Friday, May 5, 2023

(V:tM) Clanbook: Brujah

Once more, one of these White Wolf books roasts itself more thoroughly than I, as a critic, would ever dare - "Without an authority against which to scheme, the Brujah are just agitated, meaningless vampires."

That's what Clanbook: Brujah (Justin Achilli) is about - agitated, meaningless vampires. It's funny, though. I only just now looked at the author credit, to see that it was written by Mr. Achilli himself, and that puts the book into a whole new context. Many times, throughout the text, I thought to myself, "man, writing this must have been a truly thankless job." And every time I had that thought, I banished it as unnecessarily mean. But now that I see that the book was written by the lead developer for the entire edition, I have to wonder . . .

The thing about the Brujah is that they are an idea that must have seemed sensible in the writing of the 1st edition core, but which ran of gas almost immediately. They are the punk vampires, the outlaw bikers, the street gangs, the petty hired muscle, the rebellious youngsters . . . and they trace their lineage all the way back to the mythical Caine, some 10,000 years in the past. You obviously need some guys like that, but you don't need a whole Clan's worth of those guys, and you especially don't need 500-year-old versions of those guys. They are tied to a particular time and a particular mode of cultural expression, and there is simply not enough depth to their high concept to support an epic ancient history.

Yet Clanbook: Brujah tries. They started off as "the Learned Clan" and were philosophers, poets, and historians as well as warriors." Which I guess is kind of a thing. The warlord-poet or warrior-sage is one of those fantasy archetypes that sometimes real people will try to be, so it makes sense as potential inspiration for Vampire: the Masquerade characters. But then, the book tries to project this forward in time as "a clan that makes challenging the status quo a badge of honor," who are drawn to "causes" in the abstract, and that's nothing.

Literally. Here's how the intro to the sample characters sums up the theme: "Brujah, then, are the Kindred who make their havens in the horror of the conscience. Let that be their common thread." And translated from purple to English, I think that means, "Brujah are the vampires that have moral opinions about things." Like, they want to change things, because they have an idea about how things can be better (one recurring idea is that many, but not all, Brujah succumb to utopian thought) and that's what they all have in common.

But then the sample characters include "the harpy-to-be," "the digital musician," and "the small-town sheriff" (which also treats us to old WW's charming habit of using slurs, in-character, to indicate a bad attitude, only this time it's in a rules-legal starting character, implied to be suitable for use as a pre-constructed PC). Some of them have far-reaching political ambitions, to be sure (oh, I have so many notes about "the Confederate," but ultimately I'm not going to talk about him because, hey, fuck that guy), but as a group I didn't particularly catch a "horror of the conscience" vibe.

Although, maybe with the way the Clans are set up, that's not especially a weakness. Unlike Mage's Traditions, a Clan isn't a group you voluntarily join. And unlike Hunter: the Reckoning's Creeds, it's not something you were assigned by a celestial intelligence. A Clan is more of an accidental association - which lineage of vampires is the one that just so happened to choose you. Maybe it has a culture. And maybe that culture encourages certain preferences. But ultimately, it's happenstance. Vampires Embrace new vampires for all sorts of reasons, and "preserving the clan culture" probably doesn't even break the top 5. Outliers are probably common.

Which would make it pretty darned silly to treat them like RPG classes and then write sourcebooks about them, purporting to tell you more about their unique psychology and mechanics.

Anyway, this book is a mess. It never quite finds its footing. It doesn't have any shocking additions to the lore. It doesn't even make me consider clan Brujah in a new light (not unless "utterly generic" counts as "a new light.") It wasn't badly written, and except for two of the sample characters, it wasn't offensive, but it also . . . wasn't. It so successfully dispelled stereotypes that it was left entirely without a thesis.

I hate to be so negative, so let me wrap this up with an alternate pitch for Clan Brujah. They're warriors. Full stop. Granted, this has the disadvantage of being almost as boring as "the vampires who want things to change," and as an rpg-class equivalent, it broad enough to step on a lot of other clans' toes, but at least it's a concrete thing that people will consciously and deliberately choose to identify as. We may all roll our eyes at "the international brotherhood of warriors," but it has its provenance in history.

Although, I wouldn't want to leave it at just that. I'm actually taking my inspiration from Vampire: the Dark Ages lore, where the Brujah were one of the "high clans" (i.e. Clans that moved among the aristocracy, rather than the peasantry). And, if you view the modern Brujah, Toreador, and Ventrue as the three Camarilla Clans that trace their lineage back to medieval aristocracy, certain things start to fall into place. Because you can view the medieval aristocracy through three different lenses - those who make laws and wield legal authority (the Ventrue), those who enjoy the luxuries of wealth (the Toreador), and the strong arms that enforced the aristocracy's military rule (the Brujah).

