Inspired from a conversation with my dad.
The Society of Gourmands Edit
The Society is a group of kindred connoisseurs who have drawn together out of an appreciation for the delight of Vitae, not as a form of sustenance but as the only true pleasure left to them in their new existence. Members of the Society are akin to wine-tasters, they enjoy wine not for the sake of its pleasant alcoholic effects, but for its taste. Every three months a member will throw a banquet for the benefit of all the other members, free of charge, with the most delicious and new flavors of vitae he can find. The Soiree is members and guests only, no freeloaders allowed. The event itself is elaborately planned, though each Host chooses how much to spend on their event. Indeed, some have hosted Soiree's in empty warehouses to great effect as the barren environs draws attention to the vitae, but there is a tendency for friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) competition to out do each other. The main course often consists of several kine that are sampled by the attendee’s, they’re left mercifully unconscious because serving dead food is not only considered passé but literally bad taste, and killing the kine at a Soiree is the epitome of it. Though the Society is neither highly moral nor highly amoral, it does tend towards the latter. Members are encouraged not to kill kine unnecessarily, but otherwise left to their own devices. The Society does not enforce or espouse any tenets, but it does expect its members to follow a simple code of conduct.
Code of conduct:
It is tres chic to:
- Have enough vessels/vitae for every member to safely sample it. Woe be to the party organizer who didn't cut the cake into enough pieces for everyone. Though Soiree’s have been held successfully with as few as one superbly tasty kine it is considered bad form to do so when the attendees are so numerous they will kill the kine in the process of sampling, thus ruining the meal for any who come after.
- Slowly and shallowly sample the vitae. A slow, small drink is the mark of a truly cultured kindred, or so the saying goes. It draws out the flavor and demonstrates a given members self control, while courteously leaving more for everyone else.
- If done well, serving kine with modest amounts of food, drink or drugs in their system. This is a gamble, but some Gourmands are masters at preparing kine in such ways that their natural flavor is much enhanced. Those who aren’t good cooks however often receive month’s (if not years!) of jesting and mild ribbing that is hard to live down.
It is considered gauche to:
- Kill kine at a Soiree. The reasoning boils down to removing something of beauty from the world as well as a potential future entrée from use.
- Publicly endorse a new member. They will either get in on their own merit, or they won't.
- Mixing business with pleasure. While members may associate with each other however they like, the event's themselves are meant to give members a chance to relax and enjoy themselves. Pestering another member for favors or what not is considered desperate and passé.
- Arrive hungry. If you wanted a McMeal, you should have gone somewhere else.
- Feeding Vitae to kine before sampling. There are enough paranoid elders in the Society that they will regard the host with extreme suspicion regardless of the veracity of vinculums being transferable through kine.
Grounds for Removal:
- Vitae Addiction. For much the same reason AA and a wine tasters group are mutually exclusive.
- Carrying a communicable disease, or serving kine with one at a banquet.
- Physical attacks on a fellow member.
- Going into a hunger frenzy at a Soiree.
- Violation of any of the three traditions without sanction.
- Electoral fraud. I.e. Bribing or coercing members to accept a new member.
- Pressuring an existing member to leave.
- Not hosting a Soiree when it is the members turn. Anything but the most extenuating circumstances are grounds for dismissal, and still risks a temporary suspension and bad standing.
Traditions: The longer a Society chapter exists the more traditions and trappings it tends to develop, many are quaint, others clever, and some bizarre. While chapters have been known to get bogged down in ritual rather than pursue its original purpose, most see the mixing of tradition and art as an extension of the danse, a sort of mood setter if you will.
- First Taste: Whoever last held a soiree will be the first to taste the kine at the next, a sort of ‘thank you’ for their effort. Other chapters reserve this right to someone of the Hosts’ choosing, as a way for her to show appreciation to another gourmand. Needless to say this is highly prized boon among Gourmands.
- Last Lick: The next gourmand to hold a Soiree is reserved the last taste though he may refuse the right if he thinks the kine are looking particularly pallid. Often this is considered a gesture for the next Host to do a good job, a kind of gentle nudge that too often becomes an adversarial push. Sometimes the host reserves this right to ensure none of the kine at her soiree die, rather than leave it to his guests to decide.
