Fangs at the Gate

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Ex3 Lunars: Fangs at the Gate

Fangs at the Gate is still a draft; mostly, this means that the mechanics of the Charms are likely to change some come publishing time. Based on What Fire Has Wrought, the setting material is unlikely to shift significantly. Also art and layout will be added. This is the book for Lunars, and it takes a diametrically opposed view of the Realm to What Fire Has Wrought, because the Realm is the great enemy that the Lunars have, as a whole, been fighting for nearly a millennium, and the Shogunate was their enemy before that. Lunars are the chosen of many-faced Luna, Incarna and goddess of the moon. They are shapeshifters, monster-heroes that stand unbroken after millenia of battle. They burn with a terrible fury that drives them to vendetta against their foes.

In ancient prehistory, the first Lunars were chosen to hunt the enemies of the gods. Their victories brought forth an age of wonders, an age in which they wedded themselves to the Solars and worked together to bring forth thousands of legends. They slew monsters, charted the world, raised cities, fought terrible wars. When the Dragon-Bloods rose up against the mad Solar kings, the Lunars were driven out to the edge of the world, hunted for centuries. Faced with legions of elemental heroes and a conspiracy of fate-wielding masterminds, the Lunars defied their inevitable doom. Under the banner of the Silver Pact, they have fought for a thousand years. And now, the world is changed. The Scarlet Empress has vanished, and the Great Houses of the Realm withdraw to the Blessed Isle to prepare for war. The Wyld Hunt is now underfunded and overwhelmed by the returning Solars. It has been centuries since such an opportunity lay before them. The Lunars may now have a chance, once and for all, to end the Realm.

So, our suggested reading this time? For classics: The Epic of Gilgamesh, because Enkidu is basically a Full Moon Caste Lunar, and his rivalry-turned-friendship with Gilgamesh is a good example of the Solar Bond. Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, because Sun Wukong is a shapeshifting trickster whose powers inspired many Lunar Charms, and his mischief early in the book is good inspiration for trickster characters. The Poetic Edda because Odin’s disguises are good Lunar shapeshifting ideas, and his obsessive pursuit of knowledge and power is good inspiration for Lunar witches, plus Loki is a great Changing Moon inspiration. Tain Bo Cuailnge because Cu Chulainn’s riastrad is good inspiration for Lunar fury.

Fiction: The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera, in which two girls of very different cultures become lovers and warriors in a good demonstration of the Solar Bond, with Shefali as an example of Lunar ethos of survival. I have never read this, so. The White Rose by Glen Cook, in which the rebel protagonists fight a world-spanning magic empire that they used to work for, aided by weird supernatural allies and occult secrets of a lost age. Also apparently the Plain of Fear is a good example for weird Lunar dominions.

Nonfiction: Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation by John Sedgwick, charting the progress, schisms and fall of the Cherokee Nation against US aggression, offering ideas for Lunar politics when their dominions are confronted by the Realm. Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World by John Arquilla, contextualizing the development of irregular warfare by examining individual leaders and officers, good inspiration for Lunar warlords or revolutionaries.

Movies: Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler. Wakanda’s mix of superscience and traditional African cultures is a great inspiration for Lunar dominions, and the differing views on how Wakanda should deal with outsiders and the legacy of racism between T’Challa, Killmonger and Nakia is a good mirror of Silver Pact internal politics. Princess Mononoke, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. San, a deadly warrior raised by wolves, is an excellent example of a Full Moon Caste.

TV: Revolutionary Girl Utena, directed by Kuniko Ikuhara. The relationship between Utena and Anthy is an example of a Solar Bond, both at its worst and its best. The later arcs also play well with Lunar witchcraft and the idea of relationships that span multiple incarnations.

Manga: Sailor Moon, by Naoko Takeuchi. Usagi and Mamoru’s romance spans reincarnations and is an excellent example of the Solar Bond. Your pick which side is the Solar.

Next time: Who Am The Lunars


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Fangs at the Gate: WE AM LUNARS

The Lunar Exalted are the divine apex predators of Creation, monsters and heroes chosen by Luna to prey on the enemies of the gods in the Divine Revolution. Like Luna, the Lunars are potent shapeshifters, devouring the forms of human and animal prey and becoming them. The Lunars exist as being of boundaries and transgression. They stand at the border of hero and monster, devil and saint, civilization and wilderness, mortal and divine. They pick what side they please at any moment, crossing them with ease. A Lunar that embraces the power and freedom their nature gives them becomes an untamable creature that is still completely human, finding that they need not give up the wild nature of the wild to live among mortals and protect them.

During the Divine Revolution, the Lunars were feared even by the most nightmarish of the Primordials’ forces. They fought as miles-long serpents, all-devouring swarms that wielded devil-slaying plagues, beasts with tusks like daiklaves leading stampedes of murderous spawn and countless other horrors. With the other Exalts, they toppled the creators of the world, slaking their thirst on the blood of slain gods. The Lunars helped to create the Age of Dreams. They never gave up the monstrosity within them, but also became guardians, guides, judges and mystics. The most profound of the shifts after the Divine Revolution, however, was the Solar Bond. In the dawn of the First Age, a coalition of Lunars challenged the rule of a Solar commander who claimed authority over Creation as the chief surviving general of the Revolution. Over several years, the war drew in more Lunars and Solars, eventually involving much of the Exalted host.

In the end, it was a draw, with the two sides making peace via a series of sacred and political marriages, which forged ties between key Lunars and Solars that would last beyond death. Not all Lunars took Solar mates, but even those that did not could not ignore the political and cultural changes that came of the union of sun and moon. For much of the First Age, the Lunars and Solars were inextricably intertwined as symbols of the glories of the age.

The Usurpation changed everything. The mass death of the Solars and the murder of the Lunars who fought to protect their mates or were deemed too dangerous to the plans of the usurpers to be allowed to live awoke a terrible fury in the souls of the Lunars, unseen since the days of the Revolution. The early Wyld Hunts of the nascent Shogunate and its Sidereal backers solidified the vendetta, ensuring that the Lunars would never allow the Shogunate to know peace while even one Lunar still lived. As the wonders of the First Age crumbled to ash, the Lunars reforged themselves to survive in the new age. Over many years, they performed a mystical feat never seen before or since, dissolving the original five castes of the Lunar Essence and creating three new ones. From that point on, the Lunars would be ferocious warriors slaying legions, wicked tricksters bringing chaos to societies they deemed unfit and wise witches bringing forth the mysteries of night.

This was the birth of the Silver Pact. While the Lunars had many ideas on how best to seek their vengeance and make a new place for themselves in Creation, and some of them really didn’t like each other, the Wyld Hunt made internal warfare a luxury they could not afford. Thus, the Lunars came together in a loose-knit organization of mutual aid with a shared vendetta against the usurping Dragon-Bloods and Sidereals, with neither leader nor formal authority. Since then, the Pact has become the single greatest force against the Sidereals and Dragon-Bloods. The Realm’s borders lie where they are because the Silver Pact has denied them access to the lands beyond. The Bronze Faction Sidereals work desperately with the Wyld Hunt because they know that the status quo they have given up so much to maintain would be untenable if the Lunars were left unchecked. Now, the victory of the Pact may be at hand – or it may fall apart, thanks to unforeseen foes.

We get a sidebar on the word “barbarian” and why it sucks. None of the cultures in this book are barbarian cultures. Those do not exist. Societies in Creation call each other barbaric or primitive, as real world ones do, because they refuse to recognize each other as civilization. The Realm, as the sole superpower of Creation, has amazing power to enforce its judgments in its territory. Those that don’t organize in a way the Realm recognizes, or who don’t match their technological sophistication or share their religion, the Realm names barbarians. It justifies conquering and exploiting them as a righteous cause to civilize these people who lack it, seeing the huge tributes the satrapies must pay as a generous price in exchange. The truth is that the cultural differences are more about history, geography and politics, and have nothing to do with barbarism or savagery. Lacking cities doesn’t make a society primitive, and nomads are better suited to survive in regions poorly suited to largescale agriculture, being less prone to disease or malnutrition than city-dwellers. People without access to iron or bronze can’t develop metallurgy of the same sophistication as the Realm has, and their innovations will focus on the resources they do have. The taboos of a society on the Wyld’s edge may seem arbitrary to outsiders, but they probably protect its members from the dangers of the Fair Folk or Wyld warping. That the Realm and similar societies refuse to recognize their sophistication doesn’t mean that sophistication doesn’t exist.

