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Villain Overview
We vampires - we Tzimisce - no longer dance at the whims of mitosis and mutation. We become whatever we need to be. We alone have that option. Indeed, I made myself, and so will you. And so does every butterfly that seek release from its lumpish pupa purgatory. The other clans - they are so myopically complacent. We have conquered enzymes and entropy, osmosis and oxygen. The chains binding everything from the first amoeba to the newest human babe lie at our ankles. And still the others bleat about their "humanity." Humanity? Did the primordial amphibian pine for its fins and gills? Did the first Cro-Magnon mourn its vanished brow ridge? Did my delightful pets over there begrudge the loss of their invertebrate plasticity?
~ Alexei, Tzimisce Elder

Clan Tzimisce is a major villainous bloodline in the White Wolf Studio RPG Vampire: The Masquerade and its larger franchise, "The World Of Darkness". One of the thirteen major playable clans, the Tzimisce were among the founding members of the Sabbat, and contributed greatly towards the development of its brutal, pro-Kindred anti-human philosophy; in the modern nights, they continue to serve the Sabbat as scholars, priests, scientists and torturers. Brilliant, sadistic and profoundly alien in thought, Tzimisce have long since abandoned the human condition, and are now determined to transcend their vampiric limitations through the use of their clan-unique Discipline, the flesh-warping power of Vicissitude. To this end, they will gladly distort their own bodies and those of countless innocent victims in pursuit of their own vampiric evolution; for this reason, the Tzimisce are widely feared in Kindred society to this day, and are often known as Fiends.

Behaviors and traditions

In person, Tzimisce vampires at first seem far more civilized than the brutal packs of the Sabbat mainstream: studious, solitary, courteous and dignified, their manners often seem somewhat disarming given the reputation that the Clan as a whole has acquired. However, spending any length of time with a Tzimisce usually provides enough proof that this reputation is well-earned: out of all the Clans, the Tzimisce are the most alien in mind and body, outdoing even the depraved ranks of the Toreador antitribu and the dark nobility of the Lasombra in sheer otherworldliness. Exceeding their fellow Sabbat in their contempt for mortals, they have divorced themselves from all but the vaguest semblances of human behavior and morality - to the point that many elders seemingly cannot comprehend mercy.

This detachment from mortal nature begins from the Embrace: Tzimisce disparage the mass-Embraces favored by the rest of the Sabbat, instead choosing their Childer with only the greatest care. Prospective Sires often seek out those of an intellectual or scientific bent, placing great value on individuals who are already disconnected from humanity in some way - be they antisocial loners or amoral psychopaths. Once their Creation Rites are complete, Childer are taught to abandon their humanity in favor of a Path of Enlightenment, the most popular of which is the Path of Metamorphosis. To the followers of this Clan-specific belief system, the world is composed of evolutionary chains: humans are above animals, Kindred are above humans, ergo something else must be above Kindred - a level that Tzimisce believe they can reach through their clan-unique Discipline of Vicissitude. Through the mastery of this power and many years of experimentation, Metamorphosists hope to eventually reach Azhi Dahaka, a state of transcendence comparable to godhood.

Dark Ages Tzimisce symbol first edition

The Clan symbol during the Dark Ages

Deriving its name from the three-headed dragon of ancient Persian folklore, the specifics of Azhi Dahaka remain uncertain given the Clan's insistence on individual study, and it's not known if anyone has truly obtained this state - with the possible exception of the Eldest. Nevertheless, the motif of the dragon has always been important to the Clan, dragons being revered as powerful avatars of chaos and transformation in Tzimisce culture: one of the Eldest's childer was Dracon, occasionally referred to as The Dragon, and one of the Clan's most famous members is Vlad Tepes Dracula - also known as the Son of the Dragon. During the Dark Ages, clan symbols always featured heraldry emblazoned with images of a dragon, while in the Victorian Era and the Modern Nights, the clan symbol is the Ouroboros - an ancient symbol of infinity featuring a serpent devouring its tail. Opinions are divided as to why this symbol was chosen: some speculate that it perfectly captures the essence of vampiric immortality, others believe it is a representation of the Clan's diablerization of its founder, while others still claim that it symbolizes the eternal cycle of creation and destruction that the Path of Metamorphosis embodies.

