The Order of the Crimson Lion
IN YOUR GAME
When James Musgrave took the Baltimore, he knew that holding it would be exceptionally difficult. The strategically-important city was on the edge of Sabbat territory, and essentially cut off from the Camarilla (He knew enough at this point not to count on Washington for assistance). While some among the city's new inhabitants would be willing and even able to fight, their vigilance would be less than satisfactory. A standing army, dedicated to protecting the city, would be needed. Thus, the Order of the Crimson Lion was born.
Several ideas inspired the Order. The basic idea came from the knightly orders throughout history, such as the Templars, Dragon, Bath, and so on right back to the legendary Round Table. Another element, ironically, came from the Sabbat itself. One of the sect's strengths is the cohesiveness of their field units (packs). The pack works as a team, with the members showing great loyalty to each other. This devotion is reenforced by the vaulderie ritual (resembling a group blood bond). By reworking the ritual, James, Gretchen Verhoven (former deep cover agent in the Sabbat), and Vickie Trasker (Tremere regent) created a means to join the knights together in a bond stronger than any other affiliation, including clan.
James, as the Principal of the Order, partakes equally of the Valderie. Through a quirk of his lineage, the blood bond has no affect on him (he has not seen fit to mention this to the others), allowing him to have a "clearer head" in an emergency. He believes the vaulderie is superior to the Justicar method of simply blood-binding archons. While an archon works for his justicar, she may still scheme to improve her standing in her lord's eyes by weakening other archons. The vaulderie, James reasoned, allows the members of the pack to work together more effectively by assisting each other in their mission.
Chuck Waters had been in the Prince's mansion only once before. Nearly a year ago, he was brought before the prince and the assembled Kindred of the city. The ignorant brood of an anarch, his friends were questioned, tested. He and a couple of others walked out of the room. His more rebellious friends didn't.
A year had passed, a year of learning to survive among his kind, and being watched by the elders to see if "blood will tell." Now he walked into the mansion again, under his own volition, to ask a favor of the most powerful vampire in the city, and to offer one in return.
The prince sat in his high-backed chair, nodding politely to the young Brujah. "Ah, Mr. Waters. What can I do for you?"
"I. . . have a favor to ask," Chuck said; he was proud of himself that no stammer betrayed the tension he felt.
"Indeed?" Musgrave made a tent with his fingers, and looked at the neonate with almost fatherly interest. "If it is in my power and a just thing. . ."
"I want to join the Order of the Crimson Lion."
An elder Toreador could have read surprise in the prince's face, but the young Brujah saw only dignified calm. He studied the gangly youth a moment before speaking. "I see. And why to you wish this thing?"
"When. . . before Belle found us, I was in Junior ROTC. My family has always its duty for its country. I was going to be an officer. . . I can't really do that now, but I want to serve." He faltered and fell silent.
"Go on," the prince murmured encouragingly. For all his awesome power, he radiated a parental warmth that emboldened the neonate. The Brujah continued.
"I want be part of something bigger than I am. I want to do something meaningful."
The prince nodded thoughtfully. "You realize that it is not in my power to bring you into the Order." Seeing surprise and disappointment on Chuck's face, he quickly added, "The Order decides together who may join its ranks.
"First, you must have a knight stand for you. I doubt you will have trouble finding someone. You and your sponsor will stand before the assembled order and declare your candidacy. Tests both mental and physical will show whether you are right for the Order, and whether it is right for you."
Who does the Order look for to fill its ranks? A natural aptitude for combat is helpful, and is frequently found among soldiers and gang members. Another element which may surprise is intelligence. The best soldiers are able to think on their feet to adapt to changing situations. Though individual initiative is essential, teamwork is also important. The knight can think independently, improvise when necessary, but still work closely with a team.
Lastly, useful skills or aptitudes -- for instance, advanced career training in intelligence work or a stint as a SEAL demolitions specialist. Lately, the Order has begun to branch out, training knights for espionage and technical duties, although all knights must still excel in combat.