Anyway! Lunars are always chosen from heroes and those who could be heroes. Luna picks people capable of great deeds, if not always good ones. They don’t care about self-proclaimed righteousness as the Unconquered Sun does, though they don’t shun it, either. (Luna is extremely nonbinary.) Luna sees greatness in virtue and in sin. Outcasts, dissidents and iconoclasts held a special place in their heart, as do those who have survived great hardships unbroken, but neither of these are absolute rules. Luna will not pass over a worthy hero just because people like them or they haven’t faced profound suffering. Luna personally attends to each Exaltation of her Chosen, in one of their many aspects or guises. Each Lunar is greeted differently, according to their nature. A friendless orphan might receive a visitation from a divine mother who whispers why they were chosen. An arrogant hunter who has never known a rival might be overpowered by Luna as a great beast or humbled by a boyish trickster. A mercenary whose lost their purpose might meet a wizened crone at the crossroads who gives a cryptic prophecy or lays a geas. A pious Immaculate might meet a silver-eyed savant that debates theology. The meetings are rarely long, but all have a profound impact. Almost all Lunars have a personal or spiritual connection to Luna that they carry with them through their entire life.

During Exaltation, a Lunar’s spirit shape emerges from their Essence. This is an animal form that is as much their true form as their human shape is. Lunars do not choose their spirit shape, but it is always one that has deep personal or cultural meaning, serving as the Lunar’s avatar and embodiment. A warrior with no one to fight might become a fierce tiger, powerful and solitary, while a shaman might become the raiton revered by their clan as a spirit messenger. It is not always immediately obvious why your spirit shape is what it is, but as a Lunar grows and learns more about themselves, their understanding of why that animal is their spirit shape usually grows.

The Essence fever of the Lunars is anger. Their Essence drives them to act on their fury, and those who were driven by anger before Exalting rarely notice the change. Others suddenly act on long-held passions that they’ve never expressed before, starting peasant rebellions based on long-simmering resentment, going to war with hated rivals or beginning campaigns of sabotage against slavers based on a moral outrage over slavery. However, this cannot create anger where none existed before. It only drives you to act on the anger you already have. You might act against personal foes, societal ills or ideological enemies, or you might be touched by the memories of past lives and be driven to take up ancient vendettas, though that’s rarer. Lunars like that are often drawn to memories of the Usurpation and seek vengeance upon the Sidereals or Dragon-Bloods, though some focus instead on personal memories, such as slights by ancient gods or longstanding rivalries with another Exalt’s incarnations. The Silver Pact trains young Lunars to master their Essence fever rather than be mastered by it. It is not something to fear or reject, because rage is a potent weapon if directed well. Instead, the Pact teaches Lunars to bend it to their will and draw motivation from it when it’s useful, but to silence its urges when it is not.

Sidebar: the Moon-Touched. The direct children of Lunars often inherit a touch of the protean Essence and power of their parents. For most, this is subtle. They might receive mutations reflecting their parent’s spirit shape, might be unnaturally strong or might be able to talk to animals. A rare few inherit a greater power, however, gaining the ability to transform into a single animal, a talent as a medium or shaman, or perhaps a shadow that thinks for itself. The Moon-Touched are never as powerful as Exalted, but they are more potent than mortals. Those who do not hold positions of honor in their parents’ dominions tend to rise through the ranks of power in whatever society they live in.

Luna is a god and goddess of many faces. In all forms, however, some things are constant. Change and adaptation are Luna’s nature. They are fierce yet kind, relentless in protecting those they care for. They are mercurial but wise, knowing many secrets. They may be male, female, or anywhere between – or neither at all. No single form or gender can truly embody them. They cannot be confined, quantified or pinned down, for their primal nature is freedom. While no two Lunars ever meet Luna in the same way, many find it to be a deeply spiritual experience that forever changes them. Their reverence is as individual as they are, with some shapeshifting as meditation and others performing tests of endurance to honor Luna. Some start Luna cults, serving as the intermediary with the divine. The Beryl Grove worships Luna as She-Who-Remakes, the silver raiton goddess, and raise tall scaffolds laden with swords, armor and the corpses of those foes that wielded them. The Kajal fish-people of Mela’s Fangs name Luna the Lord of Reflections, circling their victims’ ships five times to honor each of his five faces.

Mortals that live outside or between social or physical categories often worship Luna in the Threshold (under many names). In Whitewall, they follow the Son-and-Daughter, a twin god-goddess that stands forever back to back, revealing their true selves under moonlight. In Marukan, the Sisterhood of the Night Ride drink tea of bitter roots and the sweat of pregnant mares that they might emulate the Swiftest Rider, a mortal turned moon goddess who rides the sky so that her birth name, more for a son than a daughter, can never catch her. In the areas where the Immaculate Order holds power, Danaa’d takes on a similar role and is sometimes syncretized with an aspect of Luna in Realm satrapies, despite the best efforts of orthodox monks.

Lunars that experienced gender dysphoria or similar discomforts as mortals find their true form in Exaltation. Their body shifts to align with their true nature, taking on a form that they are intimately comfortable with. This is their true human shape, and it comes with pure joy and affirmation of self. Many Lunars consider themselves to be neither wholly male nor wholly female, expressing qualities of multiple sexes or genders, or even being perfect androgynes. Some reject gender altogether, and others are genderfluid. The Silver Pact has no prejudices against any of this. After a century or so of casual shapeshifting, after all, many older Lunars tend to see gender as a sort of fashion, to be changed when it feels right. Some Threshold cultures consider gender role transgression or the breaching of gender norms to be a sign of divinity, and Lunars, especially if from such cultures, may adopt gender-transgressive traits to display their status as Chosen.

Next time: The Silver Pact

The Pact

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Fangs at the Gate: The Pact

Where the Scarlet Dynasty and the Sidereals of Yu-Shan live lives focused on complex hierarchies and where outcastes and Solars work alone, the Lunars find another way. They have created a shared society despite beign scattered to the far corners of the world. They work based on a communal purpose. Each Lunar pursues their own goals in their own way, but they collectively direct their strength to the shared purpose of defeating the monolith that is the Realm, working to collapse its decadent foundations and drown it in its own filth and blood. The early heroes of the Lunar Exalted after the Usurpation are still remembered, alongside its younger heroes, for they set the tenor for the organization and its goals.

Radhika Stormswift was one of the finest warriors of the First Age, clever and strong. She was the strongest proponent of total war against the Shogunate in the early Pact, and she led dozens of raids against Shogunate daimyos, slaughtering hundreds of Dragon-Bloods and destroying huge amounts of irreplaceable First Age infrastructure, like Meru’s Gate of Auspicious Passage, the Southwestern Inland-Sea Bridge and the Shipyard-Basilica of Deheleshen. Only the intervention of the Bronze Faction Sidereals ended her rampage, ambushing her and her chief disciples in a battle that cost several Sidereal lives. This caused the Pact to shift is focus to asymmetric warfare and ended all hopes for negotiation between the Pact and the Sidereal host. Thousand-Swords Oravan, the ruler of Dakina-Serilan who had treated with the Solars as an equal, was the first to break with the Pact, rejecting its communal beliefs to crown himself as the sovereign of the Lunar host. Many flocked to his banner, establishing a network of kingdoms in the far Southwest. However, his forces suffered brutal defeats against the Shogunate, and other would-be Lunar kings and queens broke from his ranks. The Silver Principiate lasted only a scant few decades, and Oravan refused all membership of the Pact even to the end as well as refusing to join any of the breakaway Lunar princes. He died alone at the hands of the Wyld Hunt. Marquin Vol and Horizon Shrike were prominent early voices in the Pact, a pair of lovers who debated often how the group ashould operate and structure itself. Vol believed in a long war over centuries, while Shrike believed vengeance was meaningless unless enacted on the actually guilty, so he wanted total and final action against the Shogunate, no matter the risk. When Shrike attempted an offensive against the Blind Daimyo, Vol died saving his lover when the battle went poorly. This served as his final, convincing argument, and Shrike would go on to embrace Vol’s beliefs, helping to ensure the Pact’s long-term focus.

The Silver Pact’s origins can theoretically be traced back to the early First Age, but the history that goes that far is remembered only by the few surviving First Age elders, all of whom tell it with slight variations from fading memory and personal biases. The organization that would eventually become the Pact was born from the violence between the early Lunars and Solars, the war that ended with the formation of the Solar Bond. It brought many Lunars together as allies and comrades, laying the groundwork for later unity. Centuries later, when a hidden cabal of anarchist Exalts began to undermine the Deliberative whose authority they deemed illegitimate, the Lunars in their number drew on those old alliances to extend their network. The so-called Shadow Deliberative dissolved itself when the Deliberative fell, but the covert network of spying and intrigue the Lunars of the Shadow Deliberative formed was kept alive, passed on to their students.

