Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
The Second Tradition and Kindred Feudalism
Thy domain is thine own concern.
All others owe thee respect while in it.
None may challenge thy word while in thy domain.
A prince’s domain is the whole city, but they may grant rights to those who have served them, allowing others to rule over a district or a city block in their stead. This creates an elaborate hierarchy of liege lords and vassals, reminiscent of the feudalism of the late Middle Ages. Knowing the lay of the land and who has the claim to its use is vital to navigating the urban labyrinths of the night.
The Second Tradition: An Overview
Vampire the Masquerade: Revised Edition Says
The meaning of this Tradition has changed in the modern era. Once domain meant territory, pure and simple. That was all well and good in nights when the Kindred were scarce and each could claim a city as her own, but things changed. Now cities host, in extreme cases, up to a hundred Kindred. Modern metropolises have sprawled beyond the capability of any individual vampire to control directly. And so, the meaning of domain has been forced to change to meet the challenges the modem Camarilla faces.
In theory, the prince still holds domain over his entire city. He then has the option of parceling out areas of control from city blocks to whole neighborhoods or boroughs—to be held by the Kindred of his choice. While the prince still holds ultimate authority, these smaller areas are a combination of fiefdom and controlled hunting preserve for the vampires lucky enough to receive them. Of course, those Kindred are also responsible for enforcing the city’s laws within their domains, so domain comes with responsibility as well authority.
The concept of domain, however, is one of the most misunderstood in the Camarilla. Old and powerful vampires often stake out their own claims of domain, and unless the prince is willing to risk war to dislodge them, such claims are often allowed to stand in exchange for token favors. Neonates and Anarchs claim their havens and the areas around them as domain, when really they just have squatter’s rights. Usually a prince is content to let these petty claims pass and ignore the matter. It’s not worth her time and energy, after all, to persecute every piss-ant Anarch for misusing the term. So the prince still holds domain over the city, grants lesser domain to trusted servants or potential allies, and accepts claims by those strong enough to hold them or too weak to worry about.
Recently, the concept of domain has undergone something of an alteration. The term used to refer strictly to real estate, but within the past hundred years the word “domain” has been applied to industries as well. Hundreds of Kindred claim local software, steel, heavy manufacturing, export and other businesses as domain, setting themselves up to rule both the physical plants appropriate companies possess and their business dealings as well. A similar concept saw experimentation during the nights of the Italian merchant states, but ultimately failed. Since the beginnings of the ’90s, the idea has been resurrected and seems to be gaining momentum. Now, an ambitious young Ventrue lobbies the prince for domain over the local software or telecomm industries, not a dozen-block holding on the north side of town. Most elders are content to let the childer chase such ephemera, but a few worry as to what sort of power the younger Kindred are actually accruing for themselves.
Vampire the Requiem: 1st Edition Says
While the feudal model upon which Kindred society is based has its roots in similar historical mortal practices, only the most oblivious Kindred would refuse to acknowledge that governmental feudalism is all but dead in the world of mortal politics. Some of the realities that brought feudalism to an end in the mortal world plague the Kindred world. Unlike many mortal governments, however, the Kindred have found a way to work around such problems.
Quite simply, cities are too big, populaces too large, and minutiae too overwhelming for a single prince to truly rule an entire domain. Only in the smallest communities can a solitary prince hope to lay sweeping claim to all of a domain. As a result, the process of domain subinfeudation occurs, which is the breaking down and parceling out of different sub-domains, each of which becomes the responsibility of a “sub-prince” who answers to the true prince’s ultimate authority. Such figures of authority are known as regents, and their subdomains are known as tenurial domains.
For all intents and purposes, a regent is a prince in everything but name, with a single, significant difference. The regent has no praxis in his tenurial domain, no claimed “right to rule.” Rather, a regent is awarded his position by the prince herself, who can unmake a regent just as easily as she made him. Appointment to a regency is almost always accompanied by a formal oath of subservience, particularly among the Ventrue and in domains with a powerful presence of the more traditional covenants such as the Invictus or Lancea et Sanctum. Even among more “progressive” clans and covenants, regencies do not come lightly, and the wise prince ensures loyalty through some vow, contract or other defined agreement.
How much power a regent has over a tenurial domain depends on the power of the city’s prince and why the prince assigns the domain in the first place. One of the benefits of the regency is the ability to set one’s own rules, as long as they also enforce the prince’s dictates. Of course, some princes specifically restrict the actions of their regents (such as, “You may not designate an area Elysium” or “Only the true prince may grant the right to Embrace”), but the title itself comes with near-autonomy unless the prince specifies otherwise.
Regents come in all varieties. Some are themselves loyal or respected elders, gifted with certain domains in which the prince acknowledges their status, influence or expertise. Prisci and Harpies are prime examples of candidates for this sort of regency, but one does not necessarily beget the other. Other regents are upraised ancillae or even neonates who are tasked with the upkeep and maintenance of certain tenurial domains (whether as reward, opportunity, trial or punishment). Some regents are important figures among their own clans or covenants, granted tenurial domains to reflect that status much as a Church bishop or archbishop might have been granted political territory in mortal history. Deposed princes who haven’t been sent to their final deaths upon a new prince’s claim of praxis often find themselves made regents, either to prove their loyalty to the new regime or so the new prince can keep an eye on them. Granted, these last instances are rare.
Tenurial Domains: A great many Kindred tend to confuse the concepts of tenurial domains and feeding grounds. Indeed, the two are often intertwined, though one doesn’t necessarily encompass the other. A tenurial domain is simply an area ruled by a specific regent, inside a larger region. For instance, a particularly powerful elder might claim a specific neighborhood, and the prince of the city might legitimize the elder’s claim. The prince might do so because he wants the elder in his debt, or it might simply be that the prince doesn’t have the power to challenge the elder. In other circumstances, the prince of a small city might retain power even after her erstwhile domain is annexed by a larger city and thereby made tenurial.
Alternatively, the prince might grant a favored servant or ally tenurial rights over a small area. The prince wins all ways. He makes the smooth running and customs enforcement of a part of his domain someone else’s responsibility, he grants a favored ally enough power to make her grateful, and he has the ability to strip that power away at a single word if the underling proves treacherous or otherwise dangerous.
At other times, the prince doesn’t really intend to grant the regent quite so much power, but only “feeding rights” to a given territory. Shrewd Kindred are able to transform feeding rights into true power by trading permission to feed for favors or even further subinfeudation. (After all, the regent has every power of a prince in her tenurial domain.) Wise princes take advantage of the opportunity to let others shoulder the responsibility for running portions of the city. Less wise and more fearful princes attempt to curtail the development of all such domains. Most of these would-be tyrants are ousted from power when the Kindred beneath them grow sick and tired of the lack of opportunity.
Unconventional Domains: Hand in hand with the evolution of tenurial domains came the advent of less tangible notions of domain. Whereas a prince might once have granted an ethnic ghetto or prestigious neighborhood to a regent, some princes now grant dominion over spheres of influence under the auspices of domain, both their own and tenurial. A prince who acknowledges one of his subjects’ sway among the authorities might grant “law enforcement” as a tenurial domain. A Kindred who owns significant property among trading ports might be granted rights to “the docks,” both as a geographical region and in reference to shipping commerce.
These sorts of domains are just as valid as any other tenurial domain, but are harder to be wary of. After all, when one steps into a region known to be the territory of another Kindred, he knows he crosses a physical, tangible line of demarcation. On the other hand, how far does a grant of an unconventional domain go? If the health-care infrastructure of a city is one Kindred’s tenurial domain, does that include hospitals (surely), independent practitioners (maybe), and even drug stores (likely not)? Unless the prince specifically outlines the extent of the regent’s domain — which makes for awkwardly wordy titles and occasionally incenses the Kindred who’s ostensibly being honored with the grant — boundaries remain vague.
Unconventional domains are a double-edged sword. The regent arguably has to be more vigilant in his tenure’s dimensions than a Kindred granted domain over a physical region. After all, how can a Kindred granted tenurial domain over “the police” be sure that somewhere in that organization, someone’s not answering to another one of the Damned? Further, if other Kindred recognize the tenure too broadly, the esteem can work against the regent, as those excluded from the domain can use the regency as an example of a stranglehold over a particular aspect of unlife and rally others against the regent. A regent of Fine Arts would likely face significant opposition, as would a regent of Finance. This isn’t to say such things don’t happen, but rather that those positions are either embattled or held by Kindred with such enormous personal power that they can maintain broad tenurial domains.
Territorial Dispute: Occasionally, trouble arises between the prince and his regents, and more frequently between regents themselves. A rare few regents are so powerful that they can pass laws in opposition to the prince’s decrees or at least refuse to enforce the prince’s decrees. Domains occasionally overlap, as well, especially when unconventional domains come into conflict with geographical ones. For instance, if a crime occurs in a regent’s neighborhood, is that her issue or does it fall under the auspices of the regent of law enforcement?
In many of these cases, the only clear winner is the prince, as the resources that rival regents devote to foiling each other take their attention from him. Indeed, if things turn ugly and one of the regents ends up meeting final death, that leaves a potential position open for another Kindred’s reward.
As might be expected, conflict over tenurial domains is common. It rarely escalates beyond the boundaries of grudges and vendettas, but such feuds can be bitter and long-lived, as with any interaction between Kindred. Indeed, some cities have been plunged into veritable civil war over domain disputes, but most savvy princes know to step in and reevaluate their regents before things become so dire.
Vampire the Masquerade: 5th Edition Says
The way Kindred divide and organize urban territory resembles the medieval feudal system, although local variations abound. Anarchs assign territory by arbitrary ideological guidelines that rapidly devolve to who knows whom, and who has the support of the Baron or Council tonight. In both cases, strength provides the ultimate title to turf, while favors, hierarchy, and territory interplay to create conflict, or in other words, to create story. For example, the prince of a Camarilla city gives the docks to the Sheriff. The Sheriff is too busy with their duties to hunt, so they give five other vampires permission to have their havens in the Sheriff’s territory and to hunt there. In exchange, they must provide the Sheriff with a regular supply of vessels.
Kindred feudalism generates story options for player characters. If the characters are in the bottom of the hierarchy, they need a place to live. This provides a simple goal with a clear set of options. Do the characters decide to live in a downscale suburb claimed by nobody? The upside is freedom, the downside is poor hunting grounds and unglamorous unliving. If they want something better, they may decide to take over the house of a rich family and make them into blood slaves. But to do that, they need permission from the Toreador who have the rights to that territory. In exchange, the Toreador Primogen demands that the characters must organize the amusements for one night at the Elysium each month.
This way, a simple question of living arrangements starts to transform into a story. The same happens when it comes to feeding rights. Perhaps the characters want access to a new feeding territory because they need to feed on another type of blood. To do this, they have to feed illegally (with its own interesting story consequences) or seek permission. Maybe a Nosferatu elder controls their desired feeding area, and their price is open romantic companionship at Elysium.
If the characters advance from the bottom of the hierarchy, or if the chronicle concerns more established vampires, they can use the system from both perspectives: They need to do favors for others, but they can also demand favors of their own.
Vampire territories go by the name “domains” even in ostensibly Anarch cities, although some Anarchs use “turf” or “assignat” or “hood” or “tusovka.” Camarilla princes hold the largest domains, their regnum comprising all the lesser domains within the entire city—in theory. In practice, independent lords, Anarch gangs, and the needs of the Masquerade keep some space out of the prince’s talons even in the most seemingly organized city.
domains by area: Physical ground and boundaries on the maps define the archetypal vampire domain. More influential and respected (or feared) Kindred hold larger domains in more desirable areas. Up-and-comers, the so-far loyal, and other Kindred with potential utility hold smaller corners of the city by princely decree. In between lie streets and blocks and sometimes kilometers of urban landscape, open to neonate covens and vulnerable to Anarch gangs.
