Rust Never Sleeps
In the eyes of those who don’t understand it – and, admittedly, of some who do – the Invictus is the despised aristocracy of the undead, the gentry who did nothing to earn their position but who would do anything to maintain it. They’re the landlord, the overseer, the dictator. The Invictus might not truly hold much more authority across the domains than the other covenants do, but it makes such a big deal about what power it does have that many Kindred often associate it with the highest offices. The Invictus often tries to portray itself as among the oldest covenants, with or without justification. Oldest or not, the covenant is certainly tenured. It has vast interest- and influence – in mortal affairs, and many outside the covenant see it as the guardian (sometimes excessively so) of the Masquerade.
To an extent, the common perception of the Invictus is accurate as far as it goes, but it leaves the greatest depths of the covenant unexamined. The so-called First Estate is, at its heart, still rooted in the feudal system. It was purportedly during some stage soon after the collapse of the Roman Empire that the Invictus developed into what it is tonight, cementing a dogma that its elders claim (accurately or not) actually predates the fall. Call it divine right, the natural order, rule by the strong or whatever you like — the Invictus operates entirely as a system of linked monarchies. Everything is about power. Those who don’t have it want it, while those who have it want to keep and increase it.
To hear the Invictus tell it, the covenant represents a meritocracy. The Kindred with the greatest skill, the greatest ambition and ultimately the greatest claim to leadership eventually rise to dominance. In the process, they are tempered, learning to deal with all manner of impediments, political, social or martial. If the Invictus is ruled by Princes, they are Princes of their own making.
It’s a nice conceit. In many select regions, it’s even true. For the most part, however, the First Estate is like any feudal government — those at the top stay there, and those at the bottom are crushed. If personal strength determines political power, how can young Kindred possibly advance? After all, their elder rivals already have the advantage of decades if not centuries of head start. They’re stronger. They’re wiser. They’re far more experienced in the political arena. And unlike mortal aristocracies, in which the up-and-comers could count on positions eventually opening up, Invictus elders aren’t likely to die naturally anytime soon, and those who fall to torpor have time to set their allies and pawns up to take their place. The Invictus, then, represents the pinnacle of achievement for the aristocracy: The illusion of equal opportunity without the reality of it. Many young Kindred aren’t fooled, but many others are — and just enough of the young really do manage to carve out their own niche to make the covenant appealing. After all, despite the apparent dearth of opportunity, the Invictus really is one of the most powerful and influential factions. Sure, it’s hard to move up the ladder, but if you can, you’re going to be far more powerful than, say, someone of equivalent standing among the Carthians or some would-be tyrant among the unaligned.
The Invictus claims to have popularized the use of many of the common titles and ranks in Kindred society, particularly that of Prince. In all ways, the covenant thinks in terms of aristocracy, or at least gentry. In the Old World, the image remains of the noble holding court. In America, that image has evolved in some regions into industrial barons and old-money families, an unofficial yet no less effective elite. In either case, one thing remains the same — those who have it, have it, and those who don’t, don’t.
Ultimately, then, the Invictus exists in part to maintain order among the Kindred. Like any aristocracy, the First Estate suffers in lawlessness. Only through an ordered existence and the rule of law can the leaders of the covenant maintain their power. With the possible exception of the Lancea Sanctum, which has religious motivations for its actions, the Invictus is the most draconian covenant when it comes to enforcing the letter of the Traditions and Kindred law. It maintains the illusion of freedom and opportunity within the covenant, cloaking its tyrannical system in metaphors of “government by the fittest,” in hopes of appealing to those outside its ranks, but the group is truly more concerned with keeping order among its own ranks. If the masses don’t behave, then all the power the elders have built upon their backs must crumble.
And that, of course, leads to the First Estate’s unstated (but hardly secret) second purpose: Not merely maintaining order, but keeping the elders who already hold power in charge of that order. Let them speak all they want about expanding the rule of law and the noble cause the Invictus represents. At the end of the night, it’s all about Princes, Primogen, and other elders keeping themselves at the top of the pile by stepping on the heads of those beneath them.
