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What are the Harbingers of the Skulls anyway? (V20)

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  • What are the Harbingers of the Skulls anyway? (V20)

    So I recently went to my mom's basement and recovered a giant plastic tub of all my old White Wolf books. And I got to looking at the fringe and strange ones, in this instance, The Risen. For those who don't know, this sourcebook is somewhat inspired by The Crow, as it involves Wraiths who manage to come back to life, resurrected into immortal bodies, with a mix of both Wraith powers (Arcanoi) and even some Disciplines. Which got me to wondering- are the Harbingers of Skulls just Risen?

  • #2
    Originally posted by Lynceus View Post
    So I recently went to my mom's basement and recovered a giant plastic tub of all my old White Wolf books. And I got to looking at the fringe and strange ones, in this instance, The Risen. For those who don't know, this sourcebook is somewhat inspired by The Crow, as it involves Wraiths who manage to come back to life, resurrected into immortal bodies, with a mix of both Wraith powers (Arcanoi) and even some Disciplines. Which got me to wondering- are the Harbingers of Skulls just Risen?
    Nope. They are vampires who have been in the Underworld for way-way too long.


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    • #3
      The Harbringers are actually a collection of three groups of vampires:

      The "stereotypical" Harbringers were the survivors of the Feast of Folly where the Cappadocian Antedeluvian decided to cull his Clan after deciding they'd become too numerous and undedicated to his ideals while he was lost in one of his long episodes of study. He summoned most of the Clan to one of their secret lairs, and then ended up judging half of them unworthy before opting to bury them and destroy the warren on top of them before having a necromantic seal placed on it. Some of them managed to use their mastery of necromancy to escape. They are the most visible part of the Harbringers because they're the most active in the Sabbat in order to take down the Giovanni, and specifically Augustus, since going after a 3rd Generation vampire is the Sabbat's thing.

      The second group are the ones that resisted the call to the Feast of Folly in the first place. Having focused on stealth and survival, they're less open in their activities with other vampires, though they're generally disgusted with what happened to their Clan. They tend to be more focused on rebuilding the Clan of Dead in the image of the 4th Gen Lazarus having lost faith in the original Antedeluvian's ways.

      The last group were simply Cappadocians that, as noted, spent so much time in the Underworld they just missed all sorts of stuff going on in vampire politics.

      What unites them (beyond all being remnants of the Cappadocians before Augustus ate their Antedeluvian), is that all three found their way to the Tal'mahe'Ra's base within the Underworld, and got on board with the True Black Hand.

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      • #4
        Lore of the Bloodlines has a merit that seems to indicate at least some of the Harbingers are Risen, but reanimating a vampire body rather than a normal human corpse.

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        • #5
          The Risen are basically the WoD's version of actual revenants (not the ghoul family Revenants) - corpses that come back to "life" to trouble the living. The inclusion of actual Disciplines for the Risen never made sense as they don't have vitae. I don't think too much should be read into that. It's along the same way that Lupines have "Disciplines" in the Vampire books, and vampires have "Gifts" in the Werewolf book. Those traits are assigned simply to allow an ST to just use the one book he has to run those characters. They don't actually mean werewolves have vampiric Disciplines or vampires can learn Gifts.

          I think it's just the writers of Risen decided that Risen would probably interact with vampires a lot and therefore it was safe to make Disciplines the go to power instead of inventing near identical, but renamed powers for the same thing. That the "Disciplines" used by Risen are limited to only four is more proof that the Risen don't actually have Disciplines otherwise they could get the other powers as well. Thematically the Risen are tied to Wraiths, but in practice since the Risen interact with the Skinlands and not the Shadowlands, effectively it's not a Wraith game. It'd be hard to run a game with one PC being a Risen and the others Wraiths. On the other hand, it'd be fairly easy to run a game with one PC being a Risen and the others Vampires.

          It does lead to confusion though. Despite it saving some space in the book, it would have been better to simply create Risen-only Arcanoi. I know there is one fan made version of the Risen which did just that.

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          • #6
            Actually there are two Risen-only Arcanoi in the book, Fascinate, and Serendipity.

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            • #7
              Regardless, the Harbingers aren't really Risen. While they're mechanically just Cappadocians with a little tweak in their clan weakness, lore-wise they're just Cappadocians with a little tweak in their clan weakness.

              Wait...


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              • #8
                Harbingers who wear the Onyx Mask are Risen.

