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[World-building] How bad are your vampires?

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  • [World-building] How bad are your vampires?

    Every Storyteller has their own preferences for how they like to portray being a monster. "Personal Horror" was the byline of the original game with the idea the player characters would portray a reluctant monster that was horrified by the actions they might undertake under the influence of either the Beast or the Hunger. Some fans HATE Personal Horror. They prefer to play monsters who revel in their vampiric power or hate the idea of feeling guilt over feeding on what nature clearly intended as their food.

    Others have a preference for vampires who are different sort of monster who prey upon the evil doer and are more Nick Knight or Angel than cursed monster.

    This is mostly about PCs, though, when people typically discuss it. PCs are able to defy the nature of their curse far differently than the majority of vampires. This is more a thread about how bad you think vampires in general are and specific groups ranging from Clans, Camarilla, and so on. How high is the average vamp's Humanity? What does that really mean? How often do they become wights?

    A general all purpose discussion of how dark being one of the undead and their life is morally and ethically.

    Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

  • #2
    How bad are vampires in my campaigns?

    Neontes and Ancilla

    I generally try and go with the idea that the majority of vampires after their Fledgling area tend to stabilize their Humanity at around Humanity 5-6. They try not to kill people and feel guilt when it happens but they are people who have ended up killing at least one or two innocents in their life. Its almost inevitable and all of them are carrying the weight of innocent blood. Those Fledglings or Neonates that try to live "cruelty free" lives of animal blood or bagging are generally considered to be pathetic and subject of mockery. There's a lot of peer pressure and reassurance from the culture of Kindred that feeding on humans and the fact they occassionally die is something that is okay. They do exist, though, with 7-8 Humanity but this a stressful isolating life.

    Use of Disciplines on mortals and ghouling humans is considered perfectly normal.


    Elders tend to have the view of Humanity 3-4 to me with the best ones being around Humanity 5 with rare exceptions. The centuries just wear them down and they become incredibly jaded about killing for the slightest provocation. Elders tend to revel in their power and hedonism with few caring about their fellow vampires let alone humanity. Generally, Elders tend to have the weakness of having alienated their former coteries and friends so they are usually solo except for their progeny and other vampires they enslaved. This helps make them vulnerable to groups of younger vampires working together.

    In ages prior, almost all Elders became on a Road rather than Humanity but the lack of those in the Modern Era has caused a decent chunk to fall to the Beast.


    Only a handful of vampires manage to live to be Elders. A decent chunk of newly Embraced vampires simply never get control over their Beasts and rapidly degenerate to wightdom in their first year. They kill, love it, and continue until they become a monster. This is the origin of why releasing a childe from his sire's control is a Tradition. Those vampires who degenerate after their "release" time generally come in two varieties. The first are Diablerists who are forever cursed thereafter with a lust for cannibalism. Even once can be enough to send you on a spiral down to the Beast. The second are those who have lost all of their immediate loved ones or associates in some catastrophic event. Elders are especially prone to this.

    Anarchs vs. Camarilla

    The Camarilla is better than the Sabbat in that it doesn't actively disdain and hate humanity but the irony of the Anarchs are they tend to be either better or worse than the Camarilla. There are Anarchs who believe they should be better than the Ivory Tower and those who utterly revel in their Beasts like miniature Sabbat. Camarilla vampires tend to be far more consistent.


    I go full grindhouse horror movies with a dose of Cthulhu for Sabbat. The majority of Sabbat are Humanity 1-3 with them having far more examples of those going Wight. However, if you manage to reach Ancilla-dom (at least 50 years) then you might be accepted to study one of the Paths of Enlightenment that usually require a decade of study to really master.

    Ironically, in my games, only a handful of Sabbat ever get higher than 5-6 in a Path because the Sabbat's demands detract from truly immersing yourself in one's spiritual mysteries.
    Last edited by CTPhipps; 09-17-2021, 03:47 PM.

    Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.


    • #3
      Like a lot of things, this has varied across editions and it can be helpful shorthand for GMs to say what edition's take they prefer.

