[Challenge Accepted] The Giovanni Chronicles I – The Last Supper (VtM); Press X to pay respect

[Adventure]
The Giovanni Chronicles I – The Last Supper (1995)

Daniel Greenberg (White Wolf)
Fledglings

“Die, monster! You don’t belong in this world!”
“It was not by my hand that I’m once again given flesh. I was called here by humans who wish to pay me tribute.”
“Tribute?! You steal men’s souls and make them your slaves!”
Perhaps the same could be said of all religions.”
Your words are as empty as your soul! Mankind ill needs a savior such as you!”
What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets! But enough talk! Have at you!”
– Richter Belmont vs Dracula, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

In response to a challenge offered to your humble host I have gone boldly forth and ventured into the murky abyss that lies beyond the golden isles of the OSR, delving deep into forgotten depths best left undisturbed. An Outcast of our glorious and benevolent EU with a trackball by the name of Jon has suggested I check out the Giovanni Chronicles, a tetraology of adventures for Vampire the Masquerade and provide him with my take on it and has generously provided me with the required source material in question.

A quick primer for the slow and the uninitiated: Vampire the Masquerade is a 90s era horror roleplaying game made by the company White Wolf that gained immense popularity at its height, eclipsing that of TSR, before diminishing to more manageable levels during the D20 era, retaining considerable popularity even to this day (just check out Drivethrurpg’s bestsellers.
Its supposed focus is on exploring deep, mature themes, personal horror and roleplaying as opposed to vulgar dungeoncrawling, hexcrawling and other pasttimes fit only for the plebians of the hobby. I consider it vaguely ridiculous for its pretentious style , pseudo-artistic aspirations, incoherent game design, prissy fan-base, gigantic catalog, metaplot and the insane railroadery nature of its adventures though I would be lying if I said I considered it entirely without merit. In short, VtM has a philosophy to gaming that is almost antithetical to that of my own.

Before I start this review I think it would be best if I established a baseline of my familiarity with Vampire the Masquerade and other World of Darkness games so it is possible to get an idea where I am coming from.
So first and foremost let me begin by confessing here and now that I ACTUALLY PLAYED WORLD OF DARKNESS GAMES ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS. It never went beyond 1-2 sessions because of either the lethargy of the GM or the scheduling conflicts but there we go. I have known people that claimed to have played in extended campaigns (particularly of Mage the Awakening, an even MORE pretentious personal horror game that attracted players that were EVEN WORSE). I have read the Vampire the Masquerade 20th anniversary edition and have a basic understanding of the system and the setting and in preparation for this adventure I opened a tab to the White Wolf Wiki and read the Giovanni Sourcebook (1st edition) so I would have a grasp of the principal actors and the plot. In order to make this review somewhat digestible to those so blessed as to be unfamiliar with the Vampire the Masquerade Universe I have added cliff-notes here and there to clarify certain matters.

The Giovanni Chronicles are 4 linked adventures that have as a primary focus the struggle against the Giovanni, an insular bloodline [1] of vampires necromancers that secretly plot to breach the barriers between the world of the living and the afterlife so as to gain dominion over all existence. It is published under the transgressive Black Dog label; a line of products with an (even more) mature and gritty edge to them meant for advanced and mature role-players whatever the hell that means. The adventures form a mini-campaign in and of themselves and are meant to be played sequentially.

The Last Supper takes place in April 4, 1444 [2] in the Carpathian Wilderness and takes about 15 pages to explain itself and give you enough backstory so you gain a vague understanding of the plot, before diving into the adventure proper. This is still unusually terse for a World of Darkness Chronicle.
The adventure centers around a major event in the lore of the VtM Universe; the genesis of the Giovanni clan as one of the major Bloodlines via the Diablerie [3] of their legendary sire [4], Cappadocius. The plot is quite complex and has a fucktonne of backstory, a staple of VtM and WoD in general, with a cast of NPCs that all have their own conflicting motivations and history.
Cappadocius and his undead progeny are concerned with the study of the boundary between life and death, and after consulting Gnostic texts, Necromantic lore and fragments of the legendary Book of Nod he has concocted a ritual to essentially diablerize God and grant everlasting life to all creatures, mortal and vampire and thereby lift the curse of Vampirism, ending the damnation of the progeny of Caine. Augustus Giovanni, Venetian Necromancer turned Cappadocian vampire, seeks to diablerize his Sire and take control of the Cappadocian clain with the aid of a conspiracy of elder vampires of different clans known as the Conspiracy of Isaac. The plot thickens to Dune-like levels of intricacy with the addition of a third group, the Founders, a similar group of elder Vampires that seek to unite the factitious Vampire clans into a unified front in order to combat the recent wave of rebellious young vampires that seek to cast off the yoke of their immortal progenitors and the growing power of the Inquisition respectively.
The Founders have a convoluted agenda as the murder of Cappadocius would bring the normally reclusive Cappadocians under the influence of the far more pragmatic Giovanni faction and thus make them more amendable to Camarilla membership while the death of Cappadocius and his follower Japheth would provide a justification for an alliance between major clans and the formation of what is essentially a Vampire EU. A magic super gypsy vampire serves as a type of magical minority that foresees the dangers of this coming clash and seeks to prevent it via the PCs. Fortunately for her, the  linearity of this adventure means she does not have much to fear on that account.

