Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood & Bourbon
Elsbeth von Steinhäuser
Violent-tempered Tremere primogen
“High Regent Steinhäuser is an elder cut from a mold you have not seen, a product of a time better forgotten. She is a tyrant, a terror, a brutal weapon that has as frequently turned on others within the Pyramid as those outside it. A great many promising warlocks have met their ends beneath her fury. For all of that, she is a cornerstone of the Pyramid in the city, the iron fist that has kept Clan Tremere’s enemies from its gates. In Seattle, few had standing to challenge me. In New Orleans, I would not challenge her. Give her no reason to turn her fiery gaze upon you, my childe, for I can give you no certainty that I might easily redirect it.”
Jonathan North to Kyrstin Grey
Elsbeth looks wrathful.
She tries to hide it around the kine. Her features are comely, with a smooth complexion, high cheekbones, and full dark hair. It’s not enough. It’s a wolf trying to hide in sheep’s clothing several sizes too small. There’s all sorts of tells: her pallid complexion. The fact she doesn’t breathe or blink. The burning quality to her eyes, which blaze red when her fury is sufficiently stoked. The fact something about her face just feels off, like a mask. Rumor among the Kindred holds she enlisted a night doctor’s services to look as attractive as she does.
But the biggest giveaway is the fact she looks like she hasn’t smiled in hundreds of years.
Appearances aren’t always deceiving.
Like many Tremere, Elsbeth cares little for fashion. She favors black and dark gray businesswear in severe, no-sensense styles. She sometimes wears conservative gowns in the same colors to Elysium. Some of these are recent, while others went out of style decades ago. In colder weather, she prefers heavy coats from the ’40s and ’50s. She lets her ghouls pick out her fashions and punishes them for bringing her ones not to her taste.
Name: Elsbeth von Steinhäuser
Nationality: Elsbeth was a subject of the Holy Roman Empire in her mortal life, which was notoriously fragmented and decentralized. She identifies as a German national.
Date of Birth: Early 17th century (Bavaria, Holy Roman Empire)
Date of Embrace: Mid-17th century (Bavaria, Holy Roman Empire)
Apparent Age: Mid-30s
Real Age: Approx. 400
Eye Color: Blue
Hair Color: Black
“First came the Greycoats to eat all my swine,
Next came the Bluecoats to make my sons fight,
Next came the Greencoats to make my wife whore,
Next came the Browncoats to burn down my home.
I have naught but my life, now come the Blackcoats to rob me of that.”
Anonymous Poem from the Thirty Years War
The Thirty Years’ War raised an entire generation in hardship and violence. The World Wars of the 20th century may have claimed more total lives, but no other European conflict was as bloody in relative terms—more than one-third of the population of present-day Germany died from starvation and disease over three decades of constant warfare. Gunpowder had made the mounted knight obsolete, and feudalism was in its death knells as monarchs consolidated power into unified nation-states, but the modern model of professional standing militaries did not exist yet: many rulers relied on mercenary bands who lived off the land and whose loyalties were notoriously fickle.
Elsbeth von Steinhäuser (possibly not the name of her birth) was the wife of a minor burgrave in Bavaria. She was not an old woman, but years of ceaseless war left her aged and bitter before her time. Her husband’s lands were ravaged, her sons lay dead, and the fates of her daughters married to neighboring lords were little kinder. Seemingly every day brought more news of friends and kin who’d lost their lives to the endless fighting.
When a roving band of mercenaries turned highwaymen (little distinction often existed between the two) demanded payment or they’d burn and loot Elsbeth’s town, the burgravine and her husband scraped together what little they had left, only for the plunder-hungry soldiers to burn and loot the town anyway. Their captain gutted Elsbeth’s husband and turned her over to his men. She lay still beneath each one and waited. When the captain finally returned to slake his lusts, drunk off the wine from the burgrave’s cellars, Elsbeth clawed his eyes out with her nails. She spat and frothed deliriously as his soldiers drove steel into her, screaming curses upon them all. She wasn’t afraid to die. They’d taken everything she had left: her life held no remaining purpose.
The Cainite accompanying the mercenary band agreed.
The newly-Embraced childe had nothing left but anger. The captain was the first vessel to slake her thirst, as he was little use to her sire without his eyes. The soldiers who’d satisfied their hunger for flesh upon Elsbeth soon satisfied her hunger for blood: she fed well during those first few nights. Her sire tutored her in their clan’s thaumaturgic arts and explained the nocturnal world she had been inducted into.
