A World of Darkness
The Tzimisce are a clan of scholars and flesh-shapers. If someone were to call a Tzimisce inhuman and sadistic, the Tzimisce would probably commend them for their perspicacity, and then demonstrate that their mortal definition of sadism was laughably inadequate. The Tzimisce have left the human condition behind gladly, and now focus on transcending the limitations of the vampiric state. At a casual glance or a brief conversation a Tzimisce appears to be one of the more pleasant vampires. Polite, intelligent and inquisitive they seem a stark contrast to the howling Sabbat mobs or even the apparently more humane Brujah or Nosferatu. However on closer inspection it becomes clear that this is simply a mask hiding something alien and monstrous.
The Tzimisce clan weakness dictates that whenever a Tzimisce sleeps, they must surround themselves with at least two handfuls of earth from a place important to them as a mortal. Failure to meet this requirement halves the Tzimisce’s dice pools every 24 hours, until all their actions use only one die. This penalty remains until they rest for a full day amid their earth once more.
While Tzimisce is presumed dead at the fangs of Lugoj, the Tzimisce clan still holds their deceased founder in some reverence. Far more than their Darwinist Lasombra brethren, the Tzimisce are a clan of tradition and history, and while the founder may be dead, its ideals and quests still capture the minds of the Fiends.
What the Eldest originally was is open to debate, although only marginal interest – the Tzimisce consider humans to be clay at best, and the Eldest’s mortal existence would be a trivial prelude to a far more important undead career. However, at least one legend among the Tzimisce suggests that the Eldest was an experiment. Enoch, seeking to expel all of his bestial qualities spat out his existence into an Embrace using a modification of the Protean discipline – the beast, according to those Metamorphosists who adopt this theory is not just rage, but also change, whimsy, intuition and imagination, all traits that the Eldest showed after its embrace. In this interpretation, the Eldest is not just a creature, but also a visible manifestation of Vicissitude.
The Eldest struck out early, eventually travelling to Eastern Europe, where it became tied to the land and Kupala, the demon of the area. Kupala’s instruction of Tzimisce eventually culminated in an event known as Kupala’s Night. Before the Deluge, and long before the rise of Rome, Tzimisce and its eldest and wisest childer gathered in the depths of the Carpathian mountains. Though the Lupines attempted to keep the demon-spirit imprisoned, the Tzimisce triumphed, and Kupala was set free – mostly. All of its chains to the mortal world were broken, save two: the Carpathian mountains, within which it had been bound for so long… and Tzimisce itself.
With the rest of the great demon freed, its only outlet was into the Clan, through the blood of the Antediluvian. The childer of the Eldest speak of a legendary single night in the Clan’s history, during which their powers of Vicissitude were heightened to incredible levels, and their sorcerous magicks rivaled that of the gods. This was known as Kupala’s Night – the night the Tzimisce Clan established their power and damned themselves for the rest of eternity.
Since Kupala’s Night, the Clan has waged a private war with the werewolf tribes of Eastern Europe for custodianship of the Carpathians. Though any single werewolf is easily a match for an elder vampire, with the aid of koldunic sorcery and fleshcrafted war ghouls (vozhd), the Tzimisce eventually gained the upper hand, and from there largely drove off or slew the Lupines. Occasionally in later years, werewolf “crusades” were launched against the Carpathians, but the Tzimisce (oftentimes aided by Gangrel allies), kept the terrain free of their shamanistic influences.
In the Carpathians, the Eldest embraced others, notably Yorak, Kartarirya, Byelobog and the Dracon, each of these descendants spread both intellectually and physically around the world. While the Tzimisce are now noted for the madness and sadism of metamorphosists like Yorak, creatures like the Dracon show an entirely different side – the Tzimisce are experimenters and creators, whether it be Constantinople or the Cathedral of Flesh.
The Tzimisce had little to do with Rome and its many conquests. Their real influence lay further eastward, in Constantinople. There, noted scholars such as Myca Vykos and the Dracon furthered the knowledge of the Clan in unheard-of ways. The city was the site of a major spiritual movement among Cainites: it seems that the Damned may not be so Damned after all. With this revelation, the Clan Tzimisce, along with many others (Malkavians, Brujah, even Nosferatu) could learn to enjoy the fruits of their decades-long labor and co-exist more-or-less peacefully among the mortals.