Some domains spread from a central spot—“five blocks around the water tower on Hillside” or “six streets off the Odeon.” This leads to fuzzy boundaries, which leads to wittingly poaching and unknowingly trespassing. Vampires paint their turf with “the marks,” Kindred graffiti, and defend it with their talons or their pull with Council or Court. Higher-status Kindred may hold whole neighborhoods in fief: the Duke of Echo Park, the Count of Cross Bay, the Lady of Guell. These nobles allow their own vassals to hold smaller blocks within their domains, providing protection from turf-jumpers in exchange for service or vessels.
domains of association: Domains may only cover one building, albeit a large one such as a hospital complex or shopping mall, and their parking garages and sewers. But in some cities, all the sewers belong to the Nosferatu by right, domains by natural expertise or clan authority. Kindred may claim rights from centuries ago over the “highway,” now interpreted as everything touched by the Interstate or Autobahn. The large parks may be Gangrel turf after a truce in the Anarch war, while the small parks remain parceled out to individual coteries or under the authority of ley line-tracing Tremere.
domains of authority: In some cities, the Toreador hold prior claim over public art and private galleries, a Lady of the Stage commands all theaters and doles out actors as chosen blood dolls to her favorites, or a Lord of Medicine controls all hunts at hospitals and clinics. The latter scuffles with the Gangrel Haunt of Dogs over veterinarians and animal hospitals, even as the Haunt claims protection over the coyotes that seek food in the city no matter whose block they feed on.
Anarch or Camarilla, every Kindred city turns on the politics of hunting. At the raw end of it, almost everywhere too many vampires compete for too few kine. By extension from predator-prey dynamics in the natural world, a vampire should have about sixty square kilometers of city as their exclusive hunting ground; in most cities, Kindred count themselves fortunate with one percent of that. Hunting must be limited for practical purposes: every vampire in the city can’t stalk the same nightclub and maintain the club as a going concern, much less maintain the Masquerade. However, Kindred rulers also limit hunting as a power play, a way to assert predatory dominance.
Every city varies: in some cities the primogen or Anarch council declare the Rack (the city’s nightclub district, teeming with temptingly wasted humans—and with police) off-limits to hunting. In others, they reserve it for themselves, stating that only experienced, responsible vampires can be trusted to hunt there without making mistakes. In some cities, certain neighborhoods become the “prince’s forest” or the “game reserve,” off limits without special permission. In others, rulers parcel out hunting rights with domains, allow hunts all across the cities on feast days, grant licenses in exchange for special services, or anything else that secures their control and imperils their rivals.
Kindred new to town must therefore make sure they know the lay of the land before too many nights pass. Sometimes local Kindred mislead the newcomers and direct them to forbidden grounds, as a way to test their masters without open rebellion, or just to cull the competition. Breaking the law seems easy—is the prince watching this seedy bar toilet?—but the penalties can be extreme. Some rulers make hunting law murky, onerous, and contradictory on purpose. This way, almost every vampire in the city ends up breaking the law sooner or later. If the prince or council wants to dispose of a rival, they simply wait for the inevitable illegal hunting incident and banish or execute the offender on this ostensibly just pretext.
How do vampires communicate with each other when they’re all hidden in the dark, dwelling in secret lairs, lying to each other and off the grid?
They do it with the marks, sometimes called “the vampire cant.” Similar to modern gang tags, subvertisements and graffiti, these public works of art or vandalism contain jargon, coded symbols, or archaic terms that signal meaning to fellow Kindred—and hopefully, only to them. The marks evolve from graffiti going back to Pompeii and from gang tags invented this decade. By design, they blend with old posters, guerrilla art, urban spray sign, and street construction rhumb lines.
A paper rat pasted to the wall of the train tunnel, the ornate curlicue red V sprayed on the bank’s alley wall, the yellow hieroglyph chalked in the abandoned church doorway. The words “red teeth” tagged on the stairwell, the Warhol Marilyn airbrushed over the transom. The tattoo on a blood doll, the seemingly random words on newspapers pasted over a boarded-up storefront. These marks tell Kindred whose turf they’re on, what clan claims the block, whom the Council has declared anathema.
The marks also give Storytellers a simple tool for inserting Kindred culture throughout the city. Mentioning meaningful tags and symbols in setting descriptions is one of showing how other characters are moving through the game world when the players’ characters aren’t there; somebody painted all that stuff, somebody has something to say.
“You? You demand money from me?” he bellowed angrily as others peered out from their camps and coves. “Do you know who I am?” he shouted, his voice echoing down the walls. “I am Bernard, Lord of the Tunnels!”
Jennifer Toth, The Mole People
It’s not a modern word: baron. Once, barons were low nobles who held land in the name of their overlords. It was a title of honor, authority, and responsibility. Even a baron who was reviled was addressed as “lord.” Tonight, the most common barons—the American barons—are plutocrats who devour or capture territory for its money. They hold it not because it is their responsibility but as a means to end: money. Money is their overlord. It’s money that gets them the land and it is for money that they tend it.
These were the robber barons of the 19th century—rail barons, lumber barons, ore barons—whose heirs continue to rule by the grace of cash in the modern nights (and are, in fact, making a great comeback). Some of the original robber barons of the 1800s, years after they have become undead themselves, continue to twist money out of the living. They haunt the living by sucking blood and cash like specters of the feudal age.
The original robber barons were medieval Germanic noblemen who taxed merchant ships sailing the Rhine through their lands without the blessing of the Holy Roman Emperor. These men, illegally and unethically manipulating the dress and customs of legitimate business, passed their greed onto generations of copycat nobles across Europe and the world. In the 19th century when a new American strata of über-wealthy moguls and capitalists emerged as a de facto aristocracy of their own, the name of the robber barons was resurrected for them.
The title of baron is not so flattering tonight.
Among the Damned, both kinds of barons remain, and the most powerful Kindred combine the formal service and authority of a landed baron with the underhanded money-making of the modern business baron. For Kindred, money is just one part—the least important part—of the wealth that motivates the Danse Macabre. Money facilitates the acquisition of the two greater treasures for vampires: territory and blood. Territory translates to power and the freedom to hunt. Power and hunting bring in the Blood. The Blood is everything.
In Vampire, Barony (capitalized) is a style of gameplay in which the troupes’ characters are presumed to actively participate in the landed politics of the Jyhad. They are lords of their small tract of the city while striving to grow their territory and their power. They struggle to pay homage and fealty to their overlord at court while in the streets they may be scheming to behead him and take his turf. They’re like a gang fighting to take territory from other gangs—and there are no police to intervene. Every Kindred is a potential opponent, a potential rival, and potential enemy.
The Feudal Hierarchy
• The prince grants land to regents or any lower status of Kindred.
• The regent grants land to vassals or any lower status of Kindred and owes fealty to the prince.
• The esquire grants tenancy to any lower status of Kindred and owes fealty to a regent and the prince.
• The tenant can allow any vampire who they’re willing to be associated with to spend a few nights in their haven or immediate feeding ground. The tenant has to answer for any trouble caused by their guests should their lord demand it. The tenant has no authority to grant territory and owes fealty to an esquire or regent and the prince.
• The serf toils in the turf of higher-ups. Though they have a haven on land belonging to a lord, they have no domain and no authority over anything outside the walls of their haven.
• The scot dwells outside feudal society and swears fealty to no lord. They may poach in other vampires’ domain or subsist in an area so undesirable that no one else has claimed it. (“Scot’s” as a term for “outsiders” originated in the 18th century as an allusion to the times when the people of Caledonia (Scotland) were kept out of civilized lands by Hadrian’s Wall.)
The following terms are not feudal ranks in of themselves, but descriptors that apply to the above ranks.
• liege: A vampire’s immediate feudal superior; the one who grants them domain. All vampires within feudal society have a liege except the prince. Can also be referred to as “feudal lord” or “liege lord.”
• lord: A vampire with power, authority or territory granted, especially if granted to them by a feudal superior (though any Kindred with a domain is said to be lord of that domain). The superior in any feudal bond. Any vampire from a prince to a tenant can be considered a lord, although it is presumptuous for ones as lowly as tenants to announce themselves as such.
• overlord: A vampire lord who oversees one or more vassals; especially a lord whose vassals are themselves lords. The prince is always an overlord; regents are considered overlords even if they have no vassals, due to the position’s prestige; esquires are only considered overlords if they have vassals. Tenants and serfs cannot be overlords.
• vassal: A Kindred who receives territory (and sometimes title) from a lord through feudal tenure on conditions of homage, allegiance and corvée. Casually, any directly subordinate Kindred in the feudal hierarchy, or any vampire at the “lower” position in a feudal bond. In practice, all Kindred in a city’s feudal hierarchy are vassals to some lord, except for the prince from whom all vassalage descends.
Playing the Serf or Scot
A chronicle in which the players’ characters are serfs or scots, as the Kindred use the term, has no special rules or traits. Characters at this level of the political hierarchy are likely to be unaligned with the covenants and may be outlaws. Unlike the role of the serf in mortal society, Kindred serfs are not essential to the societal system of the Damned (and scots are—perhaps hypocritically—considered parasites upon it). Tenants handle enough of the production of vitae and service necessary for the lords, and many vampires are self-sufficient anyway.
Serfs and scots among the Damned are hardly considered Kindred yet. They hold a place more suitable for ghouls and blood dolls—though even ghouls may be brought inside the house. Caitiff and thin-bloods, when they don’t strike out as scots, are frequently relegated to serving as serfs.
Playing the Tenant
This is, more or less, the default situation of play in Vampire. The players portray Kindred who are subordinate to elders, covenant leaders, and landlords. Though the characters may have their own havens, they have to scratch out a place for themselves in the city and their covenants if they want to get ahead in the Jyhad or find satisfaction in their Requiems.
Characters at this level can have virtually any level of Covenant Status or Clan Status but seldom have more than a dot or two in Camarilla Status, at least at first. Characters are likely to be agents of more powerful Kindred or the covenants in general. A superior wants something done, and she asks the characters to do it. That’s the basic hook for stories about tenants.
For examples of the kinds of things tenants may be dispatched to do, see the relevant covenant guidebook or Coteries.
Playing the Esquire
An esquire is any Kindred beneath a regent who grants out (sub-infeudates) their territory to tenants. Characters at this level of the hierarchy may be influential members of vampire society and in command of prestigious domains and valuable locations that put them at the center of Kindred plans for the future. Or a character at this level may be a backwater nobody sitting atop a useless span of houses and garages with little political value and waiting to find their big break. Esquires may be prominent members of local covenants, promoted simply to encourage them to share their valuable turf, or are rank-and-file groundlings who are expected to graciously host the occasional covenant-mate out near dawn now and again.
Esquires, owing fealty to the regents above them, may participate in the same kind of errands and missions as tenants (and any other street-level vampires). Esquires are also close enough to the action, though, to plan their own local coups and take power where they can. Esquires are the most mobile creatures in the Kindred hierarchy and are often the source of the strife that shakes the schema of local politics. This is a terrific place for players’ characters in the Jyhad.
Playing the Regent
Regents are those Kindred lords who receive their territory directly from the prince. Even when a regent has granted no land out to vassals below them, they are known as an overlord. Regents are prominent even when they are not particularly important. Their proximity to the prince—always politically and often personally—makes them visible to the Kindred court, but their authority gives them the privilege of retreating from the Jyhad to a degree.
