|Setting||Seattle||The Circle||Vampires||Other Monsters||Rules|
Vampires are monsters, solitary predators that are tightly bound to the cycle of day and night. As a general rule, they do not ‘play well with others’. However, just because Vampires might prefer to be solitary and self-sufficient doesn’t mean that’s possible for all of them. In fact, especially in the modern world, very few Vampires can afford to go it alone. It’s not impossible for vampires to form societies, they just aren’t very good at it.
Loner vampires are usually living on borrowed time. They often need to move from district to district in a city, and even migrate between cities to stay ahead of enemies or simply factions who would like to have one less problem to deal with. Being alone, they rarely have the resources to move about in complete safety, and thus they are prone to all kinds of accidents, or are simply killed by the first really strong creature or group they irritate.
Even worse, being alone and constantly hunted is not good at all for the psyche. Loner vampires usually experience mental degeneration much more rapidly than those who have some degree of socialization. The result is that most loner vampires are ticking time-bombs, just a few bad nights away from becoming a ravenous, feral monstrosity. That’s a large part of the reason that no one wants them around.
Rarely, a vampire is strong enough to make it totally alone, and grows into her powers to the extent that she can manage herself with minimal risk. These potent loners are known as Ogres, and they are greatly feared. That fear stems not only from the sheer power and competence such an individual must have, but because of how the mind of an Ogre normally develops. Instead of degenerating, an Ogre hones her predatory nature to the point that it becomes something of a life philosophy. As a consequence, you can’t expect gentle treatment at the hands of an Ogre.
Master Vampires – Gulags
One of the most common ways that vampires organize themselves is with a powerful Master at the head of an organization, and the rest as little more than fearful slaves, or possibly even mind-controlled thralls. Master vampires are those who have become powerful enough to directly subjugate other vampires, and use that power to build up a tightly-controlled group of thralls to serve and protect them.
Some masters use outright magic to bind their thralls to them, some recruit and use more traditional methods of coercion. However it’s done, the thing that identifies a vampire as a Master is that they are never balked or persuaded by their lessers. The Master’s will is the will of the group, always and without question. That situation lasts until the Master is destroyed from within or without the group.
Most Masters create their own thralls, either via rituals or simple feeding. Some recruit existing vampires. While it seems like few would sign up to be a slave, it’s preferable to death for many. Rarely, an Ogre will decide to go Master. This generally spells very bad luck for any smaller, weak groups of young vampires in the area, as such a vampire will try to destroy or convert all such extraneous groups.
The group of Thralls and other servants that serve a Master vampires is called a Gulag.
Social Vampires – Covens
The alternative to being alone or subjugated by a Master is to cooperate. Considering the consequences of either of the other choices, cooperation suddenly becomes much more attractive. Covens generally consist of younger vampires, who want the safety that comes with numbers and would prefer to avoid slavery. Normally there are a few more experienced sorts who run the show, sometimes even just a single ruler. What sets a Coven with a single ruler apart from a Gulag is the fact that the Coven leader cannot simply enforce his will all the time, every time. He must sometimes make concessions to the desires of his subjects.
The most common ‘inner circles’ for a coven consist of three, five, or seven members. Even numbers tend to be less stable, with one of the members getting eliminated. These vampires will talk out and vote on important issues, and generally have to give at least some attention to what the lesser Coven members want. In most cases these leaders are formal ones, with titles and a clear structure of power. In others, the Coven purports to be completely democratic, but the most influential or charismatic vampires end up running the show anyway.
Covens rarely last forever, but they tend to last a lot longer than Ogres do, and longer than most Gulags. On the other hand, those legendary Gulags which are run by immensely powerful ancients are the longest-lasting social system vampires have been able to invent. Typically a Coven will split into smaller covens rather than break apart entirely, though it’s quite vulnerable during the splitting process, and may end up being destroyed by enemies who take advantage.
The Limits of Nicety
As mentioned above, vampires cannot form societies with even a fraction of the ease that humans can. There are severe limits on the size that a Coven or Gulag can grow to, imposed by the fickle and selfish nature of the monsters that make up such groups.
Gulags are limited in size by the power and influence of the Master running them. While this varies a lot, no Gulag of more than 100 vampires has ever been reported, even in legend or rumor. A typical Gulag maxes out at no more than 50 vampires, and even then the Master has a tiger by the tail, working every night to make sure he’ll be able to wake up on the next one.
Covens are much more fragile, usually maxing out around 30 or so members, unless the city is especially big, such as NYC or Mexico City. Covens that grow too large tend to split, as stated, and assuming both pieces survive the split, they go on to continue growing in an uneasy truce.
Most decent sized cities will be able to host far more vampires than can band together into one group. It’s certainly the case that Gulags and Covens of maximum or near-maximum size are quite rare, and the typical group is usually about half the maximum size. This means that most cities are host to a supernatural cold-war where small groups of vampires face off against other small groups of vampires and try to carve out territory as they can.
No one group wants to start a war, because whoever loses resources first becomes vulnerable to the rest. However, alliances can be made between groups, and those tip the scales enough that someone ends up being taken out. Vampire politics are typically slow and tense, then punctuated by bouts of furious violence. It can easily be seen as akin to mafia families, but the groups are smaller, and the conflicts revolve more around the actions of individual vampires, rather than webs of political and financial influence.