The Vampire Syndicate:
This article is about the vampire culture and business organization in MK2K. For more on the physiology and psychology of vampires, see the Vampires page; for more on vampire religion, see the Church of Eternal Brotherhood.
Organization | Society |
In the early 700s CR, perhaps ten years after slaying Lilith and taking her place in the pantheon, Talia hin'Elric began a radical reorganization of her followers from an army of religious fanatics to a worldwide business organization. Talia, as a former human, was the first of the daedra lords to recognize that economic power would be at least as important as political or religious power in the new world order created by the Great Fall. Newly awakened to the brutal cost of war and imperialism, Talia realized that it was possible to ensure the comfort, safety and eventual dominance of her people without ever mustering an army or fighting a single battle. Thus was the Syndicate born.
Officially speaking, the Syndicate does not exist. It has no corporate officers, no stockholders, no logos or stationery, not even an official name. Instead, it exists as a labyrinthine network of companies, firms, contractors, non-profit organizations, and political lobbyists, all of them linked together by the blood-ties of the vampire community and leading, eventually, back to Talia herself. No one knows exactly how large the Syndicate is, how many people it employs, or how much money it makes in a given year. There is little question, however, that together they comprise the largest money-making machine in the world.
The Syndicate is organized more like a very large extended family than a corporation. This is fitting, since the Syndicate is not just a business venture -- it is the entirety of civilized vampire society.
Talia is the Vampire Queen, and all vampires are magically bound to obey her if she gives them a command in person. Immediately below Talia are the princes -- elder vampires from strong bloodlines who have outlived their sires and answer only to her. Talia assigns each of her princes a specific duty within the organization, much like the members of Kyia's Cabinet. These fall into two general categories: regional princes, who are responsible for overseeing all Syndicate activities within a particular geographical area, and ministerial princes (also called simply ministers), who are given charge of a specialized area of operations on a global scale. The regional princes and ministers squabble with each other incessantly for control of important operations, but this is intentional; Talia believes that the competition engendered by these turf wars keeps her princes sharp and attentive to their duties, so none of them are tempted to grow complacent and simply exploit their resources for their own gain.
Princes are given authority to direct the operations of all Syndicate-owned businesses and organizations within their jurisdiction. They may hire, fire, promote and demote employees (most of whom are mortals), negotiate transfer of unbound vampires (those without extant sires) between themselves and other princes, and sire childer of their own as needed.
Most princes are not actually the official heads of any of the major businesses in their territory; serving as the president or CEO of a corporation would make it too easy to track their activities, and would make it evident that they were running the affairs of multiple, supposedly independent companies. Instead, they take up positions where they can influence each of their holdings without making it easy for those outside the Syndicate to trace their decisions back to them. Common "official" occupations for princes include professional investor and investment analyst (à la Warren Buffett), president emeritus of a corporation, chairman of a small non-profit organization, or member of a company's board of trustees.
In addition to the princes, Talia keeps a number of talented, younger unbound vampires for use as special agents. Most of these were sired by Talia herself, but some are unbound vampires who have risen through the ranks on the basis of their exceptional skills. These agents are independent from any of the princes, answering to Talia alone; unlike the princes, however, they do not administer any of Talia's holdings, and they are not given carte blanche to sire new vampires without permission.
Talia uses her agents for a variety of different roles. Many work as spies, both in the mortal world and within her own organization (so as to ensure loyalty and obedience to her commands). When necessary, most can also function as assassins, thieves, or commandos.
Special agents are not as powerful as princes, since they usually have been in between for less than a century; indeed, even many of the scions are stronger than most agents. Since most agents were sired directly by Talia, however, they are far stronger than most other vamps of comparable age.
Each of the princes is surrounded by a coterie of childer who serve as his or her confidantes, aides and most valuable followers. These individuals are known as scions, and they are the nobility of vampire society. While princes provide overarching supervision and direction of broad-scale Syndicate activities, it is the scions who oversee most of the actual businesses and see to it that the day-to-day decisions are made. Scions are bound their sires, incapable of betraying them directly, though some find creative ways of working against their masters' interests.
Scions may be of any age, but their standing as the direct childer of the princes ensures that all of them are powerful. Princes differ widely in how they deal with their childer; some keep the same group of scions around them for centuries, while others routinely cycle older scions into hibernation in order to bring "fresh blood" on staff. Talia forbids any vampire from killing another except on her direct orders, but a prince can find any number of ways of showing his displeasure with an unworthy scion, and compulsory hibernation is only the kindest of these. Scions who have become undesirable may find themselves being sent out on dangerous assignments far from the seat of power; if they succeed, they advance their sire's plans, and if they are slain in the attempt, they cease to be a problem. Some princes will even go so far as to tip off the Lothanasi to an unwanted scion's misdeeds, though the offense must be very great for a sire to take such an extreme step against his own childe. Needless to say, scions who have been branded as "dead vamp walking" are the most likely to find creative ways to disobey their sires' orders...
