The Act of Hubris
Malkavia and Lucidity
Dreamers, Seers, The Mad
I talk to God but the sky is empty.
Thesis: Vampirism is a dissolution of boundaries. The boundary between life and death, flesh and soul, human and beast – the Kindred transgress these barriers as a fact of their existence. The mind, too, crosses new boundaries: through the Disciplines, it becomes an appendage which can reach out to feel, push, and crush. Vampires exist who, through luck or trauma or some misunderstood quirk of the blood, can go even further. They can achieve a trance state that dissolves semiotic boundaries, and find prophetic insight embedded in the most incidental of patterns. Scholars of the blood call this condition Malkavia, and its sufferers Malkavians.
History: Malkavia has existed for as long as vampires themselves. It’s not a disease nor is it a bloodline in the truest sense. Some Malkavians have lived out their Requiems without ever meeting another sufferer. Where, then, does the name come from?
In Prague at the turn of the 20th century, there was a brief but keen interest among wealthy dilettantes in the budding field of parapsychology. This interest filtered from those aristocratic circles, by way of Invictus courtiers, to the local Ordo Dracul Academy. Like many Academies around the world at the time, they dismissed the entire field as rubbish in public while they worked on it feverishly in private, eager to extract any new insights and methodologies that might aid their tireless quest to master the curse.
Valentin Malkav, Scholar of the Bloody Void, took the most direct approach. Knowing the awesome psychic potential inherent to the vampiric condition, he enlisted, kidnapped, and later personally embraced over a dozen Kindred. Malkav subjected them to horrifying experiments which he termed “psychical exposure therapy”, attempting to isolate the sources of psychic sensitivity and produce a repeatable process for amplifying it. He produced only traumatized victims, catatonic husks, and permanently frenzied larvae.
As his methods grew more abstract, and his attempts to communicate his findings grew more impenetrable, Malkav’s colleagues began to realize that his therapies had had precisely one successful subject: himself. Malkav was removed from the last symposium he attended on a stretcher with a stake through his heart. Finally, the study of Malkav’s Disease could begin in earnest.
The great parapsychology boom of the 1970s popularized the Prague Academy’s work among Dragons privy to their clandestine publications. By then, the affliction was being called Malkavia, and it’s by this name that the condition and its sufferers have begun to filter out into the collective vampire consciousness.
Parent Clan: Any. A plurality of Malkavians are Mekhet; their unique psychic sensitivity and tendencies toward sensory overexposure leave them particularly vulnerable to the condition. Clan Daeva adds the fewest members to the ranks of the Dreamers; those of whom that do develop Malkavia will most often contract it via prolonged exposure to another Malkavian.
Disciplines: As the parent clan, with the addition of Lucidity (see below).
Malkavian Clan Weakness: Malkavians suffer from Malkavia (see below) and can never rid themselves of it permanently.
Concepts: cult leader, dedicated psychonaut, insomniac, latter-day Cassandra, parapsychologist, revered oracle, unnerving vagrant
Malkavia resembles synaesthesia, but affects cognition and understanding rather than sensory perception. Sufferers find themselves uncontrollably free-associating as they process their surroundings, interpreting totally prosaic events in highly metaphorical or symbolic terms. Incidental details such as the color of someone’s clothes or the sounds of nearby traffic seem pregnant with hidden meaning. The effect is disorienting and overwhelming, and sufferers often struggle to stay calm or communicate with others. Sufferers who are already prone to hallucinations may find them agitated by the condition.
Malkavia usually lies dormant in characters that suffer from it. It becomes active during moments of stress or revelation, such as:
- The character attains an exceptional success on an action using Intelligence or Wits, whether mundane or supernatural
- An exceptional success is scored for a supernatural power meant to influence or attack the character’s mind
- The character loses their last Willpower point or any of their Willpower dots
- The character interacts with someone else with active Malkavia; a Wits + Resolve roll is made each scene for the character, and the character’s Malkavia activates on a failure
When a character’s Malkavia is active, all rolls including their Wits or Composure lose the 10-again rule and subtract 1s from their final successes. This penalty doesn’t apply to rolls made to activate supernatural powers, but does inhibit perception, memory, and resistance to mundane or supernatural emotional manipulation. As well, players must succeed on rolls suffering the above penalty for their characters to take any of the following actions, no matter what traits are used, even if those actions would normally succeed automatically:
- Describing or explaining things to people who don’t have active Malkavia
- Interacting with others without appearing to be in a state of altered consciousness
Any of a character’s attempts to communicate something they learned while their Malkavia was active to someone without active Malkavia is penalized as above, even if the character’s Malkavia is currently dormant.
