Backgrounds measure your character in ways that aren't as innate as Attributes or Abilities. They deal with your character and her connections to the rest of the world: who she knows, what assets she can bring to bear, what reputation she enjoys. As with Attributes and Abilities, Background scores quantify and set boundaries to conditions that characters perceive more fluidly. Your character doesn't think, "I have precisely three friends I can count on for this kind of information," for instance. Only a vampire's generation is as clear-cut a matter of whole numbers for characters as it is for players.
Some Backgrounds lend themselves to joint ownership. Specifically, the members of a coterie may choose to pool their individual stores of Allies, Contacts, Domain, Herd, Influence, Resources and Retainers. Generation, Mentor and Status are necessarily individual matters.
- The Anchor: You and the other players choose one Background as tne anchor that holds the shared assets together. In most cases, this Background is Domain, with the physical place the characters claim for hunting, which also acts as a meeting ground for the mortals they deal with, a repository for their wealth and so on. Any of the poolable Backgrounds can serve in this role, however: Mentor might be the key to wealth and connections, the willing if ignorant population on whom the characters feed a source of servants and so on. No Background pool can have more dots assigned to it than the Anchor Background does. If it's damaged by events during play or between sessions, other assets drift away from the character's control, and it takes effort to win them back. Any character contributing to the pool may pull his stake out at any time. The dislocations guarantee some damage: The character gets back one dot less than he put in. Making the transition more peaceable requires spending half the time it would take to develop a new dot in the relevant background (for each Background involved).
- Using Pooled Backgrounds: Pooled Backgrounds are shared resources, essentially the coterie's communal property. Anyone who contribues to the pool (no matter how much he contribues) has equal access to it. Even if the character donates to only one of the pool's associated Backgrounds, he still has equal access to the entire pool. Not everyone can use the pool simultaneously, though. A Herd pool of seven dots can grant only a total of seven automatic blood points a night to the entire coterie. Just how those points are split up depends on the circumstances and agreements between the characters.
- Upper Limits: By pooling points, a coterie can get Backgrounds that surpass the normal five-dot limit. This arrangement is normal, and it reflects the advantages of cooperation. A group can secure a larger domain or maintain a larger network of allies and contacts than a single vampire can. There is no absolute upper limit on the level to which a pooled Background can rise, but things can get downright ludicrous if you aren't careful. It's usually for the best for the Storyteller to impose a 10-dot limit on the Anchor Background (and thus all the others). This limit represents domain over a important trading port or the center of pilgrimmage or a herd that consists of much of that same center's population.
Allies are mortal men and women who support the character. They may be members of his family, friends (from before or after his Embrace), fellow members of an organization to which he gives allegiance, or related to him in some other way. Whatever the case, they provide him with aid willingly and without coercion. They're not always available - in crucial moments the Storyteller may limit their availability in varying degrees - and they're not bound to provide aid to the point of suicide.
The details of your character's allies depend on your imagination and your Storyteller's approval. Temporal and religious authorities, people prominent in commerce or a profession, family figures and the like are all possibilities. Describe your character's allies before play begins, so that you and your Storyteller both know what you're talking about.
• One ally of moderate influence and power in the immediate community.
•• Two allies, both of moderate power locally and some influence in the country or region.
••• Three allies, one of whom wields significant power, official or otherwise.
•••• Four allies, one of whom is extremely influential.
••••• Five allies, one of whom is a major force in an important institution and can provide aid from far away.
Contacts are people who are willing to provide the character with information, though they are unlikely to offer any service beyond that. Each level of Contacts includes a specific individual, for whom you should work out a description, and a surrounding "halo" of lower-grade connections throughout a social stratum. If you have a specific contact in the local cathedral, for instance, you can also get at least rudimentary information out of some vicars, deacons and altar boys in the area. If your contact is the harbormaster, you can count on getting some information from sailors, longshoremen and tavern-keepers nearby. The difficulty of rolls to extract information from these secondary contacts is always greater than ones involving the individuals with whom your character deals most often, however - at least 7, and perhaps higher, depending upon how rapidly you want the information or how esoteric the information is.
