered a conventional taxi to pick them up timed so as to remove them from harms way when Daniel entered the entities prison and the rest 'took care' of the Baron. On their return from their visit to the necromancer, potions in hand they moved onto the next phase of their plan.

With the location of Edwards meeting already discovered the Banu Haqim assassin located a currently vacant building opposite and set up their sniper weapon on the roof from where he could cover the others attack and eliminate any potential escapees when he returned from the mansion. With their stealthy Malkavian and Banu Haqim as well as the surprisingly silent Vin it was little effort to infiltrate the compound where the meeting was to take place.

Roach had slid invisibly into the building where he found a dark corner and silently disappeared along with the light machine gun they'd acquired from the arms dealer Mercurio in exchange for their part in eliminating one of his business rivals through some industrial espionage. He also decided that the best thing for every-one would be if Henry and Vera were the victims of an accident so they had no chance to betray them or change their minds about the arrangement. To accomplish this he contacted Jenna, leader of the Santa Monica thin-bloods and called in the considerable boon she owed him for dealing with the traitors within her ranks. His price was the elimination of the two Ventrue on the way to Michael's haven.

Storytellers Note - This was the first of what was to become a theme of players sneakily doing behind Michael's back things they knew he wanted to do but objected to morally. I have a feeling that plausible deniability is going to be the watchword of his rule as baron, lol.

The weapon was a Mk 48 machine gun, essentially an M249 scaled up to fire the 7.62×51mm NATO round which was currently fed by a soft pack of a hundred rounds of ammunition on a disintegrating belt. The weapon reminded Roach uncomfortably of a Vietnam era weapon which in turn bought flashbacks of a war he'd fought long to repress any thoughts of. Vin for his part was within the compound crouched on a rooftop ready to move in and engage the Ventrue baron while Roach created a distraction with the mortals, all he needed was a signal.

Vera Vignes
Baroness of Pasadena
Though many considered him to be a mindless thug, Vin was in fact in possession of an excellent tactical mind, he just preferred to punch things really hard in the head if it was one of the options available. In Michael's case however combat skills were definitely not his greatest asset but he was however more than competent with a handgun and had taken a shotgun with him as well and so waited in the car ready to assist his more combat oriented friends if it should become necessary.

Having reached the Vignes mansion Daniel quickly scaled the wall, circled the house and headed directly to the cellar prison of the protector of Edward. Knowing that the creature didn't act in it's own defence unless it's stone sarcophagus was touched the assassin picked the lock on the exterior door and that leading to the cellar and slowly advanced as far downstairs as he felt safe to do so. Once he was in position he sent the predetermined signal to Michael who in turn informed Vera and Edward to head to the provided car that would be arriving soon and get the hell out of there. Moments later he heard the squeal of tires as a vehicle drove from the mansions drive at considerable speed. With the house evacuated and Daniel in position it was now just a matter of waiting for Edward to arrive at what would hopefully be the last meeting he ever had with any-one.

As he saw a number of cars arrive from his view within his own vehicle, Michael signalled to Vin who in turn informed Roach to prepare himself but to wait for the rest to act. Roach watched as Edward entered the spacious unit with a number of other men. Roach was relieved when his mystical sight which allowed him to scan the auras of all within revealed that the only supernatural creature they'd have to face initially was the Baron.

Scene Twenty Seven - A Preemptive Strike
Edward Vignes is in a meeting with a fat gentlemen in an expensive suit accompanied by a dozen men and women armed with a variety of handguns, shotguns and a couple of MP5 sub-machineguns. All the weapons that can be suppressed have been and the group definitely has the look of a group preparing for an assault of somewhere. A nearby table is filled with molotov cocktails. "Now Solomon, I want that place burnt to the ground tomorrow and any-one who tries to get out I expect you to fill with bullets and then burn. Nothing survives...understand?" The fat gentlemen nods in agreement "I've never let you down yet now have I?".

Roach had the uncomfortable feeling that they hadn't been anywhere near as subtle as they thought and that those within the unit's target for flames and firepower was their own gallery. Now more committed than ever he casually checked the time knowing that any minute the doctor would receive the signal to destroy the fetters binding the powerful entity to the Barons service. If it worked they'd have a chance, if not then they would more than likely meet their final deaths in this place.

As he received the signal to act Daniel abandoned all pretences of stealth and vaulted down the last few stairs before throwing open the stone cover. Following his instructions exactly he pulled the corkscrew like sword from the bodies chest as the shadows began to form before pouring a potion like congealed blood over the binding chains.

He noted while leaving that much to his irritation that the many lights within which also apparently kept the creature imprisoned were indeed as Vin had suggested operated by a simple switch making his elaborate plans for their destruction completely irrelevant. Flicking it to the off position as he left he left with superhuman speed. Upon leaving the cellar the first thing he noted was that the taxi sent to escort the escaping lovers wherever they wished was still in the driveway and the unfortunate fellow who was no doubt the driver had had his head twisted almost backwards. However he was about to have another problem to deal with first.

