Monday, June 8, 2015

Dirge of the Vampire Knight: A Homebrew World of Darkness Setting

Castlevania Concept Art

This is not a realm of modern gothic tales, where Kindred rule the city from skyscraper penthouses and command blood-addicted servants to wage war against rival covenants with crowbars and bullets.  This is not a realm of our own Earth viewed through a cracked mirror, of familiar histories and figures albeit influenced by creatures beyond the shadows.  This is a world of dark fantasy, where vampires rule openly and wield sword and spell against each other, upstart mortals, and the innumerable horrors sleeping beneath the black boughs of the woods and the bones of the earth.  This is a world where science and sorcery are misunderstood and feared in equal measure, the province of witches and alchemists dealing with powers which threaten to destroy the careless practitioner.  Undead lords and ladies rule from a court shrouded in eternal night, and neonate Kindred clad themselves in plate mail so as to better operate in the sunlit realms.

Say goodbye to the World of Darkness you knew, so that we may now sing the Dirge of the Vampire Knight.


The World of Darkness, both Old and New, is a versatile system of many mythical beasts and genres, and yet the majority of its products are set in our own world, especially in the modern nights.  Wonder and horror can be found in equal measures amid the familiar backdrop of our world, but there is a certain kind of joy in transporting one's stories into a world and society entirely of one's own making.  A section of the Mage Chronicler's Guide discussed adopting the game into a world of Epic Fantasy, while World of Darkness: Mirrors touched upon Dark Fantasy chronicles.  On the Masquerade front, Dark Ages Vampire is getting a 20th Anniversary treatment.

This inspiration is by no means limited to tabletop: the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a spiritual sequel to the acclaimed Castlevania series, and the dark fantasy world of the Witcher series makes for a fascinating setting where the confines of civilization are home to human cruelties just as pernicious as the monsters the protagonist hunts.

Although I have yet to GM a Vampire game of my own, I really like campaigns well off the beaten path.  This got me thinking: what if I were to do the same with Vampire: the Requiem?  Whether they rule from castles of stone or spires of glass and steel, the Kindred is a timeless creature, at home in any era.  And why the "real world?"  Why not be different?

Dirge of the Vampire Knight is a work in progress.  This first post is intended to provide an overview of the world of Tormil, with further articles for more specific setting detail, rules, and such.

Setting Overview

Ar-Nat Village by Andreas Rocha of deviantart

The realm of Tormil is an old and sparsely settled land of extremes.  Impenetrable forests surround meager hamlets who cut out a piece of land in the nation's dark heart, whereas the Weeping Lady Mountains of the south house the old keeps of nobles and knights of forgotten eras.  In times long past the Kindred clans came to this land and established themselves as protectors of mortal vassals and in time became the new ruling class.  An odd tradition of nobility emerged, where the gift of vitae (an old Tormil world for life-water) was taken from the mortals as tribute and granted back to a privileged few as Anointed ghouls or to join the ranks of the undead.

The people of Tormil have a common cultural history and language, but they are by no means unified.  Different Kindred dynasties and orders claim dominance over various domains, and it is only in the city of Kozhukh Lorda do they come together to debate, duel, and deal with each other in the courts of the dead.  It is not a kind world for the living or dead; the vampires are feared by their living vassals fear their powers yet rely on them so that they may be shielded from the barbarians and monsters at the gates of civilization.  Werewolves, witches, faeries, and stranger things are not only known by mortalkind, they are a real and present danger to those who travel too far off the beaten path.  Even then some dare to come into the villages and cities to wreak havoc.


Stormkirk by Wizards of the Coast

Algebere's Torch: From the cunning folk of villages who prepare herbal remedies to the pungent laboratories of great universities, the guiding hand of Algebere's Torch influences the art of alchemy.  Although not all practitioners owe allegiance to this scholarly society, their skills are so in demand, their writings so necessary to the understanding of this occult science, that many natural philosophers count themselves as torch-bearers be they Kindred or kine.

Part natural law, part occult rituals, it is hard to tell where the mundane ends and the magical begins in regards to alchemy.  The lifesblood of Vitae, so necessary for the vampiric survival, acts as a versatile and potent reagent capable of great feats.  Although not all of their concoctions need Vitae to function, it's no secret that the inclusion of Kindred powers advanced the Torch's personal and political power.

Falcons of Dawn: This martial order of Kindred and their anointed ghouls springs from a centuries-old tradition.  Back when the first Kindred warlords carved out their territory, they found that in spite of their powers and imperious commands that the sun's curse prevented them from acting.  To prevent rival mortal nobles from torching their havens, they anointed ghouls to act as favored servants and fed their falcon companions their own blood to forge a closer bond.  Newly Embraced Kindred wore layers of dark shawls and robes to cover their bodies from the sun, acting during the day and slowly learning to overcome their natural lethargy.

The mortal warlords discovered that no longer was the shield of the sun a guaranteed victory, and the more conservative Kindred who relied upon minions to guard them while sleeping the day away were ill-prepared to fight when they made enemies of the dawn-walkers.  The advent of plate mail was a boon to this new knighthood, protecting Kindred wearers from the sword blows and sun's rays alike.  It wasn't long before the Falcons of Dawn appointed themselves as defenders of the land, learning much in the arts of battle and hunting bandits and monsters beyond the village walls.  Gifted a suit of plate mail with an embossed image of a winged sun on the breast upon their initiation, all but the most isolated domains recognize the herald of the Falcons.

Penumbral Court: The city of Kozhukh Lorda is home to a peculiar feature which vampires so enjoy: a citywide shroud of darkness blankets the skyline of the settlement and surrounding land, keeping the domain in a state of eternal night.  The horizon gradually turns darker and overcast the closer one comes to Kozhukh Lorda, regardless of the time of day, until the sun is no more and only the moon and stars shed light.

It is here that the vampiric nobility of the realm gather, the only true place where they can stay active without the curse of daysleep or the threat of Final Death by morning's light.  Mortals live within Kozhukh Lorda's walls, but they all serve the vampires in some way.  Crops and meat are imported by outlying farms to feed them, and in turn the living donate a blood tax every week at the Garden Chapel.  This holy shrine contains chalices which keep the gathered vitae warm and fresh, unable to lose its potency to time.

Sleepers in Stone: The sky and surface are the domain of the sun and moon, a hostile realm to the unwary Kindred.  But the tomb-like caves and tunnels which stretch through mother earth like veins are a safe respite from light.  Although the underworld contains its fair share of dangers, many Kindred are still driven to choose this unknown blessing over the known perils of the surface.

Whatever these ancient Kindred found in the depths, they found the remnants of a prior civilization, or so they claim, and now live amid the ruins and networks in a twisted mirror of those above.  Most surface-world folk only see the topmost outposts of the Sleepers, but those who ventured further down whisper of stranger things, of Kindred and Anointed who drink from the black blood of the earth itself, imbued with strange magic and speaking of buried gods.