The Lunars of the First Age fought in the Sunstrife Wars, led the Old Realm forces against the Niobrarans under the sea, even joined the ill-conceived war against the Dragon Kings and delved into the depths of the Underworld seas for lost secrets. By the late First Age, they gathered in regular conclaves to teach young Lunars, offer an outlet for worship of Luna and counterbalance the Second Deliberative to ensure it never gained too much centralized authority. After the Usurpation, in which many Lunars died, sometimes in defense of Solars and sometimes as targets themselves, with a rare few even dying fighting on the side of the usurpers, the survivors were divided on how to react. They splintered into infighting factions of various ideologies and personal grudges, leaving them vulnerable to the Shogunate and the Wyld Hunt. Eventually, the leading Lunars reached an understanding. The various splinters of the Lunar host would collaborate to defeat the Shogunate and their Sidereal patrons, but as an alliance of many groups rather than a single, unified hierarchy. This was named the Silver Pact, evolving into its modern form.

The Silver Pact has no official government or leadership. In theory, it is entirely egalitarian, with no hierarchy or authority positions. In practice, the Pact has politics, like any human organization. Collective action, they recognize, still needs direction, guidance and leadership. Pact members align along various social and political axes, including their approach to the Realm, their age and their association with the pact shahan-yas. Shahan-ya is Old Realm for ‘guide’ or ‘teacher,’ and the unofficial leaders of the Silver Pact hold it as a title of respect. They are the leaders of the various collectives of adherents, disciples and supporters, which are known as schools. Any member of the Pact who is accepted as the leader or mentor by a school can claim to be a shahan-ya. Structure within a school varies, and for the most part adherents will live apart from the shahan-ya, visiting occasionally to study, strategize, get new tasks or socialize. Some shahan-yas occasionally gather their students en masse to discuss matters of import. In other schools, though, some or all adherents may live with the shahan-ya, especially if newly Exalted and still learning to use their new power. More experienced disciples may stay close to study specific fields, such as sorcery or asymmetric warfare or to help run a dominion or lead a military campaign. Sometimes these relationships become personal, with the student becoming a lover of the shahan-ya, a surrogate child or a close friend. Some shahan-yas may, rarely, have only a single adherent, or may live and work with another shahan-ya, but those are exceptionally rare.

Adherents typically stand behind their shahan-ya’s decisions on Pact policy, forming effective social and political blocs. This helps consensus, as once the shahan-yas reach agreement, their adherents tend to fall in line. Each school varies a bit this way, with some establishing clear consensus on issues while others publicly bow to the shahan-ya but maintain their own views, while others are hotbeds of debate and argument. Students may be loyal or devoted to their shahan-ya, but never slavishly so. Each Lunar is, after all, a champion in their own right, not a servant. They can end their ties to their shahan-ya at any time without fanfare, and vice versa. Prestigious shahan-yas might leverage the value of their patronage to demand service, but even so, most accept varying amounts of dissent for fear of driving their followers away.

In the days of the Second Age, a number of Lunar heroes have emerged to lead the Pact at various times. Those of the early Shogunate era are sometimes even still alive, though not all. Dances-Between-Raindrops was a trickster and master impersonator who drank the heart’s blood of daimyos, generals and other leaders. He used their faces to spark rivalries and feuds in the Shogunate high offices, but he eventually overreached when he stole the shogun’s face, reigning for only nine days before he was discovered by the Sidereal elder Seven Doves. The two slew each other in a battle that destroyed half the shogun’s palace and left the government in chaos. Gadhaj Winter-Wheel was an advocate of maintaining and using First Age artifice, seeking to prevent their fellows from destroying the Shogunate’s cache of artifacts and manses. Instead, they led covert missions onto the Blessed Isle, tampering with these wonders and installing mystic backdoors to subvert them. However, their goals never became prominent in the Pact, and many of these subverted wonders were destroyed unknowingly by the offensives of other Pact members. Gadhaj left the Pact bitterly, but in their final days, they rejoined their old friends to face the Fair Folk invasion, hijacking a dormant Thousand-Forged Dragon to fight them off. Raksi and Ma-Ha-Suchi rose to prominence in this period as well, drawing in followers with their deeds and charisma as the First Age leaders began to die off. For a time, they were united against the daimyos of the East, loyal to each other and dedicated to bleeding the usurpers dry. However, after the Contagion, they turned on each other over their differing agendas for the surviving Solars and the future after the Realm fell. Disgusted by their feud, many younger Lunars have divorced themselves from the two, some rising to become leaders in the Pact themselves.

Shahan-yas are not formal authorities, so it doesn’t usually matter to the Pact as a whole when they refuse to recognize each other’s status. On rare occasions, however, a shahan-ya’s extreme views or actions may cause them to be rejected en masse, and the Pact’s laissez-faire approach makes it vulnerable to this. To fight this, the shahan-yas aggressively police any schisms that seem to form. When the behavior of a shahan-ya threatens the Pact’s stability, their peers address it in council. When this fails, consequences may range from schools isolating themselves to outright schism, such as Radhika Swordswift’s offensive or Oravan’s breakaway sect. More recently, Raksi and Ma-Ha-Suchi have gone to war over the future of the Pact, while the Northern members of the Pact have feuded with the necromancer Smiling Rat over his strategy of opening shadowlands deliberately and en masse in Realm satrapies, while Klesamra Lotus-Seed has polarized the Southern Lunars by courting the aid of the Fair Folk. Part of the purpose of Pact socializing and communication is to get a sense for what your neighbors are doing and persuading them to your viewpoint. A handful of Lunars spend vast amounts of time on this, both for their own causes and to prevent future internal strife.

Socially, Lunars also tend to be divided by generation. There are broadly four generations, and the older ones tend to see themselves as expatriates of a nation that no longer can even be conceived of. They are people out of time, from societies long lost. Of all the Exalts, only the elder Sidereals can match them for age, but the Sidereals have an early and lifelong connection to Yu-Shan’s divine community, giving them a unified culture. Lunars, on the other hand, live in a world of change, seeing everything they once knew pass away. Much of what keeps older Lunars in the Pact is that it’s the only place they can really have constant peers.

The Fourth Generation are also called the Children of Sorrows. The vast majority of living Lunars cannot remember a time before the Realm, and they are by far the most active and diverse of the four generations. They come from many cultures, but all were born into a world marked by the bootheel of the Scarlet Empress. Their strongest commonality tends to be opposition to the Realm’s colonialism and imperialism. These modern Lunars also tend to be the closest ones to mortals, retaining relationships to people they knew before Exaltation. Many still have a birth culture to return to, with deep and visceral connections that those who conquer or create new societies don’t have. They fight the Realm for personal reasons, not just protecting themselves or their territory but their literal kin.

The Third Generation are also called Survivors of the Contagion. Of those that survived the disease, many died fighting the Fair Folk invasion. These two scourges decimated the Pact of the period, but also caused many Exaltations, and the Third Generation are the second largest. They all share in the trauma of seeing the world die around them. Some are fatalist or nihilist as a result, seeing Creation as a chaotic, dangerous place even for Exalts. Others are ecstatics or mystics that have given up the idea of grand plans in favor of living for the moment. All of them have a certain apocalyptic viewpoint. Unlike the other generations, they come from a period spanning but a fraction of a mortal lifetime, and they have more in common than any other generation. They survived the same trials as mortals and Exalts, often side by side. They tend to be highly independent and hard to motivate, but once one of them signs onto a cause, others often join out of strong friendship ties.

Some of them even went on to become leaders of the Pact. Aldis Nerin was a Sijanese funerist who Exalted in the Contagion, avoiding the Wyld Hunt’s attention and traveling as a hero-exorcist. This worked well when the Realm invaded the Scavenger Lands, as she could act openly as a ranking member of the Mortician’s Order without fear, and her influence undermined the Realm garrison in Sijan. Her necromancy also helped turn the tide at the Siege of Nexus, and to maintain her subtlety, she feigned a mortal life before faking her own death and leaving a false corpse in the catacombs of Sijan. Bhagaval Iron-Hand lost her family to the Fair Folk invasion, and she spent decades infiltrating and dismantling their power after the Empress fired off the Sword of Creation, giving the mortals of the bordermarches time to recover and rebuild. Her knowledge of the Raksha was very useful in later operations against the Realm, as she could make Wyld taint worse near satrapial infrastructure and bait the fae to the Dynastic forces. Sigh-of-Dreams was a slave in a silver mine who watched the rise of the Guild, learning all he could about it and its methods. While the decentralized nature of the Guild has thwarted his efforts to infiltrate and subvert it entirely, his knowledge proved invaluable, as he got key merchants to support the Guild-backed Nine Duchies Rebellion against the Realm, blocked the Devil Money Seafaring Company from expanding to the Caul and turned the Guild factor Khaj Barun into the Pact’s unknowing spy in Nexus. Most importantly, he has spread his knowledge through the Pact, to better arm Lunars against the Guild.

