Society of the Night
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"This world is but a thoroughfare of woe,
And we are pilgrims passing to and fro;
Death is the end of every worldly sore."

-Chaucer, "The Knights Tale."

For those familiar with the Vampire: The Masquerade and the other 20th century games, you will find both familiar and new aspects to the Dark Ages. Much changed between the 12th and 20th centuries, so don't assume that the same things hold true.

Society of the Night

Caine's childer are relatively numerous in the Middle Ages. A city of 10,000 mortals may have a dozen resident vampires, with half a dozen more in the surrounding towns and villages. Princes often have loose control over their subjects, and cannot easily restrict the number of neonates who are sired. And some Cainites exist without ever hunting a mortal, instead establishing willing herds in isolated communities or feeding from easily available animal vitae.

This is a grand but terrifying age in which to be a vampire. On one hand, it is a time of fear and superstition, of blind obedience and casual brutality. If an isolated cottage is too far from the nearest village for the screams of its inhabitants to be heard, then the withered husks within may not be discovered for a season or more. Life is cheap and for the taking, and few gainsay the right of the strong to subdue - or destroy - the weak. On the other hand, it is also a time of terror for the Cainites. There are few places to hide from the sun and the torch, and the roads are made perilous by brigands and ravening Lupines. It is an age of faith as well, and the lowliest peasant might hold in her heart the power to thwart even the mightiest vampire lord. Great rewards and great perils fill the nights and days of the Cainite. From the Nile Delta to the Iberian Peninsula, from Moslem Jerusalem to the Teutonic barbarisms of the Schwarzwald, it is an age of darkness, lit by the flickering torches and the gleam of red eyes in the night.

Problems and Powers

It might seem at first that the Cainites in the Middle Ages are in a much stronger position than their 20th century descendants. They are vampires of earlier generations, far more powerful than those Embraced 800 years later. They need not worry about foes with high-tech communications or weaponry. They need not fear being photographed and are not obligated to maintain a strict Masquerade.

However, they also have a great number of disadvantages. First, settlements are smaller. Most cities have fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, so that an unfamiliar face is easily spotted, and there are no faceless millions for them to feed upon. Curfews are commonplace. Naked fires burn in every home, while candles and torches provide lighting in easily flammable buildings. Travel is difficult for vampires, as all common forms of transport expose the traveler to the sun.

Further, the Cainites lack many of the conveniences that 20th century vampires enjoy. This is a world where all trade is done in the daylight, with no 24 hour stores. It is a world without telephones or faxes, answering machines or computers; if a vampire wants to speak with any mortal, she must do so face to face. Most importantly, the cainites live in a society that knows they exist and claims that they are in the Devil's pawns. Worse still, the beliefs of the people lend power to the church's rituals, and so many churchmen have real power to harm or even destroy vampires.

And then, of course, vampires must beware of the Lupines - far more powerful than in the 20th century and sworn enemies of the vampires - unpredictable faeries, restless ghosts and scheming mages.

Organization

Travel through medieval Europe is slow and dangerous, and so communications are limited. Information and orders are difficult to relay. There are no large sects overseeing the Cainites. There are simply individual clan elders and princes, all exerting influence on their neighbors for their own disparate ends.

The Clans

The most important clans, both the most numerous and most powerful, are Clans Ventrue, Tzimisce, Lasombra, Brujah, Nosferatu, Malkavian, Cappadocian, and Gangrel. in addition, the newly formed Tremere clan, the Setites, the Assamites and the Toreador are each established in small portions of Europe. Ravnos vampires visit occasionally from the East, and the remnants of the demonic Baali remain in hiding somewhere on the continent.

Cainites and Mortals

There are few large cities in Dark Medieval Europe, and even those such as Madric, Venice and Constantinople contain but a fraction of the number of kine in modern Paris, London or New York. Few people stray from their houses after dark, instead waking with sunrise and sleeping at sunset, echoing the cycle of the vampires who would prey upon them. The Church wields the powers of Faith against all creatures of the night, especially undead creatures who would steal the lifeblood of their parishoners. One would think that these factors would mean but a few vampires would be found in each city, but this is not the case.

