Review – Chicago by Night (V5 Vampire: the Masquerade)

Chicago and the surrounding area was the original Vampire: the Masquerade setting, with a core book adventure starting in Gary, Indiana, two editions of Chicago by Night from the 90s, plus Milwaukee by Night and chronicle books like Ashes to Ashes. These early books made Chicago by Night (along with The Succubus Club) the iconic Vampire setting for long-time tabletop fans (I will acknowledge that the Los Angeles area, location of both the Bloodlines video game and the ongoing LA by Night actual play series, is probably the iconic Vampire location for fans who are not quite so long in the tooth). Of course, the original Chicago books were a product of their time – early in the life of Vampire, relatively early in the progression of roleplaying games not named Dungeons & Dragons, and not as socially aware as modern roleplaying games usually are. So it’s appropriate that the first setting book for the fifth edition of Vampire: the Masquerade (V5) returns to Chicago with a new version of Chicago by Night from Onyx Path Publishing (Fall of London beat Chicago by Night to release, but it’s primarily a chronicle, not a setting book).

The Quick Take: Chicago by Night is the best of the V5 supplements, breathing new life into the classic setting. Chicago by Night uses its expansive page count to provide piles of information on the characters detailed. Returning players will find a lot of familiar faces and a lot of new ones. Some of the new characters are entirely new, while others are of the ‘new to you’ variety – characters who are presented as having long history with the city, although they were not previously covered (this is often used to address criticisms of the original Chicago by Night as populated by a very white group of characters, given the ethnic makeup of the city). It’s very readable and straightforward to use in game, whether setting a chronicle in Chicago or filching characters to populate some other city. Chicago by Night also reintroduces the Lasombra to the world of Vampire, as well as the renamed Discipline of Oblivion (a combination of Obtenebration and specialty disciplines for the merged bloodlines of the Hecata). However, the other mechanical aspects of the book are not as inspiring. There are some parts of loresheets that are great, but a lot of uninteresting ones to wade through, and the minor mechanical systems introduced don’t have a lot of payoff.

Contents, Art, Editing, Etc.

Chicago by Night clocks in at over 350 pages, giving this edition a lot more space to play with than prior ones. I’d break the book into the following conceptual sections: the Lasombra (~20 pages), introduction to Chicago (~60 pages), kindred and coteries of Chicago (~180 pages), loresheets and other mechanics (~30 pages), story hooks (~25 pages), and an adventure (~40 pages). I’ll break down most of those in their own sections below, but I’ll cover a couple of them here.

The overall graphic design and layout is excellent in Chicago by Night, as it has been in all of the V5 books. What sets Chicago by Night apart is that the art and images are hands-down the best of this new edition (to the extent that a concept like ‘is this art good’ is subject to such analysis). I loved the chapter-opening art for The City, which features a vampire in a Cubs jersey nipping at the neck of another patron of the bar. The image is solid Vampire art in general, but just sets an amazing local tone. Other favorites of mine include the full-page opener for the Coteries chapter, the half-page Lasombra chapter art, and the character portraits for Anita Wainwright, Duncan Mactavish, and Son (the character portraits were not all done by the same artist, but all within a given clan were). The one image I found particularly disappointing was, unfortunately, the full-page intro image for the Lasombra chapter, which features a character who seems to be stoned or otherwise only vaguely aware of what’s going on. The image isn’t bad in a vacuum, but it did not seem like a good choice as an introduction to the Lasombra.

The editing/proofreading seemed solid (with one exception). I don’t read RPG books for the purposes of nitpicking, but I usually notice some amount of clerical errors, and the couple I noticed here were limited. The one exception was the rating dots as expressed in text (mostly when talking about coteries). They’re supposed to be (or, at least, have been in past books), tightly spaced, like “Portillon (•••),” but in Chicago by Night they often end up spread out, like ‘Portillon ( •  •  • ).” I’m not saying that’s a big deal in some objective sense, but it kind of drove me batty.

I found it interesting that Chicago by Night refers to the numbers on the dice, instead of the symbols. I suppose that when you aren’t the company selling the speciality dice, you don’t have the motivation to use the bestial failure symbol instead of just writing the number 1.

