Heart of Darkness takes place in White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting, which is a somewhat darker, grittier version of our own modern world, with one really major change—vampires, werewolves, sorcerers and other supernatural creatures actually do exist, and have had (and continue to have) an effect on the world of the living. Most people in the world are not aware of the presence of such supernatural beings existing alongside them, however, and the supernatural beings like it that way.
Heart of Darkness was set approximately in the year 2004 (for purposes of determining technology levels such as cell phones, airline security measures, and so on). Not that giving either Marius or Etienne a smartphone would have helped, but just to make it clear why the less anachronistic characters didn’t have the resources of the entire internet at their fingertips.
Vampires exist (duh). Vampires are undead; they are cold-blooded, their hearts do not beat, and they do not need to breathe except for speech. They are strictly nocturnal, being extremely vulnerable to sunlight and flame, and must find a safe place to rest during the day, when they fall into a deathlike sleep. They must—MUST—feed on the blood of the living, usually humans (animal blood is not as satisfying, and distasteful to many), at least two or three times in a week, and more often if they are using their supernatural abilities. However, they rarely need to kill to feed, and can (unless starving or in a state of frenzy) usually stop before seriously harming their prey. Whether they choose to do so, of course, is a matter of the individual’s personal sense of morality (which can vary widely). Vampires have supernatural abilities, but exactly what abilities they have vary; some abilities are unique to particular clans or bloodlines, and some are more common. The older a vampire is, the more varied and extensive his or her powers will be, and the harder he will be to kill.
Vampires do not sparkle.
The use of the word “vampire,” however accurate, is considered a bit vulgar; most use the euphemism “Kindred” to refer to themselves. Some use the archaic term “Cainite” (referring to the vampire legend of descent from Caine, the first murderer). Other slang terms include “lick” and “Vee” and (if you’re a werewolf) “Leech.”
Vampires are divided into thirteen clans or lineages; a vampire’s clan is determined by the clan of the one who Embraced her (turned her into a vampire). There are also some minor bloodlines that are not numerous enough to be regarded as clans in their own right.
Five hundred years ago, vampire society split into two sectarian factions (well, more than two, but these two are the ones that are large enough to matter). The Camarilla, comprised of seven clans (Ventrue, Toreador, Brujah, Tremere, Nosferatu, Gangrel, Malkavian), is a hierarchical society where the bulk of the power rests in the hands of the eldest vampires, whose cities are ruled by princes. The princes and clan elders strictly enforce the seven Traditions, the chief of which is the Masquerade—a rule that states that humans must never learn vampires actually exist. The Camarilla puts more emphasis on clans and lineages, and on blending in, controlling what they need to of human society from the shadows. The Sabbat is dominated by two clans (Lasombra, Tzmisce) and includes refugees from other clans, and is somewhat less hierarchical, being based on small packs rather than clan lineages. Their members prefer to revel in being vampires; they are more overtly monstrous, but much fewer in number and on average, much younger. There is a long-standing enmity between the two sects, and they are often at war, which forces the Camarilla to sometimes go to inhumane lengths to keep humans from discovering the existence of vampires. Generally a city (vampires are by their very nature urban predators, hunting where prey is most plentiful) is dominated by one sect or the other; where both exist, conflict is all but inevitable. There are also independent clans (Assamites, Setites, Giovanni, and the almost-extinct Ravnos); those will be discussed if/when (okay, when) they become relevant).
The Camarilla Clans
Ventrue—Ventrue tend to be wealthy, business-oriented, and dominated by the richest and most powerful elders, keeping detailed family trees, and extensive business and social networks. More princes are Ventrue than any other clan; they are political power-brokers and very traditional in outlook. Once they were also known as warrior-princes, but now they are primarily known for their bank accounts and political connections than their fighting spirit. A Ventrue who is not at least a millionaire is considered no one of consequence at all. Young Ventrue are almost always under the patronage (and thumb) of their elders, either their sire or the eldest member of their particular bloodline in the city, and often find themselves used as pawns in their elders’ political games. Ventrue are also finicky eaters, and will only feed on a particular chosen “type” of prey–what that type is varies with the individual. Needless to say, this is a very personal topic and never discussed in public or with strangers.
Tremere—A tightly-organized clan of sorcerers and occult scholars, the members of House and Clan Tremere function more as a occult secret society or religious order than anything else. All new members start as the lowest-ranked apprentices and must rise through the ranks by their own wit, cunning, determination, and talent (both in their occult studies and their savvy for manipulating the system to their advantage). Their primary claim to fame is that they have mastered the practice of blood-sorcery, a secret art they teach only to their own apprentices and to no one outside the clan. They are usually not the most social of Kindred, pursuing their power in the realms of the occult rather than social networks. Historically, they have always been outsiders; useful (and feared) for their magical abilities, but otherwise considered a bit weird and even dangerous by their fellow Kindred. The tight organization of House and Clan is both its strength—because the Tremere when acting together, particularly using their sorcery, are always a force to be reckoned with—but also its Achilles’ heel, in that its top-down authoritarian pyramid has a tendency to crush much of the spirit and individual creativity out of its younger members while forcing them to conform to the will of their elders. As a result, unless their backs are up against the wall, the relationships between individual Tremere may not be as brotherly as one might expect….
Coming soon: Toreador, Brujah, Gangrel, Nosferatu, and Malkavian ,
The Sabbat Clans
Lasombra—Proud, aristocratic, arrogant, and highly competitive, the Lasombra were once princes and nobility of the night (including princes of the church), particularly in Spain and Italy. Their long rivalry with the Ventrue (not to mention their own hubris) kept them from joining the Camarilla when it was founded centuries ago—most of them apparently preferring being princes in hell versus playing second fiddle to Ventrue under any circumstances. They are the masters of Machiavellian politics, and manipulators in the shadows, quite literally—as one of their signature abilities is the control and shaping of shadows and darkness. Perhaps as a result, Lasombra have no reflections, nor can they be reliably photographed or recorded on video. They are one of the two most common and powerful clans in the Sabbat, and provide many of the sect’s leadership, from pack level on up to the Bishops and Archbishops that rule Sabbath-dominated cities.
Tzimisce—Another proud, aristocratic clan originating in Eastern Europe, where their princes were said to have once ruled over humans as gods living among men; they are creatures of traditions going back centuries, and have deep roots in their ancient homeland, though now the clan is spread out across the globe. They have been known to nourish grudges across generations, and honor debts of both blood and kindness with equal fervor. The Tzimisce are known for their ability to mold flesh and bone as though it were clay and wire—either their own, or that of anyone they touch. If the Lasombra can be said to be the mind and ruthless cunning of the Sabbat, the Tzimisce are its heart and twisted soul. Tzimisce often act as the ‘priest’ for their pack, leading in the blood rituals that bind the pack together. And although not all other vampires are aware of it, each Tzimisce must rest with a quantity of their own grave-earth when they sleep during the day, or they grow progressively weaker until their earth is returned to them. (They are also prone to queasiness when riding on boats or airplanes… but it is not at all wise to tease them about it, particularly if you like your facial features exactly as they are….)
To Be Continued….