Certainly, vampires are not found in the same numbers during this age as in later periods, but overpopulation is becoming a serious threat to the survival of cainites during this period. Many ride the night as dark lords, using their power to control and frighten the local folk into timid obedience. Territory is fiercly guarded, and to feed from another vampire's herd is a quick path toward Final Death, if discovered.

Vampire politics are heated, with a great many Cainites competing for scant resources. Vampire princes struggle to keep hunting and feuds among their subjects from drawing the attention of mortal authorities, but this is often difficult. It is not hard to see why the Inquisition formed during this period, in an attempt to curtail the perceived flood of undead who threatened the good folk of the Church.

Moreover, because vampires are unable to participate in normal mortal live - whether commerce or leisure - those who want power in mortal society must act through proxies and attend the few feasts and fetes held after sunset in the noble houses while the common folk are fast asleep. In this night and age, Cainites' relations with their ghouls, herds, allies and retainers become more important.

Resources

Movies and Television

  • The Name of the Rose is perhaps the best Dark Medieval movie - and the book is even better, if you can wade through the depth and detail.
  • Robin and Marian (Starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn) is a good, earthy story with a suitably dismal ending.
  • Jabberwocky may be comedy, but the foul city streets and brutal fights scenes are very much keeping with the Dark Medieval world.
  • The "Brother Cadfael" episodes of PBS' Mystery!, starring Sir Derek Jacobi, have a suitable feel and good visual reference. If they aren't available, look for the original novels by Ellis Peters. These books are rich with vivid characters and historical detail. Many of the episodes are also available in video stores.
  • Robin of Sherwood (Made in the '80s, first starring Michael Praed then Jason Connery). The Robin of Sherwood episodes have plenty of good ideas on incorporating supernatural elements into medieval stories. Some nonfiction books may also provide you with inspiration.
  • The Pit and the Pendulum, a 1991 Corman film giving a particularly nasty view of the Inquisition.
  • Ladyhawke, a tale of lovers cursed by a wicked bishop to live as shapeshifters, has a more high fantasy feel, but is still good material for flavor or background.
  • Bram Stoker's Dracular by Francis Ford Coppola may be a less-than-sparkling adaptation of the novel, but it's a fantastic source for mood and visual images. Especially note the medieval flashback scenes.

Books

The Medieval Reader, Norman F. Cantor.
The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Cappelanus.
Dictionary of Witchcraft and Demonology, R.H. Robbins.
Magic in the Middle Ages, Richard Kieckhefer.
Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages, Christoger Dyer.
Also by Dyer…
England in the Thirteenth Century.
Life in a Medieval City, Joseph and Frances Gies.
The "Brother Cadfael" Mysteries, Ellis Peters.

The Dark Ages

"Which way shall I fly, infinite wrath, and infinite despair? Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell; and, in the lowest deep, a lower deep, still threatening to devour me, opens wide, to which the hell I suffer seems a heaven."

Vampire: The Dark Ages takes you to the nights of long ago, when vampires were the true monsters of castle and graveyard and peasants huddled in their homes, clutching their rosaries in frenzied prayer. Enter an age when the Damned rode through the darkness as black knights, playing Machiavellian games with the nobles of Europe and traveling to the mysterious lands of the East to pursue an ages-old war.

This is the Dark Medieval's world, in which the shadowy sides of fantasy and reality meet. Things are a little more sinister, and the wind blows a little colder on a moonless winter's night. But it is an exciting time to be alive, nonetheless… and an even more exciting time to be among the walking dead.

On the surface, little differs from the real medieval age; castles serve as both homes and fortresses to the nobility, while most peasants count themselves lucky to live with their families in one-room buildings. Wars are fought in the name of God and man, and to speak out against one's liege is both blasphemy and treason. But in the darkest hours of the night, undead spirits in the shape of men walk in the shadows.

The Dark Medieval World

"Dark Medieval" is the phrase we use to describe the world of Vampire: The Dark Ages. It is a world in which vampires and werewolves prowl the night, and the powers of magic and faith bring the spark of the supernatural into the lives of everyone, from the nobility to the peasants tilling the fields. Priests still bless the fields, and village wise women are consulted for every worry, from matchmaking and fertility to curing warts. Many folk still pay homage to the "Fair Folk", or to older pagan gods.

