Dark Ages: Peeling Back the Curtain

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably read at least a few Onyx Path/White Wolf books in the past. You’ve seen the end result of a process. Usually, this process looks something like so:

1) Developer pitches a book.

2) Publisher accepts the pitch.

3) Developer crafts an outline and hires writers.

4) Writers scribble down a first draft version of the book.

5) The developer “red lines” the first draft, hands it back to writers.

6) Meanwhile, the art director starts contracting illustrators based on notes provided by the writers and developer.

7) The writers rewrite and elaborate depending on red lines.

8) The developer does another pass of the text, and hands it to an editor.

9) The editor goes over the text to make sure it’s readable to the outside eye.

10) The art director has someone put the text and illustrations to a layout.

11) Everyone takes a final look at the book, and then it goes to publication.

This is the long way of saying, what you hold in your hands (or read on your screen, if you’re savvy to that) has seen a lot of eyes, and has gone through a lot of molding, shaping, curing, pruning, and fixing.

Sometimes, with our Open Development process, we’ve shared early drafts or even outlines (like I did in our last entry). Tonight, I wanted to share with you something different. This isn’t even a zero draft; this is a series of notes from one of my writing staff (the supercoolawesome Renee Knipe).

I have every writer drafting “voice characters” for the sample quotations and splat art throughout the book. However, these characters might come up at other times, in introductory fiction, in examples of play, or maybe even in a future fiction anthology if the stars align. This means that we need points of reference for each one of these characters. Typically, I encourage writers to give a few sentences to define the character, and tell me who she is, so anyone can pick up the character and run with her.

Sometimes, however, writers will go above and beyond, and provide extensive history notes for these characters. Renee’s working on the Tzimisce clan writeup (and the Road of Metamorphosis, Vicissitude, and a few other related things), and gave me these notes for Cal?una, her voice character. I thought they were kind of cool, and wanted to share.

A few things to note:

1) This is brain spew. This is not a working draft. This is not made for publication. It’s just notes.

2) Most of this probably won’t see print, it’s just for perspective and context. If we ever get to expand upon her, it’ll come into play. But we’ll see.

3) Being notes, there’s no editing. There won’t be any editing. Usually, this would see only a handful of eyes. Keep that in mind.

4) Isn’t she kind of awesome?

5) It’s a live Google Doc. So if you want to reference it, reference it by link, or link to this particular entry.

Here you go.






19 responses to “Dark Ages: Peeling Back the Curtain”

  1. JezMiller Avatar

    Interesting. The Tzimisce seem to be divided, broadly, between the extreme mystics exemplified by Yorak, barbaric warrior-aristocrats like Rustovitch, and the more “civilized” scholarly types who fled from Constantinople, primarily the Obertus order. (Granted, there’s a lot of overlap between the groups – Ioan Brancoveanu was portrayed in the DA clan novel as a capable koldun – but I think the distinction’s still broadly useful). Here we have a character who fits squarely into the second group but is drawn to the third, which fits, since the two of them appear to grow together into the Tzimisce’s modern Sabbat incarnation. The concept works very well as a representative of the clan as a whole, insofar as any single individual could.

    She owes this Ismaelite doctor her life, perhaps even a Life Boon. I wonder how that might play out?

    1. machineiv Avatar

      Agreed on the doctor. That’s just drama waiting to happen. I hope we get to run with it.

      And exactly my reaction when I read her. She just felt very Tzimisce in a way that clicked with me very well.

      1. White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame Avatar
        White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame

        She not just felt very Tzimisce, but added to the general portray of the clan. The Tzimisce suffer with a lack of good portrays, if you allow me to say so, and some even say “they’re not well constructed,” as the Ventrue (embodying the idea of leadership) or the Brujah (the idea of revolution and change). JezMiller just explained how this type of criticism has no basis, with the three main Tzimisce archetypes, but to show that (that the criticism has indeed no basis), we need characters like Cal?una.

    2. Daniel Avatar

      “She owes this Ismaelite doctor her life, perhaps even a Life Boon. I wonder how that might play out?”

