Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood & Bourbon
“One symptom of the [Embrace] is what they call the Beast. The thing that frenzies, the thing that begs and screams for, demands blood. It’s pure, mindless evil. Without conscience, morality, or rationality."
Louis Fontaine to Caroline Malveaux-Devillers
Trapped within the false civility of the Camarilla and the forced camaraderie of the Sabbat, there is a hidden truth: Vampires are monsters, possessed of an inner Beast. Hunger, fury, and fear can weaken the Man enough that the Beast escapes its cage. Then a vampire becomes a monster and menace to everyone who crosses their path. Older vampires refer to the ensuing savage fits as “succumbing to the Beast Within.” Younger Kindred refer to these outbursts simply as frenzies.
During a frenzy, a vampire gives into their basest instincts. Friends, lovers, family: None of these things matter to a frenzying vampire. Any creature with blood in its veins is either an obstacle or prey. If a frenzying vampire is hungry, they will drain their spouse to death. If the vampire is angry, they will bash their best friend’s skull to a bloody pulp. If the vampire is overcome with fear, they will abandon their own child to certain death in order to get away. A frenzying vampire doesn’t care about the consequences of their actions. They become, in short, the Beast.
Perspectives on Frenzy
There is no manifestation of the vampiric curse more visible, surprising, or traumatic than a frenzy. Losing control of oneself to the Beast’s mindless savagery is a horrifying experience, and all too many Kindred have spilled the blood of innocents and suffered terrible losses as a result. Degeneration and madness go hand-in-hand with frenzy, as even the most moral vampire is forced to confront their own capacity for brutality.
Attempts to understand and explain the phenomenon of frenzy are as common as dirt in the world of Kindred. Everybody seems to have their own pet theory about it, and almost everyone is eager to explain their view to others. The need to rationalize its effect (and, perhaps, to absolve one’s self of responsibility) is strong in vampires, and may form one of the most universal bonds between all vampires, but many find it difficult to find common ground between their suppositions, vehemently disagreeing about the disparities, great or small.
One of the problems reconciling many of the different views arises from the actual character of frenzy. No two vampires behave exactly the same way when they enter frenzy, even if they all evince identical intent. It seems that the basic personality of a vampire is distilled into its most predatory during the loss of control, eliminating the obstruction of higher mental function, but retaining certain traits. Outgoing, physical Kindred may howl with rage and tear mindlessly at their prey, while more withdrawn intellectual types become chillingly silent, moving with horrifying precision. Vampires maintain (or manifest) characteristic quirks in the throes of their outbursts, making it clear that there is something uniquely theirs in the eruption—they aren’t giving themselves over to an alien influence, but rather expressing a part of themselves that is normally hidden.
In the Camarilla, succumbing to frenzy is seen as weakness, a humiliating loss of control. Vampires who frenzy often, and especially in public, run the risk of social rejection or worse. Though many among the Camarilla Kindred are monsters through and through, the laws of the Masquerade and simple civility require that the Beast be kept in check; those who cannot do so are not vampires, but animals, and should be put down for the good of all.
Among the Sabbat, frenzy is seen as a natural urge, like mortals’ needs for food and sex. Sabbat vampires deride the Camarilla’s attitude toward frenzy as that of weak-willed fools who cannot accept their true predatory nature. Accordingly, Sabbat typically seek not to prevent frenzy, but to control it and use it to their advantage.
Types of Frenzies
A frenzy can be induced by many things, but great rage, hunger, or terror are the most common provocations. It is dangerous to deny or humiliate the undead.
“Dark Prophet preserve me, but I have never… never… forgive me, Your Grace. Please allow me a moment to compose myself.”
“It was, as you said, not difficult to provoke the prince’s childe to frenzy. The display of her mortal brother’s corpse was arranged, as Your Grace suggested, and her descent was most shockingly abrupt. I observed from a safe distance as she began to scream, reaching up to tear at her own hair. She walked quickly toward the body, screaming all the while in a most pitiable and unsettling tone, finally reaching it and tearing it from the wall, heedless of the further damage inflicted by pulling him down from the nails. She then proceeded to beat her fists against the wall, breaking through the plaster and appearing to break several of her fingers. One of the neighbors, no doubt stirred to friendly concern by her wailing, stepped through the open door to the apartment, and was rewarded for his sympathy when she leapt upon him."
