Writing and developing an epic sourcebook [V20: Beckett’s Jyhad Diary]

News, Vampire: The Masquerade

Greetings, challenger!

It’s Matthew Dawkins here, one of Beckett’s Jyhad Diary’s co-developers (alongside Neall Raemonn Price esq.), and as of the start of this year, one of Onyx Path Publishing’s in-house developers (alongside Sir Eddy Webb)! 2018 is shaping up to be a great year.

For those of you who missed it on the Monday Meeting Notes, Beckett’s Jyhad Diary will be released via DriveThruRPG on Wednesday 10th January 2018, in print and PDF. If you didn’t back the book, or you’re hungry for a paper copy, next week is your time! Your appetite had best be a large one, because this book is big. Bigger than V20. Bigger than any other sourcebook I’ve read (or written), in fact.

Overview

There are many reasons for Beckett’s Jyhad Diary’s size, not least of which is that it is a compendium, update, expansion and profile of established and obscure Vampire: The Masquerade lore. Its content ranges from one-sentence throwaways in the 1st Edition rulebook expanded to make new plot hooks, to Red Listers from The Kindred Most Wanted and V20: Dread Names, Red List appearing both in support and anatagonist roles, all the way to referencing one of Lilith’s Antediluvians from the Gehenna sourcebook from Revised Edition. There are characters from the novels and city sourcebooks, references to content from video games such as Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, plots established in metaplot sourcebooks like Nights of Prophecy and Time of Thin Blood, and further detail given to some of the epic Vampire chronicle content such as Transylvania Chronicles and Giovanni Chronicles. In short, the building of this book took research, expertise, and time.

We plumbed all depths for this lore. There are few books we didn’t touch (I’m especially proud of content making it from Diablerie: BritainDark Ages Clan Novel: Cappadocian, and Fountains of Bright Crimson – I told you there was obscure stuff), and what this results in is a massive book in which Beckett encounters thousands of strands of metaplot build up over 25 years of writing. Is it a lot to take in at once? Definitely. Are there more chronicle hooks in this book than you could use in your lifetime? Certainly. The point is, Beckett’s Jyhad Diary is the ultimate in Vampire: The Masquerade toolboxes. You can read it for chronicle ideas, character ideas, locations for plot, and of course if you have it in PDF, you can use pieces of the excellent scrapbook layout as handouts for your games.

The Planning

I wasn’t one of the instigators of Beckett’s Jyhad Diary. Neall, Eddy, Richard Thomas, and Matt McElroy were the first on the scene, discussing the possible content and layout of a massive metaplot book for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition. I came on as one of the writers (alongside Alan Alexander, Steffie de Vaan, Joshua Doetsch, Renee Knipe, Matthew McFarland, Neall himself, Myranda Sarro, Malcolm Sheppard, and after the Kickstarter added chapters, Monica Valentinelli), and pretty swiftly started throwing thoughts at Neall when he started asking us to brainstorm chapters.

Our remit was chapter ideas that expanded on any of the biggest, most popular metaplot pieces from Vampire. As you’d imagine, Chicago was brought up, along with the Tremere / Goratrix / Saulot / Tzimisce struggle, Transylvania, the Giovanni Chronicles material, Dracula, and Baba Yaga. We then started looking at some of our favourite sourcebooks that left fantastic plot teasers, or received reference in other books, such as the Blood Curse from The Trilogy of the Blood Curse novels, Milwaukee by NightD.C. by NightJerusalem by Night, Constantinople by NightTime of Thin Blood, and the Book of Nod.

Some ideas were cut (as they always are), but what we were left with was a range of chapters assigned to multiple authors, each to be written in a scrapbook style. We needed to explore Beckett’s journey encountering these metaplot threads, and write them in a way that left them open for player exploration as well. Beckett had to be a voyeur, or travelogue writer, while the Storytellers and players reading could use his material for their games.

The Writing

Writing a scrapbook is a challenging task, but one of the most fun projects I’ve ever had. We had to find ways of presenting information in inventive ways, giving each chapter enough variety to not kill the reader with walls of text, and portraying a World of Darkness in which characters did more than meet up in shady nightclubs for quiet conversations.

