The vampires of White Wolf’s World of Darkness are consummate predators. Predators – generally speaking – don’t often suffer the company of other predators, particularly those that compete for the same food source, and rarely willingly when it does happen. One of the few things that encourages vampires to interact with each other is affiliation within a covenant. Such affiliations tend – by the very nature of their members – to be relatively loose ties, but they are not fleeting; vampires in the World of Darkness take a very dim view of those who willingly sever their connection to their covenant-mates. In The Invictus, White Wolf takes a look at the feudalistic covenant envied by many and hated by most – even by some of those within.
Of the major covenants, the Invictus is perhaps the most often noticed. The First Estate, as they are sometimes called, recruit others by showing their power and wealth; they maintain those two attributes by creating a feudal system of governance, demanding absolute loyalty from all within the covenant. As such, the Invictus is less popular with younger vampires; feudalism isn’t a natural state for most of the modern world, and those who crossed over in more recent nights tend to have less affinity – and less patience – for the very slow rate of upward mobility to be found within the covenant’s membership. Power is concentrated at the top, among those judged worthy by virtue of having survived ages and amassed an impressive array of powers and wealth. Invictus elders like to think of their covenant as a “Meritocracy;” as long as they have control, they can believe anything they like.
The Invictus is also a covenant that encourages a larger degree of patronage than most, in a sense fostering younger Kindred until they are old enough to stand on their own, and Kindred of any clan are welcome to join. Were it not intensely frowned upon, a vampire could be fostered under mentors within the Invictus then jump to another covenant – say the Lancaea Sanctum, or even become an unbound vampire. Such a thing is severely (and sometimes fatally) discouraged. Formal to the extreme, Invictus elders know that there is proper etiquette and ritual to be observed in nearly everything; the role of Mentor is far more than symbolic, for there is much a novice Invictus must learn. Fortunately, she has an eternity spreading out ahead of her in which to acquire the knowledge she must have.
The book begins with a summary of the Covenant’s history, tracing its lineage to the nights of the Roman Empire shortly before the second century, AD. Chapter one describes how the Invictus came to power in those first nights, how they carved an empire for the Covenant after Rome’s fall, and how they – eventually – traveled to the New World and spread their influence even there. Chapter two covers etiquette, titles, and protocol within the Invictus. It explains how formality and ritual help vampires combat the ravages of time and of their Beast, forcing them to adhere to proper behavior rather than tear someone’s throat out for any insult – real or imagined. Mention of several notable Invictus Houses is also made, with explanation of what goes into founding such a House and how they function. Mention is also made of founding a dynasty – a group of Kindred who share rule of an area, cycling through torpor and waking states in turn and care for the members of the dynasty who slumber. An interesting concept for NPCs, it hardly seems fully functional for a group of PCs – though one PC from a coterie may be part of such a dynasty, generating no end of complications for his unlife.
Chapter three deals with the inner workings of The Invictus; how the covenant operates, what it collectively thinks of the other covenants, the unbound, and even less savory individuals; the roles of neonates, ancillae and elders in the covenant; guilds, Merits and the Invictus way of doing business. Commerce is important to The Invictus; it’s their lifeblood, and one of the strongest pillars supporting their power base. Threats to that power base are also discussed, primarily regarding how to deal with them in true Invictus style. Chapter Four covers Factions and Bloodlines. To think of factions within the Invictus as groups with opposing goals is not entirely accurate. The factions exist to further the ends of the covenant — maintaining a firm grip on power. To that end these groups are very likely to work together – even co-operate – to achieve this common goal. In a sense, the factions are more like service organizations or government bureaus than true factions. Membership in any of these organizations is obtained through invitation only; neonates must prove their drive and resourcefulness and must meet certain minimum requirements to even merit consideration. One of the factions – an order of Invictus Knights – exists solely as a self-sacrificing body ready to defend Invictus members to the death should they request it.
Chapter Five concerns itself with Invictus-specific Disciplines, and with Blood Oaths. Blood Oaths generally bind one Kindred to perform a service for another; generally the more specific the task, the easier to bring it to completion and be rid of it’s compulsion. Most Blood Oaths inflict a penalty – usually physical damage – on a Kindred sworn to a task who does not attempt to carry out the duty. Blood Oaths are rarely used these nights, though the threat of their execution is often enough to encourage proper behavior and due diligence. The final chapter offers a collection of ready-made Invictus NPCs for use in any campaign. These characters are suitable for use as allies, antagonists, or even just characters to flesh out a city’s roster of covenant members when the GM is pressed for time.
The Invictus is a highly useful book for those wishing to explore the ins and outs of the First Estate. It’s interesting and well-written as a casual read, but is of far more value to those with characters functioning within (or against) the covenant. At a suggested retail price of $31.99 for a print copy, it’s well worth the cost to obtain such closely guarded knowledge; it would be wise to be cautious with whom one shares its contents…
This review originally appeared on Flames Rising.com.