Giovanni Chronicle Pt. IV – Nuovo Malattia (1999)
Heather Grove & Matthew McFarland (White Wolf)
For Ghouls (starting characters)
“In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of ‘world history’ – yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.”
Fucking hell this last one took a while. But here we are at last ladies and gentlemen. Our pilgrimage into the lands of the Storygamers has reached its logical conclusion. It ends not with a whimper, not with a bang, but like the end of Hiroshi Hamasaki’s Tehxnolyze; in an apocalyptic 147-page crescendo of seemingly meaningless violence that leaves you feeling alienated and emotionally gutted. There is no God. Nothing can help you. Elfgames are meaningless.
It’s difficult to put into words the experience of absorbing Nuovo Malattia. The mind boggels. I genuinely had to reread some sections to check if I was not just hallucinating by this point. Reading it is not unlike a lucid dream. Providing your nightly ritual is to get fucked up on PCP and then dance under a heat lamp until you pass out that is.
Where do I start. Even the fucking writers seem to feel sorry for this mess. There is a reason there are 4 years between this part and the last one and that reason is that whoever was wearing the golden strap-on at White Wolf at the time finally figured out that they had painted themselves into a corner. With a coterie of Elders having obtained the Sargon Fragment and on the verge of unlocking vast Occult power yet still not having defeated A SINGLE MAJOR ANTAGONIST of the Giovanni Clan, and figuring out that the already convoluted cocktail of three hundred powers per characters was going to bring the game to a grinding tortuous halt whenever even a single Subterfuge or Liguistic Legerdermain or Chicanery or whatever pretentious fucking synonym for BLUFF White Wolf uses it was either moving the game another 50 years and turning it into a particularly angsty version of Marvel’s Avengers By Night as rendered by water-damaged Amiga or flipping the table and declaring FUCK IT! DO OVER!
And before I get into the actual gameplay part of the fucking game let begin by formally declaring that WHOEVER WAS IN CHARGE SHOULD BE EMBARASSED AT THE STUPIFYING LEVELS OF INCOMPETENCE ON DISPLAY IN THIS MODULE. THE INTRODUCTION ALONE SERVES AS A GIGANTIC DICK-SHAPED BAT SIGNAL THAT ANYONE WHO TRUSTS YOUR COMPANY TO GET ANYTHING RIGHT IS A BRAIN-DAMAGED LUNATIC WITH PICKLED 9 YEAR OLD SPAM FOR A MIND. The fucking adventure even has the nerve to explain that the adventure came out so late after the first one that your characters have probably moved on by now or something ho hee ho hee haw.
So Nuovo Malattia takes place in Boston 1929 and begins by shoving a giant fucking fist into your colon by having you create entirely new characters that are PART OF THE GIOVANNI, THEREBY ACCOMPLISHING WHAT THE ENTIRE ADVENTURE SOUGHT TO DO BUT FAILED AT EVERY LEVEL. You must then generate these characters as Ghouls, though all begin play as Mortals (they do the fucking embrace scene at the end of the first Part but at least they hurry it up). It then proceeds to use your old PCs as ANTAGONISTS AND LATER POSSIBLY ALLIES, and Idea that I thought was suprisingly clever. The only problem is they let any opportunity to reflect on how far the characters have fallen and how they are perceived by normies fly out the window in favor of yet another asinine ‘the mood is scary and the theme is betrayal” type of deal. As a further FUCK YOU, AMBROGINO GIOVANNI, BADBOY EXTRAORDINAIRE AND INSUFERABLE MOPEY NECROMANCER DOES NOT SHOW UP IN THE ADVENTURE. Instead the adventure rambles on and on and finally ends with a FIVE WAY CHAOTIC STREET WAR INVOLVING FACTIONS AND CHARACTERS YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF AND THE GHOST OF MOTHERFUCKING CAPPADOCIUS. This thing is INSANE. There are THREE timeskips where you get freebee points as downtime.
