Legend tells of a maiden whose children, prophesy said, would grow up to overthrow a tyrant and rule the world. Her usurper uncle, thinking to forestall this fate, imprisoned her while she was still a virgin. But Mars, the god of war, stole into her prison and raped her, impregnating her with twin boys. Her evil uncle ordered them killed, and they were left in the wilderness to die. Instead, A she-wolf found them and suckled them, adopting them as her own. As prophesied, when they grew to adulthood, the twins overthrew the tyrant and set out to found a great city. They soon came to blows and Romulus killed Remus on a fit of rage. As far as humans know, that’s the end of that story. Romulus went on to found the greatest city the world has ever known, and Remus was buried and largely forgotten. Kindred tell a different story, that something strange and unholy was drawn to Remus’s dying fury, and made him a bargain. A simple proposition: Unending life in return for a few little moral concessions. Who could say no?
Remus first embraced a man named Aulus Julius, known as Senex for his wisdom, and together they set out to build the Necropolis, a city of the dead directly under and intimately connected to the Rome of mortals. They created an ideal society through careful embrace of the right sort of people, and established the underworld’s ruling body and society, the Camarilla. Legend is a little unclear on exactly how Remus vanished, and it’s not a topic anyone wants to talk much about; Senex fell into torpor 300 or so years after the founding of the Camarilla. It is rumored that his body lies somewhere well hidden, and that he might rise again some day. The Camarilla’s ruling body is named for him.
Our story begins in the year 320 A.D. The Roman Empire is in decline, though most citizens would be likely to dispute that. After all, Rome is still the most magnificent city in history and her influence reaches throughout the known world. Through warfare and conquest, through trade and cultural imperialism, Rome stands supreme. And yet, years of internal conflict, the Great Fire of 64 A.D., a long series of weak, insane, or inept rulers, civil unrest, plague, and increasingly aggressive attacks from pretenders to the throne and from barbarian hordes have taken their toll.
One factor affecting the Rome of mortal and Kindred alike is the rise of a new God. The cult of Christos had been growing slowly but steadily for centuries. Then, in 312, the emperor Constantine was facing a decisive battle with a rival for the throne. The night before the battle, he dreamed of victorious soldiers, their shields adorned with the sign of the new god. He made a pledge that if this new god brought him victory, Christianity would become Rome’s state religion. Jesus delivered, and Constantine kept his promise.
In the Necropolis, the old pagan religions still reign supreme, but these strange new moralists are beginning to make inroads even in debauched Kindred society. The Sanctified, as they call themselves, are tolerated but largely mocked or ignored.
Much of Kindred life in the Necropolis is taken up with increasingly baroque and indulgent parties, with ecstatic ritual, and with the certainty that a recent prophesy was correct: The Camarilla will rule supreme for 2,000 years. This prophesy was made in 306, and leading Julii socialite, Julia Comitor, has pledged to throw the greatest party the Necropolis has ever seen every decade, to celebrate. 316’s party is still being spoken of, and 326’s eagerly anticipated.
Meanwhile, the peace is kept (or lawfully disrupted) by the Camarilla’s military arm, the Legio Mortuum. Law is dispensed by the Senex, and prophesy remains the province of the mystic Cult of Augurs. Any Kindred who fall outside these realms—foreigners, criminals, prostitutes, slaves, ne’er-do-wells, and misfits have the Peregrine Collegia (the Wing of Strangers) to welcome them. The Sanctified were once part of the Collegia, but have recently broken off to form their own wing.
Mortals never venture knowingly into the Necropolis, although they are frequently imported as entertainment, sacrifices, food, or slaves. The Julii oversee charitable distribution of blood to impoverished or incompetent Kindred, but availing oneself of this charity is a last resort for anyone who cares about their social standing or reputation. Hunting and feeding generally takes place in a number of areas: the Catacombs, tombs that adjoin the Necropolis, where mortals go to bury and to commune with their dead are conveniently close and secluded. Brothels and bathhouses are also good hunting grounds, and while Rome has less nightlife than today’s cities, citizens are often out and about visiting cauponae (taverns), attending parties, and the like.
Our story begins as a few relatively young Kindred—a warrior, a gladiator, a socialite, and a cultist—make their way through the nights of the late-stage Camarilla. They are all, to one degree or another, functioning members of the night society. But they have ambitions and wishes that they’ve not accomplished, aspirations they’re struggling to attain. All of that is about to change. How? That remains to be seen.