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Author Topic: Vampire the Masquerade: The Minds of Kindred and Cainite  (Read 425 times)

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Offline BlyTopic starter

Vampire the Masquerade: The Minds of Kindred and Cainite
« on: February 19, 2019, 09:39:25 PM »

Credit to Amaris for the banner!

For those of you looking at this and asking 'What on earth is this about,' this is about a tabletop rpg, Vampire the Masquerade. It has gone through several editions. This blog is likely going to appeal to those already familiar with it. However, if you have never heard of it & my blog makes you curious, by all means comment or PM me. I'm always happy to talk to people on this subject. Commentary to the thread is generally most welcome in general! (Those of you who know me may literally be groaning that I'm babbling about this game again. I know. I know. I'm obsessed.)

So what is the purpose of this blog? There are several Clans and bloodlines of vampires in the aforementioned tabletop rpg, and my blog is going to explore how their ingrained clan/bloodline curses affect them psychologically and sociologically. I may also later explore the effects of different Roads and Sect allegiances, but for now, we're sticking to curses.

My thought process and writing might not be the most cohesive. I ramble. A lot. Not always the most sensibly. And sometimes you might not agree with me. Either way, that's okay! And honestly, my thoughts might not even be that original--chances are some of this may have already been talked about in a sourcebook I haven't read yet or whatever. I don't care. Gonna blog anyways. <_<

Stay tuned for Part 1, which will features one of the more well-known Clans...

« Last Edit: March 05, 2019, 09:19:28 PM by Bly »

Offline BlyTopic starter

Re: Vampire the Masquerade: The Minds of Kindred and Cainite
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2019, 10:28:15 PM »
Part 1: Clan Ventrue

"Behold my proudest childe,
whose own pride betrayed him.
Let the blood of the humble sicken him,
and give him no sustenance."

- from The Erciyes Fragments, pg. 87

Clan Ventrue's curse is that they become limited to drink only from a certain type of mortal vessel. They could be limited to a certain type of ethnicity, a nationality, a gender or sexuality, a profession (office worker, bartenders, strippers), or even less savory restrictions (think about how many criminal types there are. Somewhere there's a Ventrue who can only feed on thieves, to give a kind example), but the point is that they simply cannot just feed on anyone. No other blood beyond their restricted type will sustain them; they cannot even ingest that blood. Stereotypically, they are often called Blue Bloods for their discerning tastes...and the Clan's propensity to generate obscene amounts of wealth over the years.

Oftentimes, this Clan's curse is mocked a bit as not being as severe as other clan curses, but psychologically and sociologically, I don't think it gets enough credit. In the short term, it might not seem severe since on a small scale one just has to ensure there's actually blood around for the Ventrue...but when you really look at Clan Ventrue over the long term, this is a genuinely horrible curse with a remarkably long reach not just for an individual, but anyone around that individual, including people who will never meet a Ventrue.

The Individual Kindred/Cainite

Clan Ventrue's curse innately forces them to separate people into groups. No Ventrue is blind to the things that distinguish groups of mortals from each other. If a Ventrue can only feed on people of Irish descent, you're never going to hear a Ventrue claim to want a world without borders...because such a world would render the distinction of "Irish" moot eventually and result in a Ventrue starving to death. Ventrue vampires are forced to thrive in ensuring that humanity is not united or even necessarily diverse--the Ventrue has to ensure a certain level of quality in their vessels to not starve, regardless of what that 'trait' is.

On an individual level, it means Ventrue are constantly evaluating a person not on their own merits or flaws, but on some trait that may not even be important about the person in the first place. Ventrue are vampires, and vampires have to think about feeding. Given the Ventrue feeding restriction, it means that Ventrue, moreso than any other type of vampire, start thinking about people less as people and more as a collection of traits and whether or not those traits = dinner.

Vampires are already isolated from the human experience by virtue of what they are in Masquerade. One might imagine that the Ventrue--often known to be the wealthy elite--are closer to people, but that isn't necessarily true. The Ventrue's wealth, often accumulated over the years, coupled with their Clan curse, results in an individual who is completely divorced from the average person's life. The Ventrue are the 1% among a species of creatures that are already a rather exclusively small percentage of the world's population. Some might say that this makes them privileged--certainly it does to a degree!

This results in there being a very 'us vs. them' mentality. Worse, it results in humanity in general not being exceptionally useful to the Ventrue; the Ventrue have very little reason to interact with and learn about humans outside of their preferred prey, aside from satisfying certain psychological needs or resource needs. Ventrue on an individual level are going to be prone to either dividing the world into little factions or simply de-humanizing anything that doesn't fit their current needs.

'Snobbery' doesn't even begin to cover this.

On a large scale level, Ventrue are more likely to end up perpetuating systems of oppression against vulnerable groups of people. They need to have access to feeding vessels, they can't have those vessels able to easily leave, and they can't have other unsuitable vessels it's in an individual Ventrue's best interests to perpetuate oppression. Just not so much oppression that they risk their feeding vessels not being around in a few generations.

