Breaking the Cycle

August 26, 2008

A Look at Roleplaying in a Sandbox

The gaming group has been meeting for years, they’ve had their triumphs and their tragedies in their exploration of the World of Darkness. Their Storyteller has promised them a new story is starting tonight, one that will shake the very foundation of their Vampire: the Requiem game. So they gather around the table, their character sheets in front of them, their dice at the ready. The Storyteller looks at them all and says:

“You have been called before the Prince this evening. He knows you’ve proven your loyalty to him on more than one occasion and feels that you are the only ones left that he can even consider trustworthy. He has discovered a plot against him, the Carthian Movement’s Prefect has gained the support of the Ordo Dracul and are going to try to displace him. You have all been chosen to-“

“Again!” One of the players interrupts, “Didn’t we do the same thing with the Circle of the Crone’s Hierophant last time we played Vampire?”


Another player chimes in, ”Oh yeah, and don’t forget the time the Deacon of the Silver Ladder asked us to take care of the Scelectsi that were setting up downtown.”

“I was really hoping that my Sanctified would get a chance to seek out the beginnings of a hidden Theban ritual,” the third player adds.

“I’m sorry guys,” the Storyteller tells them, “But I thought you all would like this. I’m not really prepared for anything else right now.”

It really happens more times than Storytellers care to admit. Sometimes the well of ideas runs a little dry and the pressure of giving another great story leads to recycling or rehashing previous plots or even just coming up with something that feels forced and out of place. Add to that the fact that many roleplayers have their own set of desires and goals for their characters that can often be accidently ignored in favor of the plot of the Storyteller.

What is the solution then? Crafting storylines can be very tough, especially for any set of regular gaming groups. The storyteller is usually under a lot of unseen pressure to put on the best story he can that will entertain and engage his players. But the burden can be shared, the players can become nearly as responsible as the Storyteller for making sure the game is engaging to them and challenging to the storyteller.

The answer is an advanced setting design called a “Sandbox.”

What is a Sandbox

A sandbox setting is a video game term originally, a reference to the open ended nature of certain goal oriented games like Grand Theft Auto and Massive Multiplayer Online games. In the context of a roleplaying game a sandbox setting is a reference to a setting with no single story, instead it is a setting that deals with tiny plots and scenarios that are laced through the entire setting (in most World of Darkness games this tends to mean a single city or region of the world). Instead of a single overarching storyline, the default assumption of most roleplaying games, the players are let loose in a living setting that reacts to them just as they react to it.

The goal of the sandbox setting is to allow players to stretch their legs and think for themselves. In this setting the only time the players are told to do something or ordered by the higher ups is when their own actions cause it to happen. It is a new type of contract between the Storyteller and the players. The players seek out action, the Storyteller gives them the action they desire.

Defining the Sandbox

A true sandbox setting has many advantages over what is considered the traditional “storyline” based system of roleplaying. The sandbox setting allows players to feel like their decisions and goals are listened to and are more important. The Storyteller rarely has to worry about the much-hated issue of railroading. With the sandbox, the setting seems to come alive as things to be constantly happening.

Players love to think that they matter the most, and its true. In all honesty, the players are a needed aspect of any game, and without them, there is no game. Often however, the players feel somewhat lost in the liner stories that are placed in front of them. With the freedom of the sandbox the players drive their own plot, make their own stories and seek out their own goals. In this sense, the players become the true main characters of the story, with their actions driving the story rather than being driven.

The elimination of liner storyline in favor of a player driven plot system there is a general elimination of the concept of “Railroading” in the game. Railroading is when a Storyteller’s plot becomes so inflexible that they players feel like they have no alternative but to blindly follow it. It is a very unpopular gaming tactic that basically makes players feel as if they are just along for the ride, hence the nickname. Once the sandbox setting is put in place, the ability to railroad generally disappears as the plot becomes the tool of the players just as much as the Storytellers.

A interesting illusion is created by the sandbox, one that can breathe new life into a setting. That illusion is literally a sense of evolution and growth. When the players control and own the plots around them, their issues will create ramifications and consequences that could not be foreseen. These complications create new plot to a Storyteller who is ready to pick up the ball and run with it. As this happens the players find themselves reacting and being reacted too. A sense of a true living setting, that grows and changes all the time is created from this exchange of reactions.

Much time and effort goes into the creation of a sandbox styled setting. It, as said earlier, can seem very daunting to the Storyteller. So how do you make it manageable? By breaking down the process and making sure you make a solid foundation for the sandbox. A sandbox setting lives and dies by its creation process. Without the NPCs, the plots and intrigues and the adaptability it will easily fail.

The first thing to note about any sort of sandbox design is that it isn’t an on/off switch. There are different levels of “sandbox” to put into your setting. The tone of the article has been and will continue to be that you are creating a true sandbox where all plot is initiated or stumbled on by the players without the Storyteller’s prodding. However it is just as possible to make a sort of hybrid where you have a sandbox setting sitting underneath a large plot that the Storyteller prods the players into entering.

Every group will find their own happy medium between freedom and structure and its important to discuss with your group what they feel about it. Its all about everyone having fun, Storyteller and players can and should work together to makes sure the setting achieves the goals of everyone involved.

It is honestly beyond the scope of this article to completely detail the process of making a setting. There are some very good books out there for helping a Storyteller build his setting, in particular is the Vampire: the Requiem book “Damnation City.” So this section will deal more with what is most important to a sandbox setting, trusting in the Storyteller’s who

  1. NPCs

It is a given that in any good setting needs good and compelling NPCs. The NPCs are the backbone to any story, regular or one run in a sandbox. In a sandbox however the NPC plays on additional role. Plot Hook. Every important NPC should be a plot hook in and of itself, one that when they show up, the players will be able to interact with them and have it lead somewhere. This alone can seem like too much.

The trick to it seems to lie in the ability to interrelate NPCs. The players in a sandbox setting may control the plot but they do not live in a vaccum. The NPCs should have their own goals and desires on top of the ones of their various organizations and groups. They NPCs should know each other at least by reputation and have plans and schemes in their minds. They should have their own friends and enemies and cabals that can be used to initiate conflict and plot.

