Friday, 9 October 2020

Vampire the Masquerade V5 - Session Seventy Four - The MacNeil Protocols (Part Nine)

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 chronicle is set in Los Angeles and features a small group of Camarilla agents sent into the 'Free States' to bring them back under Camarilla control. After a year of plotting, the coterie now controls the three North-Eastern Baronies and has successfully weakened several others. Unfortunately other Barons have used the chaos they have created to consolidate their own positions.
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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. If you'd prefer a summary of each session rather than read everything then there's a more detailed link page HERE as well as links to the first episode of each story in the blog sidebar.
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Chronicle One - 'Infiltrate L.A.' 
Welcome to L.A. - Introductory Session
Story One - 'Three Murders' - Part OneTwo, ThreeFour and Five
Interlude Session - One
Story Two - 'The Pasadena Problem' - Part OneTwoThree, and Four
Solo Session - 'The Neillson Library'
Story Two Continued- 'The Pasadena Problem' - Part FiveSixSeven and Eight
Story Three - 'Becoming Baron' - Part OneTwoThreeFour and Five
Solo Session - 'The Gather'
Story Three Continued - 'Becoming Baron' - Part SixSeven and Eight
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Chronicle Two - 'Foothold L.A.' 
Solo Session - 'Hostile Takeover'
Story Four - 'Countdown' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Five - 'The Missing Chantry' - Part OneTwoThreeFour and Five
Solo Session - 'The Anaheim Assassination'
Story Six - 'A Meeting of Barons' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Seven - 'The Carmelita Situation' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Eight - 'The Blount Sisters' - Part One and Two
Story Nine - 'Blood Money' - Part OneTwoThreeFour, Five and Six
Story Ten - 'Anathema' - Part One and Two
Story Eleven - 'Predators and Prey' aka 'The Blount Sisters' - Part Three
Story Twelve - 'Aftermath' - Part One and Two
Story Thirteen - 'The Messiah Complex' - Part OneTwoThree and Four
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Chronicle Three - 'Incursion L.A.'
Story Fourteen - 'The Rant'
Story Fifteen - 'Ties of Blood' - Part One and Two
Solo Session - 'A Gathering of Roses'
Story Sixteen - 'The Southern Solution' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Seventeen - 'The Baker Disappearance' - Part OneTwo and Three
Story Eighteen - 'Inevitable Betrayals' - Part OneTwoThreeFour and Five
Story Nineteen - 'The Marius Contracts' - Part One and Two
Story Twenty - 'The MacNeil Protocols' - Part OneTwoThreeFourFive
Story Twenty - 'The MacNeil Protocols' -Part Six, Seven and Eight

The PC's
Michael Tomassio - Toreador, 'Baron of the North East'
Vincent 'Vin' Ghast - Brujah, 'Constable'
Dr Daniel Matthews - Banu Haqim, 'Fixer'
Hope Romero - Gangrel, 'Census Taker'
Mr Hertz - Nosferatu, 'Seneschal'

The player characters stats and backgrounds can be found HERE should any-one be interested, but be warned that the page is usually several stories ahead of the most recent write-up and may contain some spoilers. There's also some minor 'house-rules' HERE that have occurred as we went along.

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 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. Anything covered via player handouts will also be in blue as they're written in the same style as introductions and the like. Where particular NPC's have a mention in a faction profile you will be able to reach it by clicking on their name or faction beneath their picture.

Introduction
Michael has made alliances with both Marius Walker, Baron of Downtown and Isaac Abrams, Baron of Hollywood so as to ensure that they can support each others plans, rather than disrupt them unknowingly. He is also very close to obtaining an exact location for MacNeil's computer system so has instructed the coterie to make themselves ready to move at a moments notice.

Scene Thirty Six - Silver Bullets
Isaac Abrams - Toreador
Baron of Hollywood
A number of zoning and licensing issues that were causing Mr Hertz problems with the Succubus Club have suddenly gone away. Mr Hertz found that he was hitting a dead end with these and suspected that Baron Abrams was putting obstacles in their way for some reason. If he was indeed responsible then apparently he must have now ceased.

Of course it could just be a coincidence that all those problems went away within hours of Michael and Isaac becoming allies. This is however something of a relief to him as it has freed up time for Mr Hertz to work on another task by the coterie.

