The end of the WoD as we know it, part 1b: Gehenna, chapter 2: “Wormwood”

“The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” —Revelation 8:10-11

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

The first full scenario in Gehenna is the quiet one, where the setting doesn’t so much die as fade away.  Since I’m covering the details of a published adventure, the rest of the review will follow the cut…

The scenario begins with an introduction giving an overview of the situation: God (the Judeo-Christian one who cursed Caine) has had it with the evil and destruction the vampires are wreaking on His world, and is going to cause a second Flood to wipe them out.  In this scenario, the Red Star is Wormwood (see opening quotation), which will explode and fill the world with a mist that reduces vampiric power in the form of vitae until it disappears from the Earth over the course of 40 nights.  The exception will be those who take shelter in a specific church, who if they can last out the full 40 nights will be spared by God’s grace.

The prime movers in this scenario are Alia, the dhampir (in this scenario, the mark of the moon is a vision that struck her upon menarche), and Ferox, a Gargoyle who’s filled with True Faith and believes himself a fallen angel. (He appears courtesy of 1994’s Kindred Most Wanted, a compilation of the Red List, the vampires deemed the most dangerous targets of the Camarilla.) The will of God brought them together to travel the world and identify the Chosen for this experiment.

The effects of the Wormwood mist break down as follows: Starting from the top (Caine), every vampire loses one generation every two days, and a point of blood capacity once they hit 15th.  Mortal blood can no longer become vitae, so only that currently in vampires, ghouls, etc. still exists, and vampires still lose a point when they rise every sunset.  In keeping with the nature of the scenario, it’s explained that vampiric paranoia will keep them lying low until they disappear, rather than turning on each other in a massive bloodbath.  There’s also a side note that nowhere in the WoD multiverse is safe, which fits the nature of the scenario but does point up the weirdness of trying to integrate VtM’s Judeo-Christian setting with the Umbral worlds of the other games.

Apart from the PCs and the two NPCs, the ST is given a (fairly) free hand to populate the church with Kindred.  God’s selection process is mysterious, and there are limits on vampiric power within the church, so the primary consideration is to provide a contrast with the PC party in terms of morality, age, etc.. (The ST is also encouraged to use any signature characters, odd bloodlines, etc.that they’d like to play with, but not to overdo it.)

Act 1: On the Eve of Gehenna

Two visitors arrive in the city, a Gangrel named Ryder and an Alastor-turned-Anathema Tremere calling himself John Trent, seeking the rumors of a church and an angel.  This eventually leads the PCs to the church on the night of Gehenna. (There are a lot more details, of course, but it’s largely a matter of making sure the PCs go to some effort to get there and find out what’s going on, not just get plopped on the doorstep.  One of the themes of the adventure is that redemption has to be earned.) They arrive at the church just as the Wormwood fumes hit their city, and have the choice of entering or not, but anyone who chooses not to is probably not going to have a lot to do for the rest of the adventure.  Ryder pulls John Trent inside at the last moment, and the characters find themselves inside alongside Ferox (who’s conducting a ritual to summon the Chosen), Alia, and the other NPCs.

Act 2: 40 Nights of Gehenna

From there, the characters are stuck inside the church for the next 40 nights, facing tests to prove whether they’re worthy to live on.  They only lose one point of blood every ten nights, rather than every night, but sources of blood are limited and they will need to conserve (although Alia will revive anyone who enters torpor due to lack of blood loss).  Anyone who leaves the sanctuary is stuck outside and affected by Wormwood, although one character who leaves for truly selfless reasons can re-enter…once.

The Storyteller will have to set the challenges to fit the flow of the adventure; there is a list of suggested tests, ranging from black-and white moral choices to no-win situations, but she is encouraged to invent situations custom-made for the PCs and to use the NPCs both to drive events and to set examples for the PCs.  Sample tests include:

  • Someone climbs to the roof of the church to commit suicide by jumping off; the PCs can’t reach him because he’s outside the sanctuary.
  • One of the NPCs decides to leave, but gives a speech trying to persuade the others to go as well, suggesting that they’re frightened of what’s outside and could be talked out of it.
  • An enemy of the PCs captures two or more of their allies and sends a messenger to inform that one of the hostages will be spite-Embraced, but they haven’t decided which one yet.
  • A doomsday preacher sets up shop outside the church.

Act 3: Judgment

The fortieth night has come, and it’s make or break time.  The next morning, the sanctuary is hit with a wind and collapses, and the sun bursts in upon the characters.  Those who succeeded in redeeming themselves are untouched, while those who failed burn to a crisp.  The survivors walk away, human, into a vampire-free world.

Thoughts

This is the most thoughtful and personal adventure in Gehenna, and almost certainly the hardest one to run.  It’s entirely roleplaying-driven, and requires total investment on the part of the players; everyone needs to be invested and take it seriously, or those who aren’t will be bored or detract from the others’ enjoyment. (Anyone whose character doesn’t enter, is stuck outside, or dies will be reduced to a spectator as well.) The Storyteller needs to balance all these concerns while also keeping it moving and making the conclusion satisfying for everyone, which can be a challenge when it comes down to a decision as to which characters deserve to live and die.  If pulled off successfully, it could be amazing, but there are a number of ways it could derail.

One potential stumbling block, which shows the important of matching the adventure to the players, is the basic issue of what sort of enjoyment the players get out of their RPGs.  The ideal player archetype for this adventure is the deep roleplayer who’s willing to explore their character to their logical extreme, even if that means their destruction.  Those who like to be proactive rather than reactive may chafe at the restricted circumstances, and while a certain amount of that can convey a sense of how the character must feel, there’s a danger of crossing the line into frustration.  Players that like action and combat will almost certainly be bored, and attempting to alleviate that would probably not end well for their PC.  Related to this is the issue of “winning”–the hardcore roleplayer can enjoy the journey even if their character isn’t ultimately successful, but more goal-oriented players may be dissatisfied when their “victory” comes down to the ST judging them on their sincerity, like the Great Pumpkin.

Playgroup aside, the specifically Judeo-Christian (and rather Manichean) nature of the adventure wouldn’t fit into all games.  It requires at least some buy-in to the concept of, if not specifically the God of Genesis who cursed Caine, at least an all-powerful moral judge of the universe.  This idea can work in VtM because of the notion that vampirism is a self-fulfilling punishment for being a vampire, so the evil in the world and that the characters cause is part of the overall scheme and will catch up with them sooner or later (possibly in this very adventure).  This doesn’t fit all other WoD games, however (WtA, in particular, is founded on the idea that the universe is going off the rails because there’s no trustworthy hand at the controls), or even all VtM games, depending on their tone and what parts of the mythology they’ve emphasized.

But for one consideration (well, a couple), this is the LARP-friendliest scenario in the book (and of course there’s an MET version in the Time of Judgment book).  While there are times when combat, frenzy checks, etc. could come into play, there are a large number of opportunities to sit around talking, and breaking the players into smaller groups for multiple conversations is easier when you’re not yoked to a table.  The primary consideration is that LARPs are more likely to run in an approximation of real time, and time jumps are more difficult, which is a problem when you’re trying to go over 40 nights’ worth of events.  There’s also the question of player to ST/narrator ratio: it would work best to have one ST per NPC, but taking the adventure as written, there would probably be as many NPCs as players.  This isn’t a situation that’s too likely to occur in a game that’s strong enough to end an established chronicle with a challenging scenario.

Overall rating: 9/10 for writing, but 3/10 for overall usability.  Level of unintentional silliness: 2/10.

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