Prominent Courts & Fiefdoms

The monarchs, lords and princes at war in Dark Medieval Europe exist in a complex system of allegiances and oaths of fealty. Although many of the monarchical domains are akin to mortal nations, matters are much more flexible on a nightly basis. Not all princes in a region swear fealty to the same lord or even the same monarch, for example. The following are the most prominent vampiric monarchical domains, but many others are spread out across Europe.

The Fiefs of the Black Cross

  • Monarch: High Lord Hardestadt (5th-generation Ventrue)
  • Prominent Vassals: Lord Jurgen (6th-generarion Ventrue, Magdeburg), Julia Antasia (5th-generation Ventrue, Frankfurt)
  • Key Domains: Magdeburg (and areas east), Cologne, Munich, Leipzig and various fiefdoms along the Rhine River and the northern Alps (mainly Bavaria).

The Fiefs of the Black Cross have long been bastions of Cainite feudalism. Although vast forests (rumored to be the homes of ferocious Lupines) separate the fiefs, Hardesradt and his lords maintain an iron grip over their domain. Despite the fact that the Holy Roman Empire is in something of a decline, it is still prosperous. There is also no shortage of conflicts. With predictable regularity, the nobles of the Holy Roman Empire skirmish with each other and their emperor, often betraying the machination of Hardesradr's court. In recent years, the Black Monarch, as Hardestadt is known, has ordered that his vassals shall no longer expose themselves and their nature to mortals, enforcing the Silence of Blood with the threat of Final Death. This proclamation has caused a number of Cainites to leave the cities under the banner of the Black Cross, but those who remain have found that secrecy often works better than outright control.

Although the court is firmly in the hands of Hardestadt, Lord Jurgen has come to the front as the most influential of his lords. His recent forays into the east (moving his court to Magdeburg) and frequent clashes with the Tzimisce voivodes have thrust him and his vassals into the limelight. Using his ties to the Teutonic Knights and Livonian Order, he's embarked on a campaign to reclaim the east from the Fiends. Jurgen suffered a setback five years ago, when he was forced to retreat after the Battle of Tuzfold in Transylvania against Voivode Rustovitch. However, the arrival of the Byzantine Myca Vykos, now a lord under the Dracon, cut Rustovitch's victory short and ended the first Ventrue-Tzimisce clash in a stalemate.

Currently, the Fiefs of the Black Cross face a number of issues. The conflicts between Rome and the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire continue to bring Hardestadt and the Lasomhra lords of Italy into conflict. To the east, Jurgen is moving his forces into pagan Prussia and Livonia, facing Tzimisce and other enemies. The Hungarian brood of Ventrue known as the Arpads have also stubbornly maintained their independence from the Black Cross and have their own schemes afoot in Transylvania. Bohemia is also cause for concern as Shaagra, a powerful Tzimisce ancient, moves in the shadows to push west into Germany.

The Baronies of Avalon

  • Monarch: Mithras (4th-generation Ventrue, Prince of London)
  • Prominent Vassals: Baron Stephen (5th-generation Ventrue, Lincoln), Baron Damian (6th-generation Ventrue, York), Archbishop Adrian (8th-generarion Toreador, Canterbury), Baron Nathaniel (6th-generation Brujah, Carlisle), Baron Gerard le Vieux (8th-generation Toreador, Bordeaux)
  • Key Domains: Large swaths of England, parts of Scotland and the Duchy of Aquitaine.

The island of Britain is firmly in the hands of the Mithras, ruler of London since the earliest Roman nights and godhead of his own soldier's cult (having usurped the role of an ancient Persian deity). Mithras's domain is organized slightly differently from the other major monarchical courts, however. Although Mithras's cult and influence never vanished entirely from the British night, he remained in deep torpor for six centuries until he awoke around the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. In order to reestablish his power, Mithras reached accords with many Norman clanmates and other vampires of influence. They stand less as cowed subjects and vassals than as independent petty lords, who can shape the fate of nighttime Britain acting together. They grudgingly acknowledge Mithras's claim to England in return for certain rights and considerations. Chief among these is that Mithras cannot raise or marshal armies aside from a small personal retinue (an attempt to curtail the popular warrior-cult that Mithras has wrapped himself around). Instead, only the barons are allowed to have official troops. In turn, the barons swear, some by blood oaths, to defend London and Mithras. Although it would seem to put Mithras in a compromised position, it's actually one of his strengths — no single baron would dare attack London for fear that the others would retaliate. And in the 170 years since, Mithras has been able to turn the system even more to his advantage. Many of the smaller baronies have come under more direct sway as their rulers have joined the monarch's cult or taken the blood oath. Only a handful of more powerful barons approach Mithras in status and can make demands of the lord. By right, these powerful barons should be counts or dukes, but they eschew those titles since Mithras's formal pledges are with the baronies of Britain.

Mithras is also one of the few monarchs to rule an actual domain, attending to visiting envoys and keeping his barons in check from his palace in London. He's been known to travel to the Courts of Love in France, and he regularly visits his Ventrue brethren in the Holy Roman Empire. Although his enemies are many, Mithras is n popular monarch who is happy to ride the prosperity and stability of mortal England while orher courts face more pressing matters.