“She… she tore his heart from his chest with the crooked ruins of her hands and threw it to the floor, showing surprising strength and efficiency. You were quite correct, Your Grace. Even the most disciplined and peaceful fledgling can be driven to acts of shocking brutality with brutal enough encouragement. I have never seen such madness in someone so renowned for elegance and compassion.”
Frustration, irritation, provocation and betrayal can lead to rage frenzy, unleashing the Beast in a burst of uncontrollable violence.
The unchecked rage of the vampire is truly a terrifying sight. No witness, mortal or otherwise, can remain impassive in the presence of Kindred caught in the throes of an anger frenzy.
While the image of the howling vampire snarling and spitting as they tear into their foes may be legendary, it hardly covers the varied displays of aggression demonstrated by the varied Kindred of the world. Some become closed-mouthed and blindly resolute, actually biting into their own tongues or lips in the clenched tension of fury. Some weep tears of blood as they whisper hoarse, repetitive, senseless threats.
Kindred often expend vitae at the start of an anger frenzy (or even before it starts, while they can feel it coming on) to increase their strength or fuel physical Disciplines, and the attendant visuals add to the frightening effect. A vampire’s veins may turn black with blood as they call on their undead strength, moments before they fly into an uncontrollable rage. Another will begin to tremble as the internal battle against the Beast roils within them, then vanish in a Celerity-fueled blur. Those with knowledge of Protean almost always grow claws or exaggerated predatory features as they lose themselves to the fury of frenzy.
Vampires who emerge from rage frenzy most commonly describe their last moments before losing control as a “fade into red,” their senses dimming and narrowing in focus while the feeling of frustration mounts steadily. Some actually claim to go blind or deaf before losing control, adding to their feeling of panic and aggravation. On the other hand, a minority claim that they feel no warning at all—one moment, they encounter a stress, and then the next they are waking as if from a trance, minutes or hours later, the bloody evidence of their outburst scattered all around them.
The anger frenzy takes precedence over all other types, and a vampire can slide without warning from hunger or fear to rage, turning upon others nearby and attacking them with unbidden fury. Only the bravest or most powerful Kindred would dare to interfere with a vampire caught up in hunger frenzy or rötschreck, knowing full well that they may flip into the attack instinct and unleash.
“I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a hundred times. Some young fucker thinks he’s going to hold himself back, keep from hurting people. Starves himself for a week, maybe, figuring that he can learn to stop feeding so much. That Toreador, for example. This kid’s walking along the street, and you can see he’s got the thousand-mile stare, trying hard to keep himself together. All of a sudden, these two guys come barreling out of a bar, throwing down. One of them’s got a bloody nose, and this poor Ventrue swivels toward him like there’s a magnet in his forehead. I’m wondering if I should do something when he gets that relaxed look on his face, going all slack, his mouth hanging open, and I know I better move quick. I’m running across the street full speed at this point, but by the time I get there, the kid’s clamped right onto the breather’s bloody nose and is making these grunting noises, hanging on while the other guy is shouting and trying to pull him off. Ended up chewing his victim’s face half-off before he came to his senses, then he starts crying and screaming while I’m pulling him away. What a mess.”
Whenever a hungry vampire encounters blood, they risk entering frenzy, greedily attacking any nearby vessel with wild abandon.
Hunger frenzy is a shameful expression of the hunger of the vampire, overriding thought and decorum with a repulsive display of voracious self-indulgence. Kindred caught up in hunger frenzy will feed openly, pushing would-be competitors and dismayed witnesses both aside as they tear, gobble, and slurp at the nearest available source of blood, desperate to drain every last drop.
While the details of the hunger frenzy are unique to each vampire, observers have noted that Kindred who descend into it invariably open their mouths and do not close them until they clamp onto the blood source that excited them in the first place (or the nearest available one, if another is interposed). Some moan and tremble with desire, while others gibber and babble inarticulately, trying to form words without closing their lips or jaws. Tongues push down at lips or snake out and reach toward the blood, as if expressing a hunger all their own. Fingers clutch and scrabble at vessels, seeking purchase so that the animalistic vampire can better hold their victim down.