But before we get into the serious snarking, I should focus on some additional recommendations we receive in this 15-page introduction. This adventure can be adapted for LARPING, just in case you thought the mere act of playing Vampire the Masquerade was not sufficiently embarrassing in and of itself, while also dwelling on the fact that in this adventure, the players CAN in fact choose with which side they want to ally, something that is apparently so alien to the mindset of White Wolf fans that it must be spelled out along with several warnings and disclaimers. The adventure also makes use of some ‘advanced storytelling techniques’ by giving the players control over some of the supporting cast during their own incarceration and interrogation, a decision that is meant to somewhat ameliorate a long ass section where the PCs are powerless and are getting interrogated one by one in the manner of an ignorant surgeon ameliorating the symptoms while leaving the disease untreated. It ends with a note on the themes of the game (personal responsibility) and notes on Mood that are so vague and general as to be almost useless. You must evoke a mood of Grandeur and Decay! Operatic majesty and even Religious Awe! Players should feel as though they are part of a vast and grandiose play. How fitting, because like a play, the lines are scripted and the outcome is known before the adventure begins.

There is another major difference in philosophy between the effete VtM would-be thespians and the finger-sniffing OSR troglodytes. This adventure is focused very much on the facilitation of roleplaying and seems to consider the very act a worthy pursuit in itself, not an enjoyable means of reaching a goal. If roleplaying is the essential icing on the delicious cake of OSR games in VtM the very purpose of the game seems to be to facilitate this often aimless roleplaying, with game-like elements often included almost like an afterthought. This is incidentally why I do not balk at my relatively sparse knowledge of VtM’s leveling system because stats and mechanics are very often irrelevant to the resolution of the adventure.

The adventure proper is divided into three Acts, much like the story Daniel Greenberg wanted to write instead of an adventure.

Act I: The Art of Fine Dining. 

All PCs begin as mortals. The purpose of the first act is to transition them from dung-covered medieval ragamuffins to nail-polish wearing sulking vampires in the most drawn out, stylistic manner imaginable. This section was by far the most shocking to me because it contains virtually no significant decisions, which was disappointing. It does a good, one can almost say obsessive, job of building up atmosphere and there are SOME decisions that have an effect on the rest of the adventure but they are nuggets of game play in an ocean of fluff.

The decision to have players pick a vampire bloodline first and then play as mortals with their vampiric abilities essentially on hold for the time being is an erroneous one in my opinion because it removes any sense of peril from the adventure by already firmly establishing that the character in question will be embraced by a Vampire of the bloodline he has selected. What the adventure should have done is to order the PCs to make a group of mortals and have the GM (called the Storyteller because Dungeon Master is the vulgar rank of the dungeoncrawling proletariat unbecoming of a proud adherent of the New School of Serious Storytelling Experience that is Vampire the Masquerade) secretly decide which Vampire will “embrace” [5] him, or just play it out and let fate and interaction decide if he deems it will not be too time-consuming.

The characters in this serious operatic drama meet…at an inn. They, alongside NPCs of all walks of life (forming the inauspicious number of 13 in total) have been invited to the mansion of Lord Giovanni for a grande feast. The scene is specifically set up so everyone can get in character, which is not a bad idea, and does both foreshadowing and significant gameplay by introducing the fanatical Brother Clement who will rave about Lord Giovanni’s evil reputation, the injured Crusader Paul who seeks employment with the Giovanni household and asks the players to intercede on his behalf and the Ghoul [6]  servants Lothar and Roderigo and even the magic gypsy lady that will turn up later on. Everyone is given roleplaying hints and there are several scripted lines from characters to build up the evil reputation of the Giovanni alongside the fact Lothar the ghoul steward is a total creep that smells and licks the hands of the people he meets and mutters about feasts and savory inner qualities. If you try to help out poor Paul the Crusader you will actually get him as a Ghoul servant later on in the story, while snubbing him just to be a dick will get you nothing. This is the only significant action the PCs can take at this time, but as foreshadowing it at least tolerable. There is an instance where the PCs must pass some sort of test to gain certain information but since the information is mostly atmospheric I see no reason why you couldn’t simply tell one of the PCs, unless it was to maintain the illusion of interactivity, something which VtM is very adamant about.

The railroading unwittingly leads to hilarity. If the PCs attempt to escape the Inn and avoid the dinner party (and they have to be total assholes to do that, seriously watch out for anyone who does a chimp-out at this stage on how ‘his character has no motivation to go to the party.’ Nip that shit in the bud right then and there) they get captured and brought to the party to wake up at the dinner later on. That one is understandable. However, if they treat Lothar like shit they can actually find themselves snootily uninvited and subsequently kidnapped to wake up at the dinner table, which cracks me up.

After the introduction, the characters face a wall of descriptive text as they ride up to the Giovanni mansion, complete with tombstones in the gardens, crucified locals in the woods and stone gargoyle faces on the walls. There is a point where the PCs arrive at a door and Rodrigo (the Ghoul coachman who turns out to be a secret spy for the Founders later on) knocks on a door but it does not open, and the GM is meant to rack up the tension by asking the PCs what they do and so and so forth, and there is another opportunity to gain Rodrigo’s trust, which has NO MECHANICAL BENEFITS OR TRUE STORYLINE IMPACT unless the GM decides otherwise. I hate shit like that and this adventure series does it ALL THE FUCKING TIME. The section takes for fucking ever to reach the point where the PCs can actually interact with other objects, and the use of the fake tension ramp-up, while good at retaining the attention and atmosphere, is another example of patching over what should not be there in the first place.

