Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood & Bourbon
“It is sleep but not sleep, where thoughts are sluggish as thick honey and take years to flow. It is a state where dreams and might-have-beens intercourse with true memories. It is a state where sounds and smells from the deepest recesses of one’s consciousness find their way to the surface again, but disturb the mind no more than a rose petal falling on a still pool of water. Time has no meaning; hunger has no meaning. There is no future. There is no past. There is but an endless and eternal now.”
The ancients called sleep the brother of death. This is even more true for vampires than for mortals. Every day, Kindred enter a sleep that mortal senses and science cannot distinguish from death. The Kindred experience it much as mortals experience sleep.
The Kindred can also enter a deeper sleep, however, in which their souls come even closer to death. It has many names. The Eclipse. The Retreat. The Black Sleep, the Long Slumber, the Sleep of Ages, the Repose of the Damned. Each vampire seems to have their own name for torpor, and each one seems to experience it differently. For some, torpor seems placid and, if not pleasant, at least some kind of release from the rigors of eternity. For others, torpor is a torturous, terrifying ordeal, spooling over centuries and tearing the mind apart.
Torpor can last for nights or for centuries. Some exceptionally ancient vampires may sleep for millennia. The characteristics of torpor seem to depend on a few elements: the disposition of the vampire, the circumstances that forced them into sleep, the proximity of Kindred with blood ties to the one who slumbers, and the environment that they rest in. Not all of them will affect any particular vampire’s torpor, but some or all may combine to play a role.
Causes of Torpor
“God, I still remember it like it was yesterday. We were all charging at that old bastard, me and my whole coterie, and he was just turning the star mode on all of us, one after the other. I looked to my left, and I saw Hiram drop in mid-step, like he just had the world yanked out from under him, and I knew he was gone. Julie ran ahead of me and she fell without a sound, like a toy with the batteries yanked out, her head cracking on the marble floor. I got close enough to lay the axe into him once, maybe twice, and that was it—there was this screaming white noise in my ears, I felt like I was burning for maybe a second, and then boom, everything went black. Someone must’ve got through to him in the end, otherwise I would be ash for sure.”
Vampires typically enter torpor for one of four reasons: injury, starvation, age, and voluntary choice.
If a vampire suffers enough bodily trauma to kill a human, they enter torpor. (Vampires with the Fortitude Discipline may require quite a bit more than this.) This is one of the primary ways Kindred are so much more resilient than mortals: only fire, sunlight, banes, decapitation, and the total destruction of their entire bodily volume can slay them outright. Some banes and supernatural powers can also send a vampire into torpor as if through injury.
Kindred scholars debate how and why torpor happens. Vampires do not have functioning biological systems in the same sense that living beings do. Vampires don’t suffer wounds the same way, they don’t go into shock, and they don’t die like mortals. The accumulation of injuries doesn’t lead to a cascade of failed organs and systems, because vampires’ organs are not interdependent. Most no longer perform any real function at all, except to store blood.
Some Kindred believe that injury-caused torpor has nothing to do with the body’s function, but is rather a purely psychological event. When confronted with serious physical trauma, they say, the conscious mind of a vampire recalls (or imagines) the shock a living being would logically experience, and approximates it with vampiric collapse. It is often pointed out that vampires with Fortitude are often not physically tougher than their counterparts, they are just able to take—or rather, to ignore—much more punishment. Opponents of this theory, however, point out that it takes no more violence to put a frenzying vampire into torpor than an ordinary one… and those in frenzy can hardly be called “conscious.”
Regardless of cause, a vampire beaten into torpor immediately collapses like a puppet with cut strings. One moment, the muscles and mind work perfectly, the next: complete shutdown. They may have ample warning, feeling themselves getting confused or dazed as the moment approaches, but when it actually happens it’s instantaneous. A vampire at the very edge of torpor won’t fall into it until taking another wound, because injuries don’t worsen for the undead.
A starving vampire who falls asleep at dawn will never wake up. Blood is what fuels a vampire’s unliving metabolism, so without any in their system, they slip into torpor.