Introduction to Chicago and Story Hooks

What I’ve classified as an introduction to Chicago is spread over a few parts of the book. There’s about 10 pages of introductory short fiction, 20 pages of in-character discussion, and 30 pages of out-of-character presentation (the latter includes the homesteading mechanical system, which I will discuss below). One of the short fictions (Four Trips to the Second City), gives four smaller scenes based around the same character, highlighting the changing political realities of Chicago along with some more human touches. The second (Red No. 5) presents a night at the eponymous nightclub from the viewpoint of a pair of somewhat hapless mortals. The latter was, I must admit, a bit uncomfortable a read, given the viewpoint character’s repeated fetishization of black men (to be fair, she seemed like a lousy person generally).

The ~20 pages of in-character material primarily provides some vampire-focused history of the city (including updates like Kevin Jackson as prince, Lodin still being around, and the form taken by the Second Inquisition in the area). Twenty pages of snippets in a row was a bit much (the longest is a page, but some are only an in or two in a single column), but it was reasonably grokkable for someone already familiar with the city; I’m not sure how easily readable it would be to someone who isn’t familiar with Vampire and prior iterations of Chicago by Night.

The final half of the introduction is a gazetteer, giving some brief highlights of the city’s history, character, and layout. This includes mortal generalities (downtown, south side, etc.) and vampire specifics (the Succubus Club, Red No. 5, a conservatory, a theater, etc.). These are hard presentations to gauge in the modern era – you’ve got to give enough that it’s a relevant introduction for someone who never reads anything else, but you don’t want to spend a bunch of time on details someone can readily look up on Wikipedia or a tour group website. I think Chicago by Night threads that needle well.

As for the story hooks, they each involve a scene being set, and then several “what could happen” options. Sometimes the “what could happen” is different ways the PC might react to the prompt (e.g., the PC’s touchstone is grilling them about why they don’t come over for dinner anymore). Sometimes the “what could happen” is different ways another kindred might act, with the PCs needing to react to that (e.g., an argument between two other kindred at Elysium). Some of these are entirely setting agnostic. Some of them are technically Chicago-specific, but could easily be adapted by replacing the NPCs involved.

Kindred and Coteries

To me, this section is really the heart of Chicago by Night. With ~180 pages to work with, the authors here have at least 50% more page count to work with than prior versions of Chicago by Night, which lets them delve into a lot more detail than before on the 50+ vampires covered. The vampires cover all of the varieties currently supported by the V5 rules. That means no Hecata, Tzimisce, or Ravnos, but everyone else is covered (including caitiff and thin-bloods). For the most part, they all have the option to fully participate in vampire society, as the hard wall between Camarilla members and everyone else that was erected in V5 is formally acknowledged but largely ignored. I also note that, while the Second Inquisition is present, it is not an omnipresent force. I think that both of these are positives, as the exclusionary Camarilla and omnipresent Second Inquisition presented in the V5 core book can be something of an impediment to storytelling.

There’s also a wide spread of age from a Methuselah who has been around for thousands of years to a fledgeling who was embraced within the last month (note that the limit of 5 dots for even the most powerful of vampires remains in place). Those variables generally combine in the clans, so there’s usually at least one more senior, ‘upstanding’ member of that clan, and at least one younger character who doesn’t do what they’re told or is more relatable.

As referenced above, there’s a much greater human diversity present, in terms of ethnicity, orientation, gender identity, and such. Which doesn’t mean that all of the vampires in the city are always nice about this sort of thing. The several trans characters seem to be fully accepted as such, but Balthazar is still around and still a raging racist.

The lengthy write-up for each character details their mortal and vampiric history (‘mortal days’ and ‘kindred nights’), current plans and goals, their domain/haven, any thralls/tools they have, noteworthy relationships with other vampires, what they look like and any Mask they use, rumours about the character (which may or may not have some truth to them), and a stat block. Past these individual character write-ups are some old-style coterie charts, and the text accompanying those helps round out a sense of how the different vampires in the city interact.