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                • #9
                  Yeah, Lore of the Bloodlines introduces some out-there lore for the bigger bloodlines. In that book, it's made clear that some Harbingers are actually Risen, but it's not clear if it's the wraiths of Cappadocians who've reclaimed their own bodies or, say, random spectres who've hijacked a vampire corpse and are playing along.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by adambeyoncelowe View Post
                    Yeah, Lore of the Bloodlines introduces some out-there lore for the bigger bloodlines. In that book, it's made clear that some Harbingers are actually Risen, but it's not clear if it's the wraiths of Cappadocians who've reclaimed their own bodies or, say, random spectres who've hijacked a vampire corpse and are playing along.
                    That's interesting, but otherwise miss the main point of the OP question. It does add an interesting caveat to it, though.

                    Are the Harbingers of Skulls just Risen?
                    No. They're just Cappadocians.

                    BUT.

                    There is a small group of Risen that joined the Harbingers.


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                    • #11

                      Personally I really, really liked the idea that the Harbringers were wraiths riding Cappadocian bodies from Kaymakli. It neatly explains some things about the Harbringers that had never made sense to me.

                      First off, why did they hate the Giovanni so? If they were the victims of the Kaymakli betrayal, they ought to hate the other Cappadocians who betrayed them and saw them entombed in the dark. not so much the people who came along and betrayed those Cappadocians in turn. I mean, what goes around comes around, and vampires tend to be ok with having other people do their dirty work for them to put it mildly. Sure, vampires are great at grudges, and "they killed the folks I hate before I could" is a reason for a vampire to take against someone. But it doesn't seem a very good reason for that white.hot focus-of-our-existence hatred the Harbringers seemed to have for the Giovanni.

                      But if the Harbringers are Wraiths, then a seek-and-destroy mission against the Giovanni makes perfect sense.

                      And second, how did they get out of Kaymakli? I mean, sure, Lazarus necromancy the underworld etc. Got them out and lead the starved Cappadocians across the underworld feeding them wraiths or something. But if the Cappadocians could do something like that, what was the Giovanni embraced for? What kind of great strides in necromancy would impress a clan with that kind of skills? Yes, Lazarus had Setite backing, but if the Setites knew he could do that, they would have been invading Amenti yesterday if not before.

                      Wraiths posessing the bodies and just walking out is a lot more elegant.

                      And on that subject, Cappadocious clearly had no idea Lazarus could do that or that it was even possible. Or he would not have done that at all, if he knew his trap could be slipped like that.

                      So while not impossible, it would require Lazarus to have been running his own deep plot on his sire, clan and allies for a long time. Because he would have needed to be very, very far ahead of his death focused clan in Necormancy, including having surpassed his sire. And needed to keep that secret from both his clan, his sire and his Setite allies.

                      Not to mention how many of the entombed would have been lost to diablerie or the beast.


                      Originally posted by Black Fox View Post
                      The Risen are basically the WoD's version of actual revenants (not the ghoul family Revenants) - corpses that come back to "life" to trouble the living. The inclusion of actual Disciplines for the Risen never made sense as they don't have vitae.
                      Personally I enjoyed that, because it hinted that some disciplines are intrinsic to being a walking corpse in the WoD, and that does give us a hint at an origin for kindred not tied to the Caine story.

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                      • #12
                        I always assumed that either Lazarus figured out how to free his allies later (remember that he trades a lot of texts and info with the Giovanni elders), or that one of the Infitiores did.

                        I never saw the Cappadocian escape of Kaymakli as being fast. The impression I had was that a small minority escaped over the centuries after the Feast of Folly, some of them making it to Enoch, but the vast majority weren't freed until around the late 1990s/early 2000s (hence their first appearance being in the GttS of 1999).

                        And there could be a lot the Cappadocian wraiths would learn across the Shroud (such as the Rite of Persephone which lets them become Risen).

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Trollroot View Post
                          It neatly explains some things about the Harbringers that had never made sense to me.
                          Although I think it is an interesting take on them, despite not canonical, I also think those questions can point to other interesting explorations.

                          One thing to think about it is, what if that was Cappadocius plan? His victims are trapped, not destroyed, a very strange arrangement for a purge. They have an extreme incentive to learn any new secrets of the Shroud and Death that may let them leave, as do the Infitiores that may want to free them either out of loyalty or to break an alliance.

                          Cappadocius wouldn't trap them that way if he knew it was so "simple" to free them... unless his actual goal was for such means to be developed in the first place.

                          Why do they hate the Giovanni? Maybe because of the price paid for this knowledge by Lazarus, or maybe they found out about others of the Giovanni's secrets when they traveled through the Underworld, as the Giovanni dealt with ghosts before and Augustus was such a nice guy as to make a Humanity 2 Methuselah frown on disgust.

                          It's also important to note, as adambeyoncelowe said, that they didn't leave right after the Feast. Indeed, as they're presented, there's little reason to believe their definitive freedom was reached before the 90's. How much time they spent in the Underworld?

