The Kindred are humans infected with one of five strains of a mutagenic retrovirus called the Kindred Virus. Although they call themselves Kindred, they are commonly known as "vampires." Due to an anemia caused by genetic damage from the virus, vampires feed on the blood of uninfected humans. Vampires are known to mainly bite a victim's neck, extracting the blood from the carotid artery. They use the term "Kindred and Kine" to refer to all of humanity. The Kindred are also known for their enhanced physical capabilities, longevity, and lethal reaction to sunlight.
The Kindred Virus is not related to any known genus of virus or viroid. Due to its unique structure and protein composition, it is believed that the Kindred Virus is of extraterrestrial origin - brought to Earth by either a comet or meteor. It is a very old and well evolved symbiotic retrovirus which benefits its host in many ways rather than killing him or her. Newer viruses like the Ebola virus show their lack of adaptation in the fact that they destroy their hosts thereby running the risk of destroying themselves. A successful virus seeks symbiosis with it's host, not destruction.
The complexity of the virus is staggering. The Kindred Virus in many ways resembles a very primitive virus called a prion. Most viruses cause disease by infiltrating the host's systems then attacking specific cells and replacing the DNA of the cell with a copy of their own thus creating more viruses which then attack more cells and so on. The body of the host then recognizes these infected cells as foreign matter and the immune system works to eradicate them. The Kindred Virus works in much the same way except that the virus attacks nearly all of the hosts systems and works to adapt rather than change the DNA within the cells, adding extra 'mini-chromosomes' called plasmids to the human DNA rather than replacing it completely. This means that the host's immune system is partly fooled into believing that the adapted cells are still normal and are less aggressive in their removal of them, giving the virus more time to spread through out the body's systems.
Though technically a retrovirus, the degree to which it rewrites its host's genetic code puts it in a league all its own. Most viruses are highly specific in what type of tissue they target. The Kindred Virus, however, is capable of infecting virtually every cell in the human body.
The transition from human to vampire takes place over a period of 24 to 48 hours during which an individual undergoes neurophysical, anatomical, genetic and even behavioral transformations.
Modifications to the area of the brain responsible for the sensation of hunger gives every vampire an overwhelming hunger for human blood instead of ordinary food. This blood hunger is a somatopsychic reaction of the brain in response to an inherent anemic condition in Kindred physiology.
During the change from a human to a vampire, functional changes to certain genes drastically reduces the body's production of red blood cells. However, physical modifications enable Kindred to receive blood transfusions by merely ingesting blood. A modified immune system allows them to accept any blood type.
Due to a functionally restructured stomach, vampires absorb the blood directly into the bloodstream with absorption in the inner tissues of the body via the restructured stomach lining instead of actually going through the process of digestion that would brake the blood cells down. Kindred must periodically drink small amounts of human blood to replace functioning cells. Animal blood is of no use because it would be rejected by the immune system and therefore its red blood cells would be destroyed. The modifications to the stomach happens to include enzymes that stop blood from curdling. This prevents any possible vomiting from ingesting blood, which is what happens when normal humans drink a large amount of blood.
Because of the altered stomach, Kindred are incapable of eating food, vomiting it up within seconds. Fortunately for them, the Kindred Virus causes the efficiency of all metabolic functions to be altered and enhanced to such an astonishing degree that vampires require far less nutrients than uninfected humans. As a result of this, even the minimal amount of iron, carbohydrates, fats, glucose, amino acids/proteins, and vitamins contained within human blood is actually enough to adequately meet the nutritional needs of a vampire. Modifications to both the circulatory system and metabolism allows the body of a vampire to use these substances without them being digested. Therefore, vampires are able to survive solely on a diet of human blood.
One of virus's most dramatic effects is on the biochemical makeup of a vampire. Certain new enzymes are produced that protect DNA from damage, however these enzymes possess chemical properties that are extremely unfortunate for vampires. A sufficient amount of ultraviolet radiation causes a chemical reaction within the enzymes that makes them ignite and burn the vampire's cells into ashes. Direct exposure to sunlight for more than a few moments will cause a chain reaction that will incinerate a vampire. However, this biochemical process is inhibited by a certain volume of blood in a vampire's system. Therefore, Kindred can move about in daylight for several hours if they have recently fed.
Another profound effect of the Kindred Virus plasmids is to switch on the gene which controls the production of telomerase (an enzyme that prevents chromosome degeneration) and to boost its effectiveness with a version of its own in the packet of genetic material that fuses with the host's chromosomes. This suppresses cellular senescence and therefore vastly increases the replicative lifespan of cells. Genetic alterations also result in a biochemistry that is extremely efficient in protecting the cells from ionization damage to DNA caused mainly by natural oxidation, primarily free radicals. So as a vampire lives, cell division can continue almost indefinitely allowing cell damage to be repaired effectively giving them a vastly increased longevity; they are able to live for hundreds of years, and in rare cases, thousands.
