Friday, December 14, 2007

Designing the Requiem

When I first proposed to run a Requiem for Rome game for my English-speaking friends, the answers were overwhelmingly positive. I had one big problem on my hands, however: I actually didn't own either books (Requiem for Rome and Fall of the Camarilla) yet.

Since I didn't have them, I was left without any facts to present to the players of the game. Sure enough, we could discuss of basic character concepts and work with the rumors going around as to the contents of the books, but we couldn't get too far ahead without me knowing what I was going to do as far as the Chronicle was concerned.

I'm still in the process of making the fundamental choices that will lead us to a satisfying game. I'm now going to explain how I started to design the setting while waiting for the books to reach my doorstep.

1- The Place and Time

When talking about a Requiem for Rome, I knew the two pressing matters were to decide exactly when and where the game would take place. The history of the Roman Empire spans over more than a thousand years, and the Empire itself was covering most of the known world during its height. I had choices to make both concerning the time and place of our Chronicle.

As far as the time was concerned, I had two favorites: the 1st Century AD, with the Claudian Emperors in the background, the fresh memory of Augustus, the glory of Rome, the excesses of Caligula and Nero; and the 4th Century AD, with a conflict between pagan and Christian religions, the slow and bumpy disintegration of the Empire, an air of complete decadence.

For the place, I was most interested in two different cities of the Roman era. Cities are, since Vampire the Masquerade was first published, the heart and soul of World of Darkness settings to me. I just cannot imagine running Chronicles without designing a City of Darkness to host it first. I hesitated between Rome itself, for all its grandeur and glory, and Lugdunum, the modern Lyon, capital of the Gauls at the time of the Roman Empire.

I finally opted for Rome itself during the Fourth Century AD. The rationale was that even though Lugdunum could provide me with more freedom and inspiration to do what I wanted, this truly wasn't what people expected to get as a setting for a Requiem for Rome game. When you think "Vampires in the Roman era", you want to play a vampire in Rome itself, first and foremost. Even if it makes the exercise more convoluted for me, it's more important to please the players of the game first rather than my own feelings about the whole thing. I'm not the only one to play the game after all, and the game isn't worth a damn without satisfied players.

I chose the Fourth Century AD as a matter of convenience regarding the design itself. It's better to be able to pick and choose whatever character, legend, fact from whatever period of the Roman Empire you prefer to integrate it in a "final nights" kind of game rather than trying to play during your favorite era and de facto reject everything that followed it. Plus, the base date for the Requiem for Rome book itself was set around 350 AD, so I could use the supplement as it stood rather than adapt everything to my whims and basically reinvent the wheel without knowing if the final results would be superior to the designers' intent.

2- The Link with Paris by Night

The main reason why I originally thought of Lugdunum as a potential setting for Requiem for Rome was because of its relation with Paris and the background already written for the play-by-post game set in the modern era at Les Petits Potes. I now literally have hundreds of pages of background pertaining to the history, characters, locations and factions of Paris by Night. Playing another World of Darkness game without turning this material into an asset would have been a huge mistake, particularly when the players of the Paris game (which includes me of course as Storyteller) enjoy it that much.

I decided to run the game in Rome itself because of players' expectations as explained above. This didn't stop me from using the background written for PbN, particularly since its background during the Roman era was linked to the organization based in Rome known as the Camarilla and part of what was written described how some of its vampires accompanied Gaius Julius Caesar's conquest of the Gauls and carved a province out of politically opposed peoples on its soil. I could use that to fuel the base problematic that would launch the Chronicle. The base situation would have something to do with a conflict between Lugdunum and the Parisii, that much was sure. I didn't know exactly how that would turn out at that point, but that was a base idea right there.

3- Research and Readings

I then started to search for any bit of information I could get about the Roman Empire. I spent hours reading pages of Wikipedia and following this or that link to a potentially interesting character, or this or that event that could be used to fuel groups and personalities of my Rome by Night.

The map of Rome in 350 AD I found on Wikipedia
Click on it for a bigger resolution

I watched documentaries about Rome. Watched I, Claudius once again. And HBO's Rome. Even great classics like Ben Hur (which is one of my favorite movies of all time, probably). I was searching for anything that would catch my attention and make me think of stuff that could be used in our game. Problematics, characters of course, locations even. Anything.

