ST note: The following is mostly general knowledge that would be easily available to anyone who inquired, albeit with various slants depending on who you asked. If you want to know something more out-of-character, feel free to ask, but if you want your character to know further information, that might require an in-character justification.
The Formation of the Sects (1346–1528)
For millennia, Elders simply ruled in their own right, using blood bonds and disciplines beyond the reach of weaker vampires to control their progeny, vassals, and territory. Beginning in 1346, the Black Death led to massive upheavals in both mortal and vampiric society. Most notably in vampire society, a resurgence in religious fervor led to the emergence of the Cainite Heresy, a gnostic belief that vampires were purposefully created by God to command mortals, ruling over the kine as judges, protectors, and kings. Of less immediate importance was the decision by the Cappadocian Antediluvian, Cappadocius, to hold a “Feast of Folly” where he trapped his clan’s less scholarly faction in a cave and left them to cannibalism and torpor, repopulating his clan by Embracing a family of wealthy Venetian merchants and scholars of death: the Giovanni.
When “the Inquisition,” the first organized hunter group, was formed by the Catholic Church in response to the public excesses of the Cainite Heresy, most Elders began a vicious program of using their childer as sacrificial pawns to combat and distract the hunters, leading to a backlash among the younger generations. In the mid-15th century, the oppressed and rebellious discovered a way to break blood bonds—a rite known as the Vaulderie—leading the Anarch Revolt against the control-hungry Elders, Methuselahs, and Antediluvians to begin in earnest. The Anarchs brought in the deadly Assamites as allies with promises of powerful Elders to diablerize. As a result, the slaughter on both sides was incalculable, which only made it easier for mortal hunters to move in. That three-way war led vampire society to the brink of annihilation.
A coterie of Elders known as “the Camarilla” began recruiting princedoms as allies, becoming a true sect in 1486. Originally founded to hold off mortal hunters by imposing a set of Traditions—most importantly the Masquerade—on their little slice of vampire society, the Camarilla now sought to preserve the entire vampiric feudal system against the Anarchs. It still took another seven years of fighting before the Anarch Movement and the Camarilla agreed to sit down and make peace with a treaty known as the Convention of Thorns, which accepted the Anarchs as a subsidiary of the Camarilla but bound them to no Tradition but the keeping of the Masquerade.
Some did not accept the peace, however. The most notable of these formed their own sect, the Sabbat. War between the followers of the Sabbat’s apocalyptic religion and the Camarilla’s Machiavellian politics continues off and on to this day. Separately, the Assamites continued their war for diablerie until the location of their mountain fortress, Alamut, was revealed by a Nosferatu spy. After the Assamites’ surrender in the Treaty of Tyre, the Tremere cursed them to receive no nourishment from drinking vampire blood, earning the Tremere a spot in the fledgeling Camarilla.
The Anarch Revolt was neither the first nor the last assault on the Antediluvians and their progeny, however: Augustus Giovanni and his childer had been organizing a coup against the Cappadocians. Every Cappadocian was diablerized in one fell swoop, with Augustus personally diablerizing his sire. The Giovanni promptly began exploiting the boon economy observed by all but the Sabbat, gaining vast power until the Camarilla threatened war against them. In 1528, the Giovanni signed a treaty known as the Promise with the Camarilla, in which the Camarilla allowed the Giovanni participation in the boon economy and Venice in return for strict non-interference in Camarilla politics and the right for the Camarilla to send inspection teams to Venice.
These treaties having been settled, vampire society remained broadly static for some centuries, with the Camarilla and Sabbat fighting each other, while the other sects went their independent ways.
The Week of Nightmares and the Red Star (1999–2009 and aftermath)
A week of frenzied madness struck the Ravnos clan in July 1999, during which they uncontrollably attacked and diablerized each other. Only their tendency towards nomadic isolation allowed more than a handful to survive. The beginning of this so-called “Week of Nightmares” coincided with a massive earthquake in Bangladesh and ended when order was restored there; most theories agree that the two were somehow connected, but not how. According to one theory, the Ravnos Antediluvian awoke, hungry, and the madness only ended when hunters killed him.
Rumors of the waking of an Antediluvian might have been ignored had not the events of the Week of Nightmares been followed immediately by the appearance of a mysterious comet, the Red Star, in the sky. It was initially visible only to supernatural senses and taken by the Sabbat as a sign of the End Times. They began mass Embraces and apocalyptic festivals and launched a worldwide Crusade against the Camarilla, taking such North American strongholds as Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Furthermore, the numbers of Caitiff dramatically increased, leading to pogroms throughout the Camarilla “to preserve the Masquerade,” although in truth some were beginning to believe the talk of Gehenna and were also trying to eliminate what they saw as a sign of the End Times in the hopes of averting the apocalypse.