Staking is the most common way for a vampire to enter starvation-induced torpor. If no one feeds a staked vampire, they’ll continue to sleep during the day and awaken at nightfall, aware but helpless. Each night, they’ll burn through a little more of the blood in their system, but cannot replenish it on their own. Once they run out, they fall into torpor.
Other incidences of starvation-induced torpor are almost always unintentional. Typically, the vampire is injured or otherwise forced to expend a large amount of their vitae and does not have time to hunt before the dawn. Kindred rarely choose to actually starve themselves into torpor, just because it feels awful: how many mortals choose to go to bed hungry? A vampire who’s tired or ennuic enough to want to enter torpor can probably manage it on their own. In a few cases, a vampire will starve into torpor because they unexpectedly lose vitae during the day—to interloping Kindred or ghouls who feed on them, for instance, or to one of many mystic rituals.
Since the vampire who starves into torpor is not exactly awake, they don’t have much of a chance to panic. A hazy sensation of pain pervades their repose and translates itself into the dreams that follow in torpor, but the vampire does not consciously understand it.
The older a vampire grows, the more likely they are to enter torpor. There are psychological and physiological reasons for this fact, and they are heavily intertwined.
The more a vampire’s vitae thickens, the stronger the urge to sleep becomes. Potent Blood takes a physiological toll on elders. High-generation elders (those few that exist) send significantly less time in torpor than their lower-generation peers. Contrariwise, many methuselahs spend more of their Requiems asleep than awake, while the godlike Antediluvians are said to have slumbered for eons.
Kindred scholars have many theories as to why this is, but the effects are undeniable. When an elder goes long enough without torpor (how long this is depends on how potent their vitae is), they feel the urge to sleep through their waking nights. At first, the desire is relatively weak, requiring no real effort to resist. Eventually, remaining awake becomes a struggle. The Kindred feels (but doesn’t actually become) sluggish under all but the most threatening circumstances. Their ability to react quickly to threats and perform tasks is unaffected, but in idle moments they will seem to be pushing against molasses with their every move, and will take an unnaturally long time to respond in conversation. Their thoughts slow and their muscles seem to seize up. Their Blood becomes like glue in their veins. Eventually, the effort to stay awake drains them physically as well as spiritually, and they may spend entire nights doing nothing more than staring at their havens’ walls. It’s almost as if they are slowly grinding to a halt, whether they like it or not.
Torpor that results from potent Blood is like a gentle slide into much-needed sleep. Many elders who experience it consider it quite agreeable, and say that giving into it can be an immense relief. Those who fight it, however, describe it quite differently. The powerful lassitude that is forced upon them horrifies those who are bound and determined to stay awake (and powerful), and those who fail to resist it describe an immeasurable panic that overcomes them. No one likes to be helpless, least of all creatures who have accumulated the unimaginable power of the elders.
Finally, vampires can “choose” to enter torpor, although this is something of a misnomer. Vampires can enter torpor torpor out of ennui, apathy, despair, grief, or shock. Oftentimes, the vampire doesn’t consciously decide to sleep: they simply withdraw from the world into themselves. Other times, a vampire discontent with the state of the world might deliberately go to sleep in hopes of awakening in a new and more interesting age.
Mental exhaustion is one of the most common reasons that vampires enter torpor. Kindred daysleep doesn’t provide a psychological feeling of rest like human sleep does: it seems to pass in less than a second. Most Kindred adjust to this, but after enough “sleepless nights,” their minds crave true sleep. Elders are more likely to enter torpor for this reason than neonates. Indeed, the distinction between torpor driven by potent Blood and mental fatigue is often a blurry one: both factors may predispose an elder towards sleep.
Regardless of motivations, voluntary torpor is more common among elders than neonates. For all the problems a neonate might experience during their Requiem, they at least experience them within a familiar world. Elders are creatures out of time and products of societies that no longer exist in recognizable form. This fact is profoundly isolating in a way even the loneliest neonate can never comprehend, and makes elders inherently more predisposed towards torpor. It’s easier to withdraw from the world when you have fewer ties to it. A neonate who enters torpor may wake up into a world they longer recognize, but to elders, they’ll be strangers either way.