I read a lot too. Particularly the History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. Reading so many Wikipedia entries about Rome, I couldn't help but find the many references to his masterwork appealing. I just had to find out what it contained, so I bought the whole thing. And boy, am I not displeased. This work is absolutely monumental, complex, well-written and compelling, but it's also very well organized, so that if you want to, you get to the information you seek quite easily. I literally devoured the chapters concerning the Fourth Century AD. I think this is what made the decision so easy in the end as far as the time frame was concerned. I'm still reading through it, and expect to still be reading it a few months from now. Masterwork indeed.

Dictionaries of pagan gods, Catholic Encyclopedia online. The resources will soon add themselves up to the list. I will share a complete list on this blog of the materials that participated to the final design of our Requiem for Rome.

4- The Wait

At some point, I reached an invisible wall. I had found lots of interesting historical tidbits, thought of numerous fictional characters or components that would fit the kind of game I wanted, but without the actual RPG supplements, I couldn't do much more without risking to be completely at odds with the source material I didn't even own at the time.

So I decided to wait.

And wait.

It took a month and a half before I received the actual book. Requiem for Rome. I've now read about half of it, and it's as great as I expected it to be. The authors obviously did their homework but didn't get creatively chained by it. It is very inspirational, very much geared towards actual play rather than casual reading, and it's all around very stimulating.

Next, I'm going to talk about the players involved, what their characters concepts are and how they evolved with my acquisition of the actual role-playing sourcebook.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

How it all started

I have been running role-playing games (RPGs) for the better part of my life.

Among the numerous games I ran, Vampire: The Masquerade has to be at the top of my list both in terms of play frequency and satisfaction from the players involved. I ran a Paris by Night chronicle for nearly eight years before changing my gaming focus to Dungeons and Dragons' Third Edition.

Through my reading of Promethean: The Created I discovered that my passion for the World of Darkness did not die as I thought a few years earlier, but could be brought back to life under the right conditions. This would mean for me to take control of the World of Darkness, do away with the elements I didn't like and make my setting-by-night my own in every possible way. The new World of Darkness had this one advantage over the old: it did not have any "metaplot", or storyline elements imposed by game designers that would have forced me to make compromises.

I checked out Vampire: The Requiem. Then Werewolf: The Forsaken. I found things I liked, things I didn't like. What I didn't like, I changed. I was on a quest for a setting I could really feel comfortable with, that would fulfill all my needs as far as modern horror and fantasy go, and I wasn't going to let some elements of this or that game's background stand in my way.

Reuniting with French friends of mine over the Internet, we decided to play in this new, reloaded version of Paris by Night (PbN for short) on our message boards, Les Petits Potes. It's been going on for a few months and is still going strong. I developed my background and NPCs more and more, and the setting sort of took a life of its own.

The problem? The language divide. I have some friends who are English-speaking and just cannot understand a word of French. We're all very interested in playing a game together, but there's no way they could participate to PbN specifically.

Now, you have a game like Vampire: The Requiem where you play a cursed undead creature trying to survive plots within plots, discover mysteries pertaining to the domain(s) surrounding it, create a reputation for itself, build influence, power and respectability without succumbing to the urges of the Beast within, the part of its psyche that represents the hunger, the unholy thirst for a life it no longer has, the hideous impulse that tries to crush any remnants of humanity the monster might still possess.

Quite a program, isn't it?

Now imagine that suddenly, I learn there's a book coming out that is entitled Requiem for Rome. Rome. Blood. Sex. Poison. Murder. A basket of snakes for the ages. Now add "Rome" + "Vampire", and you get a wet dream for a guy who loves both dark fantasy and ancient history. A guy like me.

Requiem for Rome provides the dream occasion for my English-speaking friends and I to share a game set in the same universe as the rich Paris by Night chronicle I run, but with such a different time frame the two games could coexist besides each other without any need for cross-overs and translations.

That's the ultimate goal. To share a fun, entertaining game between friends. The enrichment of both PbN and Requiem for Rome chronicles by having them coexist in the same universe is icing on the cake that should fuel the entertainment everyone's having from them. It allows me to keep up with everything, not reinvent the wheel needlessly and yet, be able to have a good time with all of my friends, whatever language they use.

I don't know what I'm going to run using Requiem for Rome. At this stage, today, as a matter of fact, I proposed to run a game and am waiting for feedback from those who would be interested in playing it. We'll see how it goes from there. I will update this blog as things progress.