Kindred entering hunger frenzy rarely expend vitae to on their undead powers. They are, after all, seeking to replenish themselves—not further deplete their stores of blood. Once contact with a vessel is made, though, some Kindred will do whatever it takes to maintain their feeding stance, even spending precious vitae, if necessary, to fend off interference.
The onset of hunger frenzy feels completely different from anger frenzy. Most vampires report that the pain and weakness of hunger seems to drown out rational thought well before they lose control, and that the last thing they remember before blanking out is the encounter with the vessel and a paradoxical, momentary sensation of relief. Those who have endured hunger frenzy many times know that this relaxation of stress is nothing more than the release of the Beast, and they take no pleasure in experiencing it.
Since vampires caught in hunger frenzy will feed until they are full, this type of frenzy is the one that most often results in accidental murder. It is by no means less destructive than a rage frenzy, and many Kindred have seen their humanity washed away in the blood of its innocent victims.
Rötschreck (Fear Frenzies)
“I must admit, I almost thought I was going to be caught there. The hounds of the sheriff were closing in on me, and my attempts to charm them were, admittedly, undermined by the ashes of their brother still dusting my arms and face. Suddenly, I noticed that they both slowed in their advance, staring over my shoulder and wearing expressions of dismay. I dared to glance back for a moment, praying that they were not toying with me. The vision that confronted me was beautiful, I’ll admit: Purvis, my manservant, was standing behind me with a burning rag in one hand and an open bottle of vodka in the other. He sprayed a quantity from his mouth, creating a great ball of flame in the open air. Unfortunately, that’s the last thing I remember seeing. The ungodly blue-green fire seemed to fill the whole of my vision, and for a moment I actually began to believe that Purvis intended to set me alight. According to his later report, I broke into mad flight seconds earlier than the hounds, proving my superiority yet again, but the three of us ran together for some time, pushing each other aside in a howling scramble to reach the open road and go our own ways. I must remember to gift Purvis with extra vitae this month.”
Sunlight, fire, banes, and certain supernatural powers may provoke rötschreck, forcing an otherwise rational vampire to unthinking flight.
Though there are few things that can kill a vampire—and though many among the Damned claim to loathe their immortality—certain sources of injury frighten all vampires. Sunlight and fire can bring about a terrified flight-or-fight mentality. Relatively innocuous stimuli, or stimuli directly under the character’s control, are unlikely to induce rötschreck. For example, a vampire who sees a lit cigarette in a nightclub, or a screened-in fireplace in an ally’s home, might grow uneasy, but is unlikely to succumb to the red fear. If that same cigarette is pointed threateningly at the vampire, though, or the fireplace suddenly flares up…
While under the spell of this frenzy, known as rötschreck, a vampire is nothing more than an animal. A panicking, terrified, mindless animal driven solely by self-preservation. No thought or moral stricture interferes with rötschreck; the vampire will push aside or barrel through anything and anybody to get away from the perceived threat. Nothing, absolutely nothing is more important to a frenzying vampire than survival. The direction of flight is not reasonable—the vampire will simply move as quickly as possible to get away from the threat, via the most immediately obvious route. Kindred hoping to trap a foe commonly employ a “herding” flame, set to provoke a vampire to fear frenzy so that they rush through the nearest open door, straight into a snare. The tactic is simple and effective.
As with other frenzies, the vampire lost to rötschreck loses all equanimity as they scramble madly for safety. Some scream and gibber, rolling their wide eyes and dropping to all fours as they scuttle to safety. Others become wild and clamped, gnashing their teeth and drawing inwards, hiding their eyes from the threat in terror and pushing blindly away. Some quite literally go mad with fear, unleashing a soul-deep shriek as their mind cracks under the pressure of inhuman panic.
Vampires entering fear frenzy almost always spend vitae to augment their undead bodies or fuel Disciplines, if they can. The Beast will empower itself any way it can to ensure survival, even if that means running low on vitae for the time being. Many a vampire emerges safely from a fear frenzy, only to realize that they are starving and on the verge of hunger frenzy.