As the basis of Clan Tzimisce's intellectual and spiritual acumen, the Path of Metamorphosis demands a bizarrely ascetic yet amoral lifestyle of its followers: compassion must be disregarded, the Beast is to be resisted, asking for help is forbidden, and knowledge of the Metamorphosis must be earned alone without sharing. Of paramount importance is empirical research, and in order to pursue the physical onset of Metamorphosis, the body must be modified - for purpose, for practicality, or simply for pleasure: few Tzimisce retain their original appearance for very long after their Embrace, and many of them go on to alter themselves so monstrously that they no longer appear even remotely human; others still modify themselves to appear impossibly beautiful, the better to emphasize their superiority to Kine.

Somewhat paradoxically, the Tzimice are at once trailblazing researchers and stolid traditionalists, for while they gladly push the boundaries of possibility in their experiments, they abide by a very strict code of conduct in social interactions: since the Clan's earlier years as feudal lords in Eastern Europe, laws of hospitality have been vital in ensuring cohesion between individual Tzimisce and the survival of the Clan as a whole, often serving as the only guarantee that fellow members of the Clan would be protected on another Tzimisce's territory. Even to this day, Fledglings are still taught to abide by the law of Guest Right and act with the same degree of aristocratic honor that their forefathers demonstrated in the nights when the Clan were true nobility. Among other things, guests are to be granted at least three days and nights of shelter under the host's roof, though they are also expected to respect their host's property and to provide gifts and services to the host in exchange for protection.

Failure to abide by these laws is considered a serious breach of etiquette; among the worst offences involve the murder of a guest or the betrayal of a host - acts considered unforgiveable even by Tzimisce standards. For this reason, Tzimisce are well known for being infallibly courteous to anyone protected under the banner of hospitality: over the centuries, one-time rivals, mercenaries and members of outcast clans like the Salubri have all been made welcome by the Clan at one time or another; on occasion, even mortal mages have been granted sanctuary, for despite being kine, their knowledge and powers earned them the respect of the Fiends. The only exception to this rule is the Tremere Clan, the Warlocks having been considered beyond redemption ever since they first acquired immortality from experiments on captured Tzimisce.

It is in dealing with enemies like the Tremere that one of the most infamous of all Tzimisce traditions becomes obvious, namely that of torture: interrogators par excellence, members of the Clan will torture for a variety of reasons - sometimes for strategic purposes, sometimes in order to further their scientific knowledge, sometimes for pure amusement. As supernatural beings, they are not limited to mundane methods, as all three Tzimisce Disciplines can be used in order to inflict some form of pain on other beings, be it physical, emotional, or psychological. Even the Blood Bond, more commonly used to ensure the loyalty of ghouls and Sabbat shovelheads, can be used to create extreme emotional connections with the victim, all for the sake of rendering any physical pain all the more horrendous for the sense of betrayal involved.

Structure and Loyalties

Hierarchy has been somewhat fluid among Clan Tzimisce, as is their participation in politics over the years: in the past, it was more common for entire noble families to be Embraced, dividing the wilder regions of Eastern Europe into dominions owned by these incestuous vampire broods; internal strife was only prevented from spiraling out of control through judicious use of the Blood Bond, and civility between families was ensured through their hospitality laws - barely. The patriarchal heads of these broods formed the Tzimisce government, commonly known as the Council of Voivodes, which was usually headed by a Viceroy or Voivode Among Voivodes; originally, this position was claimed by the Eldest himself, but once the Eldest descended into Torpor and his successor Yorak grew more preoccupied by pursuing the Path of Metamorphosis, this position was soon filled by a much less imposing succession of nominal leaders. Due to the barely-restrained rivalries between broods, it was common for the Viceroy to meet a violent death at the hands of his successor, who would in turn meet an equally-brutal demise at the hands of his successor.

The Council of Voivodes did not survive the Anarch Revolt. In its wake, the Clan fractured into a loose-knit family of Kindred, united only by blood and traditions. Determinedly individualistic and fiercely territorial by nature, to this day many Tzimisce claim a dominion as their forebears did and rarely ever leave except on official business - a habit exacerbated by their Clan weakness. They still revere a Clan head in the form of a Voivode, but this is a religious office rather than a political one: to modern Tzimisce, power is earned through force and will, not through the authority of a position.

