Review – The Succubus Club (Vampire: the Masquerade)

              The Succubus Club was one of the eight books published for Vampire: the Masquerade in its inaugural year (1991). Although it does contain some information on the iconic club itself, The Succubus Club devotes far more page count to a series of stories that (at least tangentially) involve the Club (about half of that first year of Vampire was stories). The Succubus Club is a ~145 page black-and-white softcover, and was also reprinted five years later in Chicago Chronicles, Volume 1.

Note: As one might expect from a book of stories, this is more for Storytellers than players, and I can’t meaningfully review it without talking about what’s going on in those stories, or some secrets of the club itself. Accordingly, this review will be full of spoilers and, in the unlikely event that you might be playing through any of these stories; you may wish to skip this review.

Quick Take: A decent job, given the difficulty of inherent in writing this sort of supplement. However, the stories are mostly tied to Chicago (although mostly not to the Succubus Club itself), and so would be a pain to use outside of that canon setting.

Place/Time

The Succubus Club is set in the canon classic World of Darkness version of Chicago. It was published after the original Chicago by Night, and assumes that the reader has that book. Under a Blood Red Moon will see the Succubus Club trashed, and it is back (but under different management arrangements) in Chicago by Night, Second Edition. Most of the stories could be run in a post-Lodin Chicago.

The Club Itself

About 35 pages of The Succubus Club are devoted to a description of the club itself, including maps of all of the floors. The Succubus Club is something of an all things for all people sort of place – it is always a popular destination for the stereotypical club youth, for yuppies who think they still might be able to pass as cool and young, for rich older types who know they would be except for that rich part, for gang-bangers, and for punks. It is also the destination for Blood Dolls, who are basically really cool goths except since this is the World of Darkness they actually drink each other’s blood from time to time. This concept would go away later in Vampire; the term “blood doll” will still be used but it will come to refer to a member of a vampire’s herd – perhaps in a time when AIDS was really high profile they realized that glamorizing actual people exchanging actual blood with each other was in extra-bad form?

Physically, the club has two main public spaces. There’s a primary dance floor and seating space, that also has hanging platform dance floors and an extensive balcony level. Then there’s the basement level, which has a concert stage/dance floor, and also the Labyrinth, which is a maze of corridors in which people can do private things in semi-private (complete with random encounter table). Above the public floors, there’s a VIP lounge/catwalk area (where the vampires/cool kids can hang out), and above that the private offices of the vampire who runs the place.

There’s a write-up on Brennon Thornhill (the manager), and a few long-term staff (including ghouls), and then a list of Chicago Kindred who are likely to frequent the place. The Succubus Club doesn’t really get into the whole “methuselah in a secret room in the basement” thing.

The Stories

The remaining ~110 pages is devoted to five stories, one of them a two-parter. As noted above, they have varying degrees of connection to the Succubus Club. Most of them, however, a reasonably tightly tied to the Chicago setting, and would be difficult to transport.

Annabelle’s Party – The poseur head of the Chicago Toreador attempts to throw a party in the VIP area of the Succubus Club, only to be horribly embarrassed by a series of gaffes orchestrated by one of the Prince’s less-helpful lieutenants (some very graphic strippers; a presentation of a hunk of machinery as “art;” a ‘brilliant new musical composition’ that turns out to be one of Beethoven’s symphonies upside down). The characters are, of course, invited (or at least some of them), and get a chance to figure out who messed up the party and influence the exact fallout. Annabelle’s Party is not a big story, but more of a session run as part of a larger Chicago chronicle, with the characters’ actions fitting into a broader political web. In its particular, it is heavily dependent on the chronicle being set in Chicago, although the general ideas for a Toreador poseur’s party gone horribly awry are interesting and could be transplanted.

