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 The Traditions and Commonlaws (Detailed version)

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PostThe Traditions and Commonlaws (Detailed version)

Vampire society, such as it is, would have collapsed under its own weight long ago were it not for the ties that bind it. Like any society, the Kindred world survives on the rules established and agreed upon by its residents. Vampire “laws” are even more essential to the society they concern because of the nature of that society. The Kindred are manipulative killers whose mutual survival depends on their ability to get along well enough to remain sufficiently hidden from the eyes of their prey. As conservative covenants are fond of saying, lawlessness among the undead is perhaps the greatest threat facing the Kindred tonight. As a result, the Kindred have a body of vampire laws known as the Traditions. The three most important of these laws are curiously universal, given that no common origin story is accepted for the Kindred. They are immutable rules of the Blood, passed down as liquid truth by way of the curse of undeath, and are hardwired into the very physiology of the Damned. Upon the Embrace, each Kindred know each of these laws intuitively. Beyond the Traditions are the less official, more fallible customs that arise within Kindred society over time. After weathering centuries upon centuries of nominal adherence, a few of these customs have become unofficial traditions of their own. Some of these latter-day laws are provincial in outlook or unique to a particular clan or region, while others are observed only within a particular covenant of Kindred. Three of them in particular are considered nearly as important as the Traditions themselves, but without the fundamental connection. They merely serve to further gird and bolster society as the Kindred know it. Each of the Traditions gave rise to one such custom, and each is discussed after the relevant law. A great many of the Kindred take the Traditions to heart. Others justify them beyond “That’s how things have always been,” while still others accept them blindly as part of the Kindred condition. Kindred who have studied such things often suggest that though these physiological conditions have existed for as long as the Kindred themselves have, the actual wording of the Traditions as they are understood tonight was one of the efforts of the now-defunct Camarilla. This is the most widely accepted theory. Particularly fervent members of the Lancea Sanctum, unsurprisingly, sometimes claim that the actual codification of these customs is part of Longinus’ original dogma. Other scriptural, quasi-religious or philosophical wordings also exist, such as those held by the members
of the hoary Circle of the Crone and the Ordo Dracul, but the core ideas of the Traditions remain unchanged. True “heretics” against the laws of all Kindred were few and far between in the early nights of the Damned. Despite their differences (and they had many), most of the Kindred were in agreement about what was and was not a good idea for their kind, especially when their own bodies told them it was so. They might disagree on theory or implementation, or even on basic precepts, but few argued with the wisdom of such incontrovertible laws.

Do not reveal your true nature to those not of the Blood. Doing so forfeits you your claim to the Blood.
Sire another at the peril of both yourself and your progeny. If you create a childe, the weight is your own to bear.
You are forbidden from devouring the hearts blood of another of your kind. If you violate this commandment, the Beast calls to your own Blood.

Arguably the single most important aspect of Kindred society worldwide is the first Tradition: that of the Masquerade. Without it, the existence of vampires among the Canaille would quickly come to light, putting the unlife of the entire race in jeopardy. Given Kindred feeding habits, the world of mortals would never understand or permit their continued presence. It would be a pogrom the likes of which has not been since the fi ery nights of the Spanish Inquisition, when mortal witch-hunters first proved how unity and faith were a match for even the undead.
Before the dawn of the modern era, this Tradition was significantly less enforced, and in some cases, even scoffed at by the more haughty (and foolish) among the undead. Vampires of old could freely roam their demesnes, flaunting their damnation before the terrified mortals who huddled in the dark at their feet. No phones existed with which the kine could call for help, with nobody to call even if there were. Once upon a time, the Damned truly were lords of the night.
But it is a different time now, a different world. Mortals could not run in fear of the predators among them forever. As the living world grew and advanced, the world of the undead shrank. Tonight, it is a small world indeed, for the Damned — but only from the outside. Although the planet itself is largely unchanged, the mortals upon it are smarter, more advanced and more numerous than ever before. And now, the advent of the Internet and wireless communication has brought each mortal that much closer to the rest, putting the entire Masquerade at risk with but the touch of a button. The Damned, as powerful as they are, have never been so exposed or vulnerable. Given this precarious state of affairs, breaching the Masquerade is usually viewed as one of the most grievous transgressions one of the Kindred can commit. Depending on the Prince, more damaging breaches can be viewed as grounds for the Final Death of the transgressor, and a number of Princes have amassed no small amount of notoriety for their unwavering enforcement of this rule. This, then, has become a source of heated debate in Kindred circles, due to the subjective nature of such determinations. Some Princes are not above using the Masquerade as justification for the removal of political opponents, and those who displease a Prince must be careful about how they act in public and what company they keep.

