by: Belladonna for Sanguinus Curae
It seems that, for many people, merely the fact of being as vampire is enough. Other details such as Clan, Background, Merits, Flaws, and so forth seem to be chosen on the basis of improving the character's survivability, or to flesh out a limited concept. Clan especially seems to be chosen more on superficial impression and the point-spread of Disciplines than for any other inherent value.
I have heard and read many character's make some variation of the following statement: "Well, I want to play an (choose a clan), except that I want " In one swift moment Clan is considered then discarded as they get on to the 'except' part - the additional Discipline(s), the exceptional Background, the unique Merit or Flaw that separates them from what they believe is the sea of sameness. They seem to view individuality only as that one Trait that makes the character stand out from the crowd, or that one Trait that makes the character superior to the average.
It seems that the entire structure of the Vampire world, and the larger realities of the embrace, are largely ignored.
It is true that role-playing allows for great diversity - even encourages it, but somehow these players seem to view the inherent structure of Vampire to be limiting and oppressive. They do not feel they are individualistic enough unless there is something about their character that sets them apart from everything else. Yet at the same time they continue to try and argue their character's seamless integration into a structure they have chosen to be outside of.
The most difficult question for these players to answer seems to be "Why was the character embraced as a (fill in the Clan)?". The second most difficult question seems to be "Why did your character embrace (x person)?". When it really comes down to it - they don't know. The most crucial and vital point of their character's background - and they have no answer, because they chose the Clan before they fully conceived of the character - on the basis of what sounded cool or what they wanted to be able to do.
It is for this reason that online gaming especially seems to suffer from a rash of Clan fads. One person creates a new character with an original Clan concept, and suddenly you have that Clan crawling out of the woodwork as others jump on the cool bandwagon. Following this is a rash of embraces, without any thought of why the embracee would be given the gift, and suddenly you're hip-deep in Gangrel, for example. A month later the forests are silent, but there seems to be an Assamite behind every piece of furniture, and the month after that you can't swing a cat without hitting a Tremere, but there isn't an Assamite to be found when you really need someone dead. (In a more vague sense this also affects Sect choice, and even genre choice as new books are published and attention spans wane.) If every Vampire within a given Clan is a complete individual with unique disciplines, Merits, Flaws, and Archetypes - why then are their Clans at all? Why is so much effort put into describing Clan views, tendencies, and stereotypes - if there are no examples of these stereotypes in a sea of individuality? The sad truth is, there is a tendency towards a form of bigotry or racism that endures in role-playing. It is the same form of racism that allows bigots to say 'All Asians look alike to me.' Or 'All whites look the same.'. It is the assumption that you must have some glaring and outrageous feature in order to be separated from the crowd, and in the pursuit of that outrageous individualism the essence of the larger whole is lost or discarded.
I have seen players state matter-of-factly that their character was embraced as a particular Clan, then carry on to explain the rest of the details of their character that - in the end - can only be summarized as completely disregarding everything that makes their Clan what it is. Yet - Clan should be the most carefully considered choice of all.
Why is that?
Because the Clan forms the backbone upon which all other considerations of the character's overall disposition are based. While it is true that all characters are individuals, the Clan of the Vampire is the template that forms the foundation of each character's individuality.
There is no way to over-emphasize the importance of Clan in the character's construction. From before even the moment of embrace, Clan is the measure against which everything that comprises the character will be set. The Clan that you intend the character to be will determine what kind of person they were before their embrace. It will determine how, where, and by what means they were embraced, and it even determines how they were treated before and after their embrace. Even Sect is secondary to Clan in this regard, and should be the second consideration, not the first. Sect can be a hazy and indistinct concept, with many alternatives other than the Big Two (Sabbat and Camarilla), and does not hold nearly the formative power in creating the character that their Clan will.
No matter what the circumstances of the character's embrace, Clan plays a powerful role before and after. Each Clan description details some of the attitudes and viewpoints of the Clan that come into play when choosing a candidate for the embrace.
Some candidates are chosen because they aptly fit the mold of what the Clan should be. These fledglings will find themselves in a much better position following their embrace, able to adapt to their new lifestyles more quickly, and better suited to absorb the combination of necessary teaching and inherent propaganda that comes with their sire's blood. They are more likely to succeed early, and are much more likely to be trusted - achieving earlier release and recognition. Their struggle with the truth of their new undead status will be eased somewhat by the fact that much of their new reality is not too far removed from what they had grown accustomed to in their mortal existence.
