In the World of Darkness, it is possible for ghoul attributes to become inborn. Ghoul characteristics can, with effort, be inherited through several generations of ghouls through the breeding efforts of their vampire masters, resulting in a family of revenants; ghouls whose bodies naturally produce vitae.
The word revenant as used here is technically a misnomer though, since the word literally means "undead", even though the "revenant" ghouls are very much alive. How the word revenant came to be the English word for a member of these ghoul families is most likely a result of an earlier Tzimisce's nascent command of the English language.
A Revenant is a kind of hybrid creature that is both like and unlike mortals, ghouls, and Kindred. Some would say a revenant is halfway between a mortal and a vampire; others would call it a corruption of God's creatures with the curse of Caine, mingling the two until they become inseparable. Nonetheless, a revenant has many qualities of both vampires and mortals, and has many characteristics of normal ghouls. Revenants can drink the blood of a vampire, but unlike a ghoul they do not need to do so, as they can produce their own vitae, which also retards their aging.
Unlike their masters, and despite their name, revenants are living creatures. Like a mortal, they need to eat, sleep and breathe. They are capable of sexual reproduction. Unlike a mortal they are tougher and have access to supernatural powers from the Mark of Caine along with the curses the Mark brings.
Unlike normal ghouls, revenants are born, not created by drinking Kindred blood. Revenants' bodies naturally produce a weak vampire-like vitae, which sustains their bodies far beyond normal human lifespans (although not immortal, revenants can live to be hundreds of years old; they age at approximately one-quarter the rate humans do), and also gives them the ability to use Disciplines.
The Revenant families were bred over many generations to serve the Tzimisce and, later, the Sabbat. They are not quite human; somewhere between human and vampire, they exist outside of society's norms. Some worship vampires as gods, while others aspire to achieve that state themselves.
Revenants are families of ghouls constantly maintained by the Tzimisce, who serve as mortal pawns and possible candidates for the Embrace. Centuries of vampiric contact, infusions of vampiric blood and inbreeding have transformed the revenants into a distinct type of supernatural creature.
In modern nights, the ghoul families are largely relics. The Tzimisce originally used them as breeding stock, but have since largely moved along from them – the only things keeping most of the families from being exterminated in the Final Nights are certain useful services they provide for the Sabbat, and the traditionalist tendencies of their Tzimisce patrons.
As it was previously stated, Revenants are divided into families, and like vampire clans, each family has particular roles to play, specific Disciplines and weaknesses. These humans were bred over many generations, and genetically they are quite different from the average human. The aging process is slowed (but not halted as in traditional ghouls). A hundred-year-old revenant may appear to be in his or her twenties.
Revenants produce their own blood pools at the rate of one point per day. They cannot use this blood to form blood bonds, create other ghouls (except by breeding more revenants), or Embrace. Like normal ghouls, revenants store vitae in their body to be used for healing, Disciplines, and temporarily increasing physical attributes. Like a ghoul, their flesh is preternaturally tough and they can soak lethal damage. They are not born with superhuman strength.
They can use and learn Disciplines, and have unique Disciplines and weaknesses related to their specific bloodline. Unlike vampires, they are not affected by sunlight, and can sleep in, or stay awake, whenever they choose to. They also have a heartbeat, salivate and need to use human lavatories.
Revenants suffer a lesser form of the Mark of Caine that affects vampires, including susceptibility to Frenzy and Rötschreck as a result of having their own Beast. This Beast is much weaker than that of a vampire, but its potential triggers are more numerous.
Because revenants do breed, because they are ghouls, with the associated emotional problems, and because the Tzimisce were heavily involved in discovering this, ghoul families are more than a little bit bent. Cannibalism, incest, necrophilia, zoophilia, and general insanity is all part of family life. The families are also insanely wealthy, however, and generally hide their more depraved members from too much public view.
Revenants are fanatically loyal to their vampiric masters, and consider themselves superior to the average human, as well as "regular" ghouls. This, added to their treatment by the Tzimisce and their inbred, unsavory lifestyles, have shaped their mindsets into completely alien directions. Most revenants could never function as normal human beings. The four primary revenant families also provide the Tzimisce with a very diverse "breeding stock", giving the clan a lot of flexibility in its membership. Warriors, scholars, aristocrats and freaks are all found in equal measure amongst the revenants, and this translates to them being found amongst the Tzimisce as well, once they Embrace the revenants in question.