Did any of the characters in particular tickle my fancy? Of course, there are recurring folks for nostalgia reasons – Horatio Ballard, Maldavis, Annabelle, members of Baby Chorus, Bret Stryker (he’s still so bad he’s good). Of the new characters, I think my favorite was Aicha Rana, a young Banu Haqim, who was born in France to North African immigrants, embraced by an elder who wanted a guide to the modern world, and then whisked off to North America. She gets along with her sire reasonably well, but wants to get to know more kindred and maintain her connection with humanity. She’s one of a few young vampires who are interesting in their own right, but her motivations and connections should make it fairly easy to make her relevant to plot. I also liked Malkavian Alexa Santos, because enby (sometimes it’s the simple things).

All told, the depth of presentation for each of the characters give the potential storyteller a ton to work with. If you’re setting a chronicle in Chicago, there are a wealth of plots that the various vampires are working towards, which can help kick-start the action. Whether using a character in Chicago or transplanted elsewhere, the detail on who they are makes it (relatively) easy to embody them in play and develop a sense of how they will react to the player characters.

As a percentage of this review, I know that the word count I’m spending on the kindred/coteries section is fairly low – me saying who my favorite characters are just isn’t much of a value add. But it’s the most important, and the strongest, part of the book.

The Lasombra

I’ve classified two distinct chunks of Chicago by Night together here. Most of these pages are the formal presentation of the Lasombra and Oblivion. But there’s also an in-character examination of why the Lasombra are joining the Camarilla, and several different takes on that. While I presume that almost everyone is most interested in having the Lasombra officially back as playable characters, I imagine that long-time fans will have significant interest in why and how they’re switching factions.

If you didn’t play Vampire before V5, you won’t have seen much of the Lasombra before. They are, to some extent, a mirror of the Ventrue. Both clans are focused on ruling and leadership, although the Lasombra in general have a more ruthless edge, are less willing to ‘wait their turn,’ and leaned a bit more towards being the power behind the throne. Back in the Dark Ages, the stereotype would have been Ventrue controlling the nobility and Lasombra controlling the Church. The Lasombra’s Disciplines are Dominate, Potence, and the new-for-V5 Oblivion (replacing Obtenebration). The Lasombra’s bane is difficulty with reflections and recordings. This enables an observer who knows what they’re looking for to pick a Lasombra out of a crowd, and it means that a Lasombra has difficulty using microphones (including the ones in phones).

Oblivion has replaced Obtenebration as part of what I shall dub the Great Discipline Reduction. Before V5, pretty much every clan/bloodline that wasn’t one of the Original Camarilla Seven had a signature Discipline (and even two of those seven had one). Although Blood Sorcery is an exception so far, these signature Disciplines are a thing of the past, with specialty disciplines being folded into more mainstream ones (former Serpentis powers are in Protean, parts of Chicago by Night imply that Vicissitude will be as well, former Quietus powers are in Obfuscate, and so on). Oblivion combines a variety of Disciplines, because it’s the province of the Lasombra and the Hecata, and the Hecata (to be detailed in the forthcoming Cults of the Blood Gods) are themselves a fusion of several clans/bloodlines that each had their own signature powers. So, at the first three levels of Oblivion, a vampire can take traditional Obtenebration powers, like using shadows to enhance stealth and intimidation, using shadows to grapple and attack, or spying through shadows. But they can also choose the ability to see across the shroud and into the realms of the dead (once a feature of the Giovanni’s Necromancy) or the ability to rot and wither at a touch (once a keystone of the Samedi bloodline’s unique discipline). I imagine that the latter (Touch of Oblivion) will get a lot of use, as it inflicts actual aggravated damage (unlike Protean’s Feral Weapons, which sits somewhere between superficial and lethal when targeting vampires).

The explanation provided for the Lasombra’s joining the Camarilla was interesting, although not all of the dots are connected. The text is solidly presented on the basics, leaving you with an obvious-in-hindsight sense – the Sabbat has effectively ceased to exist and the Lasombra were kind of really only ever a major part of it because they were first written up for that purpose 25 years ago (the in-game canon long ago set up a Lasombra-only organization, the Amici Noctis, that provided a more controlled, political place for the Lasombra to be Lasombra, not just a source of middle management for a riot mob). And since the Camarilla is the only other game in town in a setting where vampires aren’t having an easy time of it, it makes sense for the Lasombra to approach them.