Fucking while I am on the subject, I took a tally on how many fucking books you would more or less Need to run this thing with all the bells and whistles attached. It’s shameless. So in order to do this beast justice they essentially expect you to get the Clanbook Giovanni, The Players Guide to the Sabbat (in case you plan to play Sabbat characters), Wraith the Oblivion (to make ANY fucking sense of all the wraiths/spiritworld shit in this adventure), Ghouls: Fatal Addiction for Ghoul PCs, The Vampire Storytellers Companion (for some extra starting talents) and Children of the Night as an optional source for many of the NPCs that make an appearance here. With all due respect to the many cold and hungry goth children that no doubt needed their starbucks and hot-topic apparel, fuck that shit. For the same money you can buy yourself a bottle of Jack Daniels and kilogram of Vicodins so you can kill yourself instead (a much less painful option).
Enough hate-filled, foam at the mouth frothing. Prepare your anus and Let’s dig in!
Act I – First Communion
So let me preface this section by stating that this Act actually raised my hope because it was suprisingly good. It begins with a good setting. I have a soft spot for Film Noir and Crime movies and Prohibition Era Boston with fucking Vampire Mafia is a brilliant setting for a roleplaying game, and Act I actually has the balls to let you do some proper Vampire mafia shit. Attah boy!
So everyone begins as people either working for, or in debt too, the Giovanni family, but the adventure rushes through your Embrace by what is for White Wolf damn right expedient, a brief introduction followed by a fucked up Black Mass and a meeting with your new boss, Andreas Giovanni, who turns you into Ghouls. The whole stick is that being turned into a Ghoul makes you supernaturally durable and longlived but you are entirely dependent on the Vampire’s blood. The adventure wryly remarks that this blood bond with your master need not necessarily lead to Doing Gay, though its certainly not barring you from doing so either.
Anyway, after you become Ghouls the adventure gives you a few scenes to get used to your inhuman nature. Essentially short shit that would take maybe 5 minutes, to signify that your characters are now more then human but also subject to the Beast . A party that is staged at a wealthy lawyer’s place and includes Andreas gives the opportunity for some dirty dirty sex with a lady that can end in your horribly crushing her throat, causing her to die drowning in her own blood. The party also introduces you to your Ghost pal Reginald, a host of supporting characters of varying relevance, and finally you get to drink Andreas’s sexy sexy blood for the third time, permanently binding you to his will. There is the option of having some cool shit happen before so the characters get properly clued into 1929 Prohibition-era Vampire Mafia shit but the centre piece of this Act is a great mission from your boss.
The thing is that the Giovanni want control over some seedy speakeasy that has illegal Boxing matches and hookers in the back (because of some necromantic shit going on with the land on which it rests). The characters have a week to get it. What makes this section work is the sheer NUMBER of ways that are explored in going about it. The Club owner, Charles Solomon, works for the Mob and doesn’t actually legally own the place. It’s possible to find the original owner, steal his ownership documents, Dominate him into selling the place, forging or doctoring his will or deed, or using your contacts to leverage Solomon into selling the place. Point is, there are many different ways, there are special ways to even VISIT the fight in question and so on. You are discouraged from using violence, though if you gain the club via Treachery Solomon pulls a classic 20s era gangster move and leaves while a suspicious attache is left behind the bar. How many character did that get! This section rocks because it is genuinely exciting and there ARE penalties for failure, despite the railroading.
After that you have to organize fights (somewhere else, preferably not in the club since they need it for magical shit) so you get to do some roleplaying to find fighters (who you can possibly befriend and turn into ghouls later on), arrange a venue, get some illegal booze and hookers and so on. Again, there is a possibility of danger, losing humanity and discovery by the cops. The corrupt police chief needs you to wack his deputy-chief, since he is incorruptible. WHAT DO YOU DO?!? Man this section is awesome. The only thing that is kind of bullshit is the use of finances, it is essentially handwaved away provided one of your characters makes periodic finance checks or something. This was a perfect opportunity to introduce some domain management subsystem with actual income and earnings but sadly the abstraction won’t allow anything so precise. A shame. Anyway, after several succesfull fights, character shield Solomon the mobster sends his guys to wack the characters with tommy guns, and thus begins the mob-war!
At this point you might be asking me the question: Prince that sounds surprisingly awesome. Is this true?
