Saturday, September 28, 2013

Late Review: Clanbook Tremere

Clanbook Tremere
By Keith Herber
1994, 68 pages

            The Tremere are the youngest of the 13 Clans, and more so than any other clan, the Tremere are bound by their rigid hierarchy.  The outward expression of the Tremere’s power has been their mastery of thaumaturgy, or blood magic, but it is the pyramid and the hierarchy of power that is the true strength of this clan of sorcerous vampires.  All Tremere are bound to the clan through not only a blood bond to the seven councilors of the inner circle but also by oaths of loyalty to the clan.  This clanbook offers an intriguing look into the way the Tremere hierarchy operates and the origin of the clan.  Even some of the minions of the Tremere are explained, but these lack the mechanics that would allow a Storyteller to represent them in a Chronicles. 
            The introductory chapter tells the story of the initiation into the clan of a young college student who has been Embraced by a Tremere, and as she is forced to drink a potion made from the blood of the Inner Council, her Sire demands that she recite the Tremere clan’s oath of loyalty.  Later the oath is presented in its entirety along with the author’s comments on the oath and its meaning.  The oath requires obeisance to the clan and to one’s superiors and that the good of the clan must have primacy.  The opening story is problematic because the newly Embraced vampire has no understanding of the meaning of the oath.  If this story is meant to be typical of how all Tremere are initiated into the clan, then their method of induction into the clan is antithetical to the Tremere’s goal of a stable hierarchy.  Much like the shanghaied crews of sailing ships in the 19th Century, those forcefully Embraced into the Tremere would have no reason to maintain this oath except for fear of punishment, and obviously, mutiny would always be a risk.  Instead, if an initiate into the Tremere had an understanding of the oath and its meaning before they were Embraced or before their induction into the clan as a whole, then the Tremere’s initiation ritual would make better sense and lead to a more stable hierarchy. 
Is this guy so 90's it hurts or Skrillex 0.1?  You chose.
            Chapter Two explores the history of House and Clan Tremere.  While every other major clan’s history has been lost to myth and legend, the Tremere have a fully documented history with a progenitor who is still somewhat active in the day to day activities of the clan.  The Mages of House Tremere, as they were known before they became vampires, were a part of the Order of Hermes, a society of powerful Mages, and many of these Mages had extended their lives through potions and other powers.  However, vis, the power that fueled their spells, was fading, and Tremere, the leader of House Tremere, and his closest associates began looking for other ways to maintain their long lives.  It was Goratrix, one of these associates, who located a sleeping Elder vampire, captured him, and had this Elder Embrace two of his unwitting apprentices.  After studying the effects of vampirism on his two apprentices, Goratrix killed the Elder, drained his blood, and then created a potion that would ensure that the Tremere would be able to maintain their long lives. 
            With this information in hand, Tremere summoned Goratrix and his six closest associates who all drank the potion, but it had unintended side effects:  they all became vampires and thus lost their ability to work true magik.  Keeping this secret to themselves, this small cell of Kindred spread vampirism throughout the House, but the appearance of a new clan inspired fear in the existing clans, especially the Tzimisce, Nosferatu, and Gangrel who shared territory with the upstart Tremere.  The Tremere came under attack and although the Tzimisce and Nosferatu had successes in the beginning and destroyed several chantries, Goratrix was able to create guardians in the form of the Gargoyles (rumored to have been created from the bodies of captured Nosferatu and Gangrel) who turned the tide against the allied Tzimisce, Nosferatu and Gangrel.   
Tremere, who studied the power of vampiric blood and how that power lessens through subsequent generations, sought out an Antediluvian so that he could attain the most powerful blood possible.  After locating Saulot, the Antediluvian progenitor of the Salubri, Tremere diablerized him, claiming the power of a third generation vampire for his own.  The entire clan then set out to destroy the Salubri, and now, in the modern nights, only a very few of them remain.  After diablerizing Saulot, Tremere began to going into torpor, resting for weeks, then months, and later years; so he gathered his closest associates, those 7 vampires who first started the clan, and created the hierarchy that the entire clan utilizes even in the modern nights. 
