Writing always accrues detritus so here’s some bits and pieces from Shadows & Dreams
- Kate’s Casefile
- Expanded Chapter 11
- Assorted articles and interviews
- Pinterest board (Highgate Cemetery)
Or if you’re a Spotify user, you can find the playlist here.
Soooo, as I sort of blogged about here, there’s a bit in Shadows & Dreams where Kate goes semi-undercover at someone’s game of Vampire: the Requiem.
This whole sequence was frankly self-indulgent in-jokes about, well, myself, my partner and the general hobby of tabletop roleplaying games. Loving in-jokes, I hasten to add.
Anyway, it was a pretty … uh … length in the early drafts, and because it was … silly and basically unnecessary, I cut quite a lot of it. I mean, the joke is still basically there, it’s just multi-thousand words of joke.
But, for those who enjoy … nerdy jokes to extremes here is the full chapter (unedited, naturally, so expect typos, stupidity and a general inability to write).
Warlock lived in this weird trendy block of brightly coloured flats on the Brunel Campus. I never went to university but I saw a lot of halls of residence when I was in my early twenties and working my way around London’s ample supply of bicurious undergraduates, and this was significantly less skanky than I remembered. But, then again, he was a postgrad.
Warlock himself turned out to be a lanky, straggly haired nerdboy dressed in various shades of faded black. He opened the door, raised a hand in a half-hearted greeting and went back inside without saying a word. I saw a long leather coat and a fedora dumped in a corner. He did, at least, have a separate sitting area – if you counted a single two-seater sofa and a desk with an enormous computer on it as a sitting area.
“Nice hat.” Warlock threw himself down in a leather swivel chair. “Put your stuff anywhere.”
I took off my coat and hat and laid them on the floor in the absence of any free surfaces, and then plonked myself on the sofa.
“So did you get a look at the quickstart?” He was straight to business.
“Uh … I sort of skimmed it.”
“Don’t worry, it can be quite complicated but I’ll talk you through it.”
He leaned down beside his desk and pulled up two hardback books from a teetering stack of similar-looking hardback books. “’Kay, so, you can either have a look at the vampire book and decide what Clan you want to be or you can just decide what you were like as a mortal and I’ll decide who Embraced you.”
“I’ll go with the second one.” I’d done this stuff with Eve back when I’d sat in on her D&D games and I’d found it easier to let other people make the decisions for me. Besides, Warlock looked like the kind of guy who enjoyed explaining things to women.
“’Kay, so, it’s set in, like, London in the real world, except all the things you think are just stories like vampires and werewolves and fairies and things, are actually real.”
He was clearly waiting for a reaction. “Wow,” I said, “that sounds … awesome.”
“Yeah, it’s kind a metaphor for the very real darkness of, like, the everyday world.”
“Can I be a gnome?”
“Oh right.” He looked at me with obvious pity. “You played D&D.”
“Just a couple of times with my ex.”
“Well, this’ll probably be quite different to your boyfriend’s game.”
I let that one go. I didn’t want to give this guy any ideas and he seemed the sort who’d get way more interested if he found out I was a lesbian. “Can I be a demon hunting nun who likes pudding?”
“I like nun, but you’ve got to remember that most mundanes don’t really know about the supernatural so it probably wouldn’t be realistic for you to be part of an organisation that hunts demons. Also it’d be quite hard for you to identify with. I mean, it’s really important in this game that you play an ordinary person who is kind of cast into this—” air quotes happened “—“World of Darkness”. The pudding thing is like your personal roleplaying choice.”
“I’ll just play a nun then.”
“’Kay, so, the next thing you’ve got to decide is whether mental, physical or social attributes are your primary.”
From here, it got all technical. I spent the next twenty minutes scribbling little black dots on some kind of glossy four page document that looked like a passport application. I wound up with a nun called Sister Julia, after Warlock vetoed the name “Julian” as unrealistic. She was good at computers, driving, academics (whatever that meant) and working with animals. I’d tried to put points in brawling, streetwise and firearms but Warlock had insisted that a nun would have had no way to learn them. Then he led me through a short introductory scene in which my feisty young nun was abducted from her cloister by what I think was supposed to be a hot lesbian seductress but since Warlock really isn’t my type it didn’t come across very well. Then he spent about five minutes describing the combined agony and ecstasy of my transformation into a vampire and then we were back with the rulebooks.
“Kay,” Warlock went on without skipping a beat, “so your sire was from Clan Daeva, who are kind of sensualists and pleasure seekers, so you’ll get an extra point in dexterity or manipulation, and you get three dots of disciplines and at least two of them have to be in-Clan.”
Then things got technical again. After another half hour, my crack-driving, computer-hacking, animal-loving sex nun had developed the ability to look impressive, make other people tell her their innermost feelings and conceal small objects about her person.
