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Nov

Obsidian Portal Campaign of the Month October 2017 – Blood & Bourbon

The Big Easy’s really something, wouldn’t you say neonate? Yes, I know what you are. Oh, don’t look so defensive. We’re very much the same, you and I; “kindred spirits” you might say. That said, you do look a bit fresh-faced to be out and about by yourself. What’d you do? “run away from home”? Hey, I get it. My sire was a bastard too. I’ll tell you what. Let’s get some refreshment. I know this great little club where we can get some Blood & Bourbon – October’s Campaign of the Month! Nourish yourself, and then I’ll take you to  Calder_R so you can present yourself properly.

https://db4sgowjqfwig.cloudfront.net/campaigns/117971/banners/516575/Yes2111.jpg?1444764764First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen.  Where are you from?  What do you do aside from gaming?  Alter Egos?  Wife and kids?  Where can we stalk you on the internet.  Let us know if you feel so inclined!

Calder_R

My cleverly concealed real name is Calder Rooney, which is pronounced “Call-der,” like the “call” in “phone call.” My third grade teacher initially pronounced it as “Cauldron,” and ever since that traumatic episode, I’ve made sure that no one else ever will. I am a perennial (though happily debt-free) student working on a history degree, and also a non-coffee drinker despite the fact that my day job is at a coffee shop in Seattle, Washington. Two of those facts, incidentally, are why I love Vampire: it’s a game deeply rooted in history that simultaneously speaks to many of the social issues relevant to my generation.

 

Apart from Obsidian Portal, I don’t maintain too big an online presence. You can also find me on the Onyx Path forums under the handle False Epiphany.

Tell us about Blood and Bourbon in a nutshell.  How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?

Blood & Bourbon is a Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle set in modern-day New Orleans and centered around the moral choices of its PCs. The Big Easy has a reputation for being a mecca of sin, which is even more exaggerated in the World of Darkness: poverty and corruption are everywhere, crime is out of control, and the partygoers indulge in every vice imaginable. The city is also grossly overpopulated by Kindred standards (something about New Orleans seems to draw the undead), which does not help its problems: the presence of so many vampires strains the Masquerade and causes even more undue suffering among the mortal citizenry. Either despite or because of New Orleans’ reputation for debauchery, however, the city is heavily steeped in religious faith. Three Kindred political factions use faith as a mandate by which they claim to have answers to the Big Easy’s problems. Their struggle for dominance is expressed through the city’s nightly intrigues and political games, which the PCs are at the center of. It is up to the PCs which (if any) faction they side with, and how they deal with the darkness inherent to both the city and themselves. The campaign’s three-fold purpose is to explore political intrigue, the personal horror of being a vampire, and the city of New Orleans itself.

 

B&B is now 2.5 years old and the first long-term Vampire game I’ve been involved in. I played Bloodlines years ago and read most of Vampire’s sourcebooks before I started B&B, so I already had a distinct vision for how the setting would look, but at the same time I wanted to cover a lot of Vampire’s classic themes for what was essentially my first VtM campaign (I’d GM’d a previous Dark Ages: Vampire game, but it only lasted a few months). I chose New Orleans because of its inherent interest to me as a locale, its iconic status among vampires, and the fact that it had no less than two published sourcebooks. I felt the better of the two was City of the Damned: New Orleans, which was written for Vampire: The Requiem. I wanted to play a Vampire: The Masquerade game, so that was actually a plus: I’d have to convert setting elements across the two game lines, which would let me take the published city and make it my own. I’ve found a lot of gamers to be at their most creative when they’re improving the work of others.

 

Some of this conversion work was pretty straightforward, like turning the Daeva characters into Toreador or Brujah. I also had to consider how Masquerade’s distinct social structures would influence existing NPC allegiances and storylines the original authors thought up, and try to preserve the spirit of their ideas within the context of Masquerade. For example, Masquerade’s elders tend to be older than Requiem’s, so I increased the ages of the city’s oldest vampires. That led to me devoting some thought to what they were up to during canon events like the Inquisition or Anarch Revolt, as well as what brought them to New Orleans at points in their unlives when they were much older than their Requiem incarnations. I also filled in the ranks of the now-less populated clans (Masquerade having thirteen to Requiem’s five), incorporated the characters and concepts I liked from New Orleans by Night, established connections to other areas of Masquerade’s setting (many of the NPCs, for example, are childer of canon Masquerade characters), and added a healthy topping of my own ideas. Not the least of these was considering what impact Hurricane Katrina had on the city, as City of the Damned was published a year before it struck. The players have made a ton of contributions to the setting too. Sam brought in a new Giovanni sub-family with the Boggs (incestuous cannibal rednecks), and Pete came up with the lion’s share of the characters on The Living page, just to name several of these. B&B’s New Orleans has now grown far beyond the original bounds of the City of the Damned sourcebook, and I’m proud of the setting my players and I have come up with.