Anyway, the invisible walls are up in full and several guards with crossbows make it obvious there will be no escaping by the power of GM fiat. Every detail of the mansion that could conceivable contribute to the atmosphere is described like a Russian novel until eventually the characters are introduced to the Lord Giovanni and his 12 other fucking elder vampire guests. At this point we have met 17?!? NPCs with significant parts in the adventure already while we still do not really know what is going on or why. The Last Supper then decides that after all that hard-hitting, pulse-pounding fake ambush action it will hit you with…a scene where each player meets his future Vampiric liege to be, individually so the rest of the PCs can sit while one interacts with an NPC. Anyway, all the vampire elders have a distinct appearance and backstory, but curiously enough the art in the book does not seem to match up with the descriptions given, something of a baffling inconsistency.

Anyway, each NPC puts his future dinner through something called the ‘Harrowing,’ where they test their mettle, philosophy or character. These little vignettes are mostly very well done, with my favorite being the Assamite [7] elder challenging his prey to a sort of assassin’s game that can actually be won and a hideous lady in a leper mask deforming someone with magic to show them the transitory nature of beauty. Some of the vignettes have a chance to fuck with your Humanity or give you a Derangement or something and each offers a chance to win the respect of one of the Elders, which as written can serve as an entry point for gaining the trust of Giovanni in Act II, though the exact process by which this happens is rather vague. Each vignette does serve to give an introduction to the Vampire clan the character will become a part of and thus give the player some inkling of what they are about. It is impossible fail or succeed during this section since failure will generally mean a hideous punishment followed by waking up during the third part of the Act, at the dinner party. From a gameplay perspective this section is saved because many of the segments do allow your CHARACTER to make a decision that does not affect the storyline but affects YOUR CHARACTER AND WHAT HE IS LIKE, therefore it does have some merit. I might be starting to get into the VtM mindset or perhaps that means the drugs are starting to kick in.

After the PCs have faffed about and everyone is done watching everyone else interact with their vampire mom or dad to be, they are brought to the feast. The scene is again, wonderfully described but also very sparse in terms of interaction. After carting in wonderful smelling food Claudius Giovanni gives half a page worth of lines before bringing in a sheep and asking the PCs if they will murder it with an axe since it is to be their food. This section is set up so that the PCs either comply or the vampires use magic powers to overcome their resistance and it happens anyway, another staple of White Wolf adventure design. This is followed by a long ass rambling speech that is self-indulgent on the part of the writer since it forces both GM and player into a state of passive acceptance, the resolution of Paul’s fate and then everyone gets a collar and a cork and is about to be drained dry as mere cattle. As the PCs are about to face death, the party is interrupted! Turns out the mansion is under attack by the Founders (who bear the livery of a red rose upon a black flag, awesome) and someone needs a distraction to escape via secret tunnel. Looks like the PCs will not become dinner just yet as there are 13 wonderful candidates for vampire suicide rearguard. Finally, all the PCs and NPCs are turned into Vampires.

This section of the first act allows A QUANTUM of freedom on the part of the PCs. Resistant PCs are Dominated into making a last stand and are again railroaded in place, which is fucking bullshit. PCs that accepted their fate have now been given some volition. There is no map of the castle and the numerous attackers are not given stats beyond the Commander Hardestadt and the traitor Ghoul Roderico in A DIFFERENT SECTION OF THE ADVENTURE, which is a bizarre omission that only serves to illustrate that stats are mostly cosmetic in this series and you should put all of your XP (uh I mean points) in cool powers because it is the only thing that will matter in the end. The idea is that the players face overwhelming odds and will lose no matter what, but you can at least earn an extra point of XP in this section by surrendering and pleading for the lives of the others. Who was this made for, the French? I will give the adventure minimal credit by stating that if some of the PCs die instead of being reduced to unconsciousness they can go fuck themselves and pick one of the NPC vampires that survive, though the possibility is very slim [8]. Act I ends with the PCs being captured, the NPC vampire turned by Claudius missing in the melee and the rest of the NPC vampires being murdered.

Incidentally, a non-shitty way of handling this would have been giving the PCs a chance to escape if they are resourceful enough and then have them captured somewhere outside the mansion. While still technically filler it would at least give them a chance to use tactics and show some sort of defiance to their captors before that.

ACT II: In the Halls of the Dead

ACT II begins by leaving a sour taste in my mouth. Prepare for long descriptions of coach rides to Castle Deverick during which the adventure places ghoul soldiers in the coach so you can’t escape, followed by a tedious and lengthy interrogation scene that is the worst part of the adventure. Allow me to list its many mistakes.

The pacing is glacial to “build the atmosphere” but what it actually does is draw things out and any savvy players will pick up on that. You get thrown in a cell. A ray of sunlight comes in and might hit you while you are immobilized…only it stops just short. You can’t make any ruckus or the guards will hit you in the stomach with a Torch! We get it, the PCs are powerless, get the fuck on with your story, no one ever kills someone in captivity. After this bullshit the PCs are interrogated and humiliated one by one by Hardestadt and his 6 NEW FUCKING ELDER VAMPIRE NPCS AND THE GYPSY FROM THE PROLOGUE on the nature of Giovanni’s plot THAT THEY KNOW NOTHING ABOUT. WHICH MEANS EVERYONE GETS TO SIT ON THEIR ASS AGAIN AND WATCH THE GM SCARE THE PLAYERS INTO REVEALING INFORMATION THEY CANNOT KNOW.
This part is so tedious the adventure gives you the option of letting the players TAKE OVER THE ROLES OF THE OTHER ELDERS SO THEY HAVE SOMETHING TO DO. Oh my god, there are so many additions here that add NOTHING and WASTE TIME. This is aggravating because Hardestadt for the most part ALREADY KNOWS ABOUT THE PLOT AGAINST CAPPADOCIUS and any names the characters give him WOULD ALREADY HAVE BEEN TOLD TO HIM BY HIS DOUBLE AGENT RODERIGO.

