Friday, 2 December 2022

Vampire the Masquerade - V5 - Session One - Galerie Sanguine: San Francisco

I'm currently running a Vampire the Masquerade chronicle using the 5th Edition rule-set for a small group of fellow role-players.

Our primary 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. This however will be the first one of several planned interludes which will centre on the expansion of Baron Michael Tomassio's 'Galerie Sanguine' franchise to other domains.
The now obligatory warning bit - These session write-ups will contain swearing, sexual references and other references that might offend. There are however a list of potential triggers listed before the introduction. 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.
Links to our main campaign, with a summary of each session can be found HERE.
The first session in this mini-chronicle can be found HERE.

The PC's
Thomas Caldwell, Ventrue
Francis Maranzano, Lasombra

Thomas Caldwell and Francis Maranzano

The Storyteller
As everyone else...

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. Introductory pieces that I read to the group are in Blue. 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.

Trigger Warnings for This Session: Blood (Obviously)

Storytellers Note - Our main chronicle set in L.A. has made mention of the Kuei-jin or 'Kindred of the East' which are conspicuously absent from V5 but were a major plot-point in the World of Darkness in general and San Francisco specifically. How I intend to handle these in my own chronicle will be explained in a note after this session write-up should you be interested. If the previous paragraph means nothing to you then just forget I said anything and enjoy it as is...

This particular gathering of the kindred of San Francisco is to be held at the The Transamerica Pyramid building in the financial district. This building is considered Elysium and is Prince Winders preferred location for more formal gatherings.

San Francisco at Night - View Across the Bay

Newcomers to the city will be expected to introduce themselves, state their lineage and endure the gaze of the harpies and wannabe harpies who dole out status with one hand and rip it away with the other.

Miriam Caravaggio - Toreador
Sheriff of San Francisco
Without the immediate threat of violence that such an attack would trigger in an Anarch domain, social standing and one-upmanship dictates the field of battle. Though few would dare to besmirch the Prince in such a manner, you are sure to be considered fair game.

You have been informed by Miriam Caravaggio, Sheriff of San Francisco, that you will be required to present yourself to the buildings security who will direct you to where you need to be. You have each received an invitation by letter, in a plain but expensive envelope. As expected in an era where the Second Inquisition is an ever present threat, the language is without even the vaguest reference to kindred terminology.

Miriam has somewhat patronisingly reminded you that no disciplines are to be used within Elysium and that the area is neutral ground. Feeding is also forbidden within the building and for at least one mile surrounding it.

Scene Four - Preparations
"Should we bring a gift?" mused Thomas.

Francis didn't think that was a good idea. "We've no idea what the Prince likes, or what the harpies are saying is 'in' this week, so the chances of us guessing right aren't good. The chances of it somehow biting us in the arse are pretty high though..."

"So what do you suggest?" replied Thomas.

Francis had obviously thought about this. Thomas was an expert manipulator, but tended to overthink things. Francis, on the other hand, was pragmatic in the extreme, but liked simple effective solutions. In his opinion, the more complicated the plan, the more that could go wrong. 

"We ingratiate ourselves first, then you can move onto the 'smooching'."

Michael Tomassio - Toreador
Anarch Baron, Los Angeles
Their sponsor, Michael Tomassio, had provided Thomas with a painting for just such an occasion but had left the decision about what to do with it in his hands. Ever the diplomat, Thomas came up with a compromise.

"We'll take the painting as an example of the the kind of work we'll be exhibiting. If it's well received, then we'll call it a gift. If not then we can take it back with us, with no harm done."

The painting itself was a masterpiece. It showed a scene across the bay, the sunset was golden and the red within was made up of tiny rose petals. Even Thomas, who only really appreciated art based on how much he could sell it for, had to admit that it was an excellent piece of work.

With that decided, Thomas set about the important task of selecting just the right suit for the occasion. He went with something contemporary in material, but traditional in style as in his opinion this had the best chance of fitting into whatever the current trend was. Some things never went out of style.

Francis, on the other hand, only owned two suits, making the decision much simpler as both were identical. He did however inform his two ghouls that one would be driving and that the other would be there "Just in case he needed anything..." Utilising technology was an issue for those of Clan Lasombra and so Francis found it necessary to delegate such tasks.

Scene Five - Ups and Downs
The Transamerica Pyramid
The Transamerica building is either an innovative futuristic architectural marvel or a fucking eyesore, depending on your point of view. Though it is considered an office building and therefore not open to the public, Baron Tomassio's mob accountant Mr Hertz has made you are aware that as of it's recent purchase by a shell corporation, the building is effectively owned by Prince Winder.

