Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood & Bourbon
“You are not a doormat. You are not nothing. You are my mother and I need you to be my mother. You are the only thing that kept me together, that kept me from turning into Maxen, and I need you to be that woman for me or I’ll turn into someone just as terrible as he was.”
Celia Flores to Diana Flores
It was Eleanor who indirectly introduced him to Kyrstin. Eleanor who he can discuss medical and surgical advances with. Eleanor who has grounded him to what’s left of his humanity during his time here. Kine or not, he has to admit she’s quite remarkable in her drive and focus. Had he not resolved long ago to never Embrace anyone he had any lingering emotional attachment to—lest it cloud his judgment—he’d think her an excellent candidate. Part of him hopes that someone else eventually reaches the same conclusion: it’d be a shame for her intellect to vanish from the world.
It’s also a shame that this will likely be one of the last times he sees her. Jonathan has moved cities three times. It never gets easier.
Jonathan North on Eleanor Rust
The Kindred are not so far above or below the kine as they would like to believe. They play with their food. They take in. They touch, and contaminate. Eventually, everything is a part of everything. Context is king. The rose is not beautiful because of its red petals, but because it filters that beauty through the thorns that you sometimes have to bleed for to enjoy.
How do your relationships change when the heart stops beating? Do you have breathing family? How did that tendon twist? What of your neighbors? Awkward small talk in the halls or elevators, when you’re pressed so close and the Beast whispers suggestions oh so delicately, and something in them knows it. What of the homeless you once overlooked—laying in doorways like dropped groceries—how do you see them now?
Contexts are not just people, but places, cultures, the view of the cityscape from a particular balcony. The library. The pub. The sports stadium. The park. Do you still go to the supermarket, with an empty cart, eyeing all the walking food? The vampire exists in an ecosystem. It’s not balanced, and it’s not nice, but everything is joined in a web.
You change the mortals, and they change you. They are not just juice bags, and they are not just sheep. They form the solid anchors and tearing barbs that keep the Man from fleeing the Beast. This is important, because the Beast and the Man are not necessarily enemies. The Beast protects the Man from dangers and hunger and those who would tread on him. It’s a bad world, and sometimes it pays to have a big brother.
The Man makes the Beast a more sophisticated predator, he gives it the tools of adaptability and creativity. But a vampire’s humanity is an atrophying muscle. It must be flexed or it will wither. Alienation must be countered or at least slowed. Relationships with mortals have the power to do this. You need love, even if it’s only the whetstone that you sharpen your teeth on.
You are only as alive as the company you keep. Who are your touchstones?
This feels… normal. Real. It’s not something out of a nightmare of violence and horror like the rest of the night. The tension slips off Caroline’s face like layers of makeup under a faucet, simply washed away. There was a reason she’d gone out with Neil, even knowing her family would never approve.
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers on Neil Flynn
Touchstones are grounding points for Kindred. Kindred are neither human nor monster, and walk a difficult line between the two sides. They walk this line with the help of their Touchstones. Kindred existence is a slide (or sometimes a crash) toward monstrosity. A Touchstone is the rope at the top of the hole. It’s useful, at least until you’ve let go of it.
Imagine Trevor, a person born in a small town. He grows up, he goes to school, then he finds a career and moves to the city. By all measures, he was once a small town kid. But the city’s done a number on him, and now he’s all action item lists, memos, soy lattes, and subways. But Erica, Erica grounds him. Erica was Trevor’s high school crush. They’d sneak off during football games and make out beneath the bleachers.
They never lost contact. Even when Trevor moved to the city, Erica kept texting him. They’d call each other every few weeks, and talk about whomever they were dating, and what they had for lunch. But it was always just a little weird. Trevor would tell Erica a joke about the city traffic, but Erica had never seen gridlock in her life. Trevor would talk about the aggressive merger he was working on, but Erica’s work experience began and ended in a local grocery store where her family was friends with the owners. But this helped Trevor keep it real. It reminded him of his roots.
Sometimes, Trevor would visit home. He went to his high school reunion, and had a little fling with Erica. He visited all the old stomping grounds. He wandered through the lackluster malls, he tried to explain his job to his family even though they had no idea what he did. He could always visit the old hometown, but he was always a visitor, never a resident. In essence, Erica was Trevor’s Touchstone. The city was the Jyhad. The small town was his human life.
