Mistake by the Lake
So, the Toreador Primogen laughed at your outfit, the Prince said he would sooner give the right of progeny to a baboon than yourself, and the entire Ventrue clan crushed your plan to win status – it’s time for revenge! But you’re just a newcomer – not only to the court, but also to Vampire: The Masquerade in general. You’ve heard that this game is supposed to have all sorts of sneaky elements to it, but you’re not sure what those elements are, how to use them or even how to survive an attempt at vengeance against the other courtiers. Read on, perhaps I can help you.
Keep It Under Your Hat: I’ve been gaming a long time, and there is one inescapable fact I have learned: No-one can blab a secret they don’t know. This applies to both in-character an out-of-character behavior. Don’t brag or talk smack about your brilliant scheme until AFTER you pull it off. If your enemies don’t know what you have planned, they can’t react to it. And be careful who you talk to as well. Just because you don’t think there’s a friendship between the Prince and the Ventrue Primogen doesn’t mean they would share information when you’re not around. It’s far better for all concerned if you keep your lip buttoned until you plan is finished.
Take The Long Term View: Vampires are long-lived creatures – supposedly. If your character can survive their first three years of unlife, they’ve got a good chance of surviving the next fifty – or so the conventional wisdom runs. Even if you’ve only been playing your shiny new PC for a game or two, think in the long term. When planning out your character’s short and long-term goals (you are planning to do that, right?) keep in mind the resources you are going to need to establish those goals. The usual goodies of Advanced Disciplines and Maximized Attributes, alone, don’t guarantee success. A vampire’s power – particularly that of a Camarilla vampire – rests largely in their control of the human world. Simply put: you’re going to need Influences and Retainers if you’re going to survive and thrive. Having an alert retainer looking after your bank accounts might prove more important than acquiring Majesty, or that eleventh Mental Trait.
Big Things Are Made of Little Things: While I’m telling you that you should take the long-term view when planning your character’s strategy, I’m aware that taking the long-term view can get a bit boring at times. To fend off that boredom, break your plans down into a collection of steps and goals that can be achieved in a single game, or less. More about that later.
Amateurs Borrow, Professionals Steal: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s difficult to try to play a character with say, thirty years’ court experience under their belt, but you yourself are a twenty-something gamer who’s greatest experience with politics is dealing with a bunch of catty co-workers. Ask the more-seasoned characters for advice. Hitch a ride on an established character’s coat-tails. Of course, this is going to cost you – your character could risk anything from prestation to Enthrallment – but there’s nothing like watching a master at work for learning how to do the job. Once you’ve learned enough, prove it by backstabbing your mentor out of existence and move onwards and upwards.
Be As Self Reliant As Possible: Providing you have a coherent, cohesive character concept, you should be able to hit the ground running, in court, and be able to start working on your goals immediately. At first, you are almost certainly going to need the help of other courtiers. Solicit it, if you have to, but try not to get too far into debt.
In the meantime, work on becoming as self-reliant as possible. That means identifying resources and influences that you regularly need to achieve your goals, and acquire them as quickly as possible. For example, if you are Toreador maven-of-the-nightlife, you’re going to have a hard time making or breaking a club’s reputation without High Society influence, or friends in the Media. Ventrue don’t get very far without sway in some corporate arena, or a sizable bank account. Determine what your needs are, and use you time (and your experience points, of course) to acquire them. Every contact you have is one less contact you have to ask for from some other kindred.
When Using Other Vampires, Make Sure There’s Something In It For Them: The most obvious, most available resource to a vampire is other vampires. Vampires will assist each other, but almost always out of self-interest of one kind or another. Try to appeal to vampire’s humanity or loyalty and you might be in for a nasty surprise – even a betrayal. If you decide that you need another vampire’s help in achieving something, ask yourself this question: What’s in it for them? What can I offer them that they would want? And if the answer is something you can’t provide, reconsider your use of that resource.
Prestation: Accept It, But Rarely Offer It: Be willing to accept boons from those who are of a higher rank than your character, and hold to the debt for as long as possible. In particular, major and life boons should be like a high-interest credit card – a person can keep up with the interest, but never really make a dent on the principal amount owed. Ideally, you will be able to keep calling on the debtor to do various tasks, without cashing in the boon they owe.