Though, on paper at least, the top floors are still office space, you are reasonably sure that they are now exclusively the domain of San Francisco's Prince.

The security guard in the front lobby is undoubtedly a ghoul or at the very least a blood-bound thrall and directed them to an elevator, before informing them that the 'party' was on the 48th floor.

Francis's ghouls were informed that the invites didn't apply to them and that they'd have to stay in the 'waiting area'.

A surly looking individual with a similar invitation to theirs arrived at the same time, so it looked like they would be sharing the trip with them.

Your fellow passenger is wearing a well tailored, if not particularly expensive, suit and is clenching and unclenching his left hand, seemingly unconsciously.

Barry McGowen - Brujah
'Out of Favour' Kindred
Thomas introduced himself and Francis, being reasonably sure that his fellow Anarch wouldn't bother to do so. Their fellow passenger reciprocated.

"I'm Barry McGowen, Clan Brujah, childe of Arthur Clements, though I guess that name means nothing to you. I see you two got tradesman entrance invitations too? Which makes you either from Chinatown, which seems unlikely, someone whose out of favour, or you're the Anarchs?"

Thomas offered Barry his hand before replying. "We're the Anarchs. Which, I guess, explains the invites. If you don't mind me asking, what caused your own fall from favour?"

The Brujah smiled grimly before replying "I fed on a pretty young thing in a bar who turned out to be Anya's favourite pet, well for this week at least, so now I'm on the shit-list. It was only a taste, but here we fucking are..."

"Anya has that much clout?" queried Francis. The Brujah merely nodded in reply. It was clear that he had shared all that he intended to.

The elevator doors parted and revealed an open plan room, with a raised area at one end containing six chairs, one of which was considerably more ornate than the others. Approximately thirty kindred were already there and they got the distinct impression that the time stated upon their invite was designed to ensure that they and Mr McGowen arrived last.

Blood Fountain - Elysium
A fountain in one corner was quite obviously filled with blood. The flow apparently keeping the fluid from coagulating. A dozen glasses were on a table nearby but only one or two showed signs of having being used.

The Prince was chatting with two of the Primogen, Luna and Vera, while her Sheriff hovered nearby. 

The unmistakeable figure of Mirko Mirkonnen was chatting with another kindred who they could only presume was the cities Scourge, Gustavo. Listening but not involving herself in the conversation was an attractive, dark-haired woman in a low cut, but stylish black dress. All three had the look of casual predators and were presumably all of Clan Gangrel.

In one corner, a group of men and women with oriental features were talking amongst themselves. Their leader seemed to be a thin waif-like girl, barely out of her teens.

Jiejie Li - 'Eastern Kindred'
Chinatown, San Francisco
Though too far away to distinguish actual words, her soft voice carried the power of authority and they weren't subsequently surprised to learn that there were centuries of experience behind it, her eyes in contrast to her physical form were as hard and cold as metal. At her shoulder was a gentlemen wearing worn jeans and a t-shirt, though he had a suit jacket over the top in a token effort to show respect for the occasion. It was difficult to ascertain if he was an advisor or a bodyguard. The rest of this group were well dressed but none stood out particularly.

The current centre of attention was a woman dressed in a pink suit, with flowers subtly incorporated into the design. The suit matched the rooms décor, which you can only assume was the intention. It wasn't much of a stretch to surmise that this was Anya Bloom, Keeper of Elysium.

Thomas reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved a spare tie that more closely matched the décor and put this one on instead. If Anya thought she was the only one capable of coordinating to the occasion then she was going to be disappointed.

A gaunt gentlemen who smelt of decay and cheap deodorant made a bee-line for them. Maximus, a 'Red' Nosferatu, as the Camarilla called Anarch's from that clan, offered them his hand.

"Welcome to the shark tank..." he said.

Scene Six - Maximus
Anya Bloom - Toreador
Keeper of Elysium and Harpy
Francis scanned the room looking for whichever of those gathered passed for 'the muscle'. Though social warfare was apparently the norm here, even these toadying sycophants would need someone to back up their bullshit once outside the safety-net of Elysium. Only the small group of Gangrel had an obviously predatory look, though a group with oriental features contained a few individuals who gave off a similar vibe. The cities 'Sheriff' moved like a dancer, not a warrior, but if what he had heard was true then this was a deceptive façade.

Both he and Thomas could see that they were getting a few appraising looks from some of the crowd. They also noticed that their fellow elevator passenger Barry was being conspicuously ignored by everyone. Apparently they were afraid that his outcast status was somehow contagious.