Here's one of the worst things on an individual level: at first, it would be hard to recognize this as a curse. After all, to the newly-made vampire, who is still trying to navigate that line between feeding and understanding people, it might even seem like a blessing. "Oh, there's a lot of people I can't hurt, because my body won't let me have blood outside of what I'm wired for! Yay!" Or they might try to rationalize it away as a taste preference. The first means they are already trying to look at people from a bigger picture perspective rather than acknowledge harm they inflict on an interpersonal level, and the second means they have begun their ethical decline by reducing what once were their fellow humans into...tastes. People are not wine or dessert--they are sentient, and any Ventrue talking about their discerning palates is subtly trying to remove the pesky 'sentient' aspect out of the equation so they can bear to sleep and un-live with themselves during the day.

Ventrue are, from the outset, predispositioned uniquely to see people as things or resources. They represent the horror of prejudice or elitism taken to extremes, the horror of capitalism run rampant by making the company phrase 'human resources' terrifyingly literal.

At best, even the most well-meaning Ventrue is going to have to find and cultivate certain types of mortals to survive. Even if they dedicate themselves to protecting and saving such individuals, to enriching the lives of those humans, they are setting themselves up in a meddling paternalistic role that humans aren't likely to appreciate--it naturally skews to being condescending. And that's at best.

And that mentality sneaks up on an individual Ventrue. Or worse, they are indoctrinated into behaving as such by elder Ventrue who have adopted those methodologies as ways to cope with an eternity of limited sanguine fare.

The Clan As A Whole

When looking at Clan Ventrue as a whole and how their mindsets spread and affect others, the result is chilling.

The existence of even a single Ventrue in a city will result, over a long term, in an undead being who feeds on people attempting to change the population. The Ventrue curse means that while they are completely divorced from average people and even to some degree many vampires (who are able to so easily feed on anyone most of the time!), they nonetheless must ensure their feeding type is present in a population to a sufficient degree. So there's a mental 'disconnect' even though they have to involve themselves in some way.

This isn't really a severe problem (though it's always problematic to some degree) until you start getting towards Ventrue whose feeding restrictions have skewed especially unsavory. Ventrue develop their curse fairly early after their initial Embrace--oftentimes their first victim and whatever trait that victim most personified to that Ventrue will end up being their dietary restriction.

A well-meaning Ventrue neonate, starved with hunger, might try to feed on criminals first. As a result, they lock down their feeding preference.

Have you seen the problem yet?

It means that individual Ventrue cannot survive in an area that lacks the type of criminal they are restricted to feeding upon. As a result, if a Ventrue intends to live for any length of time, they either have to cultivate mortals of the desired type, thus increasing the crime rate if they need a type of criminal...or if they don't want to harm a certain location, they can pack up shop and move. This doesn't even touch on the dreadful conflict that a Ventrue will face: if they don't feed on criminals to see if they can lock that down as neonates as their preference, it means they have to feed on innocent people, and that's a harder jump to make emotionally as a feeding preference. Imagine realizing that no matter what you do, you're screwed: you either have to create new criminals or shelter them in ways that alter where you live forever, you have to victimize innocent people or meddle in ways to create the 'right type' of innocent person in ways that change people's lives often very permanently, or....starve to death. There is no option the Ventrue picks where they 'win.'

But if they move, that just moves the issue to a new city. It doesn't fix the problem. In the long term, Ventrue with criminal feeding interests end up generating income disparities or de-valuing the places they live, resulting in the wealthy Ventrue becoming more wealthy...and the average citizenry falling prey to the humans the Ventrue needs to survive.

But let's look at a less ominous example. Let's say even a single Ventrue can only feed on single mothers. Seems really benign, right? Nothing wrong with single moms...until you realize it means that Ventrue has a vested reason to destroy healthy marriages of couples with children in order to 'generate' a single mom somewhere if they aren't able to secure a single mom naturally in their feeding herds. Even the most benign Ventrue feeding restriction results in a predator entity doing its damnedest to alter the world around it to suit its needs, treating people as pawns in a grand scheme to extend their existences.

Is it any surprise that Clan Ventrue is fond of chess?

This means that a Ventrue living in a large city may never meet a given human, but that human could very easily be impacted by something that Ventrue does. The criminal example is probably the most prominent--a Ventrue who can only feed on muggers means that those muggers are going to, well, mug people. And that means there will be humans being victimized as a result of a single Ventrue's existence--not even necessarily a Ventrue's overt deliberate actions! 

Clan Ventrue see themselves as the natural leaders of vampires--they are built to rule, in their minds. They are built to look at people as a whole rather than on individual levels, and they are pre-disposed to be forced to look at the long view of any place they live in, simply due to their clan curse. Yet any city with Ventrue in it can never truly be at peace no matter how much the Ventrue tout their roles as leaders--at least not among humans, as this undead creature within it slowly alters it over time, to the city's detriment and harm. The kicker here? A Ventrue isn't likely to feel they are doing harm. That's how detached they are. What we are likely to see as harm is, to the Ventrue, just them trying to secure lunch. Ventrue have a hierarchical structure that puts Ventrue above the other Clans, too--at least in their general mindset. So not only are they isolated in general, their curse and their chosen wealth results in them isolating themselves from the only other entities capable of even a modicum of understanding: other types of vampire. The sad part is that the Clan as a whole is fine with this; they view that isolation as a sign of status rather than the sad and almost pathetic situation that it is.