On the other hand, there are some embrace candidates that are mistakes, or embraces of passion that are not well thought out by their sires beforehand. These types may not have the skills, talents, or mindset suited to be a member of their Clan. Their struggle will be an uphill climb, constantly being forced to control and second-guess their own instincts and try to adapt to a foreign way of life. Their progress will be slow and fraught with failures and close calls. They are much more likely to fall prey to recruitment by opposing forces or Sects, and all in all they will not be even remotely happy.
Whichever type your character turns out to be, the tendencies and expectations of the Clan play the paramount role in your early life as one of the undead. In an even more immediate fashion, the Clan of your sire will determine the actual circumstances of your actual embrace - one of the most crucial and memorable events of your undead life. No two Clans carry out the embrace in the same way - to think they do is ludicrous. Would a Ventrue and a Brujah conduct such a ceremony in the same fashion? Would the embrace of a Tremere and a Gangrel bear any resemblance? True - the actual mechanics of the embrace are always the same from Clan to Clan, varying only with added ritual in some cases such as the Sabbat, the Tremere, the Assamites, etc. But even here in this explanation I've been forced to draw certain distinctions between Clans, because at the heart of the matter even the basic mechanics of the embrace are not precisely identical.
The embrace of a Malkavian is a harrowing, maddening experience - even assuming the candidate isn't insane to begin with. Just imagine being hounded by a mad genius who really and truly wants to turn the most basic parts of you - your very mind and soul - completely inside-out.
On the other hand, the embrace of a Ventrue might be imagined accurately to be something akin to a promotion party, with a very strange crowning moment. There would be a great deal of speech-making, pomp, and circumstance to usher the new candidate into the Blue-blooded halls of power.
The embrace of a Toreador may be a fabulous production with wonderful sets and props, or it may be an unbelievable private seduction as the sire's ego takes the stage for the grand finale of the candidate's mortal life.
It is rumored that Gangrel candidates are often stalked and hunted for days, run to ground like a prey animal and taken like a beast into the final death of their mortal form. It is said they often awaken alone and unsheltered - forced to prove themselves to their sires in the most basic of Darwinian exercises - if you are strong enough to survive and deal with what you are, then you will. End of story.
The embrace of a Brujah potential might take the form of a really all-out party that somehow goes astray somewhere after the eleventh hour - getting abruptly wilder than anyone mortal could imagine. Just imagine the scene in Near Dark when the vampire group locks the doors of the bar. It may smack of the Sabbat to the experienced, but if you read the Brujah description it's fitting there as well. (What? You haven't seen it? Oh, you gotta see it. Forgive the eighties schtick and production, it's still a classic.)
Inversely once again, the embrace of the Tremere is ritualized to the extreme. Held in the Chantry or whatever closest substitute is appropriate, with many more than just the sire in attendance, it would bear a great deal in common with a witches' esbat or a druidic ceremony. From the moment of their embrace, the fledgling Tremere is blood-bound to their elder, just as their elder was bound to their sire, and so on. It is powerful, mystical, and provocative. Never easily forgotten.
Speaking of inspirational dark mysticism, imagine the embrace of a Lasombra - full of religious and mystical overtones liberally mixed with powerful dogma and oppressive stricture. Imagine being ushered into a cult of inspired religious and political leaders that are the essence of darkness itself. Not something easily overlooked or gotten over, is it?
And on and on it goes, with each Clan as unique and powerfully formative in their embrace practices as the last. From the moment of their embrace, every Cainite knows at the center of her very soul what she has become, and it is much more complex than simply 'vampire'.
But what of the Caitiff and the Panders, you may ask. For them the LACK of clan is as powerful a formative tool as the existence of Clan is for the others. (for more on this see the Overview of the Caitiff and the article on Creating a Caitiff elsewhere on this site.)