Many of the family's philosophies are indoctrinated into them from an early age; some revenant families even follow Paths of Enlightenment (or Roads, in the case of exceptionally old revenants). The personality of the average revenant is often freakish and alien by society's standards, and inbreeding is not uncommon (in some families, it is all but certain).
Each revenant family (or "ghoul family") has been made by interbreeding a special type of ghoul, generally each with a similar set of features, outlooks and even disciplines until – generations later – something more stable and defined emerged from the mixture. At this stage, a ghoul family has developed its own characteristics, including a set of 'clan' disciplines that are easier to learn as well as an often unique manifestation of the Curse of Caine. A revenant family will often retain many of the traits of the vampiric clan that bred and sustained it.
The Tzimisce are well known for breeding their ghouls, and over hundreds of generations produced the first revenants. In the modern nights of the World of Darkness, they are still the clan with the highest number of such beings in their service, although there are revenant families in the service of other vampires. The four main Tzimisce families (the Bratovitches, the Obertus, the Grimaldi, and the Zantosas) are the biggest and most well-established ghoul families.
The ghoul families of the Tzimisce (collectively also known as Zadruga) are:
- Basarab: The Basarab are a now extinct revenant family that produced the infamous Dracula. They died eventually out before the Renaissance.
- Bratovitch: The Bratovitches are the muscle of the four families. The historical hound-keepers and visible lords for the Tzimisce, the Bratovitches are noted for savage, animalistic violence and barely-controlled rage. Brutish monsters that usually serve the Tzimisce, they are fighters and trackers, and rarely engage in finer social events. They are also the kennel masters for their lords, raising dogs, wolves, and other wild animals for their masters to shape into fearsome creatures they may hurl at their foes. Most Bratovitches know little about humanity and follow Paths or Roads.
- Danislavs: The Danislaws are a now-extinct revenant family descended from the Kinfolk of the Shadow Lords. They were destroyed by the Tzimisce.
- Disciplines Auspex, Protean, Vicissitude, can learn Shadow Lords Gifts up to Level 3 as out-of-Clan Discipline
- Weakness Enemies (Shadow Lords), take aggravated damage from silver, aversion to wolfsbane, become bestial when touched by the light of the full moon (in DAV20 only aggravated damage from silver)
- Grimaldi: The most important of the ghoul families, the Grimaldi are the Tzimisce's main liaison with human society. These revenants spend their time in society and social atmospheres, maintaining a facade of normalcy. They are the most "human" of the revenant families and are usually in charge of maintaining Tzimisce estates and serving as go-betweens for the Sabbat in mortal endeavors like finance and politics. They are also the most independent of the revenant families, some even secretly plotting to free themselves from their masters' yoke. Other revenant families see the Grimaldi as soft, and hold them in contempt. The Grimaldi return the favor, seeing the other families as mindless slaves and freaks. Although the Grimaldis serve as diplomats, they have a more critical role as the enforcers of the Sabbat's internal "Masquerade". In this capacity, they are the most humane (and ironically, useful) of revenants.
- Khazi : A Revenant line of pale albinos that exclusively served the methuselah Byelobog.
- Kindairjan: A family of ghouls the Tzimisce attempted to breed into true revenants, as of the end of World War I.
- Krevcheski: a family of scholars with a great fascination for clockworks and mechanisms of various sort. They betrayed the Tzimisce, joining the side of the Tremere and changing their name to Ducheski.
- Obertus: Possibly the oldest ghoul family, the Obertus can trace their history to ancient Constantinople. The Obertus are scholars, occultists, and obsessive researchers, focusing on occult issues and questions of vampiric or Noddist lore. They are held in high esteem by the Tzimisce, as many of the clan's greatest scientists, spiritualists, leaders and sorcerers have been Embraced from their ranks. Sascha Vykos, possibly the most famous (and notorious) priscus of the Sabbat, was formerly Myca Vykos, a student of the Obertus monks.
- Oprichniki: A ghoul family which originated with the secret police of Ivan the Terrible, 'rescued' by the Tzimisce. They primarily serve independent Russian Tzimisce and are generally not known to the entire clan as a whole.