Who wants to join the Order? Generally, recruits are less than a decade undead, with no other avenue to the kind of power afforded by being a member of the prince's elite enforcers. Likewise, the Order's rigorous training regimen and frequent missions accelerate a Kindred's growth far beyond what she could accomplish on her own. Also a factor is the need to be a part of something larger, to belong to a group that can be trusted to stand up for its members; such things are deeply missed by young ones in Kindred society.
Clans Brujah and Gangrel make up the bulk of the Order, but no clan would be turned away on principle. Although the Tremere would be valuable assets, the clan would never allow one of their own to join -- letting anything come before the Clan is not in their creed.
James leaned back in his chair, which some said resembled a throne. As he watched the progress of the market in Tokyo on his computer screen, he spoke to his Sheriff, Commander Denys Leconte, in the man's native French.
". . . and furthermore, Thurday's Elysium has been rescheduled for Friday. I won't be attending, but I would like a contingent to attend. Three knights should be sufficient."
"I will see to it, my prince." The tall, dashing Frenchman bowed slightly.
"Yes, my Prince. . . you wished to know of the recruit's progress, no?"
"Yes, how is our new Brujah doing?"
"He is young and untrained, but shows potential. He keeps his wits about him, and refuses to give up even when the deck is impossibly stacked against him. In the alley scenario, he only barely missed staking an invisible opponent by a hand's breadth."
"He was given a stake?"
"No, lord, he fashioned one from a wooden pallet. Still, he fought at least as well as the Sabbat packmembers we've encountered lately, and all with native ability."
James allowed the hint of a smile to play across his lips. He had seen promise in the neonate. Thus far his instincts were proving correct. "And how do the others feel?" he asked after a moment's consideration.
"They think he will be an asset. He is young and untried, but throws himself into the tests. I think they approve of him, my Prince. When shall we move to the next step?"
The prince turned to face the monitor on his desk. "A week, perhaps. Just to be sure. But I think he'll do."
A prospective knight spends his time in training and testing. The "squire" is questioned by members of the Order to learn his beliefs, his quickness of wit, and his personality. They also look for signs of ulterior motives, and one can imagine the fate that befalls an infiltrator.
There are also physical tests of endurance, strength, wits and agility. Often the squire is pitted against other Knights who may be armored, armed, or invisible. But the tests aren't necessarily combat-oriented -- the candidate may be required to put a puzzle together in a burning house and escape without succumbing to rotschreck.
There is also preliminary training as well, and the candidate is taught about chivalry and the Order (though nothing which would compromise the Order).
All in all, the whole process is not unlike Marine Boot Camp in many respects, for it psychologically breaks down the neonate to be rebuilt and reborn as a soldier, and a part of a team most uncommon in the Kindred world. Those who were soldiers in life find the process easier to adjust to. It would be very difficult for one undead more than a few years to be molded successfully, as the older one gets the more fixed they are in their ways.
The testing period may last weeks or months. At any point the candidate may drop out with no penalty; likewise, the Order may reject the squire for any reason at any point. Should both decided the squire is suitable, the candidate undergoes a final test.
Commander LeConte was obviously a proud man; in fact, he radiated pride with every movement and every word. This aura infected everyone around him, lifting the spirits of his fellow knights. Now he stood before Chuck Waters, a sword at his waist and an ornate staff in his hand. His words, spoken with a pronounced French accent, rang with authority in the small stone room.
"You wish to join the Order. Do you think yourself worthy? Its history is short but distinguished. You will do nothing to disgrace the order, or defame its name. To do so will be anathema to you. Final Death will mean less to you than preserving the honor of the Order and of your comrades. A hundred years from now, the Order of the Crimson Lion will be a name which will echo with awe in the halls of the Camarilla, and which will bring dread to the rebels of the Sabbat. When you assume the mantle of a knight, you join those who will fight beside you, and those who have given their utmost for our cause. When you speak our motto, you will hear the voices of the honored heroes who have gone before, crying as one, "Hold the Line!"