Once every important NPC (the movers and shakers here, not the mooks) has this sort of detail attached to them it becomes significantly easier to have every NPC matter to any story or plot the player seeks out on his own. They form a true foundation to the setting that will be their to fall back onto in any situation.

  1. Plots and Scenarios

The life’s blood of a sandbox setting is the tiny plots and scenarios that lie in wait for the players to stumble upon them. These tend to be tied to the players in some way through their group affiliations, their templates or even their personal lives like friends and loved ones. These plots and scenarios are more or less triggered by the players depending on their needs to the story.

The role of these plots is to create complications for the players outside their own types of schemes and aspirations. Without these additional monkey wrenches the players would easily find their goals attained and not have anything to side track them from their desires. They become speedbumps for the speed and pace of the stories the players begin to create. With them the game stays interesting and fresh even as their goals and achievements continue to climb.

  1. Repeat

Working on a sandbox setting is never done. It has to constantly evolve and react to the events that have occurred during play or else it burns itself out. The best way to keep the setting alive is to repeat the first two steps, continue to build on introduced NPCs, continue to add new NPCs, find new plots and scenarios to be uncovered. If the possibility for story is constantly replenished, your players can always find more to do with the setting.

Once you have established the setting and built in the sandbox the game is ready. Besides the upkeep from session to session there is very little pressure on the Storyteller to be constantly churning out new stories, specifically because the players are doing just that on their own. Instead the Storyteller needs to refresh his bag of tricks from time to time to keep up with the expanding plot.

The Pitfalls of running a sandbox

The sandbox setting in many ways is very hard to get running correctly, besides just the disadvantages of the style, the difficulties of creating the setting, there are other pitfalls that can stop the game dead in its traps. They are overcome by continuing preparation and cooperation between both Storyteller and players.

When a sandbox works, it works well; when a sandbox fails, it fails horribly. Sandbox settings take much more planning and preparation on the front end by the storyteller. With that preparation, the planning of the setting becomes equally as important; easily being the death knell of any sandbox setting. Improvisation and adaptability are just as important to a sandbox setting as planning does. The players also play a huge part of the sandbox and an apathetic player can be the bane to the setting, rendering it inert and lifeless.

Sandboxes take much longer to put together and design. It requires the Storyteller’s willingness to detail out most everything while also knowing the setting enough for the players to be able to go anywhere and find conflict. The very idea of making a setting that detailed can be daunting to even the most experienced Storytellers. Since it is the most important part of a sandbox, it is also the first stall point. If the Storyteller cannot put the effort on the front end of the setting, then the back end will simply, just fall flat.

Worse yet is the idea of not truly thinking everything through when designing the setting. This issue becomes one where the Storyteller makes their setting but it loses a sense of internal consistency do to small nagging problems in the design. These mostly appear in NPC design and plot lines, they seem to not truly seem connected and fall flat. Since the sandbox is dependent on these aspects of setting design more so than a traditional storyline setting, when those aspects are badly designed, the whole setting falls.

Improvisation represents the most important aspect of the sandbox setting. Usually when a game in a sandbox setting begins there is no set opening storyline, only an opening scene. This means that every moment past that opening is completely improvised. A Storyteller running a sandbox setting needs to be able to adapt quickly and improvise things he is not fully prepared for. If he is unable to make changes to fit the needs of the story’s progress he will find himself stone walled with no real direction on what is to occur. When this happens, the entire game falls apart.

As stated earlier, the players take a huge amount of power in a sandbox setting; if the players aren’t up to the challenge the game will quickly flop. In a traditional setting the Storyteller tends to control the flow and direction of the game. Determining where it goes and how quickly it moves. In a sandbox setting the players have just as much influence in the game, since it is their actions and desires that direct the story. In these cases the sandbox can quickly devolve back into a more traditional type of game as the players are lead around, once again, by their Storyteller because they are unsure of what to do on their own.

Experienced players can usually take to a sandbox readily, specifically because they already have their own ideas of what they want to do with their characters and are waiting for the chance to take the lead. However an unprepared player in a sandbox can be just as much trouble as an unprepared Storyteller.

When beginning to run a game using any sort of sandbox level make sure the players understand their obligations to the type of setting. They need to know that their proactivity is expected and encouraged for the story to continue forward. Also each player should considered both in-character and out-of-character goals that they have for the characters. These goals can help them decide on the actions they wish to take in game.

The players’ group also plays a more important role in the sandbox setting. If the players do not have mutal goals that can achieved together, a gaming session can easily be reduced to nothing more than a Storyteller going to each player separately to determine what they are doing and run their scenes. The slow down in the game is nothing but a drag on the other players who do not get to stay active during these scenes. Therefore it is imperative that the players’ sit together before starting a sandbox styled chronicle and determine their reasons for being together outside of “we’re all the players.” The goals of the group need to be expressed as much as the individuals.

Advertisements

Going Alone:
The Guide to the Apostate

“I don’t need your runes and language, and I don’t need your little secret societies. You didn’t make me Awaken; I earned it through research, practice and more. Magic isn’t your exclusive property just because you claim your little circle goes all the way back to some mythical city. Call it hubris if you want, call it silly. But do you know what hubris really is? Claiming that the only ones who know the ‘right’ way to do something is you.”
– Joseph Bryant, Mastigos Apostate

The apostate, they say, is a loose cannon. Someone who by some virtue of ignorance or by the choice of free will has decided that the support of the Pentacle Orders and the Seers of the Throne are not for them. Instead they choose to seek out magic on it’s own with only their intelligence and own merit to guide them through. They usually have no mentors, no special insight and often no sanctum, library or hallow. They are the outcasts, wierdos and freaks of the awakened world. In fact, many of them go mad within their first few years after their awakening. Or so we are all told.

The truth of the matter is that there are no generalities in the Fallen World. Nothing can be said to be common when mages are involved. While many apostates usually come to a bad end at the hands of the Seers, paradox, forces beyond their control, ignorance and madness, not all do. An apostate is just as unique and no different from those mages that chose to join a Pentacle Order or to throw in with the Seers. Without the support of the orders and a “proper mentor” the apostate has an uphill battle in store for them. Access to rotes becomes limited; access to the lore necessary to learn the Arcanum becomes limited; and even the concepts of magical tools seems lost on many apostates. So one must question, why be apostate in the first place?


