Goodbye awkward gap in posting, hello new series of posts!
I’m currently preparing to run a game of Night’s Black Agents by Pelgrane Press. The presumption of the game is that characters will be former spies making an unofficial living in the criminal (or at least unsanctioned) underworld of Europe, when they simultaneously find out about a supernatural conspiracy (under a broad use of the term “vampires”) and garner the attention of same conspiracy.
As part of putting together your game you get to decide what vampires are in the setting of your stories, then put them in a structure they’ve nicknamed the “conspyramid,” and I’ve got one I’m fine-tuning right now: The Court of the First King.
So, step one, the Origin of my conspiracy.
Western Anatolia, 13?? B.C.
The man known as Tylon was a brutal and feared warrior, respected by many for his prowess on the field if not his good manners or quick wit. Tasked by a local ruler to sack the home of a rival who was off at war, but whose women and remaining garrison had a reputation as prickly defenders, he called on the other city and turned his reputation into a place as guest in the rival’s home.
He was coarse and intimidating, but in the company of friends he told grand stories and had a jovial nature that seemed contagious. After only two days he’d managed to ply his hostess with enough wine and earnest compliments that they found themselves drunk in her chambers, and that night he let his men into the small city while the women slept.
They had their way with the place, the women, and the loot. Tylon himself saw to the stripping and desecration of the temple to the local goddess, a mystery deity (meaning useless to his mind) whose High Priestess he’d had his way with earlier in the evening and now claimed as a prize. Everyone living was to be put to the sword and their bodies tossed in the shadowed pit where the locals made their sacrifices.
The warrior, arrogant and still drunk, never saw his new conquest draw her poisoned dart. She drove it into him from behind as he watched the bodies being thrown into the darkness below, and tumbled after. His men made sure she joined him shortly after, and being practical sorts grieved only briefly before continuing their work.
He lay there, paralyzed and struggling for breath with broken limbs, while bodies piled on top of him and he choked on their blood.
They poured oil into the pit and tried to burn the bodies. The last thing he remembers, before stumbling into the waning moonlight some time later, was the heat of the flames working their way towards him.
Thus the First King, now what would one day be called a vampire, was born.
The Court of the First King has its origins in ancient history, but its founder is not like many other archetypical vampiric elders; Tylon was an Iron Age thug, a hero to those who shared a cause with him and a monster to anyone on the receiving end of his wrath. He drank, he murdered over petty slights, and he treated women like property.
All of that was before he became an unbelievably powerful immortal with an impulse to kill.
Despite his unmatched strength and immunity to most injuries, his attempts at building an everlasting empire failed time and again; while he did conquer and the bloodline he fathered as a mortal went on to produce kings and generals, always he was denied or betrayed. No matter his power, eventually enemies would array against him and armies would wear him to the bone, or stab him in the back. He would awaken to find himself recovered under the stars or languishing in a grave, swearing vengeance but eventually wandering further from the lands of his birth.
That cycle continued for almost a thousand years before he discovered how to make others, pale reflections of himself who were nevertheless potent in their own right. The ritual required a soul inured to death, and more blood than a single body can produce, so he found his candidates on battlefields or command tents or prepared to be executed for their crimes.
His influence spread through these killers that he called Lords, and who called him King, despite some trouble growing accustomed to his new impulses and restrictions. Every century he was required to sleep in a once-holy place, surrounded by those whose deaths he was responsible for and covered in their blood, and every year he knew with unyielding certainty that if he did not kill several with his own two hands he would waste away to nothing.
Still, they infiltrated mortal kingdoms with various levels of flair or subtlety that escaped their maker and he became certain that some day soon he would be able to openly claim his rightful place as grand emperor of mankind.
In 218AD, during one of his disappearances to Anatolia, one of the Lords managed a coup; his grandson, strengthened and made loyal by a diet of his grandfather’s unnatural blood, was raised to Emperor of Rome. The Lord named Elagabal was made the new chief deity of Rome, and began to take a hand in the management of the empire through those pressed to his service. Within a surprisingly short time the other Lords had gathered to the city, eager to assist and make themselves useful to their now elevated brother.
By the time Tylon heard of what had occurred and returned to the west, his former lieutenant was cementing his influence over one of the most powerful civilizations on the planet and convincing the others that their “king” was a fool best left to the past. There was no way, he assured them, that their progenitor could stand against their united power.
By 222AD Tylon had assured himself they were all slain, and the Emperor without his patron found himself dead at the hand of his own Praetorian Guard. It was easier than they would have thought, in no small part due to the fact that they were unaware of the terrible weapon his blood could be when fed to a mortal.
Shaken by the events but determined to build again, as well as unaware that one member of his original Court was not completely destroyed, the First King headed east to start again with what he hoped was a lesson firmly learned.
Patience doesn’t become him, and there have been other mistakes, but his current Court consists of eight hand-picked and thoroughly tested Lords. Each of them is a mass murderer or war criminal, all severely aware of their own limitations in the face of their King’s power, and only two of them are older than three hundred years. All have been given a region or major operation to oversee on behalf of Tylon, who in turn attempts to be content with the hidden nature of his temporal power and patient with the strategic growth that has served him well in recent centuries.
The creature wants to be king, though, a God Emperor with an army at his back and a field of enemies torn to pieces before him. His need for violence and compulsion for bloody murder is growing greater over time, beyond even the compulsions which are a part of his unnatural state. As the date for his next sleep among the dead approaches, his rejuvenation in blood, he dreams of marking it with a massacre that would shock the even the most jaded of his Lords…
In addition to the King and the Lords he has made, there are mortals who have tasted the blood of a Lord or the blood from the Lord’s yearly ritual. These people feel a compulsion to obey their master as well as an aversion to bright light, but in return gain a portion of their patron’s potency and killer instinct.
Drinking the First King’s blood, on the other hand, causes mortals to slowly transform into ravenous, shark-mouthed creatures with an endless hunger that will eventually kill them no matter how much they consume.
While I will write up some additional detail later, the limitations on the powers granted to the King and the Lords is in the murders they are compelled to commit and blood they require for their rituals:
The First King
Every 100 years Tylon must first drink a powerful poison and then kill personally or order the death of at least six people before sleeping several nights in a holy or once-holy place, buried in their bodies and covered in their blood. In the weeks leading up to this ritual he weakens slightly, and every day after the “anniversary” of his rebirth he begins to waste away at an accelerated rate. Should he go a week past November 12th without beginning the ritual he will collapse as a mummified corpse before being reduced to dust.
Sunlight causes him little concern, but he is at his full power under moonlight.
Every week that passes he feels a growing compulsion to kill. It is cold, insistant, and alien but if put off long enough has caused him incredible raging furies in the past. Luckily his nature makes it unlikely that he will go that long without killing.
While Tylon seems largely unchanged from who he was in life, the Lords all have an eerie distance to demeanor and an almost artificial tone to their voices. These are people whose souls were twisted in a very particular way, but the power they have been granted has grown into those broken places in cruel and alien ways.
Every six months a Lord must bathe in enough blood to fill a particular form of ritual stone or iron tub. In the last week of this period a Lord is particularly vulnerable as they begin to show signs of advanced aging, and should a Lord miss this anniversary by even an hour they will begin to mummify or decay at an accelerated rate such that within a day they will be reduced to dust. This has led to the Lords often undertaking the ritual roughly a week or two before their allotted time and keeping this deadline a secret from all but their King.
Sunlight is a deterrent to the Lords, distracting them enough that they are more vulnerable than at night.
The Lords lack their master’s deeper murderous compulsions, but still find themselves cavalier with murder to a degree even the most violent of them would have found excessive in life.