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Author Topic: Interest Check: Constantinople by Night (OWOD vampire campaign pitch)  (Read 1972 times)

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Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

So, slightly born out of recent exalted stuff not going anywhere I was interested in, having one of my "I'm really only going to see the sort of things that interest me if I run them" mood then realizing that doesn't compensate for wanting to actually play in stuff involving things that interest me for a change (I'm both online and with my tabletop group pretty much always, always the gm).. had me sit down again and ponder what I actually would like to run. So, as perhaps driven by way to many Byzantium runs in Crusader Kings II, my fondness for that whole era, and my love of OWOD Vampire, a vampires in Constantinople thing.

So, yes, there was a full out supplement for Vampire called such, and while I think my absolute favourite of the entire line as far as theme and setting richness, npcs, the like, owning it is not necessary (though if you do, thumbs up). I'll write a more involved précis if this goes anywhere.

The central notion is this. The year is 1198, and the Eastern Roman Empire's state is more precarious than it has been in over a century, the venal dynasty of the Angeloi undoing much of the strength returned to the land by the Komnenian restoration. Seljuk, Arab, Bulgar and Latin circle around it as ever more ravenous threats. Yet for all that, Constantinople herself remains the Queen of Cities, the golden city, the greatest of Medieval Christendom, populated on a scale mind bogglingly impossible to the Western barbarians who may as well be still scrabbling in dirt and filth by comparison. It is yet almost a touch of heaven on earth, a small piece of eternity made manifest.

Which is as it should be, when the guiding will behind it is itself eternal. And undead. And so the fearful, half maddened whispers go, divine.

Empire and city both are the child of Michael the Patriarch, a vampire several millennia old with a dream so powerful it has imprinted itself on the very least of the unliving in Byzantine shadows. That it has become a Dream, and almost a religion. That vampires could use their eternity to build something at last eternal, something greater than themselves, beyond themselves, something to not simply endure through history, but to define it. Some say that for damned, blood drinking things to have such ambitions is a blasphemy against their nature and God Himself, and Michael himself has been punished for it with a growing madness. That as his empire decays, so too does his mind and spirit, that his fall, will accelerate its fall. Yet within the city itself, in his increasingly rare, overwhelming presence, he is a god, an archangel, his Dream made manifest in himself. And it is easier to be overwhelmed perhaps, than to think about the storm of plots that swirl around him, for and against the Dream, for and against the empire. Of smaller, pettier, personal feuds and schemes born of the grudges that lives carried into centuries can make fester and roil, such that their expressions are conflagrations as destructive as any crash of grand gambits.

The center of wealth, of religion, of art, of culture, and power, the vamipres of Constantinople contest over everything from lives to souls to a golden throne, enrapt from an almost obsessively mystical culture, drunk on decadence and glory, however fading, as much as the readily available blood of its people.

So, the campaign! It's 1198, the Fourth Crusade, if it happens, is still just some distant nightmare beyond conceptualizing, but the empire is certainly not on solid ground, both openly and in the shadows. The prospective players are amongst the lords of the night that in some cases perhaps helped build this whole empire up in the first place, yet may find themselves powerless in the end to arrest its fall.

Which is to say, I'd like to run an elder vampire game. I haven't fully settled on character creation yet, but players would be vampires of the 6th generation, no older than, let's say, the 6th century CE (and no younger than, let's say, the early 10th century), and unless you have just a truly awesome idea for "recently arrived elder" (not impossible, I suppose), with centuries behind them thereby to establish a place of power and influence in the empire as a whole. Not a first come first served thing.

I'd want it to be somewhat sandboxy, with characters having agendas they might want to initiate or pursue even as plot otherwise happens to interact with or not, and in my experience, that is somewhat easier to happen when characters are actually powerful enough to be able to have and act on agendas of their own.