If the Ventrue acknowledged their curse for what it was rather than pretending it was just a 'delicate palate,' they would have to acknowledge how truly isolating and sorrowful it is, how pathetic they are, how they aren't leaders, just base schemers and meddlers. It's a grim realization, and it's not a glorious one for minds who might be fragile newly entering into undeath. Is it any wonder Ventrue prefer to pretend they have a glorious destiny as kings and queens of vampires rather than just loathsome morally bankrupt shepherds? No one wants to be the oppressor, the accountant who reduces people to numbers, the manipulator. It's easier to delude one's self into grandiose visions of nobility and refinement than it is to acknowledge their clan curse for what it is: a horror.

The isolation of the money and the blood often results in creatures with crippling detachment, arrogance, and yet longings for interaction.

Which means they end up Embracing and creating a new Ventrue.

Which starts the whole cycle of systematic de-humanization and oppression all over again.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2019, 11:39:13 PM by Bly »

Offline BlyTopic starter

Re: Vampire the Masquerade: The Minds of Kindred and Cainite
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2019, 09:59:16 PM »
Part 2: Clan Malkavian

"Behold my most foolish childe,
who claims madness for his pleasure.
Let him become mad in truth,
so that all may fear his company."

- from The Erciyes Fragments, pg. 88

Clan Malkavian has a curse that is....well, lets be blunt: controversial. Each Malkavian is 'mad,' so to speak. But it differs with each clan member. To let people know about a trigger warning up front: discussions around Clan Malkavian explore mental illness, and my discussions will endeavor to be respectful, but I may not always get it right, and in part this is due to the source material for the game since I'm constrained by canonical source material, and in part it's due to not being as versed at this as I'd like to be. And it's okay to call me out and help me do better. Just be gentle with me, please.

This clan's curse is often talked about a lot. They are one of the more popular clans, but they are often the one that's most often played....I won't say 'disrespectfully,' but I will say that a lot of people buy in to the idea that madness = pure goofy lack of logic, and that denies the true curse of the clan: being condemned with the burden of a stigma they never asked for and coping with an illness for which (for them, unlike humanity) there is no treatment. That's the true horror of Clan Malkavian: the mental darkness has no pill, no therapist, no methodology that can get a Malkavian coping long-term.

The Clan's curse is not unifying; each Malkavian displays their struggle on a very individual level, and yet they are often lumped together under the same 'curse.' Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with a personality disorder knows that these aren't the same as eating disorders, knows those aren't the same as mood disorders, etc.

The Individual Kindred/Cainite

Let's get into the awkward reality that mental illness is difficult to deal with. It's worth noting that it's not as if mental illness is unique to Malkavians! Any vampire can, in the game's less-than-polite terms, suffer a 'derangement.' But the difference is that any other Clan can 'treat' the illness to a point where you get to remove it from your stat sheet (it doesn't necessarily mean they are 'cured,' it just may mean that vampire can now cope in a way to where there's no in-game issue). But Clan Malkavian? Nope.

Being 'the weird one' doesn't begin to cover a Malkavian's struggle. Individuals are presented with a chronic long term mental illness...and are then saddled simultaneously with the stigma of that specific illness while dealing with vampire society's stigma of the Clan as a whole.

Individual Malkavians suffer because they are often not taken seriously. They are dismissed. They are, in a way, erased. Thought of as jesters, prophets, 'madmen,' or often less savory terms, a Malkavian's good ideas can often be shut down by the oh-so-supposedly 'stable' people around them. Why? Because Malkavians are people who are being forced into this dreadful reality where they are entirely defined by their diagnosis. Imagine never being thought of as more than two feet walking a diagnosis around the city. Worse--every bad thing you do is your illness's fault if you listen to the stereotypes....and every good thing you do is also attributed to that same diagnosis.

It's a horrible thing to realize other people are robbing you of your free will and agency by reducing you to a set of symptoms you can check on WebMD or some other site.

There is no balance for a Malkavian: humans get to find that all-important balance of handling a diagnosis but still being a person outside of that capable of changing. Malkavians are vampires: they are eternally locked in place and stagnant. Imagine trying to make progress in therapy only to eternally get reset to square 1 because of a single bad night. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's no wonder a lot of Malkavians give up and embrace stereotypes--why not? It's better than hopelessness.

Imagine dealing with a very real problem that isn't unique to people like you....and yet the others around you who suffered through it and could get successful treatment act like you're incompetent, unreliable, or worse, dangerous. Creepier, some people will almost fetishize the diagnosis, acting as though this ephemeral idea of "madness" is tied to prophecy, acting as if this part of yourself you are seriously struggling with is somehow the only useful thing about you. They forget that Malkavians are vampires. The Blood is powerful. The Blood is often unique. Why must the clan's tendency for prophecy always be tied up in their instability? Later editions of VtM mentioned thin-bloods and members of the 14th and 15th generations--who often had penchant for prophecy as well. But without the 'madness' element.

Malkavians are nonetheless fairly entrenched in Kindred and Cainite society. Their clan 'curse' is not, contrary to the stereotypes, always immediately obvious. Mental illness is not always something you can detect just by a look and speaking to someone, after all.