Entering voluntary torpor can be a pleasant experience in one’s Requiem. Kindred who are not aware of the implications of torpor sometimes enter into the sleep as an escape from depression or a retreat from unhappy circumstances, burrowing into a safe spot and instinctively abandoning themselves to slumber, hoping that they will rise again in better nights. Their preparations are rudimentary, if there are any at all, and they appear, for all intents and purposes, to just lie down for the day and fail to rise at the following sunset. To mortals, the Kindred will appear to be a corpse in repose, laid gently to rest in their surroundings.
On the other hand, vampires who are familiar with torpor (typically elders) engage in delicate, detailed preparations for voluntary sleep. They work to create an atmosphere of peace and pleasure, surrounding themselves with inspiring or relaxing elements. Music, scent, and decor are all chosen to maximize the vampire’s sense of calm as they slide into slumber, and arrangements are made to attend to their body for the duration and maintain a pleasing environment for their eventual reawakening. A vampire discovered in voluntary torpor under these circumstances won’t just look like a natural corpse—they will seem to be an object of veneration, surrounded by valuables and beautiful works of art.
Entering voluntary torpor feels almost like going to sleep for the day, with an added relaxation of the mind. It is as though the vampire is releasing themselves from worry and fear, even if only temporarily. No matter how much trepidation they feel about their circumstances, present or future, the actual moment of release is satisfyingly complete.
Effects of Torpor
“I don’t know. Some Kindred say the black sleep is gentle and restful. Not for me. I been into it a dozen times, maybe more—for me it comes on like a fast flood of ice, and every goddamn time it happens I’m screaming in my head like a drowning victim. Hours, days, however long it takes, I spend the whole time feeling like I’m floating in frozen tar, itching and burning all over. When I was a fledgling, I thought I might get used to it, what with all the beatings I took. Now I know that’s never going to happen, and I have only one way to comfort myself when I wake up again: rise and take vengeance.”
A torpid vampire exists in a state of deep hibernation. To a mortal, they look stone dead, and for all intents and purposes they are. Even fire and sunlight won’t wake them. Most vampires try to enter torpor in secret and defensible resting places, but circumstance does not always permit this.
During torpor, a vampire’s body seems utterly inert. If there’s any vitae left in their system, they unconsciously stop spending it to maintain their ageless appearance. The Beast doesn’t know what lean times will await in the future and wants to hold onto as much blood as it can. This causes the ravages of time to catch up, making the vampire decay at roughly the same rate as a dead body. Their skin tightens over their flesh and dries out. Their joints harden, and the top layer of their tissue turns to a faint, ashen dust. After enough years, the vampire resembles a desiccated mummy.
Many torpid vampires report strange, nonsensical dreams that keep their mind active and exercised. Usually, this means they’re prepared to adapt to a new world. Sometimes, this goes awry; there are reports of vampires who wake up as whole new people, or, rarely, with distorted memories of their past existence. Most vampires who enter torpor out of weariness find it deeply restful, like a long sleep after a hard day. These Kindred may report peaceful and even pleasurable dreams. Other vampires report protracted nightmares, fraught with horrific visitations of past atrocities and failures, and may awaken insane from the tortures of their fevered minds. These are most common among vampires who enter torpor under traumatic rather than voluntary circumstances. Some vampires believe torpor can grant mystic insights into the past and future. Ultimately, torpor is one of the least understood aspects of the vampiric condition. Its very nature makes it difficult to study.
Some rare bloodlines are rumored to know secrets about the truths of torpor. They claim to communicate with those in the throes of torpor. They swear they can divine otherworldly knowledge of the realms of the dead from torpor dreams. They suggest the Kindred soul wanders another plane with the specters of history, and comes back with hidden information. Of course, scant evidence exists to substantiate any of these claims. But some Kindred swear by the stories of these haruspices, and some princes (especially ones preparing to enter torpor) keep them as chief advisors.
