by Timothy Toner
This is something that I've been bumping around in my head for quite some time, and now want to unleash on you. Feedback is especially requested here. The rituals introduced are a tad overstated in the power levels assigned. What do you all think about the concept in itself?
Of all the vampire's numerous abilities, none is more pronounced than their ability to bounce back from near fatal injuries, as if nothing had happened at all, with no scarring to mar the perfect structure.
It can be reationalized that this ability is the source of their immortality. Indeed, it is well known in Kindred circles that upon awakening, the vampire's body is returned to a state exactly identical to the moment of death and rebirth. Hair can be shorn off -- this will regrow. Tattoos can be carved into the flesh -- these will be all but gone. Only the most henious of damage, from fire to the sun to the kiss of the divine, will not regrow automatically, and even these serious wounds will heal in time. Perhaps each morn, the aging process is arrested by the hands of Vitae pushing back the clock yet another day.
Is this a blessing or a curse? Both can be argued readily. Inertia is forever an obstacle for the Kindred to overcome. This is but one example of how the inertial can dominate their physical bodies, allowing for no change. Without the sensation of change, the mind either rebels, or lapses into a state of laconic pause. Further, the lack of change from day to day also has related difficulties when the Masquerade is considered. Vampires are social creatures, living amongst those they take as prey. An observant mortal may, over time, note this, and jeopardize that which the vampire works so hard to achieve.
So we see that this is an essential part of the vampire's existence. What of it? What can be gained by formalizing it into a law? Understanding. As is the case with so many laws, what is interesting lies not in what follows the code, but what breaks the code.
At the moment of death, something happens. The mortal's body is extinguished, and the soul begins its departure. Rude drops of vampiric essence violate the corpse, bringing it back to a semblance of life. Any damage that exists at this point is permanent, which is the basis for some of the most cruel acts a kindred has perpetrated on a mortal: crippling, and then imparting the Gift. This damage can be healed, but only at significant expenditure of vitae upon rising each morning.
However, looking at the violent manner in which some are Embraced, it is difficult to see that the clear majority are possessed of good health, with only a few pathetic cases created by malicious souls. What of those Embraced in order to save? Why are they not inflicted with the wounds from which their lifesblood fled? It is almost apparent that a sire must DESIRE his Childe to bear these wounds for them to manifest.
Also, the very fact that those blighted kindred _can_ heal themselves to a dynamic whole leads to an interesting conclusion. The vampiric form is not locked in the body, but rather in the mind's eye. Those who stalk the night are not limited in any way by that state they were at death. Thus the Lex.
The True Form is then the mind's concept of what the vampire should look like. The subconscious, still very active within the vampire, drives the mutable body, constantly in a state of flux, toward a stable condition. If not, then the vampire's body may very well lose all form altogether.
By this reasoning, a vampire is boundless in forms, correct? Then why are they not master shapeshifters, like the Garou? Well, there are two answers. The first is that they are. Look no further than Clan Gangrel and Clan Tziemisce for abundant examples. The second is that much of vampiric existence, numbed by a deadened body, is spent in the mind, and not in servicing the body.
Protean and Vicissitude attest to the mutability of the True Form. Indeed, the weaknesses of each clan also attest to the existence of this true form. On a regular basis, the Gangrel modify their True Form, adding on more animalistic features. The Tziemisce also suffer from this weakness. Their constant shifting has caused them to forget their True Form, normally ingrained within the soul.
But outside of this formalized training, can a vampire change their True Form? One Tremere ritual allows minor alterations, so yes, it is possible. There is another way which many do not consider, since it does not become immediately apparent for hundreds of years. Humans, as a race, have been growing steadily taller. We of today stand a good three inches on average above those of us 100 years ago. Likewise, those who were alive 500 years ago were far shorter than us, and those who lived around A.D. 1 would have seemed children to us. What of Kindred who sprung from this stock? Would they not seem incredibly short, and thus difficult to hide in the Masquerade? The answer is quite simple. Vampires, being natural predators, respond to the need to blend in more efficiently. Subconsciously, they alter their forms, becoming taller, to match better with the populace.
There are also a few who seem to age slowly, suggesting that a vampire is responding a bit too well to the stimulus around him. Never is this aging debilitating, in any event.
Those embraced as children seem somehow immune to this. Perhaps there is something innate about childhood that prevents the form from being violated.
Now most of this has been a restatement of what is already known. What can be gained from this discourse? Put simply, the urge to heal can be repressed, allowing more or less permanent alteratios to be maintained. Thus, ears can be pierced, scars can be kept, and hair can be cut. To do so, a vampire must roll Stamina+Survival, difficulty equal to 10 - Current Willpower. Why this? It takes a tremendous amount of energy to fight the inertial. The more willpower possessed, the easier it is to resist. This roll must be made everytime the vampire triggers the healing process, ie when she heals, when she sleeps, etc. Only a single success is needed for healing a single health level, and one is needed for every health level healed. Further, three successes are needed to resist the change at night, since a vampire's consciousness is dormant.
Second, those with low willpower often do not care about their true form. Although they heal damage normally, with no penalty, those with little current WillPower seem...wrong. Dishevelled. Tired. Run down. This is a result of the conscious mind overwhelming the subconscious in its inertia. Although the change is merely cosmetic, those who know what to look for can correctly identify that something is _wrong_ with the individual. Burning a single point of blood in any activity will erase the effects.
Third, the True Form does exist, and can be seen. It looks very different from the aura, which conforms to the shape of the entity. Thus, a Gangrel in wolf-form would have a wolf-like aura. The True Form, however, would look as the vampire truly does. It seems to be a network of glowing lines that form the structure of the creature. The True Form sometimes is worth seeing, which is why the Tremere have created the following rituals and disciplines:
New Level 3 Auspex: Divining the True Form: By spending a turn and rolling Perception + Occult, (Diff 7) the vampire can gaze into the True form of a creature. Depending on the level of success, the vampire can see deeper and deeper into the form.
The True Form of a Garou depends directly on their breed. However, if refined details are rolled, the Vampire can sense the potential to shapeshift. Note also that Obfuscated creatures show up normally. They have nothing to hide in this manner.
New Level 1 Thaumaturgical Ritual: Sense the Hidden Form: Caster prepares a piece of clear quartz over the course of an hour. In the presence of a creature actively shapeshifted, the quartz grows smokey.
New Level 3 Thaumaturgical Ritual: Conceal the Hidden Form: The ritual takes an hour, and requires a roll of Stamina + Subterfuge (Diff 6). This creates a Success pool. Every success eliminates a success on a True Form Roll. An oak leaf is required to keep the spell potent. It can be cast on another creature.
New Level 6 Thaumaturgical Ritual: Force the True Form: The ritual takes but ten minutes, and requires a point of blood from a shapeshifted creature (Rude Magi could use Level 4 Path of Blood to obtain this point from the creature in question). Caster must roll Strength + Occult, as the true form of a creature must be forced to the surface. Difficulty is the victim's Willpower. Three successes are neccessary, and this only lasts for a single turn. Extra successes can be used to extend the time for another turn. This can be used to bring a Gangrel out of Mist Form, and Tsiemisce out of Blood Form.
Finally, and most strange of all, living creatures have a somewhat unstable True Form. Given enough time, a mortal will undo the effects of the Tziemisce, although most of their victims are not allowed the opportunity to cure the damage. Vampires, impeded by inertia, cannot repeat the process, since the Tziemisce are affecting the unchanging True Form itself with Bonecraft and Fleshcraft.