A Touchstone is part of the mortal world, usually a living, breathing person. Rarely, it can be a place or thing. The Touchstone tests a vampire’s Requiem; and by her very existence, she asks challenging questions of the Kindred. She tests his values, his priorities, and his true nature. She touches his Requiem in a fundamentally positive way, even though her association might cause complications and tribulations for the vampire.
For young Kindred, the Touchstone is usually someone she knew in life. He may be a spouse, lover, child, sibling, parent, friend, or even a rival. He’s someone who reminds her of what she was when she was alive.
For older Kindred, the Touchstone is usually tied to his less savory affairs. She may be the daughter of his prized ghoul, someone who looks like his long-dead wife, or the janitor he passes by every morning on his way to sleep. She’s someone who reminds him that once, he was alive.
Before the Embrace, you and he were a thing. It ended a while ago, but early in your Requiem, you needed a quick and easy fix, so you keep coming back to him. The thing is, you just want a casual thing and some no-strings blood, but he’s looking for something serious. He swears it’ll be different this time.
You live in the attic of the high school bully who tormented you once upon a time. He never sees you, but you spend long nights standing right next to him, feeling the heat of his body. You let the Beast play with his fear, the way a cat plays with yarn while daydreaming of murder. This was not your intention. You came to kill him months ago, but couldn’t. You’re living on nostalgia now, and you realize you’ll miss him when he’s gone, while you have all the time in the world.
When you and she started your business, your heads were in the clouds together. Now, you’ve moved on to bigger and better things; at least that’s what you tell her. It’s nice to reminisce about old times, but lately she’s been asking why you’re living in that shit hole on the south side, and why you don’t just come back to work with her.
Friend With Benefits
You and he have a ritual. The Sunday game comes around, you have a few cold ones, act like you’re still in college, he sucks you off, then you suck him off. It’s a great arrangement, but he’s been looking for outside entertainment. It’s not against the rules; hell, you don’t have rules. But he’s just canceled for next Sunday.
High School Sweetheart
You and she fumbled around as teens. You learned a lot from one another; most importantly, you learned that you weren’t really compatible. After your Embrace, you looked back to those moments that made you feel human. The awkward sex and failed communication did just that. Just hope her father was bluffing when he threatened to kill you.
When you disappeared, he just wouldn’t leave well enough alone. He took one look at your case file, and found it fishy. It’s been a few years, but it’s a pet project. It’s a white whale. Even though your family stopped looking, he hasn’t. He reminds you that sometimes, people really do care.
You have become the pusher in a burnout burg, dealing vitae and the kiss, giving this breathing zombie an alternative to meth. You loathed him at first, those vacant eyes and the gormless slack of his jaw, but he’s growing on you. Is this budding empathy, or are you just becoming a loser like him?
You were in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and she killed you. She didn’t plan to, it just happened that way. She now spends out her days in the penitentiary. You visit every now and again. You wear a disguise so she doesn’t know who you are. She keeps you grounded, since her life ended with yours. But the warden’s talking about moving her to solitary.
One That Got Away
You meant to feed from him. Let’s be honest; you were probably going to kill him. But that car went down the wrong alley at the right time, and he got away. In the moment, it pissed you off. But now, you see him as a reminder of what you are. His life would have never been in danger if you didn’t exist. So you follow him. But you feed first.
She was barely a teen, hanging out in between, just a part of the scene. Her parents did every drug in the book, and rarely came home. She was set for a terrible life, until you stumbled upon her. Now, you help keep her warm. You put her up. You make sure she gets up for school right before you collapse for the day.
You could have left him when you were Embraced. You should have. But you loved him so much, and you couldn’t imagine existence without him. That’s a problem. He’s getting a few years on him, and he’s starting to ask questions. You wouldn’t wish the Embrace on your enemies, let alone your soulmate.
The sports stadium is older than your sire. That’s comforting, the way you imagine the ocean or the stars must comfort the elders. You make most of the night games. The individuals of the roaring crowd change, but they are all the same entity, the same colony of coral. You breathe them in and you cheer. You never feed here. You don’t want this place contaminated, and you’ve put a broken baseball bat through more than one chest to keep it that way.
Mom should have quit smoking thirty years ago. She knew that, but it never mattered. She kept it up, and now she breathes through a machine. Dad died of the same thing a few years back, now she’s your only remaining family. Her condition’s getting worse, the doctors give her a few months at most. You do have ways you could preserve her, though.