Maximus later revealed to them that many believed that Barry had been set-up, though what Anya had against him to warrant such treatment was a mystery. If the rumour was even true that is.

"Interesting choice of décor..." commented Thomas. Maximus looked around, as if noticing it for the first time, before replying.

"Only the Prince gets advance notice of the decorations and she doesn't seem to really care. Anya is always coordinated of course. The other three bitches hanging on Anya's every word are Sarina Harrington, Louise Benton and Leila Rowley. I suppose you'd call them harpies too but they've got nothing on that bitch."

Kristi Pittman, Social Media Influencer - Sarina Harrington, Harpy and Artist

"She plays them off against each other so they spend more time fighting each other than aiming for the top spot...the larger girl at the back is Kristi. She's not pretty or stylish enough in Anya's eyes to climb into the inner circle but she's somewhat of a social media influencer and so is tolerated for her contacts. Sarina fancies herself as something of an artist..."

Mirko Mirkonen - Gangrel Elder
Gangrel Primogen of San Francisco
"What about the Gangrel?" queried Francis. "They're the only ones who look vaguely dangerous..."

Maximus had his own opinions on that assessment.

"Mirko is a mentor of sorts to Gustavo and they seem to be on good terms. The female one is the representative of the Oratory. The Oratory are new players in the grand scheme of things but they have power, influence and are accumulating boons at a significant rate. Her aside, the position of Gangrel Primogen is a bit precarious as they're no longer one of the clans of the Camarilla, so Mirko takes any support he can get, hers included. Besides which, the Prince isn't going to risk losing her most capable general if she can help it, so as long as he has her continued support the position is bulletproof."

"You're correct though. From a purely physical point of view he's the most dangerous kindred in San Francisco but politically he's far less of a threat. Though saying that he is the only kindred from San Francisco that's permitted by Marius to travel through the San Gabriel Mountains so that's possibly something that he can use as a bargaining chip...not that bargaining is really his thing..."

"And the Asian contingent?" continued Francis.

Thomas noted that Maximus tensed slightly before replying, There was obviously history between them and him.

Chinatown, San Francisco
"They're what's left of the Eastern kindred who made a play for San Francisco and Los Angeles, before something or someone encouraged them to leave. They control Chinatown and have pledged their loyalty to the Prince in return for their feeding grounds being uncontested. No-one really trusts them given their previous associations, time will tell I guess?"

The Anarch's noticed a kindred near to the blood fountain who seemed to be weighing up the social consequences of partaking when compared with the benefits of a free meal.

As he was contemplating this choice, the woman they saw with Mirko and Gustavo separated herself from the group and walked over to the fountain and filled a glass with blood, dipped a finger in and licked it clean. She then pulled a hip flask from somewhere, added a little to the blood, stirred it with the same finger and handed it to the lurking neonate.

Lilianna Swann - Gangrel
'The Oratory', San Francisco
She then poured herself another glass, added a shot to this also and emptied it in one gulp. The neonate seemed slightly stunned by the act but nonetheless finished their glass also. The woman lent in and whispered something to them, before returning to her original group.

As she returned to her original place she noticed Anya watching and flashed her an obviously fake smile.

"That..." explained Maximus. "...was Lilianna Swann. She occasionally likes to show everyone that she doesn't give a fuck about the social niceties. Though I think that lost looking soul she offered a drink to is also Gangrel so maybe she's recruiting. You can never tell with Lilianna..."

If indeed she was recruiting, it seemed to have worked as the neonate slowly made his way over to those gathered around Mirko.

"I suppose been given the meal makes it more socially acceptable than just taking it himself?" theorized Thomas.

"Possibly..." replied Maximus. "...but I doubt Anya and her pets consider one lowly Gangrel worthy of their attention. There's exactly four members of Clan Gangrel in San Francisco making their political power extremely limited. Especially considering how few of them remained with the Camarilla after Xaviar staged his walkout. Of course most Gangrel are Anarch or Autarkis currently so that makes them even less important...well, in the eyes of someone like Anya, at least..."

Zakaria Tate - Gangrel Neonate
Francis watched the neonate Gangrel closely. He'd seen that look before. The need to be part of something drew many to criminal organisations, though Francis considered this situation in a different light. In his opinion it was more like the need for a new prison inmate to join a gang as quickly as possible. The more he considered the analogy, the more appropriate it felt.

As Prince Winder moved to the platform and took her seat, the rest of the Primogen followed suit. The only exception was Mirko who leaned on the back of his seat rather than sitting down. The Sheriff stood slightly behind her Prince and her Scourge moved to the rear of the hall.