The overwhelming majority of the Clan are members of the Sabbat; due to their intellectual bent, they rarely serve in leadership positions, instead acting as advisers, priests, scholars and torturers - essentially taking the second-in-command position to the Lasombra's role of the ruling clan. However, some Tzimisce claim no rank at all, and simply offer their services as members in order to exploit the potential for fresh resources and further their own mysterious goals. For this reason, some Sabbat claim that the Tzimisce have no interest in contributing to their sect's mission, and only refused to join the Camarilla out of contempt for humanity, but even in the modern nights, Sabbat Tzimisce remain loyal members of the Sabbat - if not necessarily enthusiastic ones.

On the other hand, in certain areas of Eastern Europe, a rare few Tzimisce have chosen to remain separate from the sects, instead opting for a neutral existence spent cloistered away in their ancestral manses; these recluses are usually very old and very powerful, likely the only reason they have managed to avoid being forcibly recruited or diablerized by the Sabbat. Respecting their power, the sect chooses to grant such Tzimisce ancients leeway within their territory, not wishing to end up like the last upstarts who made the mistake of challenging their dominions.

Ghouls

Much like the Nosferatu and Giovanni Clans, the Tzimisce have a unique relationship with their ghouls. Other Sabbat Clans, like the Lasombra, despise ghouls for their humanity and only create them to perform services they themselves cannot; in military matters, they prefer to simply mass-Embrace a few dozen individuals and launch them at their foes, then promote the ones that survive. However, because the Tzimisce have eschewed mass-Embraces ever since the Anarch Revolt, they cannot rely on armies of Sabbat Shovelheads to protect their havens or fight their wars, instead making exclusive use of ghouls as their servitors of choice, most commonly obtained through the abduction of individuals considered too lowly for mortal authorities to bother investigating.

Much like their domitors, ghouls rarely retain their original shape for very long: the Tzimisce will gladly alter their blood-addicted slaves for any reason that occurs to them, no matter how minor. Indeed, younger Tzimisce have refined the art of pointless mutilation into games in order to test their abilities and impress their fellow Sabbat; "Pin The Tail On The Lackey" has become immensely popular with antitribu audiences, allowing novice fleshcrafters to show off their skill in Vicissitude by seeing just what kind of distortions they can inflict upon a stable of five ghouls within a time limit of fifteen minutes. Beyond the realm of fun and games, mutilation is actually used as a means of control in place of the Blood Bond: Tzimisce masters frequently mangle the faces of newly-"hired" ghouls, promising to restore one feature of the disfigured servitor's face in exchange for one year of perfect service (ten in the case of harsher taskmasters). Naturally, perfect service is difficult to provide, and many ghouls are doomed to an eternity of facial mutilation.

Out of all the ghouls in Tzimisce service, those that still remain partly human in mind and body arguably suffer the most: quite apart from the strain on their sanity inherent to their work, these vaguely-humanoid manservants are condemned to serve until they either die at the hands of the Szlachta or are recycled into modeling clay by a bored domitor - the nearest equivalent to "natural causes" that unaltered ghouls are likely to die from. Until then, the ghouls must spend their days walking on eggshells around their masters, knowing that they are constantly at risk of being experimented on for no logical reason whatsoever; should they outlive their usefulness as servants, they can expect to suffer a long and extremely painful death on their master's torture rack. Tragically, all too many doomed ghouls ended up in this predicament ironically because they tried too hard to avoid such a fate and ended up accidentally displeasing their domitors in the process. Naturally, Tzimisce vassals are never awarded with the Embrace - the sole exception to this rule being members of the Revenant Families.

Valuing their havens as private kingdoms, the Tzimisce regularly use ghouls in order to make these havens more comfortable - usually by transforming them into living pieces of furniture. Over the centuries, the Clan has developed the use of organic building materials in their domains, much of it still alive and sentient: living walls, membranous curtains, skin wallpaper, intestinal tapestries, bone chairs and living sculptures are just some of the things that Tzimisce domitors can make from their ghouls. Its not known how many of these organic decorations still maintain their sanity or even their sentience after decades spent trapped in this predicament, though one Tzimisce still boasts that his couch (made from only the most responsive children) still cries when sat on.