                          Even Lazarus may not have freed them through Necromancy. Yes, it's the most obvious solution, but what if he really couldn't pull this off, as we don't have many direct powers that can bring an entire bloodline through the ordeal? His knowledge of the Underworld may very well include places and objects with strange connections, instead of using the powers on the character sheet.

                          Finally, there's the sheer scope of the experiment. Depending on how you take the description of the Feast, the entrapped number anywhere from 1 to 10+ thousands. 1 Thousand if you assume the numbers given as gross exaggeration, run with 2k Cappadocians being a fair number for a bloated clan in the 11th century, and half of them being left in the tomb. 10 thousands if you take the number at face value and run that Cappadocius decided to leave with 2k or less in toll.

                          With such numbers, if you expect a 99% actual death rate for the experiment, you still have 10 to 100 survivors. A fair number for a Bloodline and a fair amount of data on the results.


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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Trollroot View Post
                            First off, why did they hate the Giovanni so? If they were the victims of the Kaymakli betrayal, they ought to hate the other Cappadocians who betrayed them and saw them entombed in the dark. not so much the people who came along and betrayed those Cappadocians in turn. I mean, what goes around comes around, and vampires tend to be ok with having other people do their dirty work for them to put it mildly. Sure, vampires are great at grudges, and "they killed the folks I hate before I could" is a reason for a vampire to take against someone. But it doesn't seem a very good reason for that white.hot focus-of-our-existence hatred the Harbringers seemed to have for the Giovanni.

                            But if the Harbringers are Wraiths, then a seek-and-destroy mission against the Giovanni makes perfect sense.
                            While I do agree that it has always been rather questionable as to why the Harbingers hate the Giovanni as they were originally presented in the Rev Ed, V20 did a much better job coming up with in-character answers for that beyond just 'they're all Risen with a grudge'. In fact one Harbinger in LotB points out that different Harbingers have different reasons.

                            Some are bitter that their revenge was stolen from them. Some view Augustus as nothing more than a unknowing pawn of Cappadocius and have a drive to destroy all the remaining pawns of Cappadocius, including the Giovanni. A few of those believe he carries one of the three pieces of Cappadocius' soul. Destroying Augustus would be harming Cappadocius. Some are just insane from centuries in the Underworld. Some speak less of destroying the Giovanni and more of removing Augustus and the Giovanni Family while assuming their mantle as the Clan of Death, absorbing the rest of the Giovanni into them. Which actually tied into the events leading to the Family Reunion and the formation of the Hecata. Finally some are utterly dedicated to the Capuchin/Lazarus/Jepheth and are following their orders. And given that the Capuchin was involved in the Family Reunion and in the eyes of some, the defacto head of the Hecata, is another thing we have to consider when we think about why in-universe the Harbingers come about.

                            I will get to that after the next point I have as it ties into that and it makes more sense to talk about that first.

                            Originally posted by Trollroot View Post
                            And second, how did they get out of Kaymakli? I mean, sure, Lazarus necromancy the underworld etc. Got them out and lead the starved Cappadocians across the underworld feeding them wraiths or something. But if the Cappadocians could do something like that, what was the Giovanni embraced for? What kind of great strides in necromancy would impress a clan with that kind of skills? Yes, Lazarus had Setite backing, but if the Setites knew he could do that, they would have been invading Amenti yesterday if not before.

                            Wraiths posessing the bodies and just walking out is a lot more elegant.

                            And on that subject, Cappadocious clearly had no idea Lazarus could do that or that it was even possible. Or he would not have done that at all, if he knew his trap could be slipped like that.

                            So while not impossible, it would require Lazarus to have been running his own deep plot on his sire, clan and allies for a long time. Because he would have needed to be very, very far ahead of his death focused clan in Necormancy, including having surpassed his sire. And needed to keep that secret from both his clan, his sire and his Setite allies.
                            True but V20 reveals several things about the Harbingers, Lazarus and the Capuchin. First is something revealed in an earlier book, the V20 Black Hand book, that the Capuchin is actually three people, Lazarus who was long suspected of being him, Byzar, another 4th Gen Cappadocian who survived the purges and Japheth, another 4th Gen and favorite of Cappadocius who was killed the night Cappadocius was diablerized, becoming a wraith.

                            Why do I bring this up, because Lore of the Bloodlines, Lazarus, Japheth and the Capuchin all get thrown as important figures for the Bloodline and the one that freed by different Harbingers. So the likely answer is that the Capuchin Trio, three 4th Gen vampires worked together to free them. And that is a believable scenario.

