Sunday, August 23, 2009

This a follow up from my previous post. If you haven't, go here. Sorry if this bores you to death, but I would like to keep talking about this topic for a while. Straight to the point, I'm proud of my back story.
Why is it a good thing that angles had 4 reasons to be "weak"? I find that people don't like when I do things for a couple of reasons. They want to simplify it and tell me that I do things just for 1 reason and the other ones are just rationalizations. Sometimes that might be true, but there are exceptions. In this case, I'm particularly fond of 4 reasons. That means it's a complicated balance. That means players have lots of choice to fix that thing! A humanities-centered player could help them gain confidence, a brawly player could try to defeat Mikaboshi and a strategist player could aid in giving them help via possible allies and technology (hence them not needing to do obsolete stuff).
That out of the road... How does players have anything to do with the big picture? I planned the campaign to be 3 archs, each having a classical 3 acts structure. The first arch should have been about knowing them, becoming a true Hunter. As you probably know, first act is all about setup. Here they got to know each other, Maria, Pancho and the idea that the world is fraked up and has this dark side. The plan was to make them hunt simple bad guys. The players should have defeated it almost too easily, but not so much as to be boring. The first plot point was the twist not every supernatural creature is evil. That the world is not black and white but shades of grey.
All of that happened, and I struggle to get there because of the real world giving us too much work :S From here on, everything is just what I planned for. I changed plenty of things to better deal with players, so I suspect had we played it, it would have been different. All in all, the first act of my first arch was like I planned.
The second act would have them realize that the company they were protecting was actually the bad guys. Not the people, but the corporate overlords. WoD fans would knew that from the start, as I clearly said that this company was a Pentex subsidiary. More important it was Mikaboshi's tool. Though that would have been seen ony after the second arch. I really put a lot of thought in foreshadowing. For all first arch, Mikaboshi should have been just a name. Even more, Maria and Pancho should've be just generic NPC. Through out the second act they would to go with Betsy to San Francisco and fight there to avoid the destruction of the building by the angels. Unaware to the players, angels had to ensure that the company didn't grew in power at Mexico. If that happened, angels would have had to go elsewhere. WoD fans know that SF is in war between Kueijins and Vampires... So all the second act they would be fighting a war for humanity without knowing the other agenda. Why couldn't Maria tell the guys about all this? Because they didn't ask, and because Maria still doubts herself.
I expected players to win this second battle with the help of Betsy and Roman. Either of them could in the right circumstance create enough confusion to make the Pentex invasion be delayed for unknown time. Just enough for the angels to get in shape a bit more.
The second plot point would be players realizing that they are not alone, that there are thousands of Hunters all around the globe. The climax being when players organize a party to create really big havoc in SF. With this I thought the first act was complete.
I added a subplot, Daniel's daughter. It was an excuse to add Roman, but also the interesting idea of being father of a "monster". Of that which you are supposed to hunt down. Pancho would have been really direct "you are either with us or against us" with Daniel.
Here's the perfect time to talk a bit more about these NPC. I wanted Pancho to be Justice, but being a bit fallen, be Vengeance. Or more accurately the wrath of God. He as any angel, can see your sins. That's why he don't like most guys. He knows you better than you. Unlike other angels, he cannot fool himself to see those sins as mere circumstancial errors. He knows your potential and how below you are. It's a surprise he doesn't kick you on sight. He loves you, no doubt, and when you act according to your potential, that's when he is happy. As there are not many angels left, he is also the angel of Destiny. He is far behind in that work, so not many get a good one. Can you imagine how hard is for him to be himself? Fortunately he has a willing vessel. There's this nameless guy who wasted his life in meaningless choices. Until one day when he hits bottom. He has no skill, no knowledge, no friends and he just realize what a waste he is. In a truly less than probable moment, he sees the void but doesn't despair. In that moment of clarity he asks heaven for help, not pleading but as a matter of fact. "I'm screwed and I don't know shit. I need help. I want to be the difference. This cannot continue." This is when Maria acts and puts them together. That's what Pancho needed.
Maria, she is the angel of Grace, Lady Luck, the proverbial Mother or so many things. As Pancho, she has to do so many things now that they are the only ones to manage Creation. She gives not based on what you deserve, but ought of what you need. She's actually Pancho's superior if the hierarchy weren't disolved. You cannot minimize her pain, but she has a plan. She always has one. She is gonna make the world better via Humanity. She is passive for Pancho's taste, but she is reaching out through creation to give all of us better luck. Hunter's is just the first domino piece for her.