The particular details get a bit less well-explained from there. Other than the fact that this is appearing in a city setting book, it’s unclear why the Lasombra would approach the Camarilla through an individual Prince, or how that individual arrangement would become de facto Camarilla policy. This is more significant in the context of a deal that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense for either side. The deal here being that individual Lasombra can join the Camarilla if and only if they pay for their membership by killing a more senior member of the clan. It’s really unclear why the Lasombra would agree to such a deal. The most senior/powerful members of the clan wouldn’t be able to join, and would put big targets on their backs (notwithstanding the Amici Noctis declaring themselves ineligible to be killed). The deal also applies to individual Lasombra going to individual cities, which (1) requires that the vampire be moving, which is not really a thing vampires are fond of; and (2) denies the Lasombra as a whole a place at the table when sect-wide decisions are being made. And it isn’t even clear why this deal would work for the Camarilla. There’s no mechanism, for example, for Lasombra-controlled territory to switch allegiance, which seems like a bit part of what would be useful to the Camarilla (a Lasombra leader just bringing their entire city into the Camarilla is something that was already referenced in the V5 core book). Instead they’re just getting individual members. And those individual members have just been told that the best way to advance is to kill off your elders, and have demonstrated that they’re capable of this … which seems like exactly the sort of vampires the leaders of a Camarilla city wouldn’t want around. It’s the sort of thing I will probably just ignore the next time I’m running a V5 game – Lasombra will just be possible Camarilla members like everyone else.

Loresheets and Other Mechanics

Although the presentation of the vampires of Chicago is great, the mechanical notions that go along with it are not so great. Aside from the Lasombra and Oblivion, the primary mechanical addition is a trove of loresheets. Beyond that, there’s homesteading and some new coterie-related material. Unfortunately, these other options aren’t a lot use. Plus, there are a number of ways that material presented in Chicago by Night doesn’t seem to quite sync up with the rules (especially as they relate to backgrounds).

Most of the loresheets included are technically Chicago-specific, but almost all of them could be readily adapted for some similar character or organization. And many could be dropped anywhere without adjustment. The loresheets are, for reference, Annabelle (a high-powered social player), Ballard Industries (corporate advancement), Blacksite 24 (a nearby Second Inquisition base), the Blue Velvet/Red No. 5/Succubus Club (nightclubs), the Book of Nod, the Capone Gang (mafia allies), the Cobweb (aka, the Malkavian Madness Network), Cultivar (another Bahari loresheet), Cult of Shalim (worship of an Abyssal entity), Descendant of Lodin (former Prince of Chicago), Descendant of Montano (a very prominent Lasombra), Fires and Floods and Devil’s Night (definitely Chicago-specific here), Firstlight (one Second Inquisition organization), Kevin Jackson (get in good with your Prince), Kindred Iconography (working clan symbols into clothing and such), the Labyrinth (and underground area in Chicago), Lupine Expert, Nathanial Bordruff (hating other vampires), the Painted Lady (ties with a tattoo/BDSM group), Ducheski (a Tremere revenant family), the Society of St. Leopold (a Catholic element of the Second Inquisition that was also there for the actual Inquisition), Talley (Lasombra hitman), and Wauneka (connections on the streets).

Now, that’s 23 loresheets with 5 entries each, and 110 loresheet entries is way too many to cover ain detail. But there are a few I like in particular. The one-dot entry on the Ballard Industries loresheet (Deep Pockets) allows you to, one per story, immediately restore your Resources if they’re reduced during play. Background dots are never permanently lost in V5, but they can still be temporarily lost during play, and it still takes appropriate in-character action to recover them. Resources can be an incredibly important background, and the ability to hemorrhage a lot of cash without an interruption could be handy. The three-dot entry on the Descendant of Montano loresheet (Abyssal Apprentice) allows you to, once per story, use an Oblivion power that you could have, but did not, choose. As there is currently no other way to access more Discipline power options without buying more dots, this is a unique ability and could come in very, very handy. Another entry on the Montano loresheet (Purity of Remorse) allows a character to always roll at least two dice on Remorse rolls. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a very expensive option, and it’s still very difficult to hold on to Humanity 8+. But it’s currently the only way in the game to have better than 50/50 odds of keeping your Humanity at that level. Evasion Tactics, the one-dot option on the Firstlight loresheet, gives a bonus to efforts to avoid being tracked, spied on, etc.

