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Winging It

Dealing With The Bookkeeping

by Ian Sokoliwski
Sep 29,2005


Dealing With The Bookkeeping

Welcome to the eleventh instalment of the column 'Winging It', a column discussing the promises and pitfalls of a more improvisational approach to GM'ing.

This particular instalment will deal with how to deal with certain bookkeeping aspects of different games (those rules that just have to get dealt with no matter how much of a rules-light approach the GM may take with a game), and how that can be turned on its head and made into an interesting story hook.

As followers of this column will recall, the main characters in my Hunter: the Reckoning Campaign (Izzy and Daniella) have recently made an ally of sorts with a Vampire (Viv), a relatively-friendly character who helped them deal with a group of Ghouls who were hunting them. Part of this assistance involved feeding Izzy and Daniella a small amount of Viv's blood in order that they would appear to other Vampires as Ghouls (and would thus be accepted in a meeting of a group of powerful Vampires in the city, ones who could then deal with this hunting problem).

Previously, I had also established that Viv tended to take as little blood as she could to survive - she fed primarily from a group of Goth kids (some would call them Blood Dolls), and was adamant about not harming them or anyone else if at all possible.

In general, the less blood a Vampire has, the more unstable they become (this is a game rule not only in Vampire: the Masquerade, but most game systems I've encountered, and is certainly a common enough concept in most fiction I've encountered regarding these types of creatures). So, this little bit of 'bookkeeping' led me to think that the next story would be how the PC's would be dealing with a potentially dangerous ally, especially one in such close proximity.

Since they felt that they had to remain with Viv until the Ghoul situation was resolved, and fearing what would happen if Viv fed from either of them (due to the effects their Imbued status may or may not have on their own blood), and also just not wanting to have someone chewing on them, Izzy and Daniella agreed to go with Viv someplace where she would be most comfortable feeding. Since she only wants to feed from her group of Blood Dolls (all of whom enjoyed the experience), they took her to a rave that she knew would be well-attended by them.

This was a great opportunity for me to throw in plenty of other supernatural activity, the types of things that the PC's would normally want to investigate but would have to ignore (or at least not concentrate on) while they had more pressing issues to deal with. Thus, I was able to have them come across a variety of creatures that, while masquerading as humans, still like to put on a bit of a show in a setting like this. Thus (through their Second Sight ability), they saw hints of horns on peoples' heads, tails, and plenty of other small touches that they had never seen before and could not identify. While not immediatly dangerous to them, it would certainly put them on edge (especially as they also had to deal with Viv's growing instability as well as watching out for the Ghouls that were hunting them). They even saw (although they did not realize it at the time) at least one other Imbued person interacting with a Vampire. Basically, these were little throwaway moments that, if the PC's decided to pursue later, could easily become story and plot hooks.

It seemed, however, that the PC's were indeed much more interested in watching their own backs in regards to potential Ghoul activity rather than being overly concerned with the welfare of their ally. So, following this, I determined that the smell of blood so strongly present around her (from the willing victims, as well as just the general intense party atmosphere) would drive Viv a bit more crazy, and she pulled one of her Blood Dolls into an alcove and began to viciously attack him. This succeeded in waking the players to the real threat, and they intervened. Indeed, the altercation became so heated that Viv actually began feeding from Izzy, with Daniella using her Hunter abilities to help the Blood Doll victim and keep him safe.

After separating Viv and Izzy (and with the now-stable Viv mortified at her own actions), Daniella became very adamant about leaving the scene entirely, feeling unsafe around Viv. Izzy was still wanting to make sure that Viv was not going to go crazy again, and still wanted to help her.

So, of course, this seems like a perfect time to reintroduce the Ghouls that are hunting them. Just to get the characters moving a bit more.

Daniella stomped away on her own (upset about being allied with a blood-sucking monster who could turn on them at any moment), smack into one of the Ghouls that had been following them. Izzy, spotting this, rushes in to help. A battle does ensue, with some Ghoul agents of the local Vampire Court (on the lookout for these guys after the last game session) helping out, allowing Daniella and Izzy to escape.

Having had enough of hanging around with monsters, Daniella and Izzy show up at the apartment of Timothy. Timothy is another Hunter, one met back in their first session, and is more of an information-gatherer than an actual Hunter. Thus, he doesn't know quite what to do with these two women, but tries to help them out while they figure out what to do next.

I rarely use the H:tR creation,, the internet site that Hunters can freely use, as anything terribly worthwhile - it is more a source for rumours and conflicting opinions rather than a crutch for the players. However, since they decided that they also wanted to look at the site after getting to Timothys' to see if there was any mention of activities in Winnipeg (basically to find out if anything more happened at the rave after they left), I did have the other unnoticed Hunter posting stuff about Viv and Daniella's actions, and they have thus made a new contact.

Now, in my previous column 'Driving Up the Intensity', I talked about how getting the players arguing and discussing things amongst themselves 'in character' is a difficult, but incredibly rewarding, thing to do. Well, this session ended with an even better example of that sort of experience.

The two players then spent the next half hour or so discussing (in-character, mind you) the situation. Daniella was strongly against having anything more to do with Viv, and was very vocal in her opinions on the subject. Izzy, however, was trying to put the episode into some sort of context and didn't want to immediately shun their latest ally (even though it was Izzy, not Daniella, who had been attacked by Viv). There was really nothing much for me to do in this instance except, as Timothy, sit back and watch the game unfold in front of me. Their debate was so intense, and went on for so long (of real time), that we ended up ending the session there, to give the characters (and their players) time to think about how to deal with the situation.

(As a real-world note on that - none of us knew that they would actually have about six months of time to think about it, as that was how long it took before we had our next game. But, then, life has a funny way of intervening in games that way.)

Now, all my preparation for this session had been deciding that Viv would need to feed, and that the Ghouls would probably make some sort of appearance (as I didn't want them to simply go away, or become somebody elses' problem). That was it, however. Everything else (how they dealt with Viv, how the Ghouls showed up, what sort of impact the local Vampire Courts' pursuit of the Ghouls would have on events) was entirely made up on the spot, mostly through ideas and inspiration taken from the role-playing of the players themselves. This on-the-fly approach has led to one story hook/element (the new Hunter from the rave and that I have already brought into a recent session, and continues to bring a reality to the game that the players seem to very much appreciate, helping them continue to get into character quicker and more deeply.

Sometimes, if getting stuck for inspiration, it is helpful to find out what sort of things the characters or their allies 'need' to do (whether it is training to go up a level, acquiring new spell books to learn new spells available to them, etc) by the rules of the particular game, and taking that as the inspiration for the next session. It can certainly create an interesting departure from 'regular' sessions, something that the players may not expect (and going against players' expectations, or surprising them, always pays off in the end).

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