After this we get into yet another fucking stupid scene where the elders discuss the fate of the PCs by squabbling like idiots when suddenly the adventure is actually so asinine as to suggest the FUCKING PLAYERS TAKE OVER THE ROLES OF ELDERS IN A DEBATE TO DETERMINE THEIR FATE BEFORE HAVING THE FUCKING WHOOPIE GOLDBERG GYPSY WOMAN OVERRULE EVERYONE BY MAKING A PROPHECY BY CRACKING AN EGG AND HAVING BLOOD POURING OUT. After that I hope you practiced on your voices because hot damn you can read a bunch of dialog lines in different voices to yourself while the PCs watch in incredulous horror, waiting in vain until they get to do something.

Finally…after PAAAAGGGEESSS and PAAAAAGGGEESS of read aloud sentences (I think Bryce would have an aneurysm if he would ever touch this) the PCs are drafted by Hardebrecht into helping out with the destruction of Claudius Giovanni and his plan to diablerize Japhet Cappadocius (It is unclear if he knows about the parallel diablerization plot by Augustus to devour Cappadocius himself). They are cleaned up, fed blood and Roderigo tells them some shit about Vampires that they need to know, like the Masquerade, their powers, their weaknesses etc. etc.

After what will either be a knowing nod from the GM or a veritable deluge of expository dialogue, Hardebrecht calls them over to discuss plans. He needs them to get infiltrate the Conspiracy of Isaac again and keep him informed on when their attack on Japheth takes place. If they can kill any elders secretly they should totally do so. The reason this is not an idiot plot and Hardebrecht does not just simply steamroll over the vampires with his hordes of statt-less ghoul soldiers is actually addressed. He does not really care about saving Japheth, he just wants to use this crisis to form the Camarilla [9].
It gets even more complex because one of his clan members (a Ventrue), is in the Conspiracy of Isaac and plans to eliminate Japheth so the Cappadocians are more amendable to joining the Camarilla but he also plans to have his elder and more influential co-conspirator die in the fighting so he gets all the credit for it. He informs the PCs they should kill her if they can kill anyone. They are also informed they need to chill the fuck out and keep a low profile or the Inquisition will find them and murder the shit out of them.

After this the PCs are driven to yet another inn when SOMETHING FINALLY HAPPENS. The coach is ambushed by bandits (hired by Lothar and equipped with torches and stakes that they neglect to use because they didn’t want to ruin any silk and they weren’t actually told they would be facing vampires fucking lame) so combat may take place. The bandits are given no stats but there are conversion notes so I assume the corebook takes care of generic thug stats and the fight should be a pushover since 3-5 vampires vs 6 humans is a curbstomp. After you get to the Inn you get to look like an asshole when the entire conspiracy simultaneously decloaks [10] after making you wait. Regardless of how terrible you behaved, Claudius still tries to enlist you in his conspiracy to kill Japhet, and the adventure goes into quite a lot of detail about the reasons why. He makes a pretty good case that Cappadocius is a madman that wants to diablerize God and that the Giovanni are going places but its weird that its this parallel murder plot that nobody seems to acknowledge, since Japhet is not actually the Cappadocian Elder vampire. Anyway, Claudius wants you to deliver a message to Japhet to set up a meeting between the two so they may now be murdered.

The adventure pulls another dick move by stating that if you actually try a covert attack one one of the conspirators (whose locations are within the Inn and are not given any attention, making such a prospect unlikely but not impossible) and the PCs succeed, the conspirator dies, UNLESS THEY ARE CLAUDIUS OR FUCKING HARDEBRECHT’S NEMESIS IN WHICH CASE THEY HAVE A CHARACTER SHIELD. So first Hardebrecht points out you should really kill one of them, and subsequently the GM pulls his fiat to ensure this plan fails automatically. Just deliver the fucking message already. The adventure is set up so that even if you go to the Cappadocians with the message and essentially prove there will be a betrayal they will not believe it since Claudius is their kin, which is remarkably stupid for a vampire, but then again the Cappadocians ARE sort of weird Religious Mystic monks so whatever. You finally get Ghoul Paul as a willing servant if you saved him in Act I btw.

This is about the point where the actual gameplay begins and the adventure attempts to GET GUD, since the PCs can actually decide to ally with the Founders, the Conspiracy or even stay to defend the Cappadocians and join up with them. Before they reach the monastery, the game actually becomes momentarily awesome by AMBUSHING YOU AGAIN. It is brother Clement, remember him? The Doom-saying monk of the opening Act, along with Six Templars! They use burning arrows, throw rocks wrapped in rags dipped in holy water have imbibed so much holy water draining them actually inflicts damage on you. So formidable are these Templars they actually warrant a stat-block next to the encounter. It reads more like something out of Hellsing the Animated series then something out of Anne Rice but fuck it, I am willing to play ball! The adventure fucks it up again by stating that if all the PCs are subdued by the Templars they wake up in the monastary of the Cappadocians? Why? Why have combat at all if you are going to bail out the PCs and undercut the dramatic tension.