Despite the terrible fate that would befall the Kindred were their existence to be uncovered, the Masquerade continues to hold fast. Part of the reason lies in the fact that the Curse itself has given the Damned a means by which they can better uphold the Masquerade (and, thus, hide themselves from mortal scrutiny). Upon receiving the Embrace, a fledgling vampire’s reflection begins to fade away. After rising for the third night in a row as a vampire, the change is complete, resulting in a sort of blurry occlusion of the Kindred’s image in any reflective surface or medium. Therefore, vampires’ features do not appear in photographs or on video (though vocal recordings are unaffected). Kindred can counteract this aspect of the Curse through an effort of will (which “solidifies” their image in any reflective surface), but the effect usually lasts only for a brief duration. A vampire’s visage may be filmed or recorded during this time, but in most cases, the image will blur immediately thereafter. The potency of a Kindred’s blood seems to factor into just how long his image remains on photographic media, with less robust Vitae indicating a longer duration. Exceptions do occur every now and then, but Kindred scholars are at a loss to explain why or under what circumstances they’ll repeat.

Another long-standing tradition is the right of domain. In nights past, when they were more spread out than they are now, Kindred staked claims to vast amounts of territory. When disputes arose, the results were often bloody, as the undead squabbled with one another over slights both real and perceived. Over time, civility demanded that the notion of domain become a universally respected aspect of Kindred society. Vampires needed to come to some basic accord, if for no other reason than to avoid infighting and unnecessary destruction of their fellows. The accord that was reached (informally and over time) was the right of domain. According to the tradition, a vampire may claim a given area — one that is not already under the purview of another Kindred — as his personal domain. Within that domain, his word is law among the undead, and he can expect not to be challenged. If another vampire wishes to stake a claim to some part or all of the domain, he must either negotiate the terms under which the owner will cede control or else take the entire domain by force. This situation was the norm for centuries upon centuries of Kindred existence, and though it, too, often led to infighting and kin slaying, the custom itself was largely respected. Come the modern era, the old ways have seen a significant pattern shift. As the Kindred huddle together in increasingly more claustrophobic environs, the concept of domain has split and polarized into two extremes. Tonight, the Kindred recognize only two definitions of domain (as per the traditional sense). First is the notion of domain in the larger sense — the domain of a Prince, for example, which generally includes one city or metropolitan area. The Prince is the final arbiter of all issues arising within this area, including who will and will not receive feeding grounds and official protection. Within the larger domain, however, exists the smaller “individual” domain, the modern remnant of the old ways. Each vampire’s personal haven benefits, as per custom, from the protections established by this tradition. Therefore, even though a given Kindred’s haven may be situated within the larger domain of the Prince, that Kindred might still invoke the customary protections of tradition. A vampire’s home is his castle — even if that castle sits on the lands of a powerful elder liege. Only in the most savage domains will a Prince attempt to claim one of his subjects’ personal havens once those havens have been granted and established.

The Second Tradition is the one that causes perhaps the most debate, confusion and consternation among the Kindred. According to the wording of the Tradition, no vampire may create a childe. And yet, look how many Kindred exist! It is, perhaps, the greatest paradox of the Kindred as a species (at least to those who keep faith with the Traditions). The Kindred world cannot even agree as to the origins of the Tradition itself. To this very night, no satisfactory answer has been put forth to the simple question of, “Why?” If what ever figure responsible for the creation of the undead was so adamant about ensuring the earthly lack of propagation of the Damned, why did it create one itself and give it the ability to propagate? Many speculate that the first Kindred, cursed to forever walk the night alone, grew lonely, as all creatures do, and that he took for himself a mate, as many creatures do. Some maintain that it is this mate, the world’s second vampire, who betrayed his or her sire’s wishes and created the first actual brood of the Damned. Some consider this first brood to be the true progenitors of the modern Kindred. In most cases, those who believe in various origin stories yield the principle that God (in whatever form) intended for the first Kindred to suffer in solitude, a lesson the Damned have had to learn through betrayal and loss. Whatever the Tradition’s origins are, the fact remains that its message has been corrupted in the time since. While few Kindred would deny that it is wrong (or at least complicated) to perpetuate the race of the Damned, many take issue with how the Tradition is enforced tonight. Many among the unbound (and a few members of formal covenants) believe that the Curse itself is enough to limit the numbers of new undead in the world, naturally and without need of politics or hierarchy. For their part, the Carthians generally take the stance that the issue should be one for the entirety of Kindred society to debate and decide upon, rather than be the purview of an outdated Tradition. Naturally, some in the Invictus believe in the right of the “elder” of a domain to decide upon such matters, and the Sanctified point to key passages of The Testament of Longinus as proof of their claims. The Order of the Dragon sometimes embraces for the sake of bestowing its secrets upon an apprentice in order to perpetuate its knowledge. Of all the Kindred, followers of the Circle of the Crone are perhaps the most defi ant of the Tradition, and are occasionally known to create new childer as part of their sacred beliefs.