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Your campaign is run on the Vampire: The Masquerade system using Requiem rules.  How does that work and how would you it compare to other systems you may have played in the past?  How much do you draw from V:tM campaign settings if at all?

Setting-wise, Blood & Bourbon takes place in Vampire: The Masquerade’s universe. There are thirteen Kindred clans, the Camarilla wars with the Sabbat, Caine is revered as the progenitor of all vampires, Mithras was the Prince of London until WWII, Don Polonia’s badass image is marred by an embarrassing sunburn, and so on. Everything I love about Masquerade is still in there. I’ve also adapted characters and elements I liked from Requiem’s setting into Masquerade’s.

 

When it comes to game mechanics, we use the ones for Requiem instead of Masquerade. If I wanted to, I could run Blood & Bourbon using FATE, Cypher, Eclipse Phase, GURPS, d20, or even rock-paper-scissors. The Storytelling System simply best happens to serve my personal preferences and specific needs for the game. Rules matter a lot to me, but I’ve always seen them as subordinate to a game’s setting, and to be used or discarded as a GM pleases.

 

The conversion process isn’t completely straightforward, as the NWoD/CofD and CWoD/WoD rulesets are very different beasts. They make different assumptions about the nature of the gameworld and are out to accomplish different things. A good example is how in Masquerade, Dominate can only be used on higher-generation vampires, which helps reinforce the hegemony of elders over neonates. In Requiem, the concept of generation was done away with, and a neonate has better odds of dominating their elders. Since I want B&B’s rules to reflect Masquerade’s setting, I made some mechanical adjustments that make it harder to use Dominate on one’s elders. There are a million other examples like this, and our list of house rules is over 70 pages long in Word. It’d probably be less hassle just to play with Masquerade’s mechanics, but rules design is an inherently enjoyable process to me, and the final result is a set of mechanics that ideally suit my/the game’s needs.

https://db4sgowjqfwig.cloudfront.net/images/3851215/Caroline2.jpgPete (Caroline Malveaux):

As a player I think that it has positive and negative effects, many of which we’ve discussed at length. Requiem’s Discipline rules go a long way towards letting players have some leeway with their unholy powers – across the board the general idea of low grade powers mostly used against mortals not costing Vitae is, I think, a positive. That’s more a quality of life matter though. Probably the biggest change in terms of effect on the world / setting is the swap to a combination of Blood Potency capped by Generation, rather than simple Generation, and the stripping down of Generation of a mechanic. I think it made a lot of sense under the game’s original crop of characters, and with its original premise as an ancilla-focused game because it gave the ancillae a larger gap from neonates and gave them a distinct place in the setting – especially those of relatively middling generation. The flip side is, as the game is now more neonate focused, it stacks the deck more heavily against them by making their ancilla middle managers all the more potent against a neonate – and putting growth that much further away for neonates.

 

It, like many rules changes and situations is a fairly frequent topic of conversation in both player feedback and OOC chat. Cal’s typically open to discussion on proposed rule changes, and we’ve seen a fair bit of sliding around in many rules since I joined the game. Some are added, others fall away, and others change, often as driven by events that have come up. Most recently we’ve seen an array of new rules rolled out regarding neonate Discipline caps driven by the move towards neonate PCs.

Amelie SavardDavid (Amelie Savard):

My long and short of it is that system works. As a new player, I was able to pick up the system from books, the wiki, and the ever-present patience of GM and co-players, fast enough it wasn’t revealed until after my first character’s ‘retirement’ that this was in fact my first WoD rodeo. While a lot of the talk between our seasoned vets and our GM sometimes goes over my head, it’s never in a way where I’m confused on how to play my characters. I haven’t played in either pure Masquerade or Requiem, but I can say this. Going through the books, I feel like a lot of fat has been trimmed, and that a lot of the right parts have been cannibalized. B&B feels like some glorious chimera that’s fun to ride around on if you take the time with it. Compared to D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder, it feels very streamlined and without that harsh number crunch. But it still has a skeleton sturdy enough to hold as much meat as we want, unlike something maybe a bit more flimsy that ‘depends on the GM’, like FATE or Apocalypse World.

 

It’s been a wild ride, and the system has been through more than a few hickups that have ended up just making the chimera stronger and the group better equipped to handle the World of Darkness. Spartly.

Rocco AgnelloJack (Rocco Agnello):

I have played Masquerade and Requiem. I prefer Masquerade’s setting due to its scope, although Requiem’s system, especially in regard to streamlining combat, is a lot better in my opinion. Calder’s house-rules are pretty awesome, too. As for the game world, I have to say that adding covenants from Requiem to the setting has been a blessing. The game is full of religious nutjobs, stoic elders really concerned about etiquette, and it’s great – in a really disturbing way. I also like how genuinely dark Calder has built the world to be, and how merciless the NPCs have been. For example, being mindscrewed by Dominate is an actual threat, whereas in other games I’ve played it’s never been used to the same degree. The threats posed are genuinely threatening, making for an intense gaming experience. I have lost count of how many times my characters have been captured and tortured. It seems to be an ongoing theme for my characters at this point in time.

