The Ritual Mask of Death and Decay

Editor: J. Marbella

In this issue:
I. Introduction
II. Fiction
III. Vampire and Cards of the Month
IV. Deck of the Month
V. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Bloodlines have been out for a couple of months now. I was away from my regular playgroup for 2 months after it was released. So unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to playtest any of my HoS decks regularly. As a result, basing on my own Harbinger of Skulls experience, I have very little to write about for the second issue of The Ritual Mask of Death and Decay (the main reason why the second issue has been delayed for so long). Fortunately for me, others, like Jon Stahler, have been busy trying to win with the HoS and coming up with some interesting deck ideas to do so.

Mr. Stahler's deck is a Vote and Bloat one, using Harbinger of Skulls for voting and Salubri for bloating. His deck was the inspiration for this month's Deck of the Month (and pretty much everything else on this month's newsletter). We veered a little bit off the path Mr. Stahler set with his vote and bloat variant, by replacing the Salubri crypt with Ventrue Antitribu. The main reason is that the elder Ventrue Antitribu have titles and vote negating specials/minion cards that can help pass those Cardinal Benedictions and other political actions.

This month, instead of two separate sections for Vampire of the Month and Card of the Month, I've decided to incorporate them into one. By doing so, I can show you how the cards of the month work or combo with the featured vampire.

Finally, I have decided to release The Ritual Mask of Death and Decay on a bi-monthly basis, primarily due to real world responsibilities. However, this gives me more time to explore our favorite new Bloodline and coming up with decks and ideas to make our V:TES more enjoyable when we play with them in our crypt.

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II. Fiction

Shifting Sands (or Where Nothing Really Happens so Please Skip to Section III)

Saturday, 9 March 2002, 11:21PM
Beneath the Saqqara Ruins, South of Giza
Egypt, North Africa

Fu'ad SIRAJ AL-DIN stood quietly for several minutes seemingly unnoticed, he knew better than to disturb his mistress while she worked. After what seemed like eternity, the figure put down the bloodied scalpel she used to dissect the mangled torso splayed on what looked like an old-fashioned operating table. His Mistress folded her arms and turned to face him. He took a step back at the sight of her. She was cloaked in a long, loose-fitting robe, the translucent material revealing an emaciated body. While her body looked like a corpse, her hair was long, dark and vibrant, falling in soft curls around her shoulders. She wore a simple porcelain mask this time, with narrow slits where eyes, nose and mouth should be. His mistress reached out a withered hand, and motioned for him to come closer with her long bony index finger.

Fu'ad approached his Mistress and bowed low. "You are late," she said simply in Arabic, her soft, whispery voice filling the once deathly quiet chamber. "The 'khamsin' prevented me from arriving sooner, Mistress, a thousand apologies. It will not happen again," Fu'ad replied kneeling in supplication. Her mask hid any reaction if there was one. "I believe you have something for me," she said, sitting on the stone throne behind the marble table. Fu'ad quickly reached inside his robe and drew the scroll he safely tucked before his journey. He stood and approached her slowly, nervously handing the scroll to her. She accepted the scroll from his outstretched arm; her cold bony fingers touched his hand ever so slightly as she took the scroll from him. Fu'ad shivered at the contact, and hoped that his Mistress did not notice yet another slight. Again the mask she wore hid any reaction very well.

Her mistress broke the seal on the scroll, the crisp sound of unrolling parchment disrupting the tomblike silence sends another shiver through Fu'ad's spine. From the slits on her mask, Fu'ad could see his Mistress' eyes moving while she read the contents of the scroll. He was surprised to hear his Mistress began to speak, her gaze focused on the broken seal. "So," she began slowly, almost unconsciously, in a somewhat pleased tone, "Strathcona, Quentin, and Mallenhous have accepted my bribe." Fu'ad couldn't tell if his Mistress was smiling behind her mask, but then again, he heard that members of his Mistress' order flay the skin from their faces, leaving them with perpetual deathly grins. "They accepted my offer and
appointed Egottha Cardinal in the Sabbat," she continued. "With Gisela's rising prominence in the Priscus block, and Egottha's newfound political influence, we should more easily 'sway' our Sabbat compatriots and bring us closer to that which we seek." Fu'ad stood stunned and transfixed while his Mistress unintentionally revealed all this to him.