- Round Robin: Out of deference to a new member’s inexperience their own banquets are often scheduled a year after their own entry, this serves the double purposes of letting new members learn from their peers’ Soiree’s and to find hors d’ oeuvres to host at their own banquets. Coincidentally, they might also be casually observed by the other members and discretely assessed.
- Assessing the Assassin: The Society often invites guests to its functions who are in fact prospective members, though they themselves might never realize it. The more open chapters discretely and personally assess members unawares in this way, so that they might get a more accurate assessment of how the new member would actually behave. Guests are often just delighted to be there, and those who are a little too actively interested in joining are those first discarded. Those who behave with decorum and otherwise meet the Societies standards for behavior get invited to return, and often keep getting invited until one night when they’re welcomed into the Society.
- Approve the Aperitif: Before the banquet properly begins, a Taster will make a show of inspecting the kine and his vitae for illness and disease. Often with a simple cut and whiff. Though Tasters examine the kine they rarely actually taste the vitae, often favoring smelling it to avoid the risk of infection. This is especially true when a chapter practices First Taste.
- Kindness from Cruelty: There is one final tradition the Society holds very dear… that any kine that is tasted in their Soiree’s not be later embraced . This is tradition that has a sad history: The tale goes that a Daeva Gourmand was entranced by the sanguinary beauty of a kine at a Soiree, so much so that she embraced him. The former kine, though oblivious at first to having been so grossly used, eventually found out from a snide comment from another Gourmand. Incensed at how he was used and blaming the loss of his humanity on the Society, he proceeded to set fire to the building where the latest Soiree was being held in. A third of the members perished in the flames, and after the culprit was caught and given final death, the chapter disbanded for many years to mourn for the loss of their fellows, and consider how to avoid it in the future. To this end, the Society is fastidious in maintaining its privacy and the masquerade by employing Ventru members to purge the kines’ of memory of the event, often implanting memories of blood donations or accidents with heavy bleeding. Those hosted are often checked up on later, and in the rare cases a kine does remember something the Society is quick to clean up any mess in order to avoid their action bringing Hunters into existence. They try to deal with these problems internally, but are not above asking for help.
The In Crowd Edit
The contradiction within the Society is that it is an inclusive yet exclusive group. The allure it exudes is that anyone can be a member; yet not everyone will be a member. Members of the Society enjoy a certain social cache that non-members don't usually have. Membership carries a certain prestige and panache, much like membership in a renowned family (with the drawbacks that also implies). Thanks to the diverse nature of the group it also offers members casual contact with the differing factions within a city, which can lead to any number of interactions and associations for business or... other matters. These depend largely on the members themselves, as they share no obligation to each other outside of the Society's banquets. Though the position of member confers no tangible power or status, it does give a certain air of sophistication and respectability which, while it won't open doors, may nudge them.
One thing nonmembers often notice about kindred who join the Society is that they almost invariably seem to gain a new perspective or lease on their existence, at least in the short term. Disenchanted elders have been known to gain a new appreciation and respect for human life (albeit as culinary art) and view eternity a little less sourly. Some neonates and anciliae share a similar reaction, though there have been cases where kindred come to view kine even less as people and more like potential Hors d'Oeuvres.
Members: Membership in this group is perhaps one of the most cosmopolitan among any group of kindred. Members can be from any covenant, clan, age and walk of life (and undeath) that is considered to be respectable by existing members (so someone in Belials Brood or VII need not apply). What they all have in common is an appreciation for the subtleties of taste, the myriad of flavors, and the vivacious aroma of blood. Other than that, the members may share any number of commonalties or differences depending on who the particular cities Society founders were and the purpose they had when forming their Society chapter. Cities like London and Paris have chapters composed exclusively of the movers and shakers of the city, while Mexico City's membership consists of an extended coterie of only mildly important neonates and anciliae that are all mutual friends; nonetheless it has primogen and prince on the waitlist. Other cities may be more cliquish and exclusive or open in their membership, but the fundamental rule is that the Society’s members must all be Gourmands first and foremost. Connections, power, influence all take a distant back seat to the members sincere appreciation of the subtleties of blood. The Society isn't about power or connections, but appreciation of art.