Oh it is my friend. The roaring twenties have come to VtM land in full force. Charles “King” Solomon and his mob buddies have declared a war on the Boston Giovanni, and Andreas wants your characters to take care of most of it. The adventure handles it abstracly and gives you a couple of 3 paragraph outlines to make a cool encounter/mini-adventure out of. It feels kind of a cop-out but after all that nine-page dialog bullshit I am more then happy to take what I can get. What is that? A shipment of whiskey has been impounded and the cops are going to destroy it on monday? Solomon’s goons know about that too? Guarded by the Feds? Fucking count me in!
As I said before, this section has got it all. Poisoned booze. Saturday-night specials and tommy guns when you get out of the cinema. The only thing its missing is a big sweeping final boss battle with the mortal Solomon. Instead he gets to die a scripted death in 1933 and he is outside of the character’s purview. But it DOES end with a “meeting” taking place between Solomon, the Kennedys, the Camarilla and Peter Solomon. Some alarms and a few guards later and you are free to end it the way you like (although the obvious way seems to involve Tommy Guns in my mind). After that, the two characters that performed the best get Embraced by Andreas (and given like a really fucked up hand-job while he drains your blood don’t ask) in another gruesome scene, meaning that, don’t get it twisted kids, CHARACTERS THAT PLAYED WELL AND POLITICKED WELL ACTUALLY GET REWARDED WITH SOMETHING COOL, NAMELY VAMPIRE STATUS. Fuck. Yes.
If the entire series had been like this, I’d be championing it on. Unfortunately this single brilliant opening act only serves to sensitize you to the inevitable pain that follows after, making the degeneration across multiple scenes all the more tragic. As it stands, there is no reason you can’t strip out this one section and the parts of Act II that were written before the PCP started setting in.
One last thing that irritates me throughout the entire series and therefore this adventure in particular is the use of Wraiths. Since wraiths are almost undetectable and can phase into and out of the material world pretty much at will, they are essentially the ultimate spies. Yet there are also a shitton of countermeasures that are effective in deterring them. Throughout the adventure, I feel as though Wraiths would be a lot more overpowered then they are, and their constant stalking of the PCs provides ample justification for the all-powerful GMPC Andreas knowing EXACTLY what the fuck is going on with the PCs.
Act II – The Blood of Her Enemies
Oh man. After that stellar opening Act everyone is stoked. I mean wouldn’t you be? And the second one begins damn fine 30 years later. 1959! The atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have thoroughly fucked up the Shadow Lands  in an event known as La Madrino Tempesta, a permanent spirit storm (apparently that many people dying in the exact same instant is pretty heavy on the world of the dead).
This entire adventure has a bit of a problem with its frequent use of downtime since your players have to tell you what they have been doing with their time but this is seldom arbitrated in a concrete enough matter for it to actually affect gameplay, meaning all the heavy lifting of making the character’s choices matter or, in White Wolf stuff, making it FEEL as though it matters, is left to the GM. This is exacerbated by a prolongued turf-war with both the Patriarcas and later on the Children of Isaac (the PC elders) in that stretches into Act III. The problem is again that since the domain is abstracted to a huge degree as well as the revenue, this turf war can only be modelled in the most abstract of ways, and any savy player will poke right through it.
A great way of handling this situation would have been to just pull out a grid map, mark out some territories, add names and different income grades (from type I to V or something) and then add some sort of difficulty for taking it over or notoriety or start-up cost or other variable besides raw income so the largest, most expensive shop is not always the best choice. Some sort of domain with assets would have been far superior to this abstract handwaving gibberish.
Okay, so for the last decade or so there have been some new tussles with another Mob family, the Patriarcas, just very slow, nothing major. Andreas is totally busy and expects the characters to handle their own shit, leaving them to work alongside their rival, Jason Milliner. It starts out pretty well, with a stolen truck filled with fur. There is even an opportunity for one of the characters to get married, a very Mafia thing to do (though of course if you fuck up your wife will kill herself). This section also introduces some journalist that becomes a major ally and later a traitor in the terrible and confusing Act III.