"For a full month you've been tested by the other knights, and found promising -- not up to our standards, but promising. Now, the last test; it is a test which you must administer yourself. For three nights you will hold a vigil in this chapel. There you will reflect on what we've told you, on the principles the Order is founded on, on the courage the bravest knights and the greatest soldiers have shown from antiquity to this very night. Then, search your heart and decide if you are truly fit to stand beside them, and us.
"If the path daunts you, you may leave here with honor and the respect of the Order, for few possess both the wisdom to recognize their shortcomings and the courage to admit them. But if you decide you are worthy to walk the road among us, you will be taken to the hall, there to be knighted and to give a mighty oath, a blood oath between the members of the order."
"A blood oath?" asked the candidate.
"It is an oath sealed with the sharing of blood. The ritual creates a magical bond between the oathbearers which nothing save Final Death can sunder.
"Think most carefully on this matter. You commit yourself to a task few could bear, and fewer would wish to. Fulfilling this obligation may require that you lay down your existence for your fellows or your city. Certainly it will mean constant vigilance. You will have three great duties. First, towards the Order; next, to the Camarilla; lastly, to this City. Think on these in the darkness here, and be wholehearted in your choice, whatever it may be." With that, the commander left the room. The lights faded, and Chuck Waters was left in blackness.
Prince James built a large facility where knights can meet and train. Referred to simply as "the Castle" by the Order, the place has state-of-the-art security and would be quite difficult to capture.
In the Castle's basement is a small stone room known as "the chapel," an octagonal chamber whose stained-glass panes are lit from behind by electric lamps. Inscribed on the walls are the names of all the members of the Order; the names of the fallen are inlaid with gold. The chapel is used for quiet meditation, and is the location of a candidate's three-night vigil. During the vigil, the Kindred may drink nothing, nor do anything except think on what the order and what he is about to undertake.
It was time.
Two months of training and testing; suffering the agonies of wounds and the pangs of hunger; and the vigil, all building to this moment.
Chuck fought to keep from shaking with elation and fear as he slowly walked down the great hall. To either side stood the Knights at attention. Everyone in the Order wore sharp black uniforms, trimmed in silver. Each left shoulder sported a shield with a red lion, rared up to strike. A silver badge with the same logo graced each pressed shirt.
Before him, James appeared out of thin air, draped with an ermine-trimmed scarlet robe. Around his neck, a heavy golden chain bearing a medallion of the Order's crest, and he wore a golden coronet on his raven head. He radiated royal power. The effect was effective to say the least; Chuck knelt before his prince, completely awed by the regal magnificence. Without a word, the Order formed a circle around the initiate. James stood before the kneeling neonate.
"Charles Waters of Clan Brujah, you are here to join the ranks of the Order of the Crimson Lion. Is it still you intention to become a Knight of our Order?"
"Yes, my Prince." Chuck's voice was low, but mercifully it was steady.
"Knowing full well the trials and hardships a Knight must face, even unto Final Death?"
"Yes, my Prince." Stronger now.
The prince took from LeConte a large silver chalice and a beautiful but subtly decorated dagger. Setting the cup on a silver stand, he held aloft the knife. "In token of the blood you shall shed for your cause, and the blood we all shed for each other." A small cut across his palm, and the prince's rarified blood flowed into the vessel. The wound closed in a moment, and he handed the blade to Commander LeConte, who followed his example. Prince Musgrave looked down upon Waters. "Swear your oath now."
"I, Chuck Waters, do solemnly swear. . ." He had been terrified of forgetting the words, for he'd never been that swift at memorization. But once he got underway, the words came easier. The circle of Knights began to turn, each one taking their place at the chalice, slicing palm or wrist unflinchingly.
". . . I vow to uphold the principles of the Camarilla and of the Traditions. . ." As he continued, the Knights returned to their starting places. James lifted the great cup in both hands and placed it before the candidate, who continued his litany. ". . . and with this blood I pledge my faith, to Order, to Sect, and to City. My blood I shed for my fellows as they shed theirs for me." Steeling himself, he was amazed that the ultra-sharp dagger slid across his palm with little pain. He let the blood flow into the nearly-brimming chalice before willing the cut closed. "And may my blood turn to fire in my veins if I dishonor them."
