Day 21 – Favorite Methuselah

The definition of Methuselah (in terms of the Vampire: the Masquerade universe) is either a vampire of the 4th or 5th generation, or one that has attained a millennium or more in age. In other words, a vampire old enough to predate both the sects, and to pretty much do what he or she damn well pleases. Such vampires are exceedingly rare, their predator’s nature being what it is—they have a tendency to kill each other off long before reaching such august age. Which means those that do survive are very, very smart, exceedingly ruthless, and exceptionally good at… surviving.

Player characters who tangle with one, or thwart such an ancient being’s will, should keep that in mind.

My favorite of the published methuselahs (outside of the cast of Lair of the Hidden, that is) was Marcus Vitel. Not quite as he was written—but smarter, more ruthless, and definitely not a prince one would want to cross. But there was another who really has to be my favorite, and he’s not in any of the books.

Two mortals awaken in the dark, after a daytime rescue mission goes wrong and leaves them in the hands of the Bad Guys™. They find themselves in a horrifying place—an underground maze designed to be a terrifying deathtrap for them and all the other young people trapped within. Working together, the young men find some others lucky to have survived so far, and one tiny LED flashlight. Then they find some of their fellows weren’t so lucky. Fortunately, our two young heroes are more knowledgeable and better prepared about what they face than those they are trying to protect. They at least know about pit traps, spear traps, poisonous snakes—and they know about vampires. They foil at least one attack by wild men coming out of the dark; they are able to use hymns and one little vial of holy water to scare off a former victim-now-turned-monster.

Then in the darkness, they hear someone… moaning? Weeping? It’s hard to tell. Cautiously, they investigate… and discover a young man, wearing only a pair of shorts and a slightly bloodied t-shirt, hunched up at the end of a dead-end corridor. He doesn’t speak English, but he seems friendly enough once they get him calmed down. He’s average height, with curly dark hair, medium-brown skin, and an athletic build. One of the students thinks she remembers seeing him working in the kitchen. He responds to smiles and hand-gestures, and gives his name as Ahku. He is easily persuaded to join them, as they try to stay alive and find a way out….

When they nearly trip a spear-trap, it is Ahku whose quick reflexes pull them back. When a vampire attacks them in the dark, it is Ahku who wields a spear from that trap with surprising skill and kills the monster. They figure out, eventually, that Ahku is himself a vampire. But he is also clearly the only chance of survival they have.

They don’t know it, but they’ve just met one of the oldest surviving Kindred on the planet.

He doesn’t really remember who he is, other than his boyhood nickname. He doesn’t know how or why he came to wake up here in the dark. He doesn’t remember his skills, Disciplines or abilities, his clan or his past. Things he can do instinctively, or from long practice, like wielding a spear, or making his mortal companions feel at ease in his presence—that he can do. He can also pick up words and phrases of English extremely quickly.

To restore memory of who and what he is will take something more. And if everyone around him is very, very fortunate—he will come through that restoration with his sanity intact.

The fun I had with Ahku was (1) it was the mortals (we always have mortal characters along for the ride) who met him first, and (2) I very carefully introduced him as just one more “random” encounter in the deadly maze—and then slowly, as he became comfortable with his new companions, revealed that no, he wasn’t just another kidnapped college student. He actually forged relationships there in the dark with those mortals, more so than he did with the other Kindred when he finally met them. (What really delighted me was that Sarah didn’t figure out who he was until the mortal characters did—it’s rare I get to slip one by her like that.)

He was also one of the oldest and potentially most powerful characters who’s ever shown up in the chronicle, but because of the circumstances, he wasn’t exactly playing with a full deck (which made him more ‘human’ but also all the more dangerous, if he did lose his somewhat tenuous self-control and sanity). He was as trapped in the situation as the mortals (and the other vampires, who came into it a bit later). He was a vitally necessary ally for them—and he was also in need of their assistance to recover the memories and identity he was missing.

In honor of Marcus Vitel, a glimpse of ancient Rome.

In honor of Marcus Vitel, a glimpse of ancient Rome.

Check out Google Earth’s Ancient Rome reconstruction. Very cool, if you’re working on Methuselah backstory, or even setting a chronicle there.

There are different reasons to introduce a Methuselah-aged Kindred into a chronicle. They’re so immensely powerful in terms of Disciplines and dots—but they’re also ancient. They aren’t creatures of this era, and it should show. Their priorities aren’t the same; they have a much different sense of time. They don’t tend to be front-line fighters—when you are that old, preserving your own existence takes on a higher priority than short-lived humans (and vampires who’ve barely lived one or two lifetimes yet) can ever understand. Almost always, when you find a Methuselah, it will be very hidden behind the scenes, working through layers of agents and proxies, often vampire elders who THINK they’re working entirely on their own. They are, in video-game terms, the ultimate big bad boss—and they are beyond formidable. And they didn’t get that way by getting into fights or putting themselves at risk unless there was no chance—NONE—that they’d lose.

The best example I can think of for this principle comes from—forgive me—Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II. (I’m referring to the movie, not the novel, which I think is a bit different). SPOILER ALERT: The movie features a big climactic battle, in which many characters, including Aro, the major adversary, are killed. And then… suddenly we’re back in the stand-off again. The dramatic battle was merely a vision of the future, a demonstration from Alice (who has the gift of seeing the future) to show their traditionalist elder foes what will happen if they pursue this fight. The image of his own severed head is quite enough for Aro; he swiftly finds a diplomatic way to declare victory and withdraw from the field. Which only goes to prove that elder vampires—and Methuselahs even more so—do not take risks with their own precious heads.

They make very good big boss adversaries, though it’s unlikely that they are really paying all that much attention to the player characters—yet. More likely, the characters simply cross someone who works for an elder who works for another elder who is reacting to something the Methuselah put into motion a decade ago. It should take a number of altercations and storylines for the characters to annoy their way up the food chain, so to speak. A Methuselah might also be a manipulator behind the scenes who takes advantage of something the players are doing to further its own agenda, or possibly (secretly) gives something a little push that works out in their favor. That is, so long as the characters are on the same page or following the Methuselah’s agenda. Once they’re not…. Their unseen ally may quickly become an unseen adversary.

Romanian re-enactors recreate the culture of ancient Dacia, the descendents of Roman settlers.

Romanian re-enactors recreate the culture of ancient Dacia, the descendents of Roman settlers. Included in honor of Danika Ruthven (from Lair of the Hidden)

But above all, the chief attribute of a Methuselah is mystery. They survived as long as they did because they pick their fights very, very carefully, and keep their existence unknown to anyone who might prove to be a problem for them. They don’t go to nightclubs, they don’t walk on the streets, or mingle with the hoi palloi of the night. They do not act rashly (usually). They don’t make mistakes (usually). They seem to be oblivious to the modern era, and take little notice of the changes in the daylight world. They have People To Do Stuff for them, from high tech to transportation to maintaining their covers. And the longer you can keep them a mystery, an unknown puppet-master working behind the scenes, the better.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts... (From the movie TROY.)

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts… (From the movie TROY.)  If you are creating a Methuselah, it’s a good idea to brush up on your ancient history (absolute accuracy is a matter of style, of course.)

Who was Ahku? Like I just said…. The chief attribute of a Methuselah is that he’s a mystery.

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