After a nice and relaxing interview where you don’t give away too much information the game kicks you back into shape by having A HIGH STANDING MEMBER OF THE PATRIARCAS WALK INTO ONE OF YOUR DINERS AND THROWS ACID IN THE FACE OF THE SERVING GIRL BEFORE GIVING HIS CALLING CARD TO A STUNNED ONLOOKER. Fuck yeah! This is some hardcore Vampire Gangster shit. The culprit is easy to find but the resolution is, again, left open, and killing him will exacerbate the War later on in the Act, though again the adventure is maddeningly vague about the actual consequences. At the very least, Micky Patriarca can serve as a good source of information if the characters make peace with him.
Since this is all going WAAAAY too smoothly and is far too interesting, it’s time to complicate the SHIT out of the plot by introducing the Children of Isaac, the erstwhile PCs to the scene. Alongside them Mary-Sue Giovanni, who took your coals out of the fire the first 3 books, makes yet another appearance. Oh shit. Turns out the characters are looking for the fucking Sargon Fragment again, and the PCs get their grubby paws on it.
I mean it COULD work if the introduction was subtle, but instead the Act falls apart completely by introducing A LENGTHY AND ENTIRELY POINTLESS FLASHBACK SCENE WHERE THERE ARE NO DICE, THE PLAYERS TAKE THE ROLES OF CHARACTERS THEY HAVE LIKELY NEVER OR ONLY VAGUELY HEARD OF WHILE THEY PLAY OUT SCENES WITH PREDETERMINED CONCLUSIONS AND NO DEFEAT CONDITION. Listen, fuck this adventure alright? All these fucking characters are introduced and after that you have sex with a 13-year old ghoul girl that “is actually 23,” which is yet another instance of absolute degeneracy played for shock value in this shitshow of an adventure.
Fuck I should backpeddle. So a massive retcon takes place, the Children of Isaac either lost the Sargon Fragment or it was stolen from them and it somehow ends up in the hands of the Tzimische Torturer dude from Act III. You have a meaningless battle and succeed but the girl dies but that’s okay because at least she won’t be in the adventure anymore. Through more bullshit, the Sargon Fragment ends up in the hands of the Giovanni, i.e you guys. By this point I knew it was going to suck hard but I could not fathom the absolute depths the adventure would sink too.
Anyway, after this grinding mid-ACT stop the gangwar with the Patriarcas continues. It’s all handled pretty fucking abstractly with copious amounts of handwavium, a constant problem with White Wolf games in general, but there is something interesting going on again. If you get the tablets to Andreas more characters get Embraced at the End of the Scene, if you were an idiot and trusted the Milliners, you get zero credit and they get the status instead. The presence of the Children of Isaac is played up at around the end of ACT II, which ends yet again with railroadery bullshit the players had almost no practical effect on (fuck this style of both GMing and adventure writing btw) and you are left with the taste of White Wolf dick in your mouth as we set out for Act III, where things start to come apart properly.
Act III – Test of Faith.
Alright you primitive screwheads. It is again 10 years later. The disco-era is in full swing. Supposedly things have been sort of quit and then BAM! the ghoul characters get arrested. The Elders have framed them and a shitload of evidence has been given over to the feds. Allies turn against the PCs and the Giovanni try to distance themselves from them so as not to appear suspicious. To make everything even more FUCKING convoluted, a new faction appears on stage in the form of the Inquisition . Also the empires the characters have built are going to die, because fuck you!
This section is a fucking mess. The characters get split up, the court room is essentially a railroad for the ghoul characters and the climax is ridiculous. The vampire character (or one of them?) are tailed back to their homes and captured by the Inquisition (full credit where it is due, you CAN escape if you take the neccesary precautions) and they introduce Mary Sue the Giovanni character again along with some kid who can turn invisible to vampires because of true faith or whatever. What a shitshow.
It is here that the accumulated complexity and moving parts of the adventure really start interfering with the rigid rail-roadery model and as a result the long pages of scripted dialogue are replaced with handwaving and throwaway sentences to the point of banality. Is this even still an adventure is what I am asking here.