Most disturbing of all to young Kindred, be they members or potential members, is the nagging thought that the Invictus might have the right of it. Horrific as it sounds, this notion of keeping all power in the hands of a select few undying elders, one must ask the question: If not them, who? Who else would have both the knowledge and the power necessary to fill such a position and to keep a covenant of inherently selfish predators functioning? If the Invictus’ oppressive and tyrannical nature has lasted this long, maybe that’s because it works.
For what should be fairly obvious reasons, the Invictus often appeals far more to elder Kindred than to neonates. In the incestuous political arena that the Invictus favors, age and experience are of far greater value than anything youth might offer. Young Kindred outnumber elders, and they have a much better grasp on the changes the modern world has brought about. Many elders face those facts with a dread akin to that inspired by open flame, and the notion of a government specifically designed to keep the established strong and their childer weak is one that appeals immensely.
That said, a surprising number of ancillae and even neonates belong to the Invictus. In some instances, this is purely a matter of the Embrace. Traditionally, childer are obligated to serve their sires’ interests, at least for a time. More than any other covenant, the Invictus enforces an astonishing degree of servility. The offspring of many Invictus Kindred remain in the covenant, first out of duty, and then because they have either managed to eke out some status for themselves, or because they know no other way.
Other neonates join out of sheer ambition or self-confidence (or arrogance). True, most young Kindred have little chance of any real advancement, but the luckiest and most capable few do indeed manage to make their mark, to obtain positions of power or to even carve out their own little fiefdoms. It might be challenging to advance within the ranks of the Invictus, but the rewards for doing so are great.
The Invictus makes it easy for them. After all, the covenant wants as many members as possible. Not only do more members equate to a wider base of power, but even the most fearful elders acknowledge that they need young vampires to understand and take fullest advantage of the modern world. Of course, as with all lords, what Invictus elders really want are servants and vassals, not equals. Kings don’t build roads, they inspire and command others to do so. The larger a king’s retinue and army, the more power he holds, and the Invictus desires to hold all the power. Members of the covenant actively seek out other Kindred for membership, expounding the strengths and benefits of the covenant while glossing over the rather substantial downsides.
No procedure or test exists for joining the Invictus. A prospective member must often take an oath of loyalty before either a covenant or local official (a Prince, Primogen or a lesser “patron,” for instance). Of course, the covenant has members and the covenant has members. A new recruit can expect to be carefully observed for years, possibly even decades, before other Invictus members even deign to listen to him or allow him access to any sensitive information.
Given all this, the two common threads that run among almost all Invictus members, elder and neonate alike, are burning ambition and a belief in the rule of law. Those who are unwilling to work for every scrap of power — and, perhaps more to the point, to be constantly on guard against their rivals who do the same — have no place in the courts and corporate boardrooms of the First Estate. Those who aren’t prepared to operate within the unspoken rules, to play the games of politics and trading of favors, will never acquire enough allies to succeed (or, perhaps, even survive).
If the Invictus is devoted to a single philosophy, it must be the notion that power among the Kindred must remain in the hands of those who are worthy of wielding it. In and of itself, that’s not unreasonable. The Kindred are a violent, paranoid, ambitious race. If their society is to have any hope of survival and secrecy, someone has to be in charge. Where other covenants differ with the Invictus’ philosophy is largely in the notion of what “worthy” actually means.
The Invictus believes in keeping as much power as possible in its own hands, and in constantly acquiring more. A good member is one who either advances his position in society, or who aids other Invictus Kindred in advancing theirs. Apathetic or ineffective Kindred are tolerated only as lackeys and pawns.
The covenant’s overarching philosophy has spawned several other guidelines, all on the level of unwritten rules. That is, nobody’s going to write them down, but everyone who’s been in the covenant more than a short while knows better than to casually ignore them.