The Obertus order was involved in this movement most heavily, of all the Tzimisce lines. They had preserved quite a bit of the lost Library of Alexandria, making them some of the most well-read supernaturals in the world at that time.
The Tzimisce Voivodate, a loose confederation of Tzimisce domains in Eastern Europe, had survived since the fall of the Second City only to face new threats to its existence during the Dark Ages. The first threat to Tzimisce power in the region was the emergence of the Tremere. Though the magi of the Order of Hermes were a familiar presence in the region, they invoked the wrath of the neighboring vampires after prying the secret to vampirism from captured Tzimisce. House Tremere, led by Goratrix officially became Clan Tremere in the wake of the diablerie of Saulot. Despite making enemies of mortal magi, the Tzimisce, the Salubri and later the Gangrel and Nosferatu, the fledgling Tremere managed to survive the Omen War with the Tzimisce. Voivode of Voivodes Vladimir Rustovich’s assault on the Tremere was interrupted by the invasion of the Ventrue under Jürgen of Magdeburg. While Jürgen’s assault was ended through the efforts of Myca Vykos and the Obertus Order, the Omen War continued on until the Anarch Revolt rendered the Tzimisce incapable of any real organized efforts as a clan. Despite the Warlocks’ continued survival, most Tzimisce continue to bear a grudge against them into the modern era, though many younger Tzimisce fail to comprehend why. The Voivodate, and with it the feudal structure of Tzimisce society, would last only a few centuries longer.
Diablerie of Tzimisce
Founding of the Sabbat
Perhaps the most significant thing in the Victorian Age for the Tzimisce was the publishing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Perhaps the most famous vampire novel (although by no means the first), it actually detailed a member of their clan (although a somewhat errant one). It introduced audiences to Transylvania, the home of the clan.
However, it was the Victorian Age that saw the beginnings of the Tzimisce’s decline – once proud and aristocratic, the modernising of the world turned them into anachronistic jokes. The ease at which mortals could travel and communicate meant that the Fiends could no longer exist as lords and rulers of their own fiefdoms – troubling news of shambling monstrosities and villagers impaled on pikes would reach more civilised parts of the globe in no time.
Science began to shake the iron foundations of folklore and superstition that the Tzimisce had built their fearsome reputation on. This was truly a double-edged sword for the Clan. Their hated enemies, the Tremere had become very powerful during this time, and the peasants over which most of the Fiends ruled rose up against their masters. Once again burned from their rotting manses and forced to hide from the Kine, most considered the age a great indignity. But the leaps and bounds made in medicine and the sciences during this time yielded both a new crop of potential childer and a new way to study the effects of mutable forms. The Tzimisce had always been students of a sort, and having biology and anatomy codified and much easier to learn, their own knowledge of the body expanded.
Historically, the Tzimisce embraced broods who maintained a particular plot of land. Tied to the land, Tzimisce broods were incestuous, violent hierarchies of hateful creatures who maintained a bare modicum of civility through raw power and the blood bond. The central government of the Tzimisce, so to speak, was the Council of Voivodes, guided by the Viceroy. The Viceroy was elected by his peers, but his tenure was set “for life”. However, given the jealousy and suspicion among the Clan, there was a fairly regular progression of Viceroys, as one after another fell to the political or physical traps set by another ambitious clanmember. The Council had anywhere from less than a dozen to nearly a hundred members during the Dark Ages, making it the single most influential factor in Clan politics.
With the elimination of this hierarchy during the Anarch Revolt, the Tzimisce have become intensely solitary creatures. They now tend to embrace more….unusual individuals, psychopaths and sadists are common choices as are people who indulge in self-mutilation, however intelligence and dignity are still key concerns: the Tzimisce would choose Hannibal Lecter over Leatherface any day of the month.
In the modern era, the Tzimisce have a recognized clan head, the voivode, but the office is largely religious. For most Tzimisce, authority is a function of power.
Tzimisce who have awakened their zulo shape (i.e.:, have achieved the fourth level of Vicissitude), who have at least one level of Koldunic Sorcery, and / or who have demonstrated wisdom and loyalty to the sect and clan are known among the clan as zhupans. Zhupans are respected for their knowledge and power, and may “suggest” courses of action to lesser Tzimisce. The lesser Tzimisce are not required to heed a “suggestion,” but ignoring a zhupan is considered extremely rude and will almost inevitably alienate the zhupan so snubbed.