      In 1e, you had assholes like Son and Jacob Schumpter and Gordon Keaton. But you had may more "good guy" vampires too. Johann, Maldavis, Rebekah, etc., there was a pretty decent number of Humanity 8+ vampires. Probably at least as many as the Humanity 0 ones (back when Humanity 0 didn't equate to wightdom). Golconda was something a decent number of vampires could tangibly achieve. The Inconnu were a brotherhood of good guys.

      Basically, vampires could be saints or monsters or anything in between. Any given city is likely to have vampires from all those groups.

      2e dialed back on the number of good guys in the setting. Lots of the saintly type vampires in Chicago got killed off in the book's 2e update. D.C. by Night gave us monsters like Marcus Vitel and relatively decent vampires like Amos, who wasn't pursuing Golconda but also seemed like a decent and compassionate enough dude. The Inconnu were still portrayed as a benign force but occupied the spotlight less. Saulot was Vampire Jesus. Lucita was the rebellious eternal Anarch against her sire.

      Basically, vampires could decent people or monsters or anything in between. Saints are rare enough that your city might not have any.

      Revised cast everything in a darker and more sinister light. Pretty much everyone was an asshole. Not literally true, I can think of some decent vampires from Revised, but the setting as a whole grew much grimmer. Pogroms against the thin-bloods and sectarian wars against the Sabbat became the order of the day. The Inconnu were cast as much a much more mysterious force that could be benign or sinister depending on the GM's preference. Depending on the book you're reading, Saulot was either a monster as evil and manipulative as any other Antediluvian (Clanbook Salubri) or a rare light in a world of darkness (Lair of the Hidden). Lucita murders a bunch of orphans to join the Sabbat.

      Basically, vampires are mostly jerks, monsters are common, and saints are so rare it's up to the GM whether or not they exist.

      V20 is a lot like 2e and adopts a more balanced take. One of my favorite characters was a cleaver parent who's protective of her young son and is mentioned as being pretty ruthless in her hunting methods, but cares about his welfare over all else. She hasn't turned him into a ghoul or let him know she's a vampire. Also, the Inconnu are a mystery. They might be benign or sinister or something in between, depending on the GM.

      V5 basically hits you over the head with a tire iron that has "VAMPIRES ARE MONSTERS" written over the sides. Pet play enthusiasts murder their dommes and giggle about it. Vampire cleavers don't only turn kids into ghouls, they turn babies into them too, and kill nosy social workers for being nosy and complain about what a hassle it is. Anarchs giggle that diablerie feels good and you deserve to feel good. The darkness and assholery gets so omnipresent that the writers start to play it for comedy, because the books would be too bleak if they didn't.

      Basically, vampires are monsters, and you're kidding yourself if you believe otherwise.

      I prefer the V20 take. Vampires are predators, and it can be an easy slide from that towards monstrosity, but some vampires still manage to be okay people. Some humans manage to be worse monsters than vampires. I don't think the realities of vampiric predation or the Camarilla's cutthroat politics should be discounted, but neither do I think it makes for an interesting setting just to make all vampires assholes. You need light to contrast the darkness and give real tragedy to the vampires who let darkness overtake them. Because there is another way. It's just harder.

      In my experience, PCs usually don't defy the nature of their curse. They tend to become more monstrous over the course of the chronicle. Being a monster is more expedient and offers more paths to power. That's why a lot of vampires eventually succumb, and why the answer to "How high is the average vamp's Humanity?" varies by age. Your average neonate is still the person they were alive, albeit more jaded, but the older you get the more monstrous you're likely to be.

      Blood and Bourbon, my New Orleans-based Vampire chronicle.


      • #4
        As a related aside, "virgin" is a slang term in my setting for vampires who've never killed a human being.

        Like in the real world, the Camarilla views individuals who boast about it as sanctimonious and possibly lying.

        Virgin neonates exist, but Kindred tend to view virgin ancillae and elders as urban legends. No one ever seems to personally know one.