      I think you misunderstand, my friend. She wasn’t ‘literally’ born a girl. The reason this story is so compelling is that it nails the gender identity confusion and thoughts that a Tran would have back at that time. Would she consider that she owes that doctor her life for the reasons she assumes (sorcery)? Most definitely.

      1. Renee Avatar


        Thank you for bringing that up! It’s every bit my intention to write an awesome and compelling trans* character. Tzimisce has had a few trans* characters, but they sometimes fall short (I don’t intend that to be a huge criticism…awareness about trans* issues is really just starting to take off). So the interpretation you espouse here is definitely one I wanted people to be aware of. It is possible that the doctor was a mage or some other magic-wielding character capable of protecting her, but it’s equally possible that she’s invented a personal mythology to explain what she knows to be true about herself.

        If the doctor does turn out to be a mage – and it could happen, I don’t intend to limit the other writers in how they want to interpret Cal?una – that works as a trans* narrative too. In fact, it’s an interesting inversion of something that actually happens…where a bumbling doctor makes a mistake during a circumcision and decides to flip the child’s gender for “their own good”. In the real world, those seldom work out, but in this make-believe version, maybe he really did save her by doing so.

        At any rate, I think both versions of her story are super-story. I’m curious to see which readers might lean towards.

        1. JezMiller Avatar

          Having it be a personal mythology might be more interesting than the doctor actually being a Mage, especially if she should ever meet him.

          Have the Tzimisce ever had transgendered characters in the past? Okay, Vycos changes genders the way a human changes shirts, but that’s not the same thing. I can’t recall a “naturally” transgender member of the clan before.

          1. Renee Avatar

            I consider any story that prominently features swapping genders a trans* story, and to a lesser degree, stories about alienation in one’s own body…maybe even the seizing of one’s own power through identity. I strongly identify transness with body horror and stories of transformation, even if the gender aspect isn’t explicit. I kind of consider the Tzimisce the ‘”trans* clan” to an extent, because of their control over flesh and bodies, though it’s a bit problematic since the bodily transformation is often monstrous simply for the sake of being monstrous. There are no Vicissitude powers (yet) that turn you into something endearing or beautiful, for example (at least by traditional definitions of such things, which really can’t be trusted anyway).

            It’s a murky definition, to be sure, and obviously subject to personal interpretation. And yeah, I’m probably generalizing a bit much when I say “Tzimisce has a few trans* characters”…I’m probably thinking more of my own play group back in the day. Canonically speaking, Vycos is the one.

          2. JezMiller Avatar

            It’s a discussion that’s more interesting than it is useful, I suspect. I’d argue against Vycos being regarded as transexual because the classical definition of transexuality is having a mental and emotional sexual identity that differs from your physical sex. It’s questionable that Vycos has a strong mental identification with *either* gender; the Sabbat typically use the neuter pronoun “it” to refer to… well, it, and that seems to be how Vycos thinks of itself. To lack any sexual self-identitfication at all, and try various bodies on at a whim like a shopaholic in a designer fashion boutique, is very different from Cal?una, who does have a strong and distinct gender identification which she’s using Vicissitude to express.

            Leaving that aside, the potential of the character, with all her different facets and possible story hooks, is very impressive. I do hope we get a fiction anthology stretch goal; you’ll never do her justice in a few quotes in the main rule book.

          3. Renee Avatar

            Oh yeah, if we’re talking a classic transsexual identity, then yeah, Vycos is none of that. I’m specifically using trans* with the asterisk to indicate the larger trans* community, which includes pretty much anyone with any degree of gender non-conformity, so long as they want to claim the label. Transsexuals (which is a label I claim for myself) do fit under that umbrella, but so do bi-gender, ambigender, genderfluid, genderqueer, crossdressers, two-spirit, and a variety of other labels. I have genderqueer friends who specifically use “it” as their pronoun even (although they’re nothing like Vycos).

            So yeah, it’s a totally interesting discussion! Caltuna very definitely represents a perspective I wanted to bring to Vampire and the dark ages, and I’d love love love to get a fiction anthology greenlit with this project. I already know and have talked to David about the story I want to tell, but I’m also curious what others would do with her. I mean, yeesh, we haven’t even talked about how at this very moment in her time, the Mongol army is sweeping into Hungary…I suspect she would try to find a way to use that to her advantage.