Regents are often high-ranking or leading members of covenants and are given territory by the prince as a means of forcing responsibility for covenant-member actions on an affiliated regent. Regents are highly visible figures in the Jyhad, at least insofar as their names and territories are usually well known. Some neighborhoods take on nicknames among the Damned based on the regent who controls it—Sykestown, Cameron’s Hills, or Richville, for example.
Involving a regent in one’s political schemes is dangerous. To unseat a regent, one must strike close to the prince, possibly even attacking one of their confidants. A regent who doesn’t stick their neck out may be able to hold territory for a very long time. Regents who stay active in the Jyhad probably have vassals whose necks they stick out instead. What a regent without vassals can’t do, however, is defer blame for things that happen in their domain, so wreaking havoc in their turf forces them to act and reveal what kind of lord they really are. (Of course, if the regent reveals themselves as a competent or excellent lord, the troublemakers in their territory are in bloody trouble.)
Regency is the dream of many vassals. The prince has great power, but the regents have access to them and the luxury of staying out things now and again. The primogen, who are frequently regents themselves, are likewise in a fine position. The prince is an obvious target, and many Kindred are simply not cut out for the position. A vampire who knows it might strive for regency, then fight to hold that seat for eternity.
Stories about regents are about calculated responses to political attacks. Though players’ characters can certainly become regents (or even the primogen or prince), regents are more likely to be antagonists in a typical chronicle—at least at the beginning. At this level of play, the coterie may have to circle round one of its members, who takes on the mantle of regent while the rest of them make do with vassalage or even less.
Barony gameplay hinges on the customs of Kindred politics and uses them to fulfill a vital goal: Give Vampire characters things to do.
All positions in the neo-feudal hierarchy, save for the prince and the scots, owe fealty to another vampire from whom they take their power. In the fictional game world, this is a method for keeping vampire society in order, keeping tabs on Kindred of lower station, and formalizing culpability among treacherous and secretive monsters. In the game itself, fealty is a simple, reusable way to get stories started. The lord demands her rent, and off the coterie goes.
Fealty among the Damned typically requires lower-station vampires to perform a service for their superiors. Just what’s fair for the lord to ask of her vassal depends on their agreement at the time the vassal swore homage to the lord. Traditionally, Kindred vassals pay their rent in one of two pays: blood or service.
Taxed in Blood
The Blood is the only crop on which the Damned truly depend. It is all that grows in the fields and all that the lowest vassals and tenants are expected to tend. Though elder vampires are typically also excellent hunters, lots of them aren’t willing to risk their centuries of experience on a simple errand into a perilous city. If their vassals fail to deliver, the elder can hunt. Should something go wrong, it is the vassal who suffers and not the lord.
Many lords demand a payment of mortal vessels, still fresh and vital, to be paid at set dates. This is also called the annual flesh, though lords with few vassals often demand more frequent payment. It’s the responsibility of the vassal to acquire suitable payment for his lord and to deal with any consequences of getting it. The vassal must hide his crimes, or the vassal must take the fall if he screws up.
Some lords demand particular terms of their vassals—a woman between the ages of fifty and sixty or a Kindred no more than seven nights old—so that the vassal can be discarded when he fails and replaced with a new favorite.
Their Choice of the Crop
A popular American variation on the Tax of Blood is the right of the lord to choose a vessel from the vassal’s fields. This is, in effect, quite similar to the Annual Flesh but is different in practice. Typically a lord exercising this custom goes out into the city with the vassal and selects a target in person. “That one,” says the lord. “Bring it here.”
For some lords, this is a means of measuring the vassal’s capabilities and character. For other lords, this is a tiresome chore mandated by a prince who thinks lords should see their vassals firsthand. Some lords abuse this privilege by asking their vassals to hunt and deliver a mortal precious to them like an old lover or a neighborhood child. A vassal who refuses is technically in violation of his oath and may be dismissed (or brought before the prince and charged as a renegade). Again, lords interested in replacing their vassals make them jump through this hoop.
Taxed in Service
Not so different from the tax of blood is the tax of service, which is traditionally called corvée. It is a period of service to the lord by the vassal, for which the vassal receives no pay except for an extension of his rights beneath the lord. The exact terms of service depend on the oath agreed to by the vassal when he swore fealty, but a few customary standards are common.
First, a lord seldom agrees to a rent of particular actions in advance. A vassal typically owes his lord a number of nights of service per month, which the lord may divide up into individual nights as he sees fit. Just what the vassal will be called upon to do depends upon the lord. A smart lord does not declare any action off limits or any action particularly required when the oath is sworn, so that he can make up his mind up later.
Some lords call for clandestine or political business like messaging, surveillance, shadowing, collections or delivery, and duties at court like speaking, singing, or ushering. Other lords call upon their vassals to soldier for them, extorting from mortal Assets, hunting fugitive ghouls, or dissuading the vassals of rival lords from expanding their territory.
Corvée is essentially any service short of soldiering. In practice, though, serving as escort, bouncer, or bodyguard is considered corvée if violence doesn’t break out. The Kindred have terms for particularly common kinds of corvée:
• travail pour le sang (labor for the Blood)—Any service that calls for the vassal to collect vessels for the lord, especially animals or to clean up after a lord’s feeding by scrubbing blood or getting rid of bodies.
• travail pour la puissance (labor for the power)—Any service that calls on the vassal to behave according to his lower position beneath the lord, such as acting as a messenger, porter or valet, or being loaned out to another lord in any capacity.
• corvée sanglant (bloody service, bloody drudgery)—Any service that is humiliating, gross, or nasty, whether or not it involves blood. Cleaning up after debauched drug-addicted blood dolls have shit the sheets, for example. Many vassals delegate this sort of work to their own ghouls.
• loyer (rent)—Also called “black rent” (loyer noir_), “blood rent” (loyer sang_), or “red rent” (loyer rouge), a corvée of regular payment may require the vassal to pay their lord a monthly sum and be it of money, drugs, blood, or information suitable for espionage or blackmail against another lord.
Contracts of Fealty
Contracts of fealty are formalized agreements between lords and vassals: the vassal receives authority and land in exchange for loyalty and servitude. The contemporary Kindred version of the historical oath of fealty (which is still common among the Invictus), contracts were renamed as a matter of custom in the 18th century, following the French Revolution, and gradually adopted throughout the Camarilla. This modernized form is meant to emphasize a two-way exchange between lord and vassal without necessarily implying a solemn or divine component. Though they may be ritually distinct, in truth a contract of fealty and an oath of fealty are functionally identical.
A basic contract of fealty consists of the following arrangement:
The lord grants the vassal a designated space of territory where the vassal may hunt, make their haven, and exercise hexis (cultivate mortal influence) that does not conflict with the lord’s own. In return, the vassal owes the lord service: the typical rate is one boon every week.
The particulars of a feudal contract can vary infinitely between lord and vassal, but even this basic arrangement carries a number of further, customary expectations:
The Fine Print
Feeding Rights: This is what it all comes down to. Even if the vampire has ghouls who can stalk the streets for victims in their place, only the largest of herds can indefinitely sustain a vampire on their own—and it always pays to have a backup supply of blood. Every vampire, from the lowliest Caitiff to the mightiest prince, benefits from hunting rights.
The scope of a vassal’s feeding grounds are the most flexible part of any fealty contract. The vassal might receive a barren scrap of land in the city’s industrial district, where catching every vessel among the homeless and derelicts is an unpleasant struggle, or they might receive blocks of a teeming nightclub district.
Hexis: Power is only slightly less important to most vampires than blood. Hexis is the right to manipulate mortals and mortal institutions to their own benefit, be that through turning all of a company’s C-level executives into ghouls or obtaining ownership of the company through more subtle means. Hexis is a two-way street. The overlord is expected not to cultivate influence in the vassal’s territory, and the vassal is expected not to cultivate any within their lord’s.
Haven: A vassal with hexis and feeding rights in a domain may make their haven anywhere within it. Vampires with only hexis or feeding rights in a domain (see “Modifying the Contract” below) do not make havens there, and most overlords are very stubborn on this point: it’s the way things have always been done. A vampire should only deign to “live” in a domain if they can freely hunt and establish influence there.
The traditional contract of fealty makes no mention of whether the vassal’s haven needs to remain secret from the lord. Some unscrupulous or controlling overlords attempt to trick or coerce particularly ignorant- or weak-seeming vassals into telling them where their havens are located; most overlords, however, do not make such overbearing demands. It’s likely to earn the vassal’s resentment, if not give them incentive to approach another overlord. (Of course, the overlord can always try find out where their vassals’ havens are located without telling them. It’s always useful to know where other vampires sleep—just in case.)
Corvée: The traditional rate of corvée is any service equivalent in scope to a boon every week. The overlord must call the boon due within that time frame or it’s wasted: the overlord cannot simply wait decades to accumulate a veritable life boon over their vassal. A few less reputable Kindred “slumlords” aren’t above trying to do so, though.
If the vassal fails to fulfill their boon, they still owe it on top of their normal corvée for next week. Most overlords impose some further punishment or “late fee” on top of this to discourage vassals from postponing their obligations (if there’s no cost to doing so, so the thinking goes, why won’t the ungrateful whelps?). A common punishment is a sip from the overlord’s veins, which is considered poetic: “the Blood shall compel your faithful service if your own honor does not.”
If there is dispute over whether the vassal has failed to fulfill their boon, resolution heavily favors the overlord. Vassals who try to rope in outside Kindred or (most perilous all) the overlord’s own liege can easily be perceived as “ignoring chain of command” unless the overlord’s conduct was inexcusably abusive—which, for Kindred, takes quite a lot. Wise vassals seeking to besmirch their overlord’s reputation usually arrange for other Kindred to “discover” the overlord’s abuses.
Ending Contracts: Standard contracts of fealty last for eternity or until the overlord chooses to terminate them. However, this is usually not the case in practice, even if the vassal doesn’t negotiate an “out clause” (see “Modifying the Contract” below). A vassal can attempt to “buy out” their contract by pledging a larger debt or performing some especially valuable service to the overlord, much as slaves in some societies could purchase their freedom.
If another overlord is interested in the vassal, and if the old overlord is being stubborn, they might even volunteer services or prestation of their own as further incentive to end the contract. Sociopolitical pressure from an overlord’s peers or betters can also encourage them to end a contract early. The vassal had better be worth it to their new patron, though. Most older Kindred ascribe a degree of sanctity to the relationship between a lord and vassal (even if their own self-interest outweighs it), and a coerced overlord has ample reason to resent other vampires who meddle in their personal affairs—to say nothing of the “traitorous” former vassal. Changing an overlord’s mind through positive incentives usually works better for everyone. A prince, if one can be roused to care about the vassal’s plight, can offer an overlord particularly delicious incentive to release their vassal through permission to Embrace—in effect, letting the overlord exchange an old vassal for a new childe.
Of special note are vassals who want to leave their home cities completely. Most overlords are not happy to lose vassals, but if a vampire is determined to leave a city, there’s not much that anyone can do. Local Kindred have less incentive to rock the boat because they have to live with any vampires they offend: Kindred who don’t have nothing to lose. Chasing would-be nomads outside a city is dangerous, and even if they can be dragged back, it’s hard to stop them from running again without constant surveillance. This generally isn’t worth it—vampires only make convenient captives when staked. Most overlords would rather attempt to negotiate a favorable “severance package” and squeeze out some last service from their ex-vassal than attempt to keep them in the city against their will. Some vassals may be tempted to skip out early, but the overlord can always remind them that a dead ex-vassal is no more useful than a still-unliving one…
Eviction: An overlord is free to sever their feudal contract with a vassal at any time. More than one neonate has been thrown into the streets with perfunctory notice by an overlord who grew tired of them. Most overlords show a modicum of courtesy to useful vassals, but it’s much rarer that they want to let go of useful vassals.
