Last week I gave you guys Ten Things to Know About the Chronicles of Darkness as a quick way to get your gaming group up to speed on this rich setting. I’m now spending time on each of the game lines to round things out. There were seven items on the last list; this time we’re circling back to the splats and then including some specific items about vampires.
6. X Splat is Clan, Y Splat is Covenant
The inherent axis (“X Splat”) for vampires is the Clan, the lineage of vampirism that they got when they became vampires. Like parental genetics with biological children, older vampires creating a younger member will pass along the particular strain of their vampirism to the next generation. A vampire that creates another is called a sire (regardless of gender) and the person they “Embrace” is called a childe (plural “childer”… it’s German-ish), who will be of the same clan with the same propensities and weaknesses. There are five main clans in Vampire: the Requiem, each with powers that they are strongest in and weaknesses that affect only their members.
- The Daeva are hedonists who pursue the best the unlife has to offer. They are strong and beautiful (their powers of Majesty let them captivate mortals) but they become easily obsessed with mortals and can be manipulated as a result.
- The Gangrel are pure animal hunger and the most feral of the vampire clans. They can control animals and warp their bodies to become more predatory but they also have a hard time maintaining control when they want to.
- The Mekhet are the most shadowy and secretive clan, hiding their plots by instinct and trusting few. Part of their vampiric powers are a sort of aura reading that tells them plenty. They are also literally shadowy and are hurt by the sun even more so than other vampire clans.
- The Nosferatu are ugly and they warp the world around them to become a little uglier as well. They also watch others from the shadows and can have a lot of secrets in their filthy minds, as well as being able to inflict nightmares on others.
- Lastly, the Ventrue are the aristocrats of the vampire world, telepathically Dominating mortals to create little cults of personality and lording their accomplishments over other vampires. This backfires when they become detached from the mortal lives their pawns live and lose their humanity
The other side of the coin is the social axis (“Y Splat”), which is the vampire’s Covenant. This is the group whose philosophy the vampire ascribes to, the community that makes unlife worth… unliving? These are very political bodies and in a given city the five main covenants will vie against each other to hold sway and work their long-term agendas.
- The Carthian Movement is the youngest of the covenants and are basically a vampiric populist movement. Vampire society has a long list of rules (see below) dominated by ancient undead (ditto) but this group of young revolutionaries is pushing to flip that hierarchy over.
- The Circle of the Crone is an amalgam of pagan beliefs with heavy doses of druidism and Wicca. The in-universe story is that various groups of vampires banded together when Christianity was sweeping Europe and made a catch-all covenant to resist the Church.
- The Invictus is another holdover from earlier days and hold themselves to be the rightful nobility of the vampire world. In past centuries they were exactly that but now they are just as likely to run corporations or state governments as they are shadow kingdoms.
- The Lancea et Sanctum are vampiric Christians with a complex theology that involves the Roman soldier Longinus whom they maintain was made a vampire by the blood of Christ. In addition to the strength of their faith they have an ancient type of blood magic that dates back to the Roman Empire.
- The Ordo Dracul are the wild card in most cases. They are also pagan worshipers with blood magic but they derive their power from the legacy of Dracula himself. They deal in things that make even other vampires squeamish.
8. There are Rules
Being a vampire doesn’t mean doing whatever you like. As natural predators there is a pecking order for vampires and ancient traditions that keep vampires safe in a world that’s trying to destroy them. First of all, each city with a sizeable vampire population is ruled by a Prince (independent of gender, and the actual title may vary) who maintains a court of allied vampires and dispenses justice to make sure no feuds boil over into the public eye. The practice of keeping a low profile is called the Masquerade (the source of the title for the older Vampire: the Masquerade game) and this comes down mostly to “avoid handing people definite proof that vampires exist.”
Vampire need to feed and they often need to fight threats to themselves and the wider vampire community, but neither of those things should be done in the open and certainly not documented in a way that can be shown to other people. If your fight with rival vampires ends up wrecking a nightclub and sending mortals running, you can expect to hear about it from the Prince. Likewise, if you go around bragging that you’re a vampire and popping out your canines to show off, other vampires are going to take offense. The need for a public persona and a vampiric persona, in fact, is one of the tensions in the game: characters will have a mask that the wear among mortals and a dirge that is their secret self.
9. You’re Not so Slick
It wouldn’t be any fun to be super-strong and able to do everything without consequences. Vampires have a lot of powers and abilities but they also have Beasts, the animal predatory instinct that takes hold as soon as they are Embraced as vampires. When vampires are hungry, when they get angry, when another vampire challenges them, or when there’s just lots of the ol’ ultraviolence they can lose themselves to the Beast and enter a frenzy state where they kill everything in sight.
Not only is this a threat to the Masquerade but vampires are constantly in a tug-of-war between the human parts of their brain and the Beast. Too much animal savagery and your character will become a mindless creature running on pure instinct. Too much culture and acting like a good little boy means your vampire doesn’t take time to hunt or feed which might actually enrage their Beast after all. Decisions, decisions…
10. Stay in the City
The other downside to being a vampire is that it’s easiest to think you’re the most bad-ass thing out there. You’re captivating (probably), strong (definitely), and predatory (unfortunately) but there are other things out there that fit the bill as well. First of all, there is a long-standing World of Darkness rule that the cities are for vampires and the country is for werewolves. There was a definite rule in previous games that these groups would attack each other on sight but in Chronicles of Darkness these are still highly territorial groups without a lot of commonality so violence should still generally be expected.
Aside from the wolves, there are Mages who have magic that can trump the heftiest blood magic, vampire-hunters who would like to be the next Van Helsing, and, of course, there are the Strix. Since time immemorial, vampires have been hunted by strange owl-shaped demons made of curling smoke and pooling shadow. They are fellow parasites, draining nearby mortals of life-force, but they don’t get along with vampires at all. The owl-things talk about a shared past but they seem to have it out for vampires and often try to destroy them for mysterious reasons. Most disturbingly, Strix are able to possess corpses so that they appear just the same as vampires even to supernatural senses. That new vampire in the court, then, might be a killer in your midst waiting for the perfect opportunity to tear it all down.