The Second Generation are called the Warriors against the Shogunate. Many Lunars died in the Usurpation and the early Wyld Hunts, reincarnating as the second generation, born under Shogunate rule. They grew up in the shadow of the Dragon-Blooded daimyos and the unending civil wars. They know all about war, realpolitik and the shikari armies that wielded First Age weapons freely. They tend to be cynical, suspicious and very, very good at wilderness survival and battlefield tactics. Despite their elders’ vast knowledge and power, they tend to be the ones who actually direct the Pact’s strategy at this point, as they have a more unified vision and more useful modern experience than the First Age elders.

The First Generation, the Elders of the First Age, have barely a handful left. They are legends to younger Lunars, larger than life and creatures of great power and strange appetites. They do not, however, run the Pact. They are mighty, having outlived the Shogunate and survived the Usurpation, but they are used to the very long view. Most prefer to focus on their own agendas and plans rather than the Pact’s goals, content to let the younger Lunars lead. Of all the four generations, the Elders are the least cohesive. They come from a very large, widely-spread period, and most are from long-dead cultures. They’ve had a long time to become distant, and their focus tends to be on Bronze Faction Sidereals, the legacy of the Shogunate and fellow First Age survivors rather than any individual Dragon-Bloods or rivals in the Pact. Only those that share their experiences and worldview are worth their antipathy, often. Many are somewhat unstuck in history, having hibernated for centuries or hidden away in isolated lands. Most are intellectually aware of current events but mostly uninvested. Often, they cling to archaic mannerisms and styles, but they are also keepers of lost techniques and wisdom. They may have withdrawn from leadership roles, but they are still approachable as mentors or for favor trading. Still, getting their aid isn’t easy, as they’re set in their ways and dislike being distracted from their private goals. Getting Ma-Ha-Suchi to help you rather than the hundreds of others he’s turned away over the past few centuries, is no small feat. (In case you’re wondering: Generation Zero, the survivors of the Divine Revolution, no longer exist. The few that managed to survive the Usurpation were slain in the earliest days of the Silver Pact.)

Next time: What We Want


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Fangs at the Gate: Pactice

The Silver Pact serves all kinds of goals for its members. They secure the safety of young Lunars whenever possible, often rescuing them from Wyld Hunts, providing them Caste-fixing tattoos and training them. They also serve as a mutual aid network and a means of social interaction. Plus, well, they’re a good way to seek power and leverage politically. But first and foremost, the goal of the Pact is to destroy the hegemony of the Dragon-Blooded and Sidereals. The Wyld Hunt wants to kill every Lunar before they can gain the power to resist, and in retaliation, the Pact grinds down the Realm, bleeding them from ten thousand cuts. It’s proven a very effective strategy over the centuries. Raiding, sabotage of diplomacy, assassination, even open warfare in the Caul – all have a role to play.

Despite the power of the Lunars, they are up against foes that seek to destroy them when they are at their most vulnerable. It is in the Pact’s interest to recruit potential new members as quickly as possible, and they use many means to find new Lunars before the Wyld Hunt can. Spies, informants, travelers, spirits, sorcery and vision quests are all used to further this goal. Personally tracking down young Lunars is time-consuming and occasionally dangerous, but a valued and prestigious duty. Trackers set aside other business to find the new Lunar’s location, track them down and recruit them, often protecting them from the Wyld Hunt in the process. For most, the risks are far outweighed by the chance to gain a new ally. Recruiters must use subtlety and finesse, not coercion. A Lunar compelled to join has no loyalty and may carry a grudge, while those that join freely bring their full strength to bear. Most Pact members believe that a few years or decades will easily prove the value of the Pact, and when a Lunar joins late, they’ll end up bringing in useful experiences and knowledge from their time alone.

Typically, however, a young Lunar needs little encouragement. The Wyld Hunt is a firsthand example of the Realm’s violence, and the heroes of the Pact are awe-inspiring figures in action. Pact emissaries are happy to explain the truth of why the Realm hunts Lunars down and ask little in return, emphasizing the greed and cruelty of the Realm, the power of the Pact and the wisdom of the elders. Manipulation or coercion are both rare and disliked, with those few who are overzealous and headstrong enough to use them drawing the ire of smarter and calmer shahan-yas. Many young Lunars are still too distrustful, stubborn or reckless to listen, or too busy with immediate crises, but most will at least entertain a Pact emissary’s visit or accompany their patron or rescuer to meet a shahan-ya briefly. The Pact does have a lot to offer them, most notably the moonsilver Caste-fixing tattoos and the chance to study under a shahan-ya and attend Pact councils.

It isn’t uncommon for Lunars to reject Pact membership, either on first approach or after receiving their tattoos. Pact emissaries and shahan-yas tend to accept this evenly. Most believe the new Lunar will be back in a few years, after all. They make it clear that the young Exalt is free to reconsider at any time and to inform them of other Lunars they can reach out to if they change their mind, plus helpful advice on surviving alone. And in case you’re wondering, the methods the Lunars use to track down new Exalts tend to be about equally useful as the Sidereal methods. Sidereal divination is more precise in tracking new Exaltations, but Lunar shapeshifting means they tend to cover ground faster, making the race to find a new Lunar about equal.

The Pact’s function as a mutual aid society is the one most commonly used. Even the war with the Realm is equally about protection from the Wyld Hunt, and the Pact serves well as a venue to trade favors in times of need. There are no formalities to this, no central arbiter or formalized ranking of worth. Those that perform many favors or perform especially dangerous ones, however, earn great prestige among their fellow Lunars. Favors can be given freely or traded for appropriate payment. Compensation might mean political support, finding moonsilver ore, lending artifacts, retrieving beasts to hunt, killing specific targets or just a standing favor to be called on later. For significant debts, a debtor might perform multiple smaller tasks instead. If debtor and benefactor can’t agree on repayment, either can bring the matter before a council of shahan-yas for arbitration. Debtors are not obligated to obey or even be polite, though some debts can be paid with long-term respect or short-term obedience. Tradition does not condemn ungrateful debtors, though individual Lunars might.

Some, particularly shahan-yas, may require compensation before they’ll do a favor for you, either as a show of status or because they hate being disturbed from their own work. It is common for a shahan-ya’s students to owe them many favors in exchange for training, artifacts or so on. Most shahan-yas work to avoid becoming very indebted to any one student, and most will go out of their way to repay debts quickly. Foolish or unreasonable requests can easily be taken as insults, though, and be rejected immediately. Still, there are often social consequences for failing to pay your debts and support your fellow Lunars. Those who reject reasonable requests outright, force others to demean themselves or demand outrageous payments may be shunned. They will find it hard to gain aid in the future and will lose political support at councils. While Pact members are not obliged to do favors, a Lunar that refuses to do things they are easily able to will lose prestige and have trouble gaining favors themselves. A few Pact members accept these consequences; some don’t care about how they’re seen, while others, like First Age elders, are just too important to easily shun.

When the Pact has to make a decision, either in a specific region or, much more rarely, as a whole, groups of shahan-ya will gather in council to discuss the matter, or send their trusted students to represent them. Circumstances will determine how a council gets held. In a crisis, a council may end up as a standing body for as long as needed, while at other times a council might be called to deal with a specific regional issue. Some shahan-yas hold regular gatherings, by the year or century, to discuss matters of interest or just to debate and gossip. Typically, one shahan-ya will be the host and offer their dominion’s hospitality to the others. This may include banquets, lots of drugs, hunts of beasts, sex, conversation, music, stories or gifts. Failure to provide hospitality of some sort earns disdain and possible future snubs, though a guest making unreasonable demands may well suffer the consequences instead. The greater one’s prestige, the more leeway you have. The specifics vary by the circumstances. Leviathan offers great luxuries at the Sunken Hall of Luthe, but they’re usually aimed at water-breathers, with the few airy chambers reeking of algae and damp, and the food, while excellent seafood, is generally raw. The eelfolk dancers and octopusfolk percussionists entertain, and Leviathan sometimes leads hunts of siaka, giant squid or other sea beasts in the kelp jungles and caverns around Luthe. On the other hand, Amatha Kinslayer holds her councils in the palace or manor of a Threshold figure whose face she’s stolen, and usually holds a giant banquet and gala for the locals to bring in aristocrats and performers who are ignorant of how many Anathema are among them.

A sidebar notes that PC attendance of councils is likely to be as proxies for their shahan-ya or alongside them, so they’ll usually have some goal to achieve, either political or social. Food and fun are not just indulgence, they’re a chance to meet guests and get a sense of their character, goals and politics via reading intentions or profiling. It also notes that getting the council to do things is usually easier via bargains than persuasion actions, as the council is likely to have a wide range of Intimacies, but favors have broad appeal. Even if the PCs don’t address the council directly, they can still use social influence to pursue their goals or their shahan-ya’s agenda, interacting individually with people on the council.

