Last night's session was downtime. Now, downtime is always complicated for two reasons. First, we're trying to run an epic game, one which began with the death of Augustus and ends with the fall of Rome. That means that a single downtime session can cover twenty years or more of time. It's complicated by the fact that we rarely know when the next story arc is going to be set when the previous one ends. This story arc, for example, focused on the murder of Commodus (actually, everyone was trying to murder him, it was just a question of who got there first) and the consequences for the Judecci, supposedly neutral Kindred whose job was to ensure Kindred non-interference with the emperor. I'm strongly debating when to set next story arc, but I don't really want to post about the two choices I'm debating between where my players can see. Sorry, guys. :)
The other thing that makes downtime hard is that players generally need a lot of specialized ST attention. True, we have six players and three STs, but last night maastrictian got delayed at work and thran was sick so the whole session was an ongoing exercise in logistics. Add to that the particular faults of each ST (maastrictian and I both tend to own certain parts of the plot to a point where other STs can't easily fill in; thran has a hard time improvising if she hasn't had a chance to prepare) and you've got a recipe for a very, very busy session.
On the other hand, I thought a lot of good - and necessary! - stuff happened last night. One of the PCs (Remius) spent much of the downtime in exile, so getting his activities in order was quite important. Aniketos Embraced a new childe, which is particularly complicated because he's under a curse which has resulted in the death of his previous childe and his wife (well, one of them - it's kind of a long story involving a psychotic Assamite, life debt, and tax breaks), so we had to establish what their relationship was going to be like. Considering that he murdered her, and only then changed his mind and Embraced her - and that she's a devout Christian - this turned out to be quite interesting. I spent most of the rest of the session brain-dumping on Idir and Balachandra about the Families in the Six Springs, their new alliance. My policy when filling people in on things that they would learn over a long period of time is that I will give them the basics, but then they are responsible for asking me about things they want to know and, if necessary, justifying why they could know it. So I pretty much dumped a bunch of stuff on them, partly guided by me and partly by them, in order to give them the ability to act, in the next story arc, as if they had actually been a part of this alliance for twenty years. I think of it as "simulating expertise." It's not so much what the players actually know, as that they have enough information to ask me questions and get answers that they might plausibly have, and that they can make reasonable assumptions and plans based on the outline that I've given them.
What's making me especially happy is that I can see the focuses of the game changing. At different times in the story, different characters are central. For example, at the beginning of the game the House of Haravas (Idir, Actaia and Aniketos) was central to the story, and the other three PCs were involved because of their relationship to them. Right now we have two constellations of characters, which is particularly good because several people are playing their secondary characters and they need good reasons to be integrated. The Remius-Ze'ev-Aniketos group is involved with social change in the Empire, and is particularly interested in the rise of Christianity. They also have a significant antagonist in the form of Bar Kochba, who may or may not be immortal and may or may not be organizing wide-spread hunts for Kindred. The Idir-Actaia-Balachandra group is much more politically oriented, and their three Families (organizations of Kindred - to be explained at a future time) are now part of the same alliance, the Six Springs. The three of them have political interests, antagonists and allies in common, though their goals are much less clear than the other group. Fortunately, the Idir-Actaia-Aniketos Haravas alliance, as well as the fact that Idir owes Remius his life (more or less) will help us create plot that will tie both groups together. It's also good that there's one secondary in each group (Ze'ev and Balachandra), which means that both groups are about equal in capacity, power and connections. By the nature of things, secondaries tend to be less well-connected in the game just because they don't get played as much.
Secondary characters, by the way, are something that we instituted because this is a long-term game. Characters may die, and will certainly go into torpor, and often are removed from the game for plot reasons. (For example, Quintus has just fled the Empire with an angry mob after him; Remius has spent some time in exile; Marcus was informed by the other PCs that if he came back, they would kill him.) We didn't want players to have to leave the game temporarily when this happened, but we also didn't want to just elide over the fact that shit happens, particularly when you live a very long time. Instead, we asked players to create a backup character that they would be willing to play as their primary PC if and when something happened to their primary PC. So far this has worked pretty well; it allows players to see multiple sides of what's going on (since their primary and secondary characters might be on opposite sides of a conflict!) or to explore different aspects of the world, while it means that we don't have to fear removing characters from the story. Integrating a secondary is hard, but much less hard than having the players know that we won't seriously inconvenience their characters. :)
Maybe I'll post a character list (primaries and secondaries) later on today. 'Cause nothing's more fun than procrastination!
PS: The more you comment, the more incentive I have to do this again next week!