- Premysl: this family descended from a royal lineage of Bohemia. Their only appearance was in the Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption video game.
- Narov: An extinct family that was absorbed into the Obertus through intermarriage.
- Ruthvenski: An extinct family that served the Ruthven lineage among the Tzimisce. Absorbed into surviving families through intermarriage.
- Vlaszy: An extinct family, the Vlaszy were the knights and warriors of the Tzimisce during the Dark Ages, who ended up siding with the elders during the Anarch Revolt and were exterminated.
- Zantosa: While the Grimaldi are the Tzimisce's pawns in mortal society, the Zantosas are their main link to culture. Zantosas are decadent, wealthy, hedonistic social butterflies, on par with any Toreador in their dealings with human culture. They stimulate their senses in pursuit of pleasure and play with humans with reckless abandon. The Zantosas are probably the revenants least in control of themselves (even less than the Bratovitches). The Zantosas party, drink, snort, smoke, dance and fuck themselves into the void. In the Dark Ages the name of the family was Szantovich.
In addition to these families are several lines who are not affiliated with the Tzimisce (in some cases, they never were). These include:
- D'habi: An ancient revenant family owned by the Baali bloodline.
- Ducheski: A family formerly named Krevcheski and owned by the Tzimisce that now serves the Tremere, they are known for their skill at magic and at making mechanical devices, particularly implements of torture. Many Tremere have the Ducheski maintain their libraries and laboratories.
- Enrathi: A bloodline associated with the True Black Hand, the Enrathi were originally a farming family who grew in power and reputation. Their duties are to capture worthy children to be raised as chatterlings.
- Disciplines Dominate, Obfuscate, Potence
- Weakness: Due to their chosen fate within the True Black Hand, Enrathi tend to be very cruel and merciless people. They cannot have Humanity Ratings higher than 3 and Conscience ratings above 2. Ratings higher than that usually leads to insanity, depression and eventual suicide or running away from the family. Enrathi family members tend to follow the Path of Cathari or Path of Death and the Soul. They are also Blood Bound to at least one of the Seraphim.
- Kairouan Brotherhood: A family created through experiments of Assamite Sorcerers on Tzimisce Revenants, the Kairouan Brotherhood is splintered over the world, with all three Castes struggling on how to make best use of the few remaining ones.
- Katayama: The youngest of the revenant families. Only recently to have bred true. Their development is being carefully monitored under strictly controlled conditions by Dr. Douglas Netchurch and, more recently, by his childe Dr. Nancy Reage.
- Keskinen: A revenant family that serves the ancient Malkavian Louhi.
- Marijava: A bloodline associated with the True Black Hand, legend has it that the founder of the family was also a leader of a Thuggee sect and served some of the Euthanatos of the Tal'Mahe'Ra. As a reward for his service he became a ghoul. While they are trained as thieves and assassins, their primary function is as spies. Many of the family retain their humanity, though some have sought out the Path of the Scorched Heart.
- Rafastio: The Rafastio are witches, sorcerers, and seers loosely affiliated with the True Black Hand. They primarily act as the sect's liaisons to the Verbena tradition, as well as keepers of Enoch's various gardens. Most of the members study Magick and a few are actual Awakened mages. They tend to be very attractive and dress in the current fashions. Many retain their humanity though some follow the Path of Lilith. Despite their nominal affiliation with the Tal'mahe'Ra, the family remains aloof to its precepts, instead preferring to carve their own destinies.
- Disciplines: Animalism, Auspex, Thaumaturgy
- Weakness: Rafastio are very susceptible to phases of the moon. With the New Moon they are -2 to all dice pools involving their Disciplines. With the Quarter Moon they are only -1 and Half Moon there is no penalty. On nights of the Full Moon, Rafastio have a surge in power and gain +2 to all dice pools involving their disciplines. Additionally, Rafastio revenants cannot be Embraced.
- Rosselini: The Rosselini family were once mortal necromancers that crossed paths with the Giovanni. Being "persuaded" to become a part of the family, the Rosselinis underwent an unknown necromantic ritual to be transformed into Revenants.
- Servants of Anushin-Rawan: Debased fisher-folk who served an eccentric Ventrue in early modern Greece.