On an individual level, Malkavians have an even more inherent problematic issue to tackle: their unique clan disciplines in conjunction with a mental illness they always have to fight. Depending on one's Sect, they could have Dominate or Dementation, plus two more Disciplines. Imagine feeling like you don't even quite have your own head together one night...and someone tells you to use 'Dominate' to influence how someone else is behaving. It's hard to direct others when you're having a hard time directing yourself. The other 'signature' power is more terrifying and known as 'Dementation.'

Like the Ventrue, Clan Malkavian is prone to self-perpetuating cycles of misery. Malkavians can use Dementation in various shades to alter someone's mind or even induce a mental illness (or several) in a person. There is no benign use of Dementation--none. There is nothing in its use that could be used for a good reason: the Clan has an innate ability to alter someone's mental state and possibly make themselves understood to an individual...while subjecting that person to all the same problems the Malkavian faces. Sometimes their Dementation ability doesn't even inflict the same mental illness as the one the Dementation-using Malkavian possesses. Meaning that a Malkavian can potentially remove someone completely from their own ability to understand them easily or relate to them.

Imagine being part of what people claim is a clan of vampires who supposedly have this 'curse' as common ground only to realize you know nothing about them. They are all different. There's no common ground you can find. Some of them don't seem unstable to you, some do, some seem completely off the deep end, and yet....everyone treats you all the same. On an individual level, it's not a surprise that many young Malkavians both struggle to learn about their unlives or to relate to their Sire. To outsiders, they have the same 'curse,' but to the Sire and childe? If the Sire has bulimia and the childe has bipolar disorder, as far as the two are concerned, those are certainly not the same thing.

Individual Malkavians often grow to believe that they understand and know more than other Clans, because they are able to see these distinctions. They are able to perceive the world in ways that are not often neurotypical. They have the ability to control others or 'share' their 'curse,' meaning on an individual level, Malkavians often struggle with control issues completely irrespective of their individual diagnoses. A positive of this is that Clan Malkavian is probably the least likely to stereotype other Clans or people. A negative of this is that when you are a person who cannot treat the worst of your symptoms, you are perpetually vulnerable to people who will try to exploit you and even vulnerable to the person most able to cause you harm: yourself. For all that other vampires act out, a Malkavian's worst enemy is theirself. Imagine knowing an area you struggle in and knowing you need outside help (if only to get you through the next night), only to realize outside help is a bunch of blood-sucking untrustworthy vampires who don't treat you like the adult you are. Yikes. 

Individuals can either embrace the current paradigm, try to be the prophets and game-changers and mystical illogical guides, or they can be outcasts and loners and danger-bringers. And they didn't get to decide those were the options to pick from. Imagine being the most mentally free yet the most shackled, the most open-minded and yet the most restricted. Treated as the most intelligent and decried as useless at the same time.

An un-life of complete paradox. They didn't pick that chaos. Other people picked it for them.

The Clan As A Whole

The effect of Clan Malkavian as a whole is interesting. Unlike the Ventrue, who tend to alter populations as mere consequence of existing, Malkavians are the type of vampire who don't seem to influence much or alter least on the surface. As a Clan, theirs is a different legacy: they are often at the forefront with other Clans, influencing them, supporting them, or subverting them. Clan Malkavian's legacy is the legacy most likely to be diminished, erased, or outright stolen, simply because some other vampire will use a Malkavian's mental illness as a way to rob them of their accomplishments. Implying they can't be the real mastermind--they're 'mad.' Surely the real architect of greatness is elsewhere! It's no wonder the Clan tends to treat the whole of Kindred and Cainite society as a joke--it's their joyous 'fuck you' in a world where the consequences of their actions seem to have huge meaning while simultaneously no meaning. Sure, a Malkavian might predict the coming of a potent demon-worshipping enemy who is going to rend the fabric of reality, but at the end of the day, some Ventrue is going to claim they are the leader and therefore take credit. The Malkavian gets erased from the equation while being crucial to the equation.

But let's talk about how Malkavians influence society.

They are an invisible lynchpin that often holds things together. Malkavians are often much more stable than given credit for. While they can never truly hope to treat symptoms of their diagnosis long-term, they often find short-term workarounds that let them keep functioning. Coupled with Auspex, which lets them see hidden emotions, and Obfuscate, which lets them hide and sneak easily....

Malkavians are the assassins that can topple regimes. Malkavians are the architects who discover secrets and can go back to blending in a crowd. Malkavians are the people who know how you're feeling before you've ever put it into words. Malkavians are the people that saw where you were at three in the morning when you should have been home in bed.

And they are blood-sucking monsters, just like the other ones. Don't let the diagnosis fool you: theirs is a relatable painful struggle, but Malkavians are vampires at the end of the night. And their concerns are their next meal.

Malkavians end up doing to other people what was done to them: erasing them. Maybe they used Dementation to open someone's mind in the hopes of a friend, but at the end of the day, that person's been inflicted with a long-term struggle. And in 'normal' disorders (by that I mean ones that follow the course for diagnosis and treatment among humanity), there's something of a rhyme and reason--brain chemistry gone awry, trauma, environmental influences, intoxicating substances, etc. But one inflicted by a Malkavian does not follow that pattern: the cause is the Malkavian. How can a therapist ever hope to find the right medicine for someone whose cause for mental illness can never be found or fathomed?