Every time one of the Kindred plans to create a childe, he intends to willfully violate one of the understood commandments of the Damned. Like the Masquerade, this edict is an aspect of the Kindred condition, and it cannot be summarily ignored by vampires. The act of damning another to undeath is a strain on the Kindred soul, requiring the sire to invest a significant amount of will over the course of the Embrace.

A societal by-product of the Second Tradition, the tradition of tutelage has its roots in antiquity, when the Kindred’s numbers were fewer and the social system more rigid. In such times, if a vampire was going to violate Kindred physiology by propagating the numbers of the Damned, he was expected to make sure that his progeny understood all the rules and customs of the Requiem

(Not the least of which was the Second Tradition, itself). Siring progeny is merely the bestowal of responsibility, granting one vampire the right to take a considerable burden upon his own shoulders. Until such time as the new vampire is released from his sire’s tutelage, his education (or mis-education) is the responsibility of the sire. There is no “village” among the Damned. It takes an individual to raise a neonate, and any mistakes the young one makes until he reaches the time at which his sire releases him need not be forgiven by society at large. Otherwise, what would be the point of releasing him in the first place? This same rationale is often abused by controlling sires as justification for the excessive periods of indenture or servitude they require of their progeny: “I can keep you safe only as long as I don’t release you.” Needless to say, some childer would rather take their chances with the Prince. From the moment of his release, a childe’s sins are his own to endure. No ill may befall the sire as a result of the childe’s deeds (except in a looser social sense); as such, the childe no longer benefits from the sire’s protection, at least not in any official societal capacity. He is his own Kindred and must stand as such. Such, however, is also the benefit of release. Once a childe is on his own, he is no longer beholden to the whim, desire or name of his sire. For good or ill, he is now free.

Given the predatory and deceitful nature of the Kindred, the third and final “commandment”
— The prohibition against the diablerie of other Kindred — is the one most often violated and warped to serve the interests of the individual. Indeed, this single law has been the cause of more controversy in and around the halls of power than any other, and its interpretation and administration are two of the most fiercely contested issues facing the Damned tonight.
As with the Second Tradition, the phrasing of this tradition is the primary cause of complaint, as well as the primary justification for use and abuse. Many believe that the original intent of the law was to give sires the right and responsibility to destroy the childer they had made (in violation of the Second Tradition) when those childer ran afoul of those same Traditions. Destruction, however, does not necessarily entail the consumption of the destroyed Kindred’s soul. Those who destroy their enemies utterly often claim to drink their fallen foes’ essence “to be sure” that those enemies never return, though this practice is at once primitive and false, at least in the context of modern Kindred society. Mortal death is both inevitable and necessary, but only God Himself may judge those He has cursed. Therefore, the Kindred condition inhibits the finality of diablerie in all its forms. According to some versions of The Testament of Longinus, Longinus’ final words to the collected brood he left behind were a simple but sobering warning: “Teach your progeny to heed my word, and tell them to likewise teach their own. When my line can no longer contain the blood it spills — the night the broods of your broods can no longer hear their brothers’ hearts blood cry unto them from the ground — that is the night when all hope for you is lost.”
As a parenthetical result of this passage, many Kindred use the words of the Testament as support for the custom of the Lextalionis — the blood hunt in modern parlance. These Princes claim the title of “elder” mentioned in the text and use it to invoke the “right” of destruction upon any Kindred who sufficiently rouses their ire. They rarely perform the deed themselves, of course, for the act itself is damaging to the spiritual strength of a vampire. Thus has the custom of involving every Kindred in the domain in the hunt arisen (rather conveniently) over time? In many domains, all Kindred are expected to do their part in consummating a blood hunt.

As with the first two Traditions, the Third Tradition is thoroughly hardwired into the psyche of all Kindred. In fact, most Kindred agree that the prohibition against diablerie is one of the most fundamental aspects of being Damned, due to the steep toll exacted on all those who violate it. Each time a vampire consumes the soul of another vampire, his morality erodes significantly. The corrosion of the self is automatic, as with cold-blooded murder it is assumed that the killer feels no immediate remorse about the act. (If he did, he wouldn’t have committed it.)