When your character needs information in the utmost hurry, roll Wits + Contacts against a difficulty of 7. Each success produces a distinct piece of information relevant to the topic. Your character needs potentially useful peopple in the area for this to work, though. (Even the best roll is unlikely to turn up anything if your character is searching for advice on conditions in the Mediterranean Sea among Scottish peasants, for instance.) To gather information over time, your character can put out queries and wait for the results to trickle back in. Roll Charisma + Contacts against a difficulty 7. Each success produces one specific piece of information and takes a week to come in. You can shorten this time to three days per piece by raising the difficulty to 8, or one day per piece by raising the difficulty to 9.
• One major contact and two or three secondary contacts.
•• Two major contacts and about five secondary contacts.
••• Three major contacts and eight to 10 secondary contacts.
•••• Four major contacts and 10 to 15 secondary contacts.
••••• Five major contacts and a great many secondary contacts (almost anyone in the general field of experience in the area may share some information).
Influence measures the degree to which your character can make her wishes count in mortal society. In most cases, she's acquired influence through multiple means, including persuasion, bribery, intimidation, direct manipulation of minds and emotions and passing herself off as mortal when necessary. It takes time to accumulate more than a dot or two of Influence in a community of any size, and high Influence ratings are the realm of vampires who have prepared to spend years or even decades cultivating their position. Nor is Influence license to do whatever strikes your character's fancy. It's always easiest to get institutions to do what they're already inclined to. Constables need little prodding to arrest suspicious strangers or break up illicit operations whose owners haven't been paying bribes lately, for instance, but they require more incentive to go out killing apparently innocent bystanders or trying to arrest the most important civil leaders. Roleplaying therefore supports straightforward declarations of Influence use, andm ore so as the vampire twists the institution's purpose and outlook.
(The exercise of the Influence Background contributes a great deal tot he inevitable taunting of institutions in the Dark Medieval world. Vampires are among the legions of darkness against whom preachers and reformers caution, gawning away at the bowels of society for personal gain and gratification. It takes time to discredit or undermine believers in a cause and to replace them with susceptible pawns and leaders who are willing to abandon moral restraint in their sundry pursuits, but then vampires who survive their early challenges have that time. Vampires make the Dark Medieval as well as suffering in it.)
Each level of Influence reduces the difficulty of relevant social rolls by one. Keep in mind that this applies to the field and area in which your character has influence: Influence among the clergy of Provence matters not at all when dealing with the beer brewers of Vienna.
• Moderately influential: significant in the affairs of a city or parish.
•• Well-connected: significant in the affairs of a county or diocese.
••• Position of influence: a force to be reckoned with throughout several counties or an archdiocese.
•••• Great personal power: a force in the life of a nation or transnational order.
••••• Vastly influential: a power behind the throne of the Church, or behind more than one national throne.
Lowmen (Shadow Crusades Custom)
In war a character needs a few good men to hold a fort, to break a siege, to win a battle; the Lowmen Background are not these men. These are the uneducated, easily dominated folk from the peasant class who work in houses, are trained only in Seneschal and a small array of other, always non-combat Abilities. These are the household servants who clean your floors, empty your chamberpots, fill your cisterns, sew and wash your clothing, and cook your meals. They may be capable of temporarily taking arms should your house come under attack, but it is unlikely that even that brave minority would survive long against those trained to fight.
The Lowmen Background represents a larger number of less skilled, less unique NPCs than what the Retainer background gives. For skilled guards who are combat-ready and capable, use the Retainers Background.
The Lowmen Attribute spread goes 5/4/3, with three main Abilities at 2 and another 5 at 1 with a WP of 3.
• 5 lowmen.
•• 10 lowmen.
••• 15 lowmen.
•••• 25 lowmen.
••••• 40 lowmen.
Most Cainites are pretty well left to their own devices after release by their sires. Mentor reflects the continuing presence of an older vampire who takes an interest in the character, providing advice, aid and resources (depending on the mentor's interests). The mentor is not a magic cure for all the character's problems - a sufficiently determined fool convinces the mentor to take his support elsewhere. Nor is the mentor at the character's beck and call, since he presumably has matters of his own to attend to. He is a good source for letters of introduction, historical perspectives on current problems and other relatively discrete, specific assistance.