Theme: The Magician

Standing alone against a sea of troubles with but his will and his power, the Magician of the tarot deck shows the hidden struggle of the apostate. Unlike his contemporaries in the orders he is alone with the power of the Supernal at his fingertips. A lone mage against a world that, more than likely, no longer makes sense in the light of an Awakening has to work twice as hard not to fall the dark road of the mad. And in truth, many never make it. Those who do are hardened, intelligent and as capable as any mage in any order.

Mood: Strength of the Individual

In their solitude an apostate forges their soul. They become strong and hardened or they fall to madness or at the hands of some terror they never knew existed. They tend to be meddlers without realizing it, poaching from hallows, invading territory and even raiding sanctums. As such the order mages tend to have a severe trust problem with them. They become truly alone and some after a few years and a few refusals could never hope to be an order mage, they have burned too many bridges. As such, the apostates must forge ahead as an individual on their own merits instead of on the backs of their orders and mentors.

Why Go Alone

Pentacle Mages wonder why the apostate exists. What could make such a mage that would have the hubris to go alone in the Fallen World. Well, several ways exist that form the ranks of the apostate. In fact, there are more paths that lead to being apostate than many mages care to admit.

Some people are just not cut out to follow orders or hierarchies. Even members within the orders, admit that they occasionally feel tied down to the goals, customs and hierarchies. These societies that have existed “forever” can seem very daunting to a newly Awakened mage who is already undergoing considerable strain adapting to his new existence.

When they attempt to add themselves to these groups they never seem to fit it, always on the outskirts of the organization until they finally snap away completely. Not fitting in is considered to be a dangerous thing among the Awakened. Someone who can’t find a function in even the smallest of hierarchies or group settings could be to used to always getting his way and thus more likely to fall to Hubris. The Guardians of the Veil as well as others look at Mages who don’t fit in then closely.

In addition to the misfit there are those mages who find themselves fed up with the order they joined so long ago. Perhaps the order in their area is too political without any action to back up their talk. Perhaps some personal or spiritual revelation has lead them to question the choice they’ve made. Whatever the reason sometimes a mage just finds that he can’t face the order he joined and decides to leave it. Depending on the rank and status of the leaving mage it create quite an interesting fallout in the order, and even in Awakened society as a whole.

Many apostate that had a choice in the matter, claim that it is the loss of their freedom and individuality that made them decide to go alone. They felt that “kowtowing” to the Pentacle Orders was too high a price for the benefits that they offered. They were willing to pay the price of solitude if it meant keeping their individual style.

No matter why they leave they find themselves a true Apostate, with knowledge of the inner workings of at least one of the Pentacle Orders. This could cause a fair share of conflict depending on

The Orphan

Sometimes a newly awaken mage awakens in an area so large, or so remote that they are never found by the Seers or the Pentacle. Those who don’t turn against their own nature, becoming a Banisher, become the apostate. In this scenario, this apostate by virtue of fate may even prefer to be one of the Pentacle Orders if they even knew they existed. Instead they live in ignorance of the truths of the Pentacle Orders.

These apostates, sometimes called Orphans, are most often the most unpredictable of the type. They don’t know the rules, the laws, the locations or even have the knowledge necessary to avoid falling to hubris. While one orphan may be the pinnacle of wisdom the next may be on the verge of becoming a mad one. This unpredictability has lead to many conflicts between a single orphan or even an entire group of them and the orders. While some of these conflicts end with no major problems, there are stories of conflicts that decimated the entire organization of the Consilium thanks the misunderstandings of these orphans.

Orders tend to try to absorb the Orphans into their own structure when the encounter them. This can be rather dangerous, as the Orphan has already created his own preconceptions about magic and the Supernal. This mythos may be vastly different that what the Order tries to teach him instead. The result can be that the Orphan rejects the teachings of the Order as often as he is safely assimilated into them, thus increasing the unpredictability of someone who teaches himself the Supernal mysteries with no guide.

QUOTE

New Merit: Higher Soul Mentor * – ***
Requirements: Apostate Mage, No Mentor Merit (This merit is lost if the Orphan joins an order or gains a magical mentor)

Some wonder how an apostate who has never been found by an order can possibly learn any sort of magic or rote. The answer is the Inner Daimon of the apostate has stepped in to take the role of mentor for the lost mage.

This merit acts exactly the same as the normal Mentor merit but can only be purchased up to the third dot. A Higher Soul Mentor can only do so much for an apostate, and indeed cannot help the apostate in any manner except for accessing Supernal magic and even some rotes.

To speak with his mentor the apostate must enter a trance like sleep for atleast four hours. During this time the apostate enters his own astral space when his Higher Soul can instruct and interact with him as normal.

The Hermit

The polar opposite of the orphan is the apostate who encounters the Pentacle and the Seers and rejects one or both. These apostates are usually cynical and tend to stay out of the magical conflicts that the Fallen World is prone to. Called the Hermits, for their desire to just be left alone, these mages tend to have a hard time fitting in with mages, and also keeping their Wisdom high.

Hermits however have no protection from the foils of a solitary mage. His Wisdom tends to become a low priority for many, especially the ones who break off all human contact as well. Without a firm grasp of Wisdom, their sanity tends to fall with them as well. However this probably leads to where the idea of the mad mage living away from society comes from.

But the hermit isn’t necessarily doomed from the start. Those who decide to become a hermit find that the removal of supernatural and magical conflicts that are inherent in mage society helps increase the life span of a mage considerably. When you aren’t dealing with vampires and fighting of angry spirits, you tend to live longer. As such a Hermit who balances his own hubris and isolation with resolve and will can grow very powerful.

The image of an old mage sequestered away in his tower learning all that he can, is a powerful image. And it can also be quite true. Many of the Pentacle Orders rightly fear a Hermit who has lived a long life for he more than likely has learned more secrets of the Supernal than most.

The Rogue

The word apostate implies that you were a member of something before you weren’t a member of something. In practice most view apostates as the orphan that never found an order to teach them, however sometimes the apostate is one of the order’s own who has went rouge and left the order itself.

It’s not an uncommon story. A mage dishonors his order through action or inaction and is thusly cast out. He has the best and worst chance to make it as an Apostate. He has knowledge of the ancient mysteries and even knows some rotes that will help him on the journey. But on the other hand he also has no friends anymore.