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How important is your New Orleans setting?  Where do you draw inspiration from?

New Orleans is probably the most central element of the game after the characters being vampires. If we were playing in another city like Chicago or New York, there’s no way I could just transplant everything over. There’d need to be a whole new cast of characters and political set-up. Vampires are urban predators and traditional Masquerade games are based out of single cities: I’ve thus always seen vampires as products of their environments, which ties into later-edition Masquerade’s philosophy that the Kindred are driven by history rather than drivers of it. Many of our game’s Kindred conflicts consequently have their origins in real-world conflicts or cultural dichotomies: Catholicism vs. Vodoun, black vs. white, French vs. Spanish, New South vs. Old South, and so on. Kindred conflicts shouldn’t be exact mirrors of real life (otherwise why tell a separate story with vampires?), but they do have their origins there. For example, Vodouisants in real-world New Orleans were never actively persecuted by Catholics. In B&B, the city’s religiously conservative (and Catholic) vampiric Prince considers Vodoun an abomination, and has been attempting to stamp it out for centuries. In real life, sincere belief in Vodoun is nowhere near what it used to be, but there are still many deeply faithful Kindred Vodouisants who are pretty angry at the Prince’s efforts to eradicate their religion. This doesn’t directly parallel real history, but it’s inspired by it. I feel Vampire is at its best when its conflicts are rooted in the real world.

 

I draw inspiration from a lot of places. In terms of media, I start with classic New Orleans books like Confederacy of Dunces or The Awakening and more recent ones like The Vampire Chronicles or The Lives of the Mayfair Witches. Authors whose works were influenced by New Orleans like Faulkner and Tennessee Williams are also good choices, even when their books aren’t directly set in the Big Easy. Film-wise, there’s Treme (best watched alongside NOLA.com’s “Treme Explained” articles), The Big Easy, Angel Heart, and The Princess and the Frog. Both of the Vampire sourcebooks for New Orleans, as well as its Call of Cthulhu guidebook, offer long lists of inspirational books and movies that I’ve gotten tons of mileage from. Call of Cthulhu’s is particularly useful for how many nonfictional references it also includes. Wikipedia, TVTropes, and Google are priceless game aids, but every Vampire GM should read at least one history book for their game’s city. “The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square” deserves a particular call-out for the sheer amount of material I’ve mined from it.

 

No less important than books and movies, though, is getting a sense for the city’s daily life. There’s no substitute for actually living in New Orleans, but I spend a lot of time on travel sites, message boards, and Google Maps familiarizing myself with landmarks and neighborhoods. I subscribe to a number local New Orleans news sites over Facebook and am constantly looking things up for the game. If one of the PCs is going to to a restaurant, I’ll Google a suitable local one, post pictures, link the player to the menu, and include pictures of the food. Even if the scene is being skimmed over, I’ll at least drop the restaurant’s name. I don’t claim to be as detailed as The Wire, but that’s the standard to which I aspire.

 

Time and budget permitting, I’d also love to actually visit New Orleans sometime while B&B is still running. Forget the tour guides. I’d be happy just to spend hours walking through the Garden District, listening to the cicadas, and admiring all of those beautiful old houses…

Amelie SavardDavid (Amelie Savard):

New Orleans is a really special place, I think. It’s one of the oldest American cities to claw its culture into sticking around and thriving, thanks to being a multicultural hub. For a frame of reference, Detroit is 15-18 years older than New Orleans, but the average person would take one look at the city vs. Detroit and feel a deep connection to the history and culture. Tourist traps aside, the city itself has a subtropic vibe, and talking from experience creating and re-mastering the Geography section of the wiki, each district has a very clear flavour. The Central Business District gives you a ‘just like every other city’ vibe, but take a 10 minute trolley ride and you’re in the French Quarter drinking the lifeblood of culture, music, and food you come to expect from New Orleans in all its media and its tourism depictions. Go the opposite way and you’re in the Garden District, old money and tranquil streets, old architectural styles and (at least in the World of Darkness) security and police keeping undesirables out.

 

Religiously, it feels as though New Orleans has a great black/white divide. Staunchly Catholic and deep-rooted ‘Voodoo’ practices throughout New Orleans, though maybe not in equal measure, surely equal in attention thanks to a youth-driven religious undercurrent coupled with deeply traditional Haitian and African roots. There’s also a lot of horrible strange things in New Orleans without any of the WoD meddling. Strange sudden drops in how much money districts have, strange traditions that border on cult behavior and political meddling, and every third building is purportedly haunted. This is without mentioning the frightening crime rate. The only way I can think to put it aptly is that New Orleans was built as New Orleans, and expanded as New Orleans. Not built as a city and then simply named New Orleans. It’s gotten to the point I sell spice and bread sometimes when I start getting into reading session logs or playing my characters.