Having singled out some high points, let me address why I found decent chunks of the loresheets unhelpful. The biggest downer, to me, was how many of the entries are explicitly or implicitly just dots in other backgrounds. For example, all five options on the Annabelle loresheet are variations on “once per story, Annabelle will do you a favor.” Some are literally just gaining a background. So the three-dot Capone Gang entry gets you three dots of Resources. There are also a decent number of really weak loresheet entries. Some of these are subjective evaluations on my part. The one-dot entry on The Cobweb means that you occasionally hear an order or a call for help over the Malkavian Madness Network. I don’t think that a player should have to pay experience points for something that’s nothing more than a way for the Storyteller to feed them plot hooks. The five-dot entry on the Nathaniel Bordruff loresheet (called Betrayer) is … nothing, maybe? You’re in a position to either help or hurt Bordruff, I guess? And then there will be consequences? That’s not a lot of return for 15 xp. But the weakness of some of the loresheets is easiest to identify when they are also just other background in disguise. For example, the four-dot entry for the Blue Velvet loresheet gets you the club’s kindred owner (Bronwyn) as a four-dot Ally or Mawla. Let’s set aside for the moment that Allies are, by definition, mortals (or mortal organizations). You could just buy Bronwyn as a three-dot Mawla. It’s not apparent to me what the purpose of that loresheet entry is.

Occasionally the math goes the other way, and the loresheet entry is clearly undercosted. For example, the one-dot entry in Capone Gang gets you Contacts (•) and Allies (•). Even at first glance, that’s a two-for-one on your XP expenditure. But the contact/ally here is a street gang, which is probably at least Contacts (••) and (according to the core book) is Allies (•••) in terms of effectiveness. And that’s before factoring in the ‘reliability’ aspect of Ally cost – although I’m hoping that the fact that there’s a (•) Ally here (and no discussion in relation to any Ally about the double-cost for them) means that the Player’s Guide is going to fix Allies, which are currently vastly overcosted (so, at present, there’s no such thing as an Ally (•)). Still, that’s a one-dot loresheet entry that comes with at least five dots of benefits.

So, I think there’s a lot of potential for loresheets as cool ways to be integrated with particular aspects of the lore. But, as you can tell from the above, I think that in order to reach this potential they should do something distinctive and not be obviously overcosted (or undercosted, although that’s less common). Another thing is that the number and cost of the loresheet options should vary. There’s no reason that a loresheet needs exactly five entries with costs of exactly 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (we’ve already seen loresheets that don’t follow this model elsewhere). Since every single loresheet in Chicago by Night follows that model, I’m guessing this model was either taken as a requirement. I’m not sure at what level that call was made, but I would loosen it up. I’d rather see fewer, but more interesting, options on each loresheet.

When it comes to homesteading, I like the idea, but not the execution. The good part of homesteading, I think, is that it gives some mechanical punch to different areas of the city. I liked that when it was used in the booklet accompanying the V5 storyteller’s screen. In Chicago by Night, a ‘homestead’ can be a block, a neighborhood, a large area of a city, or even a whole city. The character of that area has mechanical effects. Maybe there’s a very effective community watch that provides penalties on Larceny rolls. Maybe this commercial neighborhood is loud, bright, and crowded, providing penalties on Composure rolls. It’s a good way to convey the feel of a place, as long as you keep in mind that something like +/-2 dice to a roll is a pretty enormous boost/penalty in this system, and confine it to the smaller areas (giving boosts to certain die rolls in the entire city will warp the mechanics of the game and will quickly become background noise, rather than something that conveys any meaning to your players). However, instead of just providing those boosts/penalties, the homesteading system trying to formalize it by rating the area in terms of Affair (economic success), Association (connection to the rest of the city), Clout, and Utility (provision of city services). Each of these has to be rated from 1-5, and then the sum of those ratings dictates the magnitude of the bonus or penalties. But it’s unclear why higher ratings would tend to correspond to more or higher penalties. And, I’m sorry, requiring me to track and rate things like how quickly the streets get plowed after a big snow, or how often garbage pickups are missed, is just pointlessly formalizing something that’s thoroughly uninteresting and usually meaningless to the game. Applying modifiers based on the character of a place is a nifty idea. Mechanical ratings mundane minutiae is not a good way to implement that idea.