Affiliations: Rumors by non members fly as to whether the Society was founded by Invictus or Carthians, but truth be told it was probably a mixture of both. The Society carries Carthian overtones in its admissions with Invictus leaning in its membership policy. The Society is usually apolitical, but has been known to affiliate with covenants when most of its members come from a given covenant. For example, the Society in Luxemburg is largely seen as a highly elitist chapter of the Invictus.
Members by Covenant: The Society is not an official covenant, and even if it were it is usually apolitical save in rare cases. Much like dinner parties are unaffiliated with political groups the Society itself eschews politics in the kitchen and at the dinner table. Members are free to espouse their beliefs and opinions, but it is considered poor form to attempt to recruit for covenants (or loudly pester to join them) at what is essentially a social gathering. Those who are insistent but tactful often set up later dates to speak with individual members at their mutual leisure. That being said, different covenants have differing opinions of the Society, and members often have interesting opinions of the covenants themselves.
- Carthians are usually amenable to the Society and make up a fair number of its members, exceptions of course are when the local Carthians are particularly ‘humanitarian’ or the Society is made up of entrenched Invictus members. In those cases they usually object, with various degrees of intensity, to their objectification of human life and its decadence. Otherwise they admire their democratic nature and observe them casually both from within and without to glean new modus operandi. Carthian majority or aligned Society chapters are ironically often harder to get and stay into than normal chapters, becoming more bogged down in minutia and regulations than actual soirees.
- The Circle of the Crone rarely if ever has a moral problem with the Society’s treatment of humans; perhaps they see the Society as a tad too materialistic and sensualist but see no harm in it. Indeed their acceptance of their position as predators and their revelry in life through vitae is praiseworthy. Most Society members however see the Circle as eclectic and wasteful of kine and vitae. Circle majority or aligned Society chapters tend to regard human life even less, and are laxer in regards to its preservation and temperance at soirees. The Circle does separate business from pleasure in this regard though, often only celebrating the tamer festivals at Soiree’s with themes and avoids performing rituals altogether to avoid prying eyes.
- The Invictus and the Society often go hand in hand. Any closed group of a genteel nature naturally attracts the interest of the Invictus; in fact many make it an unofficial benchmark of status, a veritable who’s who of power in a city and make it their requiem’s mission to join. This behavior is often amusing to the less politically minded gourmands who simply want to enjoy amenable company and vitae, and look down on this ardent politicking. Nevertheless many Invictus are members, though it’s only those with actual culinary taste that enter. Those who try to enter by plying favors aggressively get weeded out fairly quickly. Most of the time. Some truly Machiavellian Invictus ply favors and wait decades for a sure entry. Interestingly Society chapters that began as purely social gatherings among a coterie and its allies can quickly (for kindred) become a veritable closed doors Elysium if enough Invictus enter. Invictus majority or aligned Society chapters are usually even more restrictive in entry, with even less members leaving.
- The Lancea Sanctum and the Society are on relatively good terms, owing perhaps to its good relations with the Invictus. Even when this isn’t the case the Spear rarely has ideological or practical differences with the Society. Sometimes though they do object when the cities Society becomes particularly decadent or sanguinary, though this rarely leads to more than censure and forbidding it’s own members from joining (or asking them to leave if already members). Lancea Sanctum majority or aligned Society chapters often have a religious bent, with a short prayer or mass before each meal thanking Longinus. Their regard for the traditions notwithstanding, unless the kine at their soiree’s have a noteworthy taste worth preserving they might not make it through the night.
- The Ordo Dracul usually has little to do with the Society officially, as it doesn’t further their own objectives and is but a distraction from their goals. Nonetheless the Society can boast a few Ordo members where the covenant operates openly. Rumors have surfaced that the Ordo aligned Society in Prague has actually developed a cookbook for kine through careful observation and testing, it’s said to have feeding instructions that makes a kine’s blood more delicious and even invigorating in cases. Despite their overt nonchalance, the Ordo have however been watching some interesting qualities Society members seem to develop after membership… watching very keenly indeed.
- The Unaligned are neither abundant nor absent from the Society, indeed some even claim it as their only tangible tie to kindred society and the danse. Though Unaligned are judged on a case by case basis, they often have a harder time entering than members of other covenants. Unaligned majority or aligned Society chapters are even more laissez faire in most regards, with only vague guidelines for conduct.
Membership by Clan: Though officially neutral regarding clan membership, some clans are naturally more attracted and apt to be in the Society. Daeva and Ventru make up the bulk of the membership being the two most social clans.