Malkavians in a domain tend to start altering people on a more fundamental level than the Ventrue ever could. A Ventrue preying on single moms might wreck a home. A Malkavian using Dementation on that same single mother could result in her abandoning her kids and having a meltdown...and that's not necessarily what she'll do: it's just one thing she could do. Ventrue do their damage and then happily retreat to maintain the status quo. Malkavian damage is something altogether different and sinister in that it introduces chaos, almost the exact opposite of what a Ventrue might want.

Malkavians in a city in large amounts tend to precipitate some sort of massive change. They can never change themselves, yet they are always provoking it in other people. They are agents of chaos trapped in cold stagnation. This doesn't mean they can't be stable--they can! But the more Malkavians one introduces with fewer people relating to them on personal levels, the higher the chaos is likely to go. Viva la revoluciĆ³n! Why is that bad, you might wonder? Not all change is good. Change can bring pain, income instability, perpetuate traumas that produce more instances of hard-to-treat mental get the idea.

The genuinely sad thing, the true tragedy of this clan, is that they have so much to offer--their 'curse' isn't one that has to remove them from vampire society or even human society beyond the typical vampire restrictions. They bring unique and often constructive perspectives to situations that could use unconventional problem-solving, have skills that are strong in their ability to support others, have ways to destabilize those who they can't deal with more conventionally. And the Malkavians often buy into it themselves, because if they had to admit how much they truly had to offer, if they were able to forcibly break the mold in which other Clans see them, they would have to admit how truly erased they've been despite their contributions, how ignored and hurt they've been. No one wants to be a victim. Some would rather be seen as the goofy FishMalk, a personality-less Prophet, or a threat than realize how marginalized they've been made to be.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2019, 07:49:50 PM by Bly »

Offline BlyTopic starter

Re: Vampire the Masquerade: The Minds of Kindred and Cainite
« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2019, 05:28:55 AM »
Part 3: Clan Toreador

"Behold, she who thought of nothing
but her own fleeting pleasure
shall by her own pleasure
be enslaved."

- from The Erciyes Fragments, pg. 86

I'm going to come out with a controversial statement for VtM fans. I think Clan Toreador literally has the worst curse. The WORST. I seriously mean it. This curse is heinously debilitating. If I, the writer of this blog, had to pick one curse I absolutely could not deal with if it were inflicted on me, it would be this one.

The Toreador clan curse is that if they encounter something truly remarkable (it's always something beautiful or at least capable of being understood that way--like a rare blue moon, a piece of genuinely great art, a symphony of exquisite taste), they stand captivated by it, completely entranced until the experience is no longer able to affect them. Here's the real kicker: Toreador can't defend themselves from attack during this. Even if attacked, they only get a chance to snap out of it; it isn't guaranteed.

The fact that this is almost never touched upon by many people always sort of amazes me: the Toreador are, by far, the most vulnerable and easy to exploit of all the Clans. And yet somehow they have maintained a very high position in nearly any status quo they are part of. And a lot of this has to do with the curse. Let's dig in. Hold on to your hats for this one, folks, I have very strong opinions about this clan curse.

The Individual Kindred/Cainite

Have you ever had that one song you can't stop listening to? Something so catchy you just hit that repeat button over and over again? This is a tiny fraction of what it's like to be a Toreador who sees or hears something beautiful. A Toreador who is given a portable music device with a lasting battery and a 'masterpiece' song on repeat is a Toreador that is officially, at best, useless. At worst, they are completely and utterly neutralized and easy pickings. "Well then just don't do that stuff," you might be thinking.

Can you imagine a life without your favorite song? Without your favorite book? Without looking at Pinterest, imgur, or your favorite image hosting sites? Worse: what if you find something beautiful that isn't conventionally beautiful? A Toreador architect is a Toreador who probably desperately needs to go live in the wilderness somewhere, because they are likely to see interesting beautiful geometry or architecture everywhere in a city.

On an individual level, this produces two problems:
1) How can a Toreador satisfy the basic psychological urge to be creative?
2) How can a Toreador remain secure and safe while satisfying urges?

Individual Toreador have to develop supremely excellent social skills or risk death. Why? Because they can't pull themselves out of a trance when they encounter true beauty. They need someone else to do that. People who are their friends would have a motivation to help a Toreador. For a Toreador, being a socialite really might not have anything to do with snobbish elitism. It's a matter of survival. A Toreador trying to be a loner is a Toreador who is painfully vulnerable to the beauty trances. Who knows what will interrupt it if it's not a friend?

Most people won't give up things they love, even if those things are dangerous. All the time we see average humans continue smoking cigarettes when they know it's harmful to them. Such is an individual Toreador when they realize the beauty they love is very literally deadly to them. Imagine the arrogance that must engender in most individual Toreadors--believing that they can make true friends of either fellow predators or vulnerable prey, balance their appetites, and manage their weaknesses all at once.

