One of the many vampiric conventions that has not changed, either within the setting over the past thousand years, or cross-genre through computer games, novelizations, movies, and action figures, is that vampire politics seem to be stuck in the past. Vampires, at least in a vast majority of cases, always seem to be associated with ancient nobility, from Count Dracula to the noble houses of Underworld to Lord Harkon in Skyrim. The convoluted bloodlines and lineages - and even the fact that they use words like "bloodline" and "lineage" - of vampires represent their Byzantine way of thinking and the way they conduct their relationships. Many of these same political and social conventions are found in the Worlds of Darkness, in spite of (or in reaction to) counter-conventions like the Anarch Movement or the Carthian Movement. The thing about these qualities of feudalism is that in the majority of cases, they still work within the realm of vampire politics in spite of the rest of the world moving on with various other conceptions of how the social contract should be written.
A feudal society is patriarchal. Or, at the very least, it is militaristic, which in human culture traditionally amounts to the same thing. (Apologies to Lucia y Aragon, Fatima al-Faqadi, and Buffy.) In Vampire: The Masquerade, however, there are a goodly number of females in places of power, but these seem to be equal parts cunning politicking and sheer ass-kicking power. Gender takes a secondary role to the ability to get things done - Queen Anne of London, Inyanga of Chicago, the almost-Prince of New York Victoria Ash, Lucia the Archbishop of Aragon, and numerous other vampiresses in power demonstrate that after a certain point, brawn and brains matter more than bits. However, there are still many facets of feudal vampiric society that still have a patriarchal slant: vampiric society still focuses on authority (and maintaining that authority thanks to some militaristic branch), battle, and as according to my last blog, pride, loyalty, and honor. (Or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.) These qualities are hardly unique to only patriarchial societies, but those are the big qualities we can put names on.
The feudal, patriarchial, and militaristic mindset is a pretty reasonable one when we consider its source: the feudal era. Vampires are creatures of habit, and the vampires in power are almost uniformally those vampires who are old enough to have been raised as mortals in a feudal system - or even earlier. The trappings of such a society are everywhere in modern vampire society: the "Prince", the primogen ("the firstborn"), the Sheriff, the Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and priests, etc, etc, are all masculine terms, or at least have taken on a life of their own as neuter titles. (Even Queen Elizabeth I was proud to call herself a "Prince".) The few exceptions to this rule - Queen Anne of London, the odd pack "priestess" - are distinguished only because they are so unusual. Vampires are frequently portrayed as being extremely traditional creatures, so it is small wonder than this social tradition has carried on through a thousand years.
The interesting thing about feudalism in the 1990s and the new millenium is that it exists largely as a fabrication of vampires, and is perpetrated only by them. It exists only behind the Masquerade. No mortal would expect a well-to-do businesswoman on her rise to the top to bend the knee before a diseased-looking beggar, no matter if that beggar is a 400-year-old Nosferatu elder and the businesswoman a fresh-out-of-the-grave neonate. Any mortal observing a gathering of vampires at an Elysium would probably be thrown by the total lack of any "real" distinction, where not only do businesswomen bow to bums, but a sixty-year-old man may be the childe of a seemingly twelve-year-old kid. (As in the case of Abraham Dusable and his sire Nicolai, both of Chicago.) Out in public, another Masquerade must be put in place to hide not only the physical differences, but the social ones as well. It simply would not do for any modern Statesperson to go around calling anybody "your lordship". In Europe it might be even worse, because there still ARE "your lordships" around, and if you get caught calling somebody else by that title, you're in some pretty hot water. (Not literally anymore, but still.)
Why does it matter what kind of social system vampires use? Why not play the whole game according to Anarch ideals, or with the Carthian Movement taking over? It helps thematically, certainly: if you want to establish how alien and different this "society of darkness" is, making most of its members out to be racist, sexist, feudal, and prideful never hurts. Regardless of the way the mortals in the setting live their lives, turning vampiric society into a feudal extreme is usually different enough to shock the characters at least for the first few nights. Some Clans and individuals deal with the transition better than others, but sooner or later all vampires are beaten into the feudal mold - because beating someone is still acceptable to the feudal mindset.
Feudalism certainly matters to the plot - it makes a big difference whether the Prince is Prince because his sire was Prince, or whether because he was voted into power, or simply because he single-handedly killed the old Prince and installed himself as despot. Depending on the exact route to power taken, a feudal society provides many plot points to base a story off of. Ambition and the lust for power are always good; but such goals would be a little less appropriate in, say, a democratic government. (You can still HAVE ambition and the lust for power, but it's a bad thing to ADMIT it.) Tradition and blind respect for authority are good for situating antagonistic characters that may seem unreasonable or even insane to younger vampires ("What do you mean, 'because he's the Prince?' I don't care if he's the President!") Introducing feudalism to younger vampires, especially, is a good way to get them hooked into a plot: if you show disrespect to the wrong person, or skip the chain of command, some bitter crotchety old vampire suddenly has it out for you. Even if you play the game perfectly, your character may get stuck in a role that they are not happy with, and suddenly the entire system out to be brought down simply so your character has some wiggle room.
Feudalism, finally, matters to every character. Even a vampire Embraced from the counter-culture of the 1960s has to find a way to deal with it, for the simple fact that if they don't, they are either totally on their own, or dead. Finding a happy compromise is difficult, so a character must be able to find some sort of balance between what they expected vampirism to be like (freedom from mortal concerns, the ability to go anywhere and do anything, the power to shape the world as they see fit) is met with the much more grim and threatening reality. Vampires who refuse to play along often end up as the object of Blood Hunts for the simple reason that the elders of the city want everything to go their own way, and they way is the old way, and the old way is feudalism. As you can see here, feudalism can be a defining aspect of the character's morality and personalty, as well, especially if they are one of those crotchety old elders. A Malkavian elder born, raised, and Embraced during the 1100s may freak out if his narrow idea of what is "right and proper" is abused - how dare that rancid little neonate come talk to him directly! There is protocol to be followed! And as we all know, a vampire who can't follow simple protocol is ticking time-bomb as far as diablerie goes! On a quieter note, a vampire character may find it helpful to fall back on feudal ideas for the sake of convenience. Keep in mind that an Anarch leader with an "open door policy" could be swamped by the demands and requests of his entire city, whereas a Prince with numberous underlings and minions can afford to delegate and deal only with important problems.
From simple psychological comfort to a very messy need for order and authority, feudalism and vampires seem to be inextricably tied together. For the purposes of Vampire: The Masquerade, Vampire: The Requiem, and most probably the World of Darkness MMO, feudalism is alive and well, or at least refuses to die without a long and intense fight. As a system of government and society both, feudalism can be used to launch all sorts of interesting Chronicles, both those very "period" and traditional, and those whose goal is to overthrow the old way and to create something new... at least until the "new way" becomes the "old way"... As a system that still allows and even promotes violence as a way of settling issues, there is still plenty of room for those Machiavellian politics to make it onto the battlefield, providing a strong mix of whichever spheres of play a character might like to choose. Feudalism as it exists as of 1999 is still a force to be reckoned with, and one that will meet its detractors on the field in full armor and bearing truly wicked weapons.
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