He was there to listen, for a couple hundred an hour. Now, he’s there to listen because you confessed a little too much, and he’s utterly fascinated. He even keeps night hours, just for the case of a lifetime. You need someone to talk to. He needs you to sign this disclosure form.
You killed him. You lost control, and you snapped his neck. You’re dealing with that. So was his wife. You’ve sworn to yourself that you’d keep his wife safe. You’ve even chatted with her a few times. She seems pleasant. She seems like a good meal. But you can’t bring yourself to touch her in that way, after the way you hurt her before.
A tenuous partnership forms bet ween you and the neighborhood watch lady. You see each other every night. You bring her coffee, exchange small talk, and in the small hours, you are the only two on Earth. She doesn’t even flinch at the way your eyes reflect her flashlight anymore. She had a daughter, once, before the mugging that went bad on this very block. She points out the furry form dashing across the street. “The coyotes came into the city over the last decade, but you hardly ever see them. Like ghosts. At first we were afraid. What of our pets? Our kids? But now I look around, and I see a lot fewer rats. You dig?” Yeah. You dig.
He watched in horror as you took your first life. You murdered in cold blood, and he’ll never forget that moment. Of course, the Masquerade says he can’t go telling everyone what he saw. Unfortunately, that meant you had to intervene. But without mind control, your only chance meant leveling with him and answering his questions.
Touchstones can also be, but aren’t limited to:
• Your surviving human spouse, lover, or parent
• Your human child, or (for older vampires) a descendant of your family line
• A human who looks exactly like someone you loved in life
• A human you admired in life or their descendant
• A human related to someone you killed very early in your unlife: someone you swore you didn’t have to kill because you aren’t a monster, not really
• Someone you have come to recognize as a rare decent person even in your eyes: a volunteer at the animal shelter, a priest, a nurse, a social worker, a nice old lady in the neighborhood
• Someone who represents something you once held dear in life and still cling to: a soldier, a baseball player, a musician or artist, clergy from your faith
• Someone who guards, symbolizes, or protects a thing you value: the doorman of the building you used to live in, the cop on your old beat, a crusading reporter, the single mom living in your childhood home, the caretaker who sweeps your gravesite
Benefits of Touchstones
The chief benefit of Touchstones is to help a vampire maintain their humanity. Most people (and certainly most vampires) don’t make a habit of doing regular good deeds for strangers. They do good deeds for the people they care about: Touchstones. Touchstones help the vampire to keep the Beast at bay.
Touchstones can talk a vampire down from frenzy (always after the vampire’s Beast has had a chance to wreak some havoc). This is never a guarantee and the Touchstone may well put themselves in harm’s way. Sometimes, though, a Touchstone’s words are enough to beat down the Beast and bring a frenzying vampire to their senses.
Touchstones can benefit a vampire in other ways, as well. A lover used to the cold kiss of the vampire would not recoil in horror when the hungry monster comes knocking, while one well-placed in the police department could be used by a vampire asking for off-the-record info on current cases. Any Touchstone might offer one or several of the below benefits:
• Acceptance: The Touchstone is cool with the vampire being a vampire, and has seen feeding, frenzy, and other horrible things, and is somewhat inured to it. The vampire doesn’t need to maintain the Masquerade around them.
• Access: The Touchstone provides access to an otherwise restricted place, level of society, or organization. For example, a Touchstone in the intelligence community could provide access to associates in that world.
• Assistance: The Touchstone will physically come to the vampire’s aid.
• Bleeder: The Touchstone will willingly let the vampire drink from them.
• Clued-In: The Touchstone knows the score in one of the major supernatural communities, though isn’t a supernatural being themselves.
• Expertise: The Touchstone is good at something and will lend their expertise on the vampire’s behalf. For example, a lawyer Touchstone might provide legal advice.
• Info: The Touchstone has access to useful information. For example, the aforementioned police Touchstone.
• Money: The Touchstone has funds or access to funds which they can supply to the vampire during times of need.
Mortals die. Pretty much by definition. Every Touchstone a vampire possesses now will be dead in a century. Some, much sooner. Dealing with this certainty, and the way it highlights the vampire’s own unnatural state is unavoidable, unless the vampire is willing to take extreme measures. How does a vampire cope with the death of someone whom she cares about, and depends upon for maintaining her connection to humanity?
She can grieve them, suffer their loss, and eventually one day find someone new to fill the void. This is painful, this hurts, and this makes everything else in the vampire’s existence a little harder, and a little worse, but coming out the other side of grief means healing.