Rocco AgnelloJack (Rocco Agnello):

You can tell Calder is a stickler for history. When creating Rocco Agnello, we tied his story to the history of the setting: specifically in regard to Rocco’s relationship with David Hennessey during his mortal youth (before his embrace), having a hand in assassinating a real-life figure on behalf of a burgeoning Italian mafia in New Orleans. It’s those kinds of details that stick with you and give you a greater appreciation for the gameworld in my opinion.

 

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You have quite an elaborate Adventure Log system using a MASTER LOG page?  Who contributes to this and how regularly is it updated?  How important are adventure logs to your campaign?

The campaign’s adventure logs are an immensely useful resource. Our game is text-based, so the adventure logs aren’t recaps that someone has written up: they are word-for-word transcripts of the sessions themselves. I spend a fair amount of time reviewing the game’s logs so that past events stay straight in my head, and keep a private Word document with all the logs on it for my own ease of accessibility. I’ve always felt that logs are one of the biggest advantages text-based games have over voice-based ones.

 

Maintaining the logs is a one-man effort on my end, as I usually want to fix typos, expand descriptions, add new art, and otherwise spruce them up before posting them. Any player could theoretically do it, though, and I also maintain the logs for another text-based game I’m a player in.

 

I would like to post new logs on a weekly-ish basis. Currently only several logs are posted, as I had a player take the other logs down as part of a larger effort to reorganize them by narrative order. The logs had previously been posted by the order in which we’d played them out in real life… which made things more than a little screwy after we spent a year of RL time playing out events that took place prior to the actions of a now-retired PC (whose logs had long since been posted). I hope to eventually get all the logs back up and looking spiffier than ever. I also advise other GMs of text-based games to post their logs every week. If you don’t keep up, it’s easy to fall behind on them.

There’s some great artwork and design on the site.  Who is responsible for this?  Do you have any site designing gems to offer other aspiring GMs?

Thanks! Like so much else, it’s a collaborative effort. I pulled most of the NPC portraits from City of the Damned: New Orleans, and viewers can tell which characters came from that book by their artwork alone. I supply the bulk of the photographic art that’s seen on the wiki pages or in-game by players. Sam though has a flair for finding just the right picture, and many of the game’s highest-quality images come from him, as do the majority of the non-photo pieces. Pete’s posted most of the art for the game’s mortal characters and makes a particular habit of including photos for whatever haute couture fashions his Ventrue PC currently happens to be wearing. David “edits” many of the wiki’s pictures by adding borders and converting them to black and white after I decided they’d look better that way. Izzy and Jack mostly leave posting art to the other players, but located great pieces for their own PCs.

 

Tip-wise, get your players involved in the site design and maintenance. I give my players a modest sum of XP for every picture or 1,000 words of content they contribute to the site. Some of my players have earned a lot of XP this way. (Keep it a pretty modest sum—I hand out 0.1 Beats. 1,000 words isn’t a lot by itself and rapidly adds up.) Other players have more fun reading the wiki than writing for it but still provide feedback. All of my players bring unique things to the site, which would not be what it is without their efforts.

 

Put in the time to find lots of art for your game. Google and Pinterest are your biggest friends. One especially useful function on Google is the “visually similar images” search: if you have a particular art piece you like, plug it in and find others like it. Keep a dedicated folder to save your art to. (My “New Orleans” folder has over 20 different sub-folders for different types of characters and areas of the city.) Save any cool pieces you come across, even if you have no immediate use for them. Also try to find realistic photos of people. Find older and/or average-looking photos as well as hot young chicks and hunky studs. This takes more time, but it’s worth it. Try to avoid using photos of well-known actors and celebrities too.

 

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Decide on a guiding philosophy for your game’s art. This can be broad or narrow. Mine is fairly broad: I use photos and traditional art, but not digital art or anime. I also make sure my pieces emphasize the moods I want to evoke. Pre-V20 Masquerade and early-edition Requiem did all of their art in blacks and grays to highlight the darkness and misery inherent to a vampire’s unlife. I still follow that philosophy and desaturate the artwork for most characters. New Orleans, however, is a very colorful environment, so in order to emphasize that while putting a dark cast on things, I desaturate particularly vivid images by 80% instead of 100%. I make a particular point of ensuring that no image ever has a blue sky visible. When I can, I also try to find photos of locations at night. A rare few types of images, like food (and the ones in this interview), come in full color. Food is one of B&B’s recurring motifs and serves a two-fold purposes: highlighting the setting (New Orleans being famous for its distinctive cuisine) while reminding the vampire PCs of an essential human experience they have lost.