                            It's also worth noting that they didn't just free the Harbingers after Cappadocius was diablerized. The Harbingers were only recently freed from the Underworld. So it likely took the trio years of research and experimentation as well as actually finding the Harbingers in the Underworld and seeing if they were truly worth the effort.

                            And if I remember right, in the Rev Ed, it was suggested that it also took the Sixth Great Maelstrom damaging the Underworld to free them.

                            But does leave us with the question of why the Capuchin Trio freed the Harbingers. A question I doubt we'll ever get a clear answer to. So we have to speculate. It does seem particularly odd that these three Kindred (well two Kindred and one Wraith) would work together given that Lazarus rebelled against his Sire, Jepheth stayed loyal to his Sire to his Final Death and Byzar grew obsessed with Golconda and Saulot. Three individuals with different outlooks that for some reason came together with a shared goal in mind. I think that goal was to end Cappadocius' delusional quest for Godhood and Augustus' foolish Endless Night scheme, and to tear down and rebuild the Clan of Death as something more akin to it's earlier state before Cappadocius found Christianity and his delusion of becoming God.

                            Each of them in own time realized that their Sire had gone insane and was leading them to ruin. For Lazarus we know that was the Feast of Folly. For Jepheth, it would have been some time after his death, likely seeing the purge of the rest of the Clan and realizing that Cappadocius betrayed them all for his own power. Byzar is the enigma of the three. The most I think is that during his time questing for Golconda and studying under Saulot, he came to the realization of his Sire's madness. He's also seemingly the least important of the three as Lazarus generally is the trio's public face to the Kindred world while Jepheth is their presence in the Underworld. However, V20 Black Hand does describe him as the architect of the group so I suspect he was the one that brought them together which does make sense as Lazarus and Jepheth did not have the best relationship.

                            Now while three ancient 4th Gens can do a lot, they still need agents to carry out their will. That's where the Harbingers come in. The Harbingers were spies, assassins and muscle of the Clan before the Feast of Folly and could continue to serve in the new Clan after it's done. In V20 and V5 we see the Harbingers doing just that. While some attacked the Giovanni and their holdings, others reached out to younger, bitter Giovanni that had been locked out of power by the Clan Elders, finding allies among them. In V5 this led to the Giovanni Clan getting hit from within and without at the same time, overwhelming Augustus and the Elders. Many Giovanni Elders were killed or forced to give up power within the Clan while Augustus is MIA, heavily implied to have been sacrificed in a ritual during the Family Reunion. Which if Augustus held a piece of Cappadocius' soul, likely hurt him as well.

                            So yeah, the trio got a pretty good investment out of the Harbingers as they played a major role in achieving two of their three objectives. Potentially the third one as well given that the Hecata are immune to the Beckoning which could mean that Cappadocius is either completely destroyed or rendered extremely weak. And some thought Augustus did hold piece of his soul so it could be that they were able to end Cappadocius as well through Augustus.

                            At the end of the day, it's another case of the schemes and manipulations of Elders.


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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by AkatsukiLeader13 View Post
                              And if I remember right, in the Rev Ed, it was suggested that it also took the Sixth Great Maelstrom damaging the Underworld to free them.
                              If this is confirmed, it is one more indication that the Harbingers freedom ins't just the result of any particular power even from a Methuselah.

                              Originally posted by AkatsukiLeader13 View Post
                              Each of them in own time realized that their Sire had gone insane and was leading them to ruin. For Lazarus we know that was the Feast of Folly. For Jepheth, it would have been some time after his death, likely seeing the purge of the rest of the Clan and realizing that Cappadocius betrayed them all for his own power. Byzar is the enigma of the three. The most I think is that during his time questing for Golconda and studying under Saulot, he came to the realization of his Sire's madness. He's also seemingly the least important of the three as Lazarus generally is the trio's public face to the Kindred world while Jepheth is their presence in the Underworld. However, V20 Black Hand does describe him as the architect of the group so I suspect he was the one that brought them together which does make sense as Lazarus and Jepheth did not have the best relationship.
                              My opinion is that Japheth realized things weren't going well during Augustus' Embrace. Both him and Constancia were superlative Auspex users and found Augustus particularly abhorrent. His soul was rotten to make Constancia sick, and she isn't exactly a kind vampire.

                              Those Methuselah also all bring something new to the clan. Byzar had learned under Saulot, Japheth became a Wraith, ad Lazarus learned a lot with the Followers of Set. None is a pure representation of the clan, but the purest representations both went nuts over quest that got really out of hand.

                              Byzar does seem as the most versed on the Jyhad, though. While both the other two had quiet existences in their own way, Byzar had vast experience interfering with the history of Istanbul. He is a master of the craft when it comes to politics, manipulation and strategy, on par with any Ventrue of similar age, something the Cappadocian always lacked.


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