His mistress' stare turned to him. "You have done well, Fu'ad...," his Mistress said, getting up from her throne. She approached the marble table, her back to him, "...and you are right." Fu'ad shook his head, perplexed, what did his Mistress mean he began to think... but Fu'ad did not have enough time to finish his thought, his Mistress whirled around and brought the scalpel across his neck, slitting his throat. He fell to the cold, stone floor, his blood gushing from the wide cut on his throat. The last thing Fu'ad saw, was his Mistress removing her mask, baring her fangs and leaning closer to him. For the first and last time, Fu'ad saw his Mistress' face as it is and found it grotesquely beautiful. He heard his mistress say, in that soft, whispery voice, "You WERE right Fu'ad, it will not happen again." The torches on the walls seem to flicker faster as the life extinguished from Fu'ad SIRAJ AL-DIN...

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III. Vampire and Cards of the Month

Gisella Harden, The Winnower
Harbinger of Skulls, 7 capacity
aus dem FOR NEC
Sabbat Priscus: Gisela can burn a vampire in your prey's uncontrolled
region as a (D) action that costs X blood, where X is the amount of
blood on that vampire; any blood on that vampire is returned to your
prey's pool.

Since this month's featured deck is the voting variant, it is natural that the vampire of the month is one of the two Harbinger of Skulls with an inherent voting capability/title, the clan's Priscus, Gisella Harden.

If the sub-referendum goes your way, the Prisci block can give you 3 votes in favor of a political action you call. A 7 capacity Priscus that can easily be influenced out at the end of your second turn can be very strong. Calling votes as early as the 3rd turn with 3 votes in your favor from the Prisci sub-referendum can certainly be used to your advantage. Gisella Harden's Priscus title could be easily overlooked because of her unique special. You might think her special as 'not too shabby', but not particularly useful when it comes to voting. This is true in and of itself, but I'll show you later how it can be useful in a voting deck by combining it with other cards. Before we get to that though, let us examine Gisella's voting

"What do you mean you want a recount? This isn't Florida!"

In the Sabbat, the Priscus block has a lot of influence in the results of a referendum and controlling the block may very well mean you control the outcome of a vote. Unfortunately one of the more popularly used Sabbat voting minion is Gratiano, who practically controls the Prisci sub-referendum with the extra vote he has, particularly when (in my experience anyway), I only see at most 2 Prisci ready in any game. This is where Gisella's Auspex discipline comes in. Off the crypt, Gisella only has inferior Auspex, but by giving her an Auspex discipline card or playing a Sanguine Instruction on her to give her superior Auspex, can keep Gratiano or any vampire with a lot of votes that can hinder your minions in check, effectively neutralized by playing a Telepathic Vote Counting at superior. Using it at inferior too, can be effective, by drawing out all your prey's WWEF or FA, and then playing the action you really wanted to get through (like a Call the Hungry Dead bleed with a Pulse of Canaille strapped on).

Telepathic Vote Counting
Action Modifier, Auspex
Only usable during a referendum.
[aus] Cancel the referendum. If you played a political card to call
this referendum, take the card back into your hand (and discard back
down to your hand size). Any votes cast are lost.
[AUS] Only usable during a referendum. A vampire of your choice
abstains from voting. This can cancel that vampire's votes.

In this month's featured deck, negating or neutralizing oppossing votes is how you will get most of your political actions to pass. Crucial when you start calling Cardinal Benedictions (remember that only Sabbat vampires can vote in this referendum), which means that playing a Telepathic Vote Counting is key to the success of the deck if there are other titled Sabbat vampires on the table. Other ways include the use of Ventrue Antitribu vampires (e.g. Quentin) or Ventrue Antitribu specific Master cards and Action Modifiers (e.g., Demonstration and Kindred Manipulation).

"Sixth Sense: When the Dead call, you better damn well listen!"

