The Masquerade, Chapters 10-11

The chapter begins by informing us that the wild vampires were destroyed, and hunters, after a few more less successful raids, ceased activity. Because conflicts shouldn’t get in the way of the main characters.

Next scene describes a village with something wicked living inside. In an abandoned house sometimes weird noises could be heard, some movements in the windows could be seen. Across the village animals disappear. Some people decide to investigate the weird house, but find nothing. Unfortunately, they don’t burn it down for some reason and just go back to wallow in fear.

The prose is still bland, but the passage approaches something at least potentially interesting. Naturally, it turns for the worse when we find out it’s just Pavel living inside, in a secret room in a basement. He’s undergoing another test into vampiredom, living without a cure. I can actually see vampires deciding it’s a good idea both for practical reasons (it’s possible to be stuck somewhere without the access to the cure) and because “in my age, we were going to school on foot, ten miles uphill both way, through the front line near Hitler” attitude.

Pavel doesn’t fair so well in the wild. He decided to feed on animals while he was adjusting to the changes, and that led to malnutrition. That’s actually surprisingly consistent with VtM. Some animals may physically have more blood, but they have less vitae than humans, vampires don’t get as much life out of them, so hunting down dogs and cats (Pavel went after livestock only once, draining a sheep, and that’s what prompted people to go into his house) is inefficient. A vampire can survive on animal diet, but a lot of animals is needed, and hunting them down would consume the majority of nighttime.

By the time we see him, Pavel can’t appear as a human anymore. Not how it works in VtM – vampires don’t normally have different forms unless they learn a Discipline which grants them such a power, they just look like freshly dead people. By spending blood, various bodily function can be activated for a time to better pass as a human. But I’ve mentioned before that the author has confused vampires with werewolves, so Pavel is stuck in a “battle form,” with fangs visible, long claws and blood-red eyes.

He is afraid to go after humans because he knows he wouldn’t be able to hunt without killing, and he doesn’t want to attract attention, since here he’s on his own.

I approve of Pavel being helpless without someone holding his hand. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t, so a young couple from a nearby dacha settlement (despite it being a middle of November, when visits to dachas are pretty rare, which is pointed by the book itself) arrive to Pavel’s house seeking privacy. Naturally, Pavel attacks them, spouting a lot of one-liners. A girl prays until the end to no effect (Pavel notes that her cross has no holy power in it, which implies that she didn’t go to a church that often), and a guy tries to persuade Pavel to turn him into a vampire instead of killing. I guess those details are meant to make the couple less sympathetic, but come on, they are facing certain death, pleading and bargaining are only natural in such circumstances.

Pavel can take a human form now, and he has a cunning plan.

We cut to Alexei. Following the failure of the raid in Moscow and heavy losses suffered by the hunters, he and Maxim (another hunter who teaches Alexei sword fighting – why isn’t he just given the damn holy +5 sword remains unanswered) live on the run. They learn that a blacksmith and a priest in charge of making hunter weapons were caught and killed. But then they meet other hunters who deliver new blacksmith  and priest for them to take care of. They settle in Sochi and keep a low profile in preparation for more hunting.

We cut back to Pavel. He pretends to be a member of a government agency in charge of fighting supernatural forces. He gathers people of the village, tells them there is a vurdalak in their village and that he is here to hunt him. Then he proceeds to imitate a hunt going on, killing some livestock, “saving” other, dealing himself some wounds, etc. Well, I guess knowing that there is someone working on the problem would make the people less inclined to do anything themselves, and it allows Pavel to move around freely. Still feels like way too much effort since now he actually can hunt without killing and can brainwash people and erase their memories. Then again, the book dutifully informs us that nobody suspects him even though people get weak and have memory blackouts after his visits, so what do I know?

This charade continues for a month, then he is given and artifact for mass memory modification (for some reason he doesn’t erase the memories of the event entirely, just changes the details of his appearance and the time of events. Oh, and the dogs and cats died of some disease now, not of vurdalak. I don’t even know) and taken back to Moscow to receive the cure.

Pavel meets with other young vampires, who all passed the test. Shame, that. Then almost of of their blood is taken to create blood weapons. They spend a few days recovering on donor blood, asleep. Then they are given their weapons: bullets that can accelerate with their owners. And whips. Kinky. Apparently, none of the vampires are into BDSM, so they complain. Maharnen comes in and shows off his own whip by cutting a thrown can in half, then making the whip hard and limp again, then making it twist and turn around him, showing how easily it can penetrate the enemies. I am not joking.