 

Choose what’s right for your game. Much like movies use different color palettes and cinematographic styles, your game will be better if you adhere to a consistent artistic vision.

Caroline Malveaux Pete (Caroline Malveaux):

Involve players in the site design, maintenance, and growth – and do so, as Cal has – by allowing them a creative outlet in the setting and rewarding them for contributions (however miserly you may be). I’ve played across four campaigns that used Obsidian Portal spread across several years. This is the only one that has achieved a significant degree of player involvement and contribution, and it’s done so by allowing players an unprecedented degree of creative freedom and involvement on the site (i.e. letting players create NPCs and locations out of whole cloth) and by providing a slow but steady trickle of additional experience for players willing to take the time to do so – as well as those willing to do some of the less inherently rewarding work such as photo editing, text editing, and so forth. Often players tend to view Obsidian Portal pages as the GM’s responsibilities. Many provide only the bare minimum as required, and interact with the site as more of a chore than anything else. Further, even players inclined to do substantial work are often hamstrung by GMs that maintain too tight a grasp on their world by insisting that players only post information they have directly received from the GM. The truth is most settings can not only easily accommodate some ideas not from the mind of their creator, but actually flourish as a result of the outside creative contributions – to say nothing for what it does for a player to see their own creation get a moment of face time, however brief.

 

I’d also add that I think Cal’s relatively open policy is particularly advantageous given our gaming medium as it means that even should he be unavailable to play out a given scene, players can still take advantage of blocks of time they have available to work on the site and gain some benefit for their characters while doing so. Really, I can’t say enough for how much Cal’s policy on site work has dragged me into the setting and kept me involved and interested. Genius level innovation. It’s particularly helpful when I’m underway or otherwise don’t have reliable internet access for a period, but have some free time, since I can draft material for the wiki and still feel that I’m doing ‘game’ related things even if I’m out of contacts for a couple days or weeks.

 

Speaking to art specifically, like Cal, I mostly troll around Google, Pinterest, and other sites when I have a lot of downtime fishing for any images that catch my eye, whether or not I have a specific use for them or not at the time – right now I’m sitting on about 6,000 pieces of artwork spread across a couple of genres. Also like Cal, I’ll put in a call to the value of saving images of ‘ordinary’ and ‘ugly’ people. Given the nature of the internet the mundane is often the hardest thing to find later.

Amelie SavardDavid (Amelie Savard):

Calder is generous when he says that I edit the photos, in that I took the program he was using and found a more efficient way to do things to the exact standard that our GM asks of it. Finding real world portraits through Pinterest boards and image matching is actually a whole lot of fun. Going through pictures is a great way to get yourself hyped up for a day of B&B. I think that just speaks to how much of a great mood there is to this game, especially with Calder’s writing chops and attention to detail. From reading thus far, the latter of those two is already quite well demonstrated, and just a peek into any adventure log would show you the former in spades.

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From your “Player FAQ” (which is a very good idea, by the way), I see your game is a mixture of “Play by Post” and “Live Online” moments played on Google Hangouts.  Would you like to elaborate on this.

Blood & Bourbon’s format is the product of years of online play experience. Games played at set weekly sessions are offer long, productive bursts of activity but are difficult to fit into people’s lives. Play-by-post games are more convenient but just don’t offer the same level engagement that talking with a live person does. In my experience, they also tend to fall apart pretty fast.

 

Blood & Bourbon marries these format of play. It’s run off a set of chat rooms over Google Hangouts: there’s one OOC room for players/the GM to talk amongst themselves, separate IC rooms for each PC to post their actions/dialogue, a “stats” room for players to record game traits that frequently change (Health/damage, Vitae, Willpower, initiative order in combat, etc.) and an XP room to post XP awards there. Here’s a typical example of how an IC room looks during play:

 

sample-play

Since our game is based off live chat rooms, we tend to have a higher volume of shorter replies than play-by-post games, and players can get (near-)instant feedback by talking to the GM in the OOC room. We only really have “sessions” in the sense that some scenes might play out with very short wait times between replies. On other days, the wait times might be longer. It all depends on when people are available and feel like playing. This frees us from the need to schedule weekly sessions, which is really convenient: all of are adults with busy lives, and not all of us can commit to 5 hour time blocks every weekend.

 

Another benefit to B&B’s format is that we can game over our phones. If I’m standing in line for something, walking back from class, on the bus to work, in the waiting room for a dentist’s appointment, whatever, I can do some gaming. That’s a lot of fun. When I was a teenager, I remember counting the days every week until that next scheduled Pathfinder session rolled around. Now, we can pick up the game whenever we want, and set it down whenever we want.

