GM Notes: The Prince of Providence

Photo by davecito “Providence RI 1964”

The Prince of Providence was our game of organized crime and vampirism set in Providence, RI in 1979. These are some of my notes and ideas that inspired and informed the writing of this game (from the GM side). You’d get more out of this article if you listened to this game first.

The System Switch

I once had an idea for a Changeling game where the players would be surprised with their fae selves, where I would play a Stranger Things style mystery for a few sessions using Apocalypse World, FATE, or Tales from the Loop and then abruptly shift systems and reveal the “true” nature of the game to them. I wrote down a few ideas for this but never got a chance to put together the whole game.

The Mafia

The mafia related media of the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s were definitely a huge fascination for me and my brothers as teenagers. The Sopranos was on TV. My grandfather was an Italian immigrant who lived in Fall River, MA, and as a result we all felt vicariously connected to that mythical idea of the wise guy.

I even share a last name with a somewhat notorious Rhode Island judge famous for his mob connection.

I earnestly dislike most of that stuff now – a lot of the mafia movies seem like an excuse to revel in the violence of a lawless lifestyle. Although the creators never seem to really cop to it, Tony Soprano and Henry Hill and Nicky Santoro end up seeming like superheros to a lot of people. Which, honestly, feels a little gross to me.

A Sense of Place

I have increasingly become fascinated by the idea of grounding games I run in real places. Levels of engagement from the players vary wildly but at the very least it provides a fun thing for me to research. I have used this extensively in a Lamentations of the Flame Princess game we’ve been playing on and off for about two years. Lamentations is set in “the real world,” generally in Western Europe at about the time of the English Civil War.

In that game, the adventuring party dashes from city to city, fighting monsters and exploring brothels, running across characters from the edges of history and fiction. I thought, in my Changeling game, of coming up with a Bradbury-esque town somewhere in middle America. But honestly, I don’t know much about middle America.

So I settled instead on New England – specifically, the post industrial, coastal New England where I’ve lived all my life.

Crimetown

The first season of the podcast Crimetown was an addictive look at organized crime throughout Providence, RI, framed by the reign(s) of corrupt, populist mayor “Buddy” Cianci.

I had happened to pick up a copy of the book “The Prince of Providence” by Mike Stanton at an estate sale around this time. I was fascinated by the larger than life character of Cianci and of some of the figures on Crimetown.

I live near Providence and work in the city. Wanting to explore the less bucolic, post-industrial urban New England in place of the usual rural or Lovecraftian settings, I decided to set a game in Providence, well before the so-called Providence Renaissance, in 1979.

The Prince

Almost immediately I seized on the wordplay of naming the game after the book and playing a Vampire game. Certainly, the clumsy metaphor of contrasting and comparing organized crime with the Vampire clans has been done before, but it immediately  appealed to me here.

I looked up what existed for New England in classic White Wolf material. I found that there was a Nosferatu Prince of Providence named Stanford Warwick (named clumsily after one of the other largest cities in Rhode Island). I toyed with a few ideas from the Dark Colony sourcebook but in the end I wanted to come up with a story that did a few things.

  1. Explored the space in Providence, particularly the divide between the East Side (Brown and RISD) area of Providence and working class Federal Hill
  2. Really allowed the players to be bad, bad people
  3. I also, for fun, decided to riff on the MacGuffin in Chris’s Vampire game – I mis-remembered the urn as a crown though

I incorporated the idea of switching systems midway through when I remembered the Vampire the Masquerade video game and the way it drops you into that world without expecting you to understand the mythology. As casual WoD players (at best), I figured it made sense to play characters who closely reflect our own knowledge of the setting.

As far as picking Vampire systems, the main reason we played Requiem over an earlier edition is simply that we have a PDF copy of Requiem. I think there is a PDF Masquerade 1 floating around in the group somewhere but for ease, we went for Requiem.

As an added bonus, that meant the players got to make characters twice and there was the added metagame of the players trying to guess what game it would switch to. I figured the leading contender in their minds would have to be Call of Cthulhu, given that it was clearly a horror game set in Lovecraft’s hometown.

I didn’t really think that it was too much of a mystery – as I mentioned earlier, even the title sort of gives it away.

The Game

I think the strongest episodes of this podcast were the first three episodes, where the players explored the meaning of being mobsters. In particular, I think that Andrew as Harvey Littlefield really dug into the cruelty of his character. And not in a particularly subtle way.

Once the characters became vampires, things definitely sort of went sideways. In a good way, in the sense that the players were trapped between the two worlds. They almost reflexively through their lot in with the wily old vampire Ebor Tillinghast, despite my best efforts to make him seem irrational and dangerous.

The players also instinctively engaged with one of the core tropes of Vampire games – the politics. All on their own, they decided to play Sal Vecchio and Ebor Tillinghast against each other.

Things also went sideways in less effective ways. I spent a lot of time on the twisted Tillinghast clan but didn’t provide a lot of good hooks on how to get the players into investigating them. Since I wasn’t able to get them interested in the larger Vampire world, they weren’t as involved in the final set piece I had planned as I would like.

I do wish I had been more nimble with the end of the game. Generally, I follow my notes on my own characters pretty closely. For Sal Vecchio, I had previously decided that he was going to be the smartest person in the room. He was cautious and clever and wouldn’t just wait around to be snatched up by three super strong murderers. It might have been good to give him more of a blind spot. I think he ended up being more of a frustration than a challenge, in practice.

The crown, in the beginning of the game was supposed to DO something. However, by the time they actually got their hands on it, I had changed my mind. Tillinghast was just a wretched loony and Fiore was superstitious, and Vecchio was just spiteful — the crown WAS something old and weird and valuable but it didn’t make you a magic guy or anything. It was just, in the end, another focal point for obsession and violence.

Appendix N

Crimetown

Crimetown is a really good podcast about organized crime in Providence RI from the late seventies to nearly the present day. Probably the single biggest thing to get me thinking about this series.

The Prince of Providence

The Prince of Providence is an excellent book by Mike Stanton about Buddy Cianci, the two time mayor of Providence and all around crooked guy. He was an institution in my childhood. His pasta sauce, and his trial, were everywhere. 

We Eat Blood and All Our Friends Our Dead

I played this visual novel on iOS. It’s by horror critic Sarah Horrocks and game guy (amongst other things) Zak Smith. Here is a link to the Steam page. I know some people did NOT like it, but I did.

Really, if you are looking to do a game like this any decent Vampire story where the Vampires are legitimately scary or legitimately villains, and any gang stuff that meets the same criteria will give you a good idea of what I was going for.

What Did You Think?

If you want to tell me what a dummy I am or anything else about the game or the podcast, hit me up on Twitter @thewatermethod