Mr Hertz had returned to the Chinatown slaughterhouse as Mr Wan, The manager there had granted him use of an old sub basement area with access to the sewer network. Below the slaughterhouse was where Hertz kept his collection of antique, but unregistered, firearms and his handloading equipment. He had needed to acquire some extra bits and pieces to manufacture the silver ammunition that the coterie required. Fortunately his Triad contacts were more than happy to help. The silver ingots he had acquired himself.

Laid out before him were a selection of hollow point rounds of a variety of calibres, each with the tips now filled with silver. Other bullets were solid silver but he was less confident about the accuracy of these. 

Silver wasn't exactly a common material for making ammunition and for very good reasons. The majority of his silver supply had gone into the manufacture of a number of solid shotgun slugs though he had needed to outsource their creation which had upped the price somewhat. Making the other shotgun shells had been much easier as filling a shell with what was effectively silver ball-bearings had been relatively simple. Each of the coterie members now had at least two reloads worth of silver ammunition. Mr Hertz however had his doubts about whether any encounter with a werewolf pack would allow the coterie the chance to reload anything.

A spare machete of Vin's was currently being electroplated with silver as he had steadfastly refused to risk damaging his primary weapon should the process fail. Apparently Daniel already had a pair of blades inlayed with silver so that had, at least saved him a job. He had also informed Michael that such a mission was somewhat out of his purview and had politely but firmly declined the opportunity to join them.

Storytellers Note - The player wasn't available so this is how we decided to explain it in terms of the story.

Scene Thirty Seven - The System Located
Heather - Ghoul of Marius
'Galerie Sanguine' Employee
Heather bounces into your office and hands you an A4 size envelope with an unnecessary flourish and adds a curtsy "Victoria said that this is from Marius and I have to give it to you straight away and not forget or she'll kill me...or it might have been peel me...yes I think it was actually peel me...anyway I've done it so now no-one has to be peeled or killed..." She then flounces out again...

"Thank-you, Heather..." said Michael, somewhat sarcastically, in the general direction of her back as she disappeared downstairs. She was a useful employee but Michael could also see why Victoria had been so keen to find her a job as far away from her as possible.

The envelope contains an address in The Oaks estate on the border of Griffiths Park and quite clearly within werewolf territory, a set of plans for a large but fairly mundane house that also includes a second set of plans for renovations.

These seem to indicate an extensive underground addition to the property which connects to a tunnel system beneath the park. There is also a diagram of the aforementioned tunnel system which seems to lead to an underground bunker of some kind, possibly a long forgotten fallout shelter.

Even at a casual glance it appears that the only way into the tunnels is via the house though that may obviously have changed since the work was carried out quite a while ago.

Reuben Hart - Ghoul of Mr Hertz
Leader of 'The Apostles' Gang
Now with an address to tie their deed to, Mr Hertz had no trouble in making the necessary legal moves to ensure that the property now belongs to Michael Tomassio. Or to be exact, to one of The Apostles legitimate businesses which is coincidentally also owned by Michael, called 'Rose Thorn Holdings.'

Daniel arranged for a message to be passed to the Gangrel guide known as 'Crow' to meet them in Glendale so they could journey as close to the target location as she deemed safe. He, Hope and Vin then began to prepare their equipment and load up with the new silver ammunition provided by Mr Hertz.

They split their gear between two of the covertly armoured cars belonging to the coterie. Dion drove Michael's and Daniel's ghoul Andrew drove his. Both Dion and Andrew were far superior drivers to any of the coterie and so they would given them the best chance of escape should a strategic withdrawal become necessary.

Andrew Francis - Ghoul of Daniel, Dion - Agent of Fiorenza, Michaels Driver

Before they left, Mr Hertz handed Michael a plain envelope containing fifty thousand dollars in cash. "Good luck." he said, he was sure they'd need it, whether he personally believed in the concept or not he figured saying it couldn't hurt.

Daniel retrieved the few clues that they had discovered and took them along with him in case they came in useful. He tucked the mysterious seven digit number, into Jeremy's Notebook and placed both into his pocket.

Scene Thirty Eight - Into the Maw
'Crow' - Gangrel (Greek Bloodline)
Independent Guide
Crow is waiting for you at the agreed meeting point and explains her plan once you hit the edge of The Oaks estate which is the start of werewolf territory.