Testimony from Kindred who enter fear frenzy seems to indicate that most actually blank out a few seconds before the frenzy becomes obvious, suggesting that they are usually already well into rötschreck by the time observers realize what’s going on. Almost all statements indicate that the vampire is at first distracted by the provocation, then focused completely on it, to the exclusion of all other sensation or thought.
Fear frenzy is a frequent cause of mental trauma in Kindred. A vampire trapped in proximity to fire or sunlight for longer than a few minutes is likely to suffer a breakdown and long-term trauma even if they are eventually rescued. Especially cruel vampires may torture a fellow vampire into madness by just locking them in a secure room with an open (but controlled) bonfire or chaining them down before an unblocked window as the sunlight moves slowly toward them.
Benefits of Frenzy
“Think of your Beast as a grenade. It’s dangerous. It’s messy. It is very likely to cause collateral damage. There are times to use it. There are times not to use it.”
A frenzying vampire ignores pain, except perhaps to rage even more fiercely. Injuries that would leave a sane vampire crawling on the ground don’t bother a frenzying vampire a bit—the Kindred keeps fighting until they’re torpored or destroyed. Almost every vampire has at least one story to tell about a frenzy they witnessed, where the furious (or starving or terrified) Kindred involved literally loses limbs in pursuit of their goal, never breaking stride all the while. It’s an image that, once seen, is rarely forgotten.
A frenzying vampire is completely singleminded. It’s impossible to coerce their behavior to something contrary to the Beast’s desires, even through Disciplines or other supernatural powers. This is one of the major benefits of frenzy, especially against elders: a bestial vampire’s mind is impossible to suborn through Dominate or Presence.
There is one exception: the Animalism Discipline can divert the Beast’s attention to similar targets. For example, if Veronica frenzies and leaps at Elspeth, Elspeth might use Animalism to make her attack Dominic instead. A frenzying vampire is more Beast than Man, and so is susceptible to the Discipline’s influence. Indeed, some masters of Animalism can actually draw raging vampires out of frenzy… but never with any guarantee of success.
A frenzying Kindred routinely pushes their physical abilities to the limit. Their Beast makes them stronger, faster, and tougher, driving them to feats of terrifying physical prowess. Even the physically weakest vampire fights like a wolverine, while ones with the Celerity, Fortitude, and Potence Disciplines become unholy terrors. Frenzies by Clan Brujah are especially dreaded, given the clan’s affinity for two of these gifts.
Kindred can employ their Disciplines while in frenzy, but only for the most rudimentary ends. For instance, a vampire with Protean can grow claws to attack prey, or use Presence to drive people away who interfere with their flight, but they cannot command anyone using Dominate because that Discipline requires speech and a focused mind.
Frenzying vampires disdain weapons. A frenzying vampire with a baseball bat already in their hands may keep swinging it, but it won’t occur to them to pick up the bat from the floor. Firearms get discarded altogether, or simply used as bludgeoning weapons to bash in skulls. Trigger mechanisms are too complex for the Beast to understand.
That said, the Beast isn’t stupid. Just simple. It’s capable of doing the kinds of things an enraged, terrified, or starving animal predator is, and it will lash out with the predatory aura if that’s the fastest means of getting an obstacle out of its way.
Entering and Leaving Frenzy
“This motherfucking bottom-feedin’ dirt-pushin’ Gangrel was on us for weeks. Weeks. I don’t know what it was, but there was something about Clarisa that really drove him nuts. Maybe because she was so small and so quiet, but so strong at the same time. Maybe just because she was Ravnos, and he took a dislike to her. Like I say, I don’t know. But he was always around, always givin’ her a hard time and sayin’ we’re all bitches for stickin’ with her, wrinkling up his fat, dirty nose when he talked like he was smellin’ shit. One night she just had enough. He showed up, givin’ us the stink-face, only this time Clarisa was standing there, rigid as a board, nails dug into her palms and workin’ her mouth, lips tight shut, while he started in on her. He thought it was funny, I guess, all the way until she rammed into him and started rippin’ pieces off, screamin’ bloody murder and puking blood all over his face outta the holes she’d punched in her own tongue. None of us were all too eager to try and pull her off, know what I’m sayin’? Besides, he had it comin’ to him. Poor Clarisa, though, she was all messed up about it for months afterwards.”