Urgh. The Cappadocian monastary is next. The scene is set up really well with the Cappadocians coming off as a sort of bizarre fusion between the profane and the divine and turns up the weirdness to 11 by giving the possibility to learn more about the path of the Cappadocians if the characters to desire. It’s really well written expository lore, but it is still expository lore. They must go back to the site of the ambush and “forgive” the ambushers, which will cause them to rise up, healed of all injuries, but zombified unbeknownst to the characters. After witnessing this necromantic miracle, the Cappadocians are maddeningly placid and state that the other cheek must be turned and so on and thus will take no action against Giovanni. The Act ends with the PCs now having to make a decision and the attack taking place in…a week. Flight is, of course, very difficult because of some fairly credible barriers. Actual fucking gameplay might damn well occur.

Act III – The Choice. 

The segment White Wolf was so uncertain about, they felt they had to put in some reassurances that players would be able to take action even if not explicitly told to do so by the plot. The adventure focuses on possibilities for information gathering first and foremost, assuming the PCs will want to figure out what the fuck is going on by talking to everyone. It then proceeds to give EVERY SINGLE ELDER VAMPIRE NPC something of importance to impart, which is a psychotic level of dedication that I almost appreciate. However, I could have done it with one or two lines of text per NPC entry in a single boxed entry. However, you figure out that the Founders suspect the Giovanni also have a God plot, which they find a credible threat, as opposed to the Cappadocian God-plot, which they do not find credible.

In the meantime the characters do receive some homework from Vampire Gypsy queen in terms of another cryptic prophecy for which they need Giovanni Blood to prevent them from absorbing the soul of Cappadocius via their diablerie/necromancy shit plan. I like this addition because it requires trickery, plotting or some sort of thought on the part of the PCs to obtain and the solution is variable (though gaining the trust a certain member of the Conspiracy of Isaac will make it possible also). The adventure mentions you get a ‘boon’ for winning Character-shield Ventrue’s trust but doesn’t mention what a boon is. You can also learn about the coming ‘Maelstrom,’ a sort of metaphysical storm of souls that is soon to erupt, but the knowledge is useless because it cannot be applied. You can’t stop the attack and you can’t delay it, though you could theoretically off one or 2 elders or get yourself disqualified before it takes place.

Now, the adventure grows some balls again by setting you straight and keeping you on your toes. First up, Lothar (the dick from ep 1) is still alive, has six ghoul retainers (what the fuck is up with that number, was it laziness or is it symbolism or something?) all of them without stats. He follows you around and thus you have to figure something out because otherwise he will know or come to suspect that you are a traitor. The adventure makes it clear that if one of the groups suspect that you are a traitor, YOU WILL FUCKING DIE AND CAN ONLY BE AVERTED BY THE MOST BRILLIANT OF ACTING. You can theoretically kill the Founders since they do not have character shields but in practice that is a hard bargain.

There is more ass covering. If you do the logical thing and make yourself a vampire army from a nearby village (good old 1e VtM makes it pretty easy to make new Vampires), you will call the wrath of both the vampiric factions and the Inquisition on your ass so that one is out. Choosing no sides and fleeing means both groups will suspect you of treachery and hunt you down like a dog. The options for joining several factions are all covered.

FINALLY the final showdown happens, a boatload of boxed text is read and what by all accounts should be one of the most complex vampire smackdowns in history is now taking place. The adventure does not seem to realize that running 19+ unique Vampire Elders with powers could prove to be quite a challenge and does not bother to give you any tips on handling that, only concerned with the railroadery part of its adventure.

The Cappadocians, both Japheth and Cappadocius himself, will not resist the attack and turn the other cheek, offering forgiveness for betrayal. The scene is trippy as fuck with weird religious imagery interspersed with vampire stuff, astral projections and the game going so far as to HAVE CAPPADOCIUS RESSURECT AUGUSTUS TO ENSURE THAT THE DIABLERIE IS FINISHED so you get the idea its part of some higher plan and the Jesus parallel is pretty obvious here. The characters SHOULD or CAN have something interesting to do by ensuring that the blood of Giovanni is spilled on the dove that must collect the soul of Cappadocius but he will be hidden behind some sort of spirit storm (the Maelstrom). You can either force your way true which is difficult or use boots and a cloak that it is possible to obtain earlier, though pretty much by luck since one cannot specifically ask for them nor figure out why they are important beforehand. You can save Japhet but the adventure doesn’t seem to consider this worthy of a reward or anything. Even trying something super awesome like draining Cappadocius before Augustus Giovanni, who is also there in ghost form for no explicable reason (I assume Necromancy) can do so is prevented by fiat. The adventure pulls one last FUCK YOU by having an NPC prevent the dove from capturing Cappadocians if the PCs fuck up, thereby rendering this stupid plot useless.

Anyway, this entire sequence is a bizarre phantasmagorical mess. I feel like I just watched the End of Neon Genesis Evangelion. It could be cool but as a game its a fraud since you have no idea how to run the combat, no one has tactics and its clear the game doesn’t give a shit either. Cappadocius ascends, the Giovanni are forever cursed with a vampire bite that is intensely painful to mortals and the Founders are successful unless the PCs joined the conspirators in which case the Conspirators are successful (despite being numerically superior and of comparable power to the Founders).

So anyway, the adventure resolves, good or bad, with Claudius alive (even if he is captured by the Founders they are forced to set him free since the Giovanni are now in charge of the Cappadocian clan and Hardestadt needs them to make his plan of a Vampire EU work. Saving Japhet is not given a follow up, which one would expect given the fact he is easily the most powerful vampire (fucking 7000 years old) in the adventure barring only the stat-less Cappadocius himself, who is a creature from before the Flood of literally godlike strength. Even for an adventure that cares far more about story, roleplaying and interaction, that is very sloppy.