Shunned by his own order because of his wrong doing, it is unlikely that he is trusted by any of the other Orders. Even the Seers of the Throne have no use for a mage who cannot be trusted to do his job. As such he doesn’t even have the possibility of friendship from anyone.

Outside those who are cast out are the ones who leave on their own. Sometimes they just decide that they can’t take the stress of the order. Other times a specific philosophical difference arises that creates a rift between order and mage.

Whatever the case, the result is the same, an apostate mage with too much information. These apostates are truly rogue from their order and find that they have created many enemies. If they desire to stay an apostate and not join a new order for protection, they end up as a hermit, hiding from awakened society before their old order hunts them down.

The Craft of the Apostate

The orders claim that they are the only option, the only hope a mage has of finding a group to teach them, protect them and show them the path to the Supernal. They find themselves at the top of the heap, no secret society or lodge finds as much truth through the Lie that they do. And while in many ways this statement proves itself true, the orders have forgotten the roots of one of their own members.

Much like the Free Council was once known only as “The Nameless,” a disparate movement of technological minded mages, there are other non-order groups out there who sometimes take in an unfortunate apostate. These Crafts, for lack of a better term, are small groups of apostate mages who are mostly, purely local and composed of no more than an few mages under a single mentor and perhaps a few mortal “cultists.” Nowhere near as large or as noticeable as the orders the apostate crafts carve a small niche for themselves.

In this niche, they find support among themselves much as order mages find support for themselves among their cabals. The craft becomes a cabal or common magic and style that replaces the role of the order in their lives. Some crafts become so insular they become a group of common Legacies all of them forging their souls in the same ways. These crafts can be so limited and so few that they are hardly noticed by the Consilium and the mage community as a whole. While others may be a tad bit larger, or just more aggressive, meddling with the affairs of the Consilium and generally being a pain.

Example Craft: The Hollow Men

No one is quite sure where the Hollow Ones first came from. Though they are thought of to be the largest Apostate Craft in existence in the modern world. First discovered in San Francisco after a Consilium began to investigate reports of Hallow poaching the responsible cabal leader, when asked what Order he was a member of said, “We are the Hollow Men, we’ve always been here.”

Since that statement cabals of Hollow Men have been found in San Francisco, New York City, Paris, London and other major cities. They seem to latch on to the counter cultures of “despair,” such as the more modern goth and punk movements, and even the flapper and romantics cultures. Even more disturbing is that many of these Hollow Men show a talent for occult-based rotes as well, seemingly developing their own independent mundras for rote casting.

Since their discovery many have feared that the Hollow Men must be a Seer plot or worse, a warning to some great catastrophe. As a result many Hollow Men cabals around the world find themselves shunned from polite society of the Awakened as something to fear, rather than accept.

The Price of Freedom

Freedom isn’t free. An apostate trades much for his supposed freedom from the magical clashes of the Orders and the Seers. Without the focus and the mentors that an Order can provide the apostate finds himself more adrift in the sea of the Supernal than in any sort of actual control over the forces he possesses. It is no wonder why many apostates seem to go mad, go banisher or end up dead somewhere.

Those who truly have the resolve to go alone, to face the Supernal forces with only his own will and soul, however do exist. They buck at the traditions in ways that even the Free Council can not claim to do. Their very existence proves that humanity was meant to wield the supernal power, and that even without tempering it with the knowledge of the Orders it can be used effectively.

Is it no wonder then that many Order mages fear those apostates who can go it alone and still survive?

To the unknowing eye she seemed unassuming and non-threatening. A young girl, barely seventeen dressed in a black frilly dress, nothing more than a violin case in her hand walking sullenly down the stretch of busy metropolitan streets. But there is something otherworldly about her too.

She seems impassioned to the world around her, she seems to take no joy in the things around her. Her eyes look as if they look past what she looks at. Everything to her is in the distant. Perhaps it’s just the feeling people get from her, that feeling of the grim reaper, that cold grip of death that shudders through those who connect with her eyes.

Whatever it is, it makes her isolated from most of the world and it is reflected in every aspect of her. Her erect posture, her formal walk, her piercing eyes, her pale skin everything about her cries out that she is part of death. It has been so even before she found her true purpose in the world.

She was a little girl once, so long ago it seems. Her mother was so kind to her back then, as was her father. She lived in a specially funded laboratory building that had seventeen sub-basements. These sub-basements were where she and her family had lived as well as where she grew up. She never knew any other children, only the cold halls of the lab, and the loving touch of her parents.

Then her mother died. It was sudden; an illness from nowhere had struck her and left her dying within a week. She had barely anytime to see her mother or make her peace with what was going on. At the age of six, she was barely able to understand it enough. All she remembers is the day that her father came and told her that mommy wasn’t going to be back. That was the last happy day of her life.

Her father became different shortly after that. He was no longer the warm and caring man he had once been. Instead he was obsessed with his work, whatever it was exactly. She had never really gotten a straight answer from in regarding his work, even as she grew older and could better understand the work he did.

When she was thirteen she contracted the same disease that had killed her mother. Her father however had researched the disease thoroughly by then and had learned how to counteract it. It was a disease that feasted on the bone and eventual the bone marrow of it’s victim, infecting it all. The only solution was to replace the bones and the marrow before it progressed to the point that it was infecting the red-blood cells that the marrow produced.

She never felt human after that moment, she had her skeleton and muscle tissues replaced by some special “imbued” variety that her father had invented. They increased her strength and dexterity beyond her natural levels as well, making her feel more and more like a freak. It was months before she was ever even allowed out of the room they had implanted her with the devices, in fear that they would not stay viable within her.

She asked her father once, why she had to be changed so much that she didn’t even feel normal anymore. Her father told her that she was part of his great work, and he would need her someday. After that she realized her father was dead to her, that she would never feel like he loved her anymore.

Her next few years were lived in both isolation and sadness. She rarely saw her father except on her birthdays, when he would give her a new collection of books, a new doll or a new set of songbooks for her violin. Just gifts to keep her occupied, no real love behind them anymore. The only other person she ever saw was her father’s chief lab assistant, Carrie Knight.