"We'll go beneath the estate via an abandoned sewer tunnel, which intersects a surface access a few hundred yards from the location you specified. Then I'll cloak you all on the approach from there. In short, I will extend my own powers of Obfuscation to you and your party. Should one of you do something astronomically stupid and reveal yourself, then the rest of us will remain concealed. Of course If I was to be discovered then we would all be...though if that occurs then we're probably all about to be destroyed by werewolves anyway so recriminations will, at least, be brief..."

Michael could see that she exuded confidence, hopefully this was a good sign. As this was the first time he'd met Crow, he introduced himself, thanked her and then handed over the envelope. The Gangrel guide removed half the cash and then returned the envelope to him. "Half before, half after we're done was the agreement." She had a quite disarming smile. "I don't like to change arrangements once they've been made. You understand?" Michael nodded and returned the envelope to his jacket pocket.

Once they arrived at the edge of The Oaks, the coterie left the vehicles behind and followed Crow. Michael informed Dion that he would be messaging him at regular intervals and to be ready to come get him at a moments notice. He had already prewarned his own ghoul, the police Captain Franklin Atkins, that he might need him to make a phone-call on his behalf to some local authorities if things got really desperate.

Crow led them to a small concrete building on the edge of the estate and opened the door with a strange looking key from a ring that she produced seemingly from nowhere. It looked like a master key set of some kind to Daniel who had studied such things while perfecting his lock-picking skills.

The abandoned sewer tunnel is surprisingly clean and appears to have never been used for it's designated purpose. Towards the end is a sturdy ladder, leading through an open hatch in the tunnels roof. Once safely in the upper area, crow reaches into one of her pockets and pulls out another odd looking key which fits the lock to the outside door perfectly. "Now for the tricky part..." she says as she opens the door. "I'd check your equipment now, as we're about to enter the domain of the Black Spiral Dancers..."

Michael, Hope, Vin and Daniel did as Crow suggested and checked they had easy access to weapons and that those they had were locked and loaded.
 
The estate seems strangely ordinary. Though there are mortals about, none even look in your direction and you find that not one of you makes any sound at all, yet can hear each other perfectly. You can see your companions as clearly as you can see yourself yet it seems that none outside of your group are even vaguely aware of your existence.

Scene Thirty Nine - The House
The Coterie's Destination - The Oaks Estate
The house is an impressive, wood clad structure that appears to be part office, part home. The front entrance has a keypad instead of a lock and seems to lead to a ground floor office. 

Daniel could tell that the glass was actually bulletproof. he also ran his hand down the wood cladding and could tell that it was actually a thin layer of plastic made to look like wood. After some subtle probing with his knife he ascertained that the surface below was solid stone blocks. Vin was hanging back to see if they were being pursued but apparently Crow was as good as she had claimed. Hope was also on the look-out, but as with Vin could see no sign that they were being tracked.

The door was quite secure and the coterie didn't want to draw too much attention by breaking it down. the lack of anything looking like a lock was preventing Daniel's more covert methods of entry. Michael concentrated on the lock, forcing a premonition as he did so. He saw a hand pressing the buttons so clearly that he felt like he himself was typing them. "The code is one, nine, four, three." he said. "Apparently Jeremy MacNeil was a fan of that number..."

The Basement - Vault Door
Daniel opened the door carefully and then entered first, followed by the rest.

You have seemingly discovered the head office of the none-existent firm 'Multi-Finance', judging from a logo along one wall and a desk which you are reasonably sure is simply there for show. There are a number of empty filing cabinets and a landline that has never been connected. The whole floor is a deceptive fa├žade.

They discover that the rest of the house was the same. In appearance it was an office building with living quarters above. In fact it was likely just a front so as to allow the operators of MacNeils system to come and go without arousing any suspicions. There was a kitchen are that had been used at some point indicating that mortals had been here at some point. The state of several abandoned foodstuffs in the cupboards and the fridge led them to believe that it had been many years since anyone had been here.

A spiral staircase leads downwards to an antechamber containing a single heavy door, like that leading to a safe or vault. There is a combination lock on the outside.

Daniel had been pondering the number since they first discovered it and it suddenly occurred to him that the gaps between the numbers were not equal. The gaps between every second number were slightly longer though only by a mere fraction. Deciding that this meant that it was not seven numbers but three two digit numbers and one single digit one he tried these as the combination.


The vault door then opened with a satisfying clunk.

Storytellers Note - They solved that one pretty quickly, but looking back I may have made it a bit too obvious.

