[Challenge Accepted] Giovanni Chronicle III – The Sun Has Set Pt. I; One step Forward…

[Adventure]
Giovanni Chronicle III: The Sun has set (1998)

Christopher Howard (White Wolf)
Elders

This series is pretty grating. Every new entry in the Giovanni Chronicle is longer then the preceding one and increasingly bloated. The frustration is compounded because for all its faults, the adventures do not repeat their mistakes, they merely replace them with other, entirely novel crippling defects. Giovanni Chronicle III has two parts and is a staggering 157 pages of flowery tripe. In essence each part is a standalone adventure and could very well have been published separately, but I am guessing at this point even White Wolf had decided not to push their luck and just figured condensing all the awfulness into a single book would trick more people into buying it, reading it and then never running it.

Fuck me let’s get it over with. The Sun has Set is overal terribly organized, eschewing the use of the very helpful Act structure of the first book into a seemingly endless crawl that would be hard to absorb even if the subject matter were not so overwritten. The issue is compounded by the introduction of a possible allegiance switch in the second part, which means that the adventure must now be functional for both Sabbat and Camarilla characters, ensuring long as fucking paragraphs where square pegs are thrust into round holes in quasi-erotic fashion throughout the adventure. Once again, the use of an overview of each Book, along with a timetable and a sequential procession of events was absolutely essential here, and its absence is an egregious loss.

Book I – London Ghost Story

It is the Year 1848 and shit has happened in the meantime. Our characters from the previous two encounters have flourished to become powerful Elders (and thus receive 45 freebee points to boost their abilities to awe-inspiring levels) that are by now unused to do their own groceries.

Howard at least shows himself superior to his fellow offenders by including a Dramatis Personae before the adventure commences, theoretically providing the GM with a quick reference. The only problem is that the omnipresent morbid grey art (better then II, inferior to I) spreads this out across multiple pages when really a single page with one or two sentences of description per character would have been fine. Trust White Wolf to never miss an opportunity to use five sentences when one would suffice.

Elder advancement is handled surprisingly well. You are expected to tell the Gm what the fuck you have been doing, and the GM is given the option of inflicting certain penalties on the PCs if they have not made any effort to stay connected with human civilization as a whole. Certain avenues of research (i.e the Giovanni) are discussed, presumably allowing clever players to flourish while fat, slovenly players can languish in the darkness and spend points to buy back humanity points like idiots. The magic cloaks originally obtained in Part I are mentioned again and their use is discussed throughout the adventure, meaning that if your PCs pawned them off or never got them, you are now officially fucked.

Anyway, it is the Year 1848 and the Industrial Revolution is in full swing. Revolutions sweep across Europe. New inventions bring prosperity across the globe while millions toil in brutal conditions. After another 150 years of crushing defeats and slow retreats the Sabbat is vulnerable and nearly wiped out, faced with internal squabbles between the hardliners who want to continue the war and the timid little girls who are all for laying low. The Brujah [1] Elder Streck a.k.a Vampire Saul Alinsky, has launched a daring guerillia attack on the Camarilla, targeting their neonates in an attempt to erode confidence in its ability to protect its members. Meanwhile, the Giovanni (remember them?) have been lying low for 200 years…or have they? Something something something Sargon Fragment. The book then spends a fucktonne of time explaining to you what its giant cast of characters has been doing for 200 years. Snnoooorre.

After that, the adventure does something really well, which is to provide a set of hooks and even mini-encounters to give the normally paranoid Elders different reasons for leaving the safety of their territories to travel to London. Anything from vague premonitions to elaborate scenes involving occult rituals and the hated Ambrogino Giovanni and his servant Lucretia (sisters of mercy reference?), ominous rumors of the invincible count Joculo and the whispers of captured Sabbat operatives are all employed to get the characters to go. If it were not for the insane length of the plot hooks, I’d call it good writing.

We start the adventure 30 PAGES IN. The adventure provides you with a plot synopsis so you remember what the fuck is going on (not that your players will) throughout the almost painfully drawn out scenes. Vampire Saul Alinsky is planning an attack on London’s Ventrue [2] Camarilla in order to further destabilize their hold on the city. Unfortunately the central Sabbat authority in London does not agree, but fuck her what does she know? The players join either to stop the attack, investigate the Giovanni or join in on the attack. Streck has an ally in our old friend Ambrogino Giovanni, who is finally given screen time (the adventure offers the possibility that your agents have been duelling with his agents over the last two centuries) in search of the elusive Sargon Fragment, a copy of which is apparently located in the Tomb of some old guy. Also the Prince is busy and can’t deal with your shit right now so you are stuck with having to work with his best buddy Valerius and the Camarilla Justicar [3] if you picked Camarilla and not Sabbat. The plot is further convoluted with the addition of treasonous Vampire Scottsmen with a personal grudge against the current Prince.

The dreaded Theme and Mood return, indicating the author was at least on his meds when he was drafting this abomination. The theme is betrayal and the mood is dark and poverty laden. That’s pretty blunt but at least it is not pretentious by WW standards. Use dry-ice and dim the lights.