        Blood and Bourbon, my New Orleans-based Vampire chronicle.


        • #5
          My vampires are generally sufficiently evil that I don’t bother with the Humanity system for them. Most Camarilla vampires, outside of neonates, will anyone that they need to if it is practical to do so, including innocents and/or children and they won’t feel much if any remorse for doing so. The Sabbat are the Sabbat and they will kill innocents even when it may be unwise to do so. The Anarchs are disproportionately young and still have some vampires who are a bit squeamish about hurting people, but the leaders of the movement are just as cold blooded, maybe even crueler, than Camarilla elders.

          That isn’t to say that good vampires are impossible, I still have some NPCs who are actually moral and humane, maybe even with high humanity or aspirations for Golconda, so they are the exception.


          • #6
            Vampirism brings out the worst tendencies of people, but it takes time before the Beast erodes Humanity. So most brand new neonates will average around Humanity 6-7. Let's called it 6.5. Most elders will be at Humanity 4-5, or 4.5. Ancilla are therefore likely around 5.5. Probably 80% of vampires in those categories will easily fit within that range.

            But a significant number (20%) will have lower Humanity. Those will include the real sociopaths and monsters. And will include those in power who have needed to kill to either maintain the vampire social order or to defend their own hold on power. Humanity 3 could be the default of many hardened Princes or elders, but if they indulge their dark side (as opposed to doing the brutality that is necessary and then stopping), they won't last long. But I don't discount the possibility that some of the vampires who hold office may have unsuspected high levels of Conscience, but are able to hide that aspect of them to avoid the appearance of weakness but that enables them to hold more Humanity than they "should" be having.

            I think any vampire who gets to Humanity 2 won't be around too long. By that point, it's too easy to lose what you have because the vampire is so inured to evil that they may think they've fallen as far as they can and won't recognize the steps that bring them to 1 or 0. The only reason I don't we see many Wights in the setting is that once a vampire is seen as being at this level, the elders make sure he is put down like a dog before he descends into being a Wight. Although another possibility is any such Wights, aided by their Disciplines, manage to effectively disappear and prey on others in secret, like Gollum searching for the One Ring keeping out of sight.

            Humane, high humanity vampires will always be an outlier. I think most vampires will have any high Humanity tendencies beaten out of then while they are fledglings. This will either be a result of their sire "helping" them with their condition so they accept that "accidents will happen," or that they demonstrate they are unable to hack it and therefore are destroyed before they ever get released. Those that manage to get through the system and be the Nick Knights or Hannibal Kings quickly decide they have to avoid other vampires as much as possible for the same reason recovering drug addicts should stay away from other drug addicts. They'll just slide into the bad behavior. So they isolate themselves from other vampires and try to avoid situations that will arouse the Beast. In this case, I think a character like Hannibal King (a neonate who as a repeating background character in comics doesn't deal in much action despite being a private detective) is more likely to succeed than Nick Knight (an elder who actively fights violent crime in an exciting TV series who routinely deals with other vampires). But such "natural" high Humanity vampires do exist, just not in every domain. And those that do will be alone, few in number, and probably virtually unknown to other vampires.

            There's another category of high Humanity vampires, and it are those older vampires who have noticed that their Humanity has fallen drastically and are entering panic mode. They desperately want to something about it. It is these vampires that become involved in the various schemes to understand Golconda, contact the Children of Osiris, or more crackpot schemes to recover Humanity. Since most of these vampires do so out of self-serving nature, they are doomed to fail. But a minority of them actually have their conscience rewoke and can make sincere, though likely temporary, progress at restoring Humanity.

            If you view the Inconnu being a sect really concerned about high Humanity vampires and Golconda seekers, then they exist to "collect" the truly outstanding vampires and try to protect and guide them. But such things can only happen if they take said vampires away from vampire society (taking a PC out of the game).