Getting your political action to pass by controlling and neutralizing votes is one thing, however, you still need to get the political action to succeed. With intercept/wall decks in abundance (at least in my playgroup) and casual intercept (+1 intercept) just as popular, getting the political action to go through without your prey or predator (and sometimes, cross-table ally) blocking can be very daunting. In this case, Gisella's superior Necromancy comes into play. One of the best non-Dominate/non-Stealth anti-block cards available is a Necromancy action modifier, Call of the Hungry Dead:

Call of the Hungry Dead
Action Modifier
Only usable when a minion is attempting to block.
[nec] The blocking minion gets -1 intercept.
[NEC] This acting vampire burns 1 blood to cause the block to fail.
The blocking minion cannot attempt to block this action again.

At first glance, using it at inferior by reducing a reacting minions intercept may be sufficient; and against non-intercept and/or casual intercept decks that is true. However, using the modifier at superior is where the strength of the card lies, effectively causing the block to fail and prevents the reacting minion from trying to block again, all for the cost of 1 blood (definitely worth it if the next KRC you call will oust your prey). Who needs stealth when you could just as easily say to a blocking minion, "Hell no! ...and remember to STAY DOWN!" :)

"Enough talk, blood speaks for itself."

The lack of table controlling votes, is most assuredly a crutch when it comes to voting, particularly for a clan like the HoS that doesn't have a lot of titled vampires. From experience though, I have seen several Methuselah offer votes your way all for the price of 1 pool, courtesy of Bribes.

Action Modifier
Only usable during a referendum before votes are cast. Gain 1 pool.
Any other Methuselah who votes in your favor and does not vote against
you gains 1 pool when the results of the referendum are tallied.

I am often surprised to see how effective this action modifier is. It will help sway your cross-table ally (and sometimes even your Predator and/or Prey) to cast votes in favor of your political action without having to go through "the what will you do for me dance". In addition, playing Bribes has a side benefit regardless of how the vote will turn out, it gains you pool in the process. Certainly not cost effective, an action that gains you only one pool, but neither is it cost inefficient (you still gained something out of the action).

"Banish and Burn!"

Now comes the part where Gisella's special comes in handy in a vote deck. This month's crypt is very elder heavy, with vampires coming out of the crypt on average of 7.83 capacity. One of my personal favorite political actions that work well with high capacity vampires is Banishment:

Political Action
Political Card-Worth 1 Vote. Called by any vampire at +1 stealth.
Choose a younger ready vampire. Successful referendum means that the
chosen vampire is moved to the uncontrolled region (place him or her
face down). The vampire is uncontrolled. The vampire's blood counters,
master cards and minion cards stay with that vampire, with any
counters they have on them (minion cards are out of play as long as
the vampire remains uncontrolled).

Using one of the elder vampires in your crypt to call Banishment on one of your Prey's more annoying younger minions, sending them back into the uncontrolled region, followed up by using Gisella's special to burn the just banished vampire (preventing any re-influencing), is one of the more interesting combos in this month's featured deck. The look on your opponents face is worth the price of this combo IMHO. It helps though that the banished vampire has as few blood on him or her as possible, at least less than or equal to the blood currently on Gisella. So pick one of your prey's vampires wisely when playing a Banishment/Gisella Harden combo. One way to help reduce the blood on your prey's vampire that you intend to banish and burn, is through the use of the Harbinger of Skulls master card, Lazarene Inquisitor or maybe a Society of Leopold, both of which doesn't cost you a single pool.

Lazarene Inquisitor
Cost: 0 pool
Unique Master. Put this card on a ready Harbinger of Skulls you
control. The Harbinger of Skulls with this card can burn up to 2 blood
from a ready vampire as a +1 stealth (D) action. Any Sabbat vampire
can burn this card as a (D) action. Burn option.

Society of Leopold
Cost: 0 pool
Unique Master. Put this card on a vampire. During his or her
controller's untap phase, the vampire with this card either burns 1
blood or is burned (the controller's choice). A vampire with this card
can put it on any other vampire as a +1 stealth (D) action.

