In the final chapter of our bonus content for Requiem for Rome, we delve into the secrets of the very eldest Kindred, by whose measure the Senex is just a stripling.
If you missed the first two parts, here they are:
- The Cross, the Chapel and the Spear: The secret origin of the Lancea et Sanctum.
- Blood and Bulls: Pagan cults in the era of Requiem for Rome.
Wander any direction from the city, and you’ll see the ruins. The rotted outline of an old cottage, the pile of stones marking an old fire or an ancient grave. Go far enough the right way, to the east, journey by night and by sea, and you can stand among greater wreckage still. The remaining walls of the first cities, the sand that covers the footprints of the first men. You won’t be able to tell what any of them were for, not now. What did that wall support? Who chiseled that faint relief? There aren’t any answers. The ruins are ancient, silent, unknowable. But some of them are hungry.
The dead are old, but their nights span only a few hundred years before they slip into torpor. Before they wake, their Blood thins and their memories change, colored by dreams and nightmares. For vampires, memory is a constant companion, but a treacherous one. Still, there are a few vampires who escape the Fog of Eternity. They may slumber, but they keep hold of their potent Blood. These Methuselahs remember their past as well as any mortal, and have the strength and cunning of creatures who have been elders several times over.
Stories About the Methuselahs
The vampires of Rome have many stories about the Methuselahs, but these stories contain only fragments of the truth.
The memory of Methuselahs is eternally perfect: True. A Methuselah can recall any period from his mortal life or Requiem as well as a man of thirty might recall his teens. (If he possesses the Eidetic Memory merit, this likewise applies to his entire existence.)
The ancients keep their own Masquerade, concealing themselves from us as we conceal ourselves from the living: True, almost. Few Methuselahs have ever met, and they certainly don’t encounter each other frequently enough to have a culture or traditions unique to them. However, common problems breed common solutions: a vampire who has survived thousands of years has mastered hiding from both fearful mortals and jealous childer.
Methuselahs hunger for the Vitae of the dead: True. A Methuselah suffers from the same rarified thirst that elders do. Like an elder, an ancient may sire other vampires to feed his hunger, but his longevity lets him make the sacrifice of Willpower to create them again and again. Childer may not be disposable, but they come close. A Methuselah might cultivate a brood for a few dozen years, and then destroy them in a single night of feasting.
Methuselahs shirk the Fog of Eternity through the veneficia, or pacts with the Strix: False. No pagan ritual nor Theban miracle allows vampires to shirk the Fog of Eternity. Monstrous spirits might offer eternal memory, but they keep their promises only in part, or not at all. The ancients keep their memories and power by tremendous force of will.
The ancients watch us, and subtly manipulate our every move: False. Methuselahs have their own, personal goals. They may well manipulate other vampires, but, like vampires, usually find that mortals make better tools. This is particularly true over extended periods of history; successive generations of human beings renew their determination and vitality. Vampires may hold their course against the currents of time, but this ultimately becomes a liability.
Methuselahs possess every manner of supernatural power: True. While no Ancient is truly omnipotent, they have had time to unlock any secret of the Blood that an elder has, and likely keep them in greater numbers. A Methuselah may also have honed his skills to levels unheard of among humans. Like a younger vampire, though, he has trouble genuinely inventing anything.
As our ancestors, the ancients may be called upon through Blood and sacrifice: True. As an extension of Blood Sympathy, a Methuselah can recognize her own grandchilder, no matter how many generations removed. Some or all of them may be able to hear prayers accompanied by the spilling of the supplicant’s Vitae.
The sight or scent of Methuselahs drives vampires to Frenzy: Sometimes true. Most Methuselahs have found ways of limiting the effects of the Predator’s Taint upon other vampires they encounter, but the obscene potency of their Blood drives vampires to Frenzy and madness when unchained. There are few reliable accounts of meetings with ancients, but those stories almost inevitably feature a moment of recognition that permanently scars the younger vampire. More dubious tales claim that entire cities have been destroyed when an ancient passes through, driving the vampires to insanity and destruction in his wake.
The Methuselahs in Your Stories
The “gothic” the genre is named for was originally a physical place or object, a long-dead artifact casting foreboding shadows over the present. The ancients are living ruins, whose preservation against age and sleep only makes them more alien and frightening, whose determination has worn away their fine details but reveals their terrifying strength.
Use Methuselahs to remind players that history reaches back long before Rome, and that both mortals and vampires go back long before history. No convenient creation story can change that monsters from hoary prehistory still walk the earth.
The Methuselahs represent difficult truths, but they’re also sources of knowledge; torpor, Nero’s fire and other losses make the memories of Rome’s elders unreliable at best. A neonate or ancilla who somehow gained the patronage of a Methuselah could find himself privy to information about his elders’ sins or the resting places of vulnerable vampires. That is, if the Methuselah is truthful and can be persuaded. Bargaining with ancients should be difficult but absolutely possible.
