Published on February 13th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen3
Building a World of Darkness Chronicle
Seattle by Night
After making a series of articles comparing the various versions of World of Darkness games, it was inevitable that I should get caught up in a game of it soon afterwards. As I was the one that had been talking the game up so much recently, it’s been decided that I should run the game for our group. I’d like to take you through my set up process, what I do to prepare for running a role playing game.
It’s good to remember that this is the way that I set up for my game, and other people will have other ways of doing things that work better for them. There is no one right way to run a roleplaying game so go with whatever works well for you and your group, and remember that it’s okay to innovate and experiment. Even I do things a little differently based on the kind of game I’m running, the system I’m using and the players that will be involved.
Before we jump into the process, let’s go over some terminology to make sure we’re all on the same page. A Chronicle in the sense of tabletop roleplaying games is a series of stories within a persistent setting, that features ongoing characters. These Stories are basically character or plot arcs that cover several Sessions of play, resolving in some sort of Climax. Fantasy games tend to use slightly different terms (like Campaign, Adventure and Boss Fight), but these are the ones we use for World of Darkness plots.
Determine the scope of the game
The first thing that I consider when thinking of a new roleplaying game to pitch to players is what they would be doing on a session-by-session basis. To me, that is the main hook of the game and I feel like every player has to buy into the format to make an ongoing game work for the long run. At this point you don’t have to get too detailed, just a simple sentence will do- a log line, if you will.
Here’s some examples: Characters travel the United States in a vintage car, helping rural citizens fight against creatures of the night. Characters are suburban witches and warlocks who protect their neighborhood from threats. The one that we will be going with for the game I’m running is: “The Characters are Paranormal Investigators with a popular YouTube channel who discover the Real Thing.” Think of Ghost Hunters meets Grave Encounters.
The scope of my game is now centered around this idea of ignorant characters poking around, pointing cameras towards the unknown. That means any story could start with research for the next episode, or I could start in the middle of the episode’s action, like characters arguing while in a haunted house, and go from there (called in media res).
The YouTube channel not only gives me a sure-fire way to start any story, but it gives the characters all a reason to be invested in the group and to each other specifically. That doesn’t mean they have to like each other, but they do work together and share passions and interests.
This is also a good point to determine how lethal your campaign will be, and if characters will be dying off a lot. How long-lived the player’s characters are is really up to the mood of your campaign. We’re going with a found footage horror movie vibe, so the players are expecting their characters to die or go crazy every so often. Because of this, I asked everyone to have a couple supporting characters that are tied to the group that they could easily stat up and play on short notice.
Take a city, add some weirdness
One of the focuses of the 2nd Edition of the new World of Darkness is promoting High Weirdness or Mysteries in your campaign. Instead of picking a city to set your chronicle in then just adding a bunch of monsters who used to be people, you add some other element that makes the city unique.
For the Demon: the Descent book, the Onyx Path writers used Seattle as the base city. Seattle’s fictional weirdness takes the form of multiple branches off the main continuity of history that exist in alternate reality pockets or time-bubbles. These pockets reset after varying intervals, kind of like in Groundhog Day, but the intervals are usually several months long. Demon offers an explanation for these time pockets, but you’re free to ignore them or invent your own weirdness.
For my chronicle, I am setting it in Seattle, because that’s where we live. While time bubbles are fine, that isn’t exactly what I want in this version of the town. I’ll modify that idea of Seattle into something slightly different: Seattle is just full of portals and thresholds to other realms. Incursions from Twilight, Shadow and the Hedge are fairly common, but weirdness tends to manifest in locations rather than monsters or creatures.
Mine for ideas
To prepare ideas for these locations, I got out my copy of Mysterious Places, a supplement that has several different strange locations in the World of Darkness. Of most interest to me were the chapters The Swimming Hole, The University, The Village Secret and The Junkyard. Some of these chapters take place in rural areas, but it’s easy to re-imagine the locations as taking place inside the city itself.
For example, The Swimming Hole is about an old limestone quarry that grants wishes for a cost, sometimes a terrible cost. If you wish for a million dollars, you’ll get it as an insurance check after your house burns down with your family inside. Folks tell an old tale that there is a curse on that pond, and if it’s ever drained the townsfolk are doomed. There is a lot of good fodder for drama in this setting, so to make it work in the city I’ll just switch the quarry and small town to the recently buried reservoir in the Maple Leaf neighborhood.
Other locations, like The University, are almost plug-and-play directly from the book because they fit so well into my chosen city. Often times the books themselves will offer recommendations for ways to modify things, which can at the least inspire you. I also like the idea of using the idea of Seattle’s Underground as a way to introduce this weirdness into the story, so I’ll try to find ways to take characters under the city as much as possible.
Other books from the new World of Darkness line that I’d recommend to gather ideas from are: Antagonists (which also has a lot of info about running a mortal campaign), Asylum (which is about using medical facilities as haunts), Ghost Stories, and Tales of the 13th Precinct. These are my favorite plot hook books in the nWoD run, and their ideas can be easily be deconstructed and used in other places.
All in all, I recommend that you take some very recognizable places or people that make your chosen city different from other cities in the area and play those parts up. I’m sure your local tourist trap has at least one book on places in your town purporting to be haunted, so that might be a start as well. I’m going to be using the Space Needle, the Underground, the Fremont Troll, and the fact that we have been digging all sorts of holes under our city over the last couple of years to make the invasion of the supernatural seem more personal to the players.
Other sources to mine for ideas are (obviously) horror movies and books with a similar premise to your own. I also like to re-watch old episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? which is a show that aired on Nickelodeon in the 90s about kids who gather to tell scary stories. You’d be surprised at how innovative some of the episodes are and how well they hold up.
Next week we’ll go over character creation, and how I run “chargen” as a series of mini-preludes. We’ll also take a look at the characters my players make, and see how I adapt the story from that point.