- Daeva are at the same time the backbone and the castoffs of the Society. The dichotomy being that their passion and arguable apex over the mortal scene give them several advantages when planning and executing Soiree’s as well as in finding delicious kine. However a large minority has trouble reining in their passion leading to many glutinous tragedies and faux pas. This has led to Daeva with the gluttony vice being carefully screened for; those who manage to enter are watched closely for some time. Those that last for any length of time often become Inured to Red.
- Gangrel aren’t seen in great numbers in the Society, being more practical in their eating habits and austere in their tastes. Despite their practicality a few seek what the Society has to offer and choose to join. Those that join are usually the more sociable or politically active Gangrel in the city, and are likewise awarded more esteem for their membership than other gourmands typically get from third parties. While they rarely bring delightful and subtle flavors to the mix, they often surprise with vibrant and raw vitae at their Soiree’s.
- Mekhet are arguably the most discerning and finicky eaters in the Society, as many learn to use their supernatural senses to better enjoy the aroma, taste, and feel of blood. This often leads to Mekhet earning the merit Discerning Nose to better cater to their tastes, in rare cases they sometimes develop the flaw Rarefied Palate from extreme selectiveness in taste. Thanks to these same sharp senses Shadows often serve with distinction as Tasters at Soiree’s, making sure all kine served are healthy. In their absence a member usually steps up and endeavors to procure influence in the medical arena to get these tasks done discretely, if a member doesn’t already have it.
- Few Nosferatu seek (and gain) membership in the Society because of their nature, though they are arguably those who have the most to gain from membership. Traditionally Haunts can’t afford to be picky eaters, feeding off of animals and whatever kine is unfortunate enough to cross their path, which is why the Society is often a veritable oasis for young and old Haunts alike, many have the Society to thank for some of the most delightful nights in their requiems. Those Haunts who do earn acceptance in the Society gain a sense of belonging and a new delight, one that unlike their fairer cousins many never fully enjoyed. Though Haunts seldom boast the most delicious banquets they often trade information and secrets to locate promising kine to serve at their Soiree’s. Their greatest contribution is their sincere, earnest appreciation of the Society's Soiree's and the vitae shared in them, reminding others that the reason they're there is not politicking, but vitae and its appreciation.
- Some Ventru tend to gravitate towards the Society more for the perceived boost in their status. Once members most Ventru almost seem to rut once inside the Society. Few ‘loosen up’ enough from their normally acquisitive and competitive nature to really enjoy membership, though those that do are said to be among the most discerning palates and frugal hosts. Interestingly there are rumors of a Ventru bloodline (the unoriginally named Ventrue) who have the flaw Rarified Palate as a bloodline flaw.
Of Bloodlines there is little to say, but there are three that have greatly impacted the Society when both are found together: The Gethsemani, the Morbus and the Anvari.
- When Gethsemani can be successfully pried from their keepers for a few hours they are among the few kindred who are actively invited into the Society, often enjoying a much easier time joining than others. This is provided that the bloodline is well received by the local Lancea Sanctum. While Gethsemani often enjoy the casual social contact they sometimes resent being used as honored caterers or chefs.
- The Morbus are ostracized even if they can prove they're clean. In the rare instances that a Prince tolerates the requiem of a Morbus in his city, the local chapter of the Society would not even consider one as a member. To this end Mekhet members are often asked for parentage up to the third generation in cities with a suspected Morbus presence before being allowed to join, such is their ill repute.
- The Anvari are an odd case, they aren't actively shunned, invited or excluded. Their soirees are as often deliciously controversial as they are delicious, often offering 'raw' (in their terms) as well as 'cooked' kine for their guests. So long as they keep their quirks under control they're given a tentative chance to prove themselves. Make no mistake though, they're only given one chance.
Seeking Membership: A kindred from any covenant can seek membership in the Society, indeed, the Society is usually fair regarding the background of potential members, though some covenants carry more weight than others with individual members. Any potential members must be a kindred of good standing and reputation within kindred Society, and their own covenant to even consider being accepted. The Society usually sets a specific number of members at the outset, (usually between 5-20, depending on the era and cities' size) and new members are only added when an old member retires, is removed, or... disappears . The process for acceptance varies from chapter to chapter; some are very flexible while others are invariantly rigid. Chapters with rigid entry procedures might use them in order to keep rabble out, or alternately to prevent favoritism. In rigid chapters there’s usually a queue listing all potential future members, and they are added in the order they apply (assuming they're admitted). Former members seeking re-admittance usually face fewer obstacles than new ones provided they left in good standing, but are still subject to the same process.