But this is not a J.R.R. Tolkien fantasty land - elves, dwarves and the like are mere children's stories, and the few who claim to have seen such mysterious beings in the deepest forests are dismissed as madmen. Plagues threaten entire cities with the spectre of death, and while the Church wields tremendous temporal power, only the most devout saints can perform miracles.

The so-called Dark Ages of our world was the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance. The glory that was Rome crumbled, and the roads and bureaucracy the Empire had brought to the continent quickly fell apart. Trade decreased, and most people were too busy simply trying to survive to spend time learning to read and write. Knowledge of science and technology common during the Roman occupation was forgotten, and a cloud of superstition descended on the Western world.

Times were difficult for the common man during this period. Marauding armies sacked towns and pillaged villages. Cities lay in ruins. Most of the art produced during this time was portable and often practical, such as jewelry and pottery. Even some rulers were illiterate, and only in scattered Christian monasteries did reading, writing and academic learning continue. Most people were farmers, never blessed with the luxuries of art or learning, living hard, short lives, more at risk from disease and starvation than from invasions.

But the "dark" part of Dark Medieval means something more, and is not restricted to a single decade or century. The shadow that has fallen across much of Europe is a moral darkness, a rejection of the spiritual. Respect for one's fellow man has been eclipsed by the day-to-day struggle to survive. Many commoners obey the laws of God and man more out of fear of the consequences than from any real belief in what is "good" or "right". The vampires who hold much of the power rule unchecked, and rarely face the consequences of their actions. But the mortal world will not live in fear forever, and the day may come when the living will rise up against the predators in their midst.

The Dark Medieval may be historical or fantastic, a world of violence or intrigue, and will probably be all of these things at one point or another.

Monsters in the Night

Believed to be descended from Caine, the first murderer, vampires are cursed forever to shun the sunlight and live off the blood of the living. Yet the curse of GOd is tempered by the love of Lilith, and through her blessings vampires possess many great and powerful abilities beyond the ken of mortal man.

Mortals know that vampires exist, just as they know witches, faeries, goblins, ogres and lycanthropes exist. While not all people have seen them, they know better than to tempt fate. But the monsters people fear often come in guises they don't expect: monks, lords, hermits, beggars, pilgrims and countless others have been undead predators in disguise. To the medieval mind, anyone could be an agent of the Devil, and the wise man takes no changes.

Feeding

Vampires need blood to survive, for they are unable to produce any of their own. Many Cainites have pools of mortals they feed from regularly, sometimes referred to as herds. Some feed from the animals of the fields and forests, but many vampires feel that the blood of these lower beasts is salty and bitter, unlike the sweet nectar that flows through the veins of humanity.

Feeding need not always cause the death of the vessel. Wouds caused by vampire's fangs may be closed cleanly by licking the wound. Many vampires possess the ability to make their victims forget what happened, or perhaps only remember a passionate kiss in the alleyway outside the tavern. Still others feed only upon the sleeping and the wounded, thus avoiding the risk of discovery.

Private Wars

Like the chieftans and noble families who rule over the mortal world, vampire society is divided into a number of clans, based on lineage. Each clan has certain characteristics and defining traits, which influence the kinds of people who are chosen to join the ranks. As with vampires' mortal counterparts, scheming and backstabbing are legendary. So too is internal loyalty, for in many cases the ties of blood are stronger among the undead than among any mortal bloodline.

Thirteen clans are present in Europe during this age, though a few scattered minor bloodlines may be encountered from time to time.

Overpopulation

Vampires have existed for millennia, preying upon mortals like the parasites they are. The eldest vampires say that in Caine's First City, his childer ruled as kings and gods over the mortal population. But then came the Flood, and Caine saw the folly in what he had done. He forbade those few remaining to beget more of their kind, and left on a journey from which he has never been known to return. But those of the second and third generations had not the wisdom of their great father, and each sought to produce a brood of its own, in mockery of the families that the sons and daughters of Seth now brought into the world. So it was that the clans were created and have flourished until the Dark Ages, where our story begins.