While the Pact tries to bring Lunars together, it is inevitable that in such a diverse body of monster-heroes with their own goals, there’s going to be strife. Thus, there are some ground rules. Hospitality is encouraged, and it is considered polite to visit a Lunar when you pass through their territory, giving you both a chance to catch up on recent events and strengthen social bonds. Refusing an offer of hospitality is considered disrespectful. Violence between Lunars directly is frowned on heavily. Killing other Lunars only harms the Pact, as do grudges that distract from the main goal of destroying the Realm. Thus, the Silver Pact discourages both killing other Lunars and violence or spying against their kin, dominions and so on, even against Lunars outside the Pact. Grievances should be brought before the elders, and resolving grievances is a major function of most councils. Specifics of resolution are up to the shahan-yas present. If one side is obviously in the wrong, they’ll be asked to make redress, but if it’s unclear, as is usual, then the resolution is often via competition, such as duels of shapeshifting skill, recitation of lore or sparring matches, with the loser making amends to the winner.

A Lunar who rejects the will of the shahan-yas loses a lot of prestige in the Pact and may be shunned, with those who don’t shun them losing respect from their peers. In especially egregious cases, such as repeated violence against other Lunars or attempts to subvert the Pact, a Lunar can be banished from the Pact itself. Banished Lunars are outlaws, no longer protected by the Pact’s prohibition of violence against Lunars or their interests. This can be followed by a declaration of execution, in which a particularly malicious criminal Lunar is declared outlaw and then hunted down and killed. This is extremely rare, but it happens.

There is no single reason the Pact opposes the Realm. For some, it’s because they’re the successors of the usurper Shogunate. For some, it’s the subjugation of the Threshold that offends them, or the Wyld Hunt. Other Dragon-Blooded societies receive focus from the Pact to the extent that they share in the legacy and agenda of the Shogunate, which usually means Lookshy, Prasad and powerful cadet houses. It’s not hard for the Lunars to find allies against Realm aggression, either. The satrapies have labored under the Imperial rule for centuries and usually don’t like it. Farmers and merchants pay outrageous tax, facing starvation or bankruptcy in bad years. Garrisons keep the local soldiers in the homes of the people. Aristocrats begrudge the service required of them and their loss of income. Even the gods tend to hate the Immaculate strictures that keep them from demanding worship freely. The Realm harms even those within its borders, as satrapies raid each other to pay their tribute or Dynastic adventurers organize military expeditions for their own profit. Realm fiscal policy interferes with inter-satrapy trade and trade with other lands, and Immaculate missionaries destabilize societies with their faith at times. When the Realm finally comes in conquest, the effects of the war can be prolonged and highly destructive.

A sidebar notes that experienced Lunars have a lot of options to infiltrate Dragon-Blooded compounds to assassinate people, even matriarchs, and even a young Lunar outmatches an inexperienced Dragon-Blood. However, assassination is not common practice. Why? Because despite the utility of shapeshifting and deceptive magic, it’s not perfect. There’s almost never just one Dragon-Blood, and powerful or prominent ones usually have trained guard animals, complex passwords, artifacts or sorcery protecting them and other defenses against shapeshifter infiltration. Even if a Lunar assassin succeeds, this flagrant action risks calling down a Wyld Hunt. It can be worth the risk, so assassination does happen sometimes, but too often, a Lunar that kills like this repeatedly gets brought down. Further, Dynasts tend to ignore the Lunar actions in the Threshold, focusing on their own internal politics and hedonism. Blatant strikes against their kin can change this and bring Wyld Hunts that can kill uninvolved Lunars. Therefore, most shahan-yas discourage overt assassination or assault of minor targets. You don’t get a lot of good assassinations before you become a target, they teach, so make them count.

The Silver Pact rarely speaks in terms of victory in the field. They aren’t an empire, they don’t seize land or territory. They are a predator, running the Realm to exhaustion. Across the Threshold, they strike to wound, not kill. They are pirates, raiders, rebels and instigators of civil war. They turn satrapies from sources of wealth to weights dragging the Realm down. Sabotage, theft and murder strip assets and undermine political reforms. Harassment of Imperial defenders and auxiliaries exhausts them, leaving them vulnerable. Only when the Realm is overextended at a critical point does the Pact strike with overwhelming force. It’s worked pretty well. The Realm once built networks of roads and bridges across their satrapies to move troops and tribute. Now, they’ve lost warstriders, First Age manses and other relics that cannot be replaced, and both the Dynasty and Lookshy have but a fraction of the arsenal they once had. These strategies relied on the Empress’ own conservatism and desire to protect her rule. She knew that overreach would help the Lunars, and she deliberately slowed Realm expansion to prevent this, tolerated greater independence from troublesome satrapies and grew reluctant to perform great projects such as Westward expansion, subjugation of the Scavenger Lands or the reclamation of Prasad.

Centuries of work by the Silver Pact have turned the Realm from an unbreakable hyperpower to “merely” the sole superpower of Creation. This was just the beginning. Running the Realm to ground this way may take centuries of effort still, effort that will be difficult and dangerous, but the shahan-yas were confident that their strategy was the best path. Now, though, the Empress is gone. The Solars are back. Everything is changing. Many shahan-yas still favor the winning stratagem that has brought them this far, but others seek immediate action. They see a chance to finally strike at the throat of the Realm, ending it once and for all. Regardless of method, however, they will bring it down.

Next time: The Three Great Strategies

How To Fight An Empire

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: How To Fight An Empire

The three primary strategies of the Silver Pact in fighting the Realm are attrition, defensive withdrawal and open warfare, in that order. Of course, their approach is decentralized, and different Lunars interpret the Pact’s goals differently, acting independently. This doesn’t disrupt the Pact as a whole, but can definitely fuck up individual theaters if personality conflicts or ideological arguments get in the way. Further, many Lunars directing local insurgents have no direct hierarchical control over their mortal partisans, who can end up acting independently and causing problems. The Pact does, at least, offer training in how best to handle the advantages of a decentralized approach and cover for its weaknesses.

Attrition focuses on the defeat of Realm infrastructure and logistics in the Threshold. The Realm is heavily reliant on these things, and the Pact isn’t. Imperial troops need paved roads for fast movement, supply chains for food and money to pay the troops and maintain the economy. The Dynasty’s strength is also rooted in Dragon-Bloods, who don’t reincarnate the way Lunars do. Attrition therefore takes the form of irregular warfare. Lunars might lead detachments of regular troops, raiding parties, rural partisans, urban rebels or all kinds of spies and assassins. Their focus on speed and stealth lets them target vulnerable points without direct engagement with Realm troops, forcing the enemy to scatter its forces to ward them off. Further, attacking the supports of the legions undermines Realm power. Lunars intercept supply trains, destroy aqueducts or bridges, flood mines, burn down granaries, poison wells, destroy tax records, burn farms, murder Realm loyalists in the satrapies and more. While doing this, they harry the Realm’s troops, draining their resolve and numbers slowly. Losing infrastructure cripples the Realm but has no real impact on the Pact’s capabilities, which shifts the balance in their favor in the region.

The guerrilla tactics the Pact favors take advantage of terrain, climate and other advantages that foreign troops are unlikely to be able to use. Mountains, for example, are slow and hard to cross with little food to gather, especially in winter, and even a small force or base can hold a pass or mount an ambush. Forests aren’t much faster, often have dangerous animals and are good for ambushes. Deserts and tundra are hard on supply lines, and extreme temperature can be deadly. Using floods, droughts or scorched-earth tactics can make all this much worse. Of course, such strategies favor marginal victories over decisive blows. The Realm’s sheer number of reserves means that tending to soldiers demands more resources than recruiting new ones, and completely cutting off transport and resupply along one route may compel the Realm to clear the place out in force or shift to a longer but safer route.. Small victories, on the other hand, mean that the Realm tends to think they can handle what’s going on, letting the Pact bleed them indefinitely. The Pact doesn’t want to beat the Realm outright, most of the time, but rather increase their expenses. The higher the cost of imperialism, the more the Realm must force from its subjects, and the more rebellions it causes.

The Realm does understand how guerrilla warfare works; they’re not stupid. No amount of preparation, however, can really prepare a soldier for the realities of it. Even the best-trained legions, when dealing with partisans and rebels, tend to see enemies hiding behind every civilian face. In war, especially with Lunars sabotaging the logistics, the legions and auxiliaries both have to support their supply trains by foraging. In civilized areas, this usually means pillaging, stealing from the cities and villages – not just food, but wealth. These and other abuses earn the locals’ hatred, making them an excellent Lunar recruiting tool. Morale and public opinion also get affected by Lunar successes. When Pact-backed insurgents see actual progress and intermittent success, they inspire dissent and embolden others, raising morale for rebels throughout the Threshold, even those without Lunar ties.

