Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
“I was never insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.”
—Edgar Allen Poe
“Take some of my blood, into the bowl you have, and mix in these berries and these herbs, and drink deep of the elixir.
You will be irresistible.
You will be potent.
You will be masterful.
You will be ardent.
You will be glowing.
The heart of Zillah will melt like the snows in spring.”
—The Book of Nod, Zillah’s Tale
“Can you imagine that, by the way? Being forced to love someone, forever? Knowing that the love you have for them—which is so strong you’ll kill or die for this person—is a lie, a damnably induced lie? Hating them and loving them all the same time, and not being able to do a damned thing about it?”
One of the most wondrous and terrible properties of Kindred vitae is its ability to enslave nearly any being who drinks of it three times. Each sip of a particular Kindred’s blood gives the Kindred in question a greater emotional hold over the drinker. If someone drinks three times, on three separate nights, from the same Kindred, they fall victim to a state known as the blood bond. A vampire who holds a blood bond over another being is said to be that victim’s regnant, while the being subordinate to the bond is called the thrall.
Put simply, the blood bond is one of the most potent emotional sensations known. A blood-bound victim is absolutely devoted to their regnant and will do nearly anything for them. Even the most potent uses of Dominate cannot overcome the thrall’s feelings for their regnant; only true love stands a chance against the bond, and even that is not a sure thing.
The blood bond is most commonly used to ensnare mortals and ghouls, but Kindred can bind each other as well. Such is the blood bond’s power that a mighty elder can be bound to a lowly neonate; in this respect, the blood of a thirteenth-generation fledgling is (presumably) as strong as that of Caine himself. As such, the blood bond forms an essential strategy in the Jyhad; some ancients are said to hold dozens of influential Kindred in secret thrall.
Vampire the Masquerade (V20) Says: The drinker begins to experience intermittent but strong feelings about the vampire. They may dream of their regnant, or find themselves “coincidentally” frequenting places where their regnant might show up. The drinker wants to be close to the vampire and desires their approval.
Vampire the Requiem (2nd Edition) Says: Have you ever felt a crush, that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling, but for someone you know you shouldn’t want to have anything to do with? Have you ever kissed someone, and loved it at the time, then regretted it later, only to know you were going to do it again and love it just as much? That’s what the first stage of the bond feels like. It’s not love. It couldn’t convince anyone but maybe an inexperienced teen that they’re in love. But it pulls you and makes you want. It makes you want to be close to your regnant. It makes you want their approval.
A Fan Site Says: A first-stage bond inspires friendliness. The victim will look upon you favorably and hear what you have to say. They want to hang out in the future but they’re not going to go out of their way for you. If you act creepy, a first-stage bond is not going to compel someone to get into your car.
Another Fan Site Says: Imagine you are a vampire. All you know is death and cruelty and paranoia. Then along comes this person. This person is another vampire. They take you, feed you, and at the first drink of precious liquid, something happens that you’ve never felt before. All of a sudden there is a spark of warmth in your miserable and tragic existence. It is like a sheer comfy haze that starts to envelop you and makes you feel safe. You feel that pull of the comfy place.
Vampire the Masquerade (V20) Says: The drinker’s feelings grow strong enough to influence their behavior. Though they are by no means enslaved yet, the vampire definitely an important figure in their life. The drinker may act as they please, but might feel the bond’s pull when they attempt to take actions directly harmful to the vampire. The vampire’s influence is such that they can persuade or command the drinker with little effort.
Vampire the Requiem (2nd Edition) Says: Have you ever felt complete and utter tension when simply thinking about someone? Have you ever made a stupid excuse to run off and touch yourself to get rid of that tension? Have you ever blushed when someone’s name came up, then lashed out when someone accused you of having feelings for them? This is what the second stage of the bond feels like. It’s easy to confuse for love. It’s a strong, pervasive affection that makes you vulnerable, and keeps you persistently wanting more.
A Fan Site Says: A second-stage bond inspires strong positive feelings. The victim would want to date you if it were an option. They’re happy to accept moderate inconveniences for your benefit, and larger inconveniences with some persuasion. They still have their own life and responsibilities and they won’t drop everything for you. They think of you often and look forward to seeing you.
Another Fan Site Says: On the second drink you feel it again. Only the comfy place is more comfy and you start to feel the draw to it. It is a safe place—a place to forget all your problems. And this wonderful person is offering it to you.
Vampire the Masquerade (V20) Says: Full-scale blood bond. At this level, the drinker is more or less completely bound to the vampire. They are the most important person in the drinker’s life; lovers, relatives, and even children become secondary to the drinker’s all-consuming passion.
The blood bond is true love, albeit a twisted and perverse version of it. Ultimately, we can’t reduce the vagaries of love down to a simple “yes/no” system. Some thralls (particularly people with Conformist or other dependent Natures, or with low Resolve) will commit any act, including suicide or murder, for their beloved; other characters have certain core principles that they will not violate.