Many wonder about the true nature of the Curse, given the way the Traditions interact with it. The Traditions are tied so closely to the vampiric condition that each one actually carries with it a physiological expression. The Tradition of the Masquerade is reflected in the fact that no Kindred appears in any recording device or reflective surface unless he wishes to be seen that way. The Second Tradition, the prohibition against the profligate creation of vampires, manifests in the difficulty with which vampires create new progeny. A considerable investiture of personal will and energy is required to even consider violating the decree. Perhaps most interestingly, however, is the third restriction, the Tradition prohibiting the destruction of another Kindred with the intent of consuming his hearts blood and soul. Unlike the physiology of the first two Traditions, which are preventive in nature, the true weight and message of the third manifests only after it has been violated. Some suspect that the prohibition is tied to the divine or diabolical origin of the Kindred. Obviously, the element of personal choice remains for the undead. By the same token, removing the onus of a decision to kill from vampires would, some might argue, defeat the purpose of vampires in the first place. Historical accounts of vampires, even among the Kindred, depict them as cursed for the terrible and selfish decisions they have made. No, the Third Tradition’s power manifests after a vampire has already made the choice to engage in diablerie, the Kindred’s name for this act. Upon consuming the soul of another vampire, one’s sense of moral control — the spiritual compass that keeps a being from falling to his Beast — wavers considerably. He is not pained by the experience, and indeed, he might even relish the newfound “freedom” he sees in no longer being as restrained as he once was. But this illusion is the nature of the Curse. The vampire has made his choice, and by forcing him to regret that choice, the higher power responsible for vampires would encourage the idea that personal choice was not the issue’s crux. To this night, many believe that the telltale black streaks in a diablerist’s aura do not come from any lingering effect the victim’s hearts blood may have on the killer’s soul, but are rather a spiritual reflection of the mark of damnation. Due to the First Tradition, vampires cannot be branded upon the forehead or otherwise visibly marked for their crime. No, it is a far more secret and subtle mark that exposes them to their brethren for the monstrosities they truly are.

A natural outgrowth of this tradition is the custom of vampiric respect. When the race as a whole endeavored to bring itself up from savagery with the notion of domain (and the rights granted there from), the next step was to ingrain the idea that every aspect of the existence of Kindred domains must be respected. From this effort arose the notion that a vampire should present himself whenever he travels into the domain of another vampire. After all, one doesn’t really respect the tradition of domain if one hunts on another’s land without permission. One doesn’t have to actively challenge the rightful claim of another vampire in order to disrespect both the domain and its owner. Of course, even this seemingly well-intentioned tradition has its controversy. Modern Princes invoke this code as a means by which to keep track of who is and who is not within their demesnes at all times, by asking that each visitor or would-be resident present himself upon entering. Once the visitor does, the Prince either acknowledges him — in which case he may remain in the domain (under the Prince’s protection) — or refuses to acknowledge him — in which case, he is expected to depart the domain immediately. As a result, this tradition has come to be ignored the most by young Kindred, many of whom don’t even know of its existence (usually because they were not properly educated after their Embrace).

One of the most common reasons for these violations is the gray area that defines visitors and would-be residents. Kindred who just pass through often feel no obligation to stop just so they can potentially put themselves at risk by coming before the local Prince. Only those who intend to remain for any length of time are required to present themselves, and some feel that it is up to personal interpretation just what a “length of time” might involve. Some Princes have been known to specify a duration (in terms of nights), so that there is no confusion when the Prince’s Scourge or Sheriff brings newcomers forward for questioning. As a result, this practice tends to complicate already complex social dynamics while further widening the gulf between elder and neonate. Technically, this tradition applies to only those who intend to hunt within a domain. If a vampire can establish that he’ll not be a drain on the domain’s resources (by demonstrating access to a private blood supply, for example), then he could argue that the tradition doesn’t apply to him on any practical level and that presentation before the Prince is merely a social courtesy. Obviously, this situation does not arise very often, and when it does, most Princes aren’t thrilled with the idea of being snubbed by the letter of the law. To them, it is better to just present one’s case during rather than instead of presentation.

While the Traditions form the basis for all Kindred law, they do not represent the extent of that law. Every Kindred domain has its own rules and regulations. Some have more than others, some enforce them more severely than others, and some are downright bizarre, the results of an eccentric or insane Prince. They all have them, though. Some of the most common laws, those found in many domains, are listed here.

