Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
“And he shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm…”
Isaiah 9:20, King James Bible
There is one thing that elder Kindred dread even more than fire or the light of the sun. This is the sin known as diablerie, or the amaranth. Among Camarilla society, diablerie is the ultimate crime; those who practice it are subject to the harshest punishments imaginable. It is as loathed and feared as cannibalism is among mortal society. The vampires of the Sabbat, as well as the warriors of the Banu Haqim, are said to indulge in diablerie freely, which is yet another reason why the elders hate them so.
Quite simply, diablerie is the act of feeding on a vampire in the way that a vampire feeds on a mortal. In so doing, not only does the murderer consume the victim’s blood (and vampire blood is far, far sweeter than even the tastiest mortal’s), but the victim’s power as well. By stealing the life of a vampire closer to Caine, the vampire can permanently enrich their own vitae. In this manner can even the youngest vampire can gain the power of the elders, should they have the strength and daring to wrest it from them.
Elders know the crime as the amaranth; in olden nights, it is said, an amaranth flower was presented to the victim a week before they were to be hunted. Kindred legend tells many dark tales of murderous childer betraying and cannibalizing their own sires, and it is for this reason more than any other that elder Kindred harbor such distrust for the neonates among them. Indeed, the great Jyhad itself may well have its roots in this eternal and savage struggle for ultimate power.
Knowing About Diablerie
The best defense elders have against diablerie is ignorance.
Most Camarilla sires do not tell their childer about the amaranth. Their sires probably told them nothing about it either. Indeed, there are many vampires in the Camarilla who do not even know that it is possible for one vampire to consume the blood and soul of another. That’s exactly how the elders prefer it.
Simply put, they do not want their childer to develop a taste for the practice. They might come after their sires next. Even if the sire-childe relationship is amicable, the amaranth is incredibly addictive, and addicts will do anything to get their next score. Worse yet, if one neonate knows about diablerie, they might tell other neonates about it. Elders remember the Anarch Revolt. They remember the wave of diablerie-fueled patricides as childe rose up against sire. They know it could happen again. Far better not to let the whelps even know the amaranth exists.
Bringing up diablerie is an exceedingly foolish thing for younger Kindred to do around their elders. At best, they can likely expect to face increased scrutiny and suspicion. At worst, their elders may view them as threats and take steps to eliminate them.
Misconceptions about Diablerie
Try as they might, though, elders can’t suppress knowledge of the amaranth completely. It is too big a secret of too much interest to too many vampires. A neonate’s sire might never tell them about diablerie, but they can still learn about it from any number of sources from vice-dealing Setites to elder-hating Anarch gangs.
Getting information “off the street” can be misleading or even dangerous, though. Diablerie is like any other street rumor: information gets passed from source to source, and whether out of ignorance or ulterior motive, crucial facts can get left out and misinformation slipped in. Neonates who’ve heard about diablerie from less than reliable sources may harbor any number of misconceptions about the amaranth. Some of these might be…
• It’s only possible to diablerize your sire. You can only do it once.
• Actually, it’s only possible to diablerize members of your clan. The blood has to “match.”
• You can only commit diablerie as part of a ritual performed by the Tremere. Best go to the warlocks for help.
• Only thin-bloods can commit diablerie to become true vampires. It does nothing for everyone else.
• Only Kindred of X clan can do it; the Gangrel because they’re savages, the Toreador because they’re gluttonous hedonists, the Ventrue because it’s their sovereign right, take your pick of reason.
• You can only perform diablerie “when the stars at right,” at a certain place or time.
• If you ever perform diablerie, your sire will know. They can feel it through their blood. Best not to tempt fate.
• Kindred with Auspex can recognize a diablerist on the spot. Even if you did the deed a thousand years ago. Sure, you can do it, but it’s another thing to get away with it.
The potential lies are endless, but many will be aimed at making would-be diablerists dependent upon someone else or discouraging them from attempting diablerie outside of circumstances another vampire can’t predict or control.
Elders lie to their childer about diablerie less often than one might think, as most elders would rather not tell neonates about the amaranth at all. The neonate might seek information from other sources. Simple addiction might drive them to attempt more diablerie anyway. It’s harder to stuff the genie back in the bottle than it is to never let him out.
Performing the Deed
So the neonate know about diablerie, even if they believe they can only perform it upon their sire or some other lie. But do they actually know how to do the deed?
Contrary to what some neonates might think, performing diablerie isn’t instinctive. There is no physical transfer of fluids involved. To an ignorant vampire, it makes no more sense to “keep going” once the vessel is empty than it makes sense for a human to keep eating off an empty plate. Doing so takes a deliberate act of will that goes against common sense.
One of the most common misconceptions about diablerie, then, is that draining the victim of their physical blood volume (usually followed by destroying them) is enough. It isn’t, of course, but more than one neonate has performed an “abortive diablerie” in this fashion. The experience feels good for them, like drinking a large amount of blood always does, but no more so than usual. Indeed, some Kindred who’ve performed “abortive diableries” believe the amaranth to be nothing more than a hoax or urban legend.