Chicago by Night also presents new coterie types, although the presentation of coteries generally kind of highlights that the formalization of coterie types in V5 maybe isn’t all that helpful. As a shallow matter, there’s so much arcane terminology used that it’s an impediment to understanding the nature of a coterie, instead of a help. When you tell me that this group of vampires is a Plumaire coterie, that doesn’t tell me anything except which word I need to Ctrl-F for in my PDF of the V5 corebook. That’s not something that Chicago by Night introduced, but this being the first place that these labels were used for something other than the player characters drove home how awkward it is. And that awkwardness doesn’t have a lot of payoff. Even once that I know a “Plumaire” is a social coterie, that doesn’t really convey much information – it’s the writeup and the dots that were purchased that are conveying the information.

So, having said that about the notion of coterie types in general, you won’t be surprised to know that I’m not super-enthused about how there are five new coterie types in Chicago by Night (Carnival, Corporate, Flagellant, Fugitive, and Somnophile). But, given the limitations on the usefulness of coterie types, I have to say that Chicago by Night does a great job with what they have. First, they used normal words. When you tell me that a group of vampires are a corporate coterie or a fugitive coterie, that actually conveys some information. Additionally, most of the concepts are pretty useful. Many player-character coteries could be corporate (using modern business methods to advance their goals) or flagellant (trying to help the kine). NPC coteries could also readily make use of the carnival and fugitive types (player characters can as well, but this almost requires a less common traveling style of play).

There is also a ‘new’ mechanic of coteries having boons as backgrounds. The concept of a coterie having backgrounds isn’t new, and there being boons isn’t new. What’s new, really, is that in V5 boons aren’t backgrounds at all – with a limited exception during character creation, you just get them, discharge them, etc. through actions during the story. They aren’t backgrounds because backgrounds in V5 are semi-permanent and require experience points – you can’t get permanent backgrounds without spending xp, and once you’ve spent xp on a background you can’t permanently lose it (Chicago by Night deviates from this rule elsewhere as well). So it makes perfect sense that a coterie can owe a boon, or be owed a boon, as a collective. But treating them as backgrounds is inconsistent with how boons and backgrounds work, as presented in the V5 core book. Backgrounds are sticky. Boons come and go all the time. It’s also problematic in that it rates the boons entirely based on the level of the boon, without any regard for who owes the characters the boon – a boon from a neonate costs the same as a boon from the Prince (this is also inconsistent with the one place in V5 that there’s a cost for boons, which is during character creation).

In addition to the rules oddities mentioned above, I wish the NPC construction was a bit tighter in a couple of places. For example, there are “touchstones” who are unrelated to the character’s convictions and who are mostly abused by the character, in a system when harming your touchstones actively pushes a loss of humanity instead of preserving it. To the extent it’s helpful to give NPCs touchstones, I think it’s preferable to give them touchstones that will actually function as touchstones. And, although NPCs are not required to be built in the same way as PCs, I couldn’t help but note that every single character in the book, including the rawest of fledgelings, has better stats than are attainable by a starting neonate PC. Again, maybe this is a sign that the player’s guide will open up character creation, but the current rules don’t allow for things like 5-dot attributes or very many advantages for starting fledgling/neonate characters.

Conclusion if You’re a Player

The remainder of Chicago by Night is The Sacrifice, a mini-chronicle (probably three sessions worth) where the characters play a role in shepherding Lasombra envoys as they come to Chicago and present their clan’s petition to Prince Jackson. A more detailed look at The Sacrifice is presented below the spoiler bar, in the event that you might be playing through it and don’t want spoilers. Overall, I would say that The Sacrifice is a solid adventure, although it requires the Storyteller to unmuddle some key points. If taken as a standalone experience, then it suffers a little from trying to be a self-contained adventure and show off what’s going on in Chicago. This results in things like encounters that don’t really relate to the story, if you’re just doing The Sacrifice. The obvious, and I think intended, way to turn this potential negative into an upside is to turn The Sacrifice into the first part of a full-blown Chicago chronicle.