“So,” I asked, “when do I get to like read minds or transform into shadows or summon enormous flocks of killer ravens.”
Warlock had that pitying look again. “I know you might be used to playing a very different style of game but we don’t really go in for power gaming here. I like to say that this is a role playing game like R-O-L-E, not a roll playing game, R-O-L-L.”
Before I could reply, there was a knock on the door. Warlock disappeared and came back accompanied by a pretty, floppy-haired goth and a short man with a ginger goatee. He introduced them as Cody and Robb, and they both tried to squeeze themselves onto the sofa so I moved onto the floor.
The moment my arse hit the ground, Cody the spindly goth shot up and offered me his seat.
“Really, I’m fine,” I insisted. “I prefer to sit on the floor. It’s better for my back.”
This was a lie but I thought it was a good idea to keep reminding these people I was about ten years older than they were.
“So this is Kate.” Warlock reclaimed his swivel chair of power. “She’s sitting in on the game until Hugh comes back. She might bring her friend Elise a bit later.”
“Cool,” said Robb.
“She’s playing Sister Julia, a Daeva vampire who’s just been embraced by Miranda Devreaux, who you’ll remember as the Lancea Sanctum inquisitor who hired you guys to steal the Eye of Horus from the British Museum two Stories back. Guys, do you want to tell her a bit about your characters?”
“Sure,” piped up Robb. “So I’m playing a member of the Ordo Dracul, called Jaigon Quinn.” He paused and grinned as if expecting me to get a joke. Cody rolled his eyes. “He used to be in the SAS but he got shell-shocked in Iraq and so he became a monk and tried to kind of atone for his former life.”
I peered at his passport application. “Hey, how come he was allowed to take firearms?”
“Because it was an important part of his backstory,” Warlock explained. “He’s an ex-military sniper who’s kind of haunted by the faces of all the people he’s shot.”
“I don’t use it anyway,” added Robb, “because he always fights with a katana.”
“My character’s name is Amber,” began Cody. “She was a prostitute working for the mob in Chicago and then one day she got into a fight with a John and killed him so they trained her up as an assassin. But then after she killed a United States Congressman she had to run away to England where she fell in love with a guy who turned out to be Prince Mithras. And, after many months, he gave her the choice to become a vampire.”
I try to sneak a look at his character sheet. “I suppose you’ve got firearms as well.”
“Well she used to work for the mob.”
I turned to Warlock. “You didn’t tell me I had that option.”
“It’s very important that your character be your creation,” he said, “so I didn’t want to lead you down any particular paths. That would restrict your creativity.”
Then the game began in earnest. It turned out that “Jaigon” and “Amber” were in the middle of a mission to negotiate with someone about something to do with harbouring a fugitive. But they had to be yanked back to the Prince’s court so he could tell them they had to work with my character for the rest of the job because politics. In that respect, it was quite realistic.
Then we went to some places and talked to some people, then Robb’s character and Cody’s character had a really long argument about whether we were going to go to the next location by bus or by train. Warlock seemed to have made a real effort to make my character useful: we had a car crash, a computer hacking sequence, a pack of vicious guard dogs I had to talk down and an encounter with a pompous academic who would only tell us what we wanted if we could engage him in high level technical discussions. Which I did primarily by rolling lots of ten-sided dice.
A lot of the time I couldn’t tell if I was excruciatingly bored or having quite a lot of fun.
Around half eight we ordered pizza and people started chatting about things that weren’t imaginary sex assassins. Cody turned out to be an undergrad doing English lit and Robb, who was older than he looked, had some kind of sysadmin job at the university.
“Kay,” mumbled Warlock, through a mouthful of pepperoni passion, “we’d just got to the bit where you guys are breaking into the Carthian stronghold underneath Canary Wharf. Suddenly three guards with SMGs step out into the corridor in front of you and are, like, FREEZE.”
“Okay.” Robb put down his pizza and picked up some dice. “Jaigon steps forward.” He switched to the creaky, faux-posh accent he used when he was talking as Jaigon. “These are not the vampires you are looking for. I use Dominate on them.”
“That only works on one person at a time,” pointed out Warlock.
“All right then, I attack them with my katana.”
“Okay, everyone, roll initiative. Kate, that’s 1D10, plus Dex, plus Composure.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Hang on, guys.” Warlock stood up. “Take the time to work out what you’re going to do.”
Robb and Cody immediately began flipping through enormously thick rulebooks and discussing the merits of charging versus grappling versus complicated vampire powers.
Warlock’s voice drifted in from the doorway. “Dude, you’re really late, we’ve eaten all the pizza.”
Oh shit. I was on my feet, dice and bits of paper scattering off my lap.
Warlock sauntered into the room. “We’ve just had Nick follow the party around not doing much—”
At that moment, Hugh Shawcross came round the corner, leapt on Warlock’s back and sank his fangs into his neck.