Avoid the impulse to use a Methuselah as a tool to permanently block the players’ or characters’ goals. Similarly, try not to use them as “boss monsters.” Fighting a thousand-year-old vampire ancient might be cool once, but after that, everything else is a step down. That’s not to say never have a Methuselah present a physical danger. They should be frightening combatants just as they are frightening tacticians or manipulators. Just don’t make fighting them to the Final Death a regular occurrence.
If it comes to confrontation, ancients generally aren’t enemies to defeat in a brawl or a debate; their many Disciplines and well-developed Skills make that difficult. Fleeing from or tricking one is slightly more feasible. The best way to avert the wrath of a Methuselah is to convince her you’re on the same side.
The desires of the ancients are difficult to satisfy. Their goals have to keep them occupied across hundreds of lifetimes, yet the avenues of ambition open to the living are closed to them. No vampire will ever be an Alexander or a Caesar, no matter what rumors from Africa might claim. One might protect her mortal family, who she plans to forge into a tribe and then a nation. Every time they are nearly destroyed, she must start anew. Another might seek to master every discipline of mortal arts, only to find that mortals surpass him in every generation. An ancient may be well aware that her pursuits seem Sysyphian, but she is also certain that one day she will roll the boulder over the hill.
Ancients usually have low Humanity, having inured themselves both to terrible acts and to plotting the same. At the same time, they don’t tend to have many Derangements; grievously insane vampires don’t become Methuselahs, and Methuselahs who degenerate don’t survive. An ancient might have many strange habits and ideas, but these rarely impede his function. On the other hand, a Methuselah’s Virtue, Vice and Derangements are good weaknesses for characters to exploit.
Quote: “Tell me everything. I don’t care how long it takes.”
The creature called Zagreus tells many stories of his origins. This is only one.
The man was born in Babylon, near the beginning of Hammurabi’s reign. He learned to speak when his mouth could scarcely form the words. Brilliant as a child, he grew to be a great scholar and a charismatic priest. He fawned over Hammurabi as the king imposed his code of law, and eventually sat by the king’s side in judgement.
The young priest became ill with a wasting disease, and was tended by a woman who had grown fond of him. The granddaughter of a vampire, she knew that her ancestor’s blood still preserved her mother’s youth. She went to the vampire’s cave and endured the caresses of his thralls, begging for her beloved’s life. The old monster had little sentiment left, but listened as his descendant spoke eloquently about the priest’s virtues. Finally, he decided to grant her request, but instead of making the priest a ghoul, the vampire Embraced him.
The night cowered before the dead priest’s righteous glare. In a century’s time, he had driven away the beast who sired him and claimed Babylon as his own domain. He grew lonely, for he had forgotten the young woman in his early nights, and she had died of the same disease she saved him from.
The priest sired a brood, but was driven into the desert by them, just as he exiled his own sire. He found another city, and sired another brood, but destroyed them before they could grow mighty.
Eventually, he developed a method: creating fledglings once every few decades, and only ever appearing to them cloaked in an aura of awe and wisdom. He teaches them that he is God, and they are his special creations. Essentially, he forms blood cults of vampires and uses them to sustain himself. When he must commit himself to a period of torpor, he transfixes a number of them to feed upon when he awakes and leaves the rest to spread his word. Eventually, he wakes and joins his own cult.
The priest took the name Zagreus from a God he worshipped briefly in Greece, before he abandoned the Dionysian mysteries for those of the Orphics. He wants to meet God, and that’s the only reason he bothers with vampires or mortals outside his cattle-cults. Since his mortal youth, he has believed implicitly in a divine lawgiver, a being like the king he so admired, but with dominion over the entire world.
Yet, his studies with countless mortal cults and his own process of thought have revealed to him numerous problems with that proposition. Similarly, he believes his vampirism is a state of divinity, but has yet to deduce its purpose. He has learned that a weak “blood-god” may become greater by devouring a strong one. Thus, he sifts patiently through every belief of the living and the dead, looking for the true path to reach and devour his almighty lord.
Description: Zagreus looks like a young man who has seen too much of the sun, perhaps a caravaner. His features are unusual, but generally suggest West Asian heritage. His accent is also foreign; Egyptian, usually, but completely unidentifiable when he allows his disguise to drop.
Storytelling Hints: Zagreus presents himself as a neonate or ancilla, and can mitigate the Predator’s Taint to mimic either.
He is currently travelling towards Rome. He’s spoken with missionaries from the Spear, and their mysteries make more sense to him than anything he’s heard in a long time. He travelled through Jerusalem shortly before the execution of Jesus, and wonders if God’s son might have been there to meet him. Having missed that chance, he wants to absorb the teachings of Longinus, and discover where the centurion dwells or sleeps.
Zagreus uses Majesty freely, but takes great care to make sure that he appears to be winning friends, students or worshipers by natural charisma or (much more rarely) radiant divinity. He’s good at blending in, but won’t bother to disguise his curiosity if something seems particularly important; he’s confident in his ability to make excuses afterwards.
Of course, Zagreus is nothing if not a liar. Perhaps his true origins are those revealed in Immortal Sinners…