There are any number of published NPCs in the White Wolf canon that I like, but have never had opportunity to introduce and play in any of our chronicles (at least, not so far). Lucita. Jan Pieterzoon (despite all the rude things Gabriel’s said about him behind his back). But I’ve really gotten to play a lot of interesting characters, even if only for a scene or two.
But there’s one favorite character I don’t play, because Sarah just does him entirely too well…
Etienne de Vaillant, Pontifex of Spirits
6th gen. Tremere, and God-Damned Stubborn
Born in the Champagne region of France in 1337, Etienne would have done anything to be a knight like his father—but financial realities of being the second son (and the good sense of his mother, who knew where the boy’s talents lay) dictated a career in the Church. He was sent off to the Franciscans, in hopes that he might make abbot someday, or maybe attach himself to some great lord’s household.
Etienne’s talents and ambitions proved greater than that, serving as personal assistant to an Inquisitor, joining the secular clergy, and learning much about politics, manipulation, government—not to mention the delights of vice and corruption. He was made bishop at age 32, and a cardinal at 36. Although he was known in Avignon as a schemer, simoniac, and voluptuary (like most of his colleagues), he was also a generous and sensitive patron; and his ability to untangle even the most complicated political disputes made him a number of powerful friends. When he received overtures of patronage from a mysterious brotherhood in Hungary, hinting that with their help, he might one day sit the throne of St. Peter himself, he did not take them entirely seriously—but didn’t think they were anything he couldn’t handle.
He was wrong. An unexpected altercation between two members of the Order of St. Leopold and his patron resulted in a bloody fracus that left the inquisitors dead, and Etienne dying—only to be resurrected by his sire’s blood and Embraced as a new member of House and Clan Tremere.
For centuries, Etienne de Vaillant was convinced his undead condition was a direct result of his unworthiness as a priest and prince of the church, a punishment sent directly from God. Ashamed of his fall from grace, he kept his past identity secret, and went through many personal spiritual trials and tribulations, while still managing to survive (although he still had one of the longest apprenticeships on record, due to his stubborn tendency to do what he thought was right, rather than what his superiors in House and Clan demanded). This tendency also won him the admiration and friendship of the Lasombra priest Francesco Dantini; such was Etienne’s loneliness and devotion to Francesco that the Tremere both willingly accepted a blood bond to him, and also allowed Francesco and Alianora, his sire, to erase the memory of that bond, and a number of other compromising things, from his mind so that his superiors in House and Clan would find nothing to blame in him—an act that later caused Etienne to doubt Francesco’s friendship, for when he re-discovered the bond, he no longer remembered how it had occurred, or that he himself had asked the memory be hidden.
In the modern nights, Etienne has finally won some degree—however limited—of independence. His mysterious and long-errant sire, Timothy of Essex, has been promoted to Councilor, with responsibility for the perilous Orient. Timothy has turned around and reeled in his long-lost childe, whose career he has been following with great interest, recognizing Etienne’s rare talent and promoting him to the rank of Pontifex of Spirits and Regent of Hong Kong.
Etienne has also found a kind of happiness and balance between the demands of House and Clan and his own personal life (among other things, he’s secretly married and has ties with the Garou (werewolves) he’s not talking about). Now he is determined to build up his own little faction of Tremere Who Give A Damn about things—if they’re skilled in his rare area of expertise (Spirit Thaumaturgy) as Sarah McCullough is, so much the better. While keeping relatively up with modern times (at least in terms of language and dress), he still has very much of a medieval mindset on some issues, particularly demon lore. He also takes extremely seriously his role as leader for this group, and for his much younger Tremere associates. He has a long-standing rivalry/not-quite-enmity with Marius, based on events that occurred back in the Renaissance, even as he treasures his now-recovered memories of Marius’ brother-in-blood, Francesco Dantini.
Sire: Timothy of Essex (childe of Goratrix)
Astrological Sign: Scorpio
Apparent Age: 40s
What makes him so fun:
Well, really it’s Sarah. The fact that he’s always been brilliant when the story needed him to be (very important!), regardless of whether he was a centuries-old Pontifex or a third-circle apprentice, coping with whatever I threw at him. (see: The Marionette Incident in tomorrow’s post) That he can be stubborn and bull-headed even when facing down impossible odds, the legions of hell, his own superiors, or a couple of Black Hand assassins (or Marius in a temper). That he has flaws and weaknesses and emotional buttons that get pushed ALL THE TIME, and I can count on him reacting to them. That even under torture, he can think of protecting others before he protects himself. That he’s not a combat monster, but can be very clever with the non-combat tricks he knows when he can’t avoid a fight. That he can be as cynical and calculating as any jaded elder can be, but is also secretly a closet romantic who truly dreams of something better. That confessing to his closest companions that he’d once been a Cardinal in the medieval Catholic Church was a traumatic experience for him. That he’s a pervy little bastard who succumbs to temptation, but also cherishes high ideals even when he acknowledges he has trouble meeting them. The fact that regardless of what I do to him, his unbeating heart is usually* in the right place, and he always comes up with a way OUT.
And that is why he usually gets listed before Marius in the credits.
*Usually. As in, not always. But usually.