Vampire: the Masquerade has seen a surge of popularity in the form of online streaming shows thanks to the brilliance of LA by Night. One of the standouts of these shows is DC by Night, produced by McStabber Studios out of Washington, D.C. It has quickly become a popular choice among Vampire viewers and the gaming group involved has cultivated quite a community after broadcasting their Chronicle since September 2019.
DC by Night is run by Storyteller Shanky McStabber (known to the non-gaming world as Bill) and includes his wife, Relynn, who portrays Lily Sanger on the show. Bill is a veteran of tabletop RPGs, as he was introduced to the world via the Dungeons & Dragons blue box back in 1980. He played a variety of TTRPGs until 1999. He took a 20 year hiatus and returned to the gaming world for Vampire: the Masquerade’s fifth edition publishing.
Relynn was introduced to tabletop RPGs by Bill, who first exposed her to Vampire in January 2019, when he showed her an episode of LA by Night, produced by Geek & Sundry at the time.
“I saw the first episode and told him ‘I have to play this game!’” said Relynn.
In February 2019, the couple formed their current gaming group out of interested online gaming friends and co-workers. Most were enthusiastic about the idea, but they had one player who was reluctant to join.
“Our only reluctant player decided to give the game a try and has since admitted he is having a blast and loves Vampire,” Bill said.
DC by Night follows a coterie based out of a branch of The Succubus Club, an infamous club in Vampire lore. The coterie consists of Lily Sanger, proprietor of the club, Quartermain, the Nosferatu, Locke, the Gangrel, and Steve Perry (no relation), a Caitiff, or clanless Kindred. The group spends each evening navigating the politics of Camarilla life in D.C. while exploring their own relationships and dealing with often interesting and unique problems.
Relynn plays Lily, a Toreador Primogen who owns the franchised Succubus Club, thanks to being a descendant of the famous Helena, the founder of the club. When creating Lily, Relynn had a basic concept in mind for her and did some research to flesh out details like her hometown, parents and her career when she was alive.
She credits Bill’s method of running Session 0’s for helping her flesh out Lily’s backstory and give her solid motivations.
“The way Bill does his Session 0 method, it is kind of choose-your-own-adventure style,” said Relynn. “So you flesh out the background of the character with choices that translate to which clan embraces them and what their starting attributes and skills would likely be. It’s a brilliant method.”
Relynn was drawn to clan Toreador due to her creative background. The obsessive nature of Toreador’s interest in art and aesthetics drew her the most, allowing her to explore the darker side of her creativity. Her choice to take a five-dot loresheet to be a descendant of Helena was mainly for the advantages it offered, especially for the two-dot haven, the Succubus Club. The story potential also drew her to owning such a club in D.C.
“It’s a huge target for a haven but boy, the story we’ve had come out of that loresheet is pure gold,” said Relynn.
Playing Lily gave Relynn a chance to play out the glam goth fantasy she’s had in real life and allows her to buy outfits and accessories she wishes could be part of her everyday attire. But Lily shares many of Relynn’s personality traits, which she recognizes happens when creating a TTRPG character.
“Lily hates misogyny like I do,” said Relynn. “She also tends to run a little hot headed at times and is quick with the sass, which is very much like me.”
Playing Lily has also helped Relynn on a much more somber note. Last year, her mother was dying from Alzheimer’s disease and playing Lily gave her a way to explore and experience personal loss.
“She has a severe fear of losing those she loves like I do,” said Relynn. “It’s been very cathartic to explore that personal horror while in the grieving process.”
Relynn’s plans for Lily’s future are quite ambitious. She sees Lily working her way up in the Camarilla and “dismantling the boys club” from within. Ultimately, she sees Lily becoming a Seneschal to a Prince in another city and perhaps even becoming an Archon.
“Let’s hope the turbulence in DC doesn’t destroy her humanity on the way up,” said Relynn.
Lily’s story is far from over and having Shanky guide her through the harrowing nights of D.C. has proven to be dramatic. Bill, aka Shanky, said his alter ego’s name came from a nickname a co-worker gave him over a grueling series of 60 hour work weeks.
“To keep the stress down the two of us had a long running series of jokes about him planning to “Temple of Doom” me, i.e. pull my heart out through my chest, and me planning to ‘shank him in the neck’,” said Bill. “He was a powerlifter and it was the only place he was vulnerable. The nickname stuck and 15 years later more people know me by that name than they do my actual name.”
Bill was introduced to Vampire when a friend of his gave him the first edition back in 1993. Being the “eternal GM,” he ran it for his friends. He found Vampire’s free form style of role-playing to suit his improv abilities well and he considered it a “stark contrast to most of the other systems at the time.”
The “eternal GM” role doesn’t bother Bill, as he prefers to be the Storyteller. He credits his improv skills and his ability to “have a story for everything” for honing his Storyteller skills. To date, Bill has run over 300 games but has been a player in less than two dozen.
“While I do enjoy being a player, I am truly only in my element when I am sitting behind that screen,” Bill said.
Bill updated the DC by Night sourcebook for the Chronicle, but other than that, his session preparation is minimal, aside from the streaming and technical side of things.
“I learned long ago that when it comes to free-form games like Vampire that it is very difficult to predict what your players will do during any given session,” said Bill. “So I honed my improvisational skills to ensure that I could let them run the story and just focus on my central mottos of: actions have consequences, SPCs (Storyteller Played Characters) must act according to their established nature, and make the city feel alive.”
DC by Night’s social web is far reaching and deep. Bill credits his detail-oriented memory for allowing him to keep every person, feud and boon in mind. He keeps some things written in his notebook, but those are “mainly for tracking purposes for projects and the like.” One detail that has helped him is that D.C. is known for having lots of transient workers and residents, which allows him to realistically keep the Kindred count down in the city.
Bill had to learn a lot when it came to the decision to stream the show. His biggest hurdle is the audio quality, which he is now completely obsessed with. The other issue he had to contend with was being able to run a stream with multiple cameras from people who were in different places.
“None of the guides you find on streaming have any information about this kind of setup, which made it very much a learn-as-you-go situation,” said Bill.
Because of the lack of information about streaming this way, Bill is always open to answering questions from people trying to do a similar setup.
When DC by Night first aired, they were streaming live. However, it became apparent that broadcasting a recorded show was more suitable. Bill found that his ADHD had him looking at live chat more often than he was paying attention to his players.
“[Going pre-recorded] eliminated the temptation to interact with the viewers instead of giving the players/guests my full focus,” said Bill.
DC by Night’s production value has increased over the six months they’ve been broadcasting. They’ve amassed a sizable roster of guest stars to add flavor and drama to the story. Their decision to switch to broadcasting a pre-recorded session allows them to interact with their community in Twitch chat. They are seeing a growth in that community via their personal Discord server. Once their DC Chronicle is over, the group plans on starting a new one based in Chicago.