War had also consumed Kindred society. The Camarilla was just shy of two centuries old and still a new organization in the eyes of its ruling elders. The Thirty Years’ War was the most trying crisis the “nascent” sect had faced since the Inquisition and Anarch Revolt. For every one of the countless mortal factions involved in the fighting, there was a Kindred patron or puppet-master behind them. The Habsburgs; the Bohemians; the French; the Danish; the Dutch; the Scandinavians; the Spanish; the many German states; them and so many others were all pawns upon the chessboard of Europe’s Cainites. Camarilla princes, some nursing grudges back to the time of Charlemagne, used the war to strike against their rivals. The Lancea et Sanctum, alarmed by the centuries-long collapse of the Catholic Church’s spiritual authority, sought a religious war to end all wars. The Sabbat saw a chance to strike against the Antediluvians’ hated pawns while they fought each other. Anarchs oppressed since the Convention of Thorns saw a chance to rise up against hated elders and oppressors. The Ordo Dracul, almost as “young” as the Camarilla and newly waxing in power, saw a chance to flex its muscles upon the international stage. The Circle of the Crone, tired of Invictus and Sanctified dominance of the Camarilla, seized the opportunity to claim more power for themselves. House and Clan Tremere, given their headquarters in Vienna and proximity to the unraveling Holy Roman Empire, could not help but be drawn in: Vienna would face two sieges by the Bohemian and Swedish armies over the course of the war. It was a time of dizzying move and countermove in the Jyhad, all playing out over Germany’s ravaged corpse. How the Camarilla responded to this crisis would determine the sect’s direction for centuries to come—or spell its doom.
Elsbeth’s purpose was to be a weapon for the Camarilla. Her sire’s harsh tutelage was made harsher still by the brutalities of war. Elsbeth accompanied mercenary bands much like the one that had destroyed her home, slaying whatever enemies her superiors ordered slain. Allegiances changed seemingly overnight as tonight’s allies became tomorrow’s foes. Bonds of loyalty meant little and Elsbeth’s already hardened heart grew harder still. Years passed and the neonate knew no existence but ceaseless war.
The 1634 Peace of Westphalia changed less than its signatories hoped: it was less a peace treaty than a mutual acknowledgement that all sides were too exhausted to continue fighting.
Peace, however, ill-agreed with the battle-hardened neonate. Elsbeth soon became notorious for slaying her rivals (and those who simply drew her wrath) in certamen, Clan Tremere’s tradition of arcane duels. Rather than discipline her, Elsbeth’s superiors found it convenient to transfer her to more conflict-prone regions. There was always another war going on somewhere else, and at least that way her destructive appetites could be of use to the clan.
Time did little to temper Elsbeth’s bloodlust and less to temper her ambition. Eventually, she tired of subservience and sought advancement in the Pyramid through the only means she knew: violence. She set her eyes upon a moderately prosperous chantry and slew its regent in certamen. When two apprentices objected to the newcomer’s abrupt seizure of power, she slew them too. When disputes arose with neighboring regents and Elsbeth slew them next, her superiors began thinking of ways to rid themselves of her.
The New World
Elsbeth’s childe Magdalena Schönborn was another war widow she had Embraced during the War of Austrian Succession and the regent of a minor chantry in France’s Louisiana colony. Dubious providence struck when Magdalena was slain during the 1811 German coast uprising. Elsbeth made inquiries of the city’s Ventrue prince, a former archon she knew in passing from their shared service during the Thirty Years’ War. When Augusto Vidal wrote back that a local Kindred named Baron Cimitière was behind the uprising, Steinhäuser found a target for her vengeance. Her superiors saw a way to rid themselves of a troublesome regent at no cost to the clan. She departed for Louisiana with their blessing.
The War of 1812 still raged when Steinhäuser’s ship reached the New World. Vidal welcomed to the battle-hardened ancilla’s assistance against du Valle’s Kindred “rebels.” Steinhäuser helped slay them to maintain the prince’s favor, but her true interest lay in her childe’s killer. She sought out the Baron, confident he could not withstand her.
She was wrong.
Steinhäuser has not spoken of what happened during their duel. All that’s known is she lost. The Baron, however, professed uninvolvement in Magdalena’s final death and spared Steinhäuser’s unlife. It was a different time, for the Baron still sought coexistence with Vidal and hoped that sparing one of the prince’s allies would signal his peaceful intentions. Now, of course, he knows far better—and likely regrets not destroying Steinhäuser when he had the chance.