Chicago by Night is my favorite V5 supplement released so far, with a cast of characters and coteries that tickles that nostalgia itch while round things out with a wider array of new characters. The webs of plots and plans should provide a lot of options to get a plot moving for chronicles set in the city. We get the Lasombra, which is cool, although most of the rest of the mechanical options in the book are lackluster. Despite that, the central part of the book is great.

The Sacrifice

As noted above, this part of the review is going to contain a decent number of spoilers for the story in The Sacrifice, so it’s recommended that you turn back if you might be playing through the mini-chronicle.

As a starting point, The Sacrifice kicks off as a mission assigned by Prince Jackson, and it’s all about whether the Lasombra will join the Camarilla. Accordingly, although it says that the characters could be an anarch coterie or something like Bahari, it makes much more sense if the characters are just in the Camarilla (it’s unclear why, for example, an anarch coterie would take the mission at all, or why it wouldn’t side with an anarch leader early in the chronicle).

The mission here is pick up the Lasombra delegates from the airport, keep them secure for a day, and then deliver them the following night to the Succubus Club. However, three possible troublemakers are identified. On Night One, the coterie has the option of dealing with each of them, or not, that night (the Lasombra don’t arrive until the next night). All of this information is delivered via written message, with accompanying handouts. The characters are given four burner phones, and therefore four options to check in over the course of the mission, but the Prince himself is unreachable (this is one of those situations where it would make sense that the Prince is highly available and involved, but he needs to stay uninvolved in order to focus decisionmaking on the players).

Given how games tend to work, it is likely that the players will want to deal with all three if you let them pack all of that in. And each troublemaker who is not dealt with will indeed go on to make trouble. Optimal solutions to dealing with two of the three troublemakers in advance require different approaches. Additionally, it the players can reasonably figure out what approaches might work, instead of being stuck in situations where they’re just guessing the “right’ answer. For example, dealing with the vampire who controls the airport can be handled with a bribe or intimidation, but violence at the airport itself is fairly obviously a terrible idea. On the other and, one of them (a criminal Nosferatu) is readily solved with violence, and that encounter takes place in an obviously private place that is no stranger to violence.

The third (the anarch leader), however, is reasonably likely to result in failure on the part of the PCs, and Storytellers may need to handle it carefully. Just finding out where he is requires successes on a string of rolls at Difficulty 4 or 5 (which is highly unlikely), so there’s a good chance of this being a dead end right off the bat. This could require careful ST management to avoid player frustration and/or avoid the players spending an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out the ‘solution’ to a situation that may just not have one. If the characters do find him, most of the ways of dealing with him are both quite difficult and probably won’t be identified by the player characters. However, despite being an anarch leader, it turns out that he will leave them alone in return for a small boon – which is a very small price to pay, in the grand scheme of things. This solution would be obvious to players in many circumstances, but there’s a good chance it won’t be here, so the ST may need to drop a hint.

On Night Two, the characters must then retrieve the delegates from the airport. If they dealt with all three troublemakers, this is easy. The consequences of not dealing with the troublemakers varies. If the players are oblivious and didn’t realize that it was vital to come to an arrangement of some sort with the vampire who controls the airport, then things are going to get ugly as airport security gets involved. If the characters failed to deal with the Nosferatu, then there will be an attempted hijacking of their vehicle after they leave the airport, but clever players will be able to identify this and avoid it anyway. Conveniently, the troublemaker who is the hardest to deal with on Night One is probably the easiest to deal with on Night Two, because the anarch leader is a paper tiger. He will attempt to extort the PCs, but ultimately isn’t willing to fight, and it isn’t that hard for characters to figure that out.

Having dealt with all of this, the players should now have their two Lasombra delegates, will have the opportunity to interact with them, and need to find them a place to stay. I appreciate that the chronicle includes instructions to make the older Lasombra really aggravating for the players, because it will put a thumb on the scale in favor of having him killed in the finale.

How well the following day goes pretty strictly depends on the common sense and foresight of the PCs. Paranoid or insightful characters will find their day goes perfectly (well, as perfectly as it can). I imagine many coteries will not go the extra mile required for that outcome, which means there will be an extra fight later. Characters who leave their charges completely unguarded deserve what they get. Regardless, however, the elder Lasombra will probably vacate the premises during the day.