Think twice before accepting boons from those who are of a lower rank than you. They will resent owing you a favor and if they are near the bottom of the court totem pole, there might not be much they can actually do for you. Of course, if you believe that the lower-ranked courtier has a likely chance of swiftly ascending in the court, then accept their debt and treat it as a long-term investment.
Despite the much-publicized belief that a Camarilla vampire’s word is their bond, and that to break a boon is one of the most heinous transgressions a kindred can commit, most players won’t think twice about backing out of a boon, or ignoring it altogether. Furthermore, don’t be surprised if the other courtiers don’t care – there but for the grace of God go them…
And never forget that the other vampire is thinking exactly the same way you are: “Accept boons, but rarely grant them”, so don’t be surprised if you have to really wrangle to get a boon and then have a hell of time cashing it in. Be prepared to use another court resource – the Harpy – to get things done.
Know Your Enemy: Through ghouls, influence, the Nosferatu – what have you – make sure you know your enemy. Be ready to extrapolate and made educated guesses about your opponents’ means and motives. Ms. Toreador has a reputation for hedonism, so look for the clubs that accommodate hedonists, and you will likely find Ms. Toreador, and her herd, too. Mr. Ventrue controls a venture capital fund, so look for his cronies and influence at those oh-so-popular VC networking meetings – and keep your eyes on new VC funded companies in your territory…
Understanding the interests and goals of your enemies also gives you a clearer idea of how you can buy their cooperation, which you might need to do at some point.
Use Your Enemy’s Enemies: They don’t necessarily have to be your friend, but they can certainly be your tool. Why risk your neck in some convoluted scheme if you can manipulate someone else into undertaking it for you? There are risks, of course. Make sure your tool won’t be tempted to betray you – mostly by appealing to their self-interest and downplaying your own – and check them out thoroughly before you bring them into your confidence.
Ghouls – Vital Assistance, Or Security Risk?: Ghouls are useful. They can guard you during the day, and be specialists in areas that are beyond your grasp. But their human nature can make them a liability. My advice is this; if you keep ghouls, don’t let it be known by the court. Keep them as secret as possible – an unknown weakness cannot be taken advantage of.
In the meantime, feel free to use a kindred’s own ghouls against them. Supplant their Domitor’s blood with your own – there is a slight chance you might break the Domitor’s Enthrallment – but make sure you can wipe their memory of your encounters!
Capture your enemy’s trusted ghouls and squeeze information from them. Ghouls often guard havens during the daytime and have lots of inside information about their Domitor’s activities – very useful. Be prepared to kill the ghoul after this – if you can’t wipe their mind – and make sure the body is thoroughly destroyed.
Best of all is the ghoul you use as a spy-in-place – they provide you with a regular briefing, and you wipe their memory, afterwards. A further refinement is to plant a “false ghoul” – a human who is already Bound to your own character – in the path of your enemy, with the intention that your opponent will adopt the human as their own ghoul, unaware that their security has already been compromised.
Generally, abusing ghouls should be done by kindred who are very handy with Dominate. One wrong step, and the ghoul goes running home to Daddy, and your character’s life expectancy will drop very quickly.
Influences – What Good Are They?: This is a tough one for Vampire newbies to figure out, because it’s an area of almost infinite possibilities and it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Here’s a quick peek at the usual areas of Influence, and some suggestions of how a smart player might use them against another character.
Bureaucracy: This one is a personal favorite. You can do a lot with it, even at the lower levels
Most vampires keep a haven. If they own their property, you can look for property deeds bearing their name – particularly since some neonates aren’t proactive enough to think of holding their property under a false name.
Land can be rezoned. Your enemy is going to be inconvenienced – perhaps fatally so – when his haven is rezoned for a highway onramp, or public playground. Make sure the bulldozers go in during the daytime.
Some vampires own businesses. This means they must have business licenses on file with the county and a whole bunch of other paperwork besides. That paperwork will contain all sorts of useful information – from financial details, to their likely place of residence.
