The Origins of the Cainites
"And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him." -- Genesis 4:13-15, King James Bible
In the Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice creates an ancient myth to explain how vampires first came to be. Vampire: the Masquerade also has a powerful myth about vampire origins in The Book of Nod, and this myth underpins the entire game. In a nutshell, when the Biblical Caine killed his brother Abel, he was cursed by God in several different ways. Together, these curses made him something else - something we would recognize as a vampire. Since all vampires are said to have come from from Caine, they all suffer for his sins and are afflicted by the same curses. This is also the reason why, in Vampire the Masquerade, many vampires call themselves Cainites (since they come from Caine) or Kindred (since they are kin of a sort).
Cainitess are grievously harmed by fire and sunlight. Most of the time, the supernatural toughness of a vampire allows them to shrug off damage. When afflicted with normal damage, say from a punch or a knife, the Cainite is allowed a roll to see how much damage their body absorbs. If their body absorbs all of it, they take no damage. If a vampire does take damage, they can use the magical blood in their bodies to heal their wounds. Fire and sunlight, however, cause aggravated damage. The Kindred can only soak up this kind of damage with a special Discipline called Fortitude; if they don't have the Discipline, they take all of the damage. Aggravated damage is also harder to heal and uses up a lot more of the blood stored in a vampire's body.
While fire and sunlight do not always kill vampires outright, a little exposure can cause a lot of damage and vampires hold a special dread of these things. This fear, called Rötschreck, is a deeply ingrained, instinctive reaction that has to be fought against if a Cainite wishes to remain in control of themself. When a vampire becomes overwhelmed by this fear, they lose control completely and flee the scene looking for a safe place. All other desires or goals are abandoned until the Cainite is able to get a grip.
If Rötschreck isn't enough to keep a vampire out of the sun, another curse of Caine assures trouble with daylight hours: vampires are cursed to wander in darkness. They fall into a death-like sleep while the sun is in the sky and can only stay awake with a lot of effort. But even if they are awake, most vampires would not dare to set foot outside before dusk.
The curses of Caine and all Cainites don't end there. Vampires must drink blood to survive and can live on no other food source. Related to this is the curse of immortality: vampires remain as they were at death and never look a day older. But one of the things that you learn in Vampire is that nothing is free, including curses that seem like blessings: vampires are also doomed to suffer and to see their works crumble to dust. Though time does not mark their flesh, time does mark a vampire's psyche. The story of Caine is the story of blood and punishment and no vampire can escape these things.
How Vampires Come About
"Something inside of me has opened up its eyes
Why did you put it there? Did you not realise?
This thing inside of me, it screams the loudest sound
Sometimes I think I could
I could burn this whole world down"
Nine Inch Nails, Burn (suggested by Craig Oxbrow)
The way that a person becomes a vampire is very important to most stories. In the movie Blade, for example, some people are born vampires and other people turn into vampires after they are bitten and fed from. Those who were born vampires set themselves up above the rest and consider the infected unworthy; the pure bloods were born superior, after all, while the rest are just pretenders. This creates a lot of resentment that ends up being violently expressed in the film. In Vampire: the Masquerade, no one is born a vampire and only a rare few become vampires by accident. One bite or one instance of a vampire feeding is not enough to make a Cainite. So how does one get to be a vampire, then?
Well, this too goes back to the myth of Caine. In real life the Bible says that after Caine was cast out, he found a wife and went on to breed the human race. In Vampire: the Masquerade, Caine was irrevocably changed by the curses of God and could not breed the old fashioned way. Humankind was spread by Caine's youngest brother, Seth. For a long time Caine was the only one of his kind living with the descendants of Seth, and he was determined not to make others like himself. But, like it or not, vampires are social creatures and after a while they need to be near other vampires. Since sexual reproduction was out of the question, Caine used what he had: hunger and blood.
Caine chose a mortal that he favored and drained that person of blood until they died. Then, just after death, Caine cut himself and made them swallow his blood. The soul of the mortal almost slipped away but it was called back to its body by the power of Caine's blood. That very night, the mortal became immortal and took on the curses of their new father. Thus Caine became their sire and they became his childe. This process is called the Embrace and it is in this way that vampires can make more of their own. Death must come first and then the magical properties of Cainite blood bring the childe back as undead, a strange in-between state.
The Cainite Hierarchy
Caine was the first vampire and a being of unspeakable might; though legends exist about some of his exploits, none claim to know the limits of his power. The curses that God laid upon him set him apart and made him strong - the better to endure his punishment, perhaps. In any event, he eventually Embraced several different people; tradition calls them Zillah, Irad, and Enoch. Together, these vampires are known as the second generation of vampires and Caine's direct progeny. Each new generation is weaker than the one that came before, however. Although we have no idea how powerful the second generation is, we can safely assume that they are less powerful than Caine. The important thing to remember is that despite all of the stories, there have been no confirmed sightings of Caine or the second generation; indeed, legends insist that the second generation was destroyed. Anyone who might have seen them probably isn't going to talk about it. These, then, are figures of myth more than anything else.
The reason that they are important is that they lead to the larger vampire structure. Each member of the second generation went on to Embrace their own childer, referred to as the third generation. They are also called the Antediluvians, since it is said that they were Embraced before the Great Flood. Legends say there were only thirteen members of the third generation but there may have been more. These beings were not as powerful as the second generation but they were still impressive by just about any standards. What is remarkable about the third generation is that other vampires claim to have actually seen them. Not everyone believes these stories and not everyone believes in the existence of the Antediluvians, but they are just real enough to cause a lot of fear. When talking about the Antediluvians, most of them are referred to by the name of their clan because their real names are lost to history. Thus, the Antediluvian of the Brujah clan is called Brujah. Some Antediluvians are so obscure that no one is sure whether they are male or female and stories contradict each other.
Each member of the third generation was said to have Embraced more vampires and eventually they started their own clans. A clan is a group of vampires that shares a common lineage descending from a member of the third generation; they also share common powers (called clan disciplines) and a common clan weakness. Each clan is different from the others and some of them have long standing rivalries. Generally speaking, a clan must also have a member of the third generation at its head; a few of the Antediluvians have supposedly been killed over time and their clans have been relegated to the status of bloodlines. While bloodlines have common lineage, powers, and weaknesses, they no longer have a "living" Antediluvian.
The childer of the third generation are called the fourth generation; the fourth went on to sire the fifth generation, and so on. Each generation grows a bit weaker in potential as the blood goes down the line; by the end of the twentieth century, there are fifteen generations in total, though most vampires belong to the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth. The fourteenth and fifteenth generations are very weak by vampire standards and are very few in number; what's more, fifteenth generation vampires are not able to make other vampires. In other games, high numbers are better than low numbers, but when it comes to generation the low numbers indicate more power.
In Cainite society, several things affect a vampire's prestige - and some of these things are beyond a Cainite's control. First, a person's sire reflects on them just as they reflect on their sire; if your sire is of lower generation and has a strong reputation with the local vampires, other Cainites will look at you with a little more regard. Likewise, if you have an unruly idiot for a childe then you look bad because you have obviously chosen poorly. Your generation and pedigree also figure into your prestige. If you are of a lower generation and others guess you to be, then they know a bit about your potential; they know they have something to worry about. As a rule of thumb, higher generation vampires are treated harshly and poorly by their superiors, while lower generation vampires can demand a certain level of respect.