Mithras's chief concern is the rise of the Tremere, and he unofficially supports the Tzimisce in the Omen War. Doing so has placed him at odds with Hardestadt and Jurgen's agenda of eastern expansion, and both Ventrue courts are moving apart. Although Tremere have crossed the English Channel, Mithras keeps a watchful eye and has his barons curtail their influence at every corner. The dynamistic troubles in France and England and the loss of Norman holdings has strained the once-cordial relationships between Mithras and the Courts of Love. The unstable situation in Paris only makes matters worse. The Matriarch of France has established stronger ties with Hardestadt, presumably to cement her recovery of the Grand Court in Paris. There remain baronies that harbor druidic vampires called the Lhiannan (whom Mithras has fought for centuries) and other forms of bandits and enemies.

The problems in France and the rise of the outlaws are also at the root of current unrest among the powerful barons. Although none dare say so aloud, some (namely the baron of Carlisle) whisper that Mithras is growing weak and is leading the court of Avalon into decay. Although no one has mentioned the word revolt, the air in London is tense. This would not be the first time Mithras had faced a coup attempt — and he is prepared.

The Courts of Love

  • Monarch: Matriarch Salianna (Sth-generation Toreador)
  • Prominent Vassals: Isouda de Blaise (7rh-generation Toreador, Queen of Anjou and Chartres), Helene La Juste (6th-generation Toreador, Queen of Champagne), Etienne (5th-generation Toreador, King of Poitou), Geoffroi du Temple (5th-generation Ventrue, Prince of Paris)
  • Key Domains: Western France

While the Fiefs of the Black Cross embody the harshest essence of feudalism, the Courts ot Love shine in pomp and luxury. Like many things influenced by the Artisans, these courts meld the political, social and military into a seamless whole. The Courts of Love began as a social movement among Toreador of Western Europe taken with the emerging concepts of chivalry and its most poetic expressions. In Iberia and the Holy Land, they evolved into various chivalric orders associated with the war against Islamic enemies and instruction in the Road of Kings. In France, though, they became something more akin to gathering points. Those interested in aspects of chivalry were made welcome and played for favor and position among their Artisan hosts. Those who proved their worth through skill at arms and at court gained status and followers. These fortunates came from main clans, most prominently the high-blooded, but included not a few Ravnos and Malkavians, and even some others.

With the Children of Caine, however, nothing is a purely social exercise. The various princes of France found the favors of the Queens of Love were of a great help in securing their domains and advancing their agendas. Soon enough, that advantage became an outright requirement and the Courts of Love had become the major axis for intrigue among French vampires. The queens had become lords of the night, a position reaffirmed when Salianna, their Matriarch, made herself known as the sponsor of the whole system ot courts. A childe of the semi-deified Byzantine Toreador Michael, she provided the final center of power needed and became the vampiric monarch of the region. Rumor has it that she had been active in France for centuries but had kept to the shadows, perhaps put in stalemate by the Ventrue Methuselah Alexander, who ruled Paris. Indeed, shortly after Salianna's appearance, the French Toreador withdrew their support from Alexander's so-called Grand Court, isolating him to such a point that he was forced to leave Paris in the 1220s. His childe, Geoffroi du Temple, now rules rhe city and has established a tense truce with the Matriarch.

The Courts of Love are hardly immune to the chaos of the times, however. Queen Esclarmone of Toulouse, once a loyal vassal of the Matriarch, took the opportunity granted by the Albigensian Crusade to break away from the Courts of Love and establish her own independent fiefdom — perhaps with support from Iberian Lasombra. Salianna sees the War of Princes as nothing but a prelude to an even more devastating conflict ahead, and she is trying to establish some common cause with High Lord Hardestadt and others. To this end, she has sent envoys across Europe and Outremer to find princes willing to cooperare to stave off further bloodshed.

The Sea of Shadows

  • Monarch: Lord Montano (4th-generation Lasombra, voice of his sire)
  • Prominent Vassals: Sylvester de Ruiz (6th-generation Lasombra, Lord of Iberia), Alfonzo of Byzantium (7th-generation Lasombra, Prince of Constantinople), Miriam bint Aisha (8th-generation Lasombra, Emir of al-Andalus), Nastasio the Galician (7th-generation Ventrue, General of the Reconquista)
  • Key Domains: Iberia, Sicily, Mediterranean islands and coastal regions, Byzantium.

The Eldest of all Lasombra is said to be the most active of his generation (save perhaps for the Usurper Tremere) and is thought to reside in an isolated castle of shadows on the Sicilian coast. Montano, his eldest childe, speaks with his authority as one of the monarchs of the European night, with tendrils reaching far into the Levant, where his clan is well-established. But Montano's main occupation seems to be tending to his sire, who is said to spend eternity in contemplation of the great Abyss of Ahriman. Add to this the ambitious nature of all lasombra and the fact that they can hardly prevent other clans and groups from acting in their traditional Mediterranean domain, and the so-called Sea of Shadows is turbulent indeed.