It would be a system game, as frankly I just prefer those, though generally that's for resolving things outside of the bounds of social interaction. The system will mostly be the Dark Ages: Vampire one, might house rule some things, but otherwise, anything from it, from the various books connected to it, feel free to run by me. Haven't decided on a rating, that will likely come out of overall player preference. Character wise, because the setting is both historically and fictionally a rich one, I don't really need more from you guys than a backstory, though I would like some detail there on what you got up to over the centuries and your particular inclinations now. Happy to help with noting who potential rivals, friends and enemies might be, though as old as fuck immortal nightwalkers, if you want to come up with some of your own, that is also cool.

Having been embraced outside the empire but eventually having come to and established yourself within it, also entirely fine.

Basically, the empire is decaying, do you want to do anything about that? The enmity with the Catholic Church/Venice/various Latin (Western) Kingdoms is getting worse. Do you want to do anything about that? The Seljuks and others are encroaching, how about that? Do you want to simply immerse and lose yourself in the culture? In the ever spawning religious debates and heresies? Pursue feuds and alliances with your fellow immortals? Look into this whole "Michael is insane" thing (though many in the city don't even conceptualize that as possible)? Embrace wholeheartedly the Patriarch's angelic imagery instead and find a place for yourself at the right hand of Heaven (which, many do)? Bolster the Dream? Weaken it? Destroy it? Expand your own power and influence to ever wider scales? Explore esoteric magics, mysticsm or philosophy?

Any clan that is not the Baali or infernal vampires are fine, though with the age range for starting embrace, Tremere don't really work. Otherwise, even the Assamites occasionally looked at the Byzantines as a potential hedge against the Western kingdoms, or even the Turks, who not all of the clan were great big fans of (the medieval assamites were a lot less monolithic, to put it one way).

It is worth noting that the Tzimisce of the Byzantine empire are very different than the main branch of the clan, and much more philosophers, mystics and monks than the gore soaked freakish warlords the rest of the clan cleaves to being (and there's some rivalry and hate as a result).

Anything else I will mention as we go and as questions come up, just wanting to see if there's actual interest before doing that much more typing.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2014, 08:07:57 PM by Kolbrandr »

Offline Orange Marmalade

Tentatively interested! I love me some Dark Ages. No idea what I'd play.

Based on this timing I'd assume the Salubri are probably out, or at best in hiding? (Since the Tremere propaganda work is in full effect and Saulot was diablerized a while back.)

I honestly have no idea what I'd play. Lasombra? Kiasyd with a huge thirst for knowledge? Gangrel? Tzimisce?

I'll do some thinking and see what others pipe up with :)

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

Salubri are actually possible as some certainly did try to take refuge in the city, or hope to be able to. Whether doing so would in fact succeed would be a campaign thing. The Tremere propaganda has mostly taken full hold in the West, and probably one more thing that gets levied against Byzantium and its vampires as this strange middle weirdo place. The city is if nothing else a gateway to the East and the Levant, where the Salubri are still relatively okay in the 12th century.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2014, 03:44:36 AM by Kolbrandr »

Offline Orange Marmalade

Oh right! At this point and time Tremere are still looked as the Usurpers, everyone still remembers the Salubri, even with all the demon talk. Forgot about that :)

This is definitely an interesting time to play, such massive changes going through their society... totally torn about what I'd play! Hopefully we get some more interest.

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

Like I say, totally happy to answer questions on that kind of stuff.

We'll see how it goes I guess as far as interest and what have you.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

I'll have to take a look and do some research but this seems awesome.

Offline AndyZ

I'll keep an eye on this.  Dark Ages Vampire rules?

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

DA:V rules, yeah.

Offline RubySlippers

Interested. If you have Ashen Cults it might be fun to have a cult not a big one more elegant around my character. I have some other ideas.

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

I do have Ashen Cults, and your character can potentially start with a blood cult devoted to them, sure.