The Invictus Must Be Respected: Without a doubt, the Invictus prefers to announce its presence, yet it isn’t stupid about it. Members of the First Estate are experts at backroom deals and covert schemes, and they keep a secret as well as anyone. If the Invictus holds power in a region, though, it wants the Kindred to know that it’s in charge. Doing so inspires others to flock to its banners; after all, everybody likes being where the power is. Making a public show also helps squash any opposition to the faction’s local goals, since many Kindred are reluctant to take on a member of so powerful a covenant while they would have less objection to challenging, say, a Carthian leader. Finally, displays of power are simply a social convention. The Invictus is extremely hierarchical and very formal. Its members often demand the respect and status they feel they’re due. Many Invictus Princes and other leaders who choose to hold formal courts announce their covenant allegiance without ever saying the word “Invictus.” The Invictus, alone among covenants, considers itself to be an actual entity, worthy of admiration. The Carthians tend to eschew oaths of fealty, and the Lancea Sanctum and Circle of the Crone swear oaths to higher powers such as a god or spirit, first and foremost, with obedience to the covenant second. The Invictus alone not only demands oaths of loyalty to local covenant leaders, but considers them paramount above any and all other allegiances. It’s probably this practice that creates the illusion that so many Princes are Invictus. Because Invictus leaders often make such a point of their covenant affiliation, more so than those of other covenants, the First Estate is associated with the position.
Mortals Are Power: While all the covenants understand the need for the Masquerade, the Invictus focuses most heavily on not merely infiltrating but manipulating and influencing mortal society. In the covenant’s quest for political dominance, it wastes no opportunity — and six billion kine represent quite an opportunity. Most elder Kindred of all covenants wield some amount of influence in local affairs or among businessmen, but when one pictures the vampire sitting at the heart of a web of corporate, political, criminal and social connections — a rare but extant stereotype — one probably pictures a member of the Invictus.
Rituals And Observances
The Invictus has few covenant-wide observances. As a whole, the First Estate is concerned more with traditions of general behavior than with specific activities. Still, certain social customs and mores have survived to the modern era, though they have become such a standard part of the Invictus Requiem that many Kindred no longer recognize them as such.
Oaths Of Fealty: Due to its largely feudal structure, nearly every layer of interaction within the Invictus has a corresponding oath of fealty or loyalty. Followers swear oaths to leaders, childer to sires, thralls to regnants. And this, of course, doesn’t even count the oaths that Invictus-aligned city officials often demand from all their subjects, Invictus or otherwise. Rare indeed is the Invictus Kindred who does not labor under at least three or four oaths.
Recitation Of Lineage: Despite its claims that leaders are made, not born, the Invictus puts substantial social stock in its members’ parentage. The farther back a member can recite her blood, the more respect she is offered. Descent from a particularly notable Kindred confers great status in the covenant. Descent from a notorious ancestor, or an inability to recite a vast portion of one’s lineage, is grounds for scorn. Being able to claim membership in some of the more respected bloodlines (such as the so-called Mithraic Ventrue) is very nearly the equivalent of royalty, and the Invictus maintains a healthy regard for any bloodline or family capable of distinguishing itself from the parent clan by word or deed.
Formality Of Presentation: Most Invictus Princes hold very formal courts and rule very structured (so much as they can manage it) domains. Whether a domain is ruled like a corporate boardroom, an old South plantation or a literal feudal court, it almost certainly has formalities and procedures that must be observed. Invictus Kindred, on average, make use of more of the local titles than members of other covenants do, precisely because of their preoccupation with position and formality. Many Invictus Princes have a Seneschal announce arriving guests by name, title (if any) and lineage (if known). They insist on specific forms of address and possibly even styles of wardrobe from those who attend their courts. They might even insist on a certain degree of refinement when it comes to social interaction at court (vulgar jokes and coarse language could be forbidden). Mouthing off to a Prince, a Regent, or any other elder is grounds for severe chastisement, and more than one neonate with a “You can’t tell me what to do!” attitude has found himself subjected to a Vinculum, banishment or even been faced with the sunrise when initial warnings proved insufficient. In some cities where the Invictus wields a majority of the power, this formality extends even beyond Elysium. Kindred in such domains are expected to keep very close track of social status among all those with whom they interact, and to act accordingly. In such a city, failing to show proper deference to one of higher status can result in punishment, and showing too much deference to one of lower status results in substantial mockery and loss of face. Harpies hold nearly as much power in these cities as the Primogen, for they can grant or rescind social status at whim.