We produced our content in the form of blogs, chat transcripts, character bios, encyclopaedia entries, audio transcripts, newspaper clippings, news websites, emails, letters, memos, interpretive dance, movie script, and even cave paintings. Only one of those isn’t true. This made for chapters that in their raw form could be difficult to read, but in their finished form (as you will see when you pick up a copy) look like a wonderful collection of artefacts.

A typical chapter would look like this:

[LAID OUT TO RESEMBLE A TRANSCRIPT]

Beckett: Whatcha doing?

Okulos: Nothing with you.

Mark Kelly’s corpse illustration for Beckett’s Jyhad Diary

etc.

[/TRANSCRIPT ENDS]

[LAID OUT TO RESEMBLE A HANDWRITTEN DIARY ENTRY]

Dear Diary,

Why does Anatole keep leading me to into situations where I’m likely to meet Final Death?

etc.

[/DIARY ENDS]

[LAID OUT TO RESEMBLE A CHATLOG]

wolfman123 joined chat

wolfman123: Up to anything tonight?

eyeinthesky: Still no.

eyeinthesky left chat

wolfman123: Sigh.

etc.

[/CHATLOG ENDS]

[LAID OUT TO RESEMBLE A LETTER IN COPPERPLATE]

Dearest Beckett

If you are reading this, it means I know your address. Time to run run run little doggie.

Sincerely yours,

Vykos

[/LETTER ENDS]

[LAID OUT TO RESEMBLE AN EMAIL]

From: Beckett

To: noddistmailinglist.gramlegroup

Hello everybody.

Why won’t you respond to my electronic mails? Is it because I keep printing them and gluing them into my diary?

etc.

 

[/EMAIL ENDS]

So you see, we gave Michael Chaney and our artists a lot of material with which to play. I’m sure they’re grateful.

Development

As circumstances came up, I found myself inheriting increasing numbers of chapters, and sitting in the co-development seat as Neall started planning Scion. First drafts turned into redlined drafts, which turned into final drafts, and then development.

New art for Beckett’s Jyhad Diary by Michael Gaydos

Development was a big task on Beckett’s Jyhad Diary. Sorting through the sheer volume of content to ensure it was accurate to the metaplot, and seemingly simply enough, laid out in an order that made sense (based on previous and future chapter placements) took a lot of cutting and stitching back together. Crossing the streams briefly, this book could be a Created (likely a Frankenstein), with myself and Neall playing catch with the role of demiurge.

Developing a book this size entailed making sure we didn’t have too many repetitions of chat transcripts (readers don’t want a book full of script), that characters introduced in one chapter by one writer acted consistently throughout the book (looking at Anatole, Lucita, Okulos, and of course Beckett here as the main recurring characters), and importantly, that we didn’t suddenly create a new metaplot.

This latter point may read as strange, but our mandate was always to expose the metaplot and expand it, rather than make new waves in Vampire that would render previous books redundant. In my opinion, books are never redundant (they can always be used for ideas), but some players believe metaplot makes prior books obsolete, and importantly, V20 is a metaplot-neutral edition of Vampire.

So development was a big task, but we got through it and the book went on to editing, art, and layout.

Editing, Art, and Layout

We benefited hugely from having an excellent editor for this book in the form of Dixie Cochran. The sheer volume of words and amount of art notes she had to navigate to find the text around it made her role all the more impressive. She spotted issues I never would have, and is quite frankly a superstar.

Michael Chaney was our art director, and under his baleful gaze, Sam Araya, Mark Kelly, Michael Gaydos, Ken Meyer Jr., and Drew Tucker produced a dizzying array of wonderful pieces littering this book. All the art in this blog post is from Beckett’s Jyhad Diary, and I hope you agree it looks fantastic.

Laying out a book like Beckett’s Jyhad Diary is a bit of an ordeal, largely due to the number of artefact pieces. Rather than having text just running down a page, left to right with the occasional header at the start of a paragraph, some pages juggle diary entry, transcript, and newspaper clippings just to name three possibilities. Multiply this by 561 (the page count when I last checked) and you have quite the task. I doff my cap to Mr. Chaney and his amazing work.

