Originally, my Vampire Counts bore out the observation that background happens in play, not before it. A generic Army of Sylvania rapidly became something a bit more personal, as battles were fought across army lists and editions and even games (it must be noted that my Vampires were most successful in the realm of Mordheim, after all). As I go forward into whatever-I-end-up-doing-now*, I want to hang on to as much of that continuity as possible.
The Order of the Black Cross were Sylvania’s token, tiny circle of Knights Templar. Like everything else about Sylvania, they were a poor showing in the centuries before Vlad, with a mediocre record in the joust and a minimal presence in the great Crusades against Araby and occupied Estalia. Even the ominous and looming Castle Templehof (Sylvanians are not an imaginative folk when it comes to names) was of note more for its architectural extravagance and extensive catacombs than its strategic solidity.
Lord Ruthven, current Grand Master of the Order and Regent of Templehof (pictured, central), first emerged as a Vampire to watch in the year 2004 IC. Among the minor scions of von Carstein sent to Mordheim, Ruthven acquired a killer reputation as a hunter, duellist and seriously tough bastard. He defeated bands of Skaven, Dwarfs and Elves, sent much wyrdstone back to Drakenhof, and was rewarded with a captaincy in the Order of the Black Cross, where he served during Vlad’s attempt to seize the Imperial throne.
After the death of Vlad, Pieter von Carstein was made Grand Master of the Order and led it in a series of disastrous battles, culminating in Pieter’s destruction at the walls of Nuln. His under-estimated and under-appreciated trophy wife Emmanuelle, Countess of Templehof, knowing that Konrad would never accept her as leader of the Order, nominated Ruthven as her general, regent, and coffin-warmer instead. Alas, all good things must come to an end; in this case, at the infamous Night Siege, where Emmanuelle was permanently put to rest, and Ruthven lost an eye to a Dwarf rune-axe during a doomed effort to sally out and meet the Dwarfs head-on.
The Order was broken, and Ruthven spent the remainder of Konrad’s reign in disgrace, seething with fury at the incompetents who had failed so drastically to succeed his old master. Indeed, when Mannfred first rode out to Templehof to re-establish the order, Ruthven led what few troops remained against him, convinced the new Count was just another unworthy successor. Mannfred was wounded (and annoyed), Ruthven apparently killed, and the Order dropped out of history for nearly two hundred years…
In the absence of the Order the Castle Templehof became more and more decrepit, eventually being occupied by a pair of lesser Vampires: the scholarly and deceitful Carmilla, a distant descendant of the von Carsteins, and the treacherous freelance knight Sir Francis Varney. Quickly enslaving the scruffy Sylvanian nobility (the house von Wellmitz) who occupied the castle and its fiefdom, each Vampire raised a modest portion of the Order’s troops for their own purposes. Carmilla was racing against Grey Seer Makkiavelli for control of southern Sylvania’s warpstone deposits, while Varney allied with Vardek Crom, the Conqueror in some half-baked scheme of Terrible Vengeance Against The Empire. They do that, when they’re young.
At Carmilla’s behest, the necromancers Rosenkratz and Guildenstern** (left and right) used the warpstone she’d accumulated to undo the Dwarf rune-wards placed around the Castle, and raise the entire Order to do her bidding. As planned, they saturated the castle and its environs with dark magic, but discovered that some older, greater presence was hi-jacking their great spell of reanimation…
In attempting to resurrect the entire Order, the necromancers had drawn the spirit of its Grand Master back into consciousness, and in providing so much raw necromantic power, they had given him the means to restore his body. Lord Ruthven returned at once to his castle, rapidly established a Vampiric pecking order, and, after Carmilla explained exactly what had happened in the substantial chunk of history he’d slept through, sent a lengthy apology and a pledge of fealty to Drakenhof.
The Order is not yet at full fighting strength. Much of the power accumulated to resurrect them was inadvertently squandered on restoring Ruthven, and so the hunt is on for sources of great and greater power, dark wizards of more skill, new vampire knights to join Ruthven’s inner circle. The Grand Master believes Mannfred capable of fulfilling Vlad’s dream, and establishing the Empire of the Dead. When he does, the Order will be there to protect and serve the Vampire Emperor, and this time they will not fail…
* – my current sensibilities are leading me to amass previous iterations of the Warhammer rules and army books, so I can play Oldhammer; dabbling with third edition, returning to my beloved sixth and the General’s Compendium, and taking the odd stab at eighth under GM-controlled conditions or in a lax, points-matches-are-for-suckers kind of way. Did you know I owned every iteration of the Vampire Counts book before I sold them, like a fool? Or that the first one was the only thing I ever wanted enough to Advance Order?
Anyway, a few notes on how the story’s going to work. The basic principle is that not every game counts. Games that could feasibly happen within the army’s stomping ground, i.e. the Old World, do: games that don’t, don’t. If it fits into the narrative, it fits in, if it doesn’t, I’m not going to force the situation.
** – I don’t know whether to stick with these names or name all my evil wizards after my favourite medieval/Renaissance demonologists. Yes, I have favourite medieval/Renaissance demonologists. No, I’m not sorry.