- IMPORTANT: We don’t use the M20 writeup for the Disparates here. It’s partly because it was lazily written: They killed off the Disparates in late Revised (something which angered the Mage developer, Phil Brucato, at the time, because it was an edict from Marketing to make the game’s lore less confusing), yet they preserved them by adding their survivors to the Traditions. So the Celestial Chorus got Templars, the Order of Hermes got House Ngoma and House Solificati. The Kopa Loei and Bata’a went to the Dreamspeakers. The Wu Lung went to the Akashics, etc. Then M20 came along, and it re-introduced the Disparates as sects, but kept their mirror factions in. It’s just a mess, narratively. It’s unfun to write about.
- Maybe the 20th Edition Traditions book is meant to address this. Although it has been like eight years now since M20 was released, and anything that book, whenever it gets published has to say, will likely not affect the metaplot here. Although, interesting mechanical bits and Merits will certainly be hoovered up.
- Don’t ICly assume you know anything about the Disparate sects, or what they’re normally about, or what they get up to. They have come surging back in the last twenty years in the post-Reckoning chaos, where they are enormously benefiting from the current global cultural zeitgeist. Big ideas like the Traditions, the Technocracy or say, globalism, by the 2020s, have lost the shine they enjoyed during the 20th century. The average Polynesian Awakened in 2020 finds the Kopa Loei that caters specifically to them on an ethnic, religious and cultural level more appealing than the Traditions or Technocracy with their fixation on ‘big ideas’.
- They are not remotely as organized as either the Traditions or the Technocracy. You can take everything White Wolf has written about how the Disparates are organized and completely ignore it. There are no current Disparate PCs, so no PCs would know the truth anyways. In fact, they’re not even really the same affiliation. Think of the term ‘Disparates’ as being used towards them with the kind of casual condescension that ‘Third World’ is used in geopolitical circles.
- They don’t refer to themselves as the ‘Disparates.’ That’s chiefly a Tradition term. Technocrats call them NAMURDs. A somewhat more diplomatic way to describe them is as ‘Crafts’. In fact, the chief utility of ‘Crafts’ is as OOC shorthand to refer to them all… but it does get used by lazy IC scholars.
- The truth is each sect has its own nuanced terminology that has nothing in common with each other. The Knights Templars and the Kopa Loei have less in common with each other than the Tradition and the Technocracy do. They don’t accept that they have any common identity with each other at all.
- Again: They should not be considered a capital ‘A’ alliance. It simply doesn’t exist in our universe, which isn’t as constrained by White Wolf’s faction organizing tropes. They simply dislike the Traditions and Technocracy more than each other. They have absolutely zero desire to integrate, or form joint councils, or put some grand poobah in charge. The guys that wanted that? They all joined the Traditions a long time ago.
- Most areas or cities tend to be the territories of various Crafts, with only a few members of other Crafts showing up. The Batini and Taftani dominate the Middle East. The Bata’a dominate much of the Gulf and Caribbean. The Kopa Loei dominate Polynesia. The Knights Templars thrive in predominant Catholic populations. Hollow Ones are the same peripheral pests they’ve always been. None of the Crafts especially like or trust them. In fact, no one trusts the Hollow Ones much at all in modern nights given the role they played in the Reckoning, which has made them an increasingly bitter and surly lot. By 2020, the Hollow Ones are less their own faction, than they are those who were either rejected by other factions or simply too anti-social to commit to something greater than themselves. There are exceptions, but not many.
- Los Angeles is a bit more of a melting pot. An exception that proves the rule – but not by much. It is at the crossroads of several Crafts that have been historically interested in it, with a large immigrant (Persians, Armenians, Koreans, etc) and Catholic (Hispanics predominantly) population. It’s also where all the refugees, exiles and nomads from the rest of the country eventually end up, once driven west far enough.
- Some of the Crafts are surprisingly numerous. They have seized their opportunity to come roaring back in the last twenty years, adapting with surprising alacrity to the opportunities of the 21st Century. They have found themselves better positioned in many areas of the globe to take a better and more nuanced advantage of the many current cultural zeitgeists electrifying the human race from the Arab Spring to the anarchy of Mexico. They enjoyed this opportunity because they had been focusing on their local communities and fixating on their own specific ethnic, religious, cultural and regional interests to the exclusion of the Ascension War for centuries. This is an era where that kind of focus is deeply rewarded vs a higher attachment to more lofty ideals of Ascension.
