I am a writer. I write my own stuff. I write freelance for a number of gaming companies. I feel like the ideas that a lot of people have weird ideas on how freelancing works, so I thought I’d give you get a quick peek behind the curtain, scrape something up off the cutting room floor and show you how it works. Remember, your millage may vary. Plus? Bonus Content! Everyone loves Bonus Content, right?
So, basically this is how it works. I get an outline from the book’s developer. In this case, we’re talking about White Wolf’s Strange, Dead Love. It’s got some suggestions on what they need in the book, how many words that should take, and I’m off to the races.
Several weeks of sweating and crying and typing later, my draft is done. I send my draft in. Several weeks of sweating and crying and waiting later, I get my draft back. (Assuming there’s turn around time on the project. I’ve worked on a few with no such second pass. In those cases, you turn it in and get shocked by it when you see a print book a year or so later.) So! Assuming I have my draft back and I’ll have a lovely note like, ‘this isn’t what’s supposed to be here.’ Only it’s usually worded nicely. In this case, I got off on a flight of fancy and added a Ladies Mystery style chronicle shard. (Using up precious word count, I might add.) Eddy was polite enough to point out that the book was ACTUALLY about romance and sex. Which the shard was not. (I don’t know how I got my wires crossed. Must have been the Miss Marple I was watching.)
I was wrong, my developer was right. Why? Because as a freelancer, even if I COULD argue my way to fitting it into the book, it doesn’t matter. It’s not worth fighting over when you’re talking about work for hire. I’m not going to let myself be misrepresented, granted, but beyond that, I’m happy to make the developer happy. That, trust me, takes a lot of ‘getting over yourself’ as a writer. It’s humbling AND very very good for you. It makes it easier to look at your own personal work more objectively. It teaches you to detatch your ego from your writing and get past the idea that everything you do is brilliant. (It isn’t). Best of all? It leaves you with AWESOME cutting room floor material like what follows.
So if you’re a Vampire the Requiem player, and love Chronicle Shards, have a gander. Bonus Content brought to you by Gaming as Women, me, and my developers at White Wolf for being awesome enough to let me share this cut material with you! Hugs, kisses, and Vampric Mystery Salons for everyone!
Bonus Content: The Mystery Salon
It seemed so simple: Dig up a wrongful death, show the prince, and win her favor. But with murder, nothing is every simple.
The rooftops blurred beneath her as Margret gave chase. The suspect was blurring along ahead of her. He wasn’t faster, but he was better fed and potentially could go on running at supernatural speed long after she had dried herself out.
But he was their only lead, and “sorry, we couldn’t figure it out” wasn’t going to be enough for the prince. He ducked down a fire escape and she lost sight of him as she let her supernatural speed fade.
Only he left something behind.
Margret leaned down to pull a scrap of fabric off the railing he’d bolted over and called her coterie-mates. “We’ve got him,” she said, and hung up the phone.
The prince is an old British lady, a contemporary of Agatha Christie and the like. Her salons are famous and being regularly invited to one is a powerful thing. Your coterie has out of the blue been invited to tea at the prince’s salon. Once there, she tosses a newspaper on the table in front of you with an obituary circled. That’s it. “This was not a heart attack,” she says simply. “Prove it, and you get to come back for a new mystery. Fail and I kick you out of the city.” Only it’s never that simple, and investigating a murder invariably draws the coterie into danger and excitement. And that one little ”heart attack” is just the beginning.
Mood and Theme
At its core, this chronicle should leave everyone feeling clever. The twists and turns of an old cozy mystery are meant to both challenge the reader and leave them feeling satisfied when they catch up with the detective. Risk, danger, and shades of romance will color the mysteries in this style of play, but ultimately, it should be about everyone feeling that much smarter and more creative for having taken part.
As the pitch describes, the setup is that the prince of the city is an old school mystery buff. She’s as good at spotting at suspicious death as Miss Marple, and twice as cunning. Her problem is that she just doesn’t have time to do the foot work necessary. She needs clever Kindred with no responsibility, high energy, and just enough smarts to keep them moving.