There is another good decision amidst the by now decaying foundations. If you were nice to Reginald the Wraith, he will help the characters in one way, if not, another way entirely. The specific matter concerns a bunch of witnesses. If you were nice he gives you the adress but tries to motivate you to use nonlethal means, if you are not he tries to get you to burn down the witnesses. The only problem is that this is never really set up well in the preceding chapters. The Effect of the Verdict IS important since it might convince the characters to team up with the Elders (that is a possibility here too) and rat out Andreas, or alternatively try to set a trap for Marianna (Vampire mary Sue).
All legal bullshit aside, this adventure ends in a surreal showdown in a church near the outside of town with a fight between Andreas and the rest of the gang and Marianna, while the Inquisition has barricaded the place by turning it into a holy sanctum or some shit. While Vampire Mary Sue will certainly die, there is a defenite possibility for the characters to murder Andreas and get some Diablerizing in, because of reasons that make no sense. Anyway, the scene resolves with the characters still trapped in the church for no reason and with the rest of the characters embraced for the Final Act.
I am serious, the end of this Act is so fucking jarring and so in medias res you will end having a permanent spit-double take reflex burned into your brain at the end of it(I keep making Anime and Movie references in this review for which I am fucking sorry but I am trying to convey the utter dissolution of the entire narrative structure and words are difficult). This is some Jacob’s ladder level type of surreal bullshit. What the fuck is going on?
Act IV – To Everyone Who Conquers
The last act is where the adventure crumbles. You are left with a series of seemingly disconnected scenes, last minute plot threads and vast, sweeping conflicts that are given less page length then an average Embrace scene. The result is a series of random, disjointed events that seem to bear only a vague causal relation to the rest of the adventure, provide no resolution and signify nothing.
The central antagonist in Act IV is the ghost of Cappadocius. He returns with 4 spectres and wants to destroy…Boston, or something. The characters who had lost considerable influence, have now lost even way more influence to the Elders. Despite the fact that the characters and the Giovanni hold control over the Sargon Fragment that the Elders are still persuing with single-minded determination, the Elders have spent the intervening 20 years stone-walling and fucking with the characters to no visible benefit.
Despite the constant attack on the Characters, the Children of Isaac are now sort of forgotten so the Giovanni won’t buy any explanation of the Character’s failure. But fuck all that shit, the Act opens on a party for some side-character’s niece but there is all sort of shit going wrong: paintings ripped, drinks drugged and so on. Despite omni-present ghosts being thus far able to spot everything, they can’t figure out who did it (the wraiths mention only another wraith and being afraid thereof). The adventure then introduces ANOTHER new villain, some mortal spectre cult worshipper that gives you more foreshadowing but dies if you try to interrogate her more. To continue this breakdown, the characters now also have to face rivalry from within.
This would easily be sufficient, but the adventure is just not done. We now switch to a bizarre murder mystery plot where a senior Giovanni comes to Boston and gets murdered and the characters have to find out who she is, eventually discovering the culprit is another Giovanni. This section is a last bit of coherency before the great cataclysm, resolving in a few pages, giving logical information that can be gleaned from the witnesses and several means of getting to the revelation. The only problem is that once this happens and you finally unveil this section IT LEADS TO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BEYOND THE INTRODUCTION OF THE SABBAT ELDER IN CHINATOWN AND THE KILLER WILL NOT BE DISCIPLINED IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM. This entire section is fucking useless.
After that the third and last but also shortest part of Act IV sets in. The characters are framed for something with a bizarre fingerprint forgery scam and contacted by the Elders. Cappadocius is coming back and you need to use a ritual Marianna taught the Elders in order to bring him into the physical world and then kill the shit out of him. Meanwhile a giant war involving factions that have thus far been ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT breaks loose all over Brooklyn. This war is described in two pages flat and left to the GM to figure out, and it involves approximately three bazillion characters from the Dark Colony Supplement that has thus far been ENTIRELY UNRELATED to this story. The final showdown, incidentally, is also left to the GM to figure out, just as long as a few characters die here and there. Fucking Ghost Cappadocius doesn’t even have stats? What the fuck is this shit? After that you get a possible resolution and follow-up where the adventure off-handedly mentions some busy-work which will be irrelevant since if your players are even remotely in their right mind they WILL NEVER PLAY VAMPIRE THE MASQUERADE AGAIN.