As the Prince and Primogen began to talk amongst themselves, the Anarchs presumed that it wasn't yet time to introduce themselves so continued to observe the gathered kindred.

Francis noticed that one of the group of Eastern kindred seemed to be flitting between them and Luna, the Tremere Primogen. He decided to ask what Maximus knew of her.

"Wan Zhu? She's Tremere. Her sire, or so it's rumoured, was outside of The Pyramid, which would have made her position a bit precarious before they split into their current houses. With the three main houses, and the Anarch one, all scratching around for an edge over their rivals she's in a fairly unique position of being able to stay neutral.

Wan Zhu - Autarkis Tremere
Chinatown, San Francisco
"Now she acts as a sort of liaison between the Chinatown lot and the Primogen Luna. Not sure what's in it for either of them but they're both bound to have some personal agenda. No idea what it might be though..."

Maximus was Nosferatu, and along with the Gangrel and the Tzimisce, they had been the main victims of early Tremere experimentation and some of the older members of those Clans still held a grudge. From his tone Francis presumed that Maximus wasn't much of a Tremere fan, regardless of what House they might now attach themselves to.

On a whim, Francis moved towards the blood fountain, but made no move to take a drink, rather he intended to observe the actions of the other kindred.

He noticed that one of the harpies, who he vagally remembered Maximus refer to as Leila, point out his movements to Anya. Judging from withering look she then received from Anya, the Keeper of Elysium had already noticed.

Four of the glasses placed near the blood fountain had traces of blood upon them. Two he knew had been used by Lilianna and the Gangrel neonate whose name he hadn't yet learned, which left two that had been used sometime before they arrived. 

Glass of Blood - Elysium
Or had they? Francis had his suspicions about those glasses and returned to Thomas to discuss his theory.

"I think those apparently used glasses were left to make it look like it's socially acceptable to take a drink..." theorized Francis "... so Anya and her bitches could see who was low status enough to accept a free meal. I'm guessing the target for that little ploy was us."

Storytellers Note - He was right about that. Obviously I'd have to be more inventive next time...

Thomas agreed that it was a possibility. He'd also made some observations of his own. "I was expecting more open hostility than we've been getting." observed the Ventrue "Other than them getting a bit quieter when we draw near, they've been remarkably civil."

His Lasombra ally wasn't convinced and said so. "They're all probably just waiting for a chance to stab us in the back, rather than the front. Either way we'll need to network a bit after the introductions...and by we, I of course mean you..."

Their musings were interrupted as the Prince began to speak.

Scene Seven - The Fifth Tradition
Sara Anne Winder - Ventrue
Prince of San Francisco
"Welcome, kindred of San Francisco..." began Prince Sara-Anne Winder. "...we are gathered to allow three newcomers to our city to introduce themselves."

She gestured towards the Gangrel they had noted earlier by the blood fountain.

He hesitated a little before speaking "Zakaria Tate, childe of Larry 'Lobo' Vasquez..." there was a pause as if more was coming, but that was apparently the limit of the knowledge he had of his bloodline.

Anya's entourage started to giggle at some quip made by the Keeper of Elysium. Ever the diplomat, The Seneschal, Suzanne Rochelle interrupted. "A noble lineage I'm sure...

Mirko then interjected. "I have arranged for Zakaria to have access to a small feeding ground within one of my own. Gustavo has vouched for him which is good enough for me..."

Thomas and Francis exchanged a look. Gangrel weren't exactly known for their generosity, so this decision was likely to be pragmatic in nature. What this newcomer had to offer Mirko, might be worth looking into.

With this matter of feeding grounds apparently closed, the Prince's attention turned to them both.

Lodin - Ventrue
Former Prince of Chicago
"Who would like to go next?"

It was Thomas who stepped forward first.

"I am Thomas Caldwell, of Clan Ventrue. Childe of David Geduld, Childe of Lawrence Ballard, Childe of Horatio Ballard, Childe of Lodin."

In his opinion there was no need to go further back than that. Lodin was the name they'd remember and it was a worthy enough bloodline to make the more snobbish of the Camarilla kindred pay attention.

He then continued "If it isn't too much of an imposition, I've bought a sample of our patrons work for your perusal." Thomas retrieved the painting, though left it covered, and placed it near the raised dais on which the Prince and Primogen sat. "Please accept it with my compliments to do with as you please."

Prince Winder nodded her acceptance of his introduction and the painting, then beckoned Francis forward. Francis decided to ignore some of the usual etiquette. Not enough to cause offence, but enough to make it obvious that that he didn't always play by the rules.