Given their intense need for privacy, Tzimisce often employ fleshcrafted ghouls to act as warriors in order to secure their havens and act against their enemies during the day. Derived from human or animal stock, these Szlachta are modified beyond all semblance of their original form, sometimes outfitted with immensely thick hides, spiked bodies, enormous jaws, bladed extremities, or whatever other deformities might be considered useful in combat. No set template exists for a Szlachta; the only limitations on a ghoul's new shape are its master's imagination: across history, there have been recorded instances of Tzimisce ghouls who have suffered extreme sensory hypertrophy in order to act as spies; others have been conjoined back to back to protect them against attacks from the rear - and to make retreating impossible; there have been instances of Szlachta that are little more than severed heads mounted on springing, froglike legs; others have been grown to the size of small cars, and have been coated in bullet-resistant plates of bone and keratin. The possibilities are limitless, though in most cases, the ghouls have lost almost all sense of free will thanks to a combination of surgical pain, brutal disciplinary techniques, and the Blood Bond - and indeed, some have regressed to bestial semi-sentience as a result of their "training."

Vozhd

A Vozhd

The most feared of all Tzimisce ghouls are the legendary Vozhd. Consisting of fifteen to thirty ghouls melded together into one single gigantic organism, such creatures commonly stand over two stories tall and weigh over six tons. Bristling with gargantuan mandibles, six-foot-long claws and razor-sharp quills, often heavily armored with carapace, and augmented with all the muscle and bone density that their creators have at hand, the Vozhd are essentially fleshcrafted tanks reputedly powerful enough to match the strength of a werewolf and fearsome enough to drive fear into the hearts of all observers. The creation process is long and complicated, requiring an entire team of Tzimisce experts in order to accomplish, often demanding high skills in not only Vicissitude but also Koldunic Magic - not to mention large quantities of flesh. Also, because the process of being melded often results in the ghouls being driven completely insane, it's common for the resulting Vozhd to be lobotomized in order to make them more pliable - but not by much: the lobotomy renders the monster immune to the effects of Dominate, Presence and Animalism, making it even more effective in combat, but also making it extremely dangerous to its handlers as well. As a result, they can rarely be used for anything other than attacking their enemies head-on, regardless of who gets in the way; worse still, the threat posed by just one such War Ghoul has been known to prompt even the bitterest foes to join forces in order to destroy it, destroying any advantage the Sabbat might have possessed against divided enemies. For these reasons and many more related to its impracticality, the Vozhd has fallen out of favor in modern nights, a fall from grace exacerbated by the proliferation of rocket launchers and shaped charges.

Though highly uncommon, it is not unknown for a fleshcrafted ghoul or even a Szlachta to escape Tzimisce service. Unable to rejoin society because of their deformities, they are reduced to haunting the boundaries of civilization in search of prey, becoming the basis for many ghost stories and urban legends in the process. In a few mercifully rare instances, especially depraved Tzimisce like Sasha Vykos have been known to release their creations into the wilderness in order to serve as public demonstrations of the Clan's power - sometimes even Embracing them to ensure that these object lessons last forever, as was the case with the Midnight Circus's Tub of Flesh and Mexico City's Jaggedy Andy.

Revenants

A variety of ghoul unique to the Tzimisce, the Revenant Families are a holdover from the days in which the Clan ruled over Eastern Europe as feudal barons: beginning as mortal families selected to serve the Tzimisce as their most trusted ghouls, constant familial exposure to vampire blood over the millennia and countless generations being born from the union of ghouls inflicted a subtle but undeniable change upon the bloodlines. The children of these families lived much longer lives than their parents, demonstrated greater strength, and even began to mimic the powers of their vampire masters. Fascinated, the Tzimisce encouraged the inbreeding of these families, eager to see what would emerge. The result of this ancient breeding program became known as Revenants.