The second arch would have been about players going against Mikaboshi. Now that they have actually make a big difference (with SF Pentex's demise), María can trust them. They would discover that the plan is to gain a foothold over all those dark powers via the hunters. And there are so manyin WoD!
First act would be them playing against the Sabbat in Mexico City. That should be easy with a dozen or so hunters lead by them, is it not? Actually no, but they should succeed with Betsy's or Roman's help. However the first plot point should be discovering that although there are many hunters, only they get to talk with the Heralds! All through second act they would have to fight vampires. Can they really win against such odds? No they cannot. Players should run for their lives, "luckily" to Japan. Here they would find two things. One they no longer have access to Maria nor Pancho and two, Sabbat vampires are rather stupid, they will follow you. Here's where Mikaboshi would finally be seen. He won't permit any stupid Gai Jin sect to mess around. He does have the power to crush the cult. After the first arch, angels are now strong enough, so now players can realize that Mexico's destiny is to be Mikaboshi's prison. The second plot point is the players realizing this. The third act consists of players giving Mikaboshi the key to move to Mexico. And once there, players would follow the ancient ritual that made the oath of not intervention among realms. Which has among many features, breaking the old rule, thus giving a lot of power back to the angels, emprison Mikaboshi and destroying the Yomi :S Mexico becomes a safe zone for all vampires who instantly die, just like in WoD Jerusalem. This in turn bring plenty of consecuences. Angels are fully restored. No doubts can remain after all this, right? On the other hand, all supernatural's can feel the change. This event is like the Week of Dreams, the opposite of the Week of Nightmares, so the world won't end. I really wish players had played that arch. I think they would have loved such an epic arch.
So what happens afterwards? That's the third arch. The first one was all about hunters, second about the dark powers, this one fits to be about the Heralds themselves. By now, they seem to be in power and with time they could give us paradise... Too good to be true?
First act of the last arch. Here our players go around happily huntind down Nephandi. By now, they should have a few allies. Nuwishas, Mummies and what not. This arch will be very hard to aovid falling on crossovers :S Hunters should still be humans! So the first act is all about adapting to the new world order. Technocraci is still a power to be afraid of, but players probably don't care, they work for the Big Pair. First point plot, they get to meet Lucifer by mistake. Here he tells players about a vision he had, that the world will not be restored until just one angel governs above all Creation. By now Lucifer is fighting Belial and his old pals, so he doesn't care about this so called new world order. He has real issues to work on. Things get more complex when some other allies report similar visions. One of the angels will die in the near future. It's like if Creation itself was reestructuring itself to have another God.
Second act si once again confusion. Will Maria die? Making it a mercyless world? Or will Pancho sacrifice himself for the better world? Here's where Loki enters the scene finally. He is dying, but with this he has a clearer view. Maria is gonna disolve in a week. She has spread too thin through Creation. She is turnig the world into a paradise, but that requires all of her. Do you know how many secret conspirancies does the WoD have? Only something so big as Maria could take them all down with shear willpower or should I say coincidences. Maria becomes delusional by the second day of the week. Pancho is talking about sacrifice to keep her alive. By the third day she doesn't need a host anymore so she just leaves. Loki tells about Lucifer's raw power. He can handle what Maria cannot. Pancho does stupid things. He destroys the dark umbra (no more wraiths) in an attempt to simply Creation (that plane was never part of the divine plan he says...) Everyday things are paradoxically worse. I mean paradoxically because good things happen all the time. Technocraci disbands, for example. Players should be really puzzled. And to be honest, I don't know if I would have been such a good story teller to increase the drama as this should be. Players have to convince Lucifer to help angels! That will only happend if they can convince him that humanity is worth saving and that can only happen if they retain free will. Or if players can convince him that he made a mistake!
The second plot point is when players realize that if Maria wins, there will not be any confrontation ever again. That paradise precludes Trascendance. That people have the right to do mistakes. That Maria should be stopped not saved. That good intentions are the road to hell. Pancho won't like it so he would try to stop players from destroying his other love. And to him, players are betraying him. Loki would die defending players while they save the Wyrm from itself. It is the missing thing the Creation needs to be actually in peace with itself. Maria will die and with her every supernatural. That's a harsh thing, but the world is chaging once more. Maria succeeded and no supernatural will ever hurt mankind again. This should be sad for the players as they by this point should know that life is not just shades of grey, it's really a colorful world. All these allies should go, humanity needs to be left alone to reach his potential. Or at least, that's a read.