The Imperial legions tend to be fairly disciplined in dealing with civilians and less prone to abuses. It’s the auxiliaries that are the real problem for the Realm there. Many are casually violent even towards their own people, ready to steal at a moment’s notice. Foreigners? They’re even easier to take from. While legion officers take their share of plunder, the wealth of the Dynasty and patrician families means that few of them bother to take all of the paltry wealth they run into. Why bother? Leaders of the auxiliary troops, on the other hand, tend to see pillaging as a privilege of rank and a necessity to pay their satrapy taxes towards the Realm’s tribute demands. Lunars don’t particularly care that Imperial auxiliaries are satrapy troops rather than directly Imperial – it’s still the Realm’s fault, just at one remove.

Besides strategy and training rebels, Lunars also get involves in combat directly. Their particular talents often excel in guerrilla warfare, and it isn’t rare for a shahan-ya to personally involve themselves, or at least ask groups of younger Lunars to do so on their behalf. War leaders might lead their forces through hundreds of miles of enemy territory to strike at a vulnerable target, miraculously avoiding the foe or tearing them apart personally. Rebel Lunars infiltrate satrapies to rouse riots and rebels, and witches can divine the secrets of Realm generals and princes, exploiting that knowledge to undermine them. Shapeshifting, of course, is the most distinctive Lunar tool here. One might turn into a tyrant lizard to rampage through a battalion or sink ships as a kraken, while another infiltrates the enemy as a mouse or spider, or turn into a personal chef to poison a meal or a guard to open a gate. Even the Dragon-Bloods themselves aren’t entirely safe in their palaces, nor the Sidereals in the Heavenly City. Shapeshifting has psychological power as well – when every animal or person could be a Lunar, who can be trusted? Faced with this uncertainty, morale dwindles and wealth flees. (Note, however, that Dragon-Bloods at least have their Sworn Kin to rely on, as it’s fairly easy for them to sense if an imposter is an imposter via direction checking, and also they can tell when their Kin get killed.)

Mystic power is no less valuable. Spirits can be influenced or called on for spying or combat, and sorcery can lay terrible curses, scry on things, transport forces, ruin crops and cause all kinds of issues if you don’t much care about the consequences to infrastructure. However, the Lunars are not unopposed in this. Dragon-Bloods may be weaker individually, but they must never be underestimated – they are heroes as well. Sidereals, while busy with their own strange concerns, can also see through many Lunar tricks with relative ease and have many of their own. Even mortals can minimize the threat of Lunar infiltration if they’re clever. Rulers and Guild factors with specific reasons to fear Lunars often house their guards communally, surround themselves with pets trained to hunt vermin or hire mystics of their own to ward off sorcerous assault. Signs of potential Lunar activity, such as someone acting out of character or vanishing without trace, will cause alarms among those with reason to be wary.

Sidebar: the addition of magic means real-world tactics aren’t always the only thing to focus on. Exalts aren’t the only magic-users out there, either. Mortal sorcerers, thaumaturgists and god-bloods may not be as powerful, but they can be significant allies or problems for strategy and tactics. Spirits are also sufficiently present in conflicts to care about. Even minor gods will have powers, including the ability to spy while invisible and immaterial. Ghosts, while usually less powerful, are even more knowledgeable about mortal ways, especially their own cultures. Artifacts, manses and hearthstones can be seen as valuable infrastructure in their own right, as they might increase fertility, speed travel, cure disease or more. These make tempting targets for Lunar sabotage or theft, as a result. Creation also has strange, ancient sorceries lying around and the mysterious, unique behemoths that wander the land, plus First Age ruins and weird beings from outside the world, any of which could be dangerous – or useful. The Pact has an edge over the Realm here in finding and learning about these things, which means they more often have the chance to exploit them or turn them into traps for the Dragon-Bloods.

Approach two is defensive withdrawal. Lunars that practice this focus on strengthening and protecting their own dominions, rather than trying to grind down the Realm directly. Many do so out of personal reasons, such as protecting their kin or birth culture. This still serves a strategic purpose against the Realm. A fortified dominion is an obstacle to Realm expansion, after all. Defenses might not even be military – isolation, mobility or sorcerous protection are all useful – but usually these domains rely at least in part on force of arms. They might maintain a regular military and fortifications to repel Realm legions, and the power of a Lunar protector often enriches such dominions to the point where these standing forces are quite professional. They also benefit from irregular warfare. Scouts and raiders can spot invaders far before they arrive, harrying them en route to weaken them, while spies and saboteurs interfere with Realm agents and camps nearby. Assassins kill nearby Realm allies, weakening their threat. Defensive withdrawal, however, is often a temporary role for Lunars. They might initially focus on sheltering their dominions not for their own sake but to develop a strong military in (relative) safety. Once their martial potential is achieved, they can then direct it to a more aggressive stance. With the vanishing of the Empress, many dominions, such as the Empire of the Bear, have been putting such offensives into practice.

The final approach, open war, is the rarest. Some Lunars are not satisfied with slow attrition. They don’t want to bleed the Realm – they want to break it now. Some are angry and impatient, others unwilling to see the Threshold suffer longer. With the Empress gone, the timetables are shifting, and open war is seen by some as the logical move. Open warfare, however, requires a very different approach. Lunars using this strategy, like the Realm, need forces capable of large-scale engagement. This means not just professional soldiers, but possibly conscripts, militia or feudal levies, plus training and logistics. Armies need steady food and pay, plus equipment. Not all Lunar dominions can assemble a force to match even satrapial garrisons or auxiliaries, let alone the legions. Training a professional army and sustaining it in the field is extremely expensive, and few nations can afford it without pursuing imperial conquest themselves.

These armies must also approach war the way the Realm does – construction forts, seizing land and cities, making bridges and roads and controlling strategic locations. They have to hold territory. Historically, this approach has not played at all to Lunar advantages when dealing with the overwhelming force of the Imperial legions and their dozens of Dragon-Blooded champions except in remote regions far from the Blessed Isle, such as the Caul. Now, however, the Empress is gone, not wielding the legions like an invincible blade. The Great Houses squabble over what remains of them. With their forces withdrawing to the Isle, a dominion’s armies can muster without nearly as much fear of retaliation. Without that immediate fear, they can also forge open alliance with neighbors. Regular warfare need not be a conflicting strategy with irregular warfare – they are complementary, and even dominions focused on largescale war will deploy irregular forces. Hell, even the Realm does on occasion. Likewise, Lunars focused on attrition might use regular military forces to distract their foes from pursuing the partisans.

So…what’s the endgame? Each shahan-ya and their school has their own vision of the future of Creation, free of the Realm. Some want to rebuild the Old Realm’s glories under a Lunar Deliberative. Some seek a world free of all empires and tyrants. Many wish to exterminate the entire bloodline of the Scarlet Empress in vicious pogroms, while others think the Dragon-Bloods can be redeemed as soldiers of the Pact. So far, the Pact has focused on the destruction of the Realm and put off debate about what comes next. For most of its history, the destruction of the Dragon-Blooded hegemony has been a distant enough thing that it made no sense to get into internal fights over what happens after. Now, though, many Lunars think it’s time to finally determine what it’ll be…and that’s likely to cause some conflicts.

Next time: The shahan-yas

First Among Equals

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: First Among Equals

The shahan-yas are the leaders and great philosophers of the Pact, each followed by students that support them at councils. They may be old or young, friendly or not, but each has earned the respect of many peers. Together, they speak for and guide the Silver Pact. The game has no exhaustive list of them, but rather gives a bunch of examples to inspire the GM on using shahan-yas, whether the ones as written or new ones they come up with themselves.

Ma-Ha-Suchi, in the First Age, was an honored champion of the Old Realm, beloved by Solar kings and peasants alike for his honor. The Usurpation destroyed all place for honor and respect, however, and Ma-Ha-Suchi has largely moved on from his ancient past. With the Solars gone, he saw the Lunars as the only legitimate inheritors of the Old Realm, and he fought the Shogunate to reclaim that throne. In his day, he led immense armies of beastfolk against the Shogunate, seduced generals, tore down ancient First remnants to deny them to the usurpers and made alliances with Lunars and mortal nations alike to spread terror through the Dragon-Blooded host. Once the Shogunate was destroyed, he believed, the Pact could raise a new Lunar Realm to rule all Creation.