Courteous overlords may permit their former vassals time to set their affairs in order and move assets out of the domain. Less courteous (that is, typical) overlords may simply give their former vassal 24 hours (or until dawn) to get out of the domain before they are considered an intruder. A truly wrathful overlord may tell her former vassal to get out immediately before she has his hide, and damn anything he’s leaving behind. This is usually only done to particularly weak-seeming Kindred—such mistreatment makes enemies among more established vampires. Of course, if the relationship has already soured to the point the overlord is ending it, she may feel there is nothing left to lose.
Traditions: Overlords are expected to enforce the Traditions within their domains. If they catch a vassal in violation of the Camarilla’s laws, they are expected to punish them. Especially serious transgressions may be reported to a regent or the prince.
This doesn’t always happen, though. Many regents who apprehend an unimportant enough vampire committing a grave enough crime are willing to destroy them without involving the prince—especially if the circumstances could tarnish their own reputations, or that of their clans and/or covenants. While this is technically a violation of the Traditions, most princes have more important things to worry about than if a regent killed a Caitiff vagrant who drained a favored mortal pawn.
Some overlords write contracts of fealty onto physical paper. Others don’t bother and consider a simple verbal agreement to be good enough. This practice can seem inconceivable to vampires Embraced in today’s hyper-legal society, but trust plays a large component in contract negotiations.
Some neonates, especially those with legal or bureaucratic experience, think to write formal contracts that cover a thousand loopholes as safeguards against mistreatment by an overlord. Most overlords will roll their eyes and refuse to sign pages-long, legalese-filled documents. It’s not that they think the whelp will get the better of them—many elders have centuries of practice at doubletalk and could write airtight contracts for Old Scratch himself. Kindred society simply doesn’t operate that way. There are no courts, much less lawyers, to quibble over an agreement’s fine print and whether one party was technically in breach of subclause 31C. Written contracts, if an overlord uses them, are not intended to entrap vampires behind their words, but to serve as a memory aid that make the agreed-upon terms as clear as possible to both parties. Most vampires value the spirit over the letter of written agreements.
None of that should be taken to mean overlords are honest in their dealings. Vampires are duplicitous creatures and trickery can abound during fealty negotiations. Treacherous overlords, however, are more likely to trick a vassal into asking for “concessions” that are actually worthless, or to maneuver the vassal into an unfavorable position before the negotiations begin (such as framing the vassal for some misdeed that makes their former overlord evict them, letting the new overlord use the tenant’s “bad reputation” as pretext to offer a worse deal). Few overlords resort to tactics like claiming “not to remember” promises they actually made to a vassal. Such obvious lies only make the vassal hate the overlord. Elder vampires are subtle beings, and when they screw over their vassals, they make sure the vassal doesn’t realize it—or they maneuver the vassal into a situation where they see no choice but to go along with the overlord’s will anyway.
Smart vassals don’t try to protect themselves from duplicitous landlords through lengthy, jargon-filled contracts. They protect themselves by keeping abreast of Kindred society as a whole, knowing what’s really going on, and preemptively screwing over the vampires who seem likely to screw them over.
Modifying the Contract
Contracts of fealty between Kindred are not identical. Many deviate from the standard “feeding rights and hexim for a boon every week” model and include additional demands and/or concessions from the overlord and/or vassal. Neonates can be surprised to discover that feudal overlords are often quite willing to negotiate the terms of a vassal’s contract—although many elders maintain strict attitudes regarding what is and is not proper for a young lick to ask of their would-be liege lord.
Things Vassals Ask For
Feeding Rights: This is one of the most significant topics that comes up during negotiations. Most Kindred want larger and better areas to hunt in. The overlord may give that to them—in return for other concessions. Exactly how much territory the landlord offers or the vassal requests is at the discretion of both, but will significantly shape the tenor of the negotiations.
Corvée: This topic can have far more vagaries than feeding rights. Modifications to the standard fealty contract can include:
• “I only want to perform a specific task or range of tasks for you, such as a tithe of blood.” This term is distasteful to most overlords. When they have the vassal’s allegiance for potentially eternity, they want to keep their options open. This term can be made more palatable if the vassal’s contract to the overlord is only temporary (see below) or if there is some other significant chip in play during the negotiations.
• “I want to pay corvée less frequently.” The vassal might suggest paying once every two weeks, once every three weeks, or even less frequently. As above, this term is undesirable to many overlords, but often less so than artificially limiting the range of a vassal’s service.
• “There is a certain task I do not wish to ever perform—or maybe only with prior and independent arrangement.” This term is more palatable to overlords. A vassal who knows the overlord often asks for corvée in red rent might stipulate that they never be asked to hunt a certain demographic of kine (“do not ask me to hunt my fellow Sikhs, for we are few and brothers of the faith”). Some vassals can get carried away asking for too many of these “nevers:” if they really think an overlord is going to consistently ask them to perform undesirable corvée, they should find another overlord. A civil rights activist who doesn’t want to work against the cause of racial equality, for example, should swear fealty to a different lord than Pierpont McGinn. A prudent vassal also only asks for exceptions to types of corvée that seem likely to come up—and which they are willing to let the overlord know they are averse to. Only a foolish vassal asks for exceptions that advertise vulnerabilities like, “Do not ask me to harm my mortal boyfriend.”
• “Rocco cannot use Caroline’s corvée (not all boons, specific boons through corvée) to serve other Kindred without prior arrangement.” This is a reasonable term. Renting out a vassal’s service to other vampires does sometimes happen.
Havens: This rarely tends to be a topic of negotiations, as wise Kindred don’t give away unnecessary details about where they sleep. Some would-be vassals may think they’re helping themselves by asking “do not ever spy on my haven,” but this is considered rude to ask.
Hexis: This topic is similar to feeding rights in that “more is better.” A section of domain where the vassal can cultivate mortal influence without interference is a major draw to many vampires.
• “I want you to help defend my territory from challengers.” This term is common in more violent violent and contested domains. Mortal feudal lords were expected to defend their vassals, but there is no expectation that a Kindred overlord has to do the same—the basic nature of the relationship is one of feeding rights and hexis in return for prestation. An overlord can easily decide it’s in their best interests to defend the vassal against interlopers, of course, but it’s up to them and such aid can place the vassal in their debt. This term allows the vassal to preempt any possible trouble down the road in return for probable concessions now.
• “Rocco cannot fuck around with assets Caroline cultivates.” An overlord does not normally do this, as the vassal’s territory is their own to hunt and cultivate influence in. The overlord (as with any vampire) might do so underhandedly for whatever reason, or even fuck with the vassal’s assets directly as a form of punishment—ie, “for the threat your activities among mortals has posed to the Masquerade, one of your most valued mortals shall die.” Caroline’s term carries an expectation that the overlord is going to punish her at some point (after all, she naturally isn’t accusing him of secretly infringing upon her sovereign rights as lord of a domain). While the term itself isn’t (too) objectionable, most overlords would throw it out—as Rocco did—for it seems to presuppose a bad relationship with the vassal.
Ending the Contract: Most neonates Embraced in the modern day have inherent objections to serving an overlord for eternity with no way out. This is a common topic of negotiations with younger vampires.
• “Caroline can break lease at any time.” An overlord will almost never accept this term (Rocco didn’t). Medieval knights didn’t get to renounce their oaths when they saw fit: the right to release a vassal from their service has always been a lord’s.
• “I will only be your vassal for a fixed period of time: six months, one year, two years, etc.” While overlords would prefer permanent vassals, this term is more palatable to them than the above—they know what to expect and can plan accordingly. The overlord is likely to be further mollified if the vassal promises to leave the domain more prosperous after they leave. Adelais notably did this with Philip Maldonato by negotiating a several-year contract of fealty during which she would develop the Contemporary Arts Center in the Warehouse District.
• “I will be your vassal for a fixed period of time: six months, one year, whatever. At the end of this period, we will renegotiate the terms of my fealty; I can break lease if we aren’t able to come to a satisfactory arrangement.” This term is less palatable to many overlords than the above, as it’s harder to plan around.
Eviction: This topic is also important to modern neonates. It’s also an inherently delicate subject to negotiate. If the vassal is going to be loyal and productive, after all, why should the overlord ever evict them?
• “Rocco must give Caroline eviction notice if he chooses to terminate her contract.” This carries an expectation that the overlord’s relationship with the vassal is going to sour. Most overlords would look askance at this term, and ask why they should accept the vassal’s fealty in the first place if they have such low expectations for the relationship.
One-Time Favors: An overlord frequently has social clout and access to resources that a vassal does not. Many vassals ask overlords to leverage these on their behalf as a one-time favor, such as, “I want you to buy the building where I want to set up a business and transfer legal ownership to one of my ghouls,” “I want you to put in a good word for me with the harpies,” or “I want you to arrange the death of this gang leader in another vampire’s territory who’s been making trouble for me.” The type of favor asked for can be infinitely varied, as can the overlord’s counter-offers (“I will buy you several floors rather than the whole building,” “I will pay for 50% of the building’s cost, the rest of the money needs to come from you,” etc.). In this regard, asking the would-be overlord for a favor is no different than asking any vampire for a favor. Fealty negotiations simply present a convenient time to ask when the vassal is already placing an attractive chip on the table.
Things Overlords Ask For
Feeding Rights: Vassals want bigger and better hunting grounds. Overlords don’t want them to have those. An overlord might also propose some of the following terms in addition to simply offering smaller or poorer territory:
• “I still get to hunt in your domain.” Most vampires find this term distasteful, and most overlords don’t ask. A vampire’s hunting grounds are their own. Sometimes, though, this term can be imposed as a punishment—it’s considered particularly poetic for instances of poaching.
• “My ghouls can still harvest vessels from your domain.” This term is more palatable to most vampires, even if their instincts still bristle at it, but is usually only likely to come up if the vassal is being granted an especially large portion of the overlord’s territory.
• “You shall not feed on a type of vessel while hunting: Catholics, children, police, etc.” This term is usually seen as reasonable.
Corvée: This is a less frequent item of contention for overlords than vassals. Receiving a steady stream of prestation is one of the greatest benefits of subletting a domain to vassals.
• “You must pay a larger or more frequent boon.” No vassal wants to do this. Every overlord would like to ask for it. Most overlords only bring up this term if they have some other form of collateral to secure the would-be vassal’s agreement.
• “You must perform some other regular service for me, such as patrolling the domain’s borders or handling my money laundering.” No vassal likes to work for free, but this is a better term than “pay more prestation” since it gives them a clear idea of what to expect and limits the overlord’s options. Overlords may ask for this term as a middle ground between the normal rate of corvée and asking for a higher amount.
Hexis: As with feeding rights, vassals want larger domains and overlords want to give out smaller domains—usually. There are several possible factors that can make these negotiations less straightforward.
• “I may still cultivate influence in your domain.” Most vassals find this term distasteful. A vampire’s domain is supposed to be their own. An overlord is only likely to demand this term if the agreement is otherwise very favorable to the vassal.
• “I may still cultivate influence within a specific area of your domain, such as the hospital or police station.” This term comes up during many negotiations. Overlords typically have larger influence bases than their vassals, and ceding the vassal territory can mean losing some of that influence. This term often serves as a compromise between “you can have all of this territory” and “you can’t have all of this territory, because I don’t want to give up the influence I’ve already cultivated in it.”