You can see the house begin to bulge as if some terrific force is building up within and there's a cracking noise as exterior walls begin to split, door and window frames move out of alignment and there's the shattering of glass from several windows. There's then a tangible change as the home suddenly seems to shrink in on itself though the feeling of interior pressure inexplicably seems to be increasing. A moment later the former home of the Vignes family explodes outwards with incredible force sending rubble and splintered timbers flying in all directions followed by several secondary explosions as gas lines detonate.

Once again moving at terrific speed Daniel managed to escape the destruction, his last sight being the car in front of the house also exploding together shredding the nearby corpse as it did so. Having no time to explain the potential complications that had occurred he simply messaged Michael that the job was done as he sped to the meeting place to assist the rest in the assault knowing that the Toreador would be signalling the assault as soon as possible.

The first the unfortunate gang members knew of an interloper was the shattering of glass as Roach destroyed the molotov cocktails before they could be used against him as well as scattering petrol all over the floor. A shotgun wielding member of the gang nearby was bought down by the zig zagging bullets as the wartime experiences of a lifetime ago came flooding back to Roach and the unfamiliar weapon in his hands became less so. As the surprised Baron turned to the threat, the Brujah Vin kicked open the door and emptied the full magazine of a fully automatic shotgun in his direction tearing apart two more mortal foes and catching Edward with several shells. As the gunfire began Michael headed into the compound to lend what help he could.

As Roach continued to strafe the members of Solomon's gang several had returned fire causing him and Vin some minor superficial wounds but none were a significant threat to the unfeeling flesh of a kindred. Having no time to reload the Brujah dropped the shotgun and drew his two handed machete as he closed on their Ventrue prey aiming a mighty blow towards his neck. Vin's elation was to be short lived as the baron stopped the blow with a raised forearm showing a level of resilience beyond that which he was expecting. With his free arm he reached for the surprised Brujah and where his hands gripped the flesh it began to wither and atrophy using some power surely drawn from the enslaved entity. Vin for the second time in recent weeks began to doubt his ability to defeat a foe.

Realising as soon as he arrived that the sniper nest had no clear view to the buildings interior Daniel drew upon his limited reserves of Vitae to speed to the snipers nest, retrieve the weapon and make his way in the direction of the gunfire. Within the building Michael found himself in the unfortunate moral dilemma of being behind the closest threat to Vin and in spite his personal vow to kill only in self defence shot the unaware enemy in the back. The resurfacing memories from Roach's past allowed the beast to take control and the Malkavian found himself emptying the entire remains of the machine-gun into an already quite dead opponent and tore him apart with a constant stream of shells before the weapon clicked empty.

With considerable experience in grappling Vin managed to extricate himself from the Ventrue's grip, grabbed him by the hand and then bought his machete down upon his wrist attempting to remove the hand and the ring through which he was channelling his borrowed power. Edward was caught completely by surprise as the blade severed flesh and bone and could only stare in shock as the Brujah casually tossed the severed appendage to Michael so he could destroy the ring with the alchemical formula. His surprise was to be short-lived as Daniel walked through the door holding the massive sniper rifle, aimed calmly and blew off his head and most of his torso. Utterly uncaring of the gore now covering his body the coteries enforcer turned to dispatch the few remaining thugs.

Now that Roach had stopped pulling the trigger of the empty weapon and began to return to reality he realised that it was time to leave. Stopping only to command a lone survivor of the massacre to light the petrol now flooding the warehouse unit he turned to leave...

Scene Twenty Eight - 'Atarah'
'Atarah'
You are greeted by the unfortunate sight of the corpse from the basement, free of it's bindings strolling almost casually towards you having seemingly stepped out of a shadow cast against one wall, the gaping hole in it's chest filled with the same liquid darkness you've now seen so many times. As it passes one of the dead guardians of Edward it bends down, lifts it up to a desiccated mouth and with yellowed fangs tears into it's throat and within seconds has drained it dry. 

Emaciated flesh begins to fill out slightly and darkness flows from her mouth as the chest wound heals and it coalesces into a female form clothed in darkness as she reaches for another body and drinks once more. The speed of her brutal exsanguination of the body causes it to rupture violently from a number of areas where veins and arteries near the surface. In a surprisingly melodic voice it speaks to you. "So the holder of the keys has met his much deserved end. What of the jailer herself?"

Thrown briefly by being addressed by what was apparently the enslaved prisoner used to animate the entity channelled by Edward it took a second for Michael and the others to realise exactly what had been said. "What do you mean 'she'?" asked Michael "Vera, I believe she now calls herself..." was the reply. "Tell me where she is...immediately..."

Storytellers Note - Achievement 'Create stunned table of players via unexpected plot twist' Unlocked...

Vera Vignes - Former Baroness of Pasadena
Possessed Diablerist
Not sure how much power she possessed in this un-amplified yet mobile form Michael first instinct was to inform her of Vera's location which as far as he knew was at his haven. Realising that the Toreador was about to send an angry kindred of unknown power to a place he'd send Jenna and a substantial portion of her thin-bloods he was about to interrupt but was beaten to it by Daniels next comment of "I doubt she's there." All eyes turned to him for an explanation. The Banu Haqim explained that the driver they'd sent to pick up Vera and Henry was quite dead when he'd left the house just before it exploded. Of course the phrase 'exploded' prompted several more questions.