Within the Sabbat, the Tzimisce are the spiritual leaders and scholars, in contrast with the Lasombra’s preference to leadership and temporal power. While the Lasombra are the Cardinals and Bishops, the Tzimisce prefer being pack priests, Prisci, or even not having titles at all and focusing on personal development. Some people even ponder (out of earshot, of course) that the Tzimisce are not very sincere in their attachment to the sect, and that the only reasons they are even present amongst the Sabbat is their dislike of Camarilla clans (especially the Tremere) and not fitting with the Camarilla’s policy of hiding among humans (Tzimisce tend to see humans as mere plaything below their consideration). However, those Tzimisce who show genuine dedication to the Sabbat ideal are paragons of their sect, impressing (and even scaring) other Sabbat with their fervor and contributions.
However, in Eastern Europe, many Tzimisce give only lip service to the Sabbat, and prefer to live solitary unlives following their own pursuits. Most Sabbat give these Tzimisce leeway, since most of them are very old and very powerful. More than one upstart neonate has been toyed into an unrecognizable visceral mess by angry Tzimisce wanting to be left alone.
Even before the rise of the Sabbat, the Tzimisce viewed their mortal charges as little more than a sophisticated form of herd beast; following the Anarch revolt, the majority of Tzimisce have abandoned lordship in favor of their own projects. To purify their thought and detach themselves from human subjectivity, Tzimisce either founded or developed the various Sabbat Paths of Enlightenement. These beliefs and rituals serve diverse purposes: engendering solidarity among vampires, providing new habits to replace human-learned ones, and fostering an understanding of what it means to be a vampire. As a result, the Tzimisce are intensely focused on the Vampiric condition: they gladly abandon their Humanity in favor of the Paths of Enlightenment, and they have spent more time thinking about their state than any other clan. One of the immediate results of this is that Sabbat culture is derived from medieval Tzimisce culture; traditions such as Vaulderie derive from Tzimisce custom.
Tzimisce culture, philosophy and self-image is intimately tied with their practice of Vicissitude. The Tzimisce view Vicissitude as a key to unlocking higher mysteries of the vampiric state, and consequently see deeper mastery of Vicissitude as part and parcel with vampiric enlightenment. Tzimisce almost invariably modify their own appearance using Vicissitude, sometimes on a nightly basis.
Tzimisce also use Vicissitude as a solution to a variety of problems that wouldn’t occur to a vampire possessed of a conscience. Unlike most rulership clans (e.g., the Ventrue or Lasombra), Tzimisce have no particular facility for Dominate. As a result, they rule their subjects not by mind control, but through sheer fear, using creative applications of Vicissitude to strike that fear home. Giant sculptures of living flesh, tables made from ghouled children, lovers glued together and transformed into dogs, all of these are tools for a sufficiently insightful Tzimisce. The most infamous of these creations, the szlachta and vozhd, are used as bodyguards and tanks.
The Tzimisce are also the last practitioners of a form of Koldunic Sorcery.
A particularly interesting phenomenon which is practically exclusive to the Tzimisce is the existence of Revenants. Revenants are families of ghouls constantly maintained by the Tzimisce, who serve as mortal pawns and possible candidates for the Embrace. Centuries of vampiric contact, infusions of vampiric blood and inbreeding have transformed the Revenants into a distinct type of supernatural creature. They produce a weak vampiric-like vitae, which sustains their bodies far beyond normal human lifespans (although not immortal, Revenants can live to be hundreds of years old), and also gives them the ability to use Disciplines. Revenants are fanatically loyal to their vampiric masters, and consider themselves superior to the average human, as well as “regular” ghouls. This, added to their treatment by the Tzimisce and their inbred, unsavory lifestyles, have shaped their mindsets into completely alien directions. Most Revenants could never function as normal human beings. The four Revenant families also provide the Tzimisce with a very diverse “breeding stock,” giving the clan a lot of flexibility in its membership. Warriors, scholars, aristocrats and freaks are all found in equal measure amongst the Revenants, and this translates to them being found amongst the Tzimisce as well, once they Embrace the Revenants in question. Although there are other Revenant families in the World Of Darkness, the four Tzimisce families (the Bratovitches, the Obertus, the Grimaldi and the Zantosas) are the biggest and most well established. What follows is a description of the four families:
The Bratovitches are the muscle of the four families. Violent and animalistic, they are quick to anger, rough and savage. They are also the kennel masters for their lords, raising dogs, wolves and other wild animals so that their masters may shape them into fearsome creatures they may hurl at their foes.