Many Princes demand that any Kindred newcomers to their cities present themselves formally at court. This is partly to make sure that the Prince has a solid grasp on who’s in his city at any given time, and partly to make sure that the new arrival understands who holds power and what she’s supposed to do while she’s there. Of course, following this custom can be difficult, since new arrivals rarely know how to fi nd the Prince in order to report, but that, frankly, is their problem. In domains with this law, Kindred who go for more than a few nights without presenting themselves are likely to be dragged before the Prince upon being caught. If the Prince is understanding, he might simply issue a warning. Just as likely, he banishes the offender from the domain without allowing any time to prepare, which is tantamount to a death sentence.

Some Princes declare certain types of mortals off-limits to the Kindred population. The restricted type can be anything as narrowly defined as a single family (“None shall touch the descendents of Philip Danforth, for he once saved my life when I was mortal”), a profession (“I need the police to hold back the criminal gangs employed by the unbound”), or even an entire demographic (“As I am a Catholic, and I believe that only we have seen the true way, you shall not touch any of the faith, that we may spread the Word to others”). Of course, the Prince’s reasons for declaring any particular group off-limits might well be entirely selfish — maybe he himself feeds only on that type, and doesn’t want the competition — but that doesn’t make the law any less valid. Violators of such laws are usually banished, but some are slain.

Sometimes, when a Kindred outlaw is considered too dangerous to be allowed to survive, and the Prince’s own agents prove unequal to the task of locating and capturing or executing the criminal, the Prince is forced to resort to the ancient Kindred tradition of Lextalionis, the law of justice stating that those who violate the laws must die, and all Kindred of a domain are responsible for carrying out that sentence. This results in the blood hunt, when the Kindred of a domain set out to locate and destroy a specifi c quarry. Only the Prince or other city leaders can formally call a blood hunt (though some Primogen or Prisci have the political strength to do so over the Prince’s head).
The blood hunt is a powerful political tool, and a vampire must have matching influence to use it. If the Kindred evoking Lextalionis has sufficient clout or personal power that local vampires will respond, and he can do so without the Prince coming down on him, he may call the hunt. If he doesn’t, he won’t survive to repeat his impertinence, nor will many of those who answer his call. Failing to participate in a blood hunt, particularly one called by a Prince, is not normally a crime, except in the most extreme circumstances, but it frequently results in a loss of status in the eyes of the court. Actively aiding and abetting a subject is a crime, however, and it can result in banishment or execution. The Masquerade is still paramount during a blood hunt, of course. Indeed, the Kindred spread out across the city in something not unlike a police dragnet, coordinating their efforts (at least officially) with the Sheriff or other representative of the Prince. The hunters converge on suspected sightings, and things often get quite messy if and when the quarry is finally run to ground. The hunt is rarely carried out openly, with Kindred racing down the streets leading barking dogs, guns held aloft. While some Princes prefer to retrieve the subject intact, most blood hunts contain a provision stating that no participating Kindred will be charged or punished if the subject is slain or, in the case of truly dangerous criminals or truly desperate Princes, even diablerized. In this fashion, the Prince skirts the issue of the Third Tradition — after all, he himself is hardly guilty of diablerie if a subject carries it out. The Kindred use all the tools at their disposal when engaging in a blood hunt, including influence in the mortal world. Police might put out an APB on the subject, he might find himself on “no fly” lists at airports, and his financial accounts might be frozen. In recent nights, some Kindred have begun using the Amber Alert system — a coordinated barrage of radio announcements and electronic roadside signs intended to alert the public to a kidnapping or missing child — as a means of slowing a fugitive’s escape. A few truly powerful (or foolish) Kindred even use connections in the local religious community to attract Church-sponsored vampire-hunters, which is an exceedingly risky move.
Ultimately, very few criminals ever escape a blood hunt unscathed. They are either tracked down and slain or manage to flee the city, which is often nearly a death sentence in and of itself.
Technically, a Prince is not supposed to call a blood hunt for personal reasons, only when a truly heinous lawbreaker is on the loose. Some Princes are better about following this tradition than others, and a few of the most dictatorial ones actually use the hunt as a means of squashing dissent. Sure, it flies in the face of tradition, but who are the Kindred going to complain to? That said, some Princes have found the calling of an unnecessary blood hunt to be the spark that finally triggers revolution among their subjects, so even the most tyrannical Kindred ruler doesn’t invoke the Lextalionis lightly.
Very rarely, if a fugitive is considered an enemy of a specific covenant, a blood hunt might extend to more than once city. For instance, all the Invictus-dominant cities in a specific area might exchange information via email and phone in an attempt to run a criminal to ground.
For the most part, however, a blood hunt is strictly a local thing, and no hunt that has expanded beyond the borders of a single domain has ever lasted more than a few nights. Multiple cities simply cannot maintain cooperation for longer than that, especially since each Prince has her own issues to deal with, the wishes of her covenant notwithstanding.
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