Along with the blood drinking instinct, the introduction of the Kindred Virus in to the host makeup produces a number of other effects in the brain. Blood flow to various areas of the brain is increased and the production of certain neurotransmitters is stimulated. The areas most affected are the amygdala and the visual cortex (the areas around the brain stem and outer-back of the brain). The amygdala is the most primitive part of the brain, linked mainly with the powerful fight-or-flight reflex. A vampire will suffer increased aggression and reactions, particularly to physically threatening situations. Arousal of a combative nature will have a greater effect. There is also personality changes because of the specific neurochemical changes that each strain of the Kindred Virus causes.
The changes to the visual cortex cause vision to become more acute. Processing of images proceeds faster. Nightvision is enhanced within certain parameters. The eyes themselves undergo no change, but a large part of human low light sight deficiency is due to the time it takes the brain to process darkened images. The information collected by the eyes is unchanged, but it is processed better.
The size of the corpus callosum increases by ten percent. This enables high-speed broadband communication between hemispheres. Their motor neuron nerve axons become almost twice as thick, which gives vampires faster signal transmission and faster reflexes than humans. Kindred also have enhanced intelligence because of an increased the potency of neurotransmitters involved in memory and cognition. Neurotransmitter potency is also responsible for enhanced senses of hearing and smell in vampires. They also have double the receptor cells in their noses and ears compared to humans.
Along with the vastly increased lifespan, genetic changes also endow a vampire's cells with the ability to access the genetic blueprint to a greater extent than human cells, enabling the vampire body to perfectly recreate missing tissue. As a result cuts, burns and abrasions heal spontaneously without scars, severed limbs can be reattached, etc. In fact their bodies spontaneously heal almost any injury that does not dismember or disintegrate them (i.e., a chainsaw or a consuming fire). All vampires enjoy a more efficient metabolism than normal humans. Because of this, their bodies are able to perform more efficiently than normal humans. The augmented strength and stamina that vampire display is a result of a higher production level of the contractile proteins of musculature. The fact that their muscles heal at an accelerated rate and therefore are able to operate more strenuously also adds to a vampire's physical strength. Due to the greater pain threshold, considerable strength, enhanced immune system and extraordinary regenerative capabilities, Kindred are exceptionally difficult to kill.
Kindred are the very model of good health. They have low cholesterol and blood pressure and no heart disease. Because of the perfect cellular replication and no added damage to DNA, it is impossible for a vampire to develop cancer or a degenerative condition. During the vampiric transformation, the upper canine teeth experience growth. Additional enamel is also deposited on the crown of those teeth, slightly elongating and sharpening their tips into subtle fangs. Although they are not as quite pronounced as popular mythology claims. The genetic transformation process also causes the gonads of vampires to be rendered nonfunctional. As a result, Kindred are universally sterile.
The Kindred are divided into five distinct clans, which are based on the five strains of the Kindred Virus. The specific differences in the strains are the specific pheromonal signals they cause a vampire to emit and the specific neurochemical balances they induce, which cause specific personality types for each strain. The Nosferatu Strain causes physical differences as well.
In every region, each clan is lead by a Primogen. The Primogens meet to advise the Prince, to consult, and to present grievances. They often have their own agendas and seek to promote their own clans.
The Brujah are outspoken, turbulent, and defiant, and in human terms, often criminal. The least civilized of the clans, they are also the most recent to come into being. Brujah are perhaps most descriptively thought of as mobsters. Many refuse to abide by both human and Kindred laws, and they are the most likely of all the clans to be led by ambition and greed for money and power. They see what they want and take it by force. The Brujah are the seedy underbelly of Kindred society. They are the Mafia of the Kindred world.
The Gangrels are individualists who sneer at the constraints of society. They are ferocious fighters, proud, hot-headed, and street smart. They tend to drift city to city much more than the other clans. An ancient hatred between the Gangrels and the Brujah keep the rivalries churning up dissent. The Gangrels are loyal and trustworthy. They make excellent bodyguards because of their incorruptibility -- they can't be bought. Unfortunately they have deep difficulties with authority. They have a strong tendency toward rebellion, and struggle to follow even their own leaders.