He proclaims that they have five days of rest ahead of them, and then he would teach them how to whip properly. It’s almost a shame that the humor of this scene is unintentional.

With that the chapter ends.

Well, it started out actually kinda interesting, but in the end everything here was pointless since the experience Pavel gained living without a cure wouldn’t matter at all for the rest of the book. Who could’ve guessed?

The next chapter opens with training, because that’s what this book is all about. Young vampires are supposed to snuff out candlelight with their whips. Whenever someone misses and hits candelabrum, they get hit by Maharnen in return. I question this teaching method, but approve of more suffering.

Ira has the most trouble out of the group because of course. So, she is hit constantly. Pavel feels angry on her behalf and questions Maharnen about what he’s trying to accomplish by tormenting them. Maharnen explains that blood weapons are controlled magically, but the method is individual for each vampire, so he pushes them in hopes they’ll just get it. They don’t get it.

Leaving whips and beatings behind, Pavel goes to study for his chosen profession: hunter exterminator (book’s term). There are no practical lessons yet, just some history, so the book naturally doesn’t dwell on it. Remember, kids: never do an exposition in an organic setting that would naturally call for it. Do it in a middle of a fight scene.

We are also told Pavel has no problem with studying in mundane college, despite an enormous workload. I sense some wish-fulfillment here. It smells like broken dreams.

After training Pavel returns home and is visited by his sire appearing right behind him because showing off runs in the family. The sire informs him that Pavel is in big troubles: back during the Council wanking over Pavel, the Brujah leader joked about Pavel becoming a new Malkavian leader eventually. The current Malkavian leader took the joke seriously, gathered astrologists and made they create a horoscope for Pavel. The horoscope foretells Pavel challenging the Malkavian leader to a duel in the future when the Malkavian leader will for some reason refuse to follow the will of Camarilla, and winning, replacing him as the head of the clan. That’s a pretty detailed horoscope. My experience with divination begins and ends with some Tarot playing to get inspiration for my TRPG sessions, but I am pretty sure the fortune telling is typically more vague than that. I mean, really, the horoscope even have a percentage: 92% in favor of Pavel succeeding. Does the Malkavian leader have Sidereals on call or something?

Here we discover one more divergence from VtM lore, least surprising of all. You see, in VtM vampires become weaker with each generation. Cain and vampires he personally created are godlike monsters. The clans’ founders, vampires of the third generations, are powerful enough that their reappearance can cause the end of the world (or at least the end of vampire society, especially since really old vampires can feed only on other vampires, so there are rumors about those ancient vampires awakening one day and devouring their children, leaving none behind). Each generation after that is weaker than the one before. They can hold less vitae in their bodies, higher levels of Disciplines are blocked from them, etc. From ninth generation onward, vampires can’t even get their Attributes (Strength, Intelligence, Manipulation, etc.) beyond human limits without the use of Disciplines. The assumed generation of newly created vampires is thirteenth, and it very well may be the last vampire generation, for fourteenth generation vampires often suffer from being “thin blood” – a being halfway between a human and a vampire, without true access to the vampiric powers.

Or, to put it shortly, challenging an Elder to a one-on-one fight is a suicide. The Elder is going to be stronger, faster, smarter and just generally more powerful than you, no matter what you do. Defeating old vampires requires cunning, manipulation, taking advantage of opportunities present and orchestrating favorable circumstances.

But, of course, there is not a single mention of any of that in the book. The way it’s presented, vampire just become stronger with time due to training and learning, and if there is an upper limit, it’s the same for everyone.

I don’t mind the concept in itself, but it’s telling that the author doesn’t touch it, despite the generation system being a big thing in the source material.

Anyway, the sire says he doesn’t believe in the horoscope, but the Malkavian leader does because he grew paranoid over the years. Apparently, unlike other clan leaders, he doesn’t have a portfolio outside of managing his clan, and he does a bad job at it, too. We aren’t told or shown what problems among Malkavians are there that he couldn’t solve, but we are told they are serious, and the clan is in decline due to the leader’s poor administrative skills. I guess we should just trust it. So, because of that, the Malkavian leader is afraid to be replaced the moment a suitable candidate appears, and Pavel just might be such a candidate, in his eyes at least.