I will not be grading this series since I am quite clearly not the target audience and this manner of roleplaying is alien to me. I am still trying to distinguish between genuinely bad decision making and scenes that are “features not bugs.” The Last Supper sets up this century long chronicle with the same characters and introduces an impressive cast of characters, and the central premise is intriguing and at times the imagery is downright inspiring. The problem is that the adventure as written is a fucking slog with tiresome scene upon tiresome scene and the characters having minimal agency throughout more then half of the adventure. Combat is treated almost as an afterthought to keep the rabble entertained and many interactions lack meaning because of the railroading. When it gets its head out of its ass, which is not often, the intricate layer of betrayal and counter-betrayal can actually be exploited and the information that is gathered can be used to gain leverage or presumably enact some sort of ambush on a trusted conspirator. The opportunity to gain a permanent NPC follower via a minor act of kindness in the opening act is rather interesting.

Nevertheless, an ending with a preconceived resolution and little to no gain for achieving impressive results doesn’t sit well with me or anyone. Saving everyone’s ass when they fuck up or pretending the PCs have a choice when they obviously do not are the Black Arts of Dnd, best used sparingly if at all. I cannot shake off the feeling that Greenberg wrote this less as something to be played and more like something to be experienced and only vaguely interacted with. A lot of people call VtM pretentious but I think it’s worst folly is its long-windedness. This thing is almost 89 pages long yet so little actually happens.

Join me next time as we go deeper into the Rabbit Hole. Part fucking two is up next.

UPDATE: Final Verdict – 2 out of 10. The adventure has minimum interactivity and instead comes off as a long-winded novel with too many characters. Most of the character interaction is meaningless and advances neither the plot nor the characters. Other then some effective imagery and a handful of combat encounters/opportunities for intrigue at the end, this one is a complete waste of time.

[1] In lieu of race VtM has different bloodlines of vampire, each a descendant from one of 13 surviving progeny of the biblical Caine, the first Vampire.
[2] Vampire the Masquerade is set in the real world, albeit one rife with occult conspiracies and various monstrosities.
[3] e.g Vampire-on-Vampire action. The act of draining the lifeblood of another Vampire thereby consuming his soul and gaining part of his strength if he is older, considered the most heinous crime a Vampire can commit.
[4] e.g Vampire Dad. The Vampire that spawned you by the act of feeding his blood to a drained mortal. Each generation removed from Caine is less powerful then the last, and as a general rule, older vampires are far more powerful then younger vampires.
[5] e.g Vampirization. As verb, to bite and turn into a Vampire, a term so pretentious that even the Giovanni Clanbook admits it sounds faggy.
[6] Mortal thralls of the Vampires, imbued with a fragment of their power via their blood. Have you ever seen Blade? Now you know what a Ghoul is.
[7] A clan of religious vampire assassins styled after the old Hashaseem that hunt and diablerize other vampires that are members of the gentle desert religion of peace that predominated the middle east at the time. I have been reliably informed by the wiki they are actually misunderstood good guys that fight demon-worshippers and help mortals and are only perceived as horrific monsters that feed on their own kin because of the demon-worshipper curse because the modern college education system has an ideological bias that informs its subject matter. Expect lots of posturing, ululating and scimitar waving
[8] Vampires in VtM are hard to kill except via burning, sunlight or Diablerie (and maybe some really obscure magical shit). Staking them will just paralyze them until the stake is removed, whereas any other form of harm can eventually be regenerated if the Vampire has sufficient Blood Points (mana). Getting fucked up without sufficient means you go into a sort of coma called Torpor, but any blood dripped onto your shriveled corpse means you are back in the game.
[9] The Vampire EU. Structured like the mob and meant to uphold the Masquerade, a conspiracy to prevent the general populace from knowing about Vampires. Not applicable in the Middle ages because people like the dreaded Inquisition, know Vampires are real. Nevertheless, there does appear to be a sort of proto-Masquerade going on.
[10] Obfuscation is a Vampire discipline, a magic power that functions as a sort of magical concealment. Different Clans start the game with access to different Disciplines, and some have access to entirely unique ones.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “[Challenge Accepted] The Giovanni Chronicles I – The Last Supper (VtM); Press X to pay respect

  1. Blade’s a dhampir you filthy swine (small s, I’m not accusing you of THAT).

    But that aside: you’ve done marvellously, as I expected you would. Structurally, these really are awful supplements, and they’ve polarised White Wolf people along the lines of “yeah, WW set up a good game but they can’t write modules for shite” and “I have played these and don’t want to admit it was shite.”

    Here’s my beef, right?

    The Giovanni Chronicles are about this huge move-and-shake moment in the World of Darkness, the last time such a ‘hostile takeover’ of an entire clan would achieve anything that passes for success. There’s a clear definition of what winning looks like.

    The PCs are not the people pulling off that win. The PCs aren’t even Giovanni. They don’t even get to be the last Cappadocians, holding out in a brave but doomed attempt to forestall the inevitable/accept it as part of the grand plan, which surely Cappadocius must have had? The PCs are an implausible grab bag derived from literally every other viable clan, Embraced to be disposable and dunked into the B-plot while the Giovanni, for whom the module is named and whose agenda the module is concerned with exploring, are doing their thing with the PCs as the distraction’s distraction.

    THE PCS
    SHOULD ALWAYS BE
    THE MOST ACTIVE AGENTS
    IN THE GAME’S EMERGENT NARRATIVE
    DAMN IT GREENBERG

    You said “I cannot shake off the feeling that Greenberg wrote this less as something to be played and more like something to be experienced and only vaguely interacted with” and you have never been more right. These modules are the worst kind of frustrated novelism. They go out of their way to remove the players from the centre of events and to minimise their impact on the world, only to scramble desperately into restoring the players as spectators to a fraudulent ‘finale’ because how the devil else are the players going to witness The Big Moment.