Though still mortal, Revenants can naturally produce a vitae similar to vampire blood, slowing their aging process and granting them lifespans in excess of several hundred years. Born possessed of all the strength, resilience and healing powers possessed of normal ghouls, they can even utilize diluted versions of vampire Disciplines. Though the years of inbreeding have left them with their own unique weaknesses, Revenants can still perform tasks that other ghouls are too clumsy to be trusted with, and are often tasked with serving as agents within within mortal society on behalf of their masters. As a result of this utility and the superhuman gifts they have developed, the Revenant Families are the only ghouls that the Tzimisce will ever reward with the Embrace.

At present, four main Revenant bloodlines remain in the modern nights: the Bratovitch, the Grimaldi, the Obertus, and the Zantosa. All of them have different powers, all of them have different possible uses to the Tzimisce, and all of them have their own specific weaknesses.

Revenant

A Bratovitch Revenant

The Bratovitch serve as the muscle of Clan Tzimisce. Popularly stereotyped as hillbilly-like broods with a penchant for cannibalism, incest and bestiality, they breed and maintain vast kennels of Hellhounds to act as guard-dogs for their vampire masters. In the past, when vampires more openly warred with werewolves, the Bratovitches were frequently employed to hunt the Lupines, a task they delighted in - and still do to this day. Possessed of the Disciplines Animalism, Potence and Vicissitude, their abilities allow them to warp animals into new shapes almost as impressively as their masters and command the resulting mutants into battle, while also granting them the strength to grapple with foes that might give lesser Revenants pause. Their one uniting weakness lies in their volatile temperament: Bratovitch possess vicious tempers on par with the Brujah Clan, and like the Brujah, often descend into violent Frenzy at the slightest provocation.

Originally an Italian merchant family in the late-Middle Ages, the Grimaldi are the political backbone of the Clan; of all the Revenants, they possess the strongest ties with the mortal world: indeed, many of them were tutored at the finest private schools known to humanity (and moved frequently to prevent anyone from noticing their diminished aging process). Blue-blooded, sickeningly wealthy and immensely influential, Grimaldi are most commonly employed in burying any evidence the Tzimisce before it reaches the public. Exhibiting the Disciplines of Celerity, Dominate and Fortitude, they are granted sufficient grace and fortitude to survive the dangers of working alongside both humans and vampires, along with the ability to manipulate human minds to their masters' benefit. However, because of their ties to the mortal world, the Tzimisce do not trust the Grimaldi and keep most of the family Blood-Bonded in order to ensure their loyalty; needless to say, the Family live in perpetual fear of the genocidal purge that will ensue on the day their masters finally decide their services are no longer required, and spend much of their time trying to convince the Sabbat that they are worth preserving - or trying to find another clan to protect them.

The Obertus exemplify the intellectual traditions of their masters, and have done so ever since their days as librarians to the Tzimisce lords of the Byzantine Empire. Reclusive scholars by nature, each member of the clan develops an obsession with a subject of paranormal research that they will pursue at any cost, hunting down information with a fervor that their masters can only admire. In their adopted homelands of New England and South America, the estates of the Obertus family are home to colossal libraries of ancient texts, jealously guarded by every member of the bloodline. Secretly, they also believe that Revenants are the next stage in human evolution, destined to replace humanity and vampires, and have begun a program of vigorous experimentation in their attempts to further the ascension of Homo Obertus. Armed with Auspex, Obfuscate and Vicissitude, they possess the insight and malleability so appreciated by their Tzimisce masters, along with the power to hide themselves from those who would not understand their research. Unfortunately, they commonly suffer from obsessive tendencies and tend to become dangerously fixated with their topic of research, often to the exclusion of all other concerns.

The Zantosa are the eyes and ears of the Tzimisce, and frequently serve as secondary loci of influence in mortal affairs. Wealthy and depraved, the family's inclination towards hedonism has given them connections throughout the darker regions of the mortal world, and these allow the Tzimisce a means of twisting events in their favor should the "legitimate" influence of the Grimaldi fail. Among other things, they have an impressive talent for digging up dirt on compromising individuals - or ensuring that individuals who threaten the Clan become compromised themselves, providing a wealth of blackmail material and potential favors. Possessed of the Auspex, Presence and Vicissitude Disciplines, Zantosa enhance their social abilities through vampiric insight and charisma, while also possessing a capacity for Tzimisce fluidity. Unfortunately, they are almost always drawn to vice and hedonism, and are very easily addicted to illicit substances and activities - resulting in the loss of many fortunes over the centuries; for this reason, many Tzimisce have begun to wonder if the Zantosa would be better off being consigned to extinction...