The last act of the last act should be a Wake. All these friends having to go (to the Dream realm). In a way, it is a circle closing. Tha campaign was after all about the mundane world exalting. For instance Diplomacy should have been really important through out the game, and that's just realistic.
Anyway, the climax happens there are no more supernatural but Lucifer. Obviously nothing could have hurt the first Light. yet the world is now a naturalistic world! Just like the real thing :p The campaign ends, with players being once a again regular humans but hopefully a bit more wise. (Lucifer walks away with the sunset.) The end.
This blog was on a road to sadness.. People reading it might conclude I'm having a bad year. (It is tempting to apply the "emo" qualifier, but it is overused and inaccurate.) I was saying... No, I'm in the middle of a very good year. I do have sad circumstance casting shadows, and my life is kinda roller-coastering but thinks are good over all. Anyway, I want to share with you a thing. My latest rpg adventure.
I was storytelling one via a blog and some mails. It was fantastic. I'm officially finishing with that story. It's kinda sad to end it, this way, but I'm happy no less. It was good while it lasted. So here I'm gonna spill my beans. I have two stories to tell. One is about the literary elements (includes spoilers) and the other one is about the meta-game. I know myself, if I write one I might never write the other one and I really want to share the campaign's back-story, so sorry for the meta content. If I ever have time and memory, I should tell that other one.
Disclaimer: I'm gonna tell silly things which from your perspective might soud dull, however here I am pointing "hey, this is interesting". Besides, if you were playing with me this campaign, you might read things you didn't want to read. So in a way, I'm telling you, sorry for the rant.
I chose a Hunter: The Reckoning based game, because that setting was the first one that inspired me a story worth playing. I wanted something fresh for my players. We munchkinize everything we touch. I wanted to exalt the mundane world. It is, after all, my new year resolution.
Players rightfully can ask me "Who the frak do you think you are to try to force me to actually role play?" I'm no one. I just want people to see if they enjoy a less hack/slash game. Anyway, even though my goal was that one, I had another one far more important, to be a better ST. So, I listened attentively to my players. That's why I finally added fight scenes. (Those sound easy to do but are very hard to create in an asynchronous media.) Yet above all I always tried to make them have meaningful choices/consequences. The only problem with that idea is that I thought too much the back story... You see, for any change to be visible to them, I had to pass it through a large chain reaction; Characters lived in a huge world. :S
Let me start from the beginning. When I decided to have a die-less game, my inner writer looked for something awesome to write about. Here, I found the Heralds. The cannon doesn't tell much about them, as usual in White-Wolf. However I have read enough of their books to put together some clues. With them I played to see if I could put something interesting. WW said there should be two, Yin & Yang. In a supplement from Demon: The Fallen, Lucifer said that there where only 2 angels left. Like this, there are a dozen more clues which I intertwined. I decided I liked the angel idea, but I couldn't do the estereotypical angel. I'm really tired of the "angels are so good that they are stupid" or the "angels are actually mean". It was a challenge.
How to portrait good epic guys accurate? My inner writer really likes to try new points of view. First thing, God had to go. I couldn't play them as tools and be interesting. Second, they had to be really good, no evil hidden agenda. They have an agenda, but there should be no confusion they are good in the Santa Clausian way. Third, I'm also tired of the "they were really powerful once now they don't". That's a dilemma, I want them powerful, but if they are too powerful why is the world in such a state? I had to find a balance. These guys were to be diminished gods, but still good epic gods compared to mankind.
I made them out of the tarot. The Priestess and Judgement Day. Near enough to Yin and Yang? They were to represent the ultimate Mercy and Justice. But how to portrait epic beings? I decided to battered them down with a hard world. As a discoverable backstory, I set them to be survivors of the first war between angels and demons. D:TF tells about what happened from the demon side. Well, Maria and Pancho, where to be the ones to tell the other story.
The angels that won the war, lost their God. And they never got a chance to know why. Most of the angels lost their will to serve after the war, becoming just stars. An important Literary Design decision was to answer, what happens when an epic being dies? Or can they die? I chose to let them die, but the universe couldn't be without one of the principles, so from their remains spirits were born in the Werewolf: The Apocalypse fashion. So for example, nowadays there's a Luna Incarna, well that's actually a dead angel. It's a really creepy idea. That Angel of the Moon was so epic, that its corpse is still far more intelligent and powerful than almost anything in the Creation. This is a worthy idea.