A vampire who owns a business can be hobbled with all sorts of inconvenience – Board of Health visits, investigations by OSHA, surprise inspections by the EPA, etc. Providing that one of your people is on that investigating team, who knows what you might learn during their visit? Or take it one step further, and shut your enemy down.
Some kindred have gone to the trouble of feigning their own death, some haven’t. Have your contact at the county clerk’s office go look up death certificates and wills filed with probate. The next of kin and executor details can lead you to exploitable humans – with luck, they’ll be family members that your enemy cares about. Failing that, the still might have some useful information about your opponent’s weaknesses and habits.
Many government departments are Bureaucratic rather than Political. If you want access to the DMV, the local zoning board, the IRS, that’s all Bureaucracy.
Church: Safely using Church Influence against an enemy could be a challenge, but let’s see what we can think of…
If your game is set in a conservative area – suburbia, the bible belt, etc., a few well-placed words in the pastor’s ear can ruin your enemy’s reputation. Even in the 21st Century, the neighborhood church is a popular place to network. This is particularly effective against kindred who run a business that relies on human custom.
Of course, a great way to stop a vampire cold is to tell the local churchmen that your enemy is running a Satanic cult. Or, if you don’t care about the risk to Masquerade, tell them the truth. Of course, the likelihood of that backfiring all over you is very, very high. Hunters rarely stop hunting when you want them to.
The church pulpit is a handy soapbox for pushing political agendas. If you know your enemy is involved in the Underworld or some other seamy aspect of society, whip up the righteous indignation of the innocent kine. This indignation will likely evolve into heightened vigilance against lawbreakers, perhaps even a push for ‘law and order’ by the community – which can severely curtail your enemy’s income, ability and ambitions.
Corporate/Industrial: This is another broad-area influence…
Find out which areas of industry interest your opponents. You have a choice between moving into those same areas and crushing them with old fashioned capitalist competition, or quietly introducing people under your control into your enemy’s corporations and destroying them from within. One determined accountant with embezzlement on her mind can do a lot of damage.
Choose your own areas of interest carefully. If you are a mobster-Ventrue, owning a share in a car-wrecking yard will probably be far more useful than a partial share in an investment bank.
Certain industries can be used to investigate the affairs of your rivals. A data-backup/recovery/destruction company can be very useful, if you’ve got some patient ghouls who don’t mind sorting through bins of papers or vast hard-drives. Similarly, buying in to a custodial/maid-service can get your ghouls into places that might otherwise be barred to them.
A PR company can be a useful tool against corporate-minded Ventrue and social Toreador – use such companies to unleash negative publicity and whispering campaigns against your target.
Most kindred keep a haven, and enjoy having light to read by – get someone inside your local power utility. With a name and access to the billing files, you might find your opponent’s haven with surprising ease, as well as their financial details, if they happen to pay their bills by check.
General tip: if you are going to own any sort of business, invest in the background Alternate Identity or use a well-shielded ghoul as the actual owner of the company – lest you fall prey to uses of Bureaucracy as suggested, above.
Finance: With access to a bank teller, you can do one of my favorite tricks: purchase some service, or clear some debt with your opponent. It really doesn’t matter what you’re buying, the important bit is to write a check. Use your teller to trace the funds – which will give you your opponent’s bank account number. If your kindred is unfortunate enough to keep his money at the same institution at which you have Influence, it only takes a few keystrokes to determine the mailing address of the account holder.
It’s possible that the details you obtain about your opponent’s bank account might lead to a brick wall – a secure PO Box, a remote ‘dead drop’ mailbox, etc. Now you need to get influence inside your opponent’s bank. Your opponent has a haven, and most likely has electricity, phone service, etc. Combine finance influence with corporate influence (at you local utility company) and you can determine the service address – the place where the electricity is going, and the phone has been hooked up, not just the billing address. Dollars to donuts, you’ve found your opponent’s haven.
Having an inside person at your opponent’s bank is extremely useful. You can find out who your opponent is writing checks to, how much money they have at any given time, if they have a habit of always sending their ghoul to make a deposit every Monday night…
Some vampires just can’t handle the IRS. Buy a contact within a large, commercial tax-prep house, or a CPA who has a reputation for discretion and doing the books for those with shady income sources. If your opponent is filing a tax return, you can get a lot of useful information off that paperwork. You can also have that paperwork altered to insure an audit they’ll never forget.