Potential members are investigated and interviewed by a randomly chosen rotating panel of three standing members or ‘Testers’. This is so no two applicants meet the same panel, or know who's in it beforehand. The applicant then faces a 'taste test', where he will be asked to sample and give opinions on different samples of vitae. This need not happen in one day, it may be an extended process over several days, with a different sample on each. If the potential member proves he's not a 'Fast food eater', the panel is likely to admit him. The interviewers then issue opinions to be distributed among the members, whereupon every member in the Society then votes on whether the potential member is accepted. Nothing less than a unanimous vote allows admittance, leading to a lot bruised egos and enmities. Notwithstanding, the Society rarely goes for an extended period with less than full numbers as there's never a shortage of potential members, and old members rarely veto frivolously.
The reason for all this rigmarole is, in the words of a particularly old founding member: “… that only kindred of an agreeable disposition and genteel nature join, that established members may continue to enjoy and be in good company.” meaning that while not every Gourmand need be a friend or ally of each other member, at least they don’t grate on each others’ nerves. The actual success of this selection process is amicably debated among members, though its repeal is unlikely since no one wants to lose their veto power and chance an enemy getting in.
The Society functions more like a club than a covenant, and as such there is only one 'official' permanently active in the Society at any one time: The Maitre’d. Other intermittent posts include Taster, Treasurer, and Tester, or the three T’s as some gourmands call them.
The Maitre'D. Often referred to as such jovially more than disparagingly, the Maitre'D is in charge of maintaining the calendar of which member will throw a Soiree next, as well as the queue of new members. If present in the chapter, they also maintain the Red Book. Usually she’s a volunteer, though the job is rather unpopular, but when there are more than one there is a vote, majority rules. Depending on the number of members and the time between each Soiree, each member will only have to throw a Soiree once every few years. She also reschedules Soiree’s if the Host is unable to execute a Soiree or faces some difficulty (the kine she planned on serving are ill or injured, etc). Minor rescheduling on the order of weeks aren’t uncommon or frowned on, but if it will be months then the Host has to outright declare he is unable to host that month’s Soiree so the next up can prepare his ahead of time. Only the most extenuating circumstances are tolerated when their Soirees are postponed for months, and even so the member may face temporary suspension and will invariably be in bad standing for some time. The severity of the backlash depends on the frequency of the Soiree’s, if there are only four or six a year it will be much worse than if there were one each month. Outright negligence in this regard is grounds for dismissal.
Tasters are in charge of the vitally important job of screening potential meals for diseases and drugs at Soirees. They are often either Mekhet or members with the Discerning Nose merit, though medically knowledgeable or connected gourmands have taken the post. The tester rarely searches for the disease or drug itself (though some are readily apparent) but for imbalances in blood chemistry that point to infection or substance abuse. Forward thinking Hosts often secure the aid of a Tester (or hospital) before their Soiree to make sure the kine they intend to serve are in good health, this helps to save face were they to be deemed inedible at the Soiree proper. Tasters are all volunteers and often quite happy to serve, as it gives them quite a bit of power and prestige. These traditional positions have not been replaced by modern science as it would raise too many questions for third parties to regularly ask for blood work on kine, let alone actual vitae.
Treasurers are only sometimes extant in a Society chapter. In some cities a fund is set up to pay for any parlor rooms they use between Soiree’s to congregate and dining halls where they might host a soiree, and the Treasurer manages this fund throughout the centuries. The fund is sometimes (if uncommonly) used to subsidize new members’ expenses when hosting Soiree’s. Though established members rarely expect Soiree’s to be opulent and decadent (especially from new blood) they do expect either a certain level of comfort or failing that creativity to make up for it. In cities without Treasurers members often trade favors or get loans to finance expenses, some especially wealthy kindred sometimes make donations simply for the prestige of being called a patron of the ‘culinary’ arts.