Offline Elven Sex Goddess

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I am definitely interested.   Going to have to dig out the Constantinople books.     I'll just go ahead with making a Toreador.    Who once joined Nero's revelry and Caligula's perversions.       Now with the collapse of the western part of the empire some six centuries ago.   Is now a nun within the Eastern orthodox church.   Her agenda is working to preserver the culture of the past and of Constantinople itself.    While working subversively to thwart the growing influences of the Lasombra into the church.     Anyways that is the gist if allowed  of what I came up with for the game if it works for you. 



Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

Hum. Nero and Caligula were honestly a few centuries older than I was looking to go for characters. Basically I'd rather no one drastically predate the Eastern Empire becoming its own deal, as it were, hence going with no embraces especially older than 500 CE.

It's not as though the Byzantines lacked for available debaucheries to have been mired in for a while. Or even Sassanid Persia if you want to have started out there, relocated, and ended up with the religious shift your character did. Or even the last days of the West if you want to stretch things just a bit to dip into the mid-late 5th century.

Every other part of that sounded just fine really.

Offline Elven Sex Goddess

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I can work within those parameters set.    It was a general outline and not hard set for concept.   Anyways in a rush to get out the door and off to work.  I working a late swing and then a early shift.  So will do sheet tomorrow night to submit to you.   

I like the suggestion of  Sassanid Persia.   Especially that is along the lines that Persia it was around 633 that the Muslim influence first attack the Persia empire.   That would ultimately be brutal in taking over the old empire.   

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

Okay, as there seems to be at least some measure of interest, I'll start going into a bit more detail, offer a general setting summary, so forth.


First up, character creation.

Before you start throwing dots at a sheet, what I want from you first is your backstory. You've lived for roughly 3-7 centuries or so, depending on your time of embrace, I'd like at least some sense of what you did over the centuries, though you don't have to give me some exacting decade by decade detail or anything so horrifying. But I should get an overall sense of how your span of time was spent, its impact on you, and you on it. Hit the high notes.

Things to consider:

Who were you as a mortal? Does it matter to you anymore? Still influence you in any way? Something you have moved far beyond or tried to? Were you of little note or any remarkable detail?

The embrace. What was the why of that? Do you know? Is all you have its circumstances?

Your sire. Who are they? Or, if they're dead, were they? Are they still any sort of part of your unlife, for good or ill? A distant presence instead? Are they anywhere in the empire? In Constantinople itself? (if you want them to be in the city and not an established npc, we will need to do some talking about that to sort them out). Are they otherwise somewhere far away? If you want to be the child of an established setting npc (and Constantinople has a few 5th gen vampires kicking around it, certainly of the Ventrue, Toreador, Cappadocians and Tzimisce), that's potentially fine, I'll be doing a summary list of various of them for one thing.

Have you sired any childer (you don't have to have, it's just something to consider)? If you have, and they're not scattered to the four winds, or dead, what kind of relationship do you have with them? (a really good one is going to need some ally dots)

Do you follow humanity still as far as your morals and ethos, however degraded or lofty they might be? Do you walk a path/road instead?

Just to say, I'm going to be pretty generous as far as dots to throw at your sheet, because pretty much all official elder creation systems are straight up terrible. You will not need to take the age or generation backgrounds, and everyone will be getting the same overall whack of points to spend.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2014, 12:37:08 PM by Kolbrandr »

Offline AndyZ

I'm not really that knowledgeable about history, so I should probably step aside so I don't bring everything down.  Hope this goes well for folks, though.

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

I wouldn't say that you need some exacting knowledge of history beyond what a brief skim of Wikipedia could give you on whatever time period you want to tie your character to. I'm not expecting history major worthy specifics, but that's fair enough.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2014, 11:50:58 AM by Kolbrandr »

Offline RubySlippers

Question if I run a Ventrue, can I take the Clan Merits most are not in the Dark Ages books but should apply easily enough to Dark Ages Kindred.

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

As long as they exist in a thing from white wolf, I'm willing to at least entertain them being proposed. With that said, DA:V had a metric ton of books, chances are if you're pondering a particular merit, I can probably find the equivalent for you anyway.