            I imagine most vampires in the Camarilla probably have prolonged periods when things are stable and they can keep their Humanity high. However, prolonged praxis struggles and sect conflicts force them into prolonged periods of violence where their Humanity plunges. But since many of those vampires are destroyed during that time, they get replaced by recently made vampires of High Humanity. The surviving ones in turn are "promoted" within their society becoming the next generation of leaders or ancillae, or surviving until they become elders.

            PCs in my experience start out at levels 6 or 7, and have a steady decline to level 4 or 5. I've seen a few PCs work hard to remain at level 7, but most give up sometime during the chronicle. I've only had 1 PC who was truly interested in playing a humane vampire, and in effect she was more like an NPC doing her own scenes with ties to the PC coterie rather than a member of the coterie itself. I think she started at 7 and managed to convince me that Humanity 8 was achieved. I gave it to her just to encourage her.

            I don't play Sabbat, but as the generic vampires are monsters set, they clearly have a lot less Humanity. CTPHipps' description of them seems to fit what I'd do with them too.

            I think vampires are soulless monsters that should be destroyed whenever encountered. But that doesn't mean some can't hold onto their humanity. They might never truly be "good", but they can definitely choose not to do evil and that counts for something. "Good" vampires need to be destroyed as well, but they have a chance of redeeming their souls when that happens.


            • #7
              I tend to reject the idea of the "degeneration after a certain point becomes faster." Basically, when you reach Humanity 1-2, you are certainly only a step away from losing yourself to wassail but to lose that lingering bit of humanity requires something truly horrifyingly evil. Either diablerie or something utterly repulsive like a Toreador Antitribu party or mass murder of the innocent in a particularly sadistic way.

              Vampires also do have a little bit of "bounce" rather than a straight shot from 10 to 0 in one direction. At least vampires in the Camarilla and Anarchs often have moments where they become invested in some human and tries to do something good for them. There's plenty of vampire stalking or attempts to make themselves feel better about something. This is just a stop gap measure and eventually they will lose but they try to feel "alive" and sometimes it works.

              Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.


              • #8
                The mechanics (I’m not fully familiar with V5 yet, but previous ones) certainly don’t support the idea that vampire with a low Humanity don’t last long. Those low Humanity values of 1-3 could last a vampire for millennia without ever becoming a wight. I mean, at 2 you can murder someone, not feel guilty about it, and be just fine - unless you turn into Ramsey Bolton, you probably won’t drop below 1 or 2.

                That makes sense to me, because that is how I see the majority of vampires - willing to murder if it benefits them but don’t make a point of pointlessly killing or inflicting unnecessary suffering. So about 2.


                • #9
                  I avoid the edgelord shit, run the whole panoply of potential outlooks and path ratings, and try to portray vampires as ideologically and ethically diverse as possible...within the constraints of them all being immortal bloodsuckers with Jekyll-and-Hyde syndromes. The one hard rule I mind, is that PC's aren't any different than NPC's, and I make sure the NPC's I introduce and run regularly are as complex, nuanced, and proactive as any PC within reasonable expectation. And, I work very hard to subvert and twist those expectations.

                  One example from my current TC game, is during one of the more recent downtimes, Sherazina died of old age. Sherazina being the revenant NPC the PC's run into during the first published story, who is Dragomir Basarab's biological sister. Without going into details, she ended up in the dubious stewardship of none other than Vykos. With Vykos as her domitor, one would have expected her to have an unspeakably painful and short life before being dumped, forgotten before she'd even died, in an unmarked, shallow, grave.


                  He gifted her to Dragomir in her sunset years, so she could return home and die in peace surrounded by loved ones, after a lifetime of dutiful, if not always pleasant, service. Just the tiniest, most seemingly insignificant, act of humanity in a time of great strife and suffering, and from the last vampire one would expect.

                  I wanted to remind my players that, whatever...thing...Vykos is now, isn't what Vykos always was. It used to be a proud and noble Cainite with a deeply philosophical bent named Myca, who appeared to the PC's in an hour of need and gave them a helping hand to perform a vital task to secure their shared future. Or, perhaps more accurately...whatever Vykos is now, despite all of the horrific and despicable shit it's done least of all to the PC's, it holds within it some lingering shred of humanity that would drive it to perform an act of unwarranted and gratuitous kindness.

