[Challenge Accepted] Giovanni Chronicles III – The Set has Set Pt. II; Tapping dat X-card

Q: Why do you drink Virgin blood?

D: I think we drink virgin blood because it sounds cool.

V: I think of it like this. If you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.
– Deacon & Vladislav, What we do in the Shadows

Book II – Paths of the Dead

Welcome back again for the second half of the Sun has Set (get it?). As I mentioned in the previous entry, Sun has Set is divided into 2 parts that are really separate adventures that take place in chronological order. When we last left off the characters discovered a map to the tomb of Lazarus that could only be read in 1882, 34 years later. In the meantime the world continues to writhe in the throes of the Industrial Revolution and everyone gets 5 freebee points and learns to use the Ghost Detection Cloaks a little better. The game helpfully provides you with firearm stats for both 1848 and 1882, which is a surprising concession to playability and crunch that I find rather heartwarming.

So, long story short, get to Cairo and find the Tomb of Lazarus before the Giovanni do so. To complicate matters somewhat, Marianna is already there, presumably.

After providing you with a much needed synopsis, a re-cap of the things the characters have learned in the previous Book and therefore should know, a short overview of the political situation in Egypt from both the Kindred and the Kine [1] and some preliminaries on getting to Egypt and we arrive in Cairo. The adventure surprises me again by NOT WASTING ANY FUCKING TIME WITH POSTURING AND SCRIPTED DIALOG and just describing the Caitiff [2] Prince [3] of the city in terms of attitude, short history and how he interacts with the characters. It takes about 1 full page of text which is damn near terse for White Wolf.

After a meeting with the prince where you are warned to leave everyone the fuck alone in his city, the characters can use their connections, interrogate, bribe and otherwise figure out the location of some Giovanni to some brothel. I am either starting to get used to the WW format or even this section is written in a clearer fashion then the previous adventures. The Givoanni are led by a dutch South-Afrikaaner in another location and guarded by the habitual wraith spies but you get a good idea of their tactics, there is no railroading (no I am serious!) and even if you murder the shit out of them (despite admonitions to the contrary) you could still technically follow the trail of Marianna to Alexandria. If I didn’t know any better I’d say this was damn near an adventure.

In Alexandria the adventure not only A) does not waste your time by giving you the bare essentials of the local Prince and the information you learn but B) switches it up a bit by committing to the whole “mystical odyssey into a land of mystery” shtick, and does a pretty good job of selling it too. Egypt is fucking old, filled with millenia-old ruins and spirits from before the birth of Christ. A meeting with the secretive Lilim (a mystery cult based on the teachings of the extinct Lamia bloodline) places in your possession yet another cryptic document in Chaldean. The fucking text can barely be made out in the adventure because of the handwriting, so if your eyesight is not 20/20 this is where you tap the X-card but it leads you where you need to go, which is FUCKING KARNAK. The temple of Hatshepsut! The Valley of Kings! Ramesseum. OF COURSE.

After shit goes down, the adventure gives you the option (!) of travelling there directly and fighting a whole lotta Lupins [4] on the way or doing the smart thing by going back to Cairo and taking a riverboat. I also like it that the adventure puts actual thought into the logistical nightmare (for Vampires) of travelling through the desert, and takes into consideration factors like blood evaporating, the constant burning sun, the need to either bring some sort of portable shelter or to bury oneself under the sand and the need to take an ample herd of blood donors if one wants to travel far.

Once our vampiric heroes arrive in Luxor the game is afoot. The ancient and foreboding nature of the region is well-telegraphed in advance, and the PCs have already learned of the ominous “Court of Fire” that holds sway over the region. The Tomb of Lazarus is in the heart of Settite territory and one will have to travel through their lands to get it. Meanwhile, the game is very much afoot as both Marianna and two agents of Ambrogino, Baldesar and Rosanna have already arrived in the region.

There is a surprising lack of railroading in this section. You could almost reskin it as a very small pointcrawl. Depending on the road the characters take, they can encounter the hideous Hanged Man (spectral servant of Rosanna), the Settites (while it is possible to resist, willingly or unwillingly, the characters will be brought to the Fire Court before they reach the Tomb). Exactly where the characters encounter the Giovanni is LEFT UP TO THE GM BUT GIVEN ADEQUATE COVERAGE MEANING THAT THE GM IS GIVEN THE MEANS TO WEAVE THEIR PRESENCE INTO THE UNFOLDING NARRATIVE WITHOUT FUCKING WITH PLAYER AGENCY.