In history, the Toreador were probably less vulnerable to their curse simply because historically the average populations just had far less easy access to beauty at the drop of a hat. (<- That's just me applying my modern ideas of beauty, though. With beauty changing over the eons, it's possible beauty for them was still readily available and just as surprising)  In the modern nights, however, in our era of near-instant gratification and near-constant barrage of new media, a Toreador has almost no power over what beautiful thing might appear to entrance them. At any sudden given point, they can be rendered helpless.

Individual Toreador have to engage in manipulation. They can't trust, yet they need to trust. They have to cultivate people to 'save' them, ideally people who share their interests so they can keep indulging themselves (which is why they like rich Ventrue so much), and during this, they are still a blood-sucking dangerous predator. Individual Toreadors don't mean to, but it's very easy for them to become co-dependent.

Individual Toreadors are often regarded as flighty, as mere irritating fad-pushers, and that's how the Toreador like it. Why shouldn't they? If the Toreador were regarded as dangerous, why, other clans might actually do something about them rather than accept them into the status quo! And individual Toreador clan members know how easy that would be. Imagine knowing you are a powerful creature with exquisite taste, with a Discipline (Auspex) that heightens your perceptions and lets you get in touch with people's feelings, that you are a consummate gorgeous predator sucking the rich vitae from the mortals at your beck and call....and your best friend turns on the radio. They are playing your song. You stop. The world, for a brief moment, is the crash and ebb and flow of violins. But by that time your best friend, for reasons you will never know, has betrayed you and is about to try to stake you.

To talk but not trust, to feel but not feel, to indulge but remain distant--Toreadors strive for constant satisfaction of beauty but can never be secure or safe in that satisfaction. Imagine never being able to enjoy what you love ever again while constantly craving it or seeing it everywhere.

Individual Toreador have every reason to be afraid of what they love and find beautiful. Their worlds are turned upside down when they are first Embraced. The things you find comfort in, the things that bring you casual relief and pleasure, are now things that weaken you. At best, even if you mitigate the deadly threat, a single wrong moment with something you really love and find beautiful can result in failing to accomplish anything else that night other than...playing that one song on loop. That can result in missed meetings, missed opportunities, missed changes to meet get the idea.

Life goes on while a Toreador is entranced. For the individual, they are trapped in a blissful moment that feels like forever...and make no mistake: it's pleasurable. Like the Ventrue, it's hard for individual Toreador to admit this is a curse. Toreador lecturing people about good taste and beauty are Toreador who are already in thrall to their curse--they've already started prioritizing something that isn't pragmatic as the forefront of their new existences. Toreador that try to resist their passions are creatures living in misery and denial.

Now imagine that forever.

It's a damn tragedy.

The Clan As A Whole

This part is going to feel so sad to write. Of all the Clans, I think the Toreador legacy in mortal society is perhaps the saddest. The Toreador diminish the rate and value of human achievement wherever they go. That's how much their curse sucks--Toreador aren't going to Embrace someone they can't stomach. Which means they will Embrace someone with similar tastes more often than not. The pattern of behavior of Toreadors matches that of an addict--except it's a whole Clan acting like this. Substance abusers one and all, but for the abstract idea of beauty, and on a mass scale.

They Embrace and bring into undeath creative types. Writers. Singers. Musicians. They rob society of its potential to satisfy their cravings. But it's not just robbing society of its potential. No. It's worse.

If a city has too many Toreador, you will see the creative professions stagnate. The place will become boring, full of the same people repeating the same old tired yet beautiful things. Because the Toreador are undead monsters who don't change. That means their tastes very rarely change. Barring some sort of catastrophic incident, a Toreador is probably going to be 'locked in' to a certain standard and perception of beauty. The only blessing for the Clan is that beauty is subjective, so what entrances one of them might not entrance another. A city with too many Toreador might have a little bit of variety among the same old selections, at least. But that variety never really compensates for the lack of innovation.

A city with too many Toreador is a city that just released the 26th Harry Potter sequel, to give you an idea of how uncomfortable that might be. Yes, I said 26th. Why not? Toreador live forever. A Toreador whose tastes never change is going to want more of the same thing. Sequels, to put that in movie or book terms. Just different flavors of the same thing. Ice cream is still ice cream, whether or not it's vanilla or chocolate or strawberry. Harry Potter is still Harry Potter regardless of what movie or book in the set you're on.

Let's talk about another thing that the Toreador tend to change about society. Because the Toreador curse revolves around beauty and because most indulge rather than try to refrain, this means undead creatures that often have a lot of money (or access to Ventrue with a lot of money) are going to try to direct that money into 'creative' interests. That's money that could have gone towards research, charity, athletics, politics, etc. Practical things. So not only does a city full of Toreador become boring, it stops progressing with any real speed in other areas potentially.

On an individual level, a Toreador might try to be a patron for more than just the arts. But when you start stacking up Toreador and their numbers and their cash and their starts to become very grim.

The Toreador are often referred to as Roses as one of their Clan monikers. Yet it's known that roses are becoming a vapid romantic cliche. And that's what the Toreador as a whole reduce society to: vapid yet lovely cliches in a constant loop. Toreador don't establish status quos like the Ventrue--that's not the purpose of beauty. Toreador don't establish chaos like the Malkavians--that's also not the purpose of beauty.