Only 21 angels decided to stay with humanity after the dust settled. These are the Mayor Arcana of the Tarot. Not to be expected, Lucifer is not the Devil, he's the Fool, the Zeroth. One of the first things the angels decided was to split the world and reign over them. They made an oath to not intervene in each other's realm. That's why the World of Darkness is so different in Africa than in the Middle Kingdom. Angels thought that without the original Chorus structure, they couldn't rely in each other. That was obviously a very bad idea. A singer usually doesn't know how to lead a band. Anyway, our story is about the two who ruled Middle Kingdom. (Wait no, it is about the players! But I'm still in the backstory... you see how this could be a problem??)
Another chore I put myself to do was to study. I read about the real Chinese history and about the WoD. I wanted to do the best possible mix, keeping them both honest. (Of course in case of doubt, players were to decide...) Kuen-jin backstory tells a big chunk about the golden age of that realm. I decided that there was never an August Personage In Jade. It was always Pancho or Maria pulling the strings. They needed one of these guys. They are utterly incapable of taking the credit for their actions. They need a head. They need to believe that they are serving God. After all, having worship is akin to being a demon! They rightly describe themselves as forces of nature.
It's interesting to note, that these guys are inhumanly intelligent and powerful, but they do make mistakes! NP-Complete. Not even they can foresee every consecuences... that's why they went to war. They fraked creating the Wan Xian for instances. That's why they now create Hunters. "Powerful" enough to beat some bad guys, but not too much to be cocky. However their most significant mistake was to trust Mikaboshi. You have to understand, as any angel, they love humanity. Sad epic beings, they are programmed to love without control these monkeys. So they thought that Humanity could be better with a reencarnation plan. Something to give all of us an edge to Transcendence. Strange how these angels think. Worth thinking about.
Anyway, they helped Mikaboshi to get on top and be a Yama King. Unfortunately, all Yama Kings became corrupted and hungry for more power. Luckily that old oath protects the rest of the world from these beings. Unfortunately María and Pancho were inside of their realm... Mikaboshi's greates victory was to imprison the angels! That's how the world became ever the worse in the standard WoD way.
I should mention that all the 21 angels eventually failed. These guys should have known that they are gregarious in nature. Only one of them "survives", Loki, the Hanged Man, Kishijoten, father of all Nuwishas. Though he is not an angel anymore. He is just himself and is about to disintegrate for that exact reason. Too much dissonance. Yes, I'm a bit influenced by Destruction from the Endless. However this guy is actually important for the playable story!
These 2 angels were imprisoned in no other place but Nagasaki. These guys were in a mini-hell :( They would have died there if not for the H-bomb. I don't want to be disrespectful here. I want to say that for all the bad things that happened that day, at least one good thing came out. Kinda like Pandora's box, having Hope as the last thing.
So after the bomb they are once again free, but they are battered down. Too much time in the box. They have kinda fallen. They doubt themselves. They are so weak and starving that they go to do the exact same thing years later demons will do! They possess people. That's a worthy nice twist. They had to do it, the fifth great maelstorm is all over the place, it hurts as they have never ever felt it. And the worst is what they discovered. There are no more angels and humanity was at war. Too much for these good guys. They were crushed by despair. They lost faith in humanity. That's why they didn't start right there rebuilding Creation. They were about to quit.
Yet some years later (few for an angel). Man goes to the moon! Wow, they can feel the Glamour. That's enough for these sappy beings. They would help mankind be better, once again. However they are weak. With surprise they discover that their nexus with the universe was cut. Actually it's the doubt in themselves. A doubtful angel is not an angel for too much. As fast as they can they need to fix this world! Haste is the mother accidents. Anyway, in this weak state they fear Mikaboshi so they flew outside of their former realm. They come to Mexico.
Actually they go through out the world for several years, it's a bit slow with the whole problem of having to have a body, but they manage it. An important thing to mention is that they develop an etiquette of angelic possession. only guys that are open to them can be vessels. For instance Maria's body is actually a Nicaraguan teacher that everyday prayed for God to help her have the capacity to teach the deaf. (She got her deal.) Obviously Pancho and Maria are just "nicknames". Angels just as demons can hear when you say their names, however these beings are so powerful that they just have the human name they wish to have. If you are in Mexico and you want to have a good pulse of mankind, I could swear hearing everything said around "maria" would be really useful. How lucky is that these guys won't go crazy by all this information (but they would react a bit more slowly that usual). So, in other words, Maria and Pancho act like people, because they are inside real people, they are weak, they are afraid of Mikaboshi and because they use their resources in having a better grasp of the world... I'm proud of this.
I have tons of things more to add, but I have to sleep. Let us see if I can continue this tomorrow. Sorry for the rant without structure...

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