Unlike mortals, who must struggle day after day to ensure they have sufficient food to eat, vampires are surrounded by unwitting prey. Without fear of the diseases and starvation that strike down so many mortals, Cainites flourish. Abundant food and few predators have produced an overabundance of vampires the likes of which the world has never seen. As a result, competition for domain is fierce. Many vampires foolishly believe that they have nothing to fear from mortals, and openly display their supernatural powers. Others warn that this overconfidence may lead to the downfall of Caine's childer, and urge caution. Only time will tell which faction will survive.

The Gathering Storm

In the centuries that follow the Dark Ages, vampires learn the importance of hiding themselves away from mortal eyes. Inquisitions of Church and state decimate the Cainite population, and only those who are able to blend into mortal society survive.

But those days seem distant in the Dark Ages. In the minds of most mortals, vampires are the creatures of the Devil, to be feared - and either fought by the Church or avoided entirely. With the power of their vampiric Disciplines and a cunning born from centuries of experience, some vampires set themselves up as lords of outlying areas, taking their tithes of blood from any unfortunates who pass by. Others control the mortal rulers of the land, through potent Blood Oaths and the work of their half-mortal ghouls.

Descent into Madness

For characters raised in the devout atmosphere of the Dark Medieval world, to become a vampire is to become cursed by god, afflicted with the mark of Caine and forever damned. Unlike their jaded descendants of later centuries, medieval vampies take the notions of salvation and damnation very seriously. Most find it exceedingly difficult to continue on, night after night, in the knowledge that they are damned.

To slow the downward spiraal into madness and despair, most vampires adopt a philosophy, called the Via or Road. A vampire's Road is the path she seeks to guide her through existence, the principles upon which her unlife is based.

Variations amomg Roads are widespread. Some seek only to survive, living on instinct and the needs of their bestial souls. Many take the Church's teachings to heart, and conclude that they are indeed Hell's creatures. Reflective Cainites might muse that their undying states are Satan's attempts to mimic God's promise of eternal life. Since they cannot believe that they are maintained by holy power, many Cainites conclude that they owe their lives to Hell: the Church, after all, teaches that all power comes from either God or Satan. In some cases this provokes extreme feelings of guilt or self-loathing. Others consciously attempt to serve Hell, in thanks for their immortality, in hopes of gaining further favors, or simply out of awe and fear.

Golconda

Some vampires speak of a mythic state of enlightenment in which the forces of instinct and self-control are in harmony. The vampire learns to accept what he has become, and thereby gains control of the Beast within. Those who still believe such stories speak of how those who achieve this state are freed from Caine's curse, no longer forced to live on the blood of the living.

But in the Dark Ages, many vampires believe that forgiveness may only come through the mercy of GOd. Those who search for Golconda are berated as having turned away from both God and Satan, selfishly believing that self-acceptance is more important to salvation than is the mercy of God. As a result, fewer 12th century vampires seek Golconda than their pre-Christian predecessors.

Social Distinctions

As in the mortal world, certain levels of social status exist within vampire society. Most of these are based on age, though some denote an individual's rejection of vampire society.

  • Caitiff: Very rare in the Dark Medieval world, Caitiff are clanless vampires. Whether they were abandoned by their sires or they rejected their own clans, Caitiff exist outside the political structure of vampire society. Without the protection of sire or clan, they are in the lowest social position of any Cainites.
  • Childe: Vampires bearing this title are newly created, and have not yet been released by their sires. They are not considered to be full members of vampire society, and ae thus shown little respect. They are treated as children until they prove themselves ready to be released into the world. In the Dark Medieval period, most childer remain with their sires for several decades, learning how to make their way in the world.

The term "childe" is sometimes used as an epithet to denote a weak or foolish vampire.