As a whole, the Clan has to cope with fierce passion with nowhere constructive to put it--even with the idea that there may not be anywhere constructive to put it. Toreador are the un-living embodiment of l'art pour l'art (or 'art for art's sake')--wherein the art has no purpose except to be.

How the clan survives in the modern nights is sort of a mystery to me.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2019, 05:58:47 AM by Bly »

Offline BlyTopic starter

Re: Vampire the Masquerade: The Minds of Kindred and Cainite
« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2019, 09:19:07 PM »
Part 4: Clan Lasombra

"Behold my darkest childe,
who killed with shadows.
Let the shadows veil his soul,
so that all may know his crime."

- from The Erciyes Fragments, pg. 88

I have mixed feelings on the Lasombra. I do feel their Clan curse is a bit...underwhelming, but at the same time, I think it's the sort of curse that a clever Storyteller can do a lot with, provided they have players who are really willing to get into the spirit of the thing. I also want to get it out of the way and say that while I've often tried to think about the particulars of what causes a reflection in mirrors and just when and where Lasombra can be seen (to a point that this comes up in group games of mine at times! :D ), I've come to the conclusion that I have really been thinking about this the wrong way.

Lasombra should never be able to see themselves in any medium that is capable of transmitting their image back to them. I think this would be in the truest spirit of their Clan curse. No mirrors, no visages in a puddle, no showing up on cameras of any kind, no showing up on video, etc. At first you might think "Well, good job making their curse a BENEFIT, Bly."

But hear me out. I think about it this way because I want their curse to be on par in terms of import with the other Clans in terms of being debilitating. And I think trying to rules-lawyer it just lessens it and makes it feel like a throwaway curse--which I don't want to do. So let's crank them curse to 11 on a sale of 1 - 10.  Fasten your seatbelts, we're off on another rollercoaster ramble of mine! :-)

The Individual Kindred/Cainite

Faces have a profound psychological effect on people. Obscuring the face is....bad. It's inherently dehumanizing. The face is a huge part of self-recognition and ties deeply into our sense of worth as people. The eyes are the windows to the soul--a bit of a re-hashing of something Cicero might have said. But it's true. And sometimes we need reminded we have a soul.

"Yeah, but you can see a Lasombra's face in person even though they don't have a reflection, what's the point?" you might think. Yes, but the Lasombra can't, and that's the point. Consider this: a Lasombra will dehumanize theirself first, well before anyone else does. Is it any surprise that the Lasombra tend to join the ferociously violent Sect known as the Sabbat or follow the often highly inhumane Paths of Enlightenment? They are encouraged (by sad circumstance) to not really see the humanity in themselves from the very onset on the Embrace by virtue that they are faceless. Obfuscate can't hold a candle to this level of 'hiding.

The effects of this on an individual are subtle. I need to emphasize this, because facelessness sneaks up on you. You don't just wake up and stop thinking of yourself as a person. No, it's a slow and very gradual decline, a creeping decline away from normality. New Lasombra may be likely to scramble for any recent photos of themselves from when they were alive, if only because it's their closest chance to knowing what they look like again--and it's easily rationalized away as sentimentality--"I miss the old me, so I'll just collect these old pictures."

The frustration builds the first day a Lasombra cannot fix their own hair, do their own makeup, or shave. The little rituals that are left to a vampire to keep them connected to humanity are being slowly yanked away--it's not as if they can eat or drink. They can't go out during the day, so any daytime activities have been robbed from them. So one of the basic pleasures of mortal life--spending time on one's own appearance, has been taken. Even the absolutely hideous Nosferatu can pay some mind to their own appearance thanks to Obfuscate. All of this builds in a Lasombra neonate over time.

No records of where they go. No casual admiring of the self in a rainy puddle in the moonlight. No glimpse of a reflection in a store window during a bad night to get an idea of how harried or haggard you look after a really bad run-in with someone you hate. You never realize how much you try to look at you own face until you can't any more. Now, in ancient times, the Lasombra could navigate this a little better--reflective surfaces weren't as common. In fact, one could argue the Antediluvian (the original first Lasombra) might not have even seen this as a curse at first. Modern Lasombra should know better--the world is hell on them. It's a blessing not to show up on security footage...until a witness remembers you from the location and there's no film to support that. Or until someone tries to take a picture with you and you don't appear.

Young Lasombra who are familiar with technology and the fact that from store windows to bathrooms to building decorations...there are reflective surfaces fucking everywhere. That means on an individual level, of all the Clans, the Lasombra are most likely to attract the notice of vampire hunters. "Oh but what about the Gangrel or Nosferatu?" you might ask. Guess what? The amazing thing about Clan curses that alter a person physically is that the affected are always reminded of they are always careful. Lasombra look normal, and that means they are likely to be very careless in their early nights (as their Curse is initially really easy to forget about at first) and get caught in some obvious reflection-based giveaway.

Any Lasombra who makes it past their first year has to become paranoid and constantly think about how they look and how they are interacting with their environment. Even more interesting: if a Lasombra can't show up on security footage and can't be seen in reflective surfaces while having blood-fueled shadows to hide in...then they are the perfect thieves and criminals. Neonate Lasombra have to be very careful early on or they risk spiraling out of control and losing themselves to their Beasts, because crime and hurting people is so easy for them. Too easy. No wonder a bunch of neonates try to switch to Paths of Enlightenment where such actions won't violate the personal codes all Cainites need to avoid becoming mindless bloodthirsty animals.