Captains are the upper-level management of the Syndicate; they are board members, heads of legal firms, department overseers, high priests of the CEB, and high-level commanders of the Syndicate's military and paramilitary forces. The scions make decisions on business and policy; it is the captains who determine how those decisions will be implemented on a practical level, formulating the strategies to accomplish the Syndicate's goals.
Captains are divided roughly half-and-half between the childer of extant scions and unbound vampires of noteworthy power and skill.
Lieutenants are the middle management, responsible for making sure that the plans made by the captains are properly executed. This is the lowest level of the Syndicate that is typically occupied by vampires, and most of the vamps in the Syndicate can be found at this level.
Lieutenants are a mixture of low-level childer and unbound vamps who have failed to garner much notice within the organization.
Enforcers & Specialists:
These are the countless individuals who provide the "muscle" for the Syndicate -- hit men, con artists, fences, pimps, arms dealers, etc. -- as well as mages, alchemists, scientists, doctors, priests, appraisers, lawyers, and other highly trained personnel who fulfill specific needs within the organization. Most of these are humans -- either Cursed or otherwise -- but the vampires employ talented individuals of any species. The Syndicate does not, however, employ telepaths; the Psi Collective has a long-standing animosity towards vampires, and is careful to prevent any rogue psis from going over to the organization.
Any vampires at this level are either fledgling childer just coming into their powers, disgraced childer who have earned the disfavor of their scions or captains, or unbound vamps from particularly weak bloodlines.
These are the rank-and-file employees of the Syndicate -- the armies of clerks, blue-collar workers, unlicensed prostitutes, drug dealers, lab technicians, and other mundanes who fill the ranks of the organization's legitimate and criminal operations. The vast majority of the employees at this level are either human or lutin; members of more powerful races generally find work at higher levels than this (though some of the more exotic races are prized as prostitutes).
Vampires are, to a great extent, a part of the culture of the mortals around them. They go to restaurants, nightclubs, and other social hot-spots; they follow sports teams and argue about politics; they watch TV, go to movies, read books, and listen to popular music. At the same time, vampires are part of a subculture that has a number of very distinct differences from mortal life.
The hierarchy of vampire society is much more rigid than in most mortal societies, and one's position in that hierarchy has a great deal of influence on the comfort and success a vamp enjoys in Between. Because of this, there is a great deal of pressure on vampires to advance themselves within the heirarchy, both to better enjoy the pleasures of wealth and influence and to be better equipped to protect themselves from other ambitious vamps who might try to step on them on their own journey up the social ladder.
The usual mechanism of advancement in other criminal organizations -- i.e., betraying and eliminating your superior at an opportune moment -- is very difficult to pull off in the Syndicate. The bond between sire and childe is strong, and makes it very hard for a childe to work against his sire's interests. Instead, most social climbing is done by childer supporting their sire's ambitions, elevating his power and standing so that they, in turn, are carried up the ladder with him. Vampires will carry out the directives of their sires while using their own childer to plot and maneuver against the childer of their peers. Since vampires are forbidden to slay other vamps except by the Queen's command, these intrigues primarily focus on ways of disgracing or humiliating rivals while vying for recognition from superiors in the heirarchy, both for one's self and for one's sire. The ultimate method of defeating a rival is to find some way to prove him or her guilty of breaking one of the Queen's commandments, which is usually enough to cause the erring vamp to be demoted (at least), exiled, or (at most) destroyed. Thus, despite the incessant scheming that goes on within the Syndicate, few of Talia's valuable employees are actually eliminated from service -- and Talia doesn't have to spend much money on policing her servants' activities, since all of them are more than happy to police each other on their own free time.
Many vamps will also employ their mortal servants in dominance games against the servants of their rivals. This is more likely to get lethal than the direct struggles between vampires, since human thugs are not bound by magical compulsion to obey the Queen's directives. Still, Talia frowns on the killing of humans, even when other humans are doing the killing -- so, for the most part, the human pawns stick to the usual routine of spying, seducing, blackmailing and threatening each other to accomplish the goals of their vampire masters. A few very clever vampires even succeed in making the humans believe they are doing these things for their own benefit, improving their standing in the organization -- though a human working for the Syndicate will always be a servant, regardless of his master's rank.
Some wealthy and powerful people buy sports teams as a mark of their prestige. Some keep stables of race horses. Some accumulate harems of exotic and beautiful concubines -- or interns or executive assistants, as they are more commonly called in modern times. Among vampires, however, only one such display really matters: the size and power of a vampire's collection of thralls.
Thrall is a very old term, popular among the princes but archaic to modern ears. Younger vamps refer to them variously as companions, ghouls, blood dolls, pets, shadows, blood puppets, juicebags, or any of a number of other terms ranging from the kindly and affectionate to the obscenely crude. Whatever name is used, however, they all refer to the same basic concept: a devoted human servant who will provide blood to the vampire whenever it is needed.
