The Neonate's Guide to Knoxville - Retainers
What’s Dracula without his Renfield?
Actually, better off all things considered. Luckily your retainer won’t be like Renfield. Your retainer will be better, a true servant, someone who can carry out your will during the day. Sure. Keep telling yourself that. Kine are unpredictable, and while it helps to addict them to our blood, the addiction itself can cause them to behave erratically. Luckily you have me here to help you avoid common pitfalls, and get the most out of your retainers. Listen up, neonate.
Table of Contents
Ghouls vs. Bound Mortals
The first question is what kind of Retainer do you want: A Ghoul, or a Mortal who has been bound by the Vinculum? Each offers its own charms.
Well, scratch that. Ghouls are better. Ghouls are much better. But Ghouls are also more difficult to maintain. A mortal retainer, all you really need to do is keep up his supply of blood and tell him you love him every so often. He’ll do the rest, and he’s just as effective as any other mortal with a secret addiction. Ghouls require care. They take will to maintain and control. They feel euphoria when they are full of your Vitae, and become despondent and strung out when their Vitae is drained. They tend to develop odd personality quirks, derangements if you will, as their soft mortal psyches get twisted around a Kindred’s commands. On the other hand, if you want loyalty, strength, and capability, you want a ghoul. Not to mention ghouls can use a few of our Disciplines. You have no idea how useful it is to have a devoted mortal thrall who can walk around in sunlight and still exert our supernatural power.
Like I said, Ghouls are better. But they’re also more work.
Forming a Vinculum
All Retainers, whether Mortal or Ghoul, start with a Vinculum. Oh, I’ve heard about Kindred with loyal mortal servants who have not tasted their blood. Heard about them right until their mortal servant exposed the Masquerade, leading to their master’s blood hunt and death. Don’t do that, it’s stupid. Your blood is addictive, use that.
Ah, but how to use that? A few neonates get high off the power their blood has, and think they can just break into a kine’s home, hold him down, bleed down his throat, and that’s the end of it. We have a word for neonates like that. Suckers. No, it’s harder to get a thrall than that.
See, the Vinculum comes in three steps. Each separate night they feed from your blood, their Vinculum increases by one step. Each separate night they feed from your blood, their Vinculum grows stronger and has more effects. That very first night? Oh, they’ll be more favorably disposed toward you. Maybe think you’re a little hotter than you are, or a little kinder, or a little more fascinating. But it’s a subtle thing. And if you got that blood down their throat by force, that will not stop them from calling the police and blowing the whole Masquerade right there. So you have to use a little caution. A little subtlety.
This is the reason so few people manage to make important figures ghouls. It doesn’t matter how hot you are, your typical stuffed shirt is going to balk at drinking blood from your wrist. Remember, they won’t forget drinking your blood like they forget you drinking theirs. On the other hand, you go to some of the more exotic club scenes and you’ll find bloodplay might be more common than you think. And, of course, when your thrall is near delirious after a night of drunken revels they probably won’t remember you bleeding into their mouth. But it does take a little care.
The second night is better. After the second drink, it starts becoming hard to hurt you. Hard… but not impossible. You cannot let your guard down, especially if they’re not into it. If they balk and decide to leave, they’re a powderkeg waiting to explode all over the Masquerade.
It’s that third night that seals it. The third night, they’re yours. A thrall. You become their Regnant. And then you have a retainer. Another nice benefit is that once they have drunk from you three times, they cannot form a Vinculum with anyone else. While they are only one- or two-step bound they can have other one- or two-step bonds to others, but with that third sip all other bonds are swept away. There is only the Regnant. That is power, neonate.
Maintaining a Mortal
With an enthralled mortal, all you really need to worry about is feeding them every so often. Our blood is addictive, and they are an addict. This is not too unusual. Do you have any idea how many businessmen in this city are cokeheads? You’re just supplying them a new drug. Make sure they get a fresh supply, and they’ll probably do whatever you tell them to.
Your mortal will love you, and their addiction keeps them bound to you. Still, this bond is not unbreakable. Well, it is pretty much unbreakable (I’ve heard rumors of exotic ways to break the blood bond, but that’s all they are, rumors), but there are ways around it. If you’re not there, it becomes easier to work against you. And if they leave town, they can live a normal life away from you. Also, while the addiction to your blood is potent, it’s not like a Ghoul’s addiction. It’s no more potent than any other drug. Think of the things that might cause an addict to turn against their pusher. Those things might well cause your thrall to turn against you. Be careful.
If you want a punching bag you can do anything to, go ahead and make that mortal a Ghoul.
Maintaining a Ghoul
Every month you need to feed your Ghoul one drink of Vitae, and exert your Willpower to keep it a ghoul. That’s it.