So they're slowly becoming dehumanized...while learning traits that tend to narcissism, crime, and selfishness. A Lasombra looks for theirself everywhere (or that 'lack,' so to speak) so as to figure out how to mitigate the problems of their curse, too. All the while they are reminded of how not human they are, how hungry they are...and here you have a recipe for evil. Lasombra tend to treat other people as obstacles or food, because more often than not, people are to them. Either mortals are about to expose them or mortals are making them hungry. Either way....well, you have a recipe for someone who desperately needs power and influence over others to stay safe. Lasombra as individuals are lucky to have Obtenebration (a discipline that manipulates darkness and shadows to a deadly effect)--fun fact--don't want that lack of reflection to easily show up? Try to make the area darker. Then no one cares, because when its dark enough, reflections are irrelevant.

Paranoid, selfish, reminded of their lack of humanity, and slowly becoming divorced from human ethics and trained to see humans as the enemy as a matter of survival. 

The picture looks grim for individual Lasombra. And these traits get worse over time in that gradual decline I mentioned earlier. The horrible part is that this sneaks up on a Lasombra. It gets disguised as a quest for personal safety or some other very supposedly relatable and understandable need. It's rare to find ethical Lasombra, but regardless of ethical leanings, they end up being drawn to religious institutions--morality fascinates them. Sometimes they need to tear it down, sometimes they need to co-opt it, but ultimately they need a relationship with it in some way. They crave the connection. Their facelessness demands that something fill the void in them--their eyes are no longer windows to the soul, and so they seek religious spaces for either comfort or vengeance. But in the end, the results are the same for individuals.

Evil emerges. Intentionally or not. It doesn't matter. It's there.

The Clan As A Whole

Oh boy, the Clan as a whole. This is fun. There's a certain irony that, according to the Erciyes Fragments, the original Lasombra got this curse because of criminal actions...and as a result, later descendants coped with the curse by....doing the same crap that got their clan Founder in trouble all over again. Clearly nobody learned anything. And the Lasombra are just fine with that.

I have a really hard time thinking about the impact the Lasombra have as a whole because it....scares me shitless, if I'm being honest. They harm humanity in a way that I think the other Clans can't come close to. Anyone ever listen to Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel? It's a weirdly fitting song for this Clan. The song is very much a discussion about how a person can very much be alone in a crowd, about the rise of materialism, etc. But that first line would wound a Lasombra in the heart: "Hello darkness, my old friend." And it is. Lasombra are alone in the crowd. They see the world following neon gods and prophets...and the Lasombra are determined to emerge from their old friend, the darkness, and become the neon gods of a new era.

When you can't see yourself, you desperately need others to see you. To connect. And for the Lasombra, to be seen is to be safe, provided they can control how they are seen. To position themselves within religion or cults of personality opens up the ability to handwave away their curse, to place themselves above humanity in a way that requires constant adulation so they can feel like a person who exists.  Alternatively, they see themselves as Damned and revel in that role in a religious sense, acting as demons or devils or whatever is needed. Because if you're a demon, at least you're included in the story. You still exist. In fact, possibly in a way more necessary than many other parts of the story--no tale exists without conflict, as any writer knows. Lasombra are that conflict.

You have to remember that evil we talked about. This isn't just desperation. This is reducing humanity to herds or masses that exist only to exalt the Lasombra or exist only to fear them. Because the Lasombra are likely to get involved in religious institutions, the long-term effect they have is damaging in a very different way from the other Clans I've covered.

You can't quantify Lasombra damage. It injures human souls. Religious institutions tend to rot from the inside out when infiltrated or subverted by a Lasombra. When there are a lot of Lasombra in a place, religious scandals rise. The faith people have begins to become jaded and faded.

Do you know what that's called?


The Lasombra don't kill the souls of humans. They just wound them, drain the hope from them and give them nothing to look forward to, and let the poor bastards finish themselves off. I'm an atheist, and that hits me something fierce. Religion is just one pathway to hope, of course. There's other paths. But it's hard to pick yourself up and find a new pathway to hope when the one you trusted for so long is torn down around you, when it's co-opted to train you to exalt or fear things that never had a place in your faith at all.

The Ventrue destroy society. Malkavians destroy your mental stability. Toreador destroy your creative impulse. But the Lasombra? The Lasombra take away the one thing that could restore those other things: your hope. As a whole, the Lasombra are prideful wretches. Why wouldn't they be? Admitting that your existence feels like it's being slowly wiped out every night, that you're so hopeless you can't even know if you cleaned your own face correctly is debilitating psychologically. Instead of acknowledging their curse takes away a certain element of being a person, they instead wrap their cold dead arms around a comforting but terrifying idea: they get to be the villains in the story. There's always a place for the villain, even if you can't see them, even if you can't see yourself. It's a mark of honor in a twisted way.

The only thing Lasombra give to you in return for your blood and hope is....shadows and mirrors.

Just shadows and mirrors. 
« Last Edit: March 05, 2019, 09:39:52 PM by Bly »