I want to pre-preemptively add a point of contention to all you fucks who might feel honor-bound to defend this piece of garbage or the White Wolf style of adventure creation by stating that this module is at least interesting because of its ‘varied cast of characters.’ No! There are works of fiction with a large cast of characters that are great but they are not great BECAUSE they have a large cast. Works like Dune or Legend of the Galactic Heroes (I think I am at my third anime reference for this adventure series which means I need to take my medication) are great because almost every character is memorable and has a definite purpose in the story, not because it is filled to the brim with irrelevant backstory and fucking stupid characters nobody in their right mind would give a shit about.
Fuck what else is there to talk about. To its credit the adventure spends almost a dozen pages describing various Giovanni holdings and major locations in Boston, as well as laying out the Camarilla and Sabbat presences in Boston but this all amounts to just more unwieldy nonsense to an already massively convoluted tale. I might come across as a bit of an autist (I have a blog where I review roleplaying games so that’s pretty much par for the course) with how I keep hammering on White Wolf’s flowery approach to adventure design and the creation of meaningless scenes but I feel the authors of this piece fundamentally misunderstand what a module is FOR. A module is meant to be USEFUL IN PLAY BY DIRECT IMPLEMENTATION, whereas a campaign setting is meant to inspire the creation of fun adventures by a GM. The Giovanni Chronicles by and large, fail on both counts of the spectrum. Everything screams incompetence on a company wide level. Even the section on integrating different lines mentions the immense care that needs to be taken in doing so because the systems were not meant to be compatible or balanced but then provides you NO HELP WHATSOEVER in doing so.
I have decided to revoke my earlier resolution to not grade the Chronicles by adding grades and a short summary for each Part. May god have mercy on my soul.
The Last Supper: 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.
Blood and Fire: 1 out of 10. After a halfway decent premise and opening act the story comes to a grinding halt in the middle where the characters are supposed to fuck about in what is honestly one of the longest and most poorly laid out sections of the entire series. The idiotic one vampire per clan bullshit pads out the already overly long adventure until finally it leads to the final act. The final act is an insulting mess with an unsatisfying railroaded payoff that completely steals the thunder of any PCs present. Not merely bad and convoluted but also insulting.
The Sun Has Set: 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.
Nuovo Malattia: 0 out of 10. Despite an absolutely stellar opening Act that was easily the best of the series and a halfway decent second Act the adventure is a wanton display of systematic incompetence permeating every level of the adventure and utterly failing to justify its bloated, overwritten existence. Negligent, bat-shit insane, railroadery and at times downright Surreal, I am astonished anyone could have the nerve to actually publish this. The worst conclusion to the worst series I have ever had the displeasure of reading.
1 = The animalistic monster that lurks in the psyche of every Vampire and represents its essentially inhuman nature. The central paradox of VtM is that you are an inhuman predator but in order to prevent yourself from descending into sheer animalistic madness, you must make an effort to maintain human. Wanton murder and torture will quickly reduce your humanity to almost zero, something that is harmless for a human but absolutely devastating for a Vampire. Vampires with low humanity have tremendous trouble resisting their Hunger, animating their corpse by day, resisting the urge to flee when confronted with Fire and so on. This theme is surprisingly relevant to Giovanni Chronicle Pt. IV, as your criminal activities introduce you to many situations that may end in potentially humanity-lowering situations.
2 = The nebulous lands of the dead, where the souls of the departed linger after they die. The lands of the dead in the World of Darkness are a typically grim and fractional affair, with various factions of ghosts duking it out in a decaying agglomeration of the modern world and ancient places of great historical significance. And also a labyrinth with evil ghosts.
3 = In World of Darkness the Inquisition or the Society of Leopold is a world-spanning organization of fanatical monster hunters that occupies itself with fighting and containing the Vampire threat. Their actual power and scope varies according to what edition of the game you are playing. They tend to be either covert and highly influential or fringe figures.