Now, vampires are known to act swiftly and brutally when they sense a threat to their power, which is why the Malkavian leader is going to do nothing aside from accelerating the training of young Malkavians, those potentially depriving them from valuable skills, and sending Pavel on dangerous missions at a first opportunity, Apparently, the horoscope also tells there is a small but non-negligible chance of Pavel dying to Alexei (his name is not mentioned, of course, but he’s clearly indicated), so the Malkavian leader is trying to increase that chance. I don’t know, I think my “stab Pavel in the heart while he sleeps” plan requires less effort and has a better chance of succeeding. Then again, I am not an ancient paranoid vampire, so what do I know?

Pavel becomes afraid and wants to abandon his plans to become a hunter exterminator because I guess he didn’t think he would actually be in danger by going down that path, but the sire tells him that would just lead to creation of a new horoscope, with the Malkavian leader making some new plan of which the sire may not be aware this time around.

Instead, the sire suggest that Pavel should become the best hunter exterminator ever, so he won’t die. So, more training montages. Joy.

The scene ends with the sire leaving Pavel the way he came in, and we learn from narration that the sire was actually the one who did the horoscope.

Then we get a flashback about the Malkavian leader visiting Pavel’s sire and asking for a horoscope. We learn then that the sire himself is aiming at the leadership position, and that Pavel’s ascent threatens his own – the horoscope explicitly says that if Pavel succeeds, the sire would not. So the plan to increase the chances of Pavel dying was his idea. That makes even less sense now that we’ve seen him appearing in Pavel’s apartment without being noticed. Dude, whip the shit out of Pavel or however you guys kill each other. Then blame the Malkavian leader.

Anyway, his warning to Pavel was just a precaution: he doesn’t believe it would help Pavel any, and may even drive him to his death, but in case he succeeds, he would remember his sire fondly. What’s sad here is that it’s probably the most complex and thought-out plan in the book.

We also have a timeline for all of that: Pavel’s chances to become the new leader peaks at 250 years, sire’s – at 278. Again, suspiciously precise horoscopes.Are there any sand worms lurking under Moscow we weren’t told about?

The scene ends with the narration “playfully” informing us that sometimes there are small intrigues happening in Camarilla, but mostly (and that part feels like a serious statement) in clans facing decline and trouble. And no, fuck you, constant intrigues and manipulations are everything Camarilla is about. If you aren’t manipulated by someone, that means you just don’t see your strings yet. Something like that shouldn’t be a special event (well, aside from the whole “Pavel is destined to be the youngest Malkavian leader” crap), it should be happening all over the place, with Elders playing young vampires against each other as a part of ancient games and secret wars.

But I guess if the event doesn’t involve the main character, it isn’t important.

The next scene is about Pavel caressing his whip in his hands and trying to make it move. I have a few suggestions on how to do it, but the joke is getting old. Anyway, Pavel thinks, thinks at the whip, thinks some more, talks to it, and then suddenly he can control it, not really understanding himself how that happened. Well, that was quick.

We also learn that Pavel plays guitar and is good at it. There is no followup, he’s just good at playing guitar. OK.

We jump to Alexei and Maxim. Their hideout is discovered by vampire exterminators who now exist in this book, and they are attacked. Maxim is heavily wounded, and Alexei, knowing he won’t be able to take on so many vampires normally, drinks the super-blood he’s found at the beginning of the book. He becomes faster than vampires, and easily defeats most of them. The last one almost gets him, but the priest chooses this moment to come into the room and strike at the vampire with holy power, which take form of white lighting. So, it’s the Force.

The scene is actually told from the perspective of vampires, and the last one standing wonders before dying if Alexei belongs to an ancient clan of hunters which used eugenics to become the best at fighting vampires, and who almost managed to destroy them all. They are apparently the ones who forced the formation of Camarilla.

Great, Alexei is not just a chosen one, but a heir to an ancient legacy as well. I seem to recall liking him a bit. What a foolish sentiment in retrospect. The author couldn’t allow the viewpoint characters to be anything else than Mary Sues.