James lifted the chalice above his head, and spoke is what sounded to Chuck like a Latin prayer. The sound of it made the Brujah's hairs stand on end, though he couldn't say why. Then the cup was handed down to him. The mixture of blood was sweet elixir, and he drank deep from the chalice before handing it to the Prince. James also drank of it before passing it to the Commanders. When the cup had passed to the last of the Order and set upon the stand, the prince drew forth a long, brilliantly-polished sword.
"Then it the name of the Order, and it the Traditions it upholds, I dub thee Sir Waters, Knight of the Order of the Crimson Lion. Arise, Sir Knight, and take your place with your eternal companions."
Should a candidate survive the period of physical and mental tests, and the assembled Knights approve, the candidate is offered membership. The ceremony usually takes place in a hall in the Castle, and is one of the few occasions the entire attends in full regalia.
It is a memorable time for every knight, and even those who went into the process with a 'tude can't help but be moved by the ceremony.
There are several upsides to joining the order. One is the increased increased status.
Another is trust -- belonging to a group that will never betray you, and that will always be there to support you, is quite rare among the Cainites. It's expected that all the members would give their unlives for each other.
A third is power -- The badge of the Crimson Lion gives a knight authority backed by the prince directly. This lets him go places denied to other Kindred, such as personal havens. Naturally, abuse of this authority brings severe punishments from the prince and the other members of the Order, but thus far no one has leveled accusations of abuse before the prince. Disciplines and knowledge which advance the Order's causes are easily obtained, without heavy prestation debts. For example, if a Brujah knight wanted to learn how to change his appearance so as to infiltrate a gang, he need but ask a Nosferatu knight for tutelage. Should the knight need such a favor another of the Order couldn't provide, he may ask the prince's permission to obtain it elsewhere. The resulting debt would be on James' account rather than the knight's. Knights have access to almost any equipment they need for their duties, from silver bullets to the latest military prototypes. The libraries of the world are also available, and arrangements for special training can be handled as only powerful Kindred can do ("You need to learn Thracian and basic astrology? Okay, what are you doing next Friday?")
Another, and most secret, perk is the possibility of sanctioned diablerie. While James considers the practice of diablerie morally repugnant, these Sabbat fighters see the need for using the enemy's strength to augment their own. After interrogation, James gives a captured Sabbat to a Knight who can benefit (i.e., could drop in generation by drinking the prisoner's soul).
Finally, there is the increased status that comes from recognition and support of the prince.
Adherence to duty and honor are paramount to knights of the Order. Personal schemes and plans take a back seat to duty. Knights must act as bodyguards, police, secret service and soldiers. Their foremost foe is the Sabbat, but anything that violates the Traditions is in their bailiwick. As such, knights are expected to be ready to perform their duties at a moment's notice, at any time. Further, they are expected to give their unlives if necessary, something many Kindred are unwilling to contemplate.
Required Talents: Brawl (at least 2), Masquerade (at least 1)
Required Skills: Firearms (2 or better), Melee (2 or better)
Required Knowledges: Area Knowledge (City and/or area of operations, i.e, Bay Area), Sabbat Lore (2), Tactics, Kindred Lore 2
Encouraged Knowledges: A science or technical knowledge (Science, Electronics, etc.), Linguistics, A Lore (Lupine, Mage, Camarilla, etc)
Required Disciplines: Auspex 2, Fortitude
Encouraged Disciplines: Celerity, Dominate, Obfuscate, Protean,
Knights are expected to know on sight most of the recognized Kindred in Baltimore.
Permission to make 2 or 3 Ghouls
Effective +1 to Status (thus, a typical starting character would begin at Status 2)
Sanctioned diablerie (under very specific circumstances)
The order has a ceremonial uniform for special occasions. This is a black (reinforced) military-style outfit trimmed in silver. On one shoulder is the Order's seal, a rampant red lion. On the right breast is a pin of the seal. Depending on the situation, ornamented (but quite functional) swords and compact assault weapons are common accouterments.