Carrie had rubbed her the wrong way since the beginning. She always flirted with her father openly and vulgarly. Fawning over his directives and always asking that she be called “Mom.” If there was anyone who could truly see the rage and pain that she experienced, it was Carrie. She would speak to Carrie with venom, every phrase and word designed to reveal her true feelings for the woman. Carrie was her new keeper in the laboratory, making sure that she stayed in line and didn’t cause any trouble. She was a prisoner in the only place she ever called home.

And as if in prison was how she lived from that moment on. She found no enjoyment in her gilded cage of books and dolls. Instead she just decided that her life had ended before it had ever gotten a chance to begin. It was then that the dreams started. They were the dreams that would lead her to her future.

They always started the same; she was alone in a blackened empty expanse of space. Standing there solitary and sullen, as she spent all her days since her mother died. While she stood there she would see a tall woman, very similar in build and appearance of herself. The only true differences between their appearances were that the robed woman was older, easily in her twenties, and she had an unusual sigil carved into her forehead. The woman would float into a position in front of her, standing there nude save for a black cloak and hood that hide most of her body and face.

The robed woman held a long weapon, similar to a scythe but instead of a curved blade going out from its end, it instead two curved blades went up from the end of the staff. It was ornate seemingly made of black wood with silver and gold runes inlayed around the whole thing. It was a weapon of pure beauty and when she looked at it, it felt so familiar to her.

When the woman would stand there in front of her at first it just stood there, as if judging her, sizing her up for some task or responsibility. The stare of the robed woman’s eyes were impassioned and cold, distant to the world. When they would connect with her own eyes, she would feel as if the hand of death had just brushed against her.
It was then that the new run of experiments on her started. Her father had her brought to his area of the laboratory nearly everyday with new tests and diagnostics to run. These test seemed to measure something he called “Possessive Potential” and his reports kept referring to her as “the Conduit.” Carrie had even taken great joy in calling her “the Conduit” every time she saw her. It was obvious that her father had some plan for her, though she knew not what.

It was many dreams before the woman seemed to speak to her. It was a speech without movement or hearing. It was more as an understanding of concepts between the two of them, communication beyond words but translated into them. It was in these communications that she was told by the robed woman that she was to be freed from her prison. To achieve her destiny and to destroy those things that had done her harm.

After the dreams intentions were made clear to her, so where the intentions of her father. Carrie decided to “let it slip,” that her father had planned to use her as a conduit for a demonic entity known as Mistress of Nine Planes. This demon’s last form had been the disease that had killed her mother and had almost killed her as well. Carrie had left her with a laugh finding the whole situation as nothing more than the cruelest joke.

She would have many more dreams of the hooded woman before she agreed to accept the power that the woman represented. With this acceptance came surrender. The woman spoke the first real words ever spoken between the two of them, “Surrender your name to me.”

She answered the woman in turn, “Olivia Hotaru Tomo,” a named for both her grandmother and her mother; it was a name she cherished. Yet for the power to release herself from the horror of her situation, she would give it to this woman freely.

[end of part one]

She walked through China Town with her companion. Doing her best to try to have a good time in light of everything. New York City was such a big place when compared to the small town she grew up in. But that life seemed so far away in comparison of things.

Back then she used her birth name, Lorianne. Her favorite things to do was hang at the mall with her friends, and maybe drive two hours to go see an actual concert when a good punk band actually came with in a hundred miles of her. She would have never believed that she would be in the situation that she was in now.

But when her father died, her life changed. She was so overcome with grief of the death of the “strongest man” in her world that she did nothing but sit in that same mall and sulk. She avoided her friends, never went to shows, just wandering her mall aimlessly, looking for something eternal so that she could accept that life may perhaps be worth living.

She met a Prince one day, a noble and strong man with a kind heart and a gentle soul. He showed her a new path, gave her a beautiful ring to symbolize their new connection and put her on the path of nobility and strength. She decided on that day to prove herself worthy of this Prince, by becoming a prince herself.

She awoke that day. She cast off a lie that had been told to all of humanity and understood the world as it should be for the first time ever. She realized the truth that mankind was meant to be eternal. With that knowledge she drew strength and power from within.

Today she called herself Raggedy Ann, but it had little to do with that fateful day and more with her style of dress. She wore an old fancy white blouse that she had ripped off to be just a shade bit longer than her petite breasts so that they would be, mostly, covered. A pair of blue micro-shorts that looked painted on. Red and white stockings and red legwarmers over those and a pair of blue Doc Martens completed her dress. While her hair was held up into two pig tails with red yarn hair falls, her make up done to make herself look doll like, complete with painted on “blush circles.” Her friends used to say she looked like Raggedy Ann on crack, so the name stuck from there on out.

Her traveling companion on her trip, a young Chinese girl named Yuri, was dressed in a more traditional way. In many ways she looked like she was right out of a traditional Chinese story. A long flowing silk dress in the traditional Chinese style had been what Yuri had insisted on wearing. If she didn’t stand out enough walking around in New York City like that, even in Chinatown, her hair had been bleached to a platinum white color. Raggedy Ann had often wondered why it was that color, though Yuri had often avoided to answer that question.

Yuri wasn’t really a friend in the traditional sense of the word. She was literally Raggedy Ann’s ward, or at least that is how Yuri would try to describe it. Yuri claimed to be a Bride of the Yaoguai, which she explained to Raggedy Ann as being a demon. She was in a long line of these Brides that were married to demons and left in the care of vampires, in order to protect the safety of her home village. Apparently the vampires expected great power when they possessed one of these Brides and had developed an entire ‘knighthood’ based around dueling each other for the rights to the Bride.

Ironically, the vampire knights had chosen the same rose-shaped icon for their own symbol, as was on the ring she received from her Prince. Fate seemed to have worked over time for Raggedy Ann as when she witnessed a man slapping a small blonde Chinese girl, she decided to intervene. That intervention lead to a sword duel between her and a vampire named Satoshi. A duel that Raggedy Ann managed to win, she had always been a good fencer, talking fencing lessons since she was a little girl all the way through college. Yuri explained to her that she would now live with Raggedy Ann, and serve her in all things. That was the role of the Bride.