 

We also typically see a larger volume of replies in the OOC room than the IC room. That might be because we have six people active in the OOC room (vice usually only two in the IC rooms), but we often use it to talk about stuff unrelated to the game: books, movies, politics, real life, whatever. Even where the game itself is directly concerned, we’ll often talk about world and rules design, speculate on character plots and motives, offer feedback on the “sessions,” or simply joke around about the latest hijinks a PC has gotten into. Tabletop gaming is a social activity, and I feel that element of social interaction is an important part of the experience.

Caroline Malveaux Pete (Caroline Malveaux):

Hangouts is awesome. My schedule is often highly unconducive to reliable play times, especially for extended hours needed to run a normal weekly game. The ability to plug in a post whenever I have time or opportunity and have a response waiting later – or to get an exchange going in short order – is a godsend. Doing it from my phone is icing on the cake. That it also logs everything for later review and posting is another added plus. It also lets players (and the GM) slow things down as needed to take a look at things in another light, expand their own preparations, and take a few minutes to review something before moving forward that isn’t really possible in another format, where you might have someone on the other end waiting around for you to move things along.

This to say nothing of how the medium as a whole is my preference over voice chat. I’ve been playing almost entirely text-based gaming for the last five years (previously over mIRC), and I’ve found that across the board it’s not only far more convenient, but also far more conducive to the level of deep storytelling and immersion I prefer in my P&P gaming experiences.

Calder_RCalder_R:

I’m in the same boat there as Pete. Most gamers I tell this to think it’s pretty weird, but I have yet to play a single game session around a physical table with other people. Online text-based play is how I’ve been reared. I suspect that’s only going to get more common in the future.

Amelie SavardDavid (Amelie Savard):

Hangouts is a great form of play, with no pressure and no weekly pack and move. I’ve only played two in-person games, and neither have been good experiences. But having my ad out on Roll20, getting an ad from Calder almost a year and a half ago if I remember right, it’s been a blast since then. I’ll admit there is a communication hiccup once and awhile though. Tone doesn’t transfer well over text, and typing out in-depth rules discussions takes longer than simply talking in person. There’s also quite a bit more house keeping than just something you would do once a week. All in all however, I do still agree with Pete and Calder. This format has been much more accommodating.

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How much time do you usually spend prepping the live sessions, and how do you go about it?

Lots, which I do by keeping extensive notes. Blood & Bourbon has a cast of hundreds and dozens of interlayered plots. It’s impossible to keep track of them all without a written aid. My private notes are a campaign wiki in their own right and actually use an offline wiki as their hosting platform—they’ve long since outgrown the “one Word doc per PC” format I initially used.

 

Every PC has a wiki page listing the major plots they’re caught up in, hanging threads for me to keep track of (ie, “Lou is under a mystic curse that will trigger under X conditions”), the status of NPC relationships, and links to scene pages I’ve pre-written dialogue and descriptions for. Every NPC also has a profile page detailing their history, goals, secrets, interpersonal relationships, and game stats (some of which are more complete than others). None of my notes are written as encyclopedia entries, and quite a few aren’t even in coherent English–no one’s going to read them but me. They’re only there as a memory aid, so I save the fancy prose for the campaign wiki.

 

Every major plot also gets its own wiki page. I write down a summary of past events that got things to their current point, the goals of involved NPCs, and how much they actually know of the full truth. Once you have a strong enough grasp of your plots and the gameworld, improvising doesn’t just become easy, it becomes the only way to run the game. I rarely have any idea how my plots are going to turn out once PCs arrive on scene. Not only is that more fun for me, I think it makes the world feel more alive to players. Plots will not wait up on PCs who don’t get involved. If players feel like the world would continue spinning if every PCs spontaneously keeled over dead, then I’ve done my job.

 

Another plus to our “play when we want to” format is that I can also work on prep whenever I want to. If a PC gets to a point where I don’t have any material prepared, I can just wait to respond until it’s ready. If the wait time stretches beyond a day or so, though, I find it’s better to bite the bullet and give players something to interact with, even if it’s not as finished as I’d like. I can always spiffy up a scene’s description later for the logs.

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Aside from Masquerade and Requiem, what other systems have you played?  What others do you still play?  Are there any systems you have not played that you might be interested in?

I played a lot of Pathfinder back in the day, mostly in Planescape, assorted homebrew campaign settings, and the Savage Tide AP. I prefer more rules-light game systems these days, but Pathfinder was still a big influence on my love for mechanics design. I’ve also briefly dipped my toe into Numenera and Changeling: The Lost.

 

These days I play World of Darkness pretty much exclusively. Blood & Bourbon is a consuming enough effort that I don’t have time for other games. I’ve squeezed in one exception for Witiko Falls, a mortal-centric World of Darkness chronicle run by B&B’s own Sam. (It’s also posted over Obsidian Portal and an awesome game in its own right. Anyone who enjoys B&B will find it well worth checking it out.)