PCs and Diablerie
For PCs to know about diablerie, it must make sense for their background. This typically requires dots in Occult and/or dealings with knowledgeable Kindred plausibly willing to share their knowledge with the character. It’s well and good for a Tremere savant to have Occult ••••, but if they’ve learned everything they know from their sire and the chantry library, it’s entirely possible they’re ignorant of diablerie. Contrariwise, an Occult • Brujah who spends their time with other elder-hating discontents may have picked up street rumors about the ultimate way to fuck over Camarilla bigwigs.
On a meta-level, of course, if a PC’s player wants them to commit diablerie, then “Your character doesn’t know about it, so you can’t,” is something of a non-starter. The GM should provide an avenue for even Occult 0 PCs to learn about the amaranth if the player is seriously interested in it.
But the knowledge shouldn’t be free. Knowledge is power and power has a price. As a general guideline, sharing limited knowledge about diablerie (“You can only perform it upon your sire,” “You need help from the Tremere,” “Anyone with Auspex can find out,” etc.) is worth a single Debt. Sharing the full truth is worth potentially multiple Debts.
One persistent rumor holds that the Camarilla rewards useful thin-bloods by allowing them to diablerize condemned criminals, thereby achieving full-blooded status. This also happens less often than one might think. A thin-blood who’s only committed diablerie once will still be fairly high-generation: they still have a lot to gain from doing so again. Worse, they might share the knowledge with fellow thin-bloods tired of being third-class citizens.
While some thin-bloods may have been “elevated” in this way, for most Camarilla elders, the question boils down to: will a thin-blood be useful enough as a true-blooded vampire to be worth the risks of them developing a taste for diablerie, or introducing other whelps to the practice? Most of the time, the answer is no. Elders are conservative, long-lived, and patient creatures. Chances are, they can probably find another pawn who will serve just as well.
Thin-bloods absolutely perform diablerie to escape their wretched state, however. They’re just more likely to learn about the amaranth from other sources. In fact, this is one of the reasons Camarilla cities brand their thin-blooded population: if a true-blooded vampire shows up one night bearing a crescent mark, well, their crime speaks for itself.
Outside the Camarilla
Outside of the Ivory Tower, Kindred from independent clans are more likely to know diablerie exists. The Setites know all manner of forbidden temptations, while the Ravnos are no stronger to criminalized vices, and of the Hecata, diablerie has written the clan’s history.
Knowledge of the amaranth is only close to universal, though, among the Banu Haqim and the Sabbat. The former clan directs its neonates’ energies outwards, openly encouraging them to consume the souls of Khayven’s corrupt get (ever since the Tremere curse was shattered in 2003), while the Sabbat freely cannibalizes its enemies and its own members with equal impunity. It is these groups’ open embrace of diablerie that makes them so feared by the Camarilla.
To begin with, the would-be diablerist must generally immobilize their target. (Voluntary sacrifice to diablerie is rare, but not unknown in the twisted opera that is the Jyhad.) Heavy chains, a stake, torpor, or many partners holding the victim down have all worked in the past. Then, the diablerist must drink all of the victim’s blood, a feeding similar to most others except, given the viscosity of vitae, it usually requires an entire scene to accomplish fully. Partners may help consume the victim’s blood, but only one drinker can attempt to gain the victim’s power in full diablerie. a pack of neonates cannot swarm around an elder like hungry sharks, no matter how potent the victim’s blood.
After draining the target’s vitae, the would-be diablerist can commit the final blasphemy: the true diablerie. The vampire must continue to suck the dry corpse, for (according to legend) the very soul is withdrawn from the victim’s body and taken into the diablerist’s. The effort involved in diablerie is monumental, for the vampiric soul is a greedy thing and clings tenaciously to unlife, hoping to regenerate its body and rise once again. This takes the better part of a scene, during which time the diablerist takes Disadvantage on all dice rolls, for total concentration goes into the struggle to draw forth the victim’s essence. If the diablerie is interrupted, the victim must make a Resolve + Composure roll (DC 7). On a setback, the victim gains one Corruption and an insanity-related Flaw. The experience of having one’s soul nearly devoured is incredibly traumatic, and it is not unheard of for some near-victims of diablerie to still go mad and lose themselves to their Beasts.
Once the diablerie is complete, the victim’s essence is taken into the diablerist and the emptied body crumbles into ash. The diablerist is overwhelmed by euphoria and must make a Resolve + Composure roll (DC 4 + victim’s Blood Potency – diablerist’s Blood Potency; minimum DC 2) to avoid frenzying. The sensation is akin to orgasm, but so much more powerful.
The Rewards of Diablerie
• Generation: If the victim is of lower generation than the diablerist, add the victim’s generation to the diablerist’s and divide by two, rounding up. The result is the diablerist’s new generation. This is the most coveted reward of the amaranth, for the diablerist can shatter the “glass ceiling” imposed by their sire’s blood and bring themselves closer to the mythical power of Caine. The amaranth tempts all vampires, but it is most irresistible to weaker-blooded ones who cannot grow more powerful with the passing of years.