Or she was supposed to be anyways. Raggedy Ann insisted on breaking that tradition and had treated Yuri more and more like a friend rather than a servant. It was this desire to treat Yuri as something more than the Bride that lead her hear to Chinatown. She brought Yuri to a place where she though she could fit in and be more herself, instead of the demure bride that she acted like.

It wasn’t working.

She had barely even gotten Yuri to walk next to her rather than behind her yet. And the more “natural” setting of Chinatown had seemingly made Yuri even more submissive in action. Raggedy Ann had decided it might just be time to call it a day and get them both home. She paused to tell Yuri that it was time to go home. When she noticed a fifteen-year-old kid marching out of an old building. He was Caucasian but dressed in the clothes of a Chinese peasant. An odd anachronism among the modern clothes, but then again, Yuri was dressed in a similarly old fashioned attire.

The teenager spoke to Yuri in Chinese, something that Raggedy Ann couldn’t even begin to pretend that she understood. The conversation involved the young man seeming to be very desperate. Yuri seemed to respond to these words with fear and with her usual demure nature. She then looked at Raggedy Ann and said something to the young man.

The man looked at Raggedy Ann, “You are the keeper of the Keng Bride?”

“Yuri’s my friend,” Raggedy Ann answered.

“She says that she serves you.”

”That’s what she says,” Raggedy Ann said, getting a bit agitated by this whole line of questioning.

“The master wants to speak with you and the Keng Bride.”

Raggedy Ann frowned, “No,” she said to him firmly.

“Please, he wishes to speak to you about you’re situation.”

”You’re not going to let me go unless I go see this ‘master’ guy are you?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not ma’am,” he said with a bow.

“Fine! Fuck! Whatever!” Raggedy Ann said throwing her hands in the air, “Take us to him.”

The young man bowed and led them into the old building. Inside the building, Raggedy Ann could feel the presence of something unusual. She opened her mystic senses up and felt the energy of a demesne surrounding her. She felt a bit better; at least she was dealing with mages and not vampires. Seemed she couldn’t go out without vampires challenging her for ‘control’ of Yuri.

The interior of the building looked like the inside of a Chinese palace and the very scope of it left Raggedy Ann awe-struck, “Impressive place,” she said aloud.

“It has been maintained as such since the master was a boy,” the young man said.

“And um, when was that.”

“The 1860’s,” the young man replied.

“Um, are you sure this guy isn’t a vampire”

“No, my master walks the path of the Dragon Scholars.”

”Oh, that’s good then,” Raggedy Ann said, unsure of what that exactly meant. She looked at Yuri who was still walking five-feet behind her.

The young man lead her into a large chamber that almost seemed like a throne room, complete with a jewel encrusted throne. On it sat a thin and wizened old Chinese man dressed like a Manchurian lord. Standing to his right was a Chinese man in his mid-thirties dressed in a really good suit and tie; and to the left was a Chinese man in his twenties dressed in the garb of an Imperial Chinese guard. Raggedy Ann couldn’t help but feel a lot out of place surrounded by these people.

“You are this creatures caretaker?” the old wizened man said to her, he seemed to be referring to Yuri.

“No, Yuri is my friend and I protect her,” Raggedy Ann replied adamantly.

“You will turn the creature over to me to be destroyed,” the old man said.

”Who the fuck are you to tell me that!”

“Typical Caucasian, when they feel threatened they respond with profanity,” the old man smiled and shook his head, “I am Xia Long, 3rd Degree Master and Lord of the Replesant Order of Dragon Scholars. I demand you cease you’re cavorting with demons and turn over the demon bride.”

When Raggedy Ann heard his title, she knew she was in deep trouble, but she swore that she would protect Yuri from people who would harm or exploit her, “Well you have no right to demand that I give her to you.”

“Dharma,” he said to the man on his right, “Bring it to me.”

The man in the suit bowed deeply and walked into the shadows. Raggedy Ann looked suspicious and waited, wondering what was next. Moments later the man came out of the shadows with an ornate box that seemed to be made of jade. He opened the box and held it up to Xia Long.

Xia Long reached inside and pulled out an ancient ring made of gold. It bore the same rose seal that the ring her Prince had given her so long ago as well as the same mark that the vampires who were exploiting Yuri wore. Xia Long put the ring on one of his long finger.

“You’re one of them!” Raggedy Ann said angrily, it seemed even mages were total assholes.

“One of them?” Xia Long questioned, “Oh no, the awakened gave up their claim to the Keng Brides long ago. The vampires kept up the games, but they are demonic creatures to begin with. The awakened realized that cavorting with demons was a sure way to destroy oneself.”

”Then why do you have that ring!”

”Because I have sworn to destroy the Brides of the Keng when I find them. So I challenge you to a Duel Arcane for custody of the Bride,” Xia Long said with great conviction.

“Fine! Let’s do this old man!”

“Six Talon, square the circle,” Dharma spoke aloud, “I shall bear witness to the duel.”

The man to Xia Long’s left nodded and took out a bag of powder, pouring the powder out to make a circle on the ground. Xia Long stepped off his throne and stepped into the circle that was being made. Raggedy Ann could feel the magic of the Duel Arcane being cast. He right hand became heavy with the weight of a fiery rapier, she felt herself becoming protected by an invisible force of fate. Xia Long’s hands were filled with an empherma sword of Chinese style and a small buckler of Psionic energy.

He was ready as was she. The duel was to begin. Raggedy Ann looked at him, the initial battle of wills began, she had never actually participated in a Duel Arcane, but Marcus had told her about them. They always started with a test of wills. Raggedy Ann steeled her mind, totally steadfast in her ability to protect Yuri. She felt Xia Long’s will strike at her but she struck back and struck harder.

The contest of wills was over and Raggedy Ann had one, she decided to press that advantage. She charged forward with her fiery rapier and struck home, the magical blade passing through Xia Long’s body and damaging him. Xia Long struck back with a series of surgical-like strikes with his own blade.

Raggedy Ann went to strike again but found Xia Long’s defenses to strong for her to break through again. When Xia Long’s blade stuck through her again she felt for an instant that she was not going to be able to defeat this man. That Yuri was going to be lost to this man and then killed. She felt so weak.

A noble heart never surrenders came a voice in her. The Prince who had awoken her to magic and given her the ring had told her that so long ago. But as she was struck again she felt the last of her will sapped away.

