By James Palmer
What do vampires and organized crime have in common, besides murder, conspiracy, and Eastern Europe? When under pressure, they turn on each other. Criminal conspiracy breeds mistrust, while the nature of vampires is endless, unheeding consumption, like Saturn eating his children or Duncan’s horses that “did turn and eat each other.”
The heroes of vampire fiction often triumph by exploiting these betrayals and vendettas between creatures far more powerful than them. Alternatively, think of stories of vengeance against organized crime, like the Punisher, where the protagonists’ progress is often intercut with the battles within the organization itself, V’s actions against the Norsefire Party, or the self-immolation of Shakespearian villains.
To represent these kind of stories, as the PCs move up the hierarchy of the Conspyramid, as well as prompting reactions against them from the vampires, they will also prompt stresses and conflicts within the Conspyramid itself. This is represented by the Pyremid, detailed below, a veritable bonfire of self-destruction. Like the Vampyramid, pick one reaction for every tier of the conspiracy the PCs penetrate. Note that these reactions are not necessarily caused by the PCs actions themselves, but represent existing tensions, hatreds, and fears.
One common dynamic is the Suitors and the Beloved. These are two high-level members of the Conspyramid who are competing for the favours of another, the Beloved. The Beloved is manipulating and exploiting the Suitors for their own benefit; love, for them, barely enters into it. The Suitors may be a crime boss and a company president competing for the attention of a vampiric mistress, two ancient resurrected Egyptian princesses fighting over the Pharoah they both served in life, or the anxious head of the secret police convinced his wife is sleeping with the head of another intelligence agency.
The Pyremid is best suited for conspiracies where the nodes are relatively small-scale and personal. GMs in longer campaigns might use it to represent the conflicts within a group, like, say, the Armenian mafia in Odessa, that is itself merely a node within the wider Conspyramid. But the possibility of “The CIA” and “The Russian Mafia” turning viciously on each other also exists.
Some of the actions within the Pyremid may not directly concern the PCs initially. Instead, the PCs can get word of them through rumour, surveillance, interrogation, or documentation. Alternatively, an ambitious GM concentrating on personal intrigues within the Conspyramid may wish to run cut scenes, temporarily assigning the players the roles of the vampire lords and their minions themselves.
As the conspiracy turns on itself, the connections between groups crumble and snap, in a process known as fraying. Various reactions on the Pyremid cause different connections to be frayed, but the GM may also directly fray connection as the result of PC actions that are designed to spread dissent, mistrust, and chaos within the Conspyramid.
When the connection between two nodes is frayed, the two groups aren’t getting along. If the connection is horizontal, they may see each other as competitors, or there may simply be personal tensions or ideological differences. If vertical, the higher-level node may see the lower one as overly ambitious or incompetent, while the lower level node may see its superior as undeserving of its position, have moral qualms about working with them, or simply want their post. When agents exploit a frayed connection appropriately, they receive +3, rather than +2, to their pool (see p. 113)
A frayed connection that’s frayed again becomes stressed. When the relationship between two nodes is stressed, the two are openly quarrelling. If the connection is horizontal, they stop cooperating with each other on all but critical matters, refuse to share information, and complain bitterly to their superiors. If vertical, the higher-ranked party treats those below with open contempt, bossing them about and putting them at grave risk, while the lower-ranked either scheme to usurp their bosses, avoid contact where possible, or begin openly ignoring orders. When agents exploit a stressed connection appropriately, they receive +4, rather than +2, to their pool (see p. 113)
If a stressed connection is frayed, it’s broken. When this occurs horizontally, either the two groups cut off all connection with each other, or they are at open odds. The second is more likely if they have no mutual superior, or if their ties with their superior are also frayed. Conflict can range from bureaucratic manoeuvring to all-out warfare.
If it occurs vertically, the reaction depends on the initiator. If the higher-level node is the instigator, they may simply move to destroy their inferior. They may also consume them, either literally, in the case of the most bloody-mouthed creatures, or metaphorically, by destroying their leadership and merging the remains of the node with themselves, or with another group. If all the node’s connection are broken, they may instead be burnt, isolated from all contact with the conspiracy in order to forestall investigation or prevent their problems from spreading.
If the lower-level node is the main actor, they may rebel, moving directly against their superior. This could be anything from a boardroom coup to a group of mafiosi ambushing their vampiric master with garlic and stakes. If the rebellion succeeds, the node may establish a frayed connection with a new superior, or may find itself burnt or consumed by far more powerful beings. If the rebellion fails, the group will almost certainly be destroyed.
Lower-level nodes may also switch allegiance, looking for a new, higher-level protector. This is especially likely if they already have a connection with such. In this case, fray any connection between the former superior and the new one. They may flip, attempting to leave the conspiracy entirely and striking a deal with either a rival organization or the authorities; this is especially likely for bottom-tier groups that have little inkling of the power of their masters. Finally, they may flee, breaking off all connections and running for cover, preferably in another country entirely.
Broken nodes give no bonus for using the mapped connection, but are likely to present numerous opportunities to cunning PCs.