Active Malkavia falls back into dormancy when its sufferer next regains a Willpower point from rest (or when they would, if their Willpower is at maximum), or when its sufferer spends a Willpower point to add dice to a roll that Malkavia inhibits and the roll succeeds (even if the roll uses Intelligence or Wits and scores an exceptional success).
This Discipline allows a vampire to leverage and master the trance state that Malkavia brings on. Its powers can only be used by a vampire with active Malkavia.
Any insight or project assembled with the benefit of Lucidity is difficult for the uninitiated to grasp. A Malkavian can count on being able to indicate basic facts such as “he’s dangerous” or “it’s there”, but will struggle to go into depth and risk infecting others with Malkavia should they succeed. Attempts to explain or decipher such results always require dice rolls which lose 10-again and subtract 1s from successes, whether the Malkavian or an outside observer is making the effort. If a character without Malkavia is successfully made to understand, their Wits + Resolve is rolled, losing 10-again and subtracting each 1 from final successes; on a failure, they acquire dormant Malkavia, and if they would have failed had 1s not counted against them, their Malkavia immediately activates. This condition vanishes as soon as a week passes without its becoming active.
Characters with Malkavia have no problem comprehending complex information derived from Lucidity, but risk activating their Malkavia as though interacting with an active Malkavian.
The vampire becomes accustomed to the trance state of active Malkavia. They obtain a degree of control over its manifestation and dormancy, and can glean insights from their experiences unavailable to those in a normal frame of mind.
Active Malkavia no longer hinders rolls using the character’s Composure, though it still adversely affects rolls using Wits. At the end of any scene in which the character’s Malkavia has become active for any reason, if they have any Willpower points remaining, their Wits + Resolve is rolled. This roll is hindered by Malkavia as normal, but if successful means the vampire can force their Malkavia back into dormancy.
The vampire can consciously activate their Malkavia, reflexively and at will. Their active Malkavia sharpens their thinking, granting mundane rolls based on the character’s Intelligence an Edge equal to the character’s Lucidity rating. This Edge can obviate actual equipment, allowing feats of calculation or visualization that would normally require extensive computer modeling, note taking, or other external aid.
As well, whenever the character achieves an exceptional success on an action using their mental Attributes while their Malkavia is active, they additionally learn the answer to a yes or no question pertaining to the subject of the action. Rolls for both mundane and supernatural actions can trigger this benefit, and the character’s player asks the question after the action’s other effects are resolved.
The vampire learns to parse and synthesize the symbology of active Malkavia. Through raw intuition, the vampire can infer uncannily accurate information from seemingly meaningless details, even to the extent of deducing the past and predicting the future.
Prism isn’t exactly divinatory – powers that block magical auguries don’t contest it, although powers that obscure information or perception do. It doesn’t grant literal visions of the past or future, except insofar as the vampire might be inclined to visualize what they’ve been able to infer. Information this power produces is accurate but constrained by the vampire’s own knowledge and understanding, so in many cases strange phenomena can be functionally described but not precisely classified.
Cost: None initially; 1 Willpower each use in the same scene past the first
Dicepool: Intelligence + Investigation + Lucidity
Dramatic Failure: The vampire loses a Willpower point, and their Malkavia can’t become dormant until next sunset
Failure: No useful information
Success: For each success, the vampire is able to infer a concrete piece of information about something in their vicinity that they can perceive. The player can divide the power’s successes up among different subjects or opt to devote successes to the scene in general, and can specify what kind of information they want each success to yield. Usually, pieces of information establish relations between different elements of the current scene. Possibilities include:
- An element of the subject’s past that brought them to the scene in their current condition
Example: A man is present at a party because he was sent by his superiors rather than invited
- A desire, personality trait, or external influence that is motivating the subject’s action
Example: A child is acting on the whispered orders of an invisible presence
- A correspondence between the subject and something else the character has seen or experienced
Example: An unidentified monster also drinks human blood
- The presence or influence of something the character can’t directly perceive
Example: An unseen vampire is flitting between the members of the crowd
- Something the subject will do later in the scene, unless prevented or dissuaded
Example: A package will shortly explode, because it contains a bomb
- When or where in time or space a pattern is most likely to repeat itself
Example: The murderer will strike again next midnight OR the murderer will strike again in city hall (two successes would yield both)
In addition, any degree of success means the vampire becomes automatically aware of anyone else present who has Malkavia.