  • Neonate: These are vampires who have not yet made names for themselves in vampire society. Neonates are often the "doers" of the vampiric world, as they attempt to carve niches for themselves in the hierarchy. Neonates who survive for a century after leaving the protection of their sires are considered ancillae.
  • Ancilla: These vampires are still comparatively young, but have proven themselves to the elders. Ancillae are up-and-coming cainites, the ones who play the rules (mostly) to achieve greater power. This is the rank between neonate and elder, wherein the vampire is given increasing respect, power and responsibility. In some areas, a vampire is not considered to be an ancilla until she has served another for "six years, six days and six acts of courage." Most ancillae have existed for one or more centuries since their Becomings.
  • Autarkis: Outlaws among their kind, these vampires refuse to recognize the authority of any prince. Though they are without a true place in the hierarchy of vampire society, their sheer power grants them respect akin to most ancillae. Less powerful autarkis suffer swift demises.
  • Elder: When vampires reach a certain age, few others beings can still hold power over them. The elders are those others, who are in control and who seek to dominate all the others. Elders are normally between 200 and 1000 years old, but as with all things undead, this can vary immensely.
  • Methusulah: Somewhere between 1000 and 2000 immortal years, a profound change invariably overtakes a vampire. It has long been argued whether this change is mystical, physical or is in fact spiritual, brought about through new needs and desires. Certainly by the time a vampire reaches this age, boredom and melancholy set in, as does an increased paranoia. Those who are weak, take risks or unconsciously desire suicide do not survive to this age - only the very strongest achieve the rank of Methusulah.

As a means of self-preservation, most Methusulahs retreat from the world and those younger than they. The constant danger of facing the young reckless ones, who seek power through the blood of their elders, grows numbing. Eventually some ancillae will get lucky and dispatch the ancient. Thus the only option is to retreat fully from society and enter torpor. Some Methusulahs remain involved in power struggles and the Jyhad of the Cainites, but do so in complete anonymity.

  • Antediluvian: These are the most ancient vampires, and are among the most powerful creatures in the world. From these 13 ancient vampires, the clans and bloodlines of the present were formed. They are reputed to be the grandchilder of Caine, and are of the third generation. When they do involve themselves in the affairs of vampires, they seldom leave things untarnished by their touch. The mere word of an Antediluvian is enough to provoke enormous strife and conflict among vampires. Their eternal struggle for supremac, the Jyhad, affects vampires everywhere.

Social Mobility
Unlike mortal society during the Dark Ages, a fair amount of social mobility is available to vampires. Part of what determines a vampire's status is his age, so those who survive the longest inevitably gain more prestige and power. The other factor is generation, or how far removed a vampire is from Caine. If a vampire commits Amaranth upon another vampire of a lower generation, draining the victim of every last drop of her lifeblood, the attacker will effectively lower himself one generation.

With few rigidly enforced rules to gover their feeding, vampires in populated towns have the most to gain (and fear) from Amaranth. With death by disease, fire, murder and countless othr causes so common in over-crowded towns, vampires can feed to their hearts' content. However, the childer they create can just as easily prey upon their elders without retribution.

Though no less intimidating, Amaranth is perhaps less of a threat on the countryside. There are limits to which a vampire can abuse his power in the lands of fields and manors. Travel is limited, so most vampires in a rural area know each other. If the local lord is a vampire and is diablerized, the locals will initiate a Blood Hunt for his killer, even if they don't realize the cause of his death. If the culprit is a local Cainite, he will certainly be exposed to the hunt, if not drawn into or made a target of it.

The Cainite who seeks to diableriz his elders, or abuse any of his powers in a countryside estate, therefore runs the risk of marking himself for destruction. Perhaps the wisest way to exist and gain power in the countryside is to feed carefully and perform Amaranth only on those vampires who pass through with the same purpose in mind. Vampires who follow such practices will surely survive and perhaps share their wisdom to create a broader, more controlled Cainite society in the future.

The Prince

Since time immemorial, the eldest vampire in a domain has served as its leader, mediating disputes and rallying the Cainites of the area should danger threaten. The title has varied from one area to the next, usually mimicking the titles of mortal nobility. Emperors, kings, marquis, barons, viscounts, thanes, grand dukes and countless others have led their fellow vampires, but in recent years the title of prince has predominated in western Europe. This is undoubtedly due to the appearance of eternal youth that Cainites are able to maintain, as well as the prestige attached to such a title.

Though the prince of a given area is traditionally the eldest cainite in the area, there are exceptions. Sometimes the eldest vampire will choose to abdicaate and name his progeny as his successor; the power of the sire backs that of the progeny, and allows the elder to pursue his own interests. Still, a prince must be able to enforce his rule, and few childer are able to do this effectively. Unless they are backed by a single powerful elder or a group of elders, they will rarely have the strength to hold their positions. Of course, what elder trusts his progeny so completely as to hand over the reins of power?

