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Excerpt from “The Strix Chronicle Anthology”

We are like you. We live in your cities, we laugh at your jokes, we share your good times and your bad ones. We meet you in clubs and back alleys, at glamorous parties and dive bars. We need you, to sate our endless hunger. We are your Kindred.

They are the smoke and the darkness, things that could have been you or us, creatures of hunger that humanity stole the night from. They are the Strix.

The Strix Chronicle Anthology is the second World of Darkness anthology I’ve contributed to, and it contains my longest short story to date: “Second Chance.” It’s a noir story about a vampire criminal given a second chance to track down a murderer.

It’s available now through DriveThruFiction.com. If you’re still on the fence, here’s a very small except from my story.

I was dreaming of shafts, of vanes, of the calamus and the rachis when I felt them pull the stake out of my chest. The rough wood snatched and dragged at my skin, and a large splinter stuck to the wound. My back ached from laying on a hard, cold surface. My stomach knotted and my mouth felt as dry as the desert. I could sense a thin trickle of blood diffused through my body. I was hungry. Not so hungry that I would have to murder someone, but hungry enough that it seemed like a really good idea. I opened my eyes, and the situation didn’t get much better.

The meaty hands still holding the dripping wooden shaft were scarred and knobby, as was the bald face leering over them. Poor fucker clearly wasn’t Embraced for his looks. Mirrored sunglasses covered his eyes, although it was hard to tell if this was a half-assed protection measure against Domination or a half-assed attempt to look intimidating. The worn, black trench coat hung loose as he leaned forward, revealing a knife in a scabbard at one hip and a pistol in a holster in the other. I pegged him as a Hound, and one who probably learned more from bad fiction than actual fighting.

The ceiling was gray concrete, and a single bulb swung right over my eyes. Glasses tossed the stake aside, and the bounce echoed hollowly in the room.

“Sit him up,” a man said off to my right, and Glasses moved towards me again. I put my hand up to protest, but he grabbed me anyway and pulled me into a sitting position on the metal table. I noticed I was naked, and my pale skin was covered in small cuts and tiny wounds. I didn’t go calmly before I was staked. Glasses grabbed my hair and pulled my head up to look.

The speaker sat in an ornate chair completely at odds with the sterile concrete room. Long, dark hair fell in waves to his shoulders, and his clean-shaven face was flawlessly beautiful. He brushed imaginary dust from the knee of suit trousers that looked simple, but probably cost more money than us mere plebes would ever see in one place. To be fair, the Invictus pin on his lapel may have biased me on that point. All hail our lord and master, the Prince.

Next to him stood a woman. She had blonde hair cut into short spikes, with long pink tips falling over one eye. She wore a black dress in a 50s style, sleeveless with a high scoop neck. One bare arm was covered in colorful tattoos, swirling images of cards, dice, and chance that danced as the light in the room swung back and forth. She leaned lightly on the Prince’s chair, but with a regal grace that made her look like a punk rock queen, not a piece of arm candy. Her lipstick was as dark as her eyes, which stared at me with… what? Anger? Need? Probably just reading my aura, or maybe my mind. I dropped my eyes, closed my mind off reflexively, and started thinking about pointless trivia. There are more than 325 species of hummingbird in the world.

“My dear Master Davis,” the Prince purred in soft European syllables as he steepled his fingers. “So good of you to join us.”

RPGs: The Anthology Session

Original Photo by Laura Desnoit

A couple of weeks ago, I ran a different kind of RPG session, something I called an “anthology” session. Since some people online were asking me how it went, and because I believe Gamemastering is best viewed as a shared education, I finally got some time to sit down and write up the experience.

Like most of the experiments I do at the table, this came from necessity. In this case, I had been running a series of The Dresden Files, and I was left with a few extraneous scenes that didn’t really warrant a full session. I debated doing them in downtime between sessions, but part of the Dresden Files mechanics is a bit where other players can jump in by spending a Fate Point. In fact, much of the design of the system involves the players as audience as well as participants, and running sessions without that audience cheapens that (have I mentioned that the FATE system is very, very clever?) I started thinking about the metaphor of the game as a series of connected novels (in this case, I’m shooting for a rough “trilogy” of novels), and I wondered if the metaphor would extend. What if I did the scenes as a collection of “short stories”?

I decided that if I was going to do this, each person should be the star of their own scene. This gave me a chance to dig into each character’s backstory (via Aspects and the various brainstormed materials from the City Creation session) and pull out one scene that made sense for each. I then realized that there was a bit of a progression between each scene, as there were connections and references to a particular plot thread — the introduction of a new drug — over and over. I tweaked a couple of things in my notes to take advantage of that.

Then it was just a matter of setting the stage. I gratefully stole an idea from Matt McFarland of having the characters meeting in a bar and trading stories of what happened to them over the course of the previous few weeks. I gave each player a notecard with a number on the back for the order of the stories, and the rough first sentence of their story. The first sentences were designed to get the interest of the characters (and the player holding it), so it was things like “Well, I almost died a few weeks back” or “That reminds me of the time I had to meet the dragon. Alone.” I explained this all to the players, set the scene, and let them go. When they worked the story opening in, I started the short story.

Things That Went Well

Showcasing characters: The session went really well for making sure each character got their moment to shine. Only one character didn’t really have a whole lot of character development, and he and I agreed that we needed to sit down and dig into his background a bit more.

The notecards: Handing out the notecards ahead of time was a good idea. It helped me to keep things moving, and the players seemed interested in finding ways to inject the snippets of information into the roleplay.

Teaching the system: I somewhat intentionally structured each scene to have a key conflict. Partially this was because of my years working on the Storytelling Adventure System and identifying the key mechanical conflict in each scene, and partially because I felt the group (myself included) still didn’t quite “get” the game mechanics, and it was a good way to push that issue. In that respect, it worked great, and I think we all understand how the game works a lot better.

Things That Could Have Gone Better

The notecards: At one point, I had to change the order of the scenes, which meant I had to put the current story on pause and start a new one. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have pre-determined the order of the scenes and went with something more organic. I don’t have an idea what that would be, though.

Forwards and backwards in time: Which led to another problem — the constantly time-shuffling led to some confusion. The previous example had three different timeframes happening at once, and a couple of times players were afraid to take actions lest it cause the scene in the bar where they were trading stories to be invalidated. I think next time I’ll use a different frame that doesn’t require any predetermined continuity.

All in all, it was a really good experience, and a couple of the players want to try it again at some point (probably between the second and third “novels” in the series).

Two More Anthology Opportunities

I’ve just been informed that two blog posts I worked on for FlamesRising.com have been nominated for inclusion in the next volume of Open Game Table.

Finding Horror in the Eighties

City in the Sand Interview

Here’s a link to the original announcement.

Also, I’ve been formally invited to participate in another fiction anthology this year, and I have leads on up to three more. More information as soon as I’m allowed to spill it!

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