However, the centuries have left Ma-Ha-Suchi weary. His powerlessness in the face of the Contagion and the Fair Folk invasion broke his confidence, making him question himself for the first time. The rise of the Realm from the Shogunate’s ashes only made it worse. Even after all he had done, all the Pact had done, and the arrival of two apocalypses, the Dragon-Bloods still sat on the throne of the world. Despite his failing confidence, he fought the Realm still, raising armies from the devastated Threshold to hurl against the Blessed Isle. This ended after his best friend Raksi, the Queen of Fangs, and many of their mutual allies rejected his ideal of a Lunar Realm, which started a feud that nearly destroyed the Pact. Ma-Ha-Suchi fell into despair, withdrawing to the Nameless Lair to avoid dealing with others. He still opposes the Realm’s expansion, but he is far from the fiery general of his youth. On the other hand, the Empress has vanished and the Solars, impossibly, return. Ma-Ha-Suchi’s long seclusion is finally ending. He wonders now what other impossibilities may come in this time of chaos, and once more he has begun to raise his great armies of beastfolk and started to reach out to the Pact. He will strike when the time is right, when the Realm’s grip weakens. Even now, he calls his students and their allies to muster their forces, that they might reclaim the East and pave the way for the Lunar Realm.

Ma-Ha-Suchi rarely speaks of or with other Pact members, preferring to send his trusted followers to councils in his stead. Only in the most critical or personal circumstances stir him from the Nameless Lair, such as opposition to a Realm invasion within his territory or the death of a fellow First Age elder. He and Raksi have not spoken to each other for some time. While she was once his closest ally and friend, her rejection of his dream of a Lunar Realm and the conflict that came of it remains a raw wound between them. Despite their geographic proximity, Ma-Ha-Suchi avoids her as much as possible, even at major councils where both feel they must attend. He extends this scorn to her followers and allied shahan-yas, too. Despite his isolation, he is friendly towards a small handful of Lunars outside his own school. Former students who have moved on to other shahan-yas remain welcome unless they’ve sided with Raksi. He also maintains a few old friendships – the assassin Shadow-Rending Razor comes by to visit every few years to reminisce under the mask of discussing Pact business, and Ma-Ha-Suchi maintains a lively written correspondence with Tanisa Ring-Eater, frequently referencing late First Age poets from the Dreaming Sea.

Ma-Ha-Suchi also maintains contact with the Shadow Fang Vanguard and has attended a few of their councils over the past few centuries. His desire for a unified Lunar Realm aligns him more with them than many of his Pact peers, and they’re more open to his vision than they are the rest of the Pact, though their leader, Tayan Silver-Crowned, doesn’t trust Ma-Ha-Suchi because she sees him as a possible challenge to her authority. The Vanguard reject the Pact’s non-hierarchical nature, believing in firm central authority. They split off from the Pact centuries ago. They have only a few Lunars, most in the deep Northeast near the ruling autarch Tayan, who is advised by the First Age elder Feather Drenched in the Blood of the Fallen. They believe they will soon have new recruits, as they feel their message resonates all the more now. Their relations with most of the Pact are complex – they share the same goals, and many Pact members see them as part of the Pact still. More than a few Vanguard members attend Pact gatherings and are welcomed, and while they tend to be less friendly towards Pact members, they don’t usually turn them away. The big point of conflict is recruitment, with Vanguard and Pact Lunars occasionally fighting over who gets to recruit a young Lunar, either verbally or with blows. Both groups censure these feuds when they escalate, though, or drive the new blood away from both groups.

Ma-Ha-Suchi gives visitors to his Nameless Lair little direct attention. His beastfolk lieutenants or Lunar students offer hospitality and report to him any favors the visitors request. If he is feeling gracious, he’ll tell them to do it for him. Only rarely is he interested enough to actually meet someone personally. Occasionally, his dark moods or indecision make him wait days or even weeks before he can muster up a response to a guest, and he’s also been known to snub visitors with associations to Raksi or other people he dislikes, leaving them indefinitely without answers.

When he went into seclusion, Ma-Ha-Suchi stopped recruiting students. He has rarely accepted them when they came to him, and only those recommended by more like-minded shahan-yas or his former students were taken in, with no active efforts to court any political support. Only recently has he changed in this, as his agenda now seems possible again, but will need many more followers to achieve. He has a lot to offer – he knows tons about warfare and offers a chance to lead beastfolk armies against the Realm. He knows social engineering and intrigue as well. He treats his students brusquely, though he’s not nasty or cruel – he just rarely shows emotion and has little interest in personal connections. His dream of a unified Lunar Realm means he needs Lunars that can work together in a more structured hierarchy than the Silver Pact. He believes it is of utmost importance that his charges learn to cooperate under difficult circumstances, so he often assembles them into Circles and tests their teamwork by giving them overlapping authority or rearranging leadership at a whim. He sees no particular need to explain himself when he does this, and his responses to success and failure can be unpredictable based on his mood. Despite his taciturn manner, however, he still has several backers in the Pact that have no personal ties to him. His opinions are well known, even if he rarely speaks of them these days. Eastern Pact members that favor a Lunar Realm back him in council for the most part, even on unrelated issues, and he even has folks advocating his views as far away as the Caul.

Some followers of note! Kathaka is a passionate, driven bully who heard about Ma-Ha-Suchi through stories of his past heroism. She was disappointed when she met him personally in the Nameless Lair, but she believes she can bring back the old legend. She is a tall, powerful woman with fists that hold the power of horse’s hooves. She has pledged herself to Ma-Ha-Suchi, and she thinks of herself as something like his daughter. She spends little time in the Nameless Lair, instead focusing on fighting the Realm on many fronts, but she always brags when she comes back, hoping to win her shahan-ya’s praise. Ma-Ha-Suchi feels mild affection towards her but thinks she’s a child following him more out of hero worship than actual belief in his cause. He sets her Circle tasks that will challenge not only her skills but her ethics, as he worries she will prove unreliable when he really needs her. Ranotis na-Raya was the son of a rich Guild factor who Exalted when fighting to free himself from bandit kidnappers. He returned home with countless stolen faces, quickly becoming his father’s greatest ally. He met Ma-Ha-Suchi ten years ago while trying to establish a trade route, and he essentially fell in love with the guy, giving up business to study under him. Ranotis constantly jokes with his shahan-ya, though he’s earned only a few laughs over the years. He believes Ma-Ha-Suchi conceals a warm, sensitive soul under the aloof exterior which he hopes in vain to reach. The old Lunar sees the youth as the inverse of Kathaka – a man who has no interest in Pact politics but naturally inclined towards building a Lunar Realm. He teaches Ranotis intrigue and subterfuge while trying, subtly, to turn him against his father and the Guild to ensure his mortal ties don’t make him undependable.

Anja Silverclaws does not care about Ma-Ha-Suchi or his cause, but she’s willing to support him at councils to get what she actually does want. She’s a Thorns expat, dedicated to fighting Mask of Winters and his pet regime, and she sees Ma-Ha-Suchi as a potential asset in that fight. She doubts he’d lead forces directly against Thorns, but she urges him to pressure other nations in the region that trade with them by using beastfolk raids and diplomacy to oppose the Deathlord. In exchange, she backs him politically, occasionally teaches his students and reports everything she learns about Mask of Winters. Ma-Ha-Suchi does have some interest in the Thorns situation, but for him, Mask of Winters is a lower priority than the disappearance of the Empress or the returning Solars. He considers her fixation on Thorns a distraction from the Pact’s true goal, and were it not for her lack of interest in establishing a personal relationship and her wisdom in not asking him to solve her problems for her outright, he probably wouldn’t consider helping her at all.

Next time: Raksi, the Queen of Fangs


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: APE LAW

Raksi is based out of Mahalanka, built on the ruins of the First Age libraries of Sperimin. She is their monster-goddess, a scholar with few peers in this fallen age. She can usually be found researching lost lore in the ruins or holding decadent court before her Lunar followers and apefolk warriors, devouring raw flesh and potent drugs. She is the Queen of Fangs, genteel and violent in equal measure, beautiful and terrible. It is never clear how much is her true self and how much is an affectation to fuck with people, and she wields that inclarity as a weapon in Pact politics and her dealings with other Exalts. With her allies, though, she is not all that much more open. Only her closest confidantes know how much of her depravity and cruelty is an act. Even her greatest foes in the Pact, however, must admit that Mahalanka has prospered under her guidance and her sorcerous might. She is worshipped as a goddess by those nations that dwell in what she has termed her Thousand Fangs Army Total Control Zone, and she rewards her worshippers with miracles.

In the First Age, Raksi was a skilled but not celebrated occultist and philosopher that studied the nature of Essence and the soul. The Usurpation is what forged her into the Queen of Fangs, pushing her to embrace the monstrosity she has become. She won great respect in early Pact for the crucial role she played both in reshaping the Lunar Castes and in the creation of the moonsilver tattoos, alongside a number of other mystics and crafters. She also won acclaim for the terrifying power she brought to bear against the Shogunate, creating sorcerous abominations and reclaiming monstrous things buried since the dawn of time to send at them as well as calling down hundreds of curses from the pages of the Book of Three Circles, a great repository of sorcerous lore. She regrets nothing of what she has become and does not ever wonder what might have been, had she chosen otherwise. She loves being Raksi.