Players of Pawns – In this story, the PCs are selected as living chess pieces in a game between Critias (a respected Brujah philosopher elder in Chicago) and a visiting Ventrue elder from Russia. What otherwise might work best spread out (you’d think that elder vampire chess players might play for the long time) has to be run as a pretty quick story, because it involves the player character getting kidnapped one-by-one (as Dmitri’s pieces “capture” them). The captured PCs find themselves in an airtight vault, where they will have to figure out what to do with the humans who are put in as “food” (the humans are going to die from oxygen deprivation, so it isn’t so simple as “don’t eat them”). The shrinking group of PCs is tipped off to the game by Critias’ “queen,” and is pointed at Dmitri’s haven, where they must defeat Dmitri’s “queen,” The Hag, and rescue their compatriots. This exposes what is intended as a deliberate flaw in Dmitri’s worldview – he actually thinks that getting captured for being Critias’s pawns will make the characters mad at Critias, but not Dmitri (this is intended to illustrate how out-of-touch an elder vampire can be with modern sensibilities). The characters may then intervene (or not) in a direct confrontation between the two elders. This story only involves the Succubus Club inasmuch as the characters are assumed to go there every night and unknowingly walk past Critias and Dmitri playing an actual game of chess, and the story could be easily transported to another city with a couple of different local vampires playing the role of Critias and his “queen.”

Fundamental Differences – In this Chicago-centric story, Prince Modius of neighboring Gary (who the players have likely met from the Baptism by Fire story in the 1E rulebook) has arranged for a bunch of religious zealots to protest outside the Succubus Club about the moral decay represented by the blood dolls. A potential physical confrontation between club-goers and the protesters is diffused by Thornhill, who is then massively panicked by the true faith of an Episcopal priest who happens to be present (and is actually also being abused by the crowd). Thornhill will then bring the full weight of vampiric social pressure on the characters to eliminate the priest, presenting the characters with a very clear choice between the convenient thing and the right thing. The characters will then have to deal with the social and moral fallout of their actions. Like Annabelle’s Party, this story is as much about the longer-term ramifications as it is about what’s happening right now, and so is relatively fixed to the Chicago setting.

Death’s Sweet Sting – This story starts with the characters having to investigate and cover-up a couple of vampires-gone-crazy murders, have a big chase scene, and end up infected with the same genetically modified disease that was causing the first vampire to go crazy. The characters must team up with a hunter to get the antidote, which basically puts them in hock to these guys forever. Doesn’t have much of anything to do with Chicago (the Succubus Club is a scene for a couple of murders, but that’s it) and, really, is an over-the-top plot that would radically change the nature of a chronicle and that I would never run.

Child’s Play (The Paper Chase and Grand Elusion) – The Child’s Play two-part story is designed to introduce the players to Chicago, although it presumes that the characters and players are not complete newbs. It could be (but doesn’t have to be) run after the Baptism by Fire story from the 1E core book and the story in the Ashes to Ashes supplement (which is set before the first edition of Chicago by Night). The Paper Chase has the characters chasing around after what turns out to be a fake new fragment of the Book of Nod. They will likely investigate the fence, the seller, and some hunters who are also buyers. If they handle themselves well, then this can be followed up with Grand Elusion, in which that seller, the Tremere member of the Chicago’s primogen (who put the fake fragment out there as a test) tries to send the characters off after Harry Houdini, who was embraced as a Tremere but has not been following orders for some time now. Again, there is a good deal of investigation, as the characters will likely visit a reporter, a magic shop, a vampire-heavy bar, and (finally) the Succubus Club, where there will be a showdown. As with the Fundamental Differences story, the characters are given a “go along with the elder” or “do the right thing” choice, although it isn’t quite as obvious and there are also “elders/entrenched power” v. “the disenfranchised” layer to it as well. The Paper Chase could be used elsewhere relatively easily, as almost everyone but the mysterious seller is a throwaway character anyway, and the characters are never intended to find out the seller’s identity during this particular story anyway. Grand Elusion, however, is tightly tied to the Chicago setting.

Verdict

I think that coming up with decent stories to weave into an unknown chronicle is a tougher than coming up with a random D&D module, so although it is not great, I think that the Succubus Club did a reasonably good job at coming up with a set of them, given the difficulty of the task. They are, however, mostly pretty closely tied to the Chicago setting, and would require a good deal of conversion to use most of them anywhere else. As a read, the book is decent, although the art is sparse and not great. Plus, it’s pretty cheap to pick up these days (either alone or in Chicago by Night, Volume 1), and I consider it worth picking up if you’re interested in checking out the history of V:tM.

P.S. The best thing about the Succubus Club is that it spawned the original compilation Music from the Succubus Club, which is pretty fantastic.

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