No, seriously, that’s it.
Ghouls are craven creatures. They are not only bound to you through the Vinculum, but their addiction is so much stronger since your blood actually imbues the Ghoul with its life force. Ghouls do not age. Ghouls do not die. And your Vitae does all of that. That is more than just an academic knowledge, each Ghoul can feel it deep within their bones. Oh, there are tales of abused Ghouls breaking free and wreaking revenge on their masters, but you probably don’t need to worry about that.
Oh, and that act of will? That does not have to be yours. Only the initial act of will, the transformation from Mortal to Ghoul, has to come from you. Each subsequent month the act of will can come from the Ghoul itself, or any Kindred who feeds the Ghoul blood. Of course, these have drawbacks. If you teach a Ghoul to use its own will, then the Ghoul learns it does not need you. All it needs is your Vitae, and its own will. In many ways allowing other Kindred to perform the act of will is even worse, since the Ghoul learns that it can trade you for another master.
Of course, the bond of the Vinculum keeps that from happening.
That is for the bare minimum maintenance of a Ghoul. You might want to feed your Ghoul more Vitae, however. Ghouls cannot feed on kine. They lack the magical ability to transform blood into Vitae. All their Vitae comes from Kindred. But when Ghouls use Disciplines, they must spend Vitae just like a Kindred. So if you want your Ghoul to be supernaturally powerful, you might want to feed it a bit more than the minimum each month. A full ghoul is a happy ghoul.
How To Command a Minion
So now you have a Retainer. What do you use it for?
Whatever you want. Sort of.
A Retainer is the most versatile tool in your arsenal. Unlike Allies, a Retainer can attempt to do anything, and they ask nothing in return except your blood. Their only real drawback is that, unlike Allies, a Retainer is only one person. With a group of Allies you can expect there to be many people of varying skills, so as long as they are operating within their sphere of influence they should be able to get the job done. A Retainer, though, is like any other single creature. It is skilled at some things, and not in others. The strengths and weaknesses of your Retainer should be your sole deciding factor in which mortal you choose to addict. Do you want someone skilled with computers? Someone big and tough to be your bodyguard or legbreaker? Someone who can move effortlessly through bureaucracy?
Play to your Retainer’s strengths. And teach them Disciplines, if they are a Ghoul. Disciplines that help them. If they are a legbreaker, a bit of Vigor and Resiliance would be good. If they are a social climber, perhaps Majesty. Be careful, though. Whatever Disciplines you teach potentially could be turned against you. There’s a reason no one wants to teach a Ghoul Dominate. Oh, and when you first create a Ghoul they will start out with a physical discipline. Whichever one your Clan has an affinity for. That’s part of the magic animating power of your Vitae. Any other Disciplines, or higher mastery over their core Discipline, you’ll have to teach them.
There are some people who like the idea of taking powerful mortals as Retainers. I never cared for this. If your Retainer is powerful, lots of eyes are on him. It’s easy to break the Masquerade that way. Can you imagine if the Mayor of Knoxville was really a Ghoul? There’s no way she could hide her addiction, and the madness that seems to come upon Ghouls, and her slavish devotion to another for long. No, better to use your mortal Allies to control the Mayor, and have a ghoul as a lower functionary of her office to keep an eye on things. Of course, that’s just my opinion.
Just the opinion of a guy who’s survived for a lot longer than you have. Take it or leave it.
Other Kinds of Retainers
So here’s where it gets fun. Your retainers don’t have to be mortals. Ever seen a ghouled dog? Those things are fierce, and fiercely loyal to their master. Imagine a big junkyard dog with supernatural Celerity, Vigor, and Resilience. Who’s going to fight that thing? I’ve known Gangrel who have ghouled hawks to keep watch over hunting grounds. I even heard of a Nosferatu who’d ghouled a rat once. Just the things you hear.
Then there’s plants. Now I don’t know anyone who’s done this, but apparently there are some Kindred who’ve figured out how to ghoul plants. They plant them like stationary guardians around their havens. Crazy stuff.
There’s also ghoul families. I doubt you’ll ever find one of these in Knoxville, but apparently there’s some mortal families who have been bred like cattle for generations to make exceptional ghouls. They are particularly adept at being ghouls. I also hear they’re all inbred and insane, but then that’s no different than a pug, is it?
Finally, every so often you hear a rumor about someone who’s managed to addict a Werewolf, or a Mage, or something weird like that. Does that even work? I have no idea. I think the people who tell these stories are full of it. God knows I’m not about to stroll into the mountains to find out. But there’s no one in Knoxville who’s done it, and I don’t know of anyone anywhere who’s done it. So that probably means it can’t be done.