Outside of special events, there is no standardized uniform. Clothes vary by operation, from street clothes to formal wear to black combat fatigues. The Order's emblem, whether as a pin or a patch, is worn when practical.
James Musgrave--Principal of the Order
Denys Leconte--10th Ventrue. Commander OCL, Lord Sheriff of Baltimore.
Todd Matthews-- 10th Ventrue. area: Security.
Nicole Avery--11th Lasombra. area: intelligence analyst.
Lori Custodes--12th (13th) Brujah, area: small arms specialist.
Jerome "Rooftop" Townsend--11th Brujah, area: Gangs.
Chuck Waters--13th Brujah. OCL in training.
Ryan Hicks--10th (11th) Gangrel. area: Lupines.
Jim Nimoy--9th (10th) Malkavian. area: communications.
Phil Harris--11th. Nosferatu, area: underground.
Sharon Misra--13th Caitiff. area: demolitions and traps.
The prince generally has at least two members guarding his mansion or person. Three or four knights are actively patrolling the city on a given night, but all are on call. Patrolling could include cruising streets, staking out clubs, or spying on known Kindred havens. During a quiet week, a knight can expect to be on patrol three nights, training or on standby two nights, and off duty (but on call) two nights. Of course, when action is anticipated the whole force is mobilized.
Patrols are usually in groups of two or three. Should a situation develop, a quick call to the Castle brings in orders and reinforcements. The Order also has "safehouses" throughout the city, allowing knights to always be near supplies and an emergency daytime bolthole.
While knights are effective fighters even when alone, in combination they are a devastating force. Rigorous training and teamwork allow knights to work together seamlessly, using their strengths to best effect while compensating for any weaknesses.
After any situation or mission is resolved, the knights are debriefed by Leconte and Musgrave. The resulting information can be used to improve tactical reaction in the future,
The focus, discipline and inventiveness of the knights has made the Order extremely successful in holding the Sabbat and Anarchs at bay. While attrition within the Order has been considerable (4 destroyed and 5 torpored in two years), the body count of the opposition is very impressive (26 Sabbat destroyed or captured, 15 Anarchs destroyed or captured).
The View of the Kindred
Many among the Baltimore Kindred know little about the Order apart from their apparent bodyguard function.
While grateful for their protection, many Kindred also fear these "jack-booted brownshirts" (to quote one anarch). A few have heard the knights are bloodbound to the Prince -- an unpopular notion, for it paints James as just another tyrant. Indeed, the Order constitutes a significant part of the Kindred population in the city, making it likely that any opposition to his rule could be quashed easily. More than one prince with noble intentions has in time succumbed to the tempation of absolute control over all in their domain.
Those who know of the Vaulderie are wary of the Sabbat-like tactics; representative of several Justicars have found their way to Baltimore to observe and question. The pragmatic among them are generally satisfied in the way the Order is handled. Indeed, the Ventrue Archon overseeing the "New England Theater" is planning to adopt the Crimson Lion model for his upcoming campaigns.
IN YOUR GAME
Players can be Knights, although I'd recommend all the players be involved; members are usually too busy to spend much time gallavanting with others, and more importantly, Knights don't form close bonds with non-Knights, being Bound to the other members of the Order. You can use the Order as is; stats for most of the characters can be found in previous issues of this 'zine. You could also place them in different cities.
Instead of working for a prince, these characters can be the archons (Texas rangers of Kindred society), of a justicar (investigator, judge and jury of the Camarilla). Archons tend to be nomatic in nature, travelling from city to city in search of criminals.
By changing a few stats, the Order could become a Saxon warband, a Mongol micro-horde, or even a group of samauri following their daimyo. They can be generic villains, looting and pillaging, or they can be bad guys out to get the player character in particular ("I haven't forgotten 1527, nave. Now it's payback time.")