- The Crafts don’t particularly like each other. As noted before, some of them are as different from each other as the Traditions and Technocracy are. There are no kumbaya drum circles among these exceedingly strange bedmates. However, It helps to have a common enemy or three. There have been temporary (lower case a) alliances made between various sub-factions of various Crafts in certain geographical areas, which can make them appear to the Traditions and Technocracy to have achieved some superficial, quasi-utopian unity. That is a mirage. All apparent cooperation among the ‘Disparates’ is founded strictly on the logic of “I against my brother. I and my brother against my cousin. I, my brother, and my cousin against the world.”
- As such, they cooperate to a limited degree, in limited locales, because by and large, most of them dislike you. They hate the global ambitions and pretensions of the Traditions and the Technocracy. They hate what have you done in the past, and they hate what they suspect you want to do in the future. They are repelled by the Tradition’s ecumenicalism and the Technocracy’s secularism. Some Craft sub-factions are ideologically a bit more chill than others. Some are definitely not. Many of them see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to turn back several hundred years of persecution by kicking both the Traditions and the Technocracy to the curb. If not necessarily violently, then at least in terms of the cultural war.
- Don’t worry about which aspects of the Crafts remain true in this setting vs how they’ve shown up in others. None of you need to know that OOCly, since your characters are largely, ICly ignorant as to what to expect beyond what you experience in play.
- TL;DR: They’re not a real alliance and they don’t form multi-Craft cabals. There is no grand conclave of Disparate Alliance leaders sagely conducting affairs and studying a map. They only care about their immediate environs. The Awakened of Mexico who can vaguely trace their origins to possible early medieval traditions of the so-called Knights Templars (now blended with a particularly ruthless, syncretic strain of Santa Muerte) are more likely to murder an old Italian guy who claims descent from the same ancient group than see him as one of their own.
- Contact Sundance if you think your character should ICly have enough knowledge about these different groups to know something that you haven’t encountered ICly or isn’t in this post. There are some of you who know a lot more about individual groups of them (such as the Celestial Chorus Crusaders and the Knights Templars who view them as heretics.)
Los Angeles Disparates
This section will take a closer look at the Disparate sects (and it really is better to think of them as each their own sect rather than factions of a greater sect) that have shown up in the Los Angeles narrative so far.
It is important to understand that the true Knights of the Temple, such that could trace their foundation to the Temple of Solomon in the early 12th century, were for all intents and purposes, destroyed in the early 19th century.
19th Century Destruction
In 1837, envoys of the Cabal of Pure Thought arrived at Montsalvat with dire news: the Order of Reason had decided to abandon religion altogether. The Templars were to forswear their faith and dedicate themselves to fight solely the enemies of Reason, to which they also counted believers. Outraged, the Templars mounted their defenses, but the Order of Reason arrived earlier than estimated and their troops were a new breed of Hyper Intelligence Technologies. The Knight Templars fought valiantly, but were betrayed by sympathizers from within, who opened the new machines the way into the fortress. Numerous Templars, including its Grand Master, Roland III, died. Although they had suffered severe setbacks before (having narrowly escaped extinction by both the Mamluks in 1291, King Louis IX of France in 1307, and having seen their numbers and influence wane owing to ideological pruning by the Cabal of Pure Thought throughout the Renaissance and Reformation).
The Knights Templar as a sect of Magi were already considered an anachronism by the 1830s. And as such they were swept into the dustbin of history. However…They did not all perish. And although history does not repeat itself (as much as one might like) it does often rhyme.
Most of the survivors (and there weren’t that many to begin with) fled to the Celestial Chorus, finally ending the ancient rift between them that had been opened in the 1500s by the defection of the Knights of St. George from the Universal Church. The most bitter tried to rebuild or exact revenge on their own – and it is largely the account of their conspiracies and tribulations throughout the remainder of the Victorian Era – which gave rise to the current culture trope of the Templars as sinister hoarders of lost secrets. The truth is that such safehouses and hidden chapters as remained to the Templars were eventually hunted down where they weren’t abandoned.