On Night Three, the characters have to hit up the Succubus Club, but short one Lasombra. They will probably also have to deal with an attack by a coterie of mercenary kindred from Gary, Indiana. This is a potential problem point in the chronicle, as all four of the attackers are competent combatants. In melee, their combat dice pools range from 5-8. Three of them have Protean or Potence at relevant levels. The remaining Lasombra is not great in a fight. A coterie that doesn’t have a reasonable combat focus could easily get torn to pieces (our Providence by Night crew would have been, for example). As ST, I would either strongly suggest that the coterie be combat capable, or else modify this and some other combat encounters. V5 is just not very forgiving when you’re outclassed in a fight.

Presumably, the characters manage to avoid getting smashed to pieces, and make their way to the Succubus Club. As noted earlier, there are a number of encounters in the Succubus Club that don’t directly pertain to the chronicle, but it’s at this point that the remaining Lasombra delegate makes a public announcement of the clan’s intent to defect, and is whisked off. The characters have some hard rolls to make to figure out where, but the chronicle kind of assumes that the characters accomplish this, because if they don’t then they will miss the pivotal interaction between the delegate and the Prince where they make The Deal – a Lasombra who sacrifices an elder Lasombra can get in, and this delegate will need to sacrifice her absent colleague. She will then turn to the PCs for aid, as she has exactly zero chance of accomplishing this on her own.

Conveniently, the elder delegate (1) has been a huge jerk; (2) has killed a lot of Camarilla vampires in his day; and (3) is off killing mortals right now. This should probably make it pretty easy for the coterie to go along with capturing him. This will require a brief stop at Red No. 5, before a straightforward fight. This might be a little easier than the fight with the Gary coterie – being outnumbered matters a lot in V5 combat, and Malenkov and his ghouls number only 3. Still, even if the coterie outnumbers them, they are all combat-competent (although, strangely, probably not as tough on average as the random neonates from Gary), and a coterie that isn’t will have a rough time.

The climax of the chronicle is the Prince putting the Lasombra’s offer to a vote of the assembled vampires. Unfortunately, his speech is a bit confusing, and probably need to be modified. If the ultimate vote is “yes,” then the younger delegate gets the chance to kill the elder, and join the Camarilla. A “no” vote means that the Prince doesn’t let her kill the other Lasombra (the Prince just kills the elder delegate himself), and because she didn’t get the kill, she doesn’t get in. But the options offered by the Prince are “accept the Lasombra and the potential murder of hundreds of our kind” or “extend the olive branch and take advantage of new alliances.” To me, the options offered do not line up with a yes/no vote with the previously-mentioned outcomes, and I suspect that a lot of players will be confused. So I would seriously consider modifying the Prince’s speech so that the choice is clear. Additionally, the Prince’s speech makes it sound like everybody gets a vote, which they don’t. Each clan gets a vote (including the supposedly not-Camarilla-anymore Brujah and Gangrel). And for many of the clans it’s just one elder casting the vote (without consulting their clan, or consulting and then ignoring it). Again, I would seriously consider modifying the Prince’s speech so that the nature of the vote is clear to the characters.

With that out of the way, the characters have a chance to try to see what the clans are discussing and try to influence their votes. There is a little information here on what will not influence the votes, but I wish there was a bit more about what might work. And what’s present can be a bit opaque (for example, there’s a section about how the Tremere Primogen is trying to convince the Nosferatu about the benefits of the Lasombra joining, and then the Tremere just vote against it). If the characters don’t influence anyone, there will be a tie, which the Prince will then break … although the book doesn’t seem to say which he way he will go (presumably yes, I guess?). But if the characters can influence even one clan, that will resolve things to the characters’ preferred outcome (which is probably to let the Lasombra in).

And that, as they say, is that. The Lasombra are probably in. The characters have played a central and visible role in an important event in the city, setting things up nicely for everyone to know who they are and have strong opinions about them, if a long-term Chicago chronicle is the ST’s intent (other vampires having strong opinions about the characters makes the plot flow much more readily, in my experience). I like the overall flow, especially the setup of the troublemakers and the consequences of dealing or not dealing with them. I do wish the big finale wasn’t muddled, with the options, the nature of the vote, and how to influence it being presented more clearly.

 

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