• “You must cultivate influence within an area of the domain and use it towards a certain end.” Some overlords are too pressed for time or resources to this themselves, they think the vassal will do a better job than them, or some combination of both. The Ventrue financier and overlord of a gentrifying domain might ask their Brujah gangster vassal to take over the local gangs and keep down violent crimes deaths that make investors skittish. Most vassals are glad to agree to this sort of term, as it costs them little.
• “I want you to open a new building, organization, or something else that will make the domain more valuable.” This term is similar to the above. An overlord might ask a would-be vassal with experience in the clubbing scene to open a profitable new nightclub that will draw further mortals to the domain. Overlords and vassals can quibble a great deal over specific details (whether overlord should contribute start-up capital to the club, whether the club should be in the vassal’s territory or the overlord’s, etc.), but most vassals prefer to make this sort of concession over paying higher corvée.
• “I want a cut of all drugs, cash, or some other liquid resource from your territory.” An overlord can ask for this as corvée, but might ask for this term separately if the income looks steady enough and they still want to use the vassal’s corvée for other things.
Sometimes a vampire wants to hunt or place a mortal pawn in an area, but already has a domain elsewhere and doesn’t want to pay the full cost of a second contract of fealty. This sort of situation is very common. So-called “half-contracts” let a vassal have only one of these things in return for reduced corvée. The vassal is not considered the domain’s sole holder, however, and the overlord may still feed and cultivate mortal influence within it. The vassal is almost always considered a tenant under this sort of arrangement—they cannot sublet the domain to further vampires.
Feeding Rights: A standard half-contract grants a tenant freedom to hunt in an area in return for a boon every two weeks, otherwise subject to the same terms as described for a normal contract of fealty. The size and location of the territory is up to the tenant to negotiate, possibly in return for other concessions. It’s common for overlords with particularly choice feeding grounds to award feeding rights to a large number of tenants, who must uneasily share the area.
Hexis: The other common type of half-contract grants a vassal freedom to cultivate influence in an area in return for a boon every two weeks. This is usually restricted to a specific building or group of mortals: if the tenant wants freedom to cultivate influence in the domain without any restrictions, they should swear a normal contract of fealty.
Vampires do not like to share. Overlords are less willing to share areas of their domain they personally sunk their claws into—an overlord known for their police ties will probably be more inclined to let a tenant place ghouls inside a criminal gang than the local police station. Overlords also tend to look more favorably on tenants who establish profitable domains from scratch, vice wanting to take over an existing mortal group or institution.
Contracts with Esquires
Feudal contracts between regents and esquires function similarly to contracts between esquires and tenants. In fact, there’s no fundamental difference between them, save that the esquire is overlord to vassals of their own. Almost every vampire would rather be an esquire than a tenant. Not only do they have vassals paying them a steady stream of prestation, but the position is its own indicator of status. Not every vampire of high standing is a regent, but virtually no vampire of high standing is a tenant.
One of mortal feudalism’s greatest dangers (at least to kings) was that a vassal’s vassal was not necessarily the king’s vassal. Regents are choosy in allowing their vassals to sub-feudinate their domains, as they have no direct authority over an esquire’s tenants. Some regents require their esquires to run any choices in tenants past them. Depending on the relationship between regent and esquire, this process can be anything from a rubber stamp to an in-depth vetting—although a regent who doesn’t trust their esquire to pick their own tenants will probably just say they can’t.
An esquire virtually never has a half-contract with their overlord. If a vampire does not have absolute dominion over their domain—that is, hexis and feeding rights—they are not considered to have any business bestowing domain to other vampires.
Contracts with Regents
Princes go through all the motions of feudal contracts with regents, and sometimes even more: many princes make grand ceremonies out of appointing new regents, which are publicly attended by their full courts.
Princes rarely charge these potent Kindred anything but the most token forms of corvée. Long-term politics are more important than weekly prestation games. Consider a president who awards a cabinet-level post to a long-time political ally—he’s not going to do that for a simple bribe. He’s more interested in how the cabinet secretary is going to run the department and implement his policy vision.
So it is with princes and regents. Princes typically only bestow regencies upon proven allies whose whose long-term visions for their domains match the prince’s. Simply being granted a regency significantly indebts a regent to the prince (or clears the slate of any but the largest existing debts). This is the principle reason that regents don’t really pay corvée—they know their position doesn’t come freely, and they know what is expected from them in return for it.
Unfriendly Regents: Not every regency is awarded on terms this “friendly,” however. As discussed earlier, many regents are powerful elders who even princes do not challenge lightly. If dislodging the elder from their domain looks like more trouble than it’s worth, the prince may formally appoint them as regent and require some token, often public payment of corvée. In doing so, the prince declares to the city, “this Cainite rules their domain because I will it so.” Most regents will go along with this sort of pageantry. Just because the prince doesn’t want to commit the necessary resources towards deposing them doesn’t mean the prince couldn’t still do so. A regent unwilling to let the prince save face before their subjects in this way has probably committed themselves to war. Of course, that might also be just what the regent wants, if they’re confident enough in their power. Many vampires who’ve overthrown princes were regents prior to their coups.
Weak vs. Strong Princes
The dynamics of a city’s princedom can significantly affect the dynamics of its regencies. Few tenants personally interact with their prince, but regents often do, and different princes can relate to these vampires in vastly different ways.
Weak Princes: Cities ruled by weak princes often have a smaller number of individually larger regencies. Regents are more likely to independently seize their domains and only be recognized as regents after that fact (versus being granted those domain by the prince). Conflict between rival regents may also be more overt if they believe a prince is less likely to step in.
A weak prince doesn’t always mean the city has a weak central authority, though—puppet princes controlled by their primogen (who are often regents themselves, especially under weak princes) may rule very orderly cities. Indeed, these cities can actually be more peaceful than ones ruled by an authoritarian strongman, as every elder has a voice at the table and incentive to resolve their disputes internally. (Puppet princes controlled by their seneschals, as is sometimes the case, are irrelevant to this political situation. The city is still ruled by a single autocrat.)
Strong Princes: Strong princes are more likely to micromanage and strictly control their regents. These cities often have a larger number of individually smaller regencies, which the prince bestows at their discretion. “Rogue” regents who establish independent domains may be brought to heel under trumped-up pretexts or simply never recognized as regents. The prince may also insist on more vetting powers over their regents’ vassals, though they probably delegate review of lowly enough vassals to a subordinate (usually the seneschal).
Primogen under strong princes are less likely to be regents, as many autocratic princes prefer primogen councils of younger, less experienced vampires who serve as little more than a rubber stamp on their decisions. A weak primogen council also means that stronger regents who would normally serve on the council have fewer opportunities to confer among their peers. (A hypothetical “council of regents” whose members gather to discuss topics of mutual interest and concern is simply the primogen by another name.)
In-Between Princes: Most cities strike a balance between these extremes: the prince pays heed to the primogen but isn’t ruled by them, and grants some regencies to allies while recognizing others independently established by strong elders. The primogen are often regents, but not always.
New Orleans errs closer to the “strong prince” end of the spectrum. Several of the primogen are not regents, and all but two of the city’s regents are either politically neutral (Sundown) or Vidal’s nominal allies (all of the others). Vidal does not allow any vampire to grant territory without clearing it through him or his subordinates. Antoine Savoy and Baron Cimitiere are the only regents who’ve ignored Vidal’s dictates with any degree of lasting success, and they have paid for it with a century-long cold war and their own exclusion from certain halls of power. Neither sits on the primogen, and Antoine Savoy is not even recognized as a regent.
Archons and Justicars
Independent Clans and the Sabbat
Overlords as Enforcers of the Traditions
Vampires are expected to keep the peace and maintain the Traditions in their domains. The higher the vampire’s feudal standing, the greater this expectation is. While tenants are merely expected to uphold the Masquerade in their territory, esquires are expected to keep an eye on their tenants, and regents effectively govern their domains as sub-princes—with all the responsibility that entails. While no overlord is considered directly responsible for their vassals’ actions, errors by the latter reflect poorly upon the former. An overlord whose vassals routinely violate the Traditions in their domains is likely to find themselves stripped of their own domain, as they clearly aren’t up to the task of managing it.
Esquires have no formal authority to punish their tenants. If an esquire discovers their tenant endangering the Masquerade, poaching outside their domain, or committing a similar crime, they are likely to demand the tenant perform some undesirable service (such as ceding their feeding territory, drinking their vitae, or simply paying higher corvée) in return for silence. Most regents and princes are willing to tolerate this sort of behavior unless they’re looking for an excuse to come down on the Kindred involved. It keeps the city running smoothly without bothering them.
Regents have greater license to punish truculent vassals, and they may even do so in public courts attended by other Kindred. A regent has no authority to destroy other vampires or banish them from the city, and imposing full blood bonds can easily be viewed as a challenge to the prince’s position, but almost anything else is fair game. Regents are some of the worst vampires to be caught breaking Traditions by after the sheriff himself. Behind closed doors, many regents are also willing to quietly eliminate troublesome vassals before they become too embarrassing politically. This violates the Sixth Tradition, but princes are often willing to overlook it if the regent is a loyal ally and the vassal really is a liability. If the prince and the regent are on less cordial terms, though, this scheme can easily backfire if the prince finds out and uses the Tradition violation as pretext to depose the regent.
Reporting Crimes: Any vampire who witnesses a Tradition violation is technically within rights to report it to an officer of the prince’s court (the sheriff, seneschal, hounds, etc.). These luminaries usually have other things they’d rather spend their time on, though, and most overlords prefer to mete out justice on their own vassals.
If the vassal’s crime is grave enough to pass up (i.e., it could warrant a punishment that the overlord doesn’t want to be caught imposing), the overlord will almost always do so to their immediate liege lord, even if the crime is above that lord’s pay grade. It’s going through the chain of command. If an esquire discovers that one of their tenants killed another vampire, they will probably report it to their regent (or deliver the regent their staked tenant if they want to look particularly good). The regent will make an effort to capture and stake the tenant, if they haven’t been apprehended already, and then turn the culprit over to the prince. (This level of dedication is expected rather than rewarded among regents; they’ll look like they have a weak grasp over their domain if the sheriff has to capture the lawbreaker instead.)
If the culprit is nobody important, the regent might just kill them without bothering to involve the prince. As described above, this is technically a violation of the Sixth Tradition, but many princes will look the other way if the regent keeps quiet about the deed.
Delegating Authority: Many overlords delegate their authority and appoint subordinates to run certain dimensions of their domains. Some of the most common positions include a steward or majordomo who manages the domain’s night-to-night affairs, a herald who represents the overlord’s interests to other vampires, and a warden who defends the domain from intruders and sees to its overall security. Ghouls usually fill these positions in all but the largest domains. It’s considered a mark of prestige, though, for influential enough regents (rarely esquires) to have other vampires serving in these roles. Antoine Savoy, for example, has Natasha Preston as his steward and Peter Lebeaux as his warden.
Competing for Domains
Vampires don’t get along. Instinct drives them to be possessive, backstabbing, solitary, territorial predators. The Man wants to cooperate with others as part of a larger social unit, but the Beast would love nothing more than to kill off all the competition and be a truly apex predator in a city of kine.
Kindred society’s neo-feudal system of domains is a construct designed to minimize overt conflicts between rivals. It mostly succeeds at this. Younger vampires grudgingly accept positions as vassals to their elders in return for limited rights and privileges, but not all Kindred are willing to bend knee. Two (or more) vampires desiring the same domain is a source of much conflict in the All-Night Society. There are three broad tactics that such Kindred generally use to get what they want: sharing the domain, covertly stealing it, or fighting for it.