Some Templars escaped detection. They did so by laying low, and keeping to themselves. Unlike other sects, the Templars were never well suited to localized Mentor-Student dyads. Without the unifying structure of the greater Order, they lost something essential to their mythos and allure. Some of these were formidable individuals, and some did make attempts at taking on students, yet they largely died – of old age – over the next century or so. However, many of the groups that they founded lived on – not as Awakened sects, but as secret societies that came to be filled entirely by mortals. Although they did often venerate their founder.
There are Awakened in the world (Currently found in locations such as Boston, Malta, London and Rome) who claim descent from the Knights Templars. Their motivations range from a benevolent focus on charity to something out of a Dan Brown novel. None of these groups however (despite claims to the contrary) enjoy anything remotely resembling an unbroken descent from the original Knights Templars. Although they possess a few cherished relics and secrets, they would not be recognized as brothers by the last Grand Master, Roland III – merely as emulators.
Los Caballeros Templarios
It is difficult but not impossible to trace the origins of the ‘Knights Templars’ that are currently troubling the Traditions of Los Angeles. Los Caballeros Templarios is first referenced as a cult-like group, springing up amidst the despair and violence of conflict-wracked Michoacán, some 15 years ago. Some of its first references include such descriptors as ‘bizarre and deadly’ and ‘messianic’.
Consider this OOC information for now unless told otherwise by Sundance. Much has been omitted, even here. However, I consider the origins of the Cartel somewhat difficult to follow even with the best of intentions, so am including the main version of it here.
2006-2013: Saint Nemesio
President Calderon’s declaration of war against Mexico’s drug cartels in late 2006, triggered a series of turf wars that quickly killed more than 250,000 people. Nowhere did the government strike harder than in Calderon’s own home state of Michoacán. It had long been controlled by one of Mexico’s then-most powerful cartels: La Familia Michoacán (and against whom, Calderon, as a rival elite loyal to Mexico City, might have had a personal grudge.) This same network of elites had been controlling the state of Michoacán for centuries. It was only after their state became a main vector for the transport of cocaine, allowing them to rake in billions of dollars, that they became a ‘cartel’.
After three years of hard fighting, and with significant help from the DEA and CIA, the Mexican federals succeeded in shattering the leadership of the quasi-religious cartel known as La Familia, whose leaders (many of them descended from the province’s own former colonial elites and with deep roots in the state’s religious infrastructure) had set themselves up as rivals to Mexico City. The splintered factions of La Familia fought both among themselves and with the government. In the end, it was a sub-faction of La Familia, a crew of zealous hitmen lead by an eccentric individual known as ‘Saint Nemesio‘ that eventually won the ensuing power struggle.
Saint Nemesio had already achieved considerable notoriety owing to both his religious charisma (which actually drew more from Evangelical prosperity theology blended with Santa Muerte than true Catholic doctrine), and his curious habit of finding his followers among alcoholics and drug addicts, and indoctrinating them through weeks of prayer session and target practice, after which they foreswore drugs, alcohol and other vices (on pain of death) and became murderers for La Familia instead. Saint Nemesio reputedly wrote quite a few tracts, although few of the foot-soldiers that were indoctrinated into his pseudo-Christian narco-sect could have read them, even as they were flattered by the idea of being sworn members of a sacred (and profitable) order of heroes.
Saint Nemesio’s early writings emphasized Michoacan regionalism, pseudo-Christianity, and slogans from self-improvement books. However his true success was found in marketing: Christian symbols employed by the original Knights Templar were appropriated and reimagined to appeal to young Michoacáno males. Most importantly the Michoacáno drug cartel adopted the Cross of the Knights Templar, also known as the Cross Patteé, as part of its insignia. In a country where 81 percent of the population claims to be Catholic, the crucifix in its myriad manifestations not only symbolizes the religion of the great majority of Mexicans but also comes close to being an icon of national identity alongside the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The battle gear and ceremonial garb employed by the cartel were replicas of those of the medieval Knights Templar. Chain mail armor, helmets, swords, maces, and white robes emblazoned with the signature red cross were used for inductions of new members and other specials occasions and reified the idea that initiates were not just joining a narco syndicate but a paramilitary sect dedicated to defending the noble but defenseless people of Michoacán in the face of “foreign invasion.”