If the Storyteller can’t confidently answer questions about the future – for instance, if information about the future is contingent on the actions of another player character – the user of this power receives a murky, cryptic impression that they can opt to hold indefinitely in their subconscious. As soon as the prophesied event occurs, the vampire can release the held impression to to become retroactively aware. This gives a player license to have their character make reasonable offscreen preparations and to show up in, avoid, or otherwise act on the predicted scene. A character can only hold onto one such intimation of the future at a time, but the intimation might be comprised of several successes worth of information about the same event – for instance, both when and where a vampire will next feed.
Exceptional Success: In addition to learning five or more discrete things, the vampire intuits the broader narrative significance of the scene as a whole, especially as it pertains to them.
Now aware of the psychological barriers that normally arrest higher awareness, the character can spread Malkavia deliberately. Subjects of this power experience Malkavia in a form that closely resembles the character’s own, and become easier for the character to communicate with, enlighten, or manipulate.
To use this power, the character must either make an attempt to explain an insight they’ve obtained through other use of Lucidity, or use other Disciplines such as Auspex, Dominate, Majesty, or Nightmare to directly influence the subject’s thoughts. The former method usually requires a few minutes and a subject willing to listen (though likely unaware of what might happen to them if they do), while the latter method can take effect instantly but requires that the power Lucidity is piggybacking on be used successfully.
Cost: 1 Willpower; this cost is waived if the Discipline power used to make psychic contact already costs 1 or more Willpower
Action: Reflexive, coupled with some other appropriate instant action
Dicepool: Intelligence + Expression + Lucidity vs. Resolve + Blood Potency
Dramatic Failure: The character loses another Willpower point and can’t use this power again until the next night
Failure: The subject feels something oppressively destabilizing in the character’s words or psychic presence, but is able to resist its effects. They can’t be targeted by Lantern again until next night. If they don’t stop listening to a mundane explanation, they might still be made to understand a Lucidity-derived insight and so risk catching dormant, generic Malkavia.
Success: The subject develops Malkavia, or the subject’s existing case of Malkavia is rendered similar to the character’s. The character decides if the subject’s Malkavia lies dormant or activates immediately. This Malkavia lasts until it remains dormant for a straight week, at which point it fades. For as long as the Malkavia persists, whether it’s active or dormant, the character has these advantages over the subject:
- If the character is at hand to provide guidance and the subject is willing, the subject can gain the benefits of Lens as though they had a Lucidity rating equal to the character’s, though they can’t use other Lucidity powers. The character can rescind these benefits at any time, and the subject only receives a chance to force their Malkavia into dormancy if they receive this guidance through the end of the scene.
- Once per night when their Malkavia is active, the character intuits information about the subject as though with one success rolled for Prism, even if the subject isn’t present. Whether it’s obtained in person or from afar, an unclear impression of the subject’s future actions can be held indefinitely without counting against the usual limit.
- The character can use this power against the subject as an instant action without the need of extended rapport or psychic contact – all it takes is a glance or a few words. Success means the character can force the subject’s Malkavia to become active. The first such activation each night costs no Willpower.
A subject can only be affected by one character’s use of Lantern at a time. A new application must score more net successes than the old one if it’s to replace it within a week or less; otherwise, new uses of the power automatically displace older ones. A character can use Lantern on themselves to retune their Malkavia and free themselves from another character’s usage of the power.
Exceptional Success: As success, but the character can choose how long the inflicted case of Malkavia must lie dormant before it fades completely. It can take as little as a day or as long as a month. Each full week of dormancy counts against this total time, even if the Malkavia later reactivates.
The character can make another’s Malkavia an extension of their own, ensuring that their subject interprets the world exactly as the character does. To the subject, every place, person, and action hold the same meaning and significance that they do to the character, and it becomes impossible to ignore or betray the character’s perspective on the world.
Mirror augments Lantern. Any time the character successfully uses Lantern on someone, they can pay one Vitae to inflict the effects of Mirror as well as those of Lantern.