The mentor is often your character's sire, retaining social ties after release. It can be any other elder whom the character encounters along the way, however, or even a group of like-minded vampires such as the members of a local Tremere chantry or the vampiric denizens of a nearby monastery.
• An ancillae with little influence, though good wisdom.
•• A respected elder..
••• An influential and well-connected Cainite of the area.
•••• An elder with significant power in surrounding mortal society and strong connections to other Cainite communities.
••••• One of the significant vampires of the age (whose full importance you likely don't yet realize).
Resources are valuable goods whose disposition your character controls. In the currency-scarce Dark Medieval world, these assets may be actual money, but they're more likely to be property of some sort - land, grazing rights, animals, tax claims in kind as well as money and so on. Remember that vampires don't need to arrange for any food except blood and that their actual needs (as opposed to wants) for shelter and the like are very easily accomodated. Resources for vampires go mostly to pay for luxuries and for the associated expenses of developing and maintaining Status, Influence, and other Backgrounds. A character with no dots in Resources has enough clothing and supplies to get by, but little margin for luxuries.
• Sufficient. You can maintain a typical residence in the style of the social class you choose and seem unmiserly, even if fits of largesse come seldom. You can maintain a servant or hire specific help as necessary.
•• Moderate. You can display yourself as a member in good standing of your chosen community, with the occasional gift and indulgence seemly for a person of quailty. You can maintain a small staff of servants. A fraction of your resources are available in letters of credit, readily portable jewelry and other forms that let you maintain a standard of "living" at the one-dot level wherever you happen to be, for up to six months.
••• Comfortable. You are a prominant and established member of your community, with land and property, and the reputation which lets you draw on credit at very generous terms. Trust is as much a key resource as any particular valuable commodity at this level. You can maintain a one-dot quality of existence wherever you are without difficulty, for as long as you choose.
•••• Wealthy. Troubadours spin tales about the richness of your clothes, the health of your livestock and the beauty of your home. You hold more wealth than many of the local authorities (and need to deal with their jealousy from time to time). When you travel, you can maintain a three-dot existence for up to a year, and a two-dot existence indefinitely.
••••• Extremely Wealthy. Midas, Croesus and you, at least in the popular mind. You have vast and widely distributed assets, with huge staffs and connections to every level of society through a region. You travel with a minimum of three-dot comforts, more with a little effort. Kings and cardinals sometimes come to you for loans.
Retainers are servants and companions with personal bonds of loyalty to your character. Depending on the character they may be actual servants, fellow veterans of a crusade, fellow members of a monastic sect, childhood friends and the like. They may be ghouls, bound to the character by the ties of blood, or may not, depending on the character's preferences. Work out a description of these retainers and the nature of their commitment to your character so that you and your Storyteller know what to expect in play (and what might make interesting surprises).
Keep in mind when designing retainers that feudalism evolved in large measure to limit the power of those in authority. Feudal lords do not have absolute authority: They take oaths committing them to defend their vassals and attend to their vassals' needs. Retainers ought to matter to the characters, and if characters abuse their retainers, the Storyteller can and should make this a matter for scandal and even legal action by the characters' own lords. Untrammeled power is a nightmare of the medieval past, something feared as a source of both physical and spiritual suffering, and it would be greatly out of character for most medieval masters to feel at liberty to treat their retainers any way they might want.
Most retainers are of average ability and competence: in game terms, they have two dots in most Attributes, perhaps three in one or two and relevant Abilities at no more than three dots. If you want to acquire one or more particularly competant retainers, you can do so by merging dots.
• One retainers.
•• Two retainers, oe one of unused competence (three Attributes at three dots, most professional Abilities at three dots and one at four)
••• Three retainers, or two above-average retainers, or one remarkable retainer (built to the same total as a starting PC).
•••• Four retainers or two above-average and one typical or one remarkable and two typical.
••••• Five retainers or three above-average or two remarkable.