Things went downhill for the Camarilla from there: The Gangrel Justicar—effectively the leader of all Gangrel in the Camarilla—led his clan in a walkout to deal with what he saw as an Antediluvian threat. The surviving Salubri joined the Sabbat for a chance at revenge against the Tremere. A mysterious bloodline of necromancers also joined the Sabbat for a chance at . . . something. The True Brujah bloodline allied with the Followers of Set for a chance at revenge against the other Brujah, most of whom were in the Camarilla. And in a mixed blessing, a Methuselah awoke in Alamut, claiming control of the Assamites and shattering the Tremere curse upon the clan; Assamites abandoned the Sabbat just as completely as the Gangrel had the Camarilla, but the resurgent Assamites were hardly friendly to the Camarilla Tremere that had held them down for half a millennium. The only truly bright spot was the Vizier bloodline of Assamites fleeing their insane clan leader to join the Camarilla.
Paradoxically, time and open warfare turned out to be on the Camarilla’s side. As the years passed, the Sabbat began to suspect that Caine was not, in fact, about to return to end the world and/or reward them for their loyalty, and their offensives slowed as they began infighting. And as had happened following the Black Plague, the excesses of the Cainites and subsequent warfare attracted hunter attention and gave them openings to strike. Backed by the Church, government, and others, hunters purged the entire Sabbat city of Savannah in a single night, then began sweeping through major cities throughout the globe. The highly-visible Sabbat were the hardest hit, losing the majority of their members, while the Camarilla’s Tradition of the Masquerade served as a partial shield. The Anarchs, meanwhile, turned mobile and dodged almost all of the hunter attacks, seemingly as if they knew where and when the enemy would strike.
Then, in 2009, the Red Star just . . . winked out. There has been at least one claim of responsibility, a fantastic tale involving an ancient sarcophagus in Los Angeles, a Gangrel scholar, and a journey to the ghost of Enoch deep in the shadowlands to return the Antediluvians to torpor, but who’s going to believe a Malkavian prophet claiming to be an instrument of God’s will? Whatever the reason, the Red Star went away and the war went cold as both sides reevaluated their positions. The Sabbat had decided to begin following a long-ignored commandment of Caine’s, the Silence of the Blood, which was the origin of (and effectively the same as) the Masquerade, lest they be wiped out by hunters. The Camarilla’s Inner Circle, for their part, agreed in 2011 that maybe the Antediluvians did exist and even privately agreed that maybe they were trouble, although their public stance is that, if the Antediluvians are active at all, is is as “loving fathers and mothers”; anything else would risk undermining their feudal, your- elders-are-your-betters philosophy.
Despite the cancellation of the apocalypse, some oracles, especially among the Malkavians, still occasionally see visions of the wrong future.
The creation of the Independent Alliance (2008–present)
In 2008, something happened that greatly spooked the Giovanni. Exactly what is not widely known outside the clan, but whatever it was, it filled them with existential dread; they suddenly needed to forge new alliances and gain power in any way possible. As a result, the Giovanni broke with the war-weary Camarilla and dissolved the Promise. This caused a certain amount of short-term inconvenience as they were kicked out of many Camarilla cities and socially slighted wherever they weren’t, but they were no longer bound to non-interference.
Shortly thereafter, the Red Star disappeared. The weakened and demoralized Sabbat also needed to gain new power, so they decided to target the three clans with strong ties to their “Antediluvians,” all of whom were independent of the Camarilla and thus wouldn’t reignite the war: the Assamites, the Followers of Set, and the Giovanni.
Neither the Setites nor the Giovanni trusted the diablerie-loving Assamites to save them from the diablerie-loving Sabbat. However, the Setites and the Giovanni had a common interest in the criminal underworld, one that they could dramatically strengthen if they worked together. Thus, in 2011, senior Setites and the Giovanni in Las Vegas signed the Treaty of Alliance. This “Independent Alliance” has rapidly spread to other Setite and Giovanni cities. Their rapidly expanding power comes not only from their pooled underworld influence but also from their use of it to create safe houses and meeting places hidden from mortal hunters and open to all vampires who agree to keep the peace, whether Camarilla or Anarch or independent.
The operation of new gathering places has had particular appeal to the Camarilla, many of whose Elysia are now unsafe, and the Anarchs, who gave up significant territory when fleeing hunter attacks during the war. In some places, even the Sabbat—despite being officially forbidden from speaking with outsiders and at war with both clans in the Alliance—have unofficially agreed to a local truce and are allowed safe haven. After all, in the midst of a global cold war between the two largest sects, everyone needs a neutral ground in which to conduct backchannel negotiations and espionage. Savannah is one such city.