Which one are you thinking of?

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

Aaanywho, Constantinople:

So the thing to note especially about how the city is run on the vampire side of things, is that it is somewhat off standard from much of the cainite (era term for vampire) world, particularly the west, reinforcing that sort of otherness of the society.

Most notably, Michael as the sole dominant figure in the style of a Prince of the city is not how Constantinople or the organization of vampires in the empire worked for much of its existence. He was (and in some ways still is, his force of personality just dominates it these days) part of a trinity of rulers. Called in fact, that, the Trinity. Michael loves him some Christianity parallels.

Originally Michael's Dream was bolstered by his partners/lovers that he came to Constantinople with him back when Constantine was making it his capital, the Tzimisce called the Dracon, and Antonius the Ventrue, both methuselah (several millennia old vampires, they are to elders what elders are to everyone else) and in a practically unique power sharing relationship with him. Michael served as the inspiration and overall guide for the Dream expressed in control of culture and the church both, the Dracon kept it living and dynamic philosophically as far as control over the more mystical side of the city, the monastic orders, and academia, while Antonius worked to ensure it as a day to day reality in the world as far as influence and temporal power in the political and military sphere. The Dracon and Antonius would ultimately fall into a feud that would end with Antonius killed and the Dracon self exiled from guilt and shame, but the society they built to govern the vampires of the Eastern Empire, along with their positions, would remain.

In theory thereby, Constantinople is governed still by the Trinity, with two of the childer of Antonius and the Dracon filling their places and maintaining their overall responsibilities. Overall governance for the city comes out of accord between them when needed, with each family having a judge/proxy called a Quaesitor to otherwise rule on squabbles or concerns for smaller issues. In practice things are more fractious and fluid, with boundaries of influence, duty and control not always respected. Beyond that, the rare times where Michael appears to proclaim anything directly as opposed to being represented by a proxy, it may as well be law. 

Of more particular note is the family system that was designed to express the original intent. Clan in Constantinople is defined by the great figure that established the presence of that clan. So the Toreador are the Michaelite Toreador, the Ventrue are the Antonian Ventrue, and the Tzimisce, because the Dracon was something of a contrarian, are the Obertus Tzimisce. Members of the clan can usually be traced to that defining figure, ultimately, even across the empire, and those that can't get functionally adopted into it as needs be. This in part reinforces the idea that all members of the clan must share in the duties and legacy of their family, and also thereby hold some of their authority as a trade off.

Below the three Trinity families are the Scion families. Essentially each Trinity family sponsors various Scion families to aid them in their overall sphere of responsibilities, generally the result of some brood or another from some clan managing to establish themselves in the city with the patronage of the Trinity. It's a somewhat lesser social position, though still one of strong note, but in theory it makes for being able to call on the protection, resources and support of one's sponsor family. It also means they have better odds of getting permission to embrace more childer than vampires outside of a family. It also carries with it what authority comes from having some function of the city/empire delegated down to them. The family is again usually named for the prominent member (who may not be alive anymore), but sometimes for something else that still is otherwise some oblique reference to being a group/its purpose.

The current scion families of note are, starting with those that belong to the Toreador, the Magnus Lasombra, who depending on your perspective manage the Orthodox Church for the Toreador and/or gulled them into giving them control of it, and/or are totally screwing that up. The Malachite Nosferatu, who exist out of one of Michael's genuinely beneficent and even regal acts of repurposing Nosferatu embraces intended as a mockery and punishment, and making them into the source of a strong and proud scion family. The Malachite family are basically something of all purpose agents for Michael himself, at least, again, in the ideal, and regard themselves otherwise as guardians of the Dream, however needed. Finally there are the Setite Children of Judas (their head, not named Judas, it's a half Michael picked name), who look to have no official duty at all, and generally try to constantly corrupt and challenge everyone, but possibly they are held as the test of the strength of the Dream, and that is why they are allowed to remain in the city, and protected for what they do, to an extent (it largely taking the form of trying to make the city's vampires and their mortal charges corrupted and vice ridden, failing from loftier goals). If Michael lets them stay in the city for that reason, it is perhaps a demonstration of his vainglorious, half mad religiosity to want and need such acts. They're otherwise quite hated.

