Campaign of the Month: October 2017
Blood and Bourbon
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
“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
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.
Example: 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.
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.
Benefits of Touchstones
Stains: Touchstones 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 provide convenient opportunities for vampires to lose Stains and reverse (or at least slow) their descent into the Beast.
Dark Deeds: Dark Deeds committed in a Touchstone’s defense count as one Corruption level higher. Dark Deeds committed against a Touchstone count as one Corruption level lower. For example, “practical” murder is a sin for vampires at Corruption 1-3. “Practical” murder to protect a Touchstone is only a sin at Corruption 1-2, but “practical” murder of a Touchstone is a sin at Corruption 1-4.
Frenzy: Touchstones can talk a vampire down from frenzy. When a Touchstone tries to (usually after the vampire’s Beast has had a chance to wreak some havoc), the vampire rolls Resolve + Composure or the Touchtone’s Charisma + Persuasion (whichever is higher) against a DC equal to (vampire’s Corruption or Blood Potency, whichever is higher) + 1. On a success, the Touchstone helps the vampire beat down their Beast and come to their senses.
Story Points: Whenever a vampire acts in their Touchstone’s best interests, they can spend Story Points as if they were fulfilling their Virtue (that is, they can spend Story Point for a roll bonus without also paying a Hunger, Stain, or XP cost).
Vampires are immortal. Touchstones aren’t. Unless a vampire ghouls or Embraces their Touchstones (which carries its own problems), they will lose the people they care about sooner or later. This isn’t always from death, either. Vampires can alienate or drift apart from their Touchstones just like people can. Regardless of how the relationship ends, the vampire has three options when they lose a Touchstone: find a new Touchstone, succumb to ennui, or seek revenge.
Finding a new one involves seeking out a new human connection who can fill the old Touchstone’s place. This is largely a matter of roleplay rather than dice rolls. Finding a new Touchstone is an appropriate moment for the GM to have the vampire lose Stains and/or regain Story Points.
Every chapter the vampire doesn’t spend in pursuit of a new Touchstone costs (6 – Resolve, minimum 1) Story Points. When the vampire runs out of Story Points, they must pick between one of the remaining two options:
Succumb to ennui takes two forms: the vampire either accrues enough Stains to reach the next Corruption level, or they fall into torpor. This lasts until the next story arc.
Revenge involves the vampire making someone pay for the Touchstone’s loss. Revenge doesn’t have to be rational. If a vampire’s Touchstone died from cancer, the vampire can make it their unlife’s mission to ruin the doctors and medical staff who treated the Touchstone—they should have done more, shouldn’t they? All that matters is the vampire vent their hurt on someone they associate with the Touchstone’s loss. (This can even be the Touchstone themselves, if they rejected the vampire.)
A vampire hellbent on revenge for (or against) the mortals they care about is a terrifying force and adds their Corruption as a bonus to all rolls to exact revenge. Any scene not spent pursuing revenge until it’s carried out costs a Story Point point. If the vampire runs out of Story Points, every scene accrues a Stain instead.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
The GM is okay with PCs taking non-mortal Touchstones, so long as they have at least as many mortal Touchstones.
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 expectations of Kindred society, and the nature of 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 more likely to incur Stains, and to incur more Stains, 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 come to regret allowing their ghouls free will. It’s also frowned upon by the Camarilla and a potentially damaging secret if it gets out. Vampires who do it, though, insist it’s the only way to maintain a genuine relationship with a ghouled loved one.
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. Whenever a vampire Touchstone commits inhumane acts, the vampire has to roll Resolve + Composure (DC varies) to avoid accruing Stains themselves. 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.