When Vampires Share
Vampires hate doing this.
There are lots of reasons they don’t. See the above statement on “possessive, backstabbing, solitary, territorial predators.” Vampires stake out what’s theirs and sink their claws into it. They are no more naturally predisposed to share territory than they are to let another vampire share a drink from the vessel they’re sinking their fangs into.
That doesn’t mean they can’t overcome their predatory urgings and listen to higher reason, though. Sometimes sharing a domain really is in their best interests (or at least seems like it is). The following circumstances can make sharing easier for Kindred to swallow.
Disparity in power: Sharing isn’t so bad when one vampire is in a position of clear dominance over the other. After all, both of them know that the stronger predator can always stop sharing—the domain is theirs. It’s even better if one vampire already serves the other in a subordinate capacity. Consider how Vidal allows Donovan a seemingly free hand to run the police despite claiming them as his domain. Donovan is Vidal’s inferior in the relationship and his fortunes are tied to his master’s—Donovan is sheriff, Vidal is prince, and both are Sanctified. That’s a much more palatable arrangement than sharing with a peer like Pearl Chastain.
Manners: As a subpoint to “power disparity,” manners go far in Kindred society. It’s also more acceptable for a low-Status neonate to display deference towards their elders than it is for an older vampire to do the same, and deference puts elders in a good mood (or at least prevents them from getting more churlish). Good manners extend beyond simple politeness in speech, though. A neonate who’s proposing a joint financial venture with an older vampire should offer their elder a larger share of the profits or make some other obvious display that says “you’re the more important party in this arrangement.” Older vampires have spent a long time reaching their positions. Few things offend them more than entitled whelps who act like that means nothing.
Independent management: Even if two vampires share the same domain, things will be less tense if they keep their distances from one another. Consider a local politician that two Kindred have their eyes on and decide to share for whatever reason. If both vampires are on his Christmas card list and getting invited to all his major fundraisers together, they could start to get possessive and unconsciously wonder who he’s more loyal to. If one vampire pulls back and tells the other, “I own this politician, but you get to manage him for me. Do a good job and I’ll let you reap some of the perks. Screw up and I’ll take him back,” that’s inherently more palatable than if they’re both in bed with him at the same time. Obviously, this sort of “stronger vampire owns, weaker vampire manages” arrangement only works when there’s a power disparity (see above). If the vampires are peers, they may opt to split the domain in half—each one has free reign to influence six members of a company’s twelve-member boards of directors. This arrangement can be problematic, though, if those halves aren’t even—such as deciding what to do about the board chairman who’s also CEO.
Sharing domain actually benefits the domain. There are two reasons this can be the case: one, because the second vampire can manage the domain objectively better than the first vampire can. Two, because the first vampire can’t fully commit themselves to running the domain. Consider a prince who has domain over their city’s police, but the illegal drug trade has been flourishing over the past decade. The prince offers to Embrace an up-and-coming Stringer Bell-like drug kingpin and back their takeover of the market. In return, the prince expects the kingpin to run their gangs to his benefit. This arrangement is particularly advantageous because the prince has minimal (or at least highly skewed) knowledge of the drug trade and is already busy with his own concerns: the kingpin childe is the perfect lieutenant to oversee this area of the city on his behalf. It’s actually common for many princes to Embrace large broods and give each childe dominion over a different industry or institution. Regents also do this on a smaller scale, but princes tend to be wary of granting these potent elders permission to Embrace too many times.
There’s a personal relationship between the two vampires: Nepotism runs strong in the All-Night Society and vampires trust their own kin more than outsiders… or at least believe they can better control them. If a vampire has to decide between granting domain to a relative or a non-relative, they will be predisposed to rely on their own blood. Better the devil they know. Even non-familial personal relationships can count for a great deal, however. Friendships still exist among the Damned, or at least mutual recognition of long-term intersections of interests. A vampire who proposes a domain-sharing arrangement with someone she’s known for years is a lot more likely to get what she wants than if she approaches them as a stranger interested in their domain.
Consider several examples of domain-sharing in New Orleans:
• Becky Lynne has a great deal of leeway in managing Whitney Hancock Bank’s affairs for Matheson because she’s his childe (personal relationship), vastly younger than he is (disparity in power) and it actually benefits the domain for her to manage it (Matheson is prohibited from physically entering New Orleans and dislikes modern communications technology; he is not in a good position to directly influence the bank’s nightly affairs).
• Donovan, meanwhile, has apparent freedom to use the police as his tools because he’s Vidal’s long-serving sheriff (personal relationship), vastly younger than his patron (disparity in power), and doing so benefits his master: the police are an integral organization to maintaining the Masquerade, one of Donovan’s foremost duties.
One Pawn, Multiple Domains
Say a vampire makes a corporate executive her pawn. He’s not a ghoul, but the vampire singled him out when he was in middle management (or maybe even earlier as an entry-level employee) and helped him climb the ladder to his present position. The company’s corporate headquarters, where the executive works, is located in the vampire’s domain. The executive’s house is located in a residential neighborhood that’s part of another vampire’s domain. How does this work out?
Ideally, the vampire doesn’t get into this sort of situation at all. It’s a potential fly in the ointment. If the vampire can do so, she gets the executive to move to a swank downtown condo so he’s in her domain most of the time. There are ways she could potentially accomplish this without resorting to anything as obvious as Dominate. Still, it’s always possible those ways don’t pan out. Maybe the vampire isn’t resourceful or talented enough to make it happen in the first place, or maybe coercing the executive to move simply isn’t worth the strain it would place on their relationship. It’s even possible that moving might make the executive less useful, such as if his socially influential wife refuses and the two end up separating after the vampire forces him to move out. What’s to happen if the vampire wants to keep her pawn where he is?
First, it’s worth noting that vampires broadly consider all unclaimed mortals in their domain to be part of their domain. They also ascribe more significance to where a mortal exercises influence than where they go to sleep at night. A hospital president exercises his authority at the hospital, not from his house: a vampire whose domain encompasses the hospital is considered to have a greater claim over the president than the vampire whose domain encompasses his house. These lines can blur with some mortals, though, such as a mayor who works downtown but hosts regular fundraisers from his home in a residential neighborhood.
The vampire could simply not tell the domain’s lord that one of her pawns lives in his territory. There are reasons not to turn every mortal pawn into a ghoul and this scenario is one of them. If the vampire never announces the executive is her pawn, and never visits him at his house, the second vampire is pretty likely to never find out.
But suppose the second vampire still does, because the first vampire got careless or unlucky. The second vampire might feel threatened and decide to kill or suborn the mortal, depending on his relationship with the first vampire. If the first vampire doesn’t want to risk this, she might strike a deal. As mentioned, Kindred society considers the first vampire to have a stronger claim over the executive. The second vampire has less incentive to turn the mortal into his pawn, so he’s likely to be more open to negotiation. He might ask for a boon or service in return, or maybe even nothing at all, if they’re on cordial enough terms.
If the first vampire is on hostile terms with the second vampire, however, the best she can probably hope for is to conceal her pawn. If she can’t do that, he’s probably screwed. The vampire will need to deal with her rival directly or find another pawn.
In New Orleans: For an example of how this sort of arrangement can work (as well as not work), the New Orleans city council meets in City Hall (located in the CBD) to conduct business. Members also live in the districts they represent. Vidal generally allows regents to make councilpeople who represent their domains into pawns, but he expects them to support his own civic initiatives in return. This tolerance does not extend to the councilperson who represents District C, which includes the French Quarter—Antoine Savoy has repeatedly suborned these councilpeople to his will. Since they are recurrently elected officials, Vidal doesn’t kill them—that just endangers the Masquerade. Instead, he plays at mortal politics and uses mundane methods to turn the other councilpeople against Savoy’s agents, such as backing a bill that benefits their district in return for supporting another bill the District C councilperson opposes. Vidal also backs candidates in municipal elections who come from precincts outside the French Quarter. Sometimes the prince wins these struggles, and sometimes Savoy does, but the two elders clash constantly in the realm of mortal politics.
If one asks why Vidal doesn’t just manufacture scandals to get Savoy’s pawns forced out of office early, that isn’t a sustainable tactic in the long run. Savoy would fight back and the councilperson’s replacement might be just as happy to do the French Quarter lord’s bidding anyway. If career-ruining scandals happened around every councilperson elected from a French Quarter precinct, the Masquerade would be at risk. It’s a safer tactic to challenge Savoy’s pawns through the municipal elections that happen every four years anyway.
When Vampires Steal
Sometimes Kindred can’t reach accommodations with each other. If they don’t want to fight for control of an asset, though, they can simply take without asking.
Feeding in another vampire’s domain without telling them is poaching. Most Kindred are tempted to do this at some point—feeding is a lot better in some areas of the city than others, and why should elders get to claim all the best parts?
Feeding is like shoplifting. The lifter can score a nice haul and get away with it, but every theft increases their odds of getting caught. The traditional sentence for poaching is a drink of the domain holder’s blood (“as you have drunk from the fields that sustain my Requiem, so shall you drink from me directly”), though younger vampires are just as likely to simply kick the shit out of trespassers—usually in excess of what they believe the stolen blood will heal. Particularly angry or cruel lords may do both. Poaching remains one of the most commonly punished offenses in any city, though. It’s simply too easy to get away with once, and that temptation draws poachers continually back.
Vampires will descend like hungry ticks on the domain of any lord who has a reputation for not defending their territory, so most lords conduct semi-regular patrols for poachers and other intruders. Some lords do so personally while others foist off the task to vassals or ghouls. The regularity and effectiveness of these patrols can vary by how large the domain is, how desirable the lord believes it is to poachers, and how much time the lord is willing to devote to the task (either theirs or a servants’.) Patrolling itself is a fairly dull activity, but vassals or ghouls who apprehend trespassers get to prove they’re earning their keep. Some lords take the alternative approach of offering rewards for caught poachers.
Poaching can be easier to get away with than installing mortal pawns in another vampire’s domain, since it is by nature a transitory event. The poacher only spends an hour-ish in the domain before they’re gone—recurrent poaching is usually what gets offenders caught.
Mortal pawns, though, stick around for much longer. Many Kindred interested in establishing influence in another another vampire’s territory will simply fight them for it, but there are several time-honored (and more recent) ways to covertly install mortal pawns. The vampire’s odds of pulling this off undetected are proportionate to how direct their control of the pawns is, how much the pawns are likely to attract a rival Kindred’s notice, and how observant those rival Kindred actually are.
Ghouls are the time-honored choice of Kindred pawn. They’re more loyal, they have supernatural powers, and they may know the true nature of the mission their domitor has given them. On the other hand, the blood bond can also complicate things emotionally, an obedient ghoul can take time to “break in,” and most vampires only have enough blood to sustain so many ghouls at once. Sometimes those benefits are worth the drawbacks to the vampire and sometimes they’re not. Dominate and Majesty are less detectable ways for Kindred to suborn mortals to their will, but the truly subtle vampire does not require supernatural powers to do this. Mundane bribery, extortion, intimidation, and seduction can all place a mortal in the vampire’s pocket no less effectively. Cultivating a pawn’s genuine loyalty can also be a very effective long-term strategy. For example, a vampire who wants to establish a hold over a rival’s software company might find a promising high school student (or several) from an economically disadvantaged background, befriend them, pull strings to get them into a good college on a scholarship, and nudge them to apply for positions at the rival vampire’s company after they graduate. If the new employee’s career goes well, they could have some real pull in the company after enough years. They’re going to remember the “friend” who got them where they now are, too, especially if the vampire continues to do them favors and works to maintain the relationship. This sort of strategy obviously takes a long time to full off, but beings who live forever can afford to think in the long term. (A vampire who doesn’t want to be directly connected to the pawn could even delegate this task to a trusted ghoul.)