Old-Fashioned Communication: As an offshoot of the formality issue, many elder Invictus insist that most of their correspondence be conducted through the use of messengers or written letters. Telephones and email are considered gauche, the tools of an unlettered and ill-mannered youth. (Additionally, many elders are rightfully concerned that they don’t know enough to protect themselves from outside eavesdropping.) Most elders aren’t foolish about this protocol. When it comes to vital news or emergencies, they don’t object to receiving a call or an email (though even then, Princes often prefer their Seneschals or other servants to receive the information and then deliver it in person). Using these techniques for any other purpose, however, is grounds for a social snubbing at the very least. (Some young Kindred claim that this “tradition” actually exists only so that elders aren’t forced to reveal how uncomfortable and incompetent they are with modern appliances. They rarely make this claim in front of their elders, though.)
Monomacy: Tradition states that, in years gone by, the Invictus used formal duels, contests and trials by ordeal to settle otherwise unsolvable disputes. These duels and ordeals are known collectively as Monomacy. Some members of the covenant believed, as did many mortals in the Middle Ages, that God stepped in and ensured that victory went to the righteous party. Other members simply wanted a means whereby elders could settle personal issues without dragging pawns and even entire domains into the conflict. By the modern nights, the Invictus has largely abandoned its claims of divine right — even the most devout souls have difficulty believing that God takes a direct hand in duels — but it is still practiced by the staunchest supporters of the First Estate when a just cause arises.
Titles And Duties
Kindred who don’t fully understand the Invictus are often surprised to discover that the covenant actually has relatively few official titles and positions. What these outsiders don’t realize is that the Invictus doesn’t feel it needs many new titles, because it considers the standard offices described previously to be its own creations. Most officers hold the same approximate rank in the local Invictus as they do in the domain’s government. That is, an Invictus Prince is likely the leader of the local Invictus, as well. Invictus Primogen and Prisci hold power in the city and covenant. An Invictus Sheriff likely enforces order in the local Invictus as well as in the domain as a whole. In fact, only two titles that do not correspond to political positions are commonly found in Invictus domains.
Inner Circle: In some domains where the Invictus is not fully in control, or at least where many domain offices are held by members of other covenants, the covenant needs a body of leadership that does not consist entirely of officers of the city government. This is called the Inner Circle. Its members can be anyone, from the Prince and some of the Primogen to Kindred who hold no official position in the city at all. They set policy for the local Invictus and are always on the lookout for opportunities to advance their own positions. Strongly Invictus-dominant cities rarely have an Inner Circle. An Inner Circle exists only where the city government and the faction power structure are not one and the same. Further, this Invictus-specific “sub-Primogen” is possible only in the largest domains, where the Kindred population can support such a gathering.
Judex: Sometimes members of the Invictus come into conflict with one another. Under such circumstances, most members agree that turning to outsiders (such as city officials) for resolution is a poor idea, as it makes the covenant appear divided. Monomacy is reserved for only the gravest disputes, since few elders are willing to put their unlives on the line just to settle a disagreement. Most cities with more than the tiniest Invictus presence therefore have a Judex. Her job is, quite simply, to rule on disputes between Invictus Kindred. Once the parties involved agree to such mediation, the Judex’s ruling is binding, even over those Kindred who would normally hold greater authority (such as a Prince). Judices are chosen from among city officials (in Invictus-dominant domains), members of the Inner Circle or, at worst, from among the most respected Invictus present. Some cities have a standing Judex, and the position is usually filled by a candidate on whom the Prince and Primogen can agree (or whom the Prince can force the Primogen to acknowledge). Other domains choose their mediators on a conflict-by-conflict basis. Tradition states that the Judex in such instances must be chosen by a respected Kindred who has no obvious ties to either party. Doing so is often more difficult than it sounds, and many such domains have adopted the custom of allowing a Judex, as his final act, to appoint the next Judex, well before anyone knows what problem may arise next.
Stereotypes Of Others
Carthian Movement: No respect for tradition
Circle Of The Crone: Refuse to accept their place
Lancea Sanctum: Trustworthy but sanctimonious
Ordo Dracul: Disciplined but deluded
Unaligned: Cults of the self