 

The other games I most want to play are Mage: The Ascension and Changeling: The Lost. Mage speaks to me for its message of changing the world through one’s beliefs and its general kitchen sink nature (as someone who’s a longtime Planescape fan, both of those elements are comfortingly familiar). Changeling I played just long enough to whet my appetite for more. I’ve been a fan of Ravenloft for even longer than the WoD but have yet to play any games in it: D&D 5e might be a fun system with which to rectify that. I also have a passing interest in FATE, Mutants & Masterminds, and the Song of Ice and Fire and Dresden Files RPGs. There are a lot of other cool indie titles out there, but I’m the kind of guy who prefers either decades-old games with dozens of setting books I can pour through and soak up every detail of, or games which are adaptations of existing fictional universes. Shadowrun greatly interests me for that reason, though given its length of history and complex ruleset, it’s a bigger investment of time than I can make right now.

Caroline Malveaux Pete (Caroline Malveaux):

I’ve played D&D 3.0 and 3.5, along with Pathfinder (playing alongside Cal as a player in a six-year long campaign, then briefly with him as a GM). I briefly stuck my toe into Exalted and Mutants & Masterminds, but this is the first major game I’ve played that wasn’t d20. Like Cal, I’ve drifted away from mechanically focused systems in favor of more streamlined mechanics as I’ve gotten older. I’ve GM’d Pathfinder and D&D 3.5, but these days don’t have the time to commit to it.

 

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What does the future have in store for the characters in Blood and Bourbon?  Without giving the game away, is there anything you can surmise……?

Well, I suppose as most of this cat is already out of the bag…

 

We’ve just about finished the game’s first major act and are entering into its second. The rumored impending torpor of New Orleans’ long-reigning Prince, and his Seneschal’s purported Lasombra blood, has the local Kindred in an uproar over who his declared successor is going to be–and whether that successor is even going to matter if one of the Prince’s two chief rivals finally seizes power. Most Kindred believe the cold war between the city’s three big factions is going to escalate, and possibly even turn from cold to hot, as the Prince attempts to “clean house” before finally taking his long-overdue nap. Even if neither of those rumors is true, their simple existence–and strong apparent basis in fact–is enough to incite strife from whence there was previously none (or at least make formerly covert strife now overt).

 

I intend to explore more of Hurricane Katrina’s effects upon the city. New Orleans has mostly recovered in the twelve years since, but the storm left an indelible scar on the city’s psyche, and an equally deep one upon its Kindred. So far, we haven’t explored much of that. Act one was centered on the city’s present and introducing players to the cast of characters. Now that we’re familiar with those, it’s time for us to look back on the past. New Orleans’ Kindred might be worried over the future right now, but in a city as historic and ghost-haunted as New Orleans, that future is going to be indelibly shaped by the past.

 

By that same token, I also want to look even further back into the Big Easy’s history than Katrina. I finished reading The Witching Hour not too long ago and was spellbound by how much character Anne Rice breathed into each generation of Mayfairs. From the original French-Scottish immigrants to Haiti, all the way up to the (then-)modern family in the ’90s, she made every generation relevant to the story she was telling. I’d enjoy running an extended sequence during a past era like the Roaring Twenties, Antebellum, or Spanish colonial rule, though I don’t anticipate that happening for a while yet—and my plans may (as ever) change depending on PC actions.

 

I want to explore more of Vodoun and the Baron’s faction, as they haven’t gotten much screentime relative to the city’s other power blocs. Since none of the current PCs are directly affiliated with the Baron, I’ll have to look into alternate ways to make that faction feature more prominently. They are the third side to the city’s story and it’s time their voice was heard.

 

Last of all, I intend to incorporate recent real-world events such as Hurricane Harvey. Harvey didn’t hit New Orleans, but it had a significant impact on the neighboring Houston, and the consequences of that are going to ripple outwards.

 

As to how all of this is going to affect the PCs, I currently have no idea. B&B is pretty sandboxy and I mostly leave it up to players how they engage with the setting. But the setting will continue to change and evolve, both in response to their PCs’ actions and independently of them. My prediction is the PCs will face more awful moral/political dilemmas, watch their humanity erode, rage at the hidden and not-so-hidden hands manipulating them, grapple with how far they are willing to go to seize power, and maybe, just maybe, nurture some points of light in a World of Darkness.

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How long have you been using Obsidian Portal?  What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

I first joined OP as a player in a Pathfinder game around… five years ago? I thought the site was nifty but never had any aspirations to run my own game off of it. Fast forward a few years to when I started B&B. The initial PCs were all century-old vampires, and since I wanted the players’ knowledge of the setting to reflect their characters’ (considerable) knowledge, I put together a handout detailing the city’s history, factions, and NPCs. A few months later, I figured that handout would look prettier if it was posted over Obsidian Portal. Plus there would be a central place for me to post the session logs and the players to keep their character sheets (both of which had previously been over Google docs). Two years later, the PCs are now mostly neonates and mortals, but the wiki has continued to grow and grow.