The Nosferatu tend to live below ground. They collect knowledge as well as secrets that can add to their power. They embody the features that humans imagine as vampire. The Nosferatu are the most subtle and cunning of the clans. While other Kindred retain their human countenance, Nosferatu are distorted by the Embrace. Grotesque, they are often scorned by other Kindred, and certainly unable to move freely among humans. Often called "Sewer Rats," they have mastered skulking and eavesdropping. They can blend into shadows. Yet, they are level-headed and practical. Since they appear the least human, and have to remove themselves from human society to protect themselves, they are the best advisers to the Prince, being objective and dispassionate in their political judgments. They are also natural enforcers, able to remove emotions from their decision-making. The Nosferatu are neutral in many Kindred conflicts.
The Toreador are elegant, flamboyant, creative, and most of all -- passionate. They savor their immortality, yet are most connected to the mortal world. They use their vampiric powers to increase art and protect artistic geniuses. They are closely connected to the realms where creativity comes from -- as well as other, darker impulses. For these reasons they are subject to madness. Vincent Van Gogh, for instance, was embraced by the Kindred when he decided he couldn't live among human beings anymore. Of all the Kindred, they are the most likely to fall in love with humans. Toreador Kindred have worked themselves into positions of influence in the world of popular culture. In the past, they have also used their creative bent and influence to promulgate a false mythology of "vampires" -- the same mythology we know from the Bram Stoker novel, for example -- so that actual vampires will appear normal and human when compared to the fictional.
The Ventrue are the rich, powerful and elite of vampire society and they share a love of high society with the Toreador, not for its pleasures, however, but for the sheer challenge of running things. They are industrialists, leaders, aristocrats. They have a Blue-Blood bearing and are often found in positions of power, where they can shape destiny. They are educated and trained by elite human institutions, which is why the Ventrue are the most human in their attitudes and behavior. In fact, they are the "Brahmin" caste of Kindred society. They strive to keep control over the Camarilla. It is for these and other reasons that Princes tend to be Ventrue.
The strain of the Kindred Virus that causes transformation into Nosferatu has two differences to the others. It has a less effective camouflage against the immune system and is itself a more aggressive strain. This means that all through the transition period from human to vampire, the individual's body is ravaged by the war between the virus and the immune system. As a result, those who become Nosferatu Kindred are scarred by the ordeal their anatomy has gone through.
The Nosferatu are unpleasant to look at. They have a bald head which is usually criss-crossed by a network of livid veins and there is a subtle extension of the brow ridges. They also have no eyebrows. Their ears have a pronounced point and the hands too show the signs of the Nosferatu with sharply pointed and discolored nails.
All vampires emit pheromones that are specific for each strain of the Kindred Virus. Because Kindred have an enhanced sense of smell, they detect these pheromonal signals instantly and therefore will know a vampire's clan instantly. The pheromones cause certain reactions within the brains of Kindred. Contact with the pheromones from someone of the same strain will cause a vampire to feel an instinctive sense of camaraderie with that other vampire.
Due to a biochemical quirk, the pheromones of the Gangrel strain causes a negative reaction within members of the Brujah clan and the pheromones of the Brujah strain causes a negative reaction within members of the Gangrel clan. The quirk causes the pheromones to simultaneously stimulate the region of the brain involved in aggression response and recognition of people, thereby making Gangrel and Brujah feel an inherent hostility to each other. As a result of this, an ancient enmity simmers at all times between the Brujah and the Gangrels. Because Gangrels and Brujah can detect each other instantly, they will automatically dislike each other upon meeting.
For countless centuries, Kindred prospered and pursued their own schemes and desires. They were invincible, standing above humans in their understanding and awareness of the true nature of the world. They lived openly and arrogantly among mortals, relying on their power and human superstition to preserve them. Then came the Inquisition.
With the Inquisition, Kindred faced an enemy that studied both superstitious belief and scientific observation to identify Kindred, the demons of the dark. With maddening thoroughness, the Inquisition devised methods to rid the world of these creatures, along with witches, warlocks, heretics, the feeble, and the politically inconvenient. As for Kindred, the Inquisitors were diligent in their efforts to trace bloodlines and purge the creatures by the flame. Those Kindred who survived swiftly learned secrecy and stealth. They learned to band together in loose networks. Vulnerable for the first time, the five clans united. They called themselves the Camarilla, and this collective group existed first and foremost to enforce its first law, a law most sacred -- The Masquerade.
This law demands that the knowledge of Kindred be kept from humans. To make the law effective, Kindred set about to erase evidence of their kind, instilling doubt that they had ever existed, finally leaving behind only a myth of such creatures. It was safe to hide behind the myth. Through adherence to this law, Kindred were able to hide in plain sight within human society.
The Masquerade ensures the continuance of Kindred through secrecy, and any Kindred who breaks the Masquerade, who reveals the existence of Kindred -- that Kindred is outcast, even hunted down.