  2. Original_Anarch Avatar

    I really like this character and will very much enjoy seeing her in the new book 🙂
    It’s cool she’s included in the classical Ruthven-line of the Tzimisce, with über-fiends such as Lambach Ruthven, Damek Ruthven, Tabak Ruthven and Danika Ruthven.
    However as per the genealogy of Lair of the Hidden, the 4th generation progenitor of the line was known also known simple as “Ruthven” which might cause some confusion with the sire of Caltuna. If he was not meant to be the arch-fiend himself..?

    1. machineiv Avatar

      I’m not sure if we’re going to clarify that, or leave it dangling. I kind of like it in the air.

  3. White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame Avatar
    White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame

    Well, it’s also a well researched portray, something I praise. Hungarian zemans (lesser nobles) were concentrated in the counties that now comprise Slovakia, where the Vtá?nik range is located. In the kingdom hierarchy, they were placed under the barons.

  4. Renee Avatar

    @White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame

    Thank you! I’m not an Eastern European scholar – far from it – but I do believe in writing with integrity and care about other cultures. Right now I’m still in the beginning stages of my research, which will continue as I pound out my contributions to the game (I’m also responsible for the Eastern Europe, Russia, and Mongol portions of the setting chapter, so this is all very important to me). I’m pouring over several texts right now, both on the history and folklore of the Carpathian region, and those books gave me the basic idea to place her backstory where I did. But I’m sure I haven’t dug up every good text on the subject; if you have recommendations, I’d love to hear about them.

    1. White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame Avatar
      White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame

      @Renee, I don’t know what happened to my the previous reply, so I’m replying again (if I may suggest anything):

      – Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250
      – At the gate of Christendom: Jews, Muslims and Pagans in Medieval Hungary c. 1000-1300
      – The Cambridge History of Russia, from early Russia to 1689.
      – Medieval Russia 980-1584 (Cambridge Medieval Textbooks)
      – The Roots of Balkanization, Eastern Europe 500-1500
      – Cumans and Tatars: Oriental Military in the Pre-Ottoman Balkans, 1185-1365.
      – Osprey Men at Arms 195 – Hungary and the the Fall of Eastern Europe 1000-1568.
      – Osprey Men at Arms 367 Medieval Russian Armies 1250 – 1500
      – Osprey Fortress 61 Medieval Russian Fortresses 862-1480
      – Osprey Men at Arms 445 Polish Medieval Armies 966-1500

      1. Jason Kenney Avatar
        Jason Kenney

        Chronicles of the Barbarians has a firsthand account of the fall of constantinople – and other sacking and pillaging… http://www.amazon.com/Chronicles-Barbarians-Firsthand-Accounts-Constantinople/dp/0812930827/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382478916&sr=8-1&keywords=chronicles+of+the+barbarians

  5. Renee Avatar

    @White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame

    Absolutely you can! Thank you.

    I have a few of those books (my collection leans strongly towards medieval Russian history, including Carpathian Rus, which has been really interesting), along with a huge stack of Mongol texts and a handful of Slavic/generalized eastern Europe (mostly folklore and faery tales). Most of the ones you list I don’t have yet, so I’m going to start tracking them down right away. I appreciate the recommendations; it’s hard to know what’s going to be useful and what’s going to be a waste while preparing for something where you only have a certain amount of time to get up to speed. For that, I appreciate your expertise. 🙂

    1. White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame Avatar
      White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame

      @Renee Glad to help. Also, I forgot to mention:

      Central Europe in the High Middle Ages: Bohemia, Hungary and Poland, c.900-c.1300

  6. Renee Avatar

    White_Wolf_Fan / Primal Flame Thank you yet again!

  7. […] words as a sort of guide for those who were handling the fiction. You can see it here, actually: https://theonyxpath.com/dark-ages-peeling-back-the-curtain/ My guidelines were simple: – Never refer to her as anything but “she” and […]