Today we’re joined by GM Haligaunt to talk to him about his Vampire: The Masquerade campaign, Concord of Ashes. These vampires don’t sparkle folks! Read on for all of the awesome-ness!
First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do both aside from gaming? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet, that sort of thing!
My name is Damien Edwards and I live in Sydney, Australia. I am a bartender by trade, and until recently a perennial student. I’m lucky enough to work in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge, and having the opportunity to work in one of the oldest suburbs in Australia is a constant delight. It has also sharpened my appreciation for Vampire, as observing Sydney’s nightly ruck and run gives me some excellent ideas. I have an amazingly tolerant girlfriend who thinks nothing of me disappearing on nighttime adventures after work, and she also insists that I game regularly so I’m not “impossible to live with.”
At the moment, the only place you can really stalk me online is right here on Obsidian Portal. I spend much of my spare time writing for the game, as I must have something like 100 unfinished wiki articles at the moment!
So, tell us about Concord of Ashes
The Concord of Ashes is a Dark Ages Vampire chronicle. Back in 2011 it began as my humble attempt to marry up the material presented in Transylvania by Night, Constantinople by Night and the Transylvania Chronicles but it has grown well beyond that vision. All of those are excellent books, by the way, but necessarily short on detail for obvious reasons. I always felt that it was a natural step to expand the core books to online media so that added depth and scope could be brought to the game. Many of the characters and factions touched upon in those books can be found heavily detailed on the Concord of Ashes wikis, but I’m not even close to being finished.
The chronicle is currently set at the beginning of April, 1204, less than a week before the 4th Crusade launches their final assault on the city of Constantinople.
The theme of the game has been surviving and embracing change. In the era of Cainite (vampire) history when the chronicle is set, the 4th Crusade’s arrival at Constantinople signaled the end of the epoch known as the Long Night and the beginning of another known as the War of Princes. The Long Night was something of a Golden Age for vampires; their society was stable and unchanging, their dominion over mortal governance was solid, and everyone basically stayed put for centuries. The War of Princes rapidly escalates into a geopolitical morass of intrigue and war, where age alone is insufficient to guarantee survival and alliances can shift overnight. Ultimately, this conflict catalyzes the creation of the Inquisition, which then sparks off the Anarch Revolt, which then leads into the creation of the opposed societies of the Camarilla and the Sabbat of the modern game. I wanted to create a story where my players were not just witnesses to that tipping point, but actually had the ability to act as agents for good or ill as it all spirals out of control.
Ultimately, I would like to start leap-frogging through time after about 1240 CE, using each of the current PCs as the progenitors of a bloodline that would allow the players to keep on making younger and fresher characters for the stories ahead.
In the long run I am also hoping that there will be enough content, and enough interest, to have many vampire players contributing to it as a play by email platform.
What do you enjoy most about Vampire: The Masquerade?
I have enjoyed a vast number of other games in my 25+ of role-playing, particularly Dungeons and Dragons and both Star Wars d6 & d20. The World of Darkness has always tickled my fancy more than High Fantasy and Science Fiction, though, because it is just one step removed from the world we walk through each day and night. Without the giant leap into a radically different “game-world”, the imagination of the troupe is freer to wander into more visceral and disturbing territory. By the way, it is deeply entertaining to wander through a city and visualize which buildings would make good havens, where supernatural people might congregate or hunt, and how they manipulate the rest of us. Is that arrogant guy in the suit at the end of the bar really drinking a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, or does this bar have a “special stock” for discerning patrons? Not a few of the characters in my cast of hundreds were created in the wee hours of the morning after meeting a noteworthy person at the pub!
Having said all that, Dark Ages Vampire (DAV) is somewhat different to Vampire: the Masquerade. With DAV I can indulge my passion for history and paint a tableau where vampires ran amok as true lords of the night; before they were brought down by the Inquisition and the Anarch Revolt. Although communication and travel were barriers, the clans arguably dominated the world more than they do in the modern nights. And to make it even more interesting, there were cases where they did so more or less openly. I find the idea of presenting that thin veil of monstrosity very compelling and enjoyable.
Speaking of vampires in general, and the overall radical-ness of your campaign – please provide your thoughts on sparkly vampires. I’m very curious.
Seriously. WTF?!?! I’ve never spent so much time in a movie hoping the “bad guys” would win. And no, I wasn’t willing to read the books. Vampires work well as flawed and sympathetic people compelled by overwhelming urges to do despicable things. They even work as monsters of the week. They do not work, in my humble opinion of course, as sparkly super hero’s.
How regularly do you play, and where do you play?
We are very much a traditional gaming group in most ways, meeting face to face and using dice and character sheets. With the reams of content that I have written, I reluctantly stopped using paper and moved over to a laptop last year, and one or two of my players have followed suit. We try to get a game in every week or at most once a fortnight, but time and work pressures often lead to hiatuses of up to a month. Even so, at such times we try to stay in touch regarding player actions and long-term plans. We even have a (somewhat dysfunctional) play-by-email forum set up. Even if we can’t play, however, a few of us usually meet up for late-night beers every week or two where, as you might expect, we talk incessantly about the chronicle.
Who puts all of your wiki together?