Daniel then explained all that had occurred at the mansion which had given time for Roach to covertly send several messages to Jenna telling her that her help would no longer be needed though was somewhat concerned at the lack of a reply. Michael meanwhile had decided to inform Marius that there was now no longer a baron of Pasadena, though there might be some additional fallout due to an unforeseen circumstance or two. Seeing that unconventional methods might be needed to placate the creature before them he decided to attempt to force a premonition.

Malkavian Madness Network
You see a small private airfield, a single plane and four figures, one woman walking with a handsome man while a second man is standing by the aircraft and a third by the car. The woman turns and shoots one of the men through the head before getting on the plane. The remaining man gets in the car and drives away...You have no idea where the airstrip is, there's no obvious information in your premonition at all...yet...a cheerful female voice is whispering directions into your ear to an airstrip, the directions are quite clear, there's a pleasant giggle and your convinced the voice said "Bye, bye duckling" at the end...

Though unsure what was premonition and what was information filtered through the shared consciousness that Malkavian's called the cobweb, the shattered mirror or in their more whimsical moments 'The Malkavian Madness Network' he nonetheless decided that it was worth a try and shared the relevant portions of his insight to his coterie and the expectant creature with them. As Daniel had spoken to the woman when she had been in the form of the entity it was decided that he would accompany her in one vehicle along with Vin while Michael and Roach would lead the way to the location in the Malkavians vision. The woman who they later discovered claimed her name to be Atarah seemed somewhat amused by the car leading Daniel to believe that she may have been enslaved quite a while in the past.

Jenna Cross - Thin-Blood Baron
Roach who was still yet to receive a reply from Jenna was too concerned about the fact that he may have made a terrible mistake to make his usual witticisms about the current situation. Michael was fighting to keep himself under control at the thought that Vera had managed to so easily fool his empathetic abilities and that she had betrayed them all seemingly without effort.

The woman who on prompting from Daniel introduced herself as Atarah sat in the front next to Daniel while Vin sat behind her with a large knife in his hand in case of betrayal. He had also put his coat over the strange sword left on the backseat by Daniel assuming that the last thing the woman needed was a reminder of the artefact used to control her. Under polite questioning they learned that she had been a rival for the affections of Edward in Boston and that Vera had used knowledge that she should in now way of possessed to imprison her as both weapon and shield.

Vera Vignes - Former Baroness of Pasadena
Slave within her own body?
Before her enslavement she had heard rumours that Vera had diablerised at least one other rival for the attentions of her lover who was also somewhat disturbingly her brother. This rival was apparently a necromancer of some power in Boston and Atarah theorised that this previous victim had somehow managed to control Vera and use her abilities through her. Effectively when she needed to fool another she allowed Vera control and when she wished to exert her powers she took personal control of her host. She also informed them that she had no intention of doing them harm and that "Your friend behind me can stop fingering that knife he has to my back"

You arrive at a small private air strip with a single runway a small flight control office and the area is seemingly quite deserted. Lying in the middle of the strip is a body without a head wearing a suit identical in style to one of Henry's.

'Oblivion'
Daniel was reasonably sure based on the build of the corpse that this was indeed Henry and he had been shot half a dozen times in the back of the head. Though Vera's love for Henry had been very real and impossible to fake in light of Michaels empathetic skills and Roach's skill with auras it seemed that whatever was living in Vera's mind was far less attached to him. Whoever had used the facility had taken all documentation relating to flights leaving them with no clues and had also disposed of the staff as their drained corpses were slumped in one of the offices. Though Atarah had seemed in control, Roach could see her aura was burning with anger and hate but didn't contradict the others when they offered her their hospitality. "Thank you for your offer...but I have some catching up to do." and with that she walked into the shadows which seemed to swallow her up, then she was gone.

To Be Continued in 'Becoming Baron' - Part One

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 the plot twist/dramatic reveal went far better than I could have hoped for and completely threw the players at the table. Taking their dramatic victory from them and making it hollow was a risky move as I wanted to keep them on their toes without making them think they'd wasted eight sessions, lol.

On the bright side if I ever really need my characters to really hate an enemy I'll just have Vera turn up again. This also gives me a new character to potentially shake up the balance of LA in the form of Atarah. Now of course the players need to deal with the many loose ends they've created, pay as many debts as possible and then take Pasadena for themselves...before some-one else makes a move on it.

Acknowledgements
I've used pictures of real people to represent some of the characters and art for others so in no particular order Michael Tomassio is represented by the actor Matt Bomer, Johnny 'Roach' West is quite obviously Kurt Cobain, 'Vin' is the actor Scott Adkins, Dr Matthews is Mads Mikkelsen, Vera Vignes is Helen Mirren and Jenna Cross is Rhona Mitra. 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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