Or, fuck all that weeping and sorrow. The Beast is put off by it, the Beast offers something else—rage, hatred, and vengeance. Bury the grief under a torrent of hot fury, and go out and kill the motherfuckers who took the Touchstone away. Revenge is a powerful thing, a thing which can consume a vampire, but also make her mighty and terrible. The vengeance of a vampire who’s Touchstones die is one of the reasons most Kindred are somewhat circumspect about murdering a rival’s Touchstones out of hand.
What grief offers is pain and sorrow that goes on and on, until eventually, one day, you’re functional again. What vengeance offers is the opposite—payback right now.
What about Touchstones that just die? How do you revenge yourself on cancer? Old age? Revenge isn’t a rational process, especially a vampire’s revenge. Figure out and angle, and make it work. It’s the oncologist who failed to save your Touchstone—hurt him, destroy his practice, ruin him. Or, perhaps the incompetence of the whole hospital is to blame. Use your influence, and get its budget cut, close it down, or if you’re more inclined towards direct physical action, burn it to the ground. Old age? Go gunning for the people who kept you away from her in her final moments. You should have been there with her, after all these years, and instead you had to deal with some ridiculous crap from the prince. It’s his fault. He needs to suffer for it.
Like grief, how long vengeance lasts is an uncertain thing, but generally if the vampire pursues other things instead of monomaniacally following his path to the destruction of his enemies, it’ll start to sputter and die. A session without taking some meaningful action to further the vengeance is usually enough for it to slip through the vampire’s fingers, leaving him cold and empty. When the vengeance burns out, what’s left is ashes. The reality of what is lost, and what has been sacrificed hits home, and the vampire is left with all the memories of the dead Touchstone, but none of the emotional context or connection, no sense that any of it mattered at all. It all feels about as meaningful as walking down the street to buy a newspaper from the corner store.
Running Out of Touchstones
Vampires get weirder and more feral as their human contacts dwindle and fade. As Touchstones die or are driven off, the vampire’s ability to find and connect with new people becomes harder—it’s a vicious circle. What happens to the vampire who loses all his Touchstones through inattention, abuse, violence, or the grind of time?
The Castle on the Hill: The classic image of the solitary vampire noble, dwelling in isolation with only a few quavering mortals to pay fealty to him is a powerful one, and fairly accurate when you remove the theatrics. The Toreador, standing alone in a crowd of admirers. The Gangrel on her bike, riding fast to another empty sanctuary. The Nosferatu, in his sewer. The Tremere, cloistered with his secrets and his studies. And the Ventrue, playing to type, he surveys the city from his penthouse castle, alone. The affliction of the true elders is isolation and paranoia—even those few remaining Touchstones they allow themselves are almost unbearable vulnerabilities in their layered armor of lies and machinations, yet ironically, their unwillingness to extend their trust to more mortals leaves the ones they do connect with all the more vulnerable. Yet the flipside—the wrath of an elder denied his loved ones—would be so much worse than that of a neonate.
Wake Alone: Emerging from torpor is never a pleasant process, but waking to find a world remade, and all those you cared about (and all those who kept you sane) gone… a waking vampire with decades behind him will find his Touchstones grown old, some having died, some having forgotten him. This isn’t unlike having multiple Touchstones killed, and the grieving process gets folded into the waking and orientation. The vampire will be driven to re-connect, filing the places occupied by dead Touchstones, and getting reacquainted with living ones. New Touchstones will often be chosen for their resemblance to dead ones—choices which rarely turn out to be simple and consequence-free.
Welcoming The New Age: One reason awakening vampires, or those who’ve allowed their Touchstones to die off, might wish to reform them is to find a vital connection to a new age. The stasis of the vampire can leave some elders unable to effectively grasp the complexities of the modern world (some adapt remarkable well though—it is a mystery why some thrive, and some suffer). A young mortal who’s very much of the time can be a valuable guide on integrating and thriving.
By default, Touchstones are mortals. They are the most vital links in a vampire’s connection to humanity. Still, they’re mortal. They die. Many elder vampires can’t find it within themselves to go through the heartache of caring about someone they know they’re going to bury.
Consequently, many elder vampires (and a few particularly jaded younger vampires) look towards individuals other than humans to help maintain their humanity.
Many vampires who can’t bear to let go of friends, lovers, and family members from their mortal lives ghoul them so they don’t have to. It’s a kinder alternative to the Embrace, the thinking goes: a taste of damnation rather than the full thing. The Touchstone remains human.