Vampire the Requiem (2nd Edition) Says: Has someone’s name alone make you bite your lower lip in anticipation? Has it ever aroused you to imagine their reaction to something you’ve done? Have you ever sabotaged something that could have been special, for fear of its intrusion between you and them? Has your brain gone wild, imagining the worst possible scenario when they meet someone new? Have you ever thought to intervene in order to protect what you have? Have you ever tried to agitate them, because their irritation is better than their neglect? This is the feeling of a full blood bond. It’s nothing short of infatuation. It’s a tantalizing, forceful affection that always eats at the back of your mind.
A Fan Site Says: A third-stage bond inspires obsession. The victim has great difficulty not thinking about you. They will take enormous risks to make you happy. If shunned, they will likely have an extreme reaction ranging from despondency to violence. Long-standing third-stage bonds in negative relationships can result in the victim’s suicide and/or the final death of their regnant.
Another Fan Site Says: On the third drink, you are completely enveloped in the comfy haze. You are safe. This wonderful person has come into your life and made all the pain go away. They gave you a place to feel protected and not alone. This person makes sure that you are always warm and cozy. Every time you drink from them, the haze further sucks you in, making you warmer and cozier.
When you feel the cozy place may be taken away, it becomes cold and painful. The haze starts to part and you can see a little bit outside, but not much. You start to think maybe this might not be a cozy place after all and maybe you should try to get out.
Then the wonderful person comes back and shows you the cozy place again and you feel warm and safe again. So you drink again, knowing that it is probably a bad thing. You hate yourself for doing it, but it is just too warm and cozy to resist. At this point you are sucked into a downward spiral and each time you climb a few stairs along the spiral, the light at the top of the stairs gets smaller and smaller until you just can’t see it anymore. At this point you are so deep into the cozy place, that nothing else matters.
A full blood bond, once formed, is nearly inviolate. Once bound, a thrall is under the sway of their regnant and their regnant only. They cannot be bound again by another vampire unless the first blood bond wears away “naturally.” A vampire can experience lesser (one- and two-drink) bonds toward several individuals; indeed, many Kindred enjoy such bonds, as they create artificial passion in their dead hearts. Upon the formation of a full blood bond, though, all lesser sensations are wiped away. Vampire lovers occasionally enter into mutual blood bonds with each other; this is the closest thing many of the undead will feel to true love. Even this sensation can turn to disgust or hate over the centuries, though, and in any event few Kindred trust each other enough to initiate it.
A blood bond is a mighty force, but it is at its most potent when perpetually reinforced with further drinks. Feeding a thrall often reinforces the bond, while depriving a thrall of vitae may cause the bond to grow tepid over time. Like any other relationship, treatment and courtesy play a part in the dynamics of the bond. A thrall who is treated well and fed often will likely fall even more deeply in love, while a thrall who is degraded and humiliated may find resentment and anger eating away at the bond.
Breaking a Blood Bond
A blood bond can be broken, though this requires the thrall to not only avoid the regnant entirely for an extended period of time, but also spend great amounts of willpower to overcome the addiction. A thrall who does so can eventually reduce their blood one’s level by one step, to a minimum of 0. Avoiding any contact with the regnant helps this process. Continuing to drink their blood retards it.
Mistreatment can also weaken a blood bond. If a regnant gives their thrall reason to hate them, that hatred can prove stronger than forced devotion. At the GM’s discretion, exceptionally heinous acts of abuse or betrayal may allow the thrall to reduce the bond’s level by one step. This can potentially cause the thrall to go mad, though, as love, hate and terror simultaneously roil within their heart.
GM’s Note: I err more towards the side of not allowing rolls to break a blood bond than allowing them—Kindred rightly fear how permanent blood bonds are. Something like a regnant murdering their thrall’s friends and loved ones is grounds for a roll to break the bond, but probably not simple physical abuse.
Another, though somewhat less certain, way to be rid of the bond is to kill the regnant. Such a choice is extremely perilous on many levels, and makes no guarantees that everything will go smoothly. Those who have been released by such means claim the bond shatters like spun glass upon the moment of the regnant’s final death. Some thralls are driven to psychotic rage by their regnant’s loss, while others remain in eternal mourning for their lost “loves,” go hopelessly mad, or lose themselves to their Beasts.
Blood also loses its bonding properties after it’s been exposed to the air for more than several seconds. Kindred lovers often take advantage of this fact to practice “safe sex,” although it is less pleasurable than drinking straight from the source. At the GM’s discretion, there may be Resolve + Composure + Blood Potency rolls to avoid doing so (DC = 1 + [1/2 vampire’s Charisma or Manipulation + Persuasion + Blood Potency]). PCs can also roll (Charisma or Manipulation + Persuasion + Blood Potency) against NPCs to get them to ignore their better judgment and practice “unsafe sex.”