The Prince is the Kindred who has the power to hold domain over a city, set its laws, enforce them, and maintain peace. He is the judge who settles disputes among Kindred; he grants permission for another Kindred to embrace a human. A Prince also influences human matters and uses this influence to guarantee that the Princehood is not lost. But most of all, the Prince is concerned with the Masquerade and preservation of Kindred law.
In human myth, the dead who succumb to the treacherous bite of a vampire rise from the grave to become yet another predatory creature of the night. On the contrary, the act of transforming a human into a vampire requires conscious effort. In order for a victim to become a vampire, their immune response would first have to be severely weakened and then they would have to be exposed to a large dose of the Kindred Virus through injection or consumption of the vampire's fluids (usually blood). During the Embrace, a vampire drains a person's blood to the point when the immune response is lethally depleted and then replaces it with a small amount of Kindred blood. After being embraced, the new Kindred will take on the characteristics -- psychological and physical in the case of the Nosferatu -- of the clan that embraced them.
Before a human can be embraced, the Kindred who wishes to "Sire" that human must get permission from the Prince. Embracing a human without permission -- which endangers the Masquerade and can be very cruel to the human -- is a serious offense, the Prince has the right to destroy both the errant vampire and the erstwhile human.
The reasons a Kindred embraces vary. Some do so out of spite or vengeance, forcibly embracing the human, stealing the mortal innocence. Some embrace out of love or desire, even lust. And others seek reprieve from their loneliness, wanting to share their long existence with a creature dark and beautiful, like themselves.
There are Kindred in every walk of life. Kindred pass legally as human with the help of fellow vampires working inside various agencies responsible for the creation and authentication of documents -- birth, death and marriage records, etc. However, even these ties sometimes don't suffice -- for instance, when a Kindred has lived too long in a community for his lack of aging to escape notice. In these cases vampires may migrate to new cities to establish new identities. The Kindred don't recognize human boundaries of state, religion, or culture. They have their clans and that's all they have.
Although a Prince is typically a Ventrue, leaders of all the clans covet the position, and conspire constantly to seize it. The peace between the clans is always tenuous, and it is only through the skill and strength of the Prince that peace is kept. This peace is all-important, because without it the Masquerade is doomed.
Killing a vampire is of course forbidden, but punishment is more variable, since Kindred are often ordered killed by the Prince in order to protect the Masquerade. When such sanctioned "Final Death" is ordained, it is called a "Blood Hunt", and can only be decreed by the Prince, typically after a "Conclave" is held among the leaders of all the clans.
Since the dawn of time, the Kindred evolved alongside humans. Wherever there were humans and hominid creatures, the Kindred preyed upon and fed off them. In ancient times, the Kindred were savage, merciless killers who hunted humans at night. Among their unspeakable atrocities was the practice of stealing babies and draining their blood.
The first strain of the Kindred Virus to evolve was the Nosferatu. Eventually the virus mutated into new strains, starting with the Gangrels, who were quickly followed by the Ventrue, then the Toreador strain came, and finally the Brujah were the last clan to evolve. Because they are averse to each other on a pheromonal level, the Brujah and the Gangrel quickly became mortal enemies. The Nosferatu came to rule the other strains/clans, who feared them for their power. At some point the Toreador created music.
Around the year 3000 B.C., the Nosferatu took sides in a Kindred war for the last time. They decided to stay neutral for their own survival. Around 1000 B.C. regional populations of Kindred began being ruled by Princes. This system survives to the present day; there is a Prince in every city, and he is the leader of all local Kindred. In 996 A.D. the Nosferatu allowed the Ventrue to live above ground and to become bankers and politicians so that they could gain power.
In 1478 Pope Sixtus IV authorized the Spanish Inquisition. Humans captured and tortured the Kindred because they were thought to be evil. Kindred were hunted down and burned alive by those who feared them and called them monsters. As a result of this persecution, the clans joined together to create the "Masquerade," a set of laws punishable by death that were intended to keep the Kindred from being seen as anything other than human, and the Nosferatu were able to live peacefully out of sight of humans below ground. A central tenet of the Masquerade was that Kindred must follow the Laws of Man. This rule began as a practical way of preventing Kindred from being imprisoned or otherwise subjected to scrutiny, but over time, it has taken on a more purely moral agenda.
Although each clan went through various names throughout the centuries, in the early 19th century the modern names of the clans were settled on. Over the last few hundred years, the Kindred (primarily the Toreador) propagated myths about vampires, which include the notions that they sleep in coffins or dirt, come from Transylvania, have two big fangs or barbed tongues, are invisible in mirrors, that they can be warded off with silver bullets, garlic strings or crosses, bats flying around, and so on. This was part of the Masquerade, and it kept humans occupied looking for those signs as Kindred walked among them posing as normal humans. The Toreador even hired storytellers to spread these falsehoods.