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Design Diary: Madison By Night for Storytellers Vault

Posted on December 4, 2017 by Billzilla

Available from Storytellers Vault

      When I was approached about writing up the city I live in as a stretch goal for the Vampire: the Masquerade book Anarchs Unbound, I was thrilled. It was my first chance to contribute — in a meaningful, but small way — to the World of Darkness setting. My write-up was a side-bar, really — only about a thousand words — but the offer was made to me with a very short deadline in mind — less than a week, in fact — from accepting the job to turning over my completed draft. Once completed, I knew that there was more to this story, and I wanted the chance to expand on that very basic summary. My chance came when I learned about the Storyteller’s Vault, a community content project in support of Vampire: the Masquerade, initially, later to include more of the World of Darkness settings.

      I’ve lived in Madison, Wisconsin for many years. It was where I moved after high school, and my first job was here, working in a movie theater very much like the one run by Loretta (now a performance venue/dance club). A little inside information can come in handy for a book like Madison By Night, and I relied on my experiences to provide just that. Madison has an interesting history, and like any place that’s existed for more than two hundred years, it’s got its share of quirks and interesting details. It doesn’t take much to put a slight spin on a real-life historical event to have it turn into something that affects or was instigated by Kindred; the difficult part for me is reigning in my imagination and my enthusiasm to not overload the reader with too much information and too many options.

      The only guidance I was given at the time for the Anarchs Unbound project was to include a character: the vampire Baron of Madison, named “Vulture”. That’s it. So except for that single detail, it appeared that I had a pretty free hand. I decided to have Vulture be female, which as it turns out was a change from the original references to the character in the World of Darkness book. Apparently, the change went unnoticed. So for Madison by Night, I expanded Vulture by talking about some of her history, and by making references to a few of her human and non-human servants. Additionally, as a marquee character Vulture deserved the full write-up, so I worked out her stats and included details on her skills, her talents, and her Disciplines.

      As part of Vulture’s history, I decided to include a few other vampire Anarchs she recruited to help overthrow the then current, Camarilla coterie in charge. While I didn’t stat up all of the Kindred of Madison, I gave each some pretty solid details of their backgrounds, their habits, and their holdings in town, to offer Storytellers a good handle with which to grasp the character, but also the freedom to change things around if they wanted to do so. To that end, I also felt it was important to give details, but not have too many things set in stone: storytellers need the latitude to reshape the world to their own campaign, and while it’s never impossible to do that, I wanted to make it as simple as possible. To that end, a minimalist approach served me well, I think.

      One thing I feel is important to include in a book of this nature is story seeds to help get the ball rolling for a campaign set in this town. My story seeds generally try to work in one or more of the critical NPCs to help players make contact with the existing power structure. Whether they decide to help out or try to take over, they have some knowledge to work with regarding the power players in the area. Here’s a preview of one of the story seeds:

      A private detective has been snooping around Club Nouveau and Art’s
      Sake, and Leonardo D’Hubert would like her to go away. Because of the sensitivity of
      the matter, killing this person is out of the question, but using disciplines might be
      justified. Leo would like to have someone from outside the core group of Anarchs come
      in and try to “persuade” the detective to abandon the investigation, but what else does
      this person know, and is she a threat to the Masquerade? Will the players’ characters
      become part of the detective’s investigation? Most importantly of all, who hired the
      detective, and what is their motive for finding out more about Leonardo?

      In the book I made mention of a number of ghouls in town who serve the various Anarch Kindred. It occurs to me that having a more detailed look at these second-tier NPCs could be really useful to help flesh out the environment more fully, so that’s going to be my next project. I’ve also had requests to stat up the rest of the Kindred in town: that update is on the back burner for now. As it is currently, I still haven’t recouped my expenses for the project, so adding more material and revising the original book will have to wait. More importantly, I have other, more time-sensitive projects in the works demanding my attention, but I look forward to the chance to fill in a few of the gaps I’ve left in Madison By Night.

      The Storyteller’s Vault is a wonderful project. It gives new writers a chance to show what they can do, and maybe even draw the eye of the folks at White Wolf or Onyx Path. In that way it functions nicely as a resume builder, but it’s also a source of income — a modest one, true, but definitely very helpful, especially during tough economic times. I’m looking forward to seeing what other writers have created using this project; I’m thinking of starting up a new campaign, and could use a few ideas…

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