That’s the official story, anyways. There’s evidence that much of Saint Nemesio’s success had less to do with uplifting the fallen and more to do with being among the first of the major cartel leaders to emulate Los Zetas in seeking to aggressively hire Mexican special forces. Quite a few were genuinely receptive to Nemesio’s theology, yet most seem to have been attracted by the much higher pay. There seems to have been a great gulf between these specialists and the peasant vigilantes and deluded assassins who he largely used as cannon fodder.
What is undeniable is that at a time when trust in the government of Mexico was at an all time low, Saint Nemesio truly did achieve a measure of genuine popularity. He was worshiped as a saint in his own lifetime (with dedicated prayers and shrines), and he took great care to model his public relations on Robin Hood. In fact, when Saint Nemesio was finally killed by the Mexican government in 2013 (this time apparently for real, given his death had been claimed multiple times, and during one of the biggest cartel gun battles in Mexican history), it was after they cornered him while he was in the midst of giving away refrigerators and appliances to the poor. He seems to have been genuinely mourned.
Code of the Knights Templar
Code of the Knights Templar
Saint Nemesio spent a great deal of time on writing and promulgating what he referred to as the ‘Templar’s Oath’. Much of the articles that prospective Templars were to swear by would not have been unfamiliar to the Knights of St. George, given their idealistic emphasis on defending the weak. However, despite its effort at regimentation, and despite its belabored parallels both with the medieval order of the Knights Templar and the Freemason Lodge that existed with that same name in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Nemesio’s actual success at turning an extremely violent crime organization into a chivalrous order is anything but clear.
Today, the code’s practical significance within the organization is murky. In part, this is because the Knights Templar under Saint Nemesio enjoyed only a brief flourishing, from approximately 2009 to 2013, which is hardly long enough to consolidate a knightly ethos. The moral code of the Knights Templar was thus more a project than a well-established ritual order.
It is true that the writings of Saint Nemesio, who was the guiding intellect of the Knights Templar, were widely distributed amongst members of the organization and that Templar culture and propaganda was on show in the regional capitals of Uruapan, Morelia, and Apatzingán, but no one truly knows the degree to which these displays were complemented by a routine drilling of new recruits or whether the distribution of publications was instead oriented to shaping a public image and, as such, was simply a part of the Templario propaganda machine.
Ultimately, Los Caballeros Templarios arose, declined and rose again under a ‘New Generation’ of management in the midst of a war that still rages. They expanded rapidly for a time, then contracted and are now resurgent. To consolidate a knightly order under conditions of competitive recruitment and changing allegiances isn’t easy, and it seems likely that the Templars had only limited time and space for the indoctrination of newcomers, especially once the group began to expand into territories beyond Michoacán. Indeed, there is an inherent disconnect between the creation of a knightly order and recruiting an army, which is what the drug war demanded. As a result, the moral code of the Knights Templar as envisioned by Saint Nemesio was very likely only briefly and unevenly implemented, while the degree to which it was adopted by the organization’s rank and file is still very much in question.
1999-2013: Saint Nemesio - The Awakened Story
Saint Nemesio – The Awakened Story
In truth, Saint Nemesio was a disgruntled Disciple of the Celestial Chorus. He was dismayed by the Chorus’ unwillingness to use its magickal might and influence to punish the corrupt and wicked of Mexico, and to uplift the common men and women, who he saw as pillaged by officialdom and predated upon by various supernaturals (especially vampires, whom he loathed).
The Reckoning devastated the Celestial Chorus (as it did much of the Traditions), and was seen by Nemesio as God’s punishment. Not long after, his Chantry was raided by the triumphant Technocracy, and he was left the sole survivor. He vowed revenge, then largely disappeared into the badlands of Mexico. There is no accurate accounting for the next five years, (as there is evidence of him being in quite a few places, which seems difficult to reconcile), although he would eventually reappear as the leader of a fanatical crew of indoctrinated sicarios in Michoacán around 2005.