Torpor can last anywhere from nights to millennia, depending on the potency of a vampire’s vitae and the circumstances of their torpor. Many younger licks like to brag they can deliver brutal enough beatings to render a vampire torpid for exceptionally long time periods. Kindred scholars have yet to prove a definitive link between the intensity of suffered trauma and the duration of torpor, but many believe there is a correlation.
What’s undisputed is that vampires with stronger vitae and diminished humanity experience longer torpors, especially as they age. Methuselahs can sleep for centuries: some have remained in the earth since ancient times.
Torpor induced through starvation is permanent, as such vampires are bereft of vitae to animate their undead bodies. The only way to revive them is through blood.
The transition between daysleep and waking is instantaneous for vampires. Torpor is not. It can take a vampire nights, sometimes many nights, to rouse themselves from deep slumber. The vampire’s dreams intensify, like a human experiencing REM sleep, to stimulate their mind and prepare them for their awakening. The vampire begins to physically stir and may “sleepwalk” or lash out at their environment through Disciplines. Some vampires may even briefly wake, mindlessly feed upon anything nearby, and then return to earth as a prelude to their true awakening. In this state, the torpid vampire regains some degree of awareness. Direct threats to their unlife, such as sunlight, a collapsing building, or diablerie-minded Sabbat pack, can now rouse them from slumber—usually in a terrible frenzy.
Typically, the longer a vampire spends in torpor, the longer it takes them to fully awaken. Powerful elders may affect the dreams of their descendants during this “waking period”. Most of the elder’s descendants will experience a vague sense that something important is about to happen, or (if the torpid elder bears them ill will) unsettling daymares. More knowledgeable descendants, most often the elder’s direct childer, may realize the awakening of their progenitor is at hand. This may be an occasion of eager anticipation or terrible dread.
As described above, vampires who enter torpor through starvation can only awaken if fed blood. The taste of spilled blood rouses a torpid vampire fastest, but sometimes the scent of spilled blood can draw them out of slumber as well. This blood must be able to satisfy the vampire’s thirst: animal blood, for example, does nothing for most elders.
A starving vampire will be extremely likely to frenzy upon awakening. If they can’t consume enough blood to satisfy their Beast, they may turn on anyone else present. Prudent individuals either bring a significant quantity of blood (possibly in the form of a sacrificial vessel not intended to survive) or make sure the torpid vampire is restrained before reviving them.
One can awaken a slumbering vampire early by feeding them vitae that is significantly stronger than theirs. This requirement isn’t difficult to satisfy for neonates, many of whom can be pulled out of torpor by a timely draught from an ancilla’s wrist. Many ancillae can only be revived by elders, however, and many elders may be impossible for any Kindred in a given city to awaken prematurely.
There are occasions when this method fails. Sometimes a vampire’s slumber runs too deep. Sometimes they simply don’t want to awaken.
Recovering From Torpor
As described, a torpid vampire physically resembles a shriveled corpse. Feeding gradually restores them to their former appearance. Once the vampire has sated their thirst, they’ll look like their old self within a few hours at most.
One of the best-known effects of prolonged torpor (decades or longer) is its thinning of the blood. A torpid vampire’s vitae dilutes and weakens their Disciplines upon awakening. This isn’t enough to render the vampire helpless—a master of Potence will still be incredibly strong, but they won’t be capable of the same feats as before. This can give their adversaries a valuable edge in battle.
This weakening is only temporary. Eventually, the risen vampire shakes off the dust of centuries and returns to their full “operating capacity.” The longer a vampire’s torpor, the longer this takes, but it’s rarely more than a few months. For this reason, many elders newly risen from torpor prefer to stay in seclusion to “get their bearings” and learn about the state of the world before re-entering Kindred society.
This phenomenon affects elders the most severely. Vampires who enter torpor at younger ages rarely suffer it to the same degree. Indeed, some neonates and ancillae actually emerge from torpor having honed their Disciplines to frightening new levels. Others remain no mightier or weaker than before. Ultimately, torpor remains one of the least understood aspects of the vampiric condition.