For a moment I was actually tricked into thinking the adventure might tune down the linearity in this one by giving you a pretty extensive overview of London, complete with population, major geographical features and a fucking map. I mean you know shit is getting serious when White Wolf uses an actual map. That means your destination might not be predestined with a heavy-handed railroadery plot. Well you are wrong.

By now I could see the opening coming a mile away and so should you if you are unfortunate enough to be even vaguely familiar with VtM lore. The first thing you do when you get to London via various means is visit the defacto Prince Valerius, who is busy beating the shit out of some poachers that killed one of his price Stags with a riding crop as his accent falls back to old English, which always happens when he gets angry. I actually dig the introduction even if its railroadery shit since it at least establishes Valerius as a no nonsense motherfucker that will not hesitate to lay down the law. The PCs are given a 50-year old lead into the Giovanni, Sabbat information and invited to a gathering with the visiting Count Dunlop, essentially setting everything up for an open-ended investigation adventure.

The use of variable allegiance in this adventure complicates matters unnecessarily and adds to the vast drawn out length of the whole. The meeting with the prince has to take into account that the characters might be Sabbat operatives while also providing an additional introduction where the characters meet with the Sabbat leader Lady Astor AND set up another possibility to intrigue because Astor is opposed to the impeding attack while Streck is determined to follow through with it. Astor attempts to recruit the characters to stop Streck (and at least has the decency to offer some serious fucking rewards that are more or less left up the Players, whereas Streck assumes you want to help him fuck up the Camarilla out of revolutionary zeal presumably. It does mention Streck will aid the characters against the Giovanni if he ever figures out they have a personal vendetta going.

Snuck in between the very long (albeit it admittedly well written) exposition scenes there is some actual fucking gameplay. In order to fucking find the theater where Streck is chilling out you must either help some merchant, beat the shit out of some thugs, use your Street Smarts or maybe Auspex it out of their minds. The adventure at least has the decency to take into account that your PCs probably have Telepathy and thus can pick the answers from non-elder vampire’s minds with laughable ease. It also tries to cover for the fact some Vampires might have remote viewing at this point. The Sun Has Set is not lazy or incompetent but it is just so fundamentally backward in its approach to designing an adventure.

So anyway, since you are stuck with either waiting for 2 days until Dunstrop’s super special gathering party takes place or alternatively, until the Sabbat terrorist attack hits, you are left to do some investigation. The adventure at this point is ludicrously easy to break if the PCs follow lady Astor and seek to prevent the attack, yet pretended to be allied to Streck so he’d trust them. You ready? Contact the Camarilla and give them the location of all Sabbat Safehouses under Streck’s control in exchange for vast political influence. It’s unlikely, granted, but damnit if that wouldn’t fuck up the timetable.

The linear structure of the adventure is maintained through use of a dead alley. Investigating the Sabbat attacks as Camarilla nets you a little extra information and a possible extra party member with ghost sense but can never lead to the prevention of the attack. As the Sabbat you can’t really do that much so you might as well investigate the reason you came here in the first place (presumably). The structure is confusing, with some events only being open to Sabbat characters and others only to the Camarilla, but there is a sort of interconnectedness and the scenes are written for both characters, meaning that presumably both locations can be visited by whatever faction.

Listen, they fucked themselves with this layout and this format. They should have just made a Sun Sets: Camarilla and Sun Sets; Sabbat sidebar with each location instead of this interspersed mess. Instead we get this cluster fuck, which to the credit of the adventure, can be avoided entirely (making any merit to its existence rather dubious).

As the Camarilla you are left with a 50-year old hint that leads to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Cathedral. Here, the use of various means like telepathy, burglary and various telepathic disciplines reveal the link between a mortal Giovanni priest and the Dunsirn banker family, eventually leading to the same Giovanni owned Breweries the Sabbat can investigate. An alternative path means following a wolf lady and possibly meeting the visiting Count Dunlop early as he is connected with the Giovanni and the Church. Here the game is remarkably open, as the encounter can well descend into full on bloodshed with nary a railroadery hook taking place.

The investigation of the Brewery involves a fixed number of ghoul guards, bound wraiths and mortals, again giving some opportunity for various strategies. There is no map or even a vague outline but an investigation of the Brewery will lead to Montogomery Dunsirn and his connection with the Giovanni. The use of necromancy gives the GM adequate justification to make every action the PCs take known by Giovanni, which serves as some bullshit. Anyway, once the PCs jump through sufficient hoops, the adventure eventually reveals the Giovanni are not just present but also actively assisting the Sabbat in their attack on the Camarilla. The question becomes whether or not this knowledge is sufficient incentive for the next act. At this point I was confused but not utterly disgusted with the adventure since the railroading was mostly kept to a minimum but there is a final scene where you are supposed to lure a character into a maze or otherwise isolate him and have him fight Lucretia, John Dunstirn (another vampire minion) and Ambrogino himself, along with an army of animated hand monsters and a super powerful ghost. Ambrogino then tortures and defeats the character and attempts to extract information out of him before LEAVING HIM ALIVE TO INFORM THE OTHERS AFTER PLANTING SOME SORT OF LOVERS SPECTRE IN HIS FACE TO RAILROAD/INTERFERE WITH THEM IN THE FUTURE. Fuck this shit. At least you learn that they are searching for Marianna, the mary sue from Chapters I & II.