With effort, a vampire can resist the onset of frenzy. How hard that is depends on the provocation: it’s easier for a vampire to resist someone flicking a cigarette lighter on and off in their face than, say, being trapped inside a burning building. Getting shot by a random mugger’s Saturday night special, while aggravating to a vampire, is nothing against watching an enemy murder a pleading loved one in cold blood. The more terrible the provocation, the more likely—and terrible—the frenzy.
No vampire likes fighting down the Beast. They might snarl, growl, or shake from tics and tremors. They might freeze and give off a thousand-yard stare. Sometimes they lose control for a few moments. (As an example, see the passage where Dracula grabs at Harker’s throat before touching his crucifix and pulling away.) It’s the rare witness who doesn’t suspect that something’s wrong. Glib vampires may come up with excuses to deflect suspicion. Other vampires may rely on the Dominate, Obfuscate, or Presence Disciplines to deceive mortal feelings and perceptions.
Upon entering frenzy, determine what the Beast wants. Does it want to escape? Does it want to punish the person who insulted the vampire? Does it want blood? Typically, frenzy ends when that thing occurs. This may take only seconds, or it may take much longer. A vampire trapped alone, or running wildly through empty streets, might not calm down for hours. A vampire who meant to take “just a sip” from her boyfriend and drank him dry instead might recover just in time to hear his death rattle… and have a chance to Embrace him instead of letting him die. Reducing a Kindred to torpor always ends frenzy.
Sometimes, when the Beast gets enough of what it wants, the Man can fight back. For example, a hungry vampire might attack a vessel to feed. The Beast will happily drain them to death, but the Man might regain control once the thirst no longer burns. The half-dead vessel gets sent away on a stretcher instead of a body bag.
The Animalism Discipline and some other supernatural powers can end frenzy prematurely. Success is rarely guaranteed. Still, many Kindred by turns envy and revere the Gangrel, as masters of Animalism par none, for their rapport with their Beasts.
A vampire’s friends, and especially Touchstones, can potentially talk them down from frenzy. This is always after the vampire’s rampaging Beast has a chance to wreak havoc. Sometimes, though, love is enough to cut through a frenzy’s haze and reach the Man.
Riding the Wave
Some Kindred choose to grab their Beasts by the reins, and wield that monstrous power. It’s a risky proposition, as the Beast doesn’t care about collateral damage, but one with great rewards. This practice is called riding the wave. This functions identically to a normal frenzy, with all normal benefits. However, the vampire may choose the Beast’s desire and specific target at the outset. This desire does not have to align with the provocation. For example, if Victoria risks frenzy because she’s starved, she might choose to kill Dominic instead of feeding.
Kindred working themselves into frenzy are visibly different from those pushed by the Beast’s internal screams. Kindred working themselves into frenzy might provoke themselves with self-inflicted injury, actually inciting a rage by cutting, biting, or clawing themselves into a mad release of fury like legendary berserker warriors. They might pace and clench their fists, whispering hoarsely to wind themselves up. They might simply stare with fixed bloody-mindedness at the target of their intended frenzy, letting the anger build as an internal pressure, using their closed-down demeanor as a means to prevent release until the explosive moment.
Kindred who attempt to ride the wave when a frenzy is already coming upon them may employ the same techniques as a way of goading and directing the Beast. These vampires frantically work to distract it from its open-ended fury and try to channel its energies. Finally, some vampires simply don’t bother trying to guide their Beast at all. They feel the wave building inside them and throw the floodgates open, welcoming the rush of unholy power.
Most vampires regard riding the wave as a deal with the devil and are reluctant to do so except in times of great need. It’s seen as giving the Beast another toehold over your soul. If you don’t resist becoming a monster, the thinking goes, how can you expect not to become one? Every time a vampire lets the Beast out, it gets stronger and the Man gets weaker.