The scope of a vampire’s pawns is just as important as how they control those pawns. One pawn is harder for a rival to detect than twelve. Twelve who know they aren’t alone are even easier. A pawn who’s a CEO is easier to detect than one who’s a janitor. Greater visibility is always the trade-off for greater influence.
The Barrens and Outlands
Vampires who want to claim domains without paying fealty to elder monsters have two options: the barrens and the outlands.
The barrens are areas of a city where feeding is difficult, such as industrial wastelands, cemeteries, abandoned buildings, and blight-ridden slums. Some truly desperate Kindred hunt these areas, hoping to encounter the occasional homeless person or lost tourist, but most vampires stay away. Few princes care if their subjects hunt in these areas. If some shame-faced lick wants to dive through the garbage for scraps, he’s welcome to them.
Some princes have been known to grant the barrens to other Kindred as personal feeding grounds as a form of public chastisement for wrongdoings that were unworthy of more serious punishment. More than just a humiliation, this “award” can lead to worse problems for the unfortunate Kindred down the road. As lord of the barrens, she is now responsible for everything that goes wrong there—and as the barrens attract only those Kindred in desperate straits, things go wrong with remarkable frequency.
The barrens are also poor in material resources for Kindred without specialized knowledge and connections. A Harvard-educated Ventrue neonate might try to set himself up as a “lord of the slums” in a crime-ridden inner city neighborhood, but if he doesn’t know anything about the streets, he’s probably in for a rude surprise even if there aren’t any rival predators to challenge his claim.
San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood in the early 2000s is a good example of what a city’s barrens can look like:
Once a run-down sector of San Francisco, Bayview and Hunter’s Point were “improved” when the city tore down public housing and low-income neighborhoods to build a sprawling genetic research industrial park. By day, an army of underpaid lab techs and the scientists commanding them swarm the area. By night, however, the entire complex clears out; the compound’ s grounds are as sterile as its laboratories. For this reason, a vampire is lucky if she catches a lab drone working late because the other options for feeding—the occasional (strangely anemic) security guard, delivery driver, or imprudent cab driver—are sparse. Without the Herd Merit, Kindred who live in Hunter’s Point go hungry more nights than not, and many risk poaching outside the area.
In recent decades, gentrification and urban renewal projects have turned formerly worthless barrens into valuable domains. Kindred authorities sometimes drive off “squatters” in these once-barrens, but farsighted (or lucky) vampires who got in on the ground floor can leverage unofficial claims into formally recognized ones. Tonight, gentrification is becoming an increasingly popular way for opportunistic neonates to establish unclaimed new domains.
The outlands, in contrast, are the suburbs and exurbs that lie between a city’s urban core and unpopulated wilderness. Blood is much scarcer in these areas, and not just because population densities are lower. More people know their neighbors (and recognize odd behaviors) and strangers can’t just fade away into crowds like they can in cities. Disappearances and murders draw more attention. What’s most inconvenient of all to vampires, though, is that there’s less activity after dark—people go to the cities for nightlife.
Suburbs can be wealthy communities home to educated professionals and other useful individuals, but few vampires establish hexis in these areas. They know their kind doesn’t rule here. Werewolves and stranger things from the countryside—that blood-empty desert vampires simply call “the Dark”—lurk within the outlands, and few have any care for the Camarilla’s laws. Determined (or ignorant) Kindred who claim domain in the outlands swiftly learn they must fight tooth and nail to keep them. Dwelling along these urban fringes is a halfway existence between a “normal” Requiem and a nomad’s wandering unlife, and the All-Night Society views Kindred who choose it as unsavory vagrants. Many are Caitiff, thin-bloods, criminals, autarkis, and other outcasts and loners who couldn’t manage to coexist among their fellow Damned.
Most princes only pay attention to the outlands if the occupants (Kindred or otherwise) seem to pose a threat to their cities’ stability. New Orleans’ Prince Vidal, however, is more vigilant than many of his peers. The Big Easy is the sole urban center for miles around in a largely rural state, and has clearer boundaries than cities like Boston or Philadelphia which belong to the same extended urban sprawl. As such, Vidal considers it only proper that he should exercise praxis over all of his city. The prince’s presence is undeniably weaker in the outlands, but he still sends out occasional patrols (sometimes led by the sheriff, sometimes by other Kindred paying corvee) to scour the area of “undesirables” and preemptively drive off potential threats.
Los Angeles’ Fringe is another example of what a city’s outlands can look like:
It doesn’t get any lower that this. If you find yourself in the Fringe, then odds are you burned all of your bridges in L.A. and had better get used to going things alone. It’s not that these territories are all that violent, or that Kindred from the center never travel there (though it is rare), it’s simply that this far from the known centers of power, wealth, and blood the Fringe seems a barren wasteland. This is, of course, not true, but out here the barons’ influence rapidly goes from slim to none—and most Kindred out here have no clout in LA proper. A few are even thought to be Don Sebastian loyalists from the ’44 revolt from who were too reviled to hide in the city, but too stubborn to flee completely.
Rather loosely defined, the Fringe is anything beyond the Regent’s Ring out to the far edges of the suburbs. In reality, though, the Ring itself is in constant flux as old Anarch gangs fall and new ones rise. Several packs of Lupines are known to roam the fringes of the city, keeping the vampire population in the farthest reaches very low. Eventually you just hit the Edge, where the city gives way to the wilderness of mountains and desert. The Gangrel are the strongest clan who remain in this area, riding the south desert highways by night while packs of werewolves keep the mountains and the north under their claws. Although its reputation has certainly grown, the Fringe is nevertheless a dangerous place for vampires. There is blood to be had, but feeding is not nearly as easy as it is in L.A. proper. And while many consider it an advantage that the largest Anarch gangs and other covenants hold no sway here, it also means that the only justice available is that which you are willing or able to dish out. Autarkis rule here and individual Kindred scratch out what territory they can. The Fringe is also the home of malcontents and fools who thought that the city’s reputation for the strange meant they could ignore the Masquerade. It is also widely believed that large bands of nomads move through the Fringe, temporarily settling before moving on again.
When Vampires Fight
“I want my fuckin’ corners.”
—Avon Barksdale, The Wire
Domain means nothing if the holder can’t defend it.
Vampires fight each other all the time for control of domains. Sometimes negotiation doesn’t make any headway and sometimes a subtle takeover isn’t attractive or feasible. The constant turf wars depicted in The Wire over corners where gangs sell drugs is excellent inspiration for the sort of violent politicking that happens over Kindred domains. Indeed, fighting over a domain is one of Blood & Bourbon’s central conflicts, as the city’s political backdrop is defined by the struggle between the prince and his two rivals.
Vampires fight each other through three primary means: mortal proxies, Kindred intrigue, and physical violence.
Vampires using mortals to fight their battles is a time-honored tactic. To use a basic example, suppose two vampires each control a mortal gang that’s interested in selling drugs on the same corners. The vampires set the gangs at one another’s throats, and after several shoot-outs, the losing gang gives up their claim to the territory. The winner and their Kindred master moves in: he can now hunt in the area, make ghouls among the locals, establish a haven, and enjoy all the other perks that come with controlling a domain. He could have tried to do this earlier, but his position is much more secure now that his pet gang rules the streets. His rival decides to either cut his losses or pursue new tactics to reclaim the domain.
There are numerous reasons for Kindred to resolve their conflicts through mortals in this manner:
• It’s better for the Masquerade. Yes, bodies and shootings draw police scrutiny (more on this below), but it’s better than if two vampires are brawling in the streets.
• It’s less personally risky. If the vampire supporting the losing gang personally fought alongside them, it’s possible he could’ve been torpored, captured, or killed. Rebuilding from his losses will take time… but he’s immortal and has all the time in the world.
• It’s less socially risky. If the losing vampire decides to back down over the disputed domain, killing a few mortals probably means less blowback for the winner than killing another vampire.
• It’s useful even if the conflict doesn’t end there. If the losing vampire still decides to attack the winner (or vice versa), he’ll have a harder time now that the gang he controls is down a few members.
Physical violence is not the only way to eliminate a rival’s pawns. In fact, it’s one of the least efficient methods there is—as The Wire points out, bodies draw police attention. Cops will chalk it up to business as usual if gangbangers, homeless people, prostitutes, mafiosos, and individuals from similar backgrounds (Allies [Street] or [Underworld]) turn up dead, but a spate of murders targeting politicians, doctors, or corporate executives will set off a true shit storm. There are still ways to kill these people (suicides are a particular favorite—they can live such stressful lives), but it’s usually more efficient to simply remove them from the positions that make them useful. That can be doable through one of two broad ways:
By Mortals: Use another mortal pawn to nonviolently eliminate the rival’s pawn. If the rival’s pawn is a politician, back his challenger in the next election. If the rival’s pawn is a CEO, back another company’s hostile takeover. If the rival’s pawn is a famous media personality, find some other hot new talent to upstage her. Mortals scheme and intrigue against one another incessantly in the World of Darkness, and a savvy vampire can tip the balance in someone’s favor without ever resorting to supernatural powers. (Although one can still use these to great effect—Auspex, Animalism and Obfuscate are superlative at gathering information to better arm one’s pawns.) Obviously, this tactic is best for the Masquerade, and is all but exclusively preferred by Kindred elders engaged in long-term power struggles—see the previous example on how Vidal and Savoy fight one another for city council seats. The downside to this tactic, however, is that it requires a larger investment in time and material or social resources, making it less viable for less connected or savvy vampires.
By Kindred: The vampire (or a ghoul agent) personally eliminates the rival’s pawn. The politician gets caught in a sex scandal or “decides” not to run for reelection by the filing deadline. The CEO hangs himself or gets caught embezzling from his company. The media personality overdoses on drugs or bombs their next TV appearances. There are no end of ways that vampires can ruin mortals’ lives with their powers—Dominate is only the most obvious one. Careless use of Disciplines can endanger the Masquerade, however, and even perfectly executed frame-ups and “accidents” look suspicious if they happen too close together. When a company goes through four CEOs in a year who all lose their positions in clouds of tragedy or disgrace, hunters or law enforcement will not be far behind—and at the very least, investors may lose faith in the company. Consequently, vampires are much more cautious about using supernatural tampering in long-term conflicts with one another. Vidal or Savoy would both likely be displeased if they caught a favor-currying neonate using Dominate to pin their rival’s pet politician with a DUI arrest.
This subject could be a sourcebook in its own right. Insofar as it pertains to domains, however, this strategy involves maneuvering your rival into a social/political position where they are forced to give up their domain to you… or at least one where that domain is easier to seize by force. There are a thousand and one different ways to do this, all dependent upon the vampires and domains involved. Several possible scenarios include:
• Two tenants under the same esquire want one another’s hunting grounds. Tenant #1 vigilantly patrols the borders of his domain, and when he spots poachers in Tenant #2’s domain, he drives them off. He makes sure their landlord knows each time. After enough times, the esquire finally awards him some of Tenant #1’s territory, since he’s been taking better care of it. If Tenant #1 arranged to have some of those poachers show in in the first place, well, he’s just been a proactive go-getter.
