The phrase “ahead of its time” is usually hyperbolic, at least a little bit. That said, when you are truly ahead of your time, there are consequences for getting somewhere before everyone else is ready. What made Greg Porter’s Blacksburg Tactical Research Center (BTRC) ahead of its time was moving to PDF-only distribution of their RPGs in 2003, back when PDF was little more than an annoying format you needed that Acrobat Reader thing for. By exiting physical distribution way before everyone else, BTRC made their games pretty hard to find unless you already knew what you were looking for. Fortunately, the rest of the world has caught up…and now the rest of the world can go check out EABA.
A few days ago we here at CHG were surprised to discover that we had been awarded a free copy of a Changeling: The Lost sourcebook from the Storytellers Vault by the name of Venice Unmasked, written by Christopher Handley. So, keeping in mind what I had learned from the new edition (or perhaps, completely forgetting it and getting swept up by a True Fae), I decided to take a look. But perhaps, I am getting ahead of myself: what is the Storytellers Vault? I had never heard of it before.
What I learned is that the Vault is, for the lack of a better term, the fan module publishing service (much like the DM’s Guild for D&D). People who sign up are given access to the IP for White Wolf, and they are allowed to publish sourcebooks based on locations or different time periods through the auspices of the “Storytellers Vault” branding for 50% royalties. It appears to be a win-win: White Wolf has had an extensive history of farming out chapters of books for freelancers, so why wouldn’t they let the market dictate what sourcebooks are popular and which aren’t? They get some royalty money for little to no effort, and the devoted author gets to use an IP they comfortable with and passionate about and get a decent slice of royalties for their work.
I address the fact that this is an fan written setting for a simple reason: I honestly could not tell while I was reading it. The layout was nearly identical to CtL 1st edition, with subsections neatly stored within the columns. There was artwork that I am sure was in the 2nd edition core, along with a lot of gorgeous original art that reminds me of Dave McKean’s covers for Sandman. Apart from one small typo, I couldn’t see a single book design flaw in it. Venice is a city that Handley cares a great deal about, enough so that he takes time to mention that this is where he was engaged and where he was married. Venice Unmasked is a labor of love, both for the city, and for his passion for gaming.
Venice Unmasked begins with a fairly long backstory (again, hardly unusual for a White Wolf product), going through the history of Venice from the days of refugees from the fall of Rome, to an independent city-state, its rise to one of the most vital cities in Christendom during the crusades, its fall to Napoleon, and how it fell by the wayside during the industrial revolution, coming to be known for its glamor and art. In the end, it’s the glamor, art, legends, and traditions of Venetian history and life that come into play. Changeling is a game that relies heavily on the idea that all stories are true (in some fashion), traditions accomplish something, and old bargains are sacred. The historical sections are filled with these legends and rituals. For instance, the fact that starting in the Dark Ages (and continuing to this day) the ruler of Venice (now mayor) attends the Marriage to the Sea every year, a ritual where a consecrated ring is cast into the waters to “wed” the city to the sea, which had provided the city dominance for so long. There is a legend about a man whose daughter was promised that she would become “like the Madonna” if she hid a communion wafer for 10 days, only for it to bring nothing but hardship on the family. Mostly importantly though, Venice Unmasked delights in one of the most famous events in the city, the Venetian Carnival.
While Carnival has pagan roots, it gained traction in the middle ages as a festival before Lent, with a number of similarities that Americans might associate with Mardi Gras: a time to finish off the wine and rich food that would go bad if left for 40 days of fasting, a feast culminating with a grand festival where people of all status would don masks and celebrate, where you would never know who was whom. People could use the opportunity of this anonymity to do a number of things: dodge creditors, speak their thoughts freely, assassinate a rival. For those following along with the general plot of Changeling: The Lost, wearing a mask that hides your true nature and pretending that you are something else while engaging in bargains in secret is a huge part of the game, and Handley nicely dovetails that into what makes Venice special, creating a unique metaphysical setting.
For the Changelings of Venice, a different Court is in session: The Court of Carnival. Due to the intervention of Changelings loyal to their old masters, the protections that the Seasonal Courts had maintained had been weakened and bypassed, and the True Fae were able to hunt their former Lost once again so that they could be re-enslaved. Desperate, one nameless Changeling made a deal with Carnival itself, cutting off his own face to become the Doge. While the individual Seasonal Courts still exist and have their own factions, the Doge is the ruler of the city. Around him, Masks appear over every Changeling that override their true appearance. Everyone in the Doge’s Court is truly anonymous, though different Court positions carry special masks that correspond to their duty … which happen to correspond to the roles in the Italian Commedia dell’arte, street performances with a bunch of stock characters that companies would make up shows for. (The Renaissance version of the English Punch and Judy shows).