TIER ONE: INTRIGUE
Insult – Members of one node insult another, whether unintentionally, such as by arriving late and unprepared to a critical meeting , covertly, like cracking a joke at someone else’s expense that’s deliberately passed on, or overtly, like calling attention to their failing in front of a mutual boss. Fray the connection between the two. Leads to: Confrontation
The Wench Is Dead: Evidence of a past sin reemerges, or is remembered. Perhaps a dead girlfriend’s body is found, marked money shows up, or a past affiliation with the police revealed. Fray any one connection. Leads to: Confrontation, Secret Murder
Disrespect: A higher-ranking minion treats a lower-ranking one in a poor fashion, or a lower-ranking one fails to treat his superior with the respect he feels he deserves. Fray the connection between the two. Leads to: Leak, Secret Murder
I Could Take Care Of You: A lower level node feels unhappy or unprotected by its superior, and so looks for new protection elsewhere. Stress the connection with the superior, but draw another connection to a node on the same tier as or one tier above the superior. Leads to: You’re With Me Now, Leak
Other Business: One node becomes intensely involved in its own affairs, ignoring its work for the conspiracy in favour of drug-smuggling, hunting children, murder for hire, or other unpleasant pastimes. Fray one connection between the node and its superiors. Leads to: Favors, Too Risky To Let Live
Rivals: The competition between the Lovers intensifies. Fray any connection between the Lovers. Leads To: Favors
TIER TWO: STRIFE
Confrontation: A meeting between two nodes becomes heated, though not physically violent. Tensions between the two worsen, and the strife spreads elsewhere. Fray the link between the two, and two additional links. Leads to: Showdown
Secret Murder: A member of one node kills another in a private meeting, and then conceals the evidence of the slaying as best they can. Fray any two links from the node that suffered the death, depending on who they suspect. Leads to: Mole, Showdown
Leak: One node deliberately passes on information to the agents, whether out of stirrings of conscience, or, more likely, in order to frustrate an operation by one of their rivals. Fray the link between that node and another. Leads to: Mole, Enemy of My Enemy
You’re With Me Now: A node changes allegiance entirely, breaking any connection with their former superior and drawing a new connection, if one doesn’t exist, to a higher-level node. The former master is likely to be extremely unhappy about this. Leads to: Enemy of My Enemy, Obsession
Favourite: The Beloved picks one of the Lovers to favour, bestowing previously withheld favours. The favoured Lover receives +2 to all pools, and the disfavoured +2 to all difficulties. Fray the links between the disfavoured lover and two other nodes. Leads to: Obsession
TIER THREE: PARANOIA
Showdown: A meeting between two nodes erupts into violence. The agents may well be watching events as they occur, or may come upon the aftermath. Any Leads to: Blood Will Have Blood
Mole: The conspiracy becomes convinced, correctly or otherwise, that a mole exists within the organization. A witch-hunt begins for the suspected mole. Fray any six connections. Leads to: Betrayal
Enemy of my Enemy: One node provides information for the agents to fatally strike at another node, seeking to use this new force to do down their rivals. Stress the connection between the two nodes. Leads to: I Did It For You, Betrayal
Obsession: One Lover (or both) becomes obsessed with the other or with the Beloved, following and watching them (or employing their minions to do so) constantly. They receive +4 to the difficulty of any roll that doesn’t involve the other lover or the beloved, save for direct physical confrontation. Fray the connection between the two Lovers again. Leads to: I Did It For You
TIER FOUR: VENGEANCE
Blood Will Have Blood: In vengeance for earlier killings or slights, a prominent member of one node openly murders a member of another. The victim’s colleagues, in turn, vow further vengeance, while his masters may try to keep the violence under wraps, perhaps by killing him themselves. Break the connection between the two nodes, and fray every other connection they have. Leads to: Civil War
Betrayal: A node, out of vengeance, envy, or ambition, openly contacts the PCs, offering them everything they know. Will the PCs be betrayed in turn? Stress every connection from the node. Leads to: Palace Coup, Civil War
I Did It For You: One of the Lovers murders the other as a token for their beloved, but then dies themselves, either fatally wounded by the other Lover or committing suicide after being spurned by the beloved. (Think, for instance, Goneril poisoning Regan over Edmund, or Heyer murdering Harper, then being left to bleed to death, in V for Vendetta) Stress all the connections from the Lovers’ nodes. Leads to: Palace Coup
TIER FIVE: SLAUGHTER
Civil War: The conspiracy splits into two factions, now at open war against each other. The lords seek haven and direct their pawns against each other, preparing for grand battle. One side may actively offer to enlist the agents in their grand crusade against their rivals. Pick a side for each node, and break all connections between members of opposing sides. Leads to: Annihilation
Palace Coup: An envious fifth tier node moves to seize power, attempting to eliminate the lords of the conspiracy in one grand strike. The lords themselves may be well aware of the coup, and use it as an opportunity to eliminate the underling. Whatever the outcome, fray every connection in the Conspyramid.
TIER SIX: COLLAPSE
Annihilation: All bonds and alliances are destroyed. The conspiracy becomes a war of all-against-all. It might seem as if the agents’ work is done, but if the war is left to play out, one vampire lord will emerge triumphant, bloated with the blood of his rivals. But a lord who might otherwise be unstoppable may also be fatally weakened at his moment of victory …