Montana - Lasombra Antitribu
Eldest childe of 
"I could recite my lineage to you all, but only one name would likely mean anything to you. I am descended from Montano, a Lasombra Antitribu long before others of my Clan began to return to the Camarilla..."

Prince Winder interjected.

"This raises a point of order. Each Camarilla Prince has been permitted to dictate their own terms for allowing those of Clan Lasombra to join the Camarilla. Though in this case it is merely permission to reside within my domain, the terms are still mine to decide..." The Prince inserted what might be described as 'a dramatic pause' before continuing. "...but given the loyalty that your ancestor showed the Camarilla, I ask only that you pledge your loyalty to me, and in return you are welcome to reside within my long as you abide by the same traditions that the rest of my subjects do, of course."

Francis thanked the Prince for her generosity. He was waiting for the catch. He didn't have to wait long as Prince Winder addressed both him and Thomas.

"I am willing to expand your current feeding ground to encompass several additional blocks surrounding your return for a small service..."

Malaki - Artist and Cult Leader
"An artist from Los Angeles, known as Malaki has made a name for himself creating works of art utilising bodily fluids from both himself and those of whom he paints, specifically blood, is now plying his trade in San Francisco."

"He, like many minor celebrities has somewhat of a following which is normally something we wouldn't concern ourselves with.

"Unfortunately some of the baser media outlets are throwing around terms like 'blood cult' and 'vampire' and it's terms such as these which draw the attention of the Second Inquisition."

"As he was once a native of the Anarch domain of Los Angeles, and as luck would have it, resides within the very district which you would like to call home, we would consider it an act of good faith if you were to investigate this situation and bring it to a satisfactory resolution."

"Of course if this requires a level of subtlety that an Anarch doesn't possess then I'm sure you can manage with the single block in which you currently reside?"

As Thomas looked over at Francis, the Lasombra raised an eyebrow. It was clear to both that refusal wasn't really an option.

"We'd be honoured to take on the task." stated Thomas.

To be Continued in 'Galerie Sanguine: San Francisco (Part Two)'


Storytellers Conclusions
I sometimes 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....

Malaki is a call back to a very early session in our main chronicle set in Los Angeles. I used a plot involving him to introduce the players to several of the factions that I hoped would play a major part in the rest of the chronicle. Then promptly forgot all about him.

As the players previous characters are based in an Anarch held city, they've never had to deal with the social warfare aspects that are far more common in a Camarilla domain. They handled it quite well and managed to get through the whole event without making any enemies, that they were aware of at least.

Now they have been given a small task to perform. I'm sure it will be simple and in no way become dangerous and complicated...

A note about the Kuei-jin or Kindred of the East
In pre-V5 canon, the Kuei-jin were the vampires of East and Southeast Asia, the karmically cursed outcasts dwelling on the Middle Kingdom's fringes and were very different from the kindred of Vampire the Masquerade.

Unfortunately they were also a hotchpotch of many different, and in many cases incompatible, eastern cultures with some stereotypes which were, in retrospect (and I'm sure unintentionally), fairly insensitively handled. 

As I've made many references to them in my main chronicle, I can't just ignore them so this is what I've decided to do...

I'm going to treat them as being misunderstood by Western kindred, but basically the same as other vampires. In the same way that The Ashirra (from ashira, Arabic for "clan") is the sect under which Islamic vampires declare their faith in Allah, and which rules over Arabia and North Africa, I've decided that the 'Kindred of the East' or an equivalent with their own set of values and rules, but that encompasses many of the cultures that were squished together randomly in the Kindred of the East sourcebooks.

The downside to this is that I now have to convert every Kuei-jin I wish to use, into an equivalent kindred clan. So there you go...

Song Lyrics
Also, The quote in the header is from the following song on the off-chance any-one is interested.


Further Acknowledgements
Portions of the materials are the copyrights and trademarks of White Wolf Entertainment AB, and are used with permission. All rights reserved.

I've used pictures of real people to represent some of the characters and art for others so in no particular order Thomas Caldwell is Oscar Isaac, Francis Maranzano is a young Al Pacino, Miriam Caravaggio is Sasha Luss, Michael Tomassio is Matt Bomer, Barry McGowen is Sean Kanan, JieJie Li is Zhou Dongyu, Anya Bloom is Zendaya, Kristi Pittman is Thora Birch, Sarina Harrington is Joan Smalls, Mirko Mirkonen is Nathan Jones, Lilliana Swann is Liv Tyler, Zakaria Tate is Noah Centineo, Wan Zhu is Lee Ji Eun, Sara Anne Winder is Saoirse Ronan and Malaki is Adam Driver.

Lodin and Montano are images from the Vampire the Eternal Struggle collectable card game.

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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