While each Court has its own factions, the Doge can come from any of them…the problem is that becoming the Doge makes you so anonymous no one can remember who you were. As a result, though everyone is under the same banner of “Let’s not get taken back by our old masters”, everyone has their own way of thinking how best that should be done. Unlike the Seasonal Courts, where every faction takes a turn in charge, the Doge rules over all…and no one can remember where the Doge came from, and what his or her (or its) loyalties are. On the up side, no conspirator against the Freehold can be sure that the person he is conspiring with in on his side, which makes betraying anyone rather difficult.
It’s a pretty uneasy alliance. Spring doesn’t like that its typical time of celebration is being cut into by forty days of fasting, Summer can’t remember who is in charge but thinks that it should be one of their own, Autumn is engaged in a spy competition with the Doge’s own, and Winter doesn’t like the flashy show. As I read through it, I see wisps of connection to how Vampire games are played … and I’m alright with that. The overall plot is still PvE, but I am happy to see wrinkles of intrigue set into the system.
There are mechanical groundworks that the book lays down. They are set in First Edition, even though the book was published in 2019 (I assume this is a combination of IP restrictions, and the relative youth of Second Edition) but overall the changes are minor, andsince the book is more background and story based GMs should be able to modify what hard systems numbers exist into the new setting. For the most part, the most direct changes to any mechanics would be in the Mantle and Contract of Carnival. The more ranks in Mantle, the harder your character is to place. Contracts with Carnival tend to embody aspects of the event itself. Especially notable, and potentially game changing, is the five dot contract (what would likely be the equivalent of a Royal Contract in 2E) called Farewell to the Flesh, where a successful role on the target (including another person) inverts their place on the morality track. Note that I didn’t say for a Changeling. It works for any applicable character who has a morality track in the White Wolf franchise: Humanity for Vampires, Harmony for Werewolves, Wisdom for Mages. An Elder Methuselah, creatures millenia old who has long since abandoned even the vestiges of being human can be made, for a time, more human than human. It is expensive, and certainly not a one hit kill, but the idea makes for some wonderfully interesting cross system play.
The rest of the book is made up of characters for players to interact with, and story hooks. Again, all of the characters are drummed up using 1st edition rules, but with a little bit of legwork, they could be adopted into 2nd edition with few or any problems. More important is their narrative purpose: the factions that make up the Seasonal Courts, their motivations, and what they might try to do without player intervention or interaction. Overall, it’s a valid resource for a setting.
For me, Venice Unmasked sets a pleasant bar for fan works in White Wolf properties. Even if your campaign doesn’t take your players to Venice, it has a lot of cool ideas that can be grafted onto campaigns. Furthermore, it provides a really cool example for other prospective designers. Is there a festival or something else truly unique about the city you want to base your game around? Why shouldn’t you make a special event with it? Why shouldn’t an excited and passionate GM make an event in game where rules are turned on their heads, and when conspiracies and plots boil over? If anything, I believe this is the greatest gift that Venice Unmasked offers: inspiration to go beyond and let GMs do their thing.
For those interested, Venice Unmasked is available for purchase on DriveThruRPG. Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can tell your friends about us! You can say hello on our Discord channel! Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!
Things get lonely out here in the Long Rim, especially when you’re laying an ambush for the pirate who almost killed you a month ago. A white hot sun beats down on the black-glass face of my SSC METALMARK, but I’ve dimmed the cockpit displays and cranked the internal temperature controls way down. Gotta stay frosty.
Welcome to Lancer, a game of big robots, big guns, and big personalities. If you’ve ever wanted to fly through space tinkering with the parts of your mech and the hearts of your enemies, Lancer is the game for you. Continue reading The Independents: Lancer
Maybe it’s because I’m in dire need of a fix before Episode IX is released, but I find myself drifting back to the end of The Last Jedi. I know that it’s a polarizing topic for a lot of fans, but I keep thinking of the possibilities and implications left by the ending. The interesting part is, going at the question of “How Do I Build a Campaign?”, previous Star Wars Meet the Campaigns have created a location and then built up hooks around it. This method doesn’t work as well for something as broad as the entire galaxy. It might be simpler to have a GM pick a planet and say “this is what is happening here”, but unless we are talking about a popular setting like Nar Shaddaa, a write up for places of interest is less useful because there is little to keep players there without railroading them.
