The Invictus is the aristocracy of the night. Neofeudal and corrupt from within, it is nonetheless a powerful covenant that draws strength from tradition. The Invictus claims to trace its roots back as far as ancient Rome, if not before.
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 associateit 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.
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.
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).
Thought on Others
- The Carthian Movement - No respect for tradition
- Circle of the Crone - Refuse to accept their place
- Lancea Sanctum - Trustworthy but sanctimonious
- Ordo Dracul - Disciplines but deluded
- Unaligned - Cults of the self
This category currently contains no pages or media.