When you're asked to rewrite another author's work, it is always best to be circumspect and humble. I do not know who wrote the original Gehenna War chapter in the V5 Camarilla book, nor does it matter. I do my best here to explain my process when making those changes without any metaplot spoilers and without making any judgments on the intent of the original authors. If I critique how something was handled originally, it is not a personal attack but an insight into my initial reaction that led me to flag the words for potential reworking.
If you have not read the Gehenna War section, you may wish to do so before proceeding as I do not quote from the section or republish any of it below.
- A 10 year old Neonate completing his tutelage as a Ventrue and then becoming an Archon seemed inconsistent with established conventions of the Camarilla as a hidebound Sect of traditionalists. Archons are the Camarilla' elite soldiers, and while the Ventrue are more bold now, the Sect's hierarchies are not. Speaking Arabic is not so rare that they had to freshly Embrace a refugee to find an Archon who could do so. In fact, the idea that the Camarilla is so desperate for Arabic speakers is bordering on insulting given Arabic was a major language of learning that some Camarilla Elders likely have some passing understanding of the language. Spain was an Arabic speaking country until the 15th century and major parts of the Arabic world were colonized by European powers until the 1960s. I also changed his name to Shahid, which means witness and can mean martyr, this double meaning fit the story perfectly. And though it more clearly identifies the NPC as coming from a Muslim family, as are the vast majority of Iraqis, it does not mean the NPC is unequivocally Arab as Iraq has many different ethnic identities. I also wanted to give the Archon his own agency, no longer stumbling into one incident beyond his capabilities after another. He expresses doubts and forms secret concerns, he plans for his demise and attempts to ferret out the truth. And in the end he doesn't disappear down a hole, but knowingly fulfills his duty to the Camarilla though he believes it'll mean his death.
- This Sect held Islam as the defining trait of the sect in the original text. This seemed OK as an outsiders perspective, but I wanted it to be clearer to those who interact with them that this was not the case, as it was it potentially opened up holes in the metaplot and made the sect seem one dimensional and incredibly stagnant. I also wanted to clarify that the Ashirra was not just another word for Banu Haqim (Assamites). This was a sect of many different Kindred, with Toreadors, Lasombra, Malkavians and Banu Haqim at its core, The Alamut Cult Assamites thus leave the Ashirra for their heretical master and the traditional Clan of the Banu Haqim stays in the Ashirra. In some ways this darkly mirrors the departure of the Gangrel or Brujah from the Camarilla. Getting a seat at the Camarilla' table is part of a larger alliance with the Ashirra, not Assamite refugees begging for succor. This I felt was within the material presented elsewhere in the Camarilla book and needed to be reflected in this chapter. But also I present the living Ashirra that the narrator meets as a geographic cultural grouping of vampires that rode the carrier wave of Islam just as the Camarilla rode the carrier wave of Christian kingdoms. But it is not an 'Islamic' Sect so much as a Sect that dominated vampire society in the mortal Islamic world. It is informed by Islamic morays as the Camarilla is informed by Christian ones, but calling either sect Christian or Islamic would be a misnomer.
The Gehenna War
- This War was originally only focused in the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. This seemed to be directly mapping a vampire war onto places being assaulted by Western powers. The Middle East was being used as stage setting without any illumination of why these mortal wars were taking place. This was changed so the Gehenna War is fought in "the hidden corners of the world" and it's clarified that this war is being imposed on these regions from abroad, it is not some intrinsic quality of the region to be embroiled in conflict. This is also why it was important that the narrator is also in jeopardy when he's on European soil, for there he cannot hide among military forces and large mercenary camps, and it is also where some of the benefactors of the Gehenna War hold power. Lastly, the narrator returns to the traditional seat of Camarilla power before disappearing himself. He has his own ideas on what has happened to the Elders of the Camarilla, and he claims he has hazy memories of what lies beneath the sands, though we never know for sure.
- At first I'd wanted to muddy the account of the raid on the 'Sabbat Base', but in the end I actually ended up including details that succinctly confirmed the Sabbat' presence. The narrator is disgusted by the Sabbat' leavings, but he also begins to understand that the Ashirra are not only showing off their power, but playing him. They want him to know that not only are they dangerous, but that his Camarilla masters have hidden the true purpose of his mission from him. This helps set up his decision to go with Fatima later as a choice between seeking the truth or following the best route for his political advancement in the Camarilla. He ultimately makes his choice because of his interactions with his entitled Sire and the clueless pontificating 'elders' in Tunis.
The Antediluvians and the Camarilla
- The open worship of ancient vampires, Caine and possibly even Antediluvians presented in the Camarilla book implies that this worship was always intrinsic to the Camarilla. This may be the case, but it was a secret worship among Elders and Gehenna Cults. I wanted to address this open worship among the Camarilla as an after effect of the rise of the Second Inquisition and the disappearance of the Sabbat from their cities. Kindred saw these events as Gehenna's opening act and they rushed to worship their creators. The narrator makes it clear that after the Sect was unable to stamp out this new religion, the Sect allowed it but with a more metaphorical and less literal basis. In the July 20 Baghdad section he calls the Book of Nod heretical for instance. It's also implied that without the danger of the Sabbat, the Camarilla no longer sees such religiosity as a danger that opens them up to The Swords' infiltrators.
- Starting in Tunis and culminating in Venice, the Narrator begins to question the nature of the beckoning. His sire's visit hammers this home, but it is in Tunis that we see the seeds planted by the Ashirra in Baghdad begin to bloom. At no point is his theory proved correct, and Victoria Ash seems to contradict his suspicions in her post-script, and so the mystery of the beckoning is preserved, but the possibilities of what it could be in an ST's game is expanded. In fact, explaining the nature of The Beckoning would ruin its use as a plot device, but if we can explore it as an object in the dark, something we can feel with our fingertips but never see in direct light, it can serve a multitude of uses for players and STs alike.