by: Belladonna for Sanguinus Curae
(These are things that are presented throughout the White Wolf books that have nothing to do with stats or rules but are represented in the stories and excerpts that are found throughout. They are very real considerations that should always be kept in mind when playing a vampire.)
Vampires are NOT human.
From the moment of their awakening following the embrace, they are profoundly aware that they are different. It is more than just facts such as lack of heartbeat, pulse, or warmth. It is a complete physiological change that can be felt from the first few seconds and stays with them their entire unlives.
Some of the more mundane aspects of this difference are:
1) Your organs and glands, including your heart, do NOT work. Therefore you do not breathe, eat, sigh, swallow, blink, fart, or pee. Remember this when you are playing - 'She sighs and says...' is WRONG. You do need to draw in air when you speak, but that is not the same as breathing, and that spoken breath will not steam on cold winter air, because...
2) Your blood does not circulate, and your cells do not burn energy, therefore you are COLD to the touch. Only the unobservant will fail to notice this even when just shaking hands. A freshly fed vampire will be somewhat warm for up to an hour, provided they consumed a LOT of blood in the feeding (as in a whole person, 8 to 10 pints, or 8 to 10 BP). If it was only a small amount (a pint or two, meaning 1 or 2 BP) then it makes no difference - you're cold. At best a vampire will feel room temperature, about an average of 70F or 20c, nearly 30% colder than a normal human being.
3) You do not have saliva or any other bodily fluid. The only way to mimic these things is to force blood through the appropriate tissues. All orifices of a vampire are normally dry unless recently lubricated with blood. That means that any contact with these orifices for another person is either a) dry and cold, or b) bloody and cold. Think about that before you kiss, or whatever.
4) The outer tissues of a vampire's body are unusually dry compared to humans, since all endocrine systems have ceased functioning. This means that fire is a real fear for them. A burn for a human is a blistering and cracking of the skin under heat. For a vampire a burn means CATCHING ON FIRE! A vampire can be as easily ignited as the wick of a candle, even with a common match or lighter. The only way to prevent this, as in the Sabbat firedances, is to waste precious vitae (at least a BP) to force blood to near the surface of the skin, and even then it is a risky undertaking. Therefore vampires do NOT smoke or play with matches except with extreme caution.
5) The feeling of being 'tired' for humans arises from a buildup of what are called 'fatigue poisons' in the system. These are waste byproducts in the cells and blood that come from cellular activity, and once they reach a certain level, they impair function and the body shuts down to clean them out. These are the same chemicals that cause 'muscle burn' when exercising. Since a vampire's cells do not function and burn nothing, no such poisons are produced. Therefore a vampire NEVER feels tired or fatigued (save perhaps mentally, which is psychological, not physical). From sundown to sunrise, you are at your peak. You never experience fatigue, aches, stiffness, muscle cramps, or any other side effect of activity. You feel 100% at all times as long as you have a sufficient amount of blood in your system.
6) The vampire body no longer requires human food or drink. It gains no nourishment from these things, and by consequence it will not react to them with feelings of longing when they are present. Food does not smell good any longer, except in purely psychological ways. The vampire body DOES require blood, however, HUMAN blood. Therefore, humans smell like FOOD. No vampire needs to be told the difference between a vampire and a mortal under normal conditions, one strong whiff of either one and the Hunger will supply the answer.
7) Speaking of scent - the human body produces scent in dozens of different ways, from hair oil to sweat to breath to less savory means. The entire combination of scents produces a unique signature smell, just like in any other animal. Vampires have none of these means of producing scent, but it does not mean they are without a distinct smell. Most importantly they would smell like BLOOD, especially near their mouth and nose, and they would smell like the environments in which they spend their time. Foreign scents like smoke and incense still cling to them normally, and if they wear perfumes or use common toiletries like shampoo, then all these smells combined will form a unique scent for each vampire.
8) Last but not least - a vampire's skin is unusually pale and smooth (unless they are of a clan that specifically makes it otherwise). The paleness comes from the fact that there is no blood circulating near the surface. The smoothness comes from the same effect that is observed in corpses where the skin takes on a smooth and waxy feel shortly after death. It is possible for a vampire to waste vitae and make themselves appear more human, but they would not be inclined to do this except when hunting or when absolutely necessary.
(Some vampires have the 'Eat Food' merit which allows them to mimic consuming human food, but at some point in the evening they have to throw it back up again, because they do NOT digest it in any way, and it does NOT pass through them. Some also have the 'Blush of Health' merit that makes you appear somewhat more human, and your skin is only slightly cool to the touch, it does NOT mean you breathe or your heart beats. Vampires do 'swallow' blood, but this is a muscular effort of the body akin to a vacuum cleaner, not an effort of the throat. This is why a strength roll is involved to diablerize, the final bit of vitae requires more 'pull' than the rest.)