It would appear that Saint Nemesio had made a reputation for himself in the underworld as being uniquely suited to taking on the worst threats. The drug cartels are rife with necromancers, witches, madmen (Nephandic or otherwise) and even vampires. There are evil spirits and twisted creatures drawn to their violence and exploitation. And often (or perhaps especially) even the government of Mexico itself seemed in their sinister thrall. Or so Nemesio believed it.
Nemesio saw himself as carrying out a purifying crusade. That he needed to achieve temporal power to encourage (and if that didn’t work, then to force) the peoples of Mexico to rise up and rid itself of those preying upon them. He intended to begin with los vampiros.
Saint Nemesio achieved varying levels of success over the next seven or eight years. He was reputedly killed at least as many times, although always seemed to survive. He made many fierce enemies – especially with the Celestial Chorus when upon being re-approached by his brutal followers, they reacted with hostility. (Nemesio himself never gave the truth of his original affiliation with the Chorus.)
At the height of his glory, around 2010-2012, he was even able to briefly convince elements of the Sinaloan Federation and Gulf Cartel to aid him in specifically targeting organizations that he knew or suspected were controlled by vampires. It is unlikely that many believed he was being literal in his denunciations (and in fact, blood-drinking and cannibalism are widespread among mortal cartel hitmen for the fear it inspires, although one wonders if they themselves were inspired by terrifying encounters with the Sabbat). That quixotic effort, which was intended to springboard into uniting all the Cartels of Mexico under his leadership fell apart – hard – in about nine months.
Despite that failure, Saint Nemesio remained supreme in Michoacán until his death. When Saint Nemesio died in 2013, it seemed that Los Caballeros Templarios would soon follow him. They were assailed on all sides by both governmental and supernatural forces. Those who succeeded Nemesio made matters worse by alienating much of the peasantry who had earlier been the bedrock of his support.
2013-Present: Rise of Araño
Rise of Araño
Los Caballeros Templarios went through several changes of leadership over the next couple years. Many of Saint Nemesio’s leading lieutenants were killed, yet the group as a whole remained surprisingly resilient. This was partly owing to the extreme emphasis on discipline (by Cartel standards), and the extreme commitment to enforcing the death penalty on any who betrayed their oath (and it is impressive to stand out in this regard by Cartel standards).
Eventually, a former lieutenant known only as Araño, which has been interpreted at various times as either ‘Scratch’ or ‘The Spider’, achieved control. He re-oriented the group away from Nemesio’s populism, in favor of cementing cooperation with the local elites (bribing them with greater profit sharing) and fostering an alliance with the Gulf Cartel. This is something that Saint Nemesio had strongly rejected. However, even while Nemesio remained alive (especially from 2010 onwards as profits soared), Los Caballeros Templarios had already began to better resemble a bizarre drug cartel than a knightly order.
Araño has been almost (but not quite) as successful in drawing Awakened adherents to his organization as Saint Nemesio had been. This is especially impressive because there isn’t much understanding in their ranks of what being Awakened truly even means to begin with. It remains a complete mystery what this process looks like, or even how many there might be. It’s possible that one or two of them have been subverted or bribed away from more established sects. It’s equally possible that the Templarios have simply learned to cast a wide net, and in a home province of five million people, where they exercise near absolute control, it is inevitable that ‘special’ or ‘gifted’ individuals eventually come to their attention. Not all are suited or accept the ‘offer’. Some perhaps Awaken with incompatible beliefs that get them killed. It’s also the case that being part of a cartel is a high mortality occupation to begin with.
Regardless, there is an impression that as Los Caballeros Templarios transform into an ever more effective drug cartel, and as attrition and turnover mounts, they have shed much of the magick that Saint Nemesio imbued in it. It remains to be seen what they have replaced it with.
It seems very likely that the Templars have relatively few Awakened among their ranks these nights, yet many that the Traditions might think of as Companions, Consors, Acolytes or Hedge Wizards. And perhaps they have resorted to other measures as well, since Araño has inherited all of Saint Nemesio’s supernatural enemies. He is almost certainly hunted nightly by the Sabbat of Mexico, for example.