In the last few centuries, the greatest divide has been the Shadow Reconquista, the effort by Christian Lasombra and their allies, to put an end to Muslim power in Iberia, displacing their Muslim clanmates and their Assamite (and other) allies. This effort is hardly an exclusively Lasombra matter — Toreador, Ventrue and others play a major role in the struggle — but it does look to Sicily's Castel d'Ombro for ultimate justification and the lord of Iberia is the Magister Sylvester de Ruiz. His childe, Archbishop Moncada, only adds to the explicitly Christian tenor of the court, calling for the eradication of the Cainite Heresy and expulsion of Muslims.

Obviously, the many Lasombra raised in a Muslim society — who call their bloodline the Qabilat al-Khayal (or Clan of Shadows) — have little tolerance for this policy. They see de Ruiz and Moncada as great enemies and pay only formal respect to Montano. So where once Sicily's influence girded the Mediterranean, it is now mostly concentrated in Iberia and Italy. Even in Italy, the Heresy is very popular, and many others see their cities as independent enough to set terms. Thus far, Montano has been unable or unwilling to bring them into line. Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Milan, Naples and Florence all have vampiric masters who pay lip service to "Old Man Montano" but are happy to deal with all others as well.

Montano stands above this, saying he is but the voice of his father, and uninterested in petty struggle for territory or even faiths. De Ruiz is glad to take that non-interference as support and marshal the prestige of the monarch to his cause. For the most part, this remains the expulsion of Muslim vampires and their mortal herds from "his" peninsula. One recent external success, however, saw him obtain the fealty of Prince Alfonzo of Constantinople, a former Heretic who became prince after the city fell to the Fourth Crusade. When the choice came down to continuing on as a heretical bishop of the city (and facing his enemies alone) or rejecting his faith to become a vassal of an Iberian lord, Alfonzo saw reason.

Other Courts

The vampiric courts at play in Britain, France, Germany and Iberia are the most iconic of the War of Princes. They are the most clearly feudal and those most closely tied to mortal kingdoms and their fates. But they are hardly the only courts or lords at play. Some of these are also feudal in nature, others use other bonds and reject feudal Lextalionis altogether. Some of the most prominent include:

  • The Obertus Landholds: Once an order of purely Byzantine Tzimisce and revenant monks, the Obertus have spread across parts of Europe in the wake of the fall of Constantinople. Acting in the name of their hidden monarch, the Dracon, the monks have a network of monasteries and diplomatic contacts in many domains. In Transylvania, the Oberrus Myca Vykos has established domain over parts of the Olt Valley as a buffer between Hungary and the Carpathians, but there are landholds in the Balkans and as far away as Livonia. Although the Obertus are not a powerful military force, they are privy to many occult secrets, and they often serve as diplomatic envoys for warring parties.
  • The Voivodate: Long before the establishment of the Feudal Lextalionis, the Tzimisce of the Carpathians ruled over craggy and mist-shrouded kingdoms. Established in the seventh century, the voivodes terrorized the countryside with their inhuman abominations. The most esteemed and powerful Tzimisce lord, or knezi, gained sole right and privilege over the mortal ruler of the region paving the way for the draconian and bloody conflicts that have filled the Transylvanian mountains since. Until recently, the voivodes were content to fight their own wars, bickering with each other and only making the the rare foray against Constantinople. However, the arrival of the Tremere changed everything. Although the voivodes still fight against each other, they now know a common enemy. The Omen War still rages to this night, and it has dragged in other courts. For the first time, the voivodes are beginning to look beyond the Carpathians.
  • The City-States of Italy: From Venice to Pisa, Milan to Florence, the system of lords has all but broken down. Here, powerful and egotistical princes rule independent of lords or monarchs, gladly flaunting their freedom and attracting Cainites from High and Low Clans to their bustling cities. Here, a new Cainite order is emerging, one that has an easier time adapting to the changing mortal world. The Cainites of the city-states of Italy hide from mortals, existing as shadowy benefactors of the rising guilds, merchant or nobles. However, there is a price to pay for their freedom. Both the Courts of Love and the Fiefs of the Black Cross cast an envious look toward the tiches of Florence, Milan and the like. Also, the dreaded Cainite Heresy lurks within these cities. Only the Lasombra elders of the Sea of Shadows can bring significant influence to bear here in the name of clan bonds, but even this task is made harder by the position of the cities.
  • The Midnight Crescent: The Holy Lands and the Islamic kingdoms of the Mediterranean are terra incognita for most European Cainites. Strange tales of divinely blessed Cainites and rumors of lairing Antediluvians keep most European vampires out of the lands of the Midnight Crescent. Those who do make the trek find a land that is exotic and alluring. Here, the clans have developed a different social structure than in Europe, hiding among caliphs and pilgrims. Relationships between Westerners and their Arabic counterparts, the Ashirra, are strained, and a wide gulf separates European and Islamic clanmates.