Combined with a whack of Bureaucracy Influence (or Political, depending upon your ST) you can call forth an IRS audit of your opponent’s business, perhaps even freeze their bank accounts, which will greatly inconvenience them.
General tip: Take precautions against the above strategies. Don’t write checks unless you are planning to trace them. Never accept checks, either. Ensure that all the details of your bank accounts lead to brick walls – secure PO boxes, false identities, etc. Use offshore banks that are on the Star system and large wads of cash whenever possible.
Health: A much-underrated area of influence, until you remember what vampires sustain themselves upon…
Ask your contact to collect data on ‘anemia clusters’ in the area. Odds are, you’ve just found the preferred hunting grounds, and if a vampire’s hunting, that means he’s hungry. If he’s hungry, that means he’s vulnerable.
Ventrue – and some other vampires – are picky eaters. Choking off their access to the blood bank can make them very tractable and willing to do whatever it is you need from them.
Or you can be incredibly cold-hearted and start spiking bags of vitae which you know are destined for a vampire’s coolers. Let’s see how Ms. Settite likes it when she gets addicted to a drug.
Ghouls and influences can suffer accidents – either genuine, or arranged by yourself. Wouldn’t it be useful if it was your paramedics who got to them first?
Want to make the pickings tough for the others? Organize a public health scare – call it swine flu, smallpox or whatever you like. No-one will venture outside and those who aren’t prepared (ie, anyone not your ally) is going to be a in tough situation.
High Society: Always useful for hobbling the Toreador, Ventrue and Followers of Set…
Know that Ms. Toreador owns a club? Set the glitterati to trashing it for no good reason. Public opinion can be a bitch like that. This is particularly effective if combined with Media influence.
If you’re particularly amoral, introduce the latest (damaging) designer drug to the club-set, distributing it through Ms. Toreador’s favorite hangouts. If you’re feeling vicious, let is circulate for a few weeks to spike her herd, then tip off the local drug squad and have the place closed down. Twist the knife with Media influence to give the story maximum coverage.
Exposure can be dangerous for kindred, as it puts strain on their personal Masquerade. Rather than trashing Mr. Ventrue, the Venture Capitalist, have the beautiful people suddenly decide that he is the bachelor of the moment, and simply the best catch for any bright young thing. Mr. Ventrue won’t be able to turn around without bumping into a husband hunter, or being featured in the society column – and you’ll have constrained his movements, nicely. Maybe you’ll get really lucky and push the poor fellow in a Frenzy.
Legal: If your opponent is active in the underworld, get some influence in the District Attorney’s office, and persuade them to target whatever area is going to tread on your opponent’s toes.
Similarly, pay off a debt – or buy a potential ally – by getting an overeager prosecutor to back off, or settle for a plea bargain.
A judge in the pocket is very useful for providing search-warrants and arrest-warrants on a moment’s notice, as well as denying bail to whoever you’ve rounded up with your Police influence.
General tip: don’t confuse Legal influence with Police influence.
Media is most effective when used in combination with other influences – particularly Police and High Society.
Investigative journalists might jump on the chance to ferret out whatever Mr. Ventrue is really up to at his venture capital bank. Furthermore, investigative journalists have a policy of never naming their sources. Just to be on the safe side, use an intermediary or false identity when tipping off your media contact.
Gossip and society columns are ripe for planting with misinformation, because they function on rumor and innuendo, anyways. Trash Ms. Toreador’s newest album, Mr. Ventrue’s charity fund-raiser or Mr. Settite’s latest club with just a phone call and a few column inches.
If you’re looking to ruin a Toreador, a well placed bribe to the local critics will go a long way.
Occult: Vampires love taking advantage of the stupid, credulous and gullible. Ask your contact to keep their eyes open for news of ‘Satanic’ cults. Some kindred will even go as far as risking the Masquerade with public blood-drinking as part of their theatrics. Send your contact out to learn as much as possible, and then send that information to the Prince / the media / your enemy’s enemy, etc.