The little known Tremere Japanese School Girl Variant. 
After these initial successes, the clan has had several missteps.  The biggest mistake may have been Goratrix’s attempt to control the Catholic church's Inquisition which had been attacking Mages and other supernaturals.  Goratrix tried to turn the Inquisition against his enemies and the enemies of clan Tremere.  This failed spectacularly, and the Inquisition became so successful that it disrupted the existing infrastructures of the clans and led to the Anarch Revolt.  Elders died, leaving their childer to maintain domains that they couldn't rule while other Kindred were forced from their domains to flee the Inquisition’s forces.  These conflicts created the perfect storm which led to final deaths (possibly) of the Antediluvians of the Lasombra and Tzimisce clans, and eventually, in order to bring the chaos under control, the Camarilla was born.  Like the Toreador and the Ventrue, the Tremere claim that the Camarilla was originally their idea.  
In Chapter Three, the author discusses the Pyramid, the hierarchy of the Tremere by laying out its structure and giving an example of how that structure operates in North America.  The base of the Pyramid is the Apprentices or what other clans would call Neonates.  Above the Apprentices are the Regents who command individual Chantries within a city.  The Lords control a Realm which could be swaths of territory as large as state or province or their governments.  Above the Lords are the Pontifices who control Orders which are regions of a continent; for example, North America is divided into seven Orders each controlled by a different Pontifex.  Like the Lords and their Realms, a Pontifices may control either geographic territory or reign over government, industry or commerce.  These areas of control are called Orders.  Nearing the top, the Inner Counselors rule huge portions of the Globe, often entire continents.  The Councilors are the 7 most powerful Tremere in the clan other than Tremere himself who sits atop the Pyramid and actively controls the clan in between his long slumbers in torpor.  
An astute reader may notice that the Tremere pyramid has six levels, but that the number 7 pops up frequently.  The clanbook makes several references to a level on the pyramid lower than Apprentice called an Initiate, but the author does not explain anything about what an Initiate might be, and the reader can only assume that these are individuals who have been chosen by the clan to become Tremere but have not yet been Embraced.  Including this level would have given the Pyramid seven levels, but sadly Initiates are only hinted at and never explained. 
The Hand should not talk back!
            Clanbook Tremere uses North America as its example of how the Tremere implement their pyramid structure within a territory.  The Councilor responsible for North America is Meerlinda and beneath her are seven Pontifices.  Five of the Pontifices control territorial Orders while the other two Orders are Industry and Government.  The Pontifices who control Industry and Government, John Diamond and Peter Dorfman respectively, are given fully fleshed out character histories and agendas which is extremely useful for Storytellers constructing their own hierarchy for the Tremere.  It’s unfortunate that one of the Pontifices who controlled a geographic Order was not described in detail in order to give a point of comparison between the different types of Orders.  Another issue is that only the highest level of the Tremere hierarchy in North America is discussed, while a complete break down every chantry is impossible it would be nice to have an example of each level rather than just the Councilor and Pontifices. 
            The most intriguing aspect of Clanbook Tremere is the exploration of the many secret orders that exist within it.  These cabals of Tremere are all working ostensibly for the benefit of the clan, but each also has its own individual goals.  Twelve separate secret orders have been detailed; however, the groups are not given equal treatment.  Some lack any reason to exist beyond just that they happen to exist while others have clear purposes.  For example, the Brothers of Absinthe drink a green elixir that gives them visions, but beyond the visions, this group has no agenda.  Conversely, the Elite have a goal that is nearly genocidal.  The Elite believe that all other vampires are inferior and this group plots to destroy them through any means available, even giving information about rival vampires to the Inquisition and other vampire hunters.  Another secret group, the Astors, works as the Tremere’s own inquisition and was given its charter by the Inner Council to seek out corruption within the clan.   Storytellers who want to run a single clan Chronicle could use these secret orders to offer further depth to the clan and more options for their characters. 