                  Outside the realm of PC, or player, knowledge...was it Vykos or the Dracon who made the decision to send Sherazina home to die? Was it a moment of clarity for the ill-fated Myca, or was it a moment of vicarious pleasure for the methuselah whose only, denied, wish was to die? Does it matter?

                  Sometimes, the most monstrous thing you can do in a chronicle, is the least monstrous thing. It keeps the players guessing, and uncertainty is the greatest personal horror of all. In this particular case, the question of the hour was, "are we more monstrous than Vykos?"
                  Last edited by Theodrim; 09-17-2021, 10:42 PM.


                  • #10
                    Bad and vile, but mostly in banal and tedious ways rather than in theatrical ways. They are the personification of Hannah Arendt's idea of the banality of evil, the occasional Sabbat theatrics aside. They are just vanity and self indulgence. There is nothing worth redeeming in them.


                    • #11
                      First of all I find Grimdark incredibly boring. It is just as boring to me in Vampire as it is in Warhammer 40k. It also hardly keeps my suspension of disbelief for long, as absolute evil is simply stupid.

                      But on top of that I find that shadowing human cruelty with or depicting a "race" as inherently evil is of bad taste. A vampire is a normal person trapped in a fantastical circumstance, but still a person.

                      So I tend to give them a wide berth, they are varied. Most of them will get more cynical with age, but cynicism isn't the same as low or high Humanity. Many people with rose-tinted glasses are perfectly capable of monstrous cruelty just to make the world conform to their views, while many a cynical just gets better at resisting the social pressure and hold to their beliefs and conscious without expecting the world to respond accordingly. I see this all the time in the bank I work at.

                      People in places of power sometimes are worse, but that is not a rule. The callousness we perceive on them frequently comes more from POV, lack of information on both sides, and several other elements than they being really evil persons. Systems are colder than the people that form them, and can be more or less evil than them even at the top.

                      With all that in mind I don't even buy that elders are necessarily significantly less Humane than neonates. Certainly there is a difference, as both extremes tend to be weeded out by natural selection, but even that is because extremes tend to be born of unadaptive behaviors, and not because they're unadaptive on their own. As it is, elders in high positions also tend to be a little lower, but not by much, specially because they're exposed to an even greater adaptive pressure.

                      This is especially true if you consider the effects of Humanity at each level. The lower you are, the less likely you are to even care about things. What is social power to a Humanity 2 vampire? Why a vampire at this level would even bother to be Prince? Good or evil, politics is an extremely person-involved endeavor. It is also time consuming and requires resources as much as it generates. It requires ambitions, be them selfish or generous, far beyond personal survival. A Humanity 1-2 vampire is more likely to appreciate being jobless and left alone. So there is as much or a greater pressure for being high Humanity in politics as there is for being low.

                      I never thought Evil™ made for interesting characters, not even villains, and I'm more interested in playing how the system and the feeding pressure vampires to either adapt or fall, with adapting including finding your personal Humanity niche at any level, than playing vampires being a race of greater jerks than humans already are.

                      None of this affects PCs, though. PCs are what their players want to be, and most will fall from grace simply because they're finding the accommodating spot for what they want out of the game. Since RPG is also a form of escapism, it makes sense for most players to want to do things they can't even consider in real life, like killing. They're not typical characters, they're player avatars and vessels for the player's needs.

                      She/her pronouns


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                        But on top of that I find that shadowing human cruelty with or depicting a "race" as inherently evil is of bad taste. A vampire is a normal person trapped in a fantastical circumstance, but still a person.
                        I think that is supposed to be the nature of the vampire "curse" that you are a normal person who is cursed to do horrifying evil by the Beast and Hunger against your will.

                        But you don't want to die.

                        So your choices are:

                        1. Become evil to stop feeling terrible all the time.

                        2. Feel terrible all the time.

                        Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.