Powers And Abilities (Disciplines)

As with all Clans, the Tzimisce possess three vampiric Disciplines: Animalism, Auspex, and Vicissitude. Outside the Clan's mainstream, older low-generation Kindred also possess a talent for Koldunic Sorcery, augmenting their powers with arcane magics unknown even to the Tremere clan.

Animalism is the power of control over animals and primitive impulses: this is most commonly used in order to make animals into spies where fleshcrafted scouts will not suffice, or to create distractions in the field. Beyond these simplistic uses, the Discipline can also be used in order to manipulate mortals: Animalism's influence over baser instincts in nature allows Tzimisce a certain degree of control over human minds, most commonly in calming or enticing them. Though not as powerful as mind-controlling Disciplines like Dominate and Presence, higher levels of the Discipline allow Tzimisce to remotely control their Szlachta, further eliminating the need for supervision on the battlefield. More disturbingly, Tzimisce have also harnessed Animalism for use in torture, mainly by summoning swarms of disgusting or dangerous creatures in order to menace their prisoners.

Auspex grants its users superhuman sensory abilities, beginning with simple enhancements to the basic five senses before expanding to powers like telepathy and even astral projection. Along with its pedestrian uses on the battlefield or spying, the Tzimisce have also adapted this Discipline for great effect in their torture sessions, with particular emphasis on its use in preparation: telepathy is used to learn secrets that can be exploited to humiliate or disturb the victim, while aura perception can be used to study the victim's sensitive organs, allowing the torture knowledge of exactly what areas of the body to target and in what way.

Vicissitude In Action2

Vicissitude In Action

Of all the Disciplines in the Tzimisce arsenal, Vicissitude is the most valued - and the most versatile: the art of manipulating flesh and bone by touch, it is used by the Clan for combat, espionage, home defense, personal remodeling, decoration, artistic expression, scientific experimentation, and of course, torture. In preparation, Tzimisce torturers can make themselves appear especially horrific in order to terrify their victims, or especially beautiful in order to make them feel ashamed; they can transform their limbs into specially-designed torture tools to assault the victim's skin and orifices - or they can simply pincushion the victim from within on their own ribs. For Tzimisce who must join the fray alongside their ghouls, Vicissitude also proves immensely useful in modifying their bodies to that end: of particular use is the dreaded zulo war-form, a monstrous shape designed specifically for close-quarters combat. At higher levels, Tzimisce can use their skin as nets, make their blood acidic, breathe fire, transform into giant bats or even animated pools of blood - allowing them to escape staking, to seep through the tiniest cracks, or even drown mortal opponents. The most powerful Tzimisce can actually use Vicissitude at a distance - or even recreate their bodies in the event of their deaths.

Koldunic Sorcery is a special brand of magic known only to the Tzimisce, similar in concept to the Thaumaturgy of the Tremere - though rather different in practice: it is not gained by all members of the Clan upon their Embrace, but must instead be learned, and involves harnessing elemental spirits rather than blood magic. Though primarily used by powerful low-generation Elders based in the ancestral homelands of Romania, it has recently gained adherents among some of the younger Tzimisce. Koldunic magic is divided into the Path of Earth, Fire, Water, Wind and Spirit: at their highest levels, these elemental powers can be used to create earthquakes, conjure devastating storms, or even summon up volcanoes.

However, these powers are balanced by a significant weakness: all Tzimisce must sleep in their native soil, more specifically earth taken from their birthplace or their place of Embrace; if they do not rest with at least two handfuls of the required soil, they will weaken progressively until they can barely act of their own accord. For this reason, Tzimisce are extremely reluctant to travel and fiercely territorial.

Gallery

Trivia

  • All Clans in Vampire: The Masquerade draw influence from some particular depiction of vampires in popular culture, and the Tzimisce are no exception: with their old world traditions and decaying nobility, they are naturally inspired by the original Dracula - ironic considering that within the World of Darkness, Dracula was inspired by them. However, their alien natures and shapeshifting abilities draw influence from the Wamphyri of Brian Lumley's Necroscope series.
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