Scene Forty - Below
Abandoned Fallout Shelter - Griffith Park
The view behind the door is something of an anti-climax as it is simply a long and very dark passageway, apparently tunnelled through the hillside and then reinforced to prevent collapse. It is a professional job, but not recent. Power is being provided from somewhere as lights activate as soon as you move forward.

Michael had Vin check to see if the door could be opened from this side. As soon as he confirmed that it could, Michael had him close and lock the door from this side. Just in case.

The further within you travel the more it becomes obvious that this was indeed once a fallout shelter of some description. Side entrances lead to offices, meeting rooms and other areas of no discernible purpose. One of the larger rooms has a significant number of folding chairs and tables stacked in one corner and random barrels and boxes line some of the corridors.

Vin's Shotgun - Fostech Origin 12
Vin had taken his shotgun from it's bag and had loaded one of his standard thirty round drums into it. The magazine of solid silver slugs he had, however, tucked into his belt so he had easy access to it. Hope meanwhile was clenching and unclenching her clawed hands and looking into every dark corner. Daniel had his weapons at the ready but then this was no different to normal. 

Daniel's medical training revealed that some of the stains in the side rooms were almost certainly dried blood and possibly other bodily fluids though from many years previously, perhaps indicating that not all the uses made of these areas were entirely wholesome.

A thought occurred to Daniel. The Followers of Set had obviously been drawn to this site and despite their rebranding themselves as the Ministry were still notorious corruptors of both mortal and kindred. If the coteries information was correct then the werewolves who inhabited this area were also warped and corrupt.

Black Spiral Dancers - Corrupted Caern
He began to become suspicious that it was the ground beneath the city itself that was somehow tainted and that it's corruption was invasive enough to both draw evil to it and corrupt the souls of those who lived there. If correct, it would explain a lot about the city of Los Angeles.

Eventually you reach a chamber, some thirty metres square. A heavy metal door, like an airlock is in the opposite side to you and has myriads of large dents in it's front though seems intact. In the left wall there is a large hole. Judging from the debris this was created from the opposite side and with considerable force. This passageway is pitch black and radiates a disquieting aura. 

Something about the room triggered the supernatural senses of Michael. He could see a circle containing a number of occult symbols glows faintly from floor and ceiling. He was suddenly and acutely aware that the coterie was no longer concealed. He informed 'Crow' who asked him to watch her as she walked backwards towards the entrance.

Warding Circle - Possible Blood Sorcery
As soon as she left the room she disappeared from his sight and then reappeared as she stepped forward. "Something within this room neutralises powers of concealment. Until we leave here I can offer you no protection...."

Daniel meanwhile was staring at the unnatural dark within the hole in the wall. The darkness within the tunnel made him want to vomit, despite no longer having the biological need to do so. A the same time it awakened his curiosity as if dark secrets were concealed within, that were his for the taking. It took a monumental effort to pull his gaze away. As he did so, he could see Vin trying to get his attention.

"Crow says that..." Vin was pointing at a vent in one wall. "...looks like it contains a camera. Either we're being watched from elsewhere or it's part of the original security system."

On closer inspection the airlock door has a keypad on either side with a twelve digit display above each.
"Lucky I remembered to bring this." said Daniel retrieving the notebook from his pocket and flicking to the back page. "Now we just have to decide which two of the four codes to use...

After some debate they decided to use the numbers connected with the names of the two ghouls whose deaths they had one hundred percent confirmed.

They reasoned that as they had definitely got out, their codes would be the ones most likely to work. It turned out that they were correct.

There was a hiss of air as the double doors parted very slightly. "Let's get inside quick." Instructed Michael. "I don't like the look of that new side passage and I'd like a locked door between us, and it."

"I'll stay in the approach corridor outside of the neutralising runes." offered Crow. "That way I can at least alert you if company approaches." Michael thanked her and handed her another ten thousand dollars from the envelope he'd offered her earlier. "Just in case..." he said. "...I'll think of it as an advance." she replied, then disappeared once more.

'The System'

In the centre of the room are four desks, each containing it's own pair of monitors, state of the art a decade ago, today not so much. Along the right wall is an impressive computer network. Again, state of the art a decade ago and seemingly still functional even now. Power cables enter the room via an armoured junction box in the ceiling as well as a number of phone-lines, probably spliced into a main telecommunications junction somewhere above.