                        • #13
                          Meh. I think this is an extremely boring simplification of both the circumstances and the human nature. So no, the idea of vampire = evil is something I neither buy or find interesting.

                          She/her pronouns


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                            Meh. I think this is an extremely boring simplification of both the circumstances and the human nature. So no, the idea of vampire = evil is something I neither buy or find interesting.
                            Depends whether someone means individual vampires or all vampires.

                            As far as individual vampires go, I enjoy my share of vampires who are doing their best to maintain their humanity. Some of them even manage to turn their existences into a (net) positive good by keeping the worst excesses of their fellow undead in check. The True Brujah narrator in Sins of the Blood spends his unlife hunting wights and pursuing Golconda. (He also failed to obtain it and committed suicide afterwards, which was a fun spin on the "saintly Golcondite" archetype.) If you have one high Humanity vampire who kills X people over their unlife, but who destroys another vampire that would kill 10 times that number of people, then you could make the argument that vampire #1's existence was a (net) positive good. You can have middling-Humanity princes whose reigns cause less death and suffering than lower Humanity elders hungry to seize the throne. Vampire hunters who take out that prince might indirectly cause the deaths of more people than they save. Even a Humanity 3 tyrant prince might be a positive good if they're the only thing keeping the Sabbat from taking over the city. The potential for good and evil exists in all Kindred at all levels of Humanity, and even "evil" Kindred can still lead existences that are a (net) positive good for humanity.

                            This is also the primary reason I don't accept the "any vampire who doesn't kill themselves is a bad person" argument a gamer I know once made. If you're a vampire and your main goal in unlife is "just keep existing", or "accumulate power and influence", then I think it's a pretty reasonable argument that you're making an ignorant choice at best and a grossly selfish choice at worst. You are going to kill people, probably multiple people, possibly many people. But if you seek to mitigate the harm caused by your fellow undead, or to protect and provide for your mortal family, or any number of other altruistic intentions, well, I think you might have a valid argument that not killing yourself isn't a selfish choice. Might. You could still become a monster anyway despite your good intentions. Road to hell is paved with those.

                            But when it comes to all vampires? Almost all vampires eventually become murderers, and repeat murderers at that. Google's first search result tells me "1 in 1,167" is a liberal estimate for the number of humans in the world who kill another human. Less than 1%. The number of vampires who kill someone at some point in their unlives is probably over 99%. That's a pretty staggering figure to consider, and I think you can pretty easily argue that the majority of those killings aren't morally justified.

                            So, if I lived in the WoD and could press a button to make every vampire on earth spontaneously combust, that wouldn't be a hard choice. You'd save unthinkably many lives, all before considering the various other forms of harm vampires cause. A lot gets made about vampirism being a curse, but it's a curse upon humanity as much as the Kindred themselves. Vampires are (an) evil.

                            The nuanced and interesting parts of the setting, for me, are how characters respond to evil, rather than debating whether evil exists. One of the lowest Humanity PCs in my current game (essentially) accepted the Embrace to save her mother from an abusive scumbag husband. Her intentions were good and her actions achieved real and lasting good. Was the PC becoming a monster inevitable? Could she have made other choices? If not, was saving her mother worth it? Can you accomplish good ends through evil means? These aren't questions with easy answers.

                            Blood and Bourbon, my New Orleans-based Vampire chronicle.


                            • #15
                              I tend to hover towards vampires having rules and hangups of varying scales, l can't really be bothered running humanity for all NPC's unless it's a plot point but I tend to hint at rules,redeeming traits and limits to what they do. For example the Tremere regent in an old game never harmed children and was very supportive of subordinates I also recall as Lasombra who was personally affable on a day to day basis and was protective of her human friends....although she did systematically embrace them all over 2 decades so her moral core was a little of kilter even if her reasons were quite sympathetic. Both these characters where cold blooded killers but the added layers hinted at how they're staving off the beast. Playing a complete sociopath is going to annoy the players when they're unable to engage in simular antics plus personally hating all the npcs gets demoralizing.