Too bad Banishment results in an uncontrolled vampire, otherwise, a well-timed Daemonic Possession and a ready Agaitas, Scholar of Antiquities, makes the Banishment/Gisella Harden combo all the more worthwhile.

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IV. Deck of the Month

Deck Name: Bribing !Ventrue for Benedictions
Created By: J. Marbella
Inspired By: John Stahler
Description: The first thing to do is try to bring one of the !Ventrue out. Since they all have DOM, and are all older than the HoS in the crypt, try to Govern at superior to avoid massive pool loss. Elect HoS as Cardinals using Quentin's ability, Kindred Manipulation, TVC, and Demonstration to negate and neutralize votes that are not in your favor. Once you have the controlling votes, start calling damaging votes like KRCs. Bribe to make sure that other titled vampires see things your way ;) Whispers of the Dead are in the deck to retrieve KRCs or whatever you may need that is in your ash heap. Pool gain is through Minion Tap/Restoration/Giant's Blood or through successful calls of AI and PS (be careful though that you don't give your prey too much blood as a result). I want to include 1-2 'Cardinal Sin: Insubordination' for flavor but have no space :)

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 27, Max: 37, Avg: 7.83)
1 Agaitas AUS for NEC 6, Harbingers of Skulls
2 Anisa Marianna Lopez aus FOR NEC QUI 8, Harbingers of Skulls
2 Egothha AUS FOR NEC obf 7, Harbingers of Skulls
3 Gisela Harden aus dem FOR NEC 7, Harbingers of Skulls, Priscus
1 Kyle Strathcona AUS DOM for POT PRE 9, Ventrue Antitribu, Cardinal
2 Quentin AUS cel DOM FOR obt 9, Ventrue Antitribu, Bishop
1 Lazverinus AUS DOM FOR POT pro 10, Ventrue Antitribu, Archbishop

Library: (90 cards)
Master (19 cards)
2 Anarch Revolt
2 Auspex
2 Blood Doll
1 Creepshow Casino
1 Demonstration
1 Giant's Blood
1 Lazarene Inquisitor
1 Legendary Vampire
4 Minion Tap
1 Regent
1 Slaughterhouse
2 Zillah's Valley

Action (15 cards)
4 Govern the Unaligned
1 Pulse of the Canaille
4 Restoration
1 Revelations
5 Whispers from the Dead (to get KRCs back and whatever else you may need)

Action Modifier (21 cards)
3 Bribes
6 Call of the Hungry Dead
1 Cryptic Rider
3 Freak Drive
2 Kindred Manipulation
1 Kiss of Ra, The
4 Telepathic Vote Counting

Political Action (13 cards)
1 Ancient Influence (for pool gain)
1 Banishment
4 Cardinal Benediction
1 Domain Challenge (depends on your meta, Anarchist Uprising might be better)
5 Kine Resources Contested
1 Political Stranglehold (for pool gain)

Reaction (10 cards)
2 Telepathic Counter
4 Telepathic Misdirection
4 Wake with Evening's Freshness

Combat (12 cards)
2 Skin of Night
3 Skin of Steel
5 Spiritual Intervention
2 Unflinching Persistence

Equipment (1 cards)
1 Sargon Fragment, The (for one of the !Ventrue, primarily to use Call of the Hungry Dead when playing Political Actions, but useful with any of the other NEC cards)

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V. Conclusion

One of the things I quickly realized when playing the Harbinger of Skulls is the difficulty in coming up with a mono-clan crypt, lacking any real forward pushing or aggressive discipline (FOR, NEC, AUS are very passive disciplines) to oust your prey is the main problem. I am finding that including them with other clans as either support or the main attraction, as intended by WW with most of the Bloodline clans, is so much more effective.

Special thanks to Jon Stahler for the inspiration for this month's featured deck and pretty much the entire newsletter. ;)

If you have any deck submissions, HoS strategy, fan fiction, comments or suggestions, send them to me at Until then, put on your masks, wear your shrouds and cloaks, and dance the ritual of death and decay...

J.A. Marbella