So, after some thought, I’ve decided to try coming at this from the other direction: rather than picking a location and populating it with plot hooks, this Meet the Campaign is setting up themes and using bits and pieces from throughout the system in order to build a framework that spurs a wide background of characters into the action. Unlike the previous entries, this installment is system specific for Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPG, but the themes are universal (or galactic) enough to be transferred over. And just to be sure, as this takes place after the events of The Last Jedi, spoilers will abound, so consider yourself warned.
Spring has sprung! With it, the games are coming up through cracks in the pavement. There was a bumper crop of fresh ideas showing themselves on Kickstarter, and sadly only ten of them can fit in this month’s rundown. Whether you’re looking for old-school Swedish dungeon crawling, 1980s wizards, or a two player game about ‘The Chase’, there are ten solid games here to contemplate as the days get longer and warmer.
The political kingmaker is the fairest of them all, with a designer suit, a killer intellect, and a smile that will make men follow her anywhere. She is a master of the boardroom and has a knack for deal making, even when the terms seem a bit, well, strange. If you agree to them in jest, you may be surprised when you are compelled to follow through. The bartender is a short man, barely noticeable behind the counter. He’s quick with a smile, and a drink, and is always willing to hear a gripe or a complaint, and offer a quick word of comfort to the concerned bar patron. What is odd is the number of filled shot glasses he keeps over the lintel as a marker. The private eye has streaks of grey throughout his raven black hair. His eyes are quick and dart to the sides wildly. His smile, while charming, seems to have a few too many teeth. He’s been following up on a number of abusive husband cases lately. It’s a bit odd how so many have seemed to disappear, but no body, no crime. It might seem as if all of these characters have nothing in common, were it not for their enemy: the beings who took them away to a far off land, and who may come to take them again. And for that, these Changelings will join together to stay alive.
Tabletop RPG design is a young practice, and designers in every genre and format are learning more about how people play games as they go. There is a universal truth, though, that every gaming group is different, and when it comes to facilitated games (i.e. those with a GM), the people who run the game will make a huge difference in the overall experience. On the internet, though, a massive logical leap is often made, leading to a fallacious and all too familiar rallying cry: “Every Game is Good with a Good GM!” A technically true sentence, this phrase has no purpose in discussions of game design other than to shut down criticism.
Travel between the stars is no longer science fiction, but instead reality. No longer confined to one measly system, ships now move across vast interstellar distances in the blink of an eye . .. but no biological mind can guide them. Artificial Intelligences have been created to inhabit these void-faring vessels, to guide them and lead their biological crews. Questions still remain, however. What’s out there in the darkness, waiting to be found? What is the true potential of the AI, and what will it mean for the galaxy? These questions are at the heart of TRANSIT: The Spaceship RPG, a Powered by the Apocalypse game about artificial intelligences, the starships they control, and their journeys across the galaxy from Fiddleback Productions!
Nar Shaddaa is a popular stop for Star Wars campaigns due to the gritty, cyberpunk feel. It has all the elements of a seedy underbelly, with equal chances for players to be heroes and crooks. In my mind, it has the plot density to not only be a stopping point, but a place to house an entire urban campaign. This is a setup for players and GMs who might wish to use Nar Shaddaa as the primary focus of a campaign, or simply the place that players frequent to repair, turn their haul into credits, or to unwind a bit. I am generally a fan of incorporating the players’ stories, drives, and foibles into how the story unfolds, which makes writing a plot at the outset difficult. Instead, we are going to populate the urban sprawl of Nar Shaddaa with factions, and places of interest for our players to run into. The factions have primary drives, which is to say, what they will be trying to accomplish according to the status quo. From there, the players’ choices will be what moves (or doesn’t move) the paths of those around them.
A member of the Palace Guard, sworn to die so that others might live but longing to give her life a value all its own. A shugenja and astrologer, once fooled and twice determined never to be so again, guiding the Empire by peering into the future. A schemer, sowing strife throughout Rokugan so that the Hantei line may rule unchallenged, to a degree even the Scorpion would admire. A herald of the Miya, thought missing and now safely returned to the Capital . . . whose shadow shows seven fox tails when she becomes flustered. The Great Clans aren’t the only power in Rokugan, and they’re not the only source of player options for the Legend of the Five Rings RPG from Fantasy Flight Games: today we’re making characters using the Emerald Empire sourcebook! Continue reading Meet the Party: Legend of the Five Rings: Otosan Uchi