The Grimaldi are the Tzimisce’s main liaison with human society. They are the most “human” of the Revenant families, and are usually in charge of maintaining Tzimisce estates and handling mortal endeavors like finance and politics. They are also the most independent of the Revenant families, some of them even secretly plotting to free themselves from their masters’ yoke. Other Revenant families see the Grimaldi as soft, and hold them in contempt. The Grimaldi return the favor, seeing the other families as mindless slaves and freaks.
The Obertus are scholars and occultists, and are held in high esteem by the Tzimisce, as many of their greatest scientists, spiritualists, leaders and sorcerers have been Embraced from their ranks. Sascha Vykos, the most famous (and notorious) Priscus of the Sabbat, was Myka Vykos adopted of the Obertus family (but formerly Magus of House Tremere).
While the Grimaldi are the Tzimisce’s pawns in mortal society, the Zantosas are their main link to culture. Zantosas are hedonistic social butterflies, on par with any Toreador in their dealings with human culture. They stimulate their senses and play with humans with reckless abandon. They are probably the Revenants in least control of themselves (even moreso than the Bratovitches), and many believe the only reason the Tzimisce haven’t wiped them out is because they value their tradition and history. The Fiends’ anachronistic mindset may be the only thing saving the Zantosas from annihilation.
The Tzimisce are unique in how much their culture is centered around their signature Discipline, Vicissitude. This unique and quite disturbing Discipline allows the Tzimisce to shape flesh and blood (both living and unliving) into practically any shape they can think of. Their exploration of it rivals (some people even say surpasses) that of the Tremere towards Thaumaturgy, and the Tzimisce ascribe a spirituality that contrasts with the Tremere’s practical view of their own Discipline. This results in most Tzimisce not looking at all like humans, having shaped themselves into alien or monstrous forms, or even looking beyond human, having sculpted themselves into paragons of mortal beauty canons, more beautiful than any human created by nature. In fact, this exploration of the Discipline, along with their studies into how it affects the body, mind and soul of the user or subject of its use, have led to whole philosophies being based around it, particularly the Path of Metamorphosis (it also fascilitates studies in the other Tzimisce path of enlightenment, the Path of Death and the Soul). Rumors of [Tzimisce]‘s godlike proficiency with the Discipline have given way to the Fiends giving it an almost religious importance. While other clans may have their own personal Disciplines (like the Gangrel’s Protean, or the Assamites’ Quietus), none base their unlives around them like the Tzimisce do with Vicissitude.
It is an unpleasant fact to some Kindred, that a large portion of the Tzimisce culture revolves around ways and means of hurting other beings. Many Kindred would understandably prefer to ignore or gloss over this aspect of the clan. Still, Tzimisce are dubbed Fiends for a good reason, and information from that perceived evil that is the Clan Tzimisce, may be particularly useful to those used to a more benevolent Camarilla perspective.
Psychological preparation is vital for any torture session and Tzimisce disciplines are admirably suited to this. Vicissitude allows the torturer to assume a shape appropriate for the situation. Perhaps an incredibly beautiful member of the gender to which the victim is attracted, to heighten their shame; or an impossibly hideous one, to heighten the revulsion and terror; or even the form of the victim’s worst enemy, or closest friend. Auspex allows the Tzimisce to discover the victim’s phobias and dirty little secrets, and to discern which areas of the victim’s body are particularly sensitive.
Tzimisce disciplines also vastly aid in the actual torture session. Vicissitude allows the torturer to become his own tool kit, reforming his extremities (or the victim’s extremities) into a variety of intrusive implements, perfectly shaped to fit the victim (or, not quite fit, as the case may be…). Then, too, the sight of one’s bones heaving of their own accord through one’s skin is always disconcerting—and it becomes difficult to find release in a scream when one’s tongue has been grafted to the roof of one’s mouth… Animalism allows for a variety of noxious creatures (particularly those inspiring panic in the victim) to be summoned and precisely directed around, on top of, or even into the victim.