Vampires can be a superstitious bunch. When days of religious significant – Christian, pagan, what have you – are coming up, some kindred will be wanting to stock up on ritual items and tools. If they pay with a credit card or check, pair that information up with your Finance contact, and you’re well on your way to unraveling their haven and financial details. Even if they pay cash, you’ll have learned potentially valuable information about your enemy’s beliefs. Beliefs can be manipulated, you see…
Use your contacts to manipulate supernatural beliefs whenever possible. If you happen to know that the Toreador Primogen firmly believes in astrology, perhaps it will be to your advantage to scare him into his haven for a few days with an ominous chart you’ve had drawn up as a ‘gift’. If that Malkavian swears by Nostradamus, maybe it’s time for a ‘lost’ prophecy to be found and offered for sale? Bogus occult items can do a lot of mischief, in the right hands.
Police: Another great one, because how many vampires abide by human laws?
Use prowling beat-cops to harass your enemy’s ghouls. Or if you’re feeling particularly brave, arrest the vampire himself. Beware, though, as putting a vampire in a holding cell is often a short cut to frenzy and a threat to the Masquerade. Mind you, if that’s what you want to happen…
Having a friendly cop on the scene is better than a friendly witness. So what if your patsy says he wasn’t breaking the law at the time of his arrest – who do you think the jury is going to believe?
A cop in the evidence room is useful. If you’re setting up someone to take a fall, you can plant evidence. It’s also a handy source of cash and drugs to be used in other schemes.
Once you get a search warrant on your enemy’s haven from your Legal influence, having a couple of friendly cops doing the search can make things a lot easier when they find that ‘dead’ body and it combusts when the bedroom curtains are opened.
Got the number of that nice Lexus your opponent drives? Have your cop run it through the DMV database. If the car is registered, you’ll have an address to investigate. Them make your opponent’s life difficult by reporting that car as stolen.
Given the occasional deadly nature of feeding, it’s always useful to have a friend in the homicide department. Even if that exsanguinated body was left by the local Sabbat, won’t your Brujah enemy be shocked when it’s his picture that is circulated as wanted for the crime?
Street: Street people see a lot of things, and will share it for a relatively cheap price – cash in hand, usually. A handy way to find a vampire’s preferred hunting grounds is to pay off the local bunch of Baker Street Irregulars to keep an eye out for a fellow matching a certain description.
Contrariwise, street people can be affordably bribed, too. Want to put Mr. Ventrue at the scene of a massive Sabbat get-together? Give that hooker a couple hundred dollars, and she’ll say anything you want her to.
Want to break the heart of a Ventrue who is big in real estate? Encourage your Street contacts to move into Mr. Ventrue’s prime territory and bring down the property values with a bit of applied vandalism and theft.
Street often crosses over with Underworld – particularly in the matter of drug dealing. Cultivate your gangsta contacts, and you might well discover something about your opponent’s closely-held Underworld influence.
Transportation: Vampires have to get in and out of town, somehow, and many of them are nervous of commercial transit. Buy interest in a freight company and have them keep their eyes open for unusual, nocturnal jobs – particularly those that involve picking up a very small amount of cargo.
Some vampires are commercial moguls – buying and selling vast amounts of goods through their own little trade-empires. Put the Teamsters boss in your pocket and organize a strike and you’ve just crippled Mr. Mogul. If the goods aren’t being shipped, he isn’t getting revenue.
An air-traffic control union boss can similarly hamper a mass exodus from a territory with a wildcat strike.
It’s always handy to know a guy with a boat when it comes time to dump bodies (if you live near a Great Lake of course or an ocean, that is)
Combine Transportation and Bureaucracy and make a friend in Customs and Excise or regular security at the big airport in town. It’s their job to check bags, boxes and even coffins that are being shipped hither and yon.
Underworld: This is another popular one with the undead
At the most basic ham-fisted level, you can use Underworld to acquire a squad of hit men to take down your opponent. They’ll likely be slaughtered in the process, but better them than you, right?