Kickstarter, Additional Chapters, and Proofing

This section could go anywhere amidst the above text, but it’s worth noting that when we Kickstarted this book, we had no idea it would be so successful. Successful enough to warrant additional chapters expanding content from books such as Montreal by NightDirty

Beckett’s Jyhad Diary illustration by Ken Meyer, Jr.

Secrets of the Black HandWorld of Darkness 2nd Edition, and Lair of the Hidden, among other odd gems. More words, more artefacts, more art, more editing, more layout.

Proofing Beckett’s Jyhad Diary was a lot of fun, as it had been some time since I’d read it when this stage came around. I spotted some errors that were quickly rectified, but more than anything, I have to hand it to the backers who came in force for the errata thread on our forums. My favourite piece of errata concerns a Harbinger of Skulls introduced in Lore of the Bloodlines and given a bio in Beckett’s Jyhad Diary. Someone noticed that his approximate Embrace date in Beckett’s Jyhad Diary couldn’t be correct due to a historic period he claims to have witnessed in Lore of the Bloodlines. Kudos to you, backer!

Now

Once the errata was incorporated, the PDF was made print-friendly for DriveThruRPG. We will see this epic book’s general release as of next Wednesday. When I use the word “epic” I mean both in size and in depth of content and teamwork. This was one hell of a project brought together by a big team of excellent minds.

I want readers to look through this book and be reminded of that obscure piece from The Red Sign or recognise their favourite character from Berlin by Night. I want it to fire up nostalgia, but also generate new ideas, and make people want to play in this vibrant World of Darkness. Beckett visits nearly every continent in this book, meets characters of many genders, races, religions, cultures, clans, bloodlines, and performs actions that a Storyteller can use in their own chronicle, or on which players can improve.

I think this book stands as a perfect testament to Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition and all prior editions. It’s a love letter to the work of developers and writers past, and a bridge to the content in V5. This book could not have happened without 25 years of content before it, and I believe it pays masterful tribute to it.

Of course, the deluxe version is coming at some point in 2018 as well. Don’t think we’ve forgotten.

Grand Finale

Before I sign off on this (a pretty long blog post for one of our longest books, appropriately), I want to cover one last thing. Everyone on the crew that worked on this book has a favourite chapter, section, or character to appear within it. I’ve already read one review that scales the chapters from best to worst, with another flying in completely the opposite direction, which always fascinates and pleases me. This book will scratch a lot of different itches.

Anyway, my favourite chapter (tonight, anyway) is The Fall of the House, which covers in large part the activities of the Tremere, the Tremere antitribu, a Salubri Watcher, and one of the many interpretations of Saulot (is he bad, is he good, is he a Grey Jedi? Who knows?!)

Here’s a brief excerpt from the raw text, to show you what it looked like before everything was made beautiful. I hope you pick up the book, and if so, please review it and rate it on DriveThruRPG! We always appreciate your thoughts.

[below text should be presented as a transcript of a recorded conversation]

[Recording begins]

Okulos: Why didn’t you invite Sturbridge? Why are you always sending me into these damnable places? Make like mist if this temple collapses. You’re still missing toes.

Beckett: Quiet. Do you hear that?

Okulos: Yes. The hum of machinery. Behind this wall.

Samuel Carlos Araya: Lucita for V20 Beckett’s Jyhad Diary

Beckett: Push it.

Okulos: You push it. I’m not getting stuck again.

Beckett: Fine.

[the grinding of stone]

Beckett: That’s a big computer.

Okulos: Those are servers. That’s a supercomputer. Impressive isn’t the word. Considering the Tremere penchant for information, I shouldn’t be surprised. This is advanced materiel. Some of it’s a few years old, but this kind of technology is built to last.

Beckett: You have a look around here. There’s more downstairs.

Okulos: Shout if you need anything.

Beckett: Providing I’m not immediately immolated, I’ll yell the safe word.