The Samedi’s mercy proved equally unable to quench Steinhäuser’s hunger for vengeance. For the first time in her Requiem, however, Elsbeth found herself forced to employ subtlety. The Baron’s power base lay among his mortal flock, which was composed almost exclusively of slaves, so Steinhäuser sought power over those who held power over them: slave traders. The Atlantic trade was outlawed in 1808, but New Orleans was still the largest city in the South and its position at the mouth of the Mississippi river trade made it the slave capital of the Union. Auctions were held every Saturday and drew large crowds of onlookers beneath the rotundas of the city’s luxury hotels.
Elsbeth arranged the deaths of whatever slaves deemed most useful to the Baron, purchasing many of them first so as not to turn the slavers against her. She filled the heads of other slaves with implanted commands to turn against the Kindred in their midst. After Elsbeth’s efforts slew several of the Baron’s ghouls, he convinced the city’s other elders that this Tremere newcomer was attempting to seize control of their herds. Many slave-holding Kindred fed on their property. In short order, Elsbeth found herself deprived of her mortal pawns and her own ghouls slain in grisly warnings. Elsbeth seethed, but approached Vidal and discretely assisted his efforts to persecute the slaves’ religion. The Tremere regent was starting to learn patience.
The end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery erased Elsbeth’s fortunes overnight and left her embarrassingly impoverished for a Kindred of her years. Many of the city’s ruling elders were left in little better straits. The Baron’s influence, meanwhile, waxed with the integration of free blacks into positions of civic leadership. Elsbeth supported the Ku Klux Klan to hurt the Baron’s pawns, and in later years claimed to have done so to hurt him rather than out of genuine racial prejudice.
When Reconstruction ended, Elsbeth counseled the prince to use his restored influence over the city government to launch a new wave of anti-Vodouisant crackdowns. Most Kindred suspect he would have done so anyway. The Baron, whose enmity against Vidal was forever sealed by that act, still blames them both.
For all of Elsbeth’s hatred for the Baron, she still had other pursuits in her Requiem. For decades, Tremere throughout the American South had answered to Ignatius: an exile from Europe and perhaps the mightiest of the Southron Lords. Elsbeth had grudgingly accepted Ignatius as too strong to challenge directly, even after Vienna declared him a renegade for his opposition to Justicar Baylor’s activities during the Civil War.
War brought many opportunities after Tremere throughout the South were destroyed, displaced, or went missing. Ignatius numbered among those last warlocks: he was never seen again after the Burning of Atlanta. Following Lee’s surrender, a great re-shuffling of domains left many vacancies in the Pyramid.
Several regents maneuvered to replace Ignatius. Perhaps they expected intrigue. Elsbeth simply traveled to their chantries and slew them until her surviving rivals backed down. Pontifex Theroux duly appointed Elsbeth as high regent of the newly-reorganized realm of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. He then told her that if she slew any neighboring peers without his sanction, for he was not ignorant of her past in Europe, he would slay her. There was now little higher Elsbeth could climb in the Pyramid through violence—though many suspect she has long plotted the pontifex’s final death.
Such plans were interrupted, or perhaps indirectly furthered, when the Texas oil boom transformed Elsbeth’s largely backwater realm overnight into an extremely prosperous one. When her childe Reuben Berkemeyer became de facto prince of Fort Worth (she remains sore that he does not claim the formal title), Elsbeth found herself occupied by a great many new responsibilities. As New Orleans’ population and economic relevance declined through the 20th century, she faced repeated entreaties to relocate her realm’s seat to Texas.
Elsbeth still appears more concerned with New Orleans, however. She claims the city’s occult significance is vastly more consequential than any Texan city’s economic output. Some Tremere wonder how much of that is her grudge is talking. Still, Elsbeth oversees an important realm, and she is periodically away from the Crescent City to attend to affairs in Texas. Her obligations as primogen and her endless plotting to lay low the Baron leave little time for local clan affairs, and her childe Erwin Bornemann enjoys more latitude than is typical for a regent who shares their chantry with a superior. Bornemann himself is an amiable regent who prefers carrots to sticks. Most Tremere learn that taking problems before him is wiser than attracting the potentially fatal attentions of his short-tempered sire.
Hurricane Katrina gave Steinhäuser some of the most satisfying nights of her recent unlife. She refused to leave the city during the storm, boasting that Clan Tremere’s strength and unity could withstand any disaster. War and hardship were not new to her. Steinhäuser is thought to have personally slain several of the Baron’s since-vanished followers during the chaos. Everyone knows how much the high regent loves getting her hands dirty.