At this point I am just tired. Sun Has Set doesn’t have the extremely linear trappings of its predecessor nor does it utterly break your skull with pointless note-taking and random bullshit of the second part but its just so long and tiresome. Its not terrible thus far but everything could, and should have been handled in about a third of the available dialog.

After all the exciting action it’s time for another drawn out scene involving a Vampire ball, guests arriving, posturing and scripted dialogue during which the characters just stand with their thumbs in their asses and chat idly. This is then followed by YET MORE FORESHADOWING OF A MYSTERIOUS TOMB WOOOH WHAT COULD IT BE WHICH MEANS MORE FINGERS IN ASSESS. Foreshadowing as a narrative tool is great but if you foreshadow EVERYTHING your story turns into a boring, predictable mess with all the novelty and suspense of an industrial printing press. The characters go to a party and the Scottmen show up and cause a ruckus if they have not already been murdered. They are eventually forced to leave if they betray their feral nature but at least the fucking adventure allows for a full fledged battle to take place, however unlikely.

After this happens there follows a scene where the characters discover a Sabbat Blood warehouse and its gruesomely mutilated occupants. As the Camarilla it works pretty well because it sets up the attack and even gives the opportunity to track a certain fleeing wraith to the mansion of old acquaintance Gillespi Giovanni, to end him righteously. The scene as Sabbat characters mentions that the Sabbat would want to prevent the house from being discovered but no encounter numbers or whathaveyou are given so it feels like a throwaway line.

After this we get the piece-de-resistance, the attack proper. The adventure salvages itself at least partially by making it possible for Sabbat characters to convince Streck not to carry out the assault or to save the Giovanni priest, thereby actually influencing the final battle. The adventure does a pretty good job (by White Wolf standards and compared to the previous entries) of setting up the final confrontation and having at least SOME of the events leading up to it influence the final battle and does a much better job my leaving the attack more or less open. It is apparent what bands will attack what targets and what the outcome will be if the characters do not interfere, and where the characters set up their defense actually influences the plan (say, if they set up at the Crypt! in Valerius’s mansion that contains the remains of a Cappadocian dude that the Giovanni are after they are probably going to get fucked).

While the adventure is still technically a railroad because Ambroginio and Lucretia WILL fail in their attempts to unlock the secrets of the Crypt (wards make it impossible to open) and if they are too injured they WILL flee into the Shadowlands (that is to say, the afterlife), a surprising amount of characters are not scripted to die or even survive in any fashion and the game leaves it more or less open. These are inklings of actually understanding player agency and are therefore deeply troubling. Hell the adventure just offhandedly mentions that you can make a whole Story (thats an adventure) about the characters adventuring in the Shadowlands and trying to get back in case they follow the two Necromancers. Anyway, after everyone’s assess have been thoroughly kicked, the characters check out the Tomb and find an ancient document trailing another copy of the Sargon Fragment back to Ancient Egypt, possibly the site of Lazarus [4] himself. After that Vampire Whoopee Goldberg shows up to make everyone uncomfortable and its a wrap. Because of some Misty Mountains shenanigans the Tomb will only open 34 years from now meaning some downtime between the two acts.

This one is so damn long I am doing it in two parts. This is the first entry in the series that I did not entirely loathe. Though it is still too damn long by far and the railroading and faffing about is a little grating, The Sun Has Set Pt. I has the trappings of an Actual Adventure and I could conceivably see myself enjoying it, its many overly long semi-linear scenes and cumbersome format notwithstanding. So, I’d still rate it low and consider it a bad product, but I’d rate it above a 3 (provided the second part is not exponentially worse). I also want to commend the author for keeping the number of characters to a manageable dozen or so, making some interesting antagonists that don’t look like total shit, crafting some truly horrific imagery, adding some interactivity and flexibility and doing the setting properly. 1848 London is a fine choice for some Gothic throat-ripping. A fine choice.

Join us next time for the stunning sequel to Part III of the Giovanni Chronicles.

[1] Essentially the twilight wolfman vampire clan. A clan with an affinity for the wild that can turn into animals and other gay shit. Largely superfluous after Werewolf the Apocalypse drew off all the furries, leaving it as a clan-of-choice for aspies and wannabe-loners.
[2]  A clan of Vampire Bankers, politicians, lawyers etc. etc. The most “human” and politically active of the Clans. If the Brujah are Vampire Edward Norton, the Ventrue are Vampire Patrick Bateman.
[3] Think 40k Inquisitor and you are not far off.
[4] The Document explains he is some sort of Apostate Methusalah of the Cappadocians and therefore pupil of Cappadocius himself.

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