Which is where the characters come in.
Each new story should revolve around the prince introducing a potential mystery for the coterie to solve. They may or may not see the mystery through to justice, but they do need to report back to the prince with their findings. Dawdling or failure will earn them the ire of a powerful enemy not to mention a great deal of public embarrassment.
From the Storyteller side of things, clues and a time line of events should be predefined, though the actual victims, murderers and so on may be left in the air. The goal here is to let the characters turn out to be right at the right time. The puzzle piece mechanics at the end of this write up help to assure that all the clues the Storyteller established get put on the table. And the final scene of every story, the characters should perform a reveal, putting together the clues they earned or discovered, and declaring the murder based on those pieces. In general, they should always be right.
Investigative characters are important, but not the only concepts that will fit. A heavy meant to protect the squints as they work, for example, would be most welcome. Additionally, be sure that the types of investigators are pretty wide spread. A newly Embraced doctor could turn to support the team with pathology. Kindred with fingers in local politics might be able to sneak the characters in and out of crime scenes, and negotiate red tape to further their research. A Kindred with Auspex is always a handy thing to have around, even if they didn’t realize they were investigators to begin with. And never underestimate how handy a cat burglar can be when solving crimes.
Allies and Antagonists
In her infinite experience and genius, the prince could solve all these mysteries herself. But she’s just too darn busy and, admittedly, getting a little lazy in her old age. Her relationship to the characters should mirror in some ways the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and his elder brother Mycroft. A too-wise mentor with all the answers already, content to let others do the work to save her the energy.
Aside from the prince, the harpies of the city are closely watching everything the characters do. Maybe they’re just as amused by a good mystery, or maybe they want to pick apart the bones, should the characters fail.
Each story should come with its own victims, accomplices, suspects and perpetrators, of course, but don’t be afraid to allow the characters to build up relationships with “experts” outside their coterie. Cop friends, a lover in the city Medical Examiner’s office or a ghoul living in the criminal underbelly of the city aren’t just useful tools for solving these crimes, but also potential ways to raise the stakes by putting them in jeopardy as the mystery goes on. Solving the crimes is important; staying alive and keeping those you love alive during the course of things are just as important. Desperate criminals are, after all, desperate.
- Bloody Mess: The rumors have it that it was a werewolf attack. A raving supernatural beast that killed a whole fraternity full of young college students with tooth and claw. The prince doesn’t believe it, but won’t say why. She’s charged the coterie with finding the real killer or killers, though she promises them one thing: there was nothing at all supernatural about the deaths in that dormitory.
- A Sort of Unmurder: New Embraces happen from time to time. Only this is the third one this month with the same story. They don’t remember how it happened or when, they just know they’re dead and scared out of their mind. The city has a serial sire on its hands, and it’s fallen to the coterie to find the sire and bring him or her in for punishment before the Sheriff and his men do. For the glory, sure, but also to ensure they don’t murder the flesh licks as a part of a cover-up in the works.
- Who Keeps the Keeper: Security, ghouls, and even mystical barriers notwithstanding, the Master of Elysium is found murdered in the middle of a large Kindred event. The doors are locked for security reasons and no one has entered or left the building. The murder could be anyone, even the characters. Now, with the prince watching their every action, they’ve got to unravel the mystery, and the clock is ticking until dawn.
To Story tell this particular chronicle variant, plan one scene per character in your game. Each scene should have one integral piece of information. That information should be catered to the character’s particular strengths.
During the scene, each character involved can make a roll to discover the item in question. However, the core character gets first grab. If they’re successful in their roll, they get the information. If they fail, allow them to spend a single point of Willpower to grab the information. If they choose to not spend the Willpower (or do not have it available), then offer the same Willpower expenditure to the person with the most successes. Go down the roster of successes, until someone spends for the information. Then, another person can “outbid” them by offering more Willpower. Auction off the information, and give it to the highest bidder.