    Write.
    A.
    Fucking.
    Novel.
    Greenberg.

    Surely – SURELY? – the smart money would have been on giving ’em all a nice meaty sixth generation Giovanni, itself something outside the remit of the Rules As Written, and have their sire Claudius bring them together for the Last Supper and say words to the effect of “right, Augustus says it’s go time, and we have to get Japheth out of the way and also keep the Ventrue from stomping us, here’s the plan…”

    That would nicely align A Win For The Player Characters (the desired outcome of any sane module writer) with The Story As It Should Happen (the desired outcome of any prequel text). Granted, it forces the players into picking Giovanni, but… come on, if you picked up The Giovanni Chronicles I have to assume you’re at least vaguely partial to spaghetti and corpses.

    It’s also a shame the “vampire army” part is forcibly ruled out, since we’ve just come off the back of the Anarch Revolt and the mass Embrace has been recognised as a valid tactic in these troubling times. Again: it would be far too much fun to actually have our PCs DOING any of the cool shit that was going on in the Dark Medieval.

    And while I’m bagging on these things: I loathe ‘origin stories’ in general but forcing us to wade through the contrived Embrace of a group of vampires who could be from any of the thirteen clans just slows us down, and anyone who’s come this far into WW’s rabbit hole has DONE “what is Clan? who is Caine? why does sunbathing hurt so much?” enough bloody times by now. Even WW’s core materials, in their saner moments, suggest that the Embrace belongs in such as the Prelude, the bit of hands-free roleplaying that establishes characters before the game proper begins, because it’s so fucking tedious!

    Anyway, the module is not completely without merit: the Conspiracy of Isaac is a nice touch, with the idea that the Giovanni ain’t stupid enough to pull a Tremere and they want a few power players on their side, hence bringing the outsiders in and convincing them the Cappadocians are better off dead. If I’d been writing this damn thing that would have been the challenge of the first quarter; “you lot are going to get out there and test the waters, see if we can’t get a few big names to pretend this was all their idea.” Visits to a few of the major courts of Europe, intersperse some encounters with anarchs and inquisitors and such, and then off to nail Japheth.

    I admit to being an enormous stan for the Giovanni (a state of affairs that permanently excludes you from fashionable WoD circles, as even the developers chickened out on their valid and effective set of Gothic motifs and said ‘nah though they’re awful and we’re going to piss on Augustus in every possible endgame for this metaplot of ours’), so it’s possible that I feel personally betrayed by these cocking awful modules, but I think they’re a shambles even if you don’t personally salivate at the thought of slurping down your corpselike antecedents. Nice to know you agree with me. I am Validated.

    I will add three more points. One: if you haven’t ended up talking to yourself in nine different voices you haven’t run Vampire: the Masquerade right. Two: the practice of handing off NPCs to players so they have something to do in scenes that are by necessity one-on-one is a feature, not a bug, although it’s a feature fraught with bugs of its own. Three: you touched on this but I’d be interested to know what you made of the Black Dog ‘mature’ label, which seems to be a justification for some of the edgy crap that goes on in the Embrace scenes.

    Like

    1. [Blade]

      No but Blade HAS ghouls, so I was referring to those.

      [Greeeeeenbeeeerg!]

      Yeah having your PCs faff about while the NPCs do all the important interaction work is the worst of gaming sins. We are talking 8th layer of gaming hell next to Loraine the Dispoiler in the mouth of Arneson the first heretic.

      Can I point out right now that it is unclear whether Hardebrecht also bring his stat-less army of ghoul soldiers into the fortress, which I had to assume since his victory would be nonsensical otherwise? Also weren’t Vampires unaffected by holy water or does this fall under the True Faith!!!

      [Mass Embrace]

      That’s like the first thing I’d do. It’s an insane tactic that means you had better get the fuck out of dodge subsequently but damn it if it is not effective.

      [Forming the Conspiracy]

      Not a bad idea actually. Have the disposables scout out possibilities for an alliance and impress the big-wigs while maintaining plausible deniability. Actual gameplay might follow.

      The central problem with the WoD approach is not that of ‘the GM is god’ or ‘the Player is God’ but the most insulting stance of all ‘The Designer is God.’ Everyone is trained to be a passive, prissy little girl that does what they are told and had better not get off track. To paraphrase Mr. Worf: That is without honour.

      [Notes]

      1.I actually do voices and it’s so fucking hard to get everyone a distinctive one. It works if you use actors for inspirations but doing nine simultaneously is a nightmre.
      2. It’s a bug because it attempts to resolve a problem that should not be there in the first place. If your one on one with one of the PCs goes on for too long while the rest has nothing to do you have made a bad adventure.
      3. Whew. I am not an expert on Black Dog, all I remember is the Auswitch dungeon in Wraith and some of the stuff here. I actually don’t mind it at all since I figure that if you are going to do a Horror Game you may as well thrown in some actual horror. A problem with VtM is that much of the Horror is undercut by your physical invulnerability. I don’t mind the idea, I am just unsure if it was executed properly. If you are going to push boundaries that might make people uncomfortable (arguably the point of horror), doing it under a specific label doesn’t seem like a terrible idea.

      Like

      1. [Blade]

        Fine. But I’m watching you.