I could spend nights walking around here. Kidiaba tells me Goratrix made this place his haven when he migrated to the New World, moving Heaven and Earth — perhaps literally — to convert an inverted Aztec temple into his domain. Amazing to think what an older Methuselah is capable of, if a relatively young one can perform such a feat.

At Kidiaba’s request, House Ngoma granted both Okulos and I pendants and bone rings designed to protect us. We both feel these gifts wavering in power each time we descend to a further level. I doubt they’ll last the trek.

[Margin notes in Aisling’s handwriting]

Ngoma? You must tell me the story of how you won over one of their number.

[Aisling margin notes end]

Before me is a circular sanctum with a vaulted ceiling, jarringly different from the other angular chambers. There are heaps of white ash, some humanoid in size, but lacking defined features. Rough count would put the number between 30 and 40. There are sigils across the floor and walls. Silver rings

sit in the ash heaps.

A library — a real one with none of that computerized rubbish — floor to ceiling bookcases and cabinets. I imagine the Tremere antitribu hit this room first. Books have been thrown onto the floor with disregard to age and content. I’m eyeing any potential finds.

The content here mostly comprises historical texts. I’ve placed several in my satchel. Of greatest interest is a book labeled — crudely, I might add — as The Book of the Grave-War. It looks enciphered.

The pendant just dropped from around my neck, the metal corroding.

[Recording ends]

[END ABOVE TRANSCRIPT]

  17 comments for “Writing and developing an epic sourcebook [V20: Beckett’s Jyhad Diary]

  1. Nicolas Milioni Gravina Abdu
    January 4, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    Matthew. I’m so happy that you know what a grey Jedi is. I hope they’re still canon since the Expanded universe was scrapped.

  2. January 4, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    I had no idea I had been knighted.

    • January 5, 2018 at 1:23 am

      I have that power.

      • Daniel Morgan
        January 5, 2018 at 2:13 am

        What is the source of that power? Is it Grayskull?

        • Matthew Dawkins
          January 5, 2018 at 8:59 am

          It’s the power of voodoo.

          • Troy
            January 5, 2018 at 9:27 am

            Who do?

  3. Chrysostom
    January 5, 2018 at 2:15 am

    Great post, Matthew. Beckett’s Jyhad Diary is probably the WOD book I’ve looked forward to reading the most. Maybe ever. It’s a fantastic idea, and what I’ve seen from the previews, wonderfully executed. Hope this isn’t the last week see from the Onyx Path and VtM now that White Wolf is back.

    • Matthew Dawkins
      January 5, 2018 at 8:59 am

      Let us know your thoughts when you pick up a copy!

  4. Troy
    January 5, 2018 at 9:06 am

    This makes me even more excited for my deluxe version!

    Is there any chance you can talk about WWP deciding to use this as their canon as well? What benefits and complications did that add? Did you squee a little or a lot?

    • Matthew Dawkins
      January 5, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Well this book will have always been canon, but it’s of course very satisfying to know White Wolf enjoyed and approved of the material to the extent some of it will inform the metaplot of V5. One thing to be aware of is that due to the number of options presented in this book, not everything in BJD will appear in V5. V5 will launch from some original beats, and some elements of BJD.

      In terms of complications, it wasn’t terribly complicated to integrate the few plot hooks White Wolf wanted into the text. As far as benefits go, it’s useful, because it gives readers an idea of what’s coming next.

  5. January 5, 2018 at 9:31 am

    This is such a solid book, Matthew. Thank you and your team for working so hard on it. Sir Eddy you are also a rock star!

    • Matthew Dawkins
      January 5, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Thank you for your love for it!

  6. Soma
    January 5, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Congrats Matthew!

    I’am almost done with the diary and I quite enjoyed it.
    The only pity is that I will be done with the book before the hardcopy arrives.

    Looking forward for further VtM releases.

    Have a great Day!
    Soma

    • Matthew Dawkins
      January 5, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Then you order a paper copy and read it all over again!

  7. Michael
    January 5, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Just for the fact that we get a follow up to Montreal alone makes me want to buy the deluxe edition!

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