If you know your enemy has interest in the Underworld, also, you might benefit by a nice little gang war. Of course, you want to make sure that your side is well-supplied and well-informed enough to win, but if you pull it off, you’ve destroyed an enemy’s holdings and increased your own.
Underworld contacts are very useful for making people – ghouls, other Influences – disappear. Use them as needed, and pay them well.
Underneath every hoodlum is a stool pigeon waiting to be found. Use your enemy’s contacts against him, with deft application of Police influence, or your own persuasive talents.
University: This one is particularly good for going after the Tremere and other brainiac kindred.
Tremere and other (traditionally) nerdy kindred tend to collect academic degrees like bottle caps. Some of them even lecture at local universities – more for the access to lush young humans than out of any desire to improve the human race Get a contact in the administration of your local college and see if your opponent is on the payroll. Payroll information includes useful tidbits like Social Security numbers, and addresses, which can be used against an enemy.
Some kindred keep in touch with fellow academics, for hunting purposes, for camaraderie or to plagiarize from when they run out of ideas. Pose as a fellow academic (better yet, have a ghoul do so) who is looking to get in touch with that nice Dr. Tremere they met at a seminar last summer. A vampire’s human friends are always exploitable – either as sources or information, or as hostages.
The Total Can Be Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts: A favorite scheme of mine required a Health and Police influence, plus a ghoul who is a good shot with a rifle. It was simple enough, really. Have your opponent shot in the head (by your sniper) on a city street – the more public, the better. Around the corner, you have an ambulance, which is stuffed full of your people in EMT uniforms – they should be your ghouls or fellow kindred, unless you’re prepared to wipe a lot of memories. Around the other corner, you have a police cruiser driven by another contact – a police cruiser with a video camera mounted on the dashboard.
Your opponent is shot and – barring a terrible botch by your ghoul – is going down. Gunfire to the head is lethal damage, even for vampires. If memory serves me correctly, damage to the head is doubled, in tabletop, which makes it ever better, but you’ll want to look that up, rather than take my word for it.
If your target has some sense, he will go down and stay down – planning to sneak out of the morgue when the heat is off, and he’s been toe-tagged. Around the corners come your ambulance and police car – a good thing the authorities were so close by, hm? If your target is stupid, he might get up when he sees the ambulance, be recorded breaking the Masquerade by your vigilant policemen and that saves you some fast talking in the future.
If the target stays down, then he is picked up the EMTs under your control, bundled into the back of the ambulance, and promptly staked as soon as the doors are closed. If the situation plays out, it’s a win-win for you. Your opponent is either recorded breaking the Masquerade – and of course, you had to bring that tape to the attention of the Prince, for the good of the court – or he’s in your power once inside the ambulance, and can be dealt with at will. Make sure your EMTs are a strong bunch and – if they’re not kindred – don’t shrink from giving them a propane torch, in case things go really badly…
That scheme, above, has worked for me in the past, and is one of the most potent examples of combined-influence-use that I can think of.
Your influences can assist each other in tasks and have a very potent effect. Not only can they achieve things beyond their individual means, but also if their tasks succeed, they can likely leverage that success into increasing their own prestige. To put it in blunt gamer-terms, you can create justification for increasing your influence in a given area after your contact has pulled off a spectacular success.
Have A Patsy Ready – Even if You Doubt You’ll Need One: An inconvenient witness, an overheard remark can unravel the best-laid plans. Whatever you’re planning, have a patsy up your sleeve to take the blame. That patsy can be a ghoul you’re willing to sacrifice, if need be, or a fellow courtier who’s been an annoying thorn in your side and who you are glad to throw overboard, if given the chance.
Pick your patsy ahead of time – whilst you are crafting your plan of action, if possible. Or else, be ready to scapegoat someone on the fly.
Conclusion: Honestly, I’ve barely scratched the surface of how one vampire can screw with the affairs of another. This is all strictly number-crunching stuff, designed to give you an idea of what can be done. There’s the whole realm of roleplaying and emotional manipulation to get into, although I believe that area is best explored by a player, rather than described to them.
Even a rank neonate can use ideas I have described here. If you don’t have the resources, yourself, you cut a deal with the kindred who do. Just be sure that you’re not going to pay too high a price for their cooperation