She started to feel her weapon fade into nothingness; it was then she realized the voice she had just heard had not been her Prince. It had been Yuri. Somehow Yuri’s will had added to her own, fortifying her defenses.

Emboldened Raggedy Ann struck again this time finding that her blows could break through the defenses of the wizened master. She stuck him once more and found his weapons fade away.

She had defeated him. She had won the Duel Arcane. Yuri had been protected.

“You cheated! You demon whore!”

“Figures an old fart would resort to profanity when he doesn’t get his way,” Raggedy Ann said with a chuckle. She enjoyed throwing Xia Long’s own words back at him.

“You cheated! I will have your head for this!” he shouted at her. Dharma was already helping him to his feet.

“Master, that is for the Consilium to decide. As far as I could tell, she did not cheat.” Dharma looked at Raggedy Ann, “And thus you and the Bride are free to go.”

Raggedy Ann grinned, “Yeah we’ll be leaving now. Come on Yuri, we’re taking off.” She turned and left as she said it. She would feel much better after she got home and smoke an entire pack of cigarettes.

“As you wish, Miss Raggedy Ann,” Yuri said demurely and walked behind Raggedy Ann.

“And would you stop calling me that!” Raggedy Ann demanded.

“As you wish, Miss Raggedy Ann,” Yuri said.

Raggedy Ann just face palmed as she walked out. It appeared that some things were not going to change.

I frequent the White Wolf forums and for a long time many people would troll the Vampire the Requiem forum about how little was changed from the old Vampire the Masquerade to the new Vampire the Requiem. Often they made very general claims about the clans being all the same, or it’s just the same kind of stuff in a new more expensive edition. Some would yell that they took out all that was good about Masquerade was taken out and replaced by things like the covenants. Most of these arguments were usually based on rumor or a quick read through of the book in a store. Blanket statements made with minimal information is not something anyone should do so it seemed that information needed to be shown.

Vampire the Requiem and Vampire the Masquerade are both vampire protaganist games set in the modern age, both are made by White Wolf studios. Most similiarities of the two game lines, beyond terms used to describe certain aspects of the game, end there. The purpose of this is essay is to do a small dissection of sorts to see just how much the setting has changed and to begin let’s start with the most visible of elements:

The Clans
Clans have been a part of White Wolf Vampire games for fourteen years now. Vampire the Masquerade began with seven clans that slowly inflated into thirteen with two dead clans. It became so muddled that it was unsure if being a clan meant having a member of the third generation or something less tangible. In Masquerade these clans were political entities that pushed forward their own ideals and more like families units or special intrest groups.

But with Vampire the Requiem the clan number as been cut down to a mere five. Of these five clans two of them are entirely new (Mekhet and Daeva) and three of them retained the names of old clans from Vampire the Masquerade. These three clans, the Gangrel, Ventrue and Nosferatu, are often pointed to as proof that the game hasn’t changed all that much. But let’s take a real look at them and see how similiar these clans are.

The Gangrel on the surface are the one clan that seems most similiar to their Masquerade predocessor. Both are animalistic clans that seem to be primarily regard survival as the greatest trait in a potential childe. But the similiarities end there as the Requiem Gangrel are the perfect predator and that’s what they seek to be. They aren’t wanderers and country bumpkins as they were portrayed in Masquerade. Not the outsider and loner that we had concept after concept off. No they are the predator of the city with all the tools necessary to be said predator. As predators and not animals the Gangrel no longer gain animal features and instead have a problem acting without using instict.

Secondly the Ventrue of Masquerade were businessmen and politicians, they acted like martyr’s of Kindred society in the Camarilla. They took the “burden of leadership” onto themselves for the “good of all Kindred.” This is not the Requiem Ventrue. The Ventrue of Requiem are different. They aren’t businessmen and politicians, instead they are the lords of the night. Lords over what? Well anything actually. A Ventrue can be the best painter in her style or the best computer tech or really the best of anything. That’s what they are the “best.” They lord over their chosen skills as the greatest there is. That’s what the Ventrue are, the adabtable leaders of industry, art, entertainment, ect. The blue-blood aristocrats have simply become the best and power tends to drive one mad. Heance the Ventrue no longer have the old rarified tastes and instead slowly go insane as they fail degeneration checks.

Of all the changes that were made to clans, the changes to the Nosferatu are the most obvious when one looks at them. The Nosferatu of Masquerade were outcasts too ugly to be able to interact with humanity and discarded by the “beautiful clans.” They spent most of their time skulking though the sewers and hoarding information. This has totally changed as the Nosferatu are now the monsterous clan, instead of everyone of them being deformed creatures the Nosferatu are just as likely to be gorgeous. The trick is that they all, if they are deformed or not, exude an monstrous aura that makes people uncomfortable to be around them. Topping off this is the new discipline of Nightmare, a discipline involving the causing of fear in its target.

In addition to the changes in clan, there are no “thin-blooded” in Requiem. Kindred in Requiem are tied to their sires and other ancestors of the blood by a sympathy that allows them to occasionally sense what is going on with you. Disciplines are easier to use on Kindred that you share this blood sympathy with and as such it’s impossible to not know your sire in some sense and thus, no clanless vampires. The Caitiff are gone as any sort of group but a vampire may be called a caitiff until his ancestory is known.

This blood sympathy also allows for a change in one of Masquerade’s other features, the Bloodline. Bloodlines in Requiem are much more accessible than in Masquerade as any clan member may join a bloodline tied to that clan. If a member of a bloodline creates progeny that progeny begins as a member of the sire’s clan, not his bloodline. Thus the bloodlines are something you join, not made into. The bloodlines expand on the themes of the various clans. Three of the bloodlines presented in the core book will look familiar to those who played Masquerade. The Toreador are a bloodline of the Daeva with a focus on being patrons to the arts. The Bruja (no ‘h’ is intentional) are a gang of wandering bikers related to the Gangrel. And finally the Malkovians suffer in madness as a ignored bloodline of the Ventrue. Each bloodline plays on the themes of their larger clan (the names kept to give Masquerade players a source of transition). Bloodlines pick up an additional weakness with their clan weakness and a fourth discipline that they get to purchase at “clan” cost. Some bloodlines produce unique disciplines that only they can learn.