Blood Bound NPCs: If an NPC is two steps bound to you, take Advantage on many Social rolls against them, as well as rolls to foil their plots and defeat attempts to harm you. This increases to Major Advantage at 3rd stage. Whenever you catch them harming, plotting against, or failing to prevent harm from befalling you, gain 1 Willpower per bond stage.
Roll (10 or double Blood Potency, whichever is more) dice maintain your bond over an NPC at the end of each story arc or after an atypical act of betrayal or cruelty, DC = (1/2 their Resolve + Composure) + 1. Roll with Disadvantage if you’ve had no contact with the NPC and roll with Advantage if they’ve continued to drink your blood. On a setback, the bond decreases by one step. On a botch, the bond shatters completely. Don’t bother rolling against your ghouls at the end of each story if they’ve continued to drink your blood.
Ghouls: Mortals who drink a vampire’s blood become ghouls. If you don’t control your ghouls through an associated Background (such as Retainer), they are too inept, distant, or disobedient to be useful. Blood bonding other vampires over the course of play doesn’t require an associated Background.
Attitudes Towards the Blood Bond
Most Kindred feel a healthy fear of the blood bond. They know how their kind treats its slaves, and they shudder at the thought of becoming the pawns of one of their fellows.
Princes: In most cities, the prince or other dignitaries use a single drink from their veins as a common punishment for misbehavior. A prince who too often orders other Kindred to submit to their regnancy, though, might provoke a rebellion. The primogen tend to be especially wary of a prince who orders too many of his subjects to submit to full blood bond (especially, ironically, their own childer), although some princes are powerful or foolish enough to disregard these elders’ feelings.
Lovers: Kindred who believe that love can be eternal (if not entirely natural) might drink each other’s blood to form a mutual bond. They also recognize that their mutual bond protects them from ever becoming bound to anyone else: this alone can be powerful incentive to submit their wills to another Kindred they trust.
Such mutually bound Kindred become self-absorbed and hopelessly addicted to one another. To each other, they are everything. It’s the sort of love that almost always ends in tragedy. Kindred call this phenomenon “perversion,” for good reason. In some cities, perversion is illegal. Most couples committing the crime believe they’ll be able to hide it, but the signs are usually obvious. In most cities, it’s derided and chastised. Of course, what petty, self-serving society wouldn’t reject those able to rise above childish bickering in favor of (as the bound lovers see it) eternal companionship and happiness? A couple that doesn’t care about the barbed words of courtiers or the protocols of Elysium is more dangerous to the status quo than even the most radical Anarch.
Coteries: Many Kindred coteries engage in webs of mutual blood bonds with one another. These partial bonds can defuse conflict or mistrust among members (as well as seem less like a punishment if everyone participates), prove as well as secure the loyalty of newly-initiated members, or simply solidify existing fraternal bonds. The method to this is simple: every member takes one two drinks from everyone else, and the coterie grows closer together. Kindred youth have crudely dubbed this practice a “circle jerk.”
Much more rare is that coterie that completely bonds its members to one another. Since thralls can only be under full blood bonds to a single regnant, this requires one Kindred to bond themselves to a second Kindred, who bonds themselves to a third, who bonds themselves to the first (or the fourth, depending on how large the coterie is, who bonds themselves to another, and so on). The amount of trust required to enter into such an arrangement is considerable, and the results are all-too frequently painful for those involved, as they must spend much of their time watching the object of their affections fawn over someone else. Many coteries that attempt this process eventually tear themselves apart out of obsession and petty jealousy.
But the ones that make it work are terrifying forces to reckon with.
The Invictus: The First Estate tolerates the blood bond more than any other covenant does. Its elders see the blood oath as another tool by which they can rule over their juniors. In some cities, elders routinely blood bond their childer and all of their line (a practice that was even more widespread in the Middle Ages). In most cities, however, a sire is wary to do this, for princes do not like Kindred who love their sires more than they fear their rulers. Invictus elders accept such prohibitions because opposing them would turn too many Kindred against the covenant and would too blatantly contradict the covenant’s pretense of meritocracy.
The Other Covenants: The other covenants generally disapprove of blood bond, or at least their members say they do. The Order of the Dragon sees blood bonds as distractions, emotional baggage that diverts attention best focused elsewhere. The Lancea et Sanctum holds that Kindred should serve only God and Longinus. The Anarchs see blood bonds as the acme of elder tyranny, while the unaligned simply loathe submitting to anyone else. The Circle of the Crone merely notes that while Kindred should accept the blood bond as one more aspect of their existence, forcing a Kindred into a blood oath serves no spiritual purpose.
Political or spiritual dogma seldom prevents members of these covenants from blood bonding other Kindred when it suits their purposes.