Tester is the title usually used for those interviewing and investigating potential members. The position is usually drawn by lots as no one wants the onus of this task for their entire requiem. This is also done to keep those who would control the doors into the Society from power by randomizing selection, thus this is the only non-volunteer position in the Society. Testers are only called into service when a spot opens up and new members are to be evaluated and are dismissed once one is found. There are only three Testers at any one time, and the position carries no particular honor except for that of civic duty done well, much like those who do Jury duty.
The Society has no aims to spread, but much like an idea it has traveled to wherever former members or former applicants (who liked the idea, but never formally joined) have gone. Most large cities can boast of having a group or parlor club at least similar and in many cases inspired by the Society of Gourmands. Some even have two or more competing groups, sometimes formed by rejected gourmands or simply to meet with demand if the first is very restrictive in entry. However the lack of affiliation between 'chapters', the spontaneous creation of Society-like groups, and the kindred’s general dislike for travel makes determining which city boasted the 'first' or main Society very hard to determine. Many chapter boast ages of centuries, while others are as recent as a few months or years. With such a disparate set of parallel groups there can be as many or as few differences within each chapter from the main template described here as imaginable.
That said, it is generally believed in the older chapters that the Society of Gourmands originated somewhere in western Europe as early as the 1500's in the Vasque area between modern Spain and France, or as late as 30 AD in Rome. Needless to say, this wide disparity in time and location is a conservative estimate. One of the more mainstream theories is that a group of Roman kindred (or as few as one) resurfaced after the fall of the Camarilla and reconvened near Vasque, and since then it has simply mushroomed outward throughout the centuries, with no one to keep track.
Society of Secrets Edit
The Red Book: One of the Society’s most carefully guarded secrets is the Red Book. It contains the name and information of every kine ever served at a Soiree as well as the name of the kindred to first Host them, their name is often written in their own blood to be later smelled and fondly remembered. The book serves a dual purpose, protection and menu. Anyone in the Red Book is considered off limits to all Society members, and if they have influence they are encouraged to use it to hide and protect these kine from those outside the Society. This protection however is more like a natural game preserve than altruism, because any Host can use the Red Book to better cater their event, though some chapters traditionally hold that only their ‘finder’ may serve them later.
Some chapters that are less humanitarian make the Red Book a living record of their entrée’s and their descendants, often mapping out several generations in the hope that others in the family share their ancestors’ flavor. Some particularly unscrupulous members even go so far as to try to breed better flavors from those in the Red Book, some ghoul families are even rumored to have been created for this purpose. In the rare event of a particularly humanitarian chapter, those in the Red Book are never touched again… at least not for several months.
Merits and Flaws: Other Secrets involve the teaching (or in many cases spontaneous development) of keener senses, stronger stomachs and the occasional selective gluttony. These merits are taught to new members after they’ve successfully settled into the Society, usually with little actual tutoring at all since true Gourmands seem to pick them up naturally. Some chapters even go so far as to say that development of these talents is the final test of a true Gourmand, saying those who don’t develop them aren’t truly Gourmands in the full sense of the word.
Discerning Nose Cost: 2 dot Merit Effect: After decades of selective feeding and careful examination, the user is a regular connoisseur of all varieties of Vitae. The user adds +2 to all rolls to discern information from Vitae, and may smell rather than taste Vitae to get this information. This merit is often taken by Mekhet or Tasters.
Inured to Red Cost: 1 dot Merit Effect: The member has dealt with vitae as an abstract concept for so long he becomes like a cook in a kitchen, he may sample but he rarely binges. The user adds +2 to all composure rolls related to Vitae. Daeva who seek to reign in their hedonistic urges at Soiree’s often learn this merit. Some elder Succubae are very proactive in teaching it to new Daeva members, so that their clan might save face with less binging at banquets.
Rarified Palate Cost: None, Flaw (RP required) Effect: The vampire's tastes become so rarified that he only appreciates Vitae from a very specific group (AB+, virgins, Italians, etc) which to him is especially delicious and is nourished by it normally, but draws less sustenance from all others (1 and 1/2 vitae for each 2 drunk) which taste bland and flat. Needless to say, they often snub the offerings at others' banquets (unless the host had the foresight to cater specifically to this kindred) but many instead choose to sample the clearly inferior selections of their hosts out of courtesy. This flaw often results from Gourmands who use Discerning Nose to regularly and selectively feed for long periods. way in.