Appendix A: Michoacán
Appendix A: Michoacán
Referred as the ‘soul of Mexico’, Michoacán is known for many things: It’s Day of the Dead celebrations are considered to be the most elaborate and famous in all of Mexico. The famous Paricutín volcano, which is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, is located within its borders. Its inland plateaus, known as ‘Terra Caliente’ or ‘Hot Lands’ are perfect for growing huge quantities of limes, avocados and raspberries, and are ringed by mountains from which semi-feudal colonial elites have enjoyed nearly impenetrable strongholds for generations. It is finally blessed with a coastline which includes the extremely important port city of Lázaro Cardenas, through which flows trade from South America and China. Lázaro Cárdenas is Mexico’s largest and most modern port on the Pacific Ocean, and a rail line had been built connecting Lázaro Cardenas to Texas, passing through Mexico’s burgeoning automotive and aerospace manufacturing region in the Bajío.
Probably nowhere else in Mexico has a cartel managed to so thoroughly permeate society and dominate law enforcement and economic and political life, including city halls, transportation and even journalism. Spouting pseudo-religious rhetoric and casting themselves initially as protectors, the Knights Templar morphed from an earlier cartel, La Familia, cornered the production and export of cocaine and methamphetamine and then expanded to a far wider bribery racket which eventually allowed them to bring an estimated 85% of the state’s political apparatus under their control.
The advantage of being situated in Michoacán is that it gives the group power over the major port city Lázaro Cardenas. From here, the Knights Templar have access to cocaine shipments from South America as well as methamphetamine precursor chemicals from Asia, which the group either uses or sends north to the border with the United States. However, the Knights’ power base in Michoacán means that they have relatively little control over the cross-border drug trade. As such, they are forced to negotiate with other cartels in order to move illicit products north. That’s the main reason why they cooperate with the Gulf Cartel Coalition against the Sinaloans.
In addition to drug trafficking, the Knights receive a large amount of income from extorting businesses in their areas of influence. It is estimated that they charge “protection fees” from 85 percent of legal businesses in Michoacán state. The Knights’ extortion activities are aided by its influence over local government officials, achieved through intimidation, and handing over kickbacks from drug profits.
Appendix B: What is a Cartel?
Appendix B: What is a Cartel?
(Taken from an essay written by anthropologist Claudio Lomnitz, author of ‘Death and the Idea of Mexico‘, and who has inspired this version of the Knights Templar more than any other source)
[…] Contrary to the general prejudice, “cartels” are not reliant on trade in illegal drugs in any transcendental sense; they rely essentially on the armed privatization of public space, the ransom of public liberties, and the forcible appropriation of public goods. Because cartelization depends crucially on exacting tribute in exchange for protection, cartels can be seen as the privateers of deregulation, and in Mexico they are involved in the regulation of activities as diverse as drug running, undocumented migration, mining, fishing, logging, commercial agriculture, street vending, prostitution, illegal gasoline traffic, construction, arms trafficking, and appropriation of water sources.
They are known as “drug cartels” because the vast wealth that poured in from drug trafficking in the 1990s helped leverage a diversification of activities, most notably in the business of transnational migration, but drugs are not indispensable to cartelization. Protection, territorial control, and the credible fear of unbridled violence are. Indeed, territorial control is an essential requisite for cartelization, but local entrenchment brings with it a core tension, that is, a tension between protection and extortion.
This antinomy between protection and extortion is expressed in social-organizational form as ambivalence between the representation of the cartel as a ruthless business and as a family-like guardian against, or coldly indifferent or downright hostile to, outside forces (such as the government). This tension between bureaucratic and familistic paradigms is inherent in the process of cartelization itself. Indeed, once cartelization sets in, the opposition between the “social bandit” and the regular unmarked brigand gets deeply complicated, because these two modes of criminal self-fashioning must be strategically juggled by the cartel and by individual operators at all times.
This is because gaining territorial control requires some degree of redistribution such that a patriarchal rhetoric of protection naturally develops, but the final aim of cartel control is amassing unrestrained translocal organizational power and freely circulating private wealth. As a result, the contradiction between the familistic “man of the people” and the “strictly business” conceits of criminal self-fashioning is an aporia that runs through the whole of the so-called narcoculture. Indeed, the new cultures of criminality that are emerging in Mexico are forged in the space of precisely this contradiction.