The Antonian Ventrue are less prolific in Scion families, and part of that is simply because it's not as though the Ventrue have it in their nature to enjoy not holding onto all the influence they have directly. Still, of note are the Lexor Brujah, who are tasked with handling the bureaucracy and law of city and empire, and Lady Alexa Theusa, a 5th generation Cappadocian who serves, somewhat, as a quasi mystical councillor to the family, but while she has a family charter and could thereby create her own, she has in the main not done so (unless someone wants to be her childe or something).

The Obertus Tzimisce have the one family, the Baron's Gangrel, who are basically their protectors and enforcers (and are something of the city's muscle and peacekeepers overall), and like the nosferatu, see themselves as guardians.

These are not, it should be said, the only vampires in the city, Constantinople is huge after all, and can support a large vampiric population. These are however the big power blocs with the lion's share of status and power. There are vampires outside of them ranging from everything from a Ravnos artificer to the representatives of Genoa and Venice's vampire courts, to an official representative from the Assamites to the court of the city to all sorts of various and sundry, even the occasional occulted salubri, even clan vampires of the above clans that simply exist outside their scion families.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2014, 09:45:42 PM by Kolbrandr »

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

How is this particularly relevant to you, the player? Basically the canonical 5th generation vampires are in the Ventrue, Tzimisce, Toreador, and Lady Alexa of the Cappadocians. If you want an existing 5th gen sire (to be detailed in a bit), you'd be from one of their families and connected to them thereby. You could always instead be a member of those first three clans adopted into the family, etc. (But if you are making, for instance, a Toreador, there's a certain cachet and resonance in being one of Michael's grandchilder, I would say. As a millennia old 4th generation vampire, not like other of his kids might not be floating about in other parts of the world. *end editorializing*)

If you want to be of a different clan, and particularly of one not noted amongst the scion families, consider that maybe you are the head of your own scion family, as defined by you. I'm entirely amenable to the idea (in which case though, be prepared to spend a bunch of points on status). Ponder out thereby who of the Trinity families yours would be affiliated to, and what your duties might be.

If you're a clan with an existing scion family, you'll want to decide if you're a member of it via adoption or what have you, if you exist outside of it. Or, because things are defined as much by family as clan, if you are a distinct scion family from that one, doing your own thing, connected to a different Trinity family. Or perhaps you're simply a solitary elder who has managed to carve out a place of note for themselves (though that is no small achievement). Or you are the envoy of someone or something. Or you have indeed recently arrived to the city itself. Etc.

Either way, all things to noodle over.

It's worth noting that the Baron's Gangrel are the youngest scion family, so if you go Gangrel, you decidedly predate them, something to consider.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2014, 09:55:04 PM by Kolbrandr »

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

oh, slight correction, going to set the game in 1197, just because there's something that happens historically in 1198 that I'd prefer to inflict on surprise you guys with as an in game plot development to react to.

A situation where not knowing so much history in fact will let you be surprised about a thing actually!

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

Just to say, as people start sending me stuff for feedback, don't feel rushed or anything. As long as I'm aware you're still working at stuff, I'm cool on time being taken to conceptualize or polish something.

Offline Juggtacular

I unfortunately only got to play Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Would I still be able to make a go of things here because this looks really interesting.

Offline RubySlippers

I never played an Elder before but my first idea wasn't one the ST wanted to do so proposed my other options. But the setting I find appealing.

Offline KolbrandrTopic starter

I unfortunately only got to play Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

Would I still be able to make a go of things here because this looks really interesting.

If you can at least get the Dark Ages: Vampire rulebook and give it a read through, I can try and work with you on it, sure.