More so than the Secret Orders of the Tremere, the minions detailed in this chapter could be useful for Storytellers wishing to focus on Tremere in their Chronicle, especially if a story involved breaking into a Chantry.  The Tremere have three basic types of minions:  Gargoyles, Homunculi, Demon-Bound, and Corpse Minions.  Gargoyles, the guardians of chantries, should be familiar to any fan of Vampire the Masquerade and information about Gargoyles is available in V20 including their Disciplines.  Homunculi are an artificial life form created by a Tremere to serve as a servant and a spy; although they are useful, they are just as often mischievous.  Unfortunately, no stats or mechanical information is given for these little creatures.  The Demon-Bound are demons that have been baited into fusing with a human body that has had its soul driven out.  These creatures can serve a variety of functions from protection to assassination.  Finally, a Corpse Minion is a highly intelligent zombie that is created from an academic or historian for the purpose of advising and helping a Tremere with his/her experiments.  Some powerful and ancient Tremere have used just a few bone scraps of ancient scientist or philosopher for this purpose. 
Some new information is given on Thaumaturgy, but that information is slight at best.  Five new rituals are provided, one for each level, but no new paths are discussed.  Instead, the author offers some help in guiding players through the process of creating their own Paths.  This is especially useful as there are countless variations on Thaumaturgy, but having players create their own Paths is dangerous as it could lead to overpowered or broken Paths.  The author also includes more detailed explanations for how characters learn Rituals which don’t have an XP cost but require the player to earn them through role play. This section is useful, but an additional Path would have added some more mechanics, in the form of an example creation of a Discipline, would have been useful to both players and Storytellers. 
Art by Platonika who can be found on Deviant Art.
The final chapter offers a selection of Templates, but rather than focus on just the mystical aspect of the clan, these templates offer a wide variety of concepts that expand on the possibilities of the clan without limiting the Tremere to just a single archetype.  At first glance, some templates seem better suited for other clans; the Underestimated, a woman used to getting by on her looks but wants to prove her value otherwise, would make a good Toreador while the Pyramid Climber, who is determined to climb to the top of the Tremere hierarchy at all costs, would be a stereotypical Ventrue.  However, along with the Nexus, who is a child prodigy at sorcery, these templates offer a  broad variety of character archetypes that showcases the limitless possibilities of playing a member of this clan.  Playing a Tremere should not limit a player to mystical or sorcerous archetypes, but should offer the potential to do nearly anything within a single clan. These templates reinforce that aspect of character creation wonderfully. 
The Appendix of famous Tremere includes something that no other clanbook does, the progenitor of the clan is described here.  Along with the seven members of the Inner Council, the entire upper echelons of the Tremere are explored.  Although these are just broad sketches of these powerful NPCs, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see the most powerful and important members of the clan described rather than just some random characters that may or may not be useful or interesting.  Also, the Inner Council are NPCs that a player character could encounter during his or her rise up through the Tremere Pyramid.  Two other NPCs are included who are outside of the Tremere hierarchy:  Goratrix and St. Germaine.  Goratrix left the Tremere and became the leader of the Sabbat's Tremere Anti-tribu which may have been completely destroyed.  St Germaine is an enigma, possibly a Mage or possibly a vampire. 
Clanbook Tremere indoctrinates the reader into the world of the Tremere.  Its argument of power, hierarchy, and advancement is enticing to a reader accustomed to the anarchy of the other clans.   Here is a clan where a Neonate understands his or her place and how to advance.  The Tremere believe themselves to be the mediators who helped found the Camarilla and bring peace after the Anarch Revolt.  As good as this clanbook is in bringing the perspective of the Tremere to the reader, it fails to provide enough mechanics to represent these new options in a Chronicle.  The inner workings of the clan are explained and the clan is given enough depth that this book makes it possible for a Storyteller to run a Tremere only Chronicle that would not lack for diversity.  Despite problems with Chapter One’s introductory story and the lack of motivations for some of the Secret Orders in Chapter Three, Clanbook Tremere is one of the better of the clanbooks. 
Clanbook Tremere is available for purchase from DriveThruRPG as a PDF or or you can purchase an original printing from Amazon. 

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