Of course, common physical torture has it’s limits and this is particularly true concerning Kindred. Most Elders worthy of that title have experienced massive body trauma at least once during their unlife and thus, are somewhat numb to the usual concept of pain. Moreover, Kindred scoff at threats that would break many mortals, such as amputation or castration, given their regenerative capabilities. And how does one threaten a Nosferatu with disfigurement? Sometimes even mortals display surprising resilience.
Unfortunately for such victims, Tzimisce are equally skilled at emotional torture. Centuries of unlife have given Tzimisce torturers an uncanny degree of psychological insight into the way the human, and Kindred mind operate. Furthermore, Tzimisce control over the Blood Bond provides torturers with a variety of fiendish new ways to hurt their victims. For example, two Kindred may be forcibly Blood Bound to one another and then one painstakingly disfigured before the other’s eyes. Alternatively, the Tzimisce may break one victim’s Bond, while leaving the other still Bound; then the un-Bound victim may then be re-Bound to the torturer and induced to inflict physical or emotional pain on the other remaining victim. Tzimisce may also, through rituals, can cause already Bound beings to feel emotions other than love. A victim capable of bearing the most atrocious wounds without flinching may be utterly broken by a contemptuous slap from the hand of the now hostile love (or childer).
The rights and treatment of guests forms an indelible part of Tzimisce culture. There are many archaic rules concerning deportment, manners, greetings, goodbyes, allowances, and settlement of grievances, but there are a few Clan-wide obligations that are always honored. A guest of the Tzimisce is entitled to several things:
shelter and nourishment for three days and three nights (not counting the night of arrival)
the protection of the host against third-party aggressors
suspension of inter-family grievances for the duration of the stay
the best quarters in the home of the host (up to and including the host’s own chambers)
However, the guest also has a few obligations that makes them worthy of such special treatment
a ritual exchange of gifts or services (on arriving, departing, or sometimes both)
respecting the host’s boundaries and property
not needlessly angering the host or any of his family
not staying any longer than the requisite three days and three nights unless invited to.
The balance of these laws is to ensure that no advantage is taken of either the host or guest – a Fiend’s honor can be completely shattered by infringing upon either one of these sets of rules. Given the warfare that exists between lineages of Tzimisce, exercising patience and honoring these laws is a way to ensure that there is always a sort of “neutral ground” where combative families can meet and prevent any further outrages.
The older a Tzimisce is, the more seriously they treat these laws, for they remember the nights when the only shelter to be had was in the domain of a rival voivode, when travel was arduous and only undertaken when necessary. Most elder Tzimisce respect these laws in the modern nights, but their grandchilder may not even be aware that these laws exist, much less still enforced in their ancestors’ domains. Minor breaches can be forgiven, though some sort of effort must be made to show that the trespasser is apologetic. Major breaches can fix a Tzimisce’s reputation in a very bad way – slaughtering guests during the day is a sure way to make sure no-one comes to visit you, or ever wants to make a deal.
Historically, the Tzimisce have viewed mortal life as largely irrelevant before the Embrace. While they do look for certain mortal characteristics, they tend to see this as the barest flicker of potential rather than a compelling argument. Tzimisce Embraces are supremely selfish – often based around specific obsessions or interests of the sire, rather than any distinctive characteristic of the childe. Those with interests matching their own are particularly prized, and many Tzimisce childer were masters of their field in life – whether this field was medicine or serial murder is a trifling distinction though.
That said, the Tzimisce have a reputation for choosiness, largely from a general disdain for mortals. The Tzimisce have partly addressed this by instituting breeding programs among mortals, resulting in ghoul families such as the Bratovitch or Zantosa line, which serve as the preferred fodder for an embrace.
It seems curious that the Tzimisce are a clan that has embraced many non-humans. Among their childer were magi, shamans, prophets or some other exotic creatures (particularly the Shadow Lords kinfolk and some even speculate about fairy blood running through Tzimisce veins). We can assume that this disposition may emanate from the Elders who refused to defined themselves in mortal terms, or even from those sires in search of a better symbiosis between their vampiric powers and those of magical blood.