The next scene is from Alexei’s POV. Maxim is dying, Alexei is here holding his hand. You’d think it could be a touching moment, but actually it’s about Maxim making Alexei promise to kill all of the vampires. All of them. Then Maxim dies. Alexei screams a bit at the priest before and after all this for appearing too late and not being able to heal Maxim. An understandable sentiment, but the prose makes it less about grief manifesting as anger and more about Alexei throwing a tantrum.

Then the narration informs us that Alexei is indeed a descendant of an ancient clans of hunters. While the clan itself was destroyed, some rejects from it lived on and had children. The guild of hunters knew about it, meddled with the family lines, and decided to risk with Alexei, given how he was born the same as his illustrious ancestors. Don’t you just like it when the protagonist’s success is explained by them being really, really special from birth?

The chapter ends.

8 Comments

  1. Y says:
    My knowledge of the setting is entirely limited to Bloodlines, but surely the vampire’s don’t age, so are there still be plenty of really old 6th generation vampire’s around to make plenty of 7th generations, and so on?

    Also, how does this generally work for the player character characters?

    1. illhousen says:
      There are. But creating a new vampire is not an everyday event. In Camarilla, you need a permission of a local Prince (ruler of a city) to do it, and often the permission is more easily granted to younger vampires because Princes don’t like to increase the power of their potential rivals so directly as to give them a new vampires, while vampires few steps removed from the tops are seen as tools that can be used by Prince just as easily as by their technical superiors.

      In general, the lower the generation, the more there is pressure: low-generations vampires are typically created to be close servants of their sires, often with a specific purpose and picked carefully among the population, while high-generation vampires are more like… well, not foot soldiers, but lieutenants, and thus more numerous and more freely created.

      Old vampires also tend to go to sleep for long periods of time or die, slowly making way for new generations. The process takes centuries, so there is still a lot of Elders to push youngsters around, though.

      You actually can give your character Generation trait as low as 8, signifying that some old vampire was your sire.

      As for how it works for PCs, one of the big critiques of VtM as a setting is that it can very easily turn into an NPC show if the GM isn’t careful. There is a lot of tools in the setting to make PCs do what you want, and steps have to be made to prevent them from being mere pawns of older vampires. In general, older vampires are supposed to be used to create boundaries of the game: there are things you can’t do without pissing them off and meeting untimely death, but you should have enough room for your actions to be meaningful and for your choices to be possible.

      Running a game of intrigue involves a lot of balancing between keeping PCs’ agency and still showing that they are but a part of a large picture that was painted for centuries, and it isn’t easy to do. My most successful games were set in small towns, where vampire presence wasn’t that big, and the big shots weren’t that far removed, power and experience-wise, from PCs.

      VtM honestly works better as a novel, because then you can use older vampires to show multi-layered intrigues, while young vampires provide sympathetic protagonists and show what it’s like to be a pawn in someone’s ancient game.

    2. SpoonyViking says:
      In addition to what illhousen already said, many 5th- through 7th-Generation vampires have actually been destroyed throughout the ages, especially by the Inquisition and during the original Anarch Revolt. Plus, there are other factors related to psychological issues common in vampires who live long enough: paranoia over creating new competition, ennui (“Eh, why bother?”), a general lack of empathy (“So, this artist whose work I enjoy is dying because I lost control when feeding? Who cares, there’ll be another sooner or later”), and so on and so forth.

      Oh, yes: also, a newly-created vampire, even if they have powerful blood, is still quite vulnerable, so there’s no guarantee the new childe will reach “maturity”.

  2. SpoonyViking says:
    From ninth generation onward, vampires can’t even get their Attributes (Strength, Intelligence, Manipulation, etc.) beyond human limits without the use of Disciplines.

    I think they can, at least in 3rd Edition, but only for a very short time.

    1. illhousen says:
      Should be “without using magic.” Basically, they can’t buy 6th dot with xp.
      1. SpoonyViking says:
        Ah, sorry, I thought you meant by spending Blood Points. My mistake. But that starts at 8th Generation, not 9th (exactly so PCs can’t do it).
        1. illhousen says:
          Mmm, I clearly remember that 8th Generation unlocks 6th dots, making Generation Background among the most valuable in the game. Probably was revised in the last edition.
          1. SpoonyViking says:
            I think that’s been a constant of the game through all editions, actually. :-) I can at least assure you that it was already like that in 2nd Edition.

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