• Blood Potency: If the victim had higher Blood Potency than the diablerist, add the victim’s Blood Potency to the diablerist’s and divide by two, rounding up. The result is the diablerist’s new Blood Potency.
• Increased Traits: The diablerist gains a number of dots equal to (3 + victim’s Blood Potency – diablerist’s original Blood Potency) in new Disciplines, Devotions, Attributes, Skills, or Merits. The diablerist can’t gain a higher dot rating in any trait than the victim possessed. The diablerist ignores normal learning times and instantly absorbs the victim’s memories and experiences, with the exception of Blood Sorcery, which still requires instruction for vampires it’s not in-clan for. The GM will usually let players pick what traits they gain, but may mandate or preclude some choices.
• Elder Diablerie: The diablerie of especially strong-blooded vampires by weaker-blooded vampires may have more potent rewards (and drawbacks) than those listed above. Such things are poorly understand by most Kindred, and exact mechanics will remain opaque to PCs outside of play.
The Perils of Diablerie
Committing diablerie seems like the perfect crime to many power-hungry neonates. There is no body left when the deed is done, as vampiric corpses immediately disintegrate into clumps of ash. Without solid evidence, it’s difficult for even the most despotic prince to make an outright accusation of murder. But those who commit the atrocity soon learn that diablerists wear the evidence of their crime on their very souls.
• Addiction: Amaranth is sweet beyond all other pleasures—so sweet that perpetrators can easily become addicted to the sensation. The diablerist must make a Resolve + Composure roll (DC = victim’s Blood Potency – diablerist’s Blood Potency before the diablerie + 4) to avoid gaining the Addicted (diablerie) Flaw. All Kindred fear these vampires, known as “rogues”, for their addiction to the pleasures of amaranth makes them a threat to everyone. Even vampires too weak to provide additional power are devoured for the simple pleasure of the act.
• Corruption: Diablerie is worse than murder: the amaranth allegedly absorbs the victim’s soul, destroying any chance of the victim finding peace in the afterlife. Even if the perpetrator does not believe in such things, the victim suffers unspeakable agony in the moments before their final death. Diablerie is Dark Deed at Corruption 6: few atrocities are more terrible than the amaranth. Aiding the act is a Corruption 5 Dark Deed. Even non-involved witnesses must roll to resist incurring Stains for a Corruption 4 Dark Deed.
• Social Stigma: Such is the horror of diablerie that, according to many elders, even a blood hunt is no grounds for its practice. Hunters may drink a victim’s blood, even to the last drop, but may not continue the process of diablerie once the victim is drained. Indeed, by decree of the Inner Circle, only a sire is permitted to diablerize their childe, and then only during a blood hunt. In practice, many younger Kindred take the opportunity of blood hunt’s chaos for kinslaying, and princes often look the other way if the criminal was heinous enough. A few particularly cruel or traditionalist princes actually consider it the right of hunters to devour the criminal’s soul, under the rationale that a blood hunt negates a vampire’s very existence and no longer makes them Kindred.
• Stained Aura: Vampires with the Auspex Discipline can detect a diablerist by using Read Thoughts and certain other Devotions. The stolen energies of the victim mingle with the energies of the diablerist, leaving thick black marks running across the diablerist’s psychic aura. These marks stand as clearly as motor oil on a crystal-clear pond, covering the softer colors of the victim’s own aura and betraying the crime beyond question. These marks remain in evidence for a number of nights equal to the victim’s Blood Potency.
Not all vampires know of diablerie or the stains it leaves behind. Many younger Kindred might simply question the odd discoloration on the vampire’s aura. Most elder vampires understand what the stains mean, though, and could well call for the diablerist’s immediate punishment or use the information as blackmail at a later date. For this reason, many diablerists go into seclusion and attempt to limit their contact with other Kindred until the stains on their aura can fade. Practitioners of thaumaturgy, however, are rumored to have rituals that can detect the diablerist’s sin long after the crime was committed. For that reason, and for many others, practitioners of the amaranth fear the Tremere. Other powers can also potentially detect diablerie with the same ease or difficulty they might detect other dark secrets.
Diablerie does not have to be limited to one diablerist. A pack of neonates can swarm an elder like hungry sharks and rip the victim’s soul to pieces between themselves. This process is thought to be even more painful and traumatic for the victim, but there aren’t many survivors of attempted mass diableries who can attest.
If multiple vampires participate in a diablerie, they all gain the benefits and drawbacks as normal. For every diablerist beyond the first, treat the victim’s generation as one higher and their Blood Potency as one dot lower (this also means the diablerists each gain fewer trait increases). If there are enough diablerists to treat the victim’s Blood Potency as 0, the GM may call for Strength + Brawl or Resolve + Blood Potency rolls to determine which diablerists consume the victim’s soul and which ones get left out. The GM can also call for these rolls if some or all diablerists don’t want to share with others.