What follows is pretty much the centre-piece of Book II, the Court of Fire, the very heart of the Settite clan buried deep under the sand, in a location that is unknown even to this day. This section is, again, surprisingly open-ended. The set-up is as follows; The Settites wish to corrupt the Characters morally and spiritually. The characters are looking for Lazarus’s Tomb but also discover both the Giovanni and Marianna are there (unless the Giovanni were encountered previously). Each night the characters stay after the first, the characters must compete in some sort of bizarre ordeal that is meant to corrupt them, and each night they stay they may ask a boon of the Settites.

Its pretty well done and its nice to see the adventure actually aiming for the ‘personal horror’ blurb that is advertised in the core rulebook. The Settites go all out in offering the characters corrupting boons, from willing slaves devoted to fulfilling their every perverse desire (even if it means their deaths), drugged kine, occult sorceries and so on. There is even an opportunity for Faction play, with an ancient Tzimische [5] Torturer warning the characters to leave before the 5th day and offering aid (but planning betrayal once they locate the Sargon Fragment in the tomb). It’s obvious to the characters that staying for a prolonged period of time is dangerous (the gladiatorial deathmatch with captured lupines on the 2nd day should clue you in) and that the Settites are bad news bears but the adventure is cleverly written so there is always an incentive to push your luck and stay another day.

Even if you stay past the 5th day the game is not over, though a ritual of Corrupt the Soul has been cast over the characters and they might be temporarily or even permanently altered [6]. The open-ended nature of this section, as well as a section involving the Lover (a Spectre that one of the characters in the previous book can end up being possessed by) shows a thoroughness and a foresight that is unprecedented for this series. There is some great stuff here: The characters are given chests full of gold, but HOW DO YOU TRANSPORT THOSE BUDDY?

After the court the characters inevitably set out for the Tomb of Lazarus but even here ample permutations are allowed for in the game. It is even possible not to find the legendary Sargon fragment (in fact doing so is quite difficult), and the treasure involves the magically preserved blood of the now deceased Claudius Giovanni. I like the ending but the payoff is a bit wobbly for a game that is so reliant on narrative techniques. It is going to be interesting to see how the series concludes in the last segment.

What else, fuck, the NPCs in this one are alright. The normally loggorrheaic descriptions have been pared down somewhat, everyone is given a paragraph of notes so you know how to roleplay them and fuck it, I’ll say the characters are better written throughout the entire module. Less bullshit melodrama, some unique baddies (White Wolf has almost no standard antagonists as is par for the course) and actual fucking open-endedness in a White Wolf game. Hot diggity damn, the world is full of surprises. If it wasn’t so blisteringly long-winded I’d be tempted to give this one a pass. As it is, The Sun Has Set Pts. I & II are by far the best entries in the Giovanni Chronicle and are slowly, painstakingly inching towards a playable Vampire Module as I envision it in my brain.

As for the yick factor, the adventure well merits the Black Dog label. The adventure is extremely graphic and even sleazy but it never skirts the line of sleaze for sleaze-es sake and most of it is in the service of the story. It didn’t NEED to be R-rated but I think the Temptation at the Court of Fire stuff becomes a bit more potent because of it.

Join us next time as we tackle the last of this shit. After that it’s back to Role Aids, Lotfp and some OSR goodies. Take care fuckers.

UPDATE:

Final Verdict: 5 out of 10. I didn’t hate Sun has Set nearly as much as I hated all the others. While it was still overwritten, it had a far better grasp of consequences overall, did a decent job of building up tension and allowing for character cleverness to circumvent or go off the rails, it wasted far less time with posturing and endless fucking dialog. The stuff with the Settites was a laugh and the conclusion, while a bit weak, was open-ended enough to allow for a sequel that would never arrive. It was, in short, an actual game.

[1] Kindred is the politically correct term for Vampire, Kine for mortal.
[2]  Caitiff manifest no traits of the bloodline and are generally weaker then bloodline vampires. They are regarded about as well as any child of mixed parentage in 1930s Germany.
[3]  Under the Camarilla, every city has a Prince charged with upholding the Masquerade and other Vampire laws.
[4]  Werewolves are the natural antagonists of Vampires and pretty much rule the country-side. Lupin claws and teeth inflict horrendous damage on a vampire that cannot be easily healed, and they regenerate injuries not inflicted by Silver or Vampire Bites.
[5]  The fiends. The most monstrous of the Vampire clans. Fleshwarpers, torturers and shapechangers renowned for their cruelty and inhumanity. Famously, the bloodline of Dracula.
[6]  A change of nature in VtM, unlike alignment change in DnD, has serious consequences of the character. Willpower, a potent resource that allows characters to gain bonuses to their rolls or reroll or resist certain attributes, can only be recovered via certain acts dependent on the character’s nature. If your nature changes, it becomes a serious handicap if you do not follow it.

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