Sects and Society
Someone familiar with Vampire the Masquerade will find a surprise in that the sects of the Camarilla and Sabbat are gone. The large global “nations”
of the Kindred known as sects have been turned to the wayside and replaced with five covenants. This is one of the often over looked but huge differences between the two game lines. With the advent of covenants the politics of the Kindred has become more based off these covenants rather than the clans with the sects as Masquerade did. Also on a more local note, the Prince and Kindred government is wide open as power levels of the elders fluctuate and the covenants all have different styles of “ruling” a city.

This shows a huge difference as all the covenants can co-exist in the same city and depending on your location and your storyteller’s prefrence there can be the same type of wars the Sabbat and Camarilla had. Or it can be a tense cold-war type enviroment as all the covenants carefully watch each other looking for a reason to pounce. When the Camarilla was dominating a city, the only time the Sabbat would make an apperance was to make a seige. When the Sabbat was in control the Camarilla could only make a presence known when trying to take a city. Meaning Masquerade had to game types, Camarilla or Sabbat. You couldn’t effectively do both at the same time as the two types were directly antagonistic with each other.

Two game mechanics were added that change the way that the Kindred interact with each other as well. Generation was nicked and replaced with Blood Potency a trait that increases with time and experience expenditure. It also decreases as you spend time in TORPOR. Thus the power levels of the Kindred tend to increase for the younger and the older move down the scale as they topor. You get a middle ground that allows the elders and the ancilla at a SIMILAR power level. No longer is the game about the players bemoaning that they can’t be as strong as the elders because they can.

The other game mechanic that changed things is Predator’s Taint. In Requiem the Beast of a vampire has a tendency to be a bit more proactive, when it senses another Beast (ie another Vampire) it reacts based on how strong the blood of the other Beast is. The want to flee those stronger and want to kill those who are weaker or equal. This creates an intersting dichotomy where the Kindred seek each other’s company but must be wary of meeting new Kindred. Elysium those becomes incredibly important to meet as it’s a safe zone and your Beast reacts to this feeling of safety.

Inhumanity
One of the things about Vampire the Masquerade was the Paths of Enlightnment “allowed” inhuman vampires. Many people have railed that they were left out of Requiem saying it precludes you from playing a vampire who is a monster. But when you look at the Humanity scale and at what most Path characters did, they still fall around the level of four in Humanity. And as such they have a problem dealing with mortals who find them off putting and creepy. This is because the focus of Requiem is more about the strugle to keep the Beast down while exalting the Man rather than just finding a way to keep the Beast quiet. Many things that were parts of path such as Instict’s ability to ride the wave of a frenzy although the idea of completly discarding the Man by taking a path has been discarded.

Disciplines
Though the nomenclature stayed the same for many of the Disciplines the similiarites for many of them stayed there. In fact the changes to the Disciplines are rather extreme in some cases though some stayed rather the same. Out of the Disciplines that made the cross-over to Requiem Auspex, Animalism and Dominate are the two that stayed the same to it’s Revised predecessors (in effect not in system)

The most notable change is the physical Disciplines. Potence, Celerity and Fortitude have fallen to the side and been revamped into Vigor, Celerity and Resilience (yes I know that Celerity is the old name but stay with me). Gone are the day of automatic success, additional actions and outrageous soak rolls in are the days of temporary increases to attribute scores, increased jumping ability (Vigor), increased running speed (Celerity), and downgrading damage (Resilience). Love them or hate them, and you’ll get alot of both, these three physical disciplines have changed extremely.

Majesty, the new name for the old Presence discipline’s first and second abilities got something of a revamp as well. Awe does more than just attract attention but instead actually instills awe in a person. Dread Gaze has gone away from Majesty and replaced with Revelation, a power that allows you to get the target to bear his soul to you. Making the theme of presence be much more force of personality and less of a grab bag of emotional control.

Obfuscate is another old favorite that makes a return, but like a person getting a face lift and dye job the name is virtually the only thing that stays the same. Touch of Shadow, the new level one power, allows the Kindred to conceal objects in your person. Mask of Tranquillity (level 2) hides your Predator’s taint from other Kindred meaning you no longer cause them to want to frenzy. Cloak of Night (level 3) is familiar to Masquerade players as it plays nearly identically to Vanish from the Minds eye, with the Familiar Stranger becoming the new level 4 power. Familiar Stranger is something akin to the old Mask of 1000 Faces but vastly different, instead of taking any form you wish, you take the form of who your target expects to see.

Protean, the famed discipline of the Gangrel has gotten a restructuring as well as a new power. Aspect of the Predator replaced Gleam of the Red Eye givng a Gangrel an angry beast that always tries to attack when encountering Predator’s Taint. However Earth Meld was put before the infamous agg dealing claws also picking up the ability to merge with other material for more XP.

To much happiness of many Thamaturgy has disappeared but blood magic remained. Two of the covenants have blood magic the dark miracles of Theban Sorcery and the blood-curses of Cruac. Blood Magic in Requiem is completely ritual based with no paths in sight so those who hated the million+ paths of Thamaturgy can breathe a sigh of relief.

Setting
One of the more subtle changes is the base setting of Requiem over Masquerade. In Masquerade we had a long history of Kindred, heck even the Prince of London was thousands of years old. And all vampires were decended from Caine, the mythical third mortal. In Requiem there is no more mythical progenitor the vampire creation myth is uncertain and most don’t even care about it. In addition no Kindred over 2000 years old is known to exist. Part of the mystery of Kindred history is that an elder who have fallen into torpor before suffer from fever dreams and nightmares mixed with their memories as they sleep. When they awaken they can’t distiguish dream from reality, this effect is called the Fog of Eternity.

Conclusion
There is a saying that “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Perhaps that’s the explaination on why Vampire the Requiem is often derided as being “too much the same” to Vampire the Masquerade. I hope that I have been informative and shown you that just because the changes aren’t there on the surface doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

There are still many things that remained the same it’s true. Many of the titles that Masquerade’s Camarilla used are there, although other options for titles are given. They are still called Kindred and it’s still Disciplines, Vitae, Clan, Bloodline and many other nomenclature similairites. But the similiarities truly die there. Which is a shame because I will miss the ankh being the symbol for practically every group.