Cost: As Lantern, plus 1 Vitae
Action: As Lantern
Dicepool: As Lantern
Success: In addition to suffering Lantern’s normal effects, the subject’s outlook as filtered through Malkavia becomes a duplicate of the character’s. For as long as the subject is affected by Lantern, the following effects also apply:
- During any scene in which the subject’s Malkavia was active, the subject can’t bring themselves to take any action that would harm the character, harm the character’s Intimacies, or cause the character to enter a crisis of conscience. The subject can attempt to fight through this prohibition as a minor action by spending one Willpower point; their Resolve + Blood Potency is rolled, and if successes equal to or greater than the character’s Humanity rating are scored, the subject can take one action contrary to the prohibition. This prohibition doesn’t apply to actions the subject takes in defense of their own Intimacies or personal safety. If the character’s in a crisis of conscience, the subject can commit sins of equal or lesser severity that Mirror would normally prohibit, but then share in the character’s turmoil; they automatically losing a Willpower point rather than gaining one the next time they enjoy a full rest, whether or not their Malkavia is active at that time.
- When both the character and subject have active Malkavia, the character can share their understanding with the subject with great ease and efficiency. Mental or social rolls made for the character to describe, explain, or teach things to the subject receive the character’s Lucidity rating as an Edge. With any success, the subject can use one of the character’s Skills and Specialties in place of their own the next time they engage in a specific task the character has prepared them for, whether it’s fighting a particular opponent or researching a particular organization. With an exceptional success, the subject can also use one of the character’s Mental or Social attributes, and both the character and subject learn the answer to a yes or no question of the subject’s player’s choice pertaining to the topic at hand.
- When either the character’s or the subject’s Malkavia is active, any mental or social rolls made for them to non-supernaturally discern, predict, or understand the mental or emotional state of the other party receives an Edge equal to the higher Lucidity rating of the two. An exceptional success on such actions, whether mundane or supernatural, additionally provides the answer to a yes or no question about the other party. This benefit applies whether or not the other party is present or has active Malkavia.
- Once each night when their Malkavia is active, the subject can intuit information about the character as though with two successes rolled for Prism, even if the character is nowhere near. As with Lantern, an unclear impression of the subject’s future actions can be held indefinitely without counting against the usual limit. Conversely, the character gains two successes’ worth of information about the subject rather than Lantern’s one.
The character begins to see Malkavia and its carriers as an emergent pattern whose fractal spread is governed by a hidden but comprehensible logic. A profound awareness of the way that the affliction operates allows the character to exert fine control over what the Malkavian trance reveals. This power doesn’t rely on telepathy, but rather the butterfly effect – the character simply comports themselves in a certain way, and truths ripple out into the world to be perceived by others with Malkavia.
While they’re asleep, torpid, meditating, dreaming, or otherwise insensate, a character with this power can send silent messages to anyone they’ve ever met who also has Malkavia. Conscious subjects receive the feeling that something on the cusp of their understanding is trying to get their attention, but that they’re too awake to understand. Unconscious or meditating subjects can converse wordlessly with the character as though in the same room. So long as both characters are somehow insensate, this communication transcends language and distance.
The character can communicate with multiple subjects at once and allow those subjects to communicate with each other, so long as all are unconscious or otherwise insensate. If any are currently affected by the character’s usage of Lantern, the character can provide guidance from afar. Characters in such a network can all use Lucidity in concert to solve intellectual problems; one roll is made, using the best Intelligence, applicable Skill, and Lucidity rating of the network, the character can choose to use any member’s Willpower point to enhance the roll, and the time required to complete the task is divided by the number of participants. However, the results of such collaboration are flatly impossible explain to those without Malkavia except in the barest and most functional terms, and require active Malkavia to take advantage of.
Subjects of the character’s Mirror power can be communicated with while awake, albeit in a limited fashion. They become fuzzily aware of what the character wants them to know and of what the character wants, but can’t respond or be incorporated into a communication network unless they arrange to become insensate.
While communicating though Cobweb, the character can remotely use Prism through anyone they can converse with. The power is activated as normal except it’s free the first time each day it’s used remotely rather than each scene and otherwise costs Willpower. Successes are applied to things in the subject’s vicinity perceived through the subject’s senses rather than the character’s, yielding information that only the character picks up on. Since subjects are generally insensate, the character most likely learns about those they’re in contact with rather than their correspondents’ surroundings. Since victims of Mirror can be communicated with while they’re awake, they represent particularly useful proxies for investigation.