'The System' - Work Station
A dozen printers have exhausted their reams of paper and the floor before them is a mess of printouts. three of the printers are still making noise as if attempting to continue their duties, the rest are silent. Only one of the central stations is active, two of the others are silent and the fourth is blackened with smoke stains, both monitors somehow burnt out long ago.

The mummified corpses of what you can only presume are the two still missing system operators are still seated at their work stations, their mental conditioning seemingly so ingrained that with no-one to tell them to stop or relieve them they worked themselves until they died of starvation or dehydration.

Daniel noticed that there was a monitor by the side of the door that was connected to the security camera observed by Crow that observed the entire of the room in front of the doors. Presumably the arcane protection was to reveal those that the traditional security camera did not.

LAPD Area Stations
One of the two corpses was seated in front of the burnt out monitors, the other by the still active ones. Noticing that Michael seemed reluctant to approach the active monitors while a corpse was seated in front of them, Vin casually picked up the dead body and tossed it into a corner

The active monitor was still streaming data from the Topanga Division, which they remembered from the police district map was district twenty-one. It was showing data recently added to that divisions databases from the San Fernando Valley area of the city's third Council District, including Woodland Hills and Canoga Park.

This at least meant that some of the system was obviously still active. The more technically astute of the coterie could also see that someone was downloading data as it was being updated. Unfortunately none present had the skills to identify who was doing it or where it was being downloaded to.

It wasn't much of a leap to theorize that fully restoring the system and giving themselves twenty four hour access to real time police records across Los Angeles was an entirely viable proposition. Though of course there were many difficulties to still overcome.

'The System' Outfeed Malfunction
The reams of paper were mainly print-outs of violent crimes committed in a variety of districts over a decade ago. Some biographical data on those potentially involved were also amongst the print-outs. 

No doubt with a mere four operators, Jeremy had sensibly prioritised monitoring the most newsworthy of criminal activities. this made sense as these would be the ones most likely to be the source of breaches of the masquerade.

On further inspection the room had basic bathroom facilities, a small kitchen area and a basic armoury containing shotguns and standard ammunition. The kind of weapons that an untrained individual could use and still have a vague chance of hitting something. Not that they'd be much use against a werewolf attack, but very little would save a mortal in that eventuality.

Vin, who had been periodically checking the exterior camera, attracted the rest of the coteries attention. "We have company!!!"

Bone Gnawer - Werewolf Tribe
Crow was talking to five rough, but capable looking individuals in practical but scruffy clothing. Daniel and Michael recognised one as the woman who was observing them outside the burning remains of NikNak Computing. Michael indicated that the rest should stay where they were and be prepared to support him should diplomacy fail.

As you emerge crow turns to address you. "I don't know what the fuck you and your competitors have stirred up but we need to get the fuck out of here and quickly. I suggest you lock this up if you want to keep it..."

Their leader confirms Crow's assessment. "Run little leeches. You are not the the greatest servants of the Wyrm present today and we have no time to explain the dangers here to the likes of you." The five individuals before you draw weapons covered in strange runes and turn to face the dark corridor as you begin to sense rather than see a disturbance from within. As they charge forward they begin to change shape and then are swallowed by the unnatural darkness. A moment later the howling begins...

"Lock it up and let's get the hell out of here..." Shouted Michael as the rest drew their weapons and followed their leader down the corridor back the way they had come...


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...


The various puzzles for which I had left clues were solved disappointingly quickly by the players, lol.

They also equipped themselves well and had acquired the services of the best of the 'guide' options I'd put their way so were about as well prepared as it was possible to be. I therefore kind of expected them to be able to get to the actual computer system for which they'd been searching without tremendous problems.

Of course, giving players something they really wanted only to snatch it away might be considered a dick-move but that isn't necessarily what I've done. They're just involved in something that I had been dropping clues about for the entire of this chronicle, clues they had been ignoring in favour of other plotlines.

This epic story should be completed next session. Unless they all die I suppose...

Acknowledgements
Portions of the materials are the copyrights and trademarks of White Wolf Entertainment AB, and are used with permission. All rights reserved. For more information please visit white-wolf.com.

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 Matt Bomer, 'Vin' is Scott Adkins, Dr Matthews is Mads Mikkelsen, Hope is Deborah Ann Woll, Mr Hertz is Charles Dance, Isaac Abrams is Gary Oldman, Heather Taylor is Liz Vicious, Reuben Hart is Ray Liotta, Andrew Francis is Ray Stephenson and Dion is Clark Gregg.

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.

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