One of the most persistent rumors to emerge from the storm claims Steinhäuser slew the Baron, and was the entire reason he disappeared until the city’s next hurricane. Kindred aware of Steinhäuser’s previous defeat at the Samedi elder’s hands (bringing it up is one of the surest ways to rouse her ire) grant that it’s possible. That long-ago duel was almost half her Requiem ago. Then again, the Baron has had two centuries to grow in strength as well. Some Kindred who scoff at the idea he returned from final death, yet who wish to support the Tremere party line, hold that Elsbeth torpored the Baron in a second duel. The high regent has neither confirmed nor denied such rumors. Perhaps she’d consider it sloppy work not to have finished the job.
And if she did finally destroy him, does that say more about her power or his that he still came back?
Since the Storm
Elsbeth relocated her realm’s seat to Fort Worth in Katrina’s aftermath. Following the Baron’s 2008 return in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, Elsbeth moved back to the Crescent City. She’s feuded with the Crones in between periodic trips back to Fort Worth ever since.
Elsbeth holds domain over the Tremere chantry just north of the Garden District. She has hunting rights along Magazine Street, though few Kindred ever see her hunting—she seems to prefer leaving ghouls and subordinates to do that for her.
In Fort Worth, as the sire of the de facto prince, Elsbeth holds domain more or less wherever she pleases.
Elsbeth holds few mortal pawns herself in New Orleans and prefers to operate through her subordinates. She has, however, cultivated influence over the local Amtrak given the frequency of her trips between the Big Easy and the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. (Rail travel remains one of the preferred modes of travel by elders, who often dislike flying.) She’s been known to exercise it on behalf of other Kindred and set them up with secure private cars in return for favors.
In Fort Worth, Elsbeth controls at least one major oil corporation and derives much of her wealth from it. Her nights of relative poverty for an elder are well and truly behind her. Although petroleum is a major industry in New Orleans, she hasn’t tried to get in on the market there. There’s too much competition and it’s not her driving interest in the city.
Elsbeth has sat on the city’s Cabildo for many years and is its senior-most member after Pearl Chastain. In the larger Camarilla, she is an elder of high standing and the sire of a prince. Among her clan, she is high regent of the tri-state area and widely feared for her violent temper and history of destroying those who incur her wrath. (Cabildo Status ••••, Camarilla Status ••••, Tremere Status ••••)
• 3. Tremere (e. 11th century)
• 4. Etrius (e. 11th century)
Lotharius (e. 11th century, d. early 16th century)
• 6. Karl Schrekt (e. 13th century)
• 7. Elsbeth von Steinhäuser (e. mid 17th century)
Magdalena Schönborn (e. mid 18th century, d. early 19th century)
• 9. Abigail Wood (e. late 18th century)
• 10+. (Abigail’s descendants) (e. varies)
• 8. Reuben Berkemeyer (e. early 19th century)
• 9+. (Reuben’s descendants) (e. varies)
• 8. Erwin Bornemann (e. mid 19th century)
Julien Derneville (e. early 20th century, d. 2015)
• 9. Peter Lebeaux (e. early 21st century)
Elsbeth is believed to be the childe of Karl Schrekt, a former mortal demon hunter and one of the longest-serving justicars for his clan. All manner of incredible rumors surround Schrekt from having diablerized Lupines to meeting Caine himself. True or not, the retired justicar is one of the most feared Kindred in his clan, and sat on the Justicarate during a number of turbulent periods including the Napoleonic Wars and World War II. Schrekt is childe to Lotharius, the prince of Vienna during the Middle Ages, a former member of the Council of Seven, and one of the first Tremere Embraced into the clan outside of the founder and his original seven followers. His rule laid much of the groundwork that enabled Vienna to become the bastion of Tremere strength it is tonight. He was slain by the future Banu Haqim caliph Thetmes during the 1529 Ottoman siege of Vienna. Lotharius was childe to Etrius, the councilor of Eastern Europe, first among equals on the Council of Seven due to his long association with the clan’s near-mythical founder, and one of the driving forces behind Clan Tremere’s rise from a band of mortal magi to the pillar of the Camarilla they are tonight. Etrius is the nominal childe of Tremere.
Elsbeth’s eldest childe Magdalena Schönborn was regent of the now-defunct Louisiana Chantry until her destruction in 1811. Elsbeth’s middle childe Reuben Berkemeyer is the prince of Fort Worth in all but name; Elsbeth remains disappointed he does not rule openly in his own right. Her youngest childe Erwin Bornemann is the regent of the New Orleans chantry and clan whip.