In some areas, other titls denote vassals of the prince. In particular, the title of sheriff or seneschal has come into common use in Britain, denoting a Prince's lieutenant in charge of keeping the peace among the fief's vampires. Other areas have adopted similar titles as befits the mortal culture surrouding them, partly because the neonates of the Dark Ages seem to value titles and status even more than land and fortresses. It is far easier to invent an honorific title to reward a vassal than to further divide domain already whittled down by elders over the centuries.

Fealty

When one prince acknowledges another as his superior, he swears "fealty" to him. This is much like a mortal knight swearing fealty to a baron, or a baron swearing fealty to a king. The lesser (thence called the vassal or vassal prince) acknowledges his inferiority, and swears to obey the greater prince. This is not uncommon.

Sometimes a prince who swears fealty is indeed expected to serve the greater vampire dutifully, and may swear a Blood Oath to her new overlord. Sometimes swearing fealty has no real consequences - it just bolsters the ego and prestige of the stronger prince. In most cases there are a few mild restrictions placed upon a prince who swears fealty.

  • The vassal may not aid the enemies of the greater prince. He may not allow them to hunt or establish havens in his fief.
  • A Blood Hunt called in the greater prince's fief is also in effect throughout the vassal's fief.
  • The vassal may not form alliances with other princes.

The Prince's Powers

Cainite society has yet to evolve any common assumptions of how a prince might behave or what limits she might have to her power. Instead, a prince's power is determined by practical considerations.

  • How much support does the prince have from her subjects? Acting with her subjects support, even a weak prince can enforce her will over dissenters.
  • How independent are her subjects? Free-spirited Cainites will resist strict princes.
  • How much more powerful than her subjects is the prince? A really tough prince can do what she likes, safe in the knowledge that she can crush any opposition.
  • How strong is the Church in the area? How tough are the werewolves? And what of mages and faeries? External threats might unite Cainites around their princes, but a draconian prince might be betrayed to these enemies by malcontents.

Some princes wield vast powers - declaring Blood Hunts on a whim, banning other Cainites from creating ghouls or neonates, strictly regulating what allies their subjects might have, determining hunting grounds, closely watching visiting Cainites, etc. Others are nearly powerless: they must call councils of all their subjects to create Blood Hunts; other cainites may Embrace mortals, strike alliances or create ghouls at will; subjects may hunt or establish havens where they wish; and foreign Cainites come and go unchecked.

Ghouls and Childer

Permission to create ghoul servants may be obtained only from the prince of the fief. Too many, and the Silence of the Blood is threatened. Nor is permission to work the Becoming on a mortal taken lightly, though in recent years more and more vampires have ignored this rule. The princes of the Dark Medieval world do not want their enemies, or potential enemies, to build up hordes of ghouls to work against them; nor do they want a plague of uncontrolled neonates terrifying the mortal population and competing with them for hunting rights.

Princes often demand that their subjects ask permission before either embracing a mortal or creating a ghoul, and if a ghoul or neonate causes trouble, the prince is likely to hold her creator responsible. Of course, most princes can't really monitor all their subjects, and so disobedient Cainites might create neonates or ghouls despite their princes' restrictions. Princes, however, are aware of this. If they can't be sure to discover disobedient cainites, they usually make certain that those who do get caught are punished severely. Any vampire who embraces a mortal against the will of her prince can expect to be killed. Blood Hunts may also be called against those who repeatedly create ghouls against their prince's wishes.

Under exceedingly rare circumstance is a mortal embraced before thirty years of age, and even so a mortal in her thirties is considered a volatile candidate.

On the Horizon
It is not hard to see how the overconfidence and overpopulation of this period leads to inquisitions and revolutions, in vampire society as well as in the mortal world. Two centuries from now, Cainites will divide themselves into three factions: the Camarilla, which champions those who would retain some degree of Humanity; the Sabbat, which revels in their status as monsters of the night; and the anarchs, who reject both other groups as oppressive, and want simply to be able to do as they please without regard for vampiric or mortal authority. But for now, cainites live in a world without restrictions, in which personal power is the only law.