 

I still have an immense number of projects I’d like to accomplish. I doubt I’ll ever consider the wiki truly finished.

Do you or any of your players use the Obsidian Portal Forums?  If so, what would you say are the biggest benefits from keeping up with the Public Forum threads?  If not, why not?

I’ve used the public forums to get help on some CSS-related matters–I don’t have much experience with scripting–and the prompt responses I got from the posters there were very helpful. Even just browsing the threads can yield useful tips or inspire me to consider different aspects of site design. My players and I also use the private forums on our campaign wiki, which are a useful place for us to offer extended feedback on topics we don’t want to discuss in real-time.

If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most?

Providing a central hub off of which to run the game. OP is where I post information about the setting, logs from past adventures (well, at least in theory), and players can store their character sheets. All of that is more convenient to do off a single site than a dozen+ shared Google docs. Plus it looks way snazzier.

What would you say the single biggest highlight from your game has been so far?

Caroline’s and Lou’s capture of Rene Baristheaut. They achieved everything they set out to do: Caroline played the role of the femme fatale, pulling the PI into a case he knew was bad news, but his conscience drove him to take up anyway. Lou got the satisfaction of bringing Caroline’s killer to justice, and she brought down her sire against all odds while inadvertently (?) screwing over the poor PI. At the same time, both of them were left feeling manipulated, morally compromised, bereft of answers to their many of new questions, and helplessly caught up in an even darker net of intrigues than ever before. So they got to accomplish all of their goals in a way that was excellently in-keeping with the setting’s mood. Plus the scene of Lou kicking Rene’s ass into torpor was pretty awesome.

 

Equally significant was an OOC highlight. Sam, our game’s oldest player, was not a fan of B&B/the World of Darkness at first. When I first pitched the concept of a Vampire game in modern New Orleans, he said it didn’t interest him, so we ran a Dark Ages game instead. After that wrapped up, life circumstances kept him away from gaming, and I started B&B with a new group of players. I invited Sam to join a few months later, and though he said yes, he was still lukewarm about the setting. Getting to play with a long-time gaming buddy was the only reason he joined.

 

A year later, he started GMing his own World of Darkness game. Biggest compliment he could have paid me.

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Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GMing pearls of wisdom.

Keep good notes. I mentioned this earlier, but I’ll reiterate it. Good notes are essential for keeping track of plots in a politically-focused Vampire game. They will also aid in your grasp of NPC motives and activities, which you can draw on to make the world feel more alive to players.

 

Adhere to a consistent vision for your game. Decide your themes, moods, and overall tone before the first session. Have players design their PCs accordingly: “The theme of this game is guilt. Tell me about something your character feels deeply guilty over.”

 

Collaborate with your players. Get them involved in worldbuilding and site design, reward them for it, and recognize that some players will be more involved than others. Remember that you’re not bound by what whatever content your players come up with, and are free to add or alter details. Most players will enjoy seeing the GM engage with their creations that way.

 

Ask your players what elements of the campaign setting they find most interesting. Work with them to establish a list of goals they want to accomplish with their PC. Make sure to tie those goals to their interests, and base your storylines around those goals. Less confident players may not be sure of goals, but they’ll probably have interests. (And if nothing about the setting interests them, why are they playing?)

 

Saying ‘no’ to players is just fine, but always try to offer alternatives after you do.

 

Don’t ever fudge dice rolls. Different GMs will have different philosophies where this is concerned, but most players will not be happy to learn their “choices” are actually being decided by GM fiat. If you don’t want to deal with a roll’s outcome, simply don’t call for a dice roll.

 

Keep your PCs culturally relevant to the game. This advice applies equally to players and GMs: players should try to tailor their PCs to a game’s setting, and GMs should reject (or preferably, modify) PCs that don’t fit in with the setting. If someone wanted to play an expert in Chinese folklore in B&B, I’d tell them no. But I might suggest shifting their area of focus to Vietnam, as the Vietnamese have a more significant presence in New Orleans.

 

Research your setting. If you’re running a Baltimore game, you have no excuse not to have watched The Wire. In a New Orleans game, you have no excuse not to have read Anne Rice. Research takes time and effort (mostly time), but it pays off. Players can tell when you’ve put the research in.

Well young one, it’s nearly sunrise, so you know what that means. I hope you have somewhere to sleep, because you’re on your own now. Remember to keep your head down, and those nominations coming. We’ll be back next month with another campaign for your viewing pleasure.

Award Winning!

Gold ENnie for Best Website 09'-11'


Silver ENnie for Best Website, Best Podcast 2012-2013
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