For the most part, it is a one-man effort. I kidnapped some writing hack a few years ago and keep him chained to a computer in my garage. I pay him in scotch and hope for his trouble…
Actually, as I am constantly behind the ball trying to keep up with all the content updates, my players have usually been excellent regarding the story session summaries. I also have contributions from an old friend who moved to the United States many years ago. His short stories on the forum have kept me honest with my own output.
Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game? How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?
Honestly? Documentaries and pseudo-historical dramas are great for getting me in the mood to write. It sounds cheesy, but anything from Covington Cross, Cadfael or Robin of Sherwood to more modern treatments such as Rome or even Game of Thrones. The point is to get in the habit of thinking in episodic terms; to strengthen one’s intuition regarding what belongs in the next session and how to foreshadow what will come in later ones. I usually spend about 3 hours before each game jotting down what needs to happen that night, but I’ll spend much of my spare time through the week examining the likely outcomes in broad strokes from each of the major antagonists point of view.
Aside from Vampire, I’m sure you have played other systems too, what are some others you enjoy?
I love playing Dungeons and Dragons. I ran a Greyhawk campaign over 8 years that followed the same characters through 7 years of game time. Indeed it continues to be a cause of some vexation that I didn’t have Obsidian Portal to document the whole thing, although I have tried in fits and starts to have a go at it. Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance and yes, Ravenloft, were all frequent campaign worlds over the years and I do miss D&D immensely.
Star Wars d6 and d20 were great to play in for different reasons. The d6 system was a little unwieldy to learn but very flexible once you got the hang of it. The d20 was easy to learn but not terribly flexible at all. I learned a lot about making house rules when I was running Star Wars d20 and that directly correlates to doing so with Vampire’s d10 system, which also needs a great deal of adjudication.
Shadowrun and Call of Cthulhu are both extraordinary games that I have enjoyed playing in the past. The insanity rules in the latter game are priceless! If only there were more hours in the day to run them too! And of course, though they are the same system, Werewolf the Apocalypse, Mage the Ascension and Wraith the Oblivion all deserve an honorable mention as fantastic games. All of them inform the World of Darkness where the Concord of Ashes takes place, and the cross-fertilization between the lines allows me to drop hints and “Easter eggs” all over my game…
How do you know your players, how long have you been gaming with them?
A couple of my players are old friends from my Vampire the Masquerade game, which ran from 1997-2002. My play by email player is from the same vintage. The others are much more recent additions. We met through the excellent networking contacts provided by a group known as the Sydney Geektogether.
How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?
I started using Obsidian Portal back at the end of 2010. Initially, I wanted to try and consolidate my notes on my Greyhawk campaign after the game ended. It soon became apparent that that would be a Herculean task, so I set my mind to writing down notes for the Vampire game that had been percolating in the back of my mind since my Masquerade game finished.
So far as tools for my game, I’ve never encountered another medium that comes close to Obsidian Portal. I love that it gives me the ability to keep a permanent record of the game, and to showpiece what we have done for other lovers of the genre.
There’s a lot of pretty great looking maps on your wiki, do they all get pretty equal use?
The Constantinople maps get the most use. A city that size needs a map to help the players visualize what is what and where it is. I have more maps I want to upload, but that has taken a back seat to other content for now.
Now that the Reforging has been live for a little while now, what are your favorite parts?
I am much better at writing content than presenting it in a savvy manner, as anyone who looks at the Concord of Ashes can attest! Speaking as a person who is poorly versed in creating a webpage, I confess that the Reforging has been daunting for me and I haven’t exactly embraced it. Actually, other than a bit of mucking about with the Custom CSS and changing a few color schemes I haven’t really explored much!
What would you say the single biggest highlight from Concord of Ashes has been so far?
My players might disagree with a groan, but the journey from Buda-Pest to Tihuta Pass was awesome. Anyone who has played the Transylvania Chronicles might recall it as a couple of scenes that could be plowed through in a session or two. We did in fifteen! I got to show my players (some of whom had almost no knowledge of the era) the difficulties of travel, many of the customs I had read about and the many reasons why vampires tended to stay put wherever they were Embraced. By the end of it, each of them knew the names of everyone else’s retainers and even herd members, as well as their personality quirks and strengths. It was amazing to watch that take place.
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.
Firstly, gaming is a collaboration. Don’t alienate your players. Through their interactions with each other and NPCs they write the story almost as much as their GM. With that in mind, don’t rush character creation.Talk it out with your players and be sure to use the family, allies and enemies that they create when they imagine their character’s back story.
Secondly, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Find pictures for your NPCs and the memorable scenes that you want to create. Otherwise you risk losing your players to the cast of hundreds that you want to create.
Thirdly, rules should be called guidelines instead. Agree on general principles and establish the notion that if rules don’t work, or work poorly, they are subject to change through discussion and consensus. “Rules lawyering” bogs games down, as does the need to constantly look up unwieldy and needlessly complicated passages. No one remembers that nonsense for a reason. The story is what matters, and a well-told scene is what people talk about long after the game is done. With that in mind, do what you have to to keep momentum going.
And lastly, don’t give up! If a wiki article or a character is bothering you, set it down for a bit and do another, easier one. And don’t let your players give up. All games hit rough patches and you will sometimes struggle to get a session in, or be forced to take a break. Keep the lines of communication open and keep people eager to contribute.
That’s it for this month guys, keep all the awesome suggestions headed to my inbox, and we’ll catch you all next month in the post-Gencon world!