        [Hardestadt]

        Hmm. I can see it going either way. Hardestadt is a sufficiently powerful Ventrue that I believe he COULD walk into a fortress and take it all by himself through sheer force of Presence, but the presence of a vast army is I think supposed to deter the players from trying anything (you don’t need stats if you’re just there to look scary and hope the players are intimidated). I will add that stats for ghoul soldiery are in the VtM core books BUT it wouldn’t kill Greenbeeeerg! to repeat them here.

        [True Faith]

        Whether or not anything Holy works depends pretty much on the Faith of the person flinging it, barring niche cases related to certain optional Flaws of the PC.

        [Mass Embrace]

        Standard operating procedure for the Sabbat since its founding for precisely that reason. Light it, chuck it, and send in the real troops once the dust has settled.

        [Designer is God]

        Yeah. VtM’s core books talk up the role of the Storyteller and the creative liberty thereof but every supplement in every edition of the line has prescribed a ‘canonical’ WoD which weighs on the minds of gamer nerds as the bowling ball weighs on the soft European cheese. These modules are among the worst cases of enforced spectatorism around though. I wonder sometimes how I have remained immune to this sickness.

        [Making Bad Adventures]

        As a master of the well timed cut to what THAT PC is currently up to, I basically agree, but as a master of the attention-deficit player I maintain that palming off an NPC to allow active engagement in a scene is no Mark of the Beast Incompetent. Some players are better spectators than others; some scenes have too many characters for the ST to run. The issues resolve one another.

        Perhaps the Writer of Modules should be held to different standards than the common or garden Teller of Stories, however?

        Like

      2. [Blade]

        And while we are on that note, let’s add the topic of VtM’s identity crisis and this series in particular to our podcast to be. VtM wants to be all Anne Rice and Bram Stoker but it takes detours into Blade, Underworld and Hellsing the fucking Anime series with astonishing regularity.

        [Hardestadt]

        Against fucking Augustus and Claudius, both 5th generation Thaumaturgy/Necromancy spamming badasses. And while we are on the subject, let’s talk about how running a 6 vs 12 Elder Vampire smackdown where everyone has blood points, Willpower and at least 8 disciplines to keep track of is a fucking unplayable nightmare that would get you shot for treason in a sane roleplaying industry.

        [True Faith]

        Oh yeah I remember that. True Faith was easily the best thing you could have against Vampires and other magical creatures.

        [Mass Embrace]

        The Sabbat was a pretty well written antagonist and a nice counterpoint to the Camarilla. I speak of their portrayal in V20 only, no Dark Secrets of the Black hand shit.

        [Designer is God]

        Yeah that one beats me, since your other darling Warhammer Fantasy isn’t exactly light on the Canon.

        [Storyteller vs Module writer]

        Heresy! There is but ONE TRUE WAY and Gygax is its prophet. In all seriousness, yeah I get the point of view of this game is different from my own and I try to keep this in mind.

        Like

      3. [VtM identity crisis]

        Mate, I’m writing an eight thousand word paper on more or less this exact topic later in the year. Resolve that and a lot of the problems with VtM, at least the orientation-style ones, simply dissolve. What you’re left with is informed choice and consequence.

        [Vampire Elder Smackdown]

        Augustus should be 4th generation dammit, which means Hardestadt can’t just stare him down, but Presence still works, but WHY THE FUCK AM I THINKING ABOUT THIS! This is the dumb thing nerds do!

        Agreed that elder smackdowns are a mess above and beyond the usual mess of WoD combat. There’s a reason one slap is usually enough to solve things where I’m from and it’s because I have no interest in walking through the nightmare of Obtenebration and Celerity pile-ups…

        [Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand]

        I have put more effort into rehabilitating the Black Hand than a lot of Vampire GMs put into their entire games. The idea of an ancient death cult transcending all sectarian nonsense and playing both sides for its own arcane goals is hot shit but lore almighty it shouldn’t have been handled by the kind of minds that think “comic book crossover” is the right tone for that sort of thing or that Temporis was ever OK.

        [Armchair Psychoanalysis]

        I suspect that actually paying attention to the GM advice chapters helped, as did being insufficiently bourge to afford every damn splatbook in the days before we met our close and personal friend. Nowadays I can access them with ease but have had sixteen or seventeen years to develop the proper level of sneering contempt.

        [Objectivity]

        Your keen sense for what makes a Module work is vital in assessing the alien concept of a Module for VTM, a game which really does better with ‘situation books’ than traditional ‘adventures’ but which has for some reason decided to try it. I don’t know why these things exist, which is is sort of why I turned them over to you…

        Like

      4. [Paper]

        Academic publishings on terrible elfgames. Truly this is a glorious time!

        [VES]

        It reminds me of Mage where they tell you how the system is all open ended but its ultimately a cosmetic difference and thus combat takes the shape of throwing NUMBERS at OTHER NUMBERS until one of them falls over. Only this one is conceivably worse, with blood point limit by generation forming another factor. Has anyone ever tried to make a sort of Vampire the Masquerade Mechwarrior/Necromunda, where you just do a giant smackdown in the pews of some sort of Cathedral or Graveyard with that one weathered weeping angel statue?

        [Dirty Dirty Secrets]

        So for anyone reading this and going WHAT THE FUCK, the Black Hand (not to be confused with the secret society of Gavrillo Princhep , murderer of Emperor Franz Ferdinand) is the Sabbat’s elite cabal of assassins, soldiers and other assorted rifraff. Attaching some sort of Occult sigificance to them was going to be a given either way.

        [Armchair Psychoanalysis]

        That makes me wonder, does VtM have a sort of consensus on how it is best played and how was this determined?

        [Objectivity]

        For my sins brother.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s