Ghoul Touchstones present their own challenges, though. The fixation engendered by the blood bond, the nature of Kindred society, and the ghoul’s addiction twists the relationship towards one of master and servant (or at least junkie and supplier). Moreover, abuse of a Touchstone is worse for a vampire’s humanity than abuse of an “ordinary” ghoul. A vampire who hurts their loved ones badly enough might find their connection spurs the vampire towards the Beast, rather than away from it.
Many vampires with ghoul Touchstones let them remain free of the blood bond, reasoning that it’s the only way to keep the relationship “real” or “untainted.” Of course, some vampires later regret allowing their ghouls free will. It’s also frowned upon by the Camarilla. Vampires who do so insist that it’s the only way to maintain a genuine relationship.
Some vampires don’t believe it’s possible to have meaningful connections with ghouls. Even without the blood bond, they’re still addicted to the vampire’s vitae and the relationship is inherently predisposed towards inequality.
Enter other Kindred. Vampires can serve as Touchstones too, in much the same way that one recovering addict can look towards their AA or NA sponsor for support. There’s a catch: if they relapse, it’s harder for you to stay clean too. Consequently, only the most morally upright vampires make “safe” Touchstones—at least, to all but but the most depraved Kindred.
Kindred Touchstones are most common among elders who are too world-weary to form lasting mortal connections, but for whom ghouls just don’t do it—or who simply find a younger Kindred who stirs something in their jaded hearts. Marius’ relationship with Lestat in The Vampire Lestat is a good example of an elder vampire taking a younger vampire for a Touchstone.
Kindred Society and Touchstones
The covenants each approach the issue of Touchstones differently. All recognize that some contact with the human world, and maintaining contact with mortals helps stave off the advances of the Beast, but each has a different set of opinion and doctrine on how these relationships should be managed.
It should be noted that “Touchstones” is a metagame term, not an in-game term. Kindred society doesn’t have a word for mortals who a vampire is close to.
• Anarch Movement: The most common opinion in the stewpot of Anarch debate is that Touchstones are a personal matter, and best left to the individual to manage. Those mortals a vampire feels close to are private, and no prince should monitor or restrict a Kindred’s right to keep what relationships they will, so long as they don’t threaten anyone else. Some radicals in the Movement who wish to destroy the Masquerade, and declare themselves openly say the best way to begin this process is with the revelation to those closest, and relationships with Touchstones should be open ones. Other Anarchs with a looser view of the First Tradition, but who don’t go so far as to advocate abandoning it completely, think it’s enough for vampires to reveal their true natures to mortals who’ll preserve the secret. Camarilla princes deal with these situations like any other breach of the Masquerade.
• Circle of the Crone: Secretive and insular, the Circle seems a foreboding entity to the outsider yet within there’s an almost familial quality. The Circle interests itself in the private lives of its adherents, and the local Circle might seem like a group of nosy relatives with regards to an individual’s relationships. Creation is power, after all, and it seems natural to mark the Touchstones of members as potential neonates and acolytes. Many vampires of the Circle find their own Touchstones in similar relationships with others of their cabal, creating a weirdly incestuous emotional landscape.
• Invictus: The Invicti are both sensitive to the precarious sanity of the vampire, and aware of their need for control and dominance. They recommend caution and circumspection when forming ties with mortals—never lose sight of who and what yours are, and never delude yourself that the relationship is anything other than what it is. They also recognize what a weakness a vampire’s Touchstones are, and demonstrate through ruthless exploitation to its membership just what happens to the incautious Kindred who allows their relationships to become too well known.
• Lancea et Sanctum: The Spear grudgingly acknowledges the need for contact with the mortal world, but demands it never interfere with a vampire’s sacred duties to their nature and their sect. When mortal affection supplants faith and service, an official sanction may be in order up to and including the death of the distracting Touchstone. Members of the Lancea must struggle between these demands, and the seeming incompatibility in maintaining genuine relationships with mortals, and still keeping the faith.
• Ordo Dracul: The Ordo is the most forward-thinking of the covenants where relations with mortals are concerned, and actively encourages its members to seek such connection. What is the purpose of the Coils, if not to ease a vampire’s passage in the mortal world? Keeping these Touchstones is seen as a test of the vampire’s resolve to dominate the Beast, and overcome the Requiem. Members of the Ordo may find themselves inundated in helpful relationship advice when their mortal relationships begin to suffer.