Thralls remain loyal to their vampiric masters because of the blood-bond and the intensity of the experience of Sharing. If a vampire treats a human kindly during the Sharing -- or if the human is of sufficiently low self-esteem that s/he feels that s/he deserves no better than what s/he receives from the vampire -- then the human will remember the Sharing as a positive experience, and the human and vamp will each end up carrying a piece of the other's soul. For the vampire, this allows them to exert influence and control over the human's thoughts, actions, and even feelings and perceptions. The more often the vampire feeds from the human, the stronger the bond grows, and the more control the vampire has over the human's life. The human, meanwhile, becomes increasingly addicted to the intense experience of Sharing, and will seek it out more and more as the bond deepens. Eventually, a well-kept thrall will do anything for his or her master -- even die for him, as they are sure that their masters will give them the gift of blood that will raise them to life again as vampires themselves. Sometimes, this is even true.
Turning a single mundane human into a thrall is usually very easy for a vampire with even an average degree of charm and patience. The challenge -- and the respect from peers, and, for many vampires, the fun -- comes in netting more powerful and headstrong thralls, and then succeeding in keeping multiple thralls happy. This is a balancing act, as each thrall must truly believe that he or she is loved and appreciated by the vampire -- and since the blood-bond reveals the minds of both thrall and vampire to each other, a successful vamp must either have a very generous and giving heart or be very good at inspiring worship and adoration from her thralls. A thrall that is convinced of his mistress's utter superiority, of her worthiness to be counted great and mighty among her peers, will often be content with whatever attention she chooses to bestow on him, even if he is only one among many thralls. To develop a truly large and impressive coterie of thralls, a vampire must make herself into a goddess to each and every one of her pets. This generally requires long, patient work on the part of the vampire, beginning with affection and kindness and gradually shaping the new thrall's mind so that the relationship finally becomes one of goddess and supplicant, rather than merely lover and beloved. This is hard enough to do with mundane humans; it is even more challenging to do with Silvaan, asimaars, and other exotic species that are known for being strong-willed. The ultimate prize would be to make a thrall of a human telepath, but this has never been accomplished to date.
Some vampires don't have the stomach to set themselves up as godlings over the mortals; Morgan Drauling is one of them. Instead, they form bonds with mortals that are as equal as possible; they choose Sharing partners for love, or at least for mutual respect and affection freely offered, and they avoid instilling the sort of mental conditioning that shapes mortals into slaves. Such vamps are usually pitied by their peers as being weak-willed and deficient, and rarely advance far in vampire society. Caring about the mortals is a good thing, to vampire thinking, but you can't take it too far; they are cattle, after all, and while good animal husbandry is both virtuous and sensible, it is foolish to look on herd-beasts as equals.
The joke may be on the majority, however. Those few vamps who do resist the urge to acquire hordes of thralls often find themselves happier (and saner) in the long run. While a vamp with many thralls will never lack for blood, the nearly mindless worship that they must instill in their servants to keep them content also dulls the wits and personalities of the thralls, leaving them rather vapid and shallow. The thralls in a large coterie all start to act and think the same way after a while; Sharing with them becomes empty and hollow, devoid of the excitement and passion that comes from a blending of two vibrant and willful souls. In contrast, a vampire like Morgan is less assured of where her next meal is coming from, but she can be reasonably confident that, each time, she will be Sharing with someone who is truly alive, with a will of his or her own. The experience will be satisfying, and worth remembering. For Morgan, the lesson is an important one: those who try to possess others will never be satisfied, even if they get everything they think they want; those who hold their love with an open hand, giving and receiving but never demanding or controlling, will find true joy, even if it is mixed with sorrow and pain when their loved ones depart.
For mortals and younger vampires within the Syndicate, one's personal success depends greatly on attaching one's fate to a vampire older and more powerful than one's self. This is, in essence, a kind of feudalism: vassals swear loyalty to a patron, who provides them with a measure of protection in exchange for their obedience and service.
In the vampire community, part of that protection comes in the form of the blood-gift -- blood of the patron, given to his vassals to drink. This has two functions: it strengthens (or establishes) the blood-bond between patron and vassal, and it also transfers some of the patron's supernatural power to the vassal. The patron thus allows himself to be weakened, to some degree, so that his agents can exercise more power in his service.
The blood-gift is highly addictive in mortals, and many vampire patrons use this fact (along with psychological conditioning through domination) to help maintain control over their thralls and ensure their loyalty. The term "ghoul", sometimes used by younger vamps to refer to their thralls, originated from this practice of thralls drinking the blood of their masters, which harkened back to the cannibalistic ghouls of legend. (Ghouls of that sort may once have existed, but no one in the present day knows for sure.)