Taking all of these things into consideration, it becomes easy to see that a vampire would be unable to delude themselves into thinking they are still human. The fact that their body just doesn't react the way it used to in SO many different ways would make any attempt at pretending to be mortal a waste of time and a source of inevitable frustration.
But those were just the MUNDANE aspects of the change.
A vampire awakens from the embrace feeling very different than they did in their last moments of life. They are no longer in cooperation with their body in many ways, they are now in complete command of it, save for the Hunger.
A vampire awakens feeling stronger, faster, keener of sense and mind, than they ever felt in life. This part of the change is not necessarily represented in any stat changes, but it is nonetheless true for ANY vampire. In many practical ways they ARE superior to their former mortal selves.
Consider strength as an example. The human body does not have a set strength capability, it has a limit that is defined by health, preparation, level of fatigue, and a dozen other attributes that make the actual limit of any person's strength a fluid and nebulous thing. There are large men that lift heavy weights in competition professionally that have lifted as much as 700 lb. (320 kg) ONCE in a bench press. But when they are forced to do many lifts in a short period of time, what they can lift drops to around 500 lb. (225 kg) or less. This falls back to the fatigue poisons and activity impairment. It is functionally impossible for a human being to work at their MAXIMUM capacity for more than a few tasks at most.
Now, consider the vampire - they have no impairment that prevents them from using their maximum potential in every task if they so desire. So it is possible for a vampire to exert themselves completely in feats of strength, making them SEEM to be up to twice as strong as they used to be. This has no effect on the upper limit of their strength, which doesn't change until they learn Potence, it simply means that they can operate at that limit all night, without ever getting tired.
Likewise a vampire will SEEM to be twice as fast on their feet as they used to be when they are forced to run. Why? Because the average human can sprint for a few seconds at a speed roughly twice what they can maintain in an extended run. After those few seconds, the muscular fatigue forces them to slow down. Another factor in running is cardiovascular fitness, if your lungs are out of shape or impaired in any way, they can't supply oxygen as fast as the muscles need it, and the muscles slow down. Vampires do not breathe, and never suffer fatigue, therefore their running speed is in essence their sprint. Around 12 mph (19 kph) for the average reasonably fit human of average size.
What about the senses? Why would they be better? This is a bit more nebulous, but in the case of the big three (sight, hearing, and sense of smell) relatively easy to explain.
Sight - human eyes dry out when they stare, they water, and they are irritated by various elements in the air quite easily. Combine these things with eyestrain, blinking, and a dozen other factors, and you will see that focusing sharply and totally is difficult at best for the human eye. Since none of these considerations apply to the vampire, it is also easy to see why they would seem to experience clearer and sharper sight. Hearing - this one is even simpler. The human body produces a great deal of 'white noise' that we simply become accustomed to, and usually don't even register hearing - heartbeat, pulse, fluid shifting, breathing, etc. Everything they hear is strained through this web of noise produced by their own physiology, much like listening to one person at a party. When all of that noise is removed, it suddenly becomes obvious that the person they are listening to is actually shouting. So too does the vampiric ear SEEM to be more keen, simply because all the 'white noise' is gone.
Sense of smell - humans receive scent data from molecules in the air that they breathe in. Simple enough. But they breathe OUT again almost as quickly, by necessity, and therefore reduce the amount of sensory input they can get from any one breath (this is the reasons that animals, especially dogs, breathe shallowly and rapidly when scenting, they cram as much as they can as quickly as they can into their nose, with a minimum of exhalation). Since vampires don't breathe out - well, you can see where this is going.
These factors add to the inhuman and unnatural sense that vampires have of themselves, but they are by no means the largest indicators that they have changed. One factor remains, and within it are many attributes that combine to make the BLOOD the largest and most pressing sign of the new vampire's status.
The Blood is everything to a vampire. It is every meal, every breath, every thought, every feeling, every action they have ever or will ever take. It is their first, last, and only requirement, their best friend, and at times their worst enemy. Without it they simply cease to exist.
The Blood is their power, their drug, their means to live and their reason for living.
The Blood brings with it the Hunger, and lurking behind the Hunger is the Beast that all vampires fear to some extent.
The Blood, which vampires call 'vitae', infuses their entire body. It takes the place of their nervous system, but it doesn't flow the way human blood does. It's simply there, to be used as needed. It allows them to move, to feel, to think, and to do things no mortal could dream of. It is the most precious thing in existence to a vampire. They never waste it, and they use it carefully, because getting more isn't exactly easy. If they run low through exertion or stupidity, they begin to battle the Hunger, that driving need to have more before it's too late.
The Hunger is not a sensation like human hunger or thirst, it is more akin to the drive for self-preservation in an animal, that instinct that will cause a wolf to gnaw off it's own foot to escape a trap, the same kind of drive that will cause even the tiniest creature to turn and bite viciously when trapped. The unthinking, unreasoning, uncaring need to survive. Woe to the vampire that let's the Hunger get too strong, because then the Beast takes over, and that Hunger is personified. A vampire in Frenzy will gladly rip the head off their own lover to drink from the fountain of their gushing neck, they would rend their own children in half to get at the blood hidden in their small bodies. NOTHING is more important to the Beast than survival. Nothing.