So, the Ventrue were princes and nobles who adapted to the modern day by following the center of power into corporate boardrooms. And the Toreador were courtiers, socialites, and matchmakers who adapted by embracing high fashion, culture, and the arts. And the Brujah were knights . . . who failed to adapt, because in the modern day, a knight's skillset is worth precisely jack, except maybe in the ranks of a street gang, where complete fearlessness, a hair-trigger temper, and strength in hand-to-hand combat are seen as leadership qualities.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that the Brujah's lifestyle leads to a much lower amount of elder Brujah. They're warriors. They don't run from a fight. So they're much less likely to live to an advanced age. Part of their whole deal is just that they're the Clan with the youngest average age.

And that filters down to the modern nights in a variety of ways. They don't have much of a culture because they don't have a long line of elders to preserve this history. Instead, what they've got is slogans - "we're the badass clan," "we're the clan that doesn't back down from a fight," "we are modern-day knights and we protect what's ours," and that can occasionally be corrupted into "we're the clan that sticks it to the Man."

It also finds expression in the Brujah's relationship to the other surviving "high clans." As much as their cold hearts are still capable of such things, Toreador and Ventrue elders hold a sentimental attachment to Clan Brujah, but it's the kind of attachment you feel for your friend's children. The Prince remembers the Brujah when they were glorious - towering over the field of victory in gleaming metal, standing astride the broken bodies of their enemies. Kingdoms were won on their valor and their great deeds have earned them debts that can never be repaid. And it's still possible to see something of that glory in their distant progeny, but this damnable modern world squanders its knights. Even the organizations with an analogous social role - the police and the military - seem to value political and administrative skill over a warrior's spirit.

And thus the Clan Brujah is a decaying hulk of its former self. Much as an elder Kindred is individually stuck in time, the Brujah are a Clan that is organizationally stuck in time. "Change" is part of their theme, but not in the nebulous sense of them valuing change for its own sake. Instead, they are part of something that has failed to successfully change, and this sense of being incomplete and out of place is what drives them to seek change. The archetypal Brujah is someone who had the conviction to fight . . . and in the modern nights, they have nothing specific to fight for. Thus they mostly wind up fighting against the strictures of the Camarilla, the very organization that their predecessors were instrumental in building. The elders tolerate a certain amount of this, out of nostalgia for a bygone age, but even for such as they, patience is not in infinite supply.

Or, at least, that's my take on them. I wish I could say that all of the above was inspired by Clanbook: Brujah, but that would be at best a half-truth. Mostly, it's just my attempt to make sense of the questions the book failed to answer.

Ukss Contribution: The Brujah call their social gatherings "raves" (oh, yeah, I forgot to mention - the other thing about the Brujah is that they are embarrassingly late-90s), but one of the specific types of raves that they have is a celebration when one of their number graduates out of the vampire apprenticeship stage. They are described as "elaborate release galas." And while I didn't much care for the one that was presented as a literal rave, the stuffier, more subdued example did hit the right spot. I could definitely get some mileage out of a debutante ball for new vampires.


  1. Masquerade seems to be written under the assumption that "preserve Clan culture" is a top priority for nearly all vampires, in spite of all the practical reasons against it, which I guess is the only course they could take once they'd decided they wanted Clans to be a thing.

    I've been reading a lot about chivalry in medieval history lately and I could see a niche for Brujah as the former undead knights who hold to a somewhat outdated (and never exactly strictly followed) code of martial honor that holds that vampire fights should be between vampires using vampire powers (both as a way of enshrining the strength of the eldest vampires and as a moral stance against endangering mortals in vampire conflicts). Today they'd spend a lot of time trying to stomp on any vampire who lets their conflicts break the Masquerade or attempts to purchase a flamethrower or a longbow.

    1. Vampire chivalry does strike me as an intriguing concept to explore, though I'd want to do it in a way that deconstructed the self-serving nature of a warrior's code. Maybe something like the Brujah believe that the correct conclusion to an honorable duel is to grant the defeated warrior the mercy of healing them . . . by feeding them your blood. But that's the only way Clan Brujah uses the blood bond, so they've got this weird, incestuous wergild culture, and childer are universally blood-bound to their creators (because you can't be independent until you defeat your sire in a duel), but there's a kind of fanatical clan loyalty based on the psychology of abuse (elders beat the shit out of neonates, but then love-bomb them with a combination of vitae and praise), and a lot of fucked-up psychodrama that serves as an object lesson to the other clans about why excessive use of the blood bond is a double-edged sword.

    2. See, this reminds me of a fighting style in the GURPS book Technical Grappling, named The Night Way. The concept of the style was that it was the ritual to-the-death wrestling style developed by Vampires for use in honour duels and murdering human hunters in close combat. The style write-up explicitly introduced the idea that the younger Vampires use the style as a way to show off in bar brawls, street fights and other “informal” conflicts between Vampires - which the elders regard as controversial, crude, flamboyant and all-around crass.