• An esquire covertly desires her fellow esquire’s domain. She knows there’s bad blood between him and a neonate, and to her delight, the two start verbally taunting each other one night in Elysium. She encourages the neonate to mouth off and gives advice that she knows will push her rival’s buttons. If the neonate gets publicly embarrassed in a duel of wits with the esquire’s rival, she loses nothing; if her rival performs poorly in the duel of wits, his diminished social standing will make it easier to move against him later (but better sooner than later, as social tides have their ebbs and flows). The esquire’s rival, however, completely loses his temper at the mouthy neonate’s taunts and attacks her in Elysium. The rival is disgraced, stripped of a sizable portion of his domain, embarrassingly forced to allow the neonate feeding rights in what’s left, and to pay her corvee. The esquire is delighted by this unexpectedly fortuitous turn of events. (Was this actually what happened between Isa and Rocco? Perhaps, and perhaps not, but the described sequence of events still makes a good example.)
• Regent #1 wants to claim Regent #2’s domain for his own. He spends years covertly gathering information on Regent #2, her vassals, and her assets, which he uses to covertly incite strife through intermediaries (such as tasking one of his vassals with kidnapping the mortal family of one of Regent #2’s vassals, and framing another one of Regent #2’s vassals for the deed). Enough of these incidents start to make Regent #2’s status suffer: since she isn’t an idiot, she suspects a rival is behind this. Regent #1 figured she would, and chooses this moment to leak information that paints Regent #3 (who’s on so-so terms with Regent #2) as the architect of Regent #2’s present woes. Regent #2 and Regent #3 start clashing through mortal proxies, safely behind the veil of the Masquerade.
Regent #1 lets them bloody one another’s noses, then approaches Regent #3 with a proposition: they depose Regent #2 and split her territory between them. The two dither over terms, but eventually come to an accord. Regent #1 starts granting territory to his vassals in Regent #2’s domain and joins the “war effort.” Regent #2 is soon in a sorry place; she starts calling in her own allies, only to find the prince has already approached them and is stepping in to “mediate.” She threatens her intervention if the conflict does not end, and proposes the simple “ceasefire agreement” of letting each side keep the territory they’ve won. Regent #2 has come out of this affair with a diminished domain, but at least retains her regency; Regent #1 hasn’t gotten everything he wanted, but has come out ahead. Still, circumstances and allegiances can always change; such as when Regent #3 uncovers evidence that Regent #1 orchestrated the initial conflict between him and Regent #2…
This strategy is simple: one vampire kills another vampire whose domain they want. It’s one of the fastest (and simplest) ways to acquire a rival’s domain, but entails the most risk—personally and socially. There are several variants on this basic strategy:
Instead of killing your rival, you personally go after their assets. Kill their ghouls, kill their mortal pawns (or quickly remove them from useful positions), firebomb their buildings, etc. This is comparable to deploying one’s queen in chess. Enemy pawns can be quickly cleared off the board, but it’s dangerous to the queen—this option risks the most blowback against the attacking vampire. Many Kindred pair this tactic with patsies (see below).
Instead of personally attacking your rival, you get someone else to fight your battles for you. Overlords have an easy carrot/stick to motivate their vassals into doing this (corvée), but there are a thousand other ways that elder vampires can manipulate younger licks into attacking their rivals. A good example of this tactic is René co-opting Eight-Nine-Six into going after Caroline. They already hated her, so he simply approached them and offered his assistance. The vampire has more insulation if their patsies’ attack fails, but it can still have negative repercussions—consider how Caroline captured René’s ghoul after Eight-Nine-Six’s unsuccessful ambush. Another classic patsy are hunters, who are usually eager to kill vampires and have the benefit of being completely disposable… though savvy ones can still turn the tables on arrogant Kindred.
Another time-honored way to attack a rival without doing it personally is to hire an Assamite, who demand payment in vitae. None but the most foolish Kindred would refer to these feared assassins as ‘patsies.’ The Tremere, understandably, rarely engage Alamut’s services.
It should come as no surprise that this tradition remains alive and well in the All-Night Society’s antiquated culture. It’s especially prevalent in more conservative domains such as the American South. Many clans and covenants have their own variations on this ancient custom: the Invictus and Ordo Dracul have code duellos specially written for the Damned, Gangrel frequently fight clanmates as part of their things (clan gatherings), the Sanctified have rencontre, Tremere have certamen, and so on.
The full vagaries of dueling culture among the Camarilla is a topic in its own right. Insofar as duels relate to claiming domains, however, it should noted that one vampire does not issue a dueling challenge simply because he wants to claim a rival’s territory. Such behavior establishes him as a greedy and boorish oaf. Duels are fought for larger causes than a single Requiem or fought when the vampire’s personal honor is in question: personal insults, long-running feuds, questions of lineage, and so on are all valid reasons to fight a duel. Thus, a clever vampire who covets his rival’s domain might engineer a sequence of events that justifies calling for a duel. Taking over a dead rival’s domain is all-too easy, but even if the duel isn’t to the final death, his loss of face from losing can still make vassals lose confidence in their overlord, allies reconsider who to support, and otherwise make the process of taking over his domain easier. Some duels can even be openly fought over domains, such if a deceased elder’s two childer cannot peacefully resolve who has the stronger claim to their sire’s holdings.
Duels can be fought to first blood, frenzy (where the first vampire to give in to their Beast loses), surrender, torpor, or final death. Not all cities permit duels to the final death, but it is traditional for the loser to agree to some boon or service (be it as simple as a public apology or as demanding as surrendering one’s claim to a domain) in return for their Requiem being spared. Elders frown mightily on Kindred who hope to walk away with nothing but a wounded pride (and easily healed physical injuries). More conservative cities where princes are more zealous in enforcing the Sixth Tradition, ironically, tend to be the most likely to allow duels to the final death. Thus, duels offer a convenient way to kill one’s rivals without being in violation of the Traditions… if both parties willingly commit to one. Duels are fought between peers: an elder vampire who challenges a neonate will be scorned for only picking fights she can win, and an elder who’s challenged by a young lick can refuse without loss of face (or simply name a champion to thrash the impudent whelp). A vampire who refuses a peer’s challenge, however, can suffer substantial loss of face. Kindred challenged by socially matched peers who physically outclass them still have recourse: they can name a champion to fight in their stead. Some champions might perform this service for free, if the challenged vampire is kin or a long-time ally, but most Kindred aren’t so selfless towards another vampire in need. Much intrigue can result if the challenger knows who their rival intends to name as a champion and attempts to woo them away or ensure their nonparticipation through more underhanded means. Some particularly unscrupulous champions even accept payment to throw their patron’s duel—or accept payment from both sides and simply claim to have been acting in the interests of whichever one wins. Wise Kindred select their champion carefully or fight their own battles.
Duels remain one of the least common ways for vampires to resolve disputes in the Camarilla, but they can captivate audiences and be talked about for years like few other spectacles can. Two of the more famous duels from the American Camarilla’s recent history include:
• J. Bennison Hodge and Thelonius Kirby: Bennison was prince of Atlanta during the 1960s and a former Confederate colonel who opposed Brown vs. Board and the Civil Rights Act. Thelonius was a former slave who lacked the prince’s influence among mortal society and wanted to stop him from using it to fight desegregation. (Whether Bennison could have succeeded is debatable, but he likely could have made desegregation a harder and more violent process in Atlanta.) Bennison was also famous for his skill with a saber and being completely fearless in battle: it was said even the Burning of Atlanta didn’t make him frenzy. Furthermore, Bennison was closer to Caine than Thelonius was. Still, the Brujah saw no faster way to stop the prince from fighting desegregation, and knew the famously brave Bennison would never back down from a public challenge. Thelonius fought defensively during their duel, hardly even trying to land any blows, and prolonged the fight until sunrise. Bennison realized, to his shock, that Thelonius was perfectly willing to burn in the dawn (for Bennison would never retreat from an opponent he hadn’t honorably bested) if that meant he could take the prince with him. Realizing this, Bennison yielded the duel and lost his throne shortly thereafter, as the prince’s defeat proved a galvanizing moment to the city’s predominately black Anarchs.
• Marcus Vitel and Vadim Ivanov: The Tremere Marissa had been prince of Washington D.C. from the Civil War until her assassination during the MLK Riots. Marcus Vitel, a truly ancient Ventrue Embraced during the reign of Commodus, swiftly took over the city for the Invictus. Vadim Ivanov was Marissa’s eldest childe and knew Vitel had some “passing knowledge” of blood magic, so the Tremere challenged him to certamen: a duel pitting magic against magic whose rules allowed no other attacks. The vastly older Vitel could have easily won a conventional duel, but Ivanov was an experienced thaumaturge and felt the terms of certamen would give him the edge he needed. Alas, Vitel proved more adept at the mystic arts than Ivanov expected, and sent the warlock screaming to his final death beneath a barrage of sorcerous fire. The duel took the last fight out of Clan Tremere’s will to reclaim control of D.C.—at least until the transfer of Pontifex Peter Dorfman to the city. To this night, many regents use Ivanov’s duel as a cautionary tale for apprentices: House Tremere are not the Camarilla’s only blood magicians, but they are the sect’s most united ones. It is that unity which makes them superior to Acolyte witches, Sanctified priests, and Anarch gutter magicians. Ivanov stood alone and fell alone.
The largest downside to duels is that they are usually fought between evenly matched (but sometimes disastrously underestimated) opponents. A vampire only suffers loss of face if they refuse a challenge from a peer, and a socially matched but physically outclassed Kindred can nominate a stand-in. Consequently, outcomes in duels are often anything but certain. A formal challenge also announces the vampire’s intentions to their rival, who may not have even known about their enmity beforehand. Consequently, while duels have their place, few Kindred resort to them as a first choice.
The most direct way to eliminate a rival and claim their domain is to simply kill them when they aren’t expecting it. The tactics for fighting vampires could be an article in their own right, but some of the most classic ones are researching an enemy’s banes and showing up with friends. Fighting him outside his haven, where he doesn’t have the home ground advantage, is even better. Inviting him somewhere under peaceful pretext where you have the home ground advantage is better still. Vampires want to stack the odds as much as possible and are rarely interested in fighting fair.
The vampire also wants an alibi for when their rival goes missing, not to mention a way of claiming their domain without looking like the crime’s clear beneficiary, as the sheriff can expected to investigate disappearances. How thoroughly he investigates will depend on the missing vampire’s social standing and relationships, but the consequences for being caught are usually terminal. Killing one’s kind is a capital crime and few princes turn a blind eye even to allies who blatantly ignore the Sixth Tradition.
“Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; […] and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities."
A large-scale battle between vampires is the equivalent to besieging walled cities. It is almost always the costliest option, both to Kindred unlives and the Masquerade. Princes and regents usually deal with offenders very harshly: consider Vidal’s execution of Eight-Nine-Six, which included Bliss Jackson despite the fact she wasn’t even involved in the coterie’s last fight with Caroline. If things have gotten to the point that parties are brawling in the streets, princes often find it expedient just to banish or execute them all under the often-justified pretext of violating the Masquerade.
If fights between coteries are bad, fights between regents can plunge whole cities into civil war. It always results in mass fatalities, as initially uninvolved vampires use the chaos to settle old scores, and it’s always bad for the Masquerade. This is the sort of scenario that results in archons and justicars coming to town, destroying whoever they judge the worst troublemakers, and installing a new prince because the locals are incapable of governing themselves. Still, archons can’t be everywhere at once, so this sort of intervention is really only possible when they have advance warning that trouble is brewing. If several factions of Kindred fight it out and one wins, the Camarilla usually won’t do much besides monitor the city for signs of continued political instability. This is the worst-case scenario that many Kindred fear could result from tensions between Vidal and his rivals reaching a fever pitch: the cold war turning hot. The sole upshot to city-wide Kindred battles is that vast new tracts of domain (and often other political offices and opportunities) open up for the survivors.