The average human finds drinking blood somewhat distasteful, except where culturally tolerated or encouraged, but to the vampire blood is more than just a necessity. It is more potent and delicious than the most powerful drug or the finest of meals. Nothing can compare to the all-consuming ecstasy a vampire feels when drinking, or the high that stays with them long after the meal is finished. It is a permanent and absolute addiction that instantly becomes the center of their lives. A vampire never treats blood lightly unless they have gorged themselves to the point of bursting, and they can never ignore it. Even the thin trickle from a mortal's cut finger sings a siren call to the senses of a vampire, distracting them, drawing their attention. Open bleeding has been known to drive vampires into a feeding frenzy, they simply can't help themselves. They can smell blood in a room the same way a human being can smell dinner cooking, and they never fail to take notice.
Vampires face a problem in this, however, due to the world they live in. Getting the blood they need is generally socially unacceptable, and they must be careful in how they go about it, lest they wake up with a stake in their chest in time to see the ax descending on their neck. If they want to maintain absolute secrecy, they have to hunt carefully, lure potential meals away from spectators, take what they need but not enough to endanger life, then somehow hide the fact of what they've done from the mortal as well. Some vampires are blessed with powers of the mind to accomplish this, others have to rely on subterfuge and wits to get by.
If they DO kill their victim, there's the question of disposing of a bloodless corpse. A particularly active vampire may have to spend half the night just in the hunt, since their hunger demands more than what just one victim can provide. For this reason some vampires will keep 'herds', groups of people kept solely for the purpose of feeding. This raises its own problems, because the vampire needs to house these people somewhere and ensure their silence. No matter how they do it, the quest for Blood, for survival, becomes the driving force in a vampire's every waking hour.
Despite all of these very real and immediate changes, there is one thing, and one thing only, about a vampire that doesn't change right away. The one thing that becomes a curse that makes all the other curses of vampirism pale by comparison.
For a time, often a long time, vampires still feel the way a human would. Their hearts love, laugh, hurt, and cry just as though they were mortal. This is the ultimate bane of the vampire, to be a monster by nature and design, but to be human at heart.
They can feel from their first seconds of unlife the truth of what they've become. They can often see it. From those first moments they begin a struggle between their new natures and their old inner selves. The Hunger demands blood, and will kill to get it, but the human within recoils from the horrors that they now find themselves capable of. Guilt, remorse, regret, horror - these things plague new vampires as they feel the monster within clawing its way to freedom. Murder becomes a temptation and a horrifying inevitability they must wrestle with. They look at former friends and smell the blood in their veins, becoming wracked by disgust that they could think of a friend or lover as food, and a secret terror that comes from the knowledge that if they lose control just once - that friend will die by their hand. If they retain their humanity long enough, they watch people, places, things they love age, rot, and die as their own immortality carries them onward unchanging.
For these reasons many withdraw from human society quickly, but many more struggle with the terrible slide away from being human, and experience pain and heartache like they never suffered in life. Most try to turn to their own kind for comfort, but none can be found there either. Vampires view each other as potential threats, competitors, and enemies. At best there can be alliances, carefully plotted and jealously guarded. The demands and pressures of unlife make no vampire trustworthy, and many other factors, such as the Blood Bond, render them downright suspicious. This emotional minefield often drives vampires to complex and manipulative ends to try and create some form of lasting security for their dying hearts. They create childer and try to hold them to themselves, sometimes by binding them with the Blood. They will surround themselves with ghouls that have no choice BUT to love their domitor, and they will even trick and seduce other vampires into the Bond.
Ultimately it all fails. In the end the vampire must face the crushing weight of hunger and immortality alone, and make their peace with it whatever way they can. Virtually none of them survive this ordeal with more than a shred of their humanity intact, and the loss is like a surgery without anesthetic that lasted centuries. To fight this horrible tide, most vampires embrace artificial passions to keep themselves feeling 'alive' inside. This zealous pursuit of stimuli to stave off the death of their human side has become so ingrained in the whole of vampire society that it has overtaken and become the very shape of that society.
Each clan is defined at its heart by which pursuit its forebears chose to stimulate their passions, every bloodline now chooses its childer on the basis of how well they match the mold of their own version of that battle. The Ventrue pursue glory in leadership and success. The Toreador quest passion in art and recognition. The Brujah seek revitalization in uncontrolled passion and wild abandon. The Nosferatu seek attenuation through knowledge and the unveiling of secrets. And so it goes, through every possible version of human expression, mirrored and refined to a grotesque art by the immortal souls fearing the darkness within - revenge, trickery, deceit, love, madness, the list goes on. In the end, every vampire is defined by what makes them inhuman, and what they do to try to fight that inevitable truth.
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