Even after the embrace is through, the influence of Clan is a constant and powerful force in every Cainite's life. Because each Clan is so specialized and unique, each member finds they are faced with a sea of expectation, teachings, reputation, and stereotype. She is expected to behave in much the same fashion as the rest of her peers, both by the Clan itself and by the rest of the Cainite world. The Cainite that disavows her Clan traditions, codes, and morals can face extreme reprisals, even death. She certainly will not prosper in her course, becoming a pariah and a laughing stock among her own kind. Who will teach her? Who will shelter her? Who will guide her from the pitfalls that lead to the Prince's or the Cardinal's wrath? Worse still, she will be viewed as an embarrassment by her sire, and no matter the Clan - Cainites are prideful creatures. Embarrassments are most often simply erased before the reputation of the sire can be irrevocably harmed. This is not to say that a rogue cannot survive - there is a certain romantic appeal to the underdog - but there is no way that the rogue will ever gain any true status or respect within their Clan. Their life will always be harsh and unforgiving, with downfall waiting at every turn. If the Cainite is particularly cunning and savvy, she may be able to conceal her rogue nature and survive within the Clan, but this turncoat will always be walking the edge of the razor, and by that reasoning will often be twice as careful and three times as paranoid as any of her Cainite brethren. Her next mistake could be the one that exposes her as a fraud, and then it would be all over. She would be twice as leery of making that mistake, yet twice as likely to make it.
This morass of prejudice, distrust, expectation, and stereotype creates another reality in the Cainite world that is often conveniently overlooked by players wishing to give their character a unique 'edge'.
It is true that most individual disciplines are shared by more than one clan. But the combinations of Disciplines become unique to each and every Clan. No two Clans share precisely the same combination of Disciplines, and many Clans are jealous of the perceived advantage that their uniqueness gives them.
These Clans would be reticent if not downright hostile about the idea of freely teaching a vampire from another Clan one of their own Disciplines. She would be - in effect - adding a terrible advantage to an already powerful source of potential competition. The Ventrue that learned Celerity would suddenly rise head and shoulders above her peers, able to perform in ways that her competition could not. The Brujah with Auspex would become a powerful and deadly competitor on the field of the night, outstripping his compatriots and able to outmatch many opponents from other Clans as well. It may not seem to be a large concern to the average player - perhaps because they are so accustomed to characters with four, five, six, or even more disciplines. But if it is viewed from the standpoint that the MAJORITY of each Clan's members have only the three basic disciplines, then suddenly the advantage of even just a fourth supernatural ability becomes vastly apparent. The teaching of a discipline to an outsider would carry a heavy price, and often would be a matter conducted in great secrecy. Worse still, the use of an ability so obviously one of the 'other Clan's' may bring the character under a great deal of suspicion, Their loyalties and motivations might be called into question, their intentions will certainly become suspect as their peers and elders realize that this Cainite is now dealing from a slightly stacked deck. Life would become drastically more difficult for this vampiric entrepreneur, and they might find their lateral freedom and upward mobility severely curtailed, or they may find themselves the favored pawn of a savvy elder - no less expendable than other pawns, but put into play quite a bit more often.
Beyond these considerations, Clan even has the effect of directing the tendencies of the character's nightly existence. The predilections and tendencies of Clan will dictate and shape such things as where the character makes her Haven, where she prefers to Hunt, where she gathers with others of her kind, and what kinds of activities she will choose to fill her waking hours. To view every vampire in the narrow mold of the romantic loner, spending her nights in search of prey and nothing more is a narrow and unfulfilling viewpoint. Yet for some reason it is a very common theme. I have seen Toreador played that create or introduce nothing, and likely couldn't even name the talent they were supposedly embraced on the strength of. I have seen Ventrue that behave like disaffected Brujah on an alcohol-laced bender, and I have seen Brujah that seem perfectly happy to curl up in front of a fireplace with a good book. There is a point where individuality blurs with a simple failure to grasp the concept. Worse still are the shallow cardboard cutouts of the most basic Clan stereotype - the fabulously wealthy and pompous Ventrue, for example, who then does nothing politically, financially, or socially save hang around and demand that people kiss his pinky ring - it begs the question of how he achieved the wealth, status, and power in the first place. By the time your character's stat sheet has been completed, you as the player should have a solid grasp of what your character is doing with their existence. The character should have a reasonably defined set of goals, habits, idiosyncrasies, and quirks. You should be able to face each night of play with the solid knowledge that the character can keep busy, has things to do, and has things to accomplish. This above all else is your best way to contribute to a storyline, and all of these things will be partially molded by the Clan your character belongs to.
Every Clan offers a wondrous maze of complexity and diversity to be explored, without ever needing to create that glaring difference just to be unique. To disregard the psychological, social, and moral complexities of your character's Clan is to disregard the very essence of what your character's life has been and will be.
Don't play with the ball - be the ball.
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