Despite her age and power, Raksi’s actual influence in the Pact is limited. After her feud with Ma-Ha-Suchi, she withdrew from politics for the most part and turned away from personal attacks on the Realm to refocus on rulership of her dominion and arcane studies. In the long term, she wants to replace the Realm with a countless array of Lunar dominions spread patchwork across Creation, each ruled by an independent Lunar autarch beholden to none. Despite her seclusion, she is still renowned as a terror and monster-queen that unnerves other Lunars even though her loyalty to the Pact is unquestionable. She prefers this, as she believes soft-heared and idealistic Lunars must be forced to confront the atrocities that are required to destroy the Realm if they are to serve the cause properly. If she has to be the one to throw them into the deep end of horror, so be it.

Raksi expects any Pact Lunar passing through the Total Control Zone to visit her in Mahalanka, where she greets them with decadent pleasures, sorcerous teachings and monsters. Her most gruesome displays are reserved for rival shahan-yas and their followers, ranging from vivisection of Dragon-Blooded prisoners of war to the service of live infants on platters for their honor to bloodsport between her apefolk champions and enslaved demons. It’s not just out of sadism, either – unnerving or pissing off her political foes distracts them from pursuing their goals and deprives them of calm and clarity. Raksi maintains contact with a handful of friendly shahan-yas and former students, whom she doesn’t force to sit through her theatric monstrosity. Her occasional visits to them and attendance at councils do, however, still get flamboyant displays of sorcerous might. She enjoys many-winged conveyances that fly through the air, legions of demon servants and summoning up temporary palaces.

The Queen of Fangs’ biggest allies among the shahan-yas are Ul of the Burning Eye and the hedonist Wings of Ivory, who share her belief in Lunars having total authority within their own dominions. Other Eastern shahan-yas are careful of her power even if they disagree, and they tread carefully around her and her allies. She also maintains a correspondence with Rukshara-Who-Remembers, who recalls occult secrets even Raksi has lost to time. Ma-Ha-Suchi used to be her closest ally, but she has come to despise him and his allies. She believes his dreams of a unified Lunar Realm are both foolish and against her own ambitions as god-queen of Mahalanka, and she is very bitter over his rejection of her ideology and the consequences it had on the Pact. She amuses herself at council by needling and provoking any of his followers who happen to be present – or the old Lunar himself, on the very rare occasions that they’re in the same place.

Raksi is easily the best sorcerer in the entire Silver Pact, which alone brings many students to her door. At any given time she is likely to have a small group of followers studying under her, and dozens of Lunars across Creation claim her as their shahan-ya, visiting every so often or corresponding by magic. She offers sorcerous training, knowledge of craft or spirit lore, and information on the lost arts of the First Age, though her would-be students are often put off by her carefully cultivated reputation for cruelty and decadent monstrousness. She especially enjoys living up to the rumors new students have heard of, though she shows a different side to those that have the intellect or will to earn her respect. For them, she draws back the veil of exaggerated awfulness to show her human side. These are her few, precious friends, and she treasures them dearly. She still gives excellent training to her less successful students, of course, because doing poorly by them helps no one, least of all her, but she definitely plays up the terrifying god-queen persona to motivate them and test their dedication.

Followers: Dark Eyes is Raksi’s lieutenant and enforcer, her envoy to the peoples of the Thousand Fangs Army Total Control Zone. He brings her will and encourages the best warriors he finds to undertake the sacred trials that will transform them into apefolk. He has never impressed the Queen of Fangs enough to be one of her favorites, but she appreciates his loyalty and combat skills. He values her approval but has yet to see the real Raksi behind the monster mask, and he fears her as much as he respects her. Three clans within the dominion, the Red Scars, the Get of the Tigress and the Devil Braids, have started to worship him as a living god, second only to Raksi herself, and among those tribes, Dark Eyes enforces his own will alongside hers. By his decree, slave-taking in war is forbidden and slavers are killed on sight. He isn’t sure he should tell Raksi about this, as he’s not sure if she’d view it as insubordination or a show of initiative. In truth, the ingenuity required to win the tribes over and transform their beliefs is something Raksi prizes, but if she learned of his actions because they became an obstacle to her goals, her anger might overpower her respect.

Weyna Who-Sees-Much was never prepared for life with Raksi. She is a young and brilliant scholar that sought out Raksi for teaching shortly after her Exaltation. She found Raksi and Mahalanka to be more than she could ever dream of when it comes to lore, but she barely had time to study, as she was forced to attend Raksi’s debauched parties. It was at one of these banquets that Weyna managed to win Raksi’s respect by speaking out when a live infant was served to an emissary of Ma-Ha-Suchi. Raksi was surprised and delighted, and she gave guardianship of the child to Weyna as a reward. Weyna’s not got a lot of time between the kid and her studies, but Raksi demands only the best for the child she has declared her goddaughter.

Tangaxoan is a raitonwoman who once served in the theo-military of Ixcoatli. She is devoted to Raksi’s political ideology, wholeheartedly embracing the idea of countless Lunar autarchies. She also finds Raksi’s drive and ruthlessness highly admirable. Driven by her Essence fever, Tangaxoan is no longer able to put up with Ixcoatli’s atrocities, and she has joined a coalition of rebels to drive out the priest-soldiers from conquered lands and establish a new Lunar dominion, free of the oppressively rigid hierarchies that crush slaves and the lower castes.

Next time: Sha’a Oka, the Black Lion, His Divine Lunar Presence

A Nemesis Plot

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: A Nemesis Plot

Sha'a Oka was born into the wars of the Shogunate, and he is one of the finest warlords the Silver Pact has. He is the undisputed commander of the battles on the Caul, and while his doctrine of open war is counter to the methods of most shahan-yas, his charisma, legendary status and tales of triumph draw many young Lunars to him. He does very little to convince them to drop any of the larger-than-life beliefs they may hold about him and is happy to have anyone willing to fight the Realm do work for him. He is called the Black Lion and renowned for fighting with his vicious claws and fangs in his war-form as well as for his brilliant leadership of the Caul lionfolk in battle. However, for many on both sides of the war, his greatest achievements are his multiple deaths. Mnemon Jazura killed him and burned his corpse, at the cost of the lives of her Hearth and her own arm. At the Battle for Pericanth Bridge, he died holding off the massed forces of the Scarlet Empire while his allies and warriors retreated. The Sidereal Noh the Beetle tore his soul from his body and cast it into the wheel of reincarnation. Eeach time, his death was mourned by the Pact and celebrated by the Realm. Each time, he returned, revealing that his death was actually an ingenious ruse. Some believe he is truly immortal; this is not true, but he doesn't discourage the rumor, as it raises his followers' morale and his prestige.

Sha'a Oka was one of the people on the Caul when it vanished, shortly into the reign of the Shogunate. He was the only one who returned with it. He rarely speaks of his experience, and only to his most trusted followers. They know that he remembers all of his centuries of the Caul's absence from Creation, and that in that time he experienced something, but he seems to have no words for it, except cryptic musings. He claims a profound spiritual affinity for the Caul, speaking of it the way others might speak of a beloved sibling or a Solar mate. Whatever happened to him, it has left him estranged from many of his peers and followers. He has many allies and devotees but almost no friends, confidants or lovers. He spends most of his time performing strange rites or meditating on the Caul's mysteries.

The remoteness of the Caul from the Blessed Isle allows Lunar warlords to gather their forces even in close proximity to the island's Imperial Port, and its spiritual significance means a disproportionate number of Lunars want to free the land from the Realm. Sha'a Oka has capitalized on this in the war he's been fighting for centuries, building up a peerless reputation for aggression. Other shahan-yas that favor open war on the Realm, like the berserker Blood Nail or the necromancer Seven Obsidian Leopard, align with him at council, and some even travel to meet him or join his war for a time. Mainstream Pact advocates of attrition war disagree with his agenda, but they value his role in bleeding the Realm of heroes and troops. They're usually less happy when he emboldens others to wage open war outside the Caul, though. Raksi and Aum-Ashatra are both outspoken foes of Sha'a Oka, yelling at him for what they believe weakens other fronts.

The Black Lion is happy to play politics to strengthen his own stance, and he maintains ties to more traditionalist shahan-yas in the South and West. When his followers move on, he encourages them to join those who have supported him and discourages association with his more outspoken political foes. While Leviathan is a powerful and influential shahan-ya in close geographic proximity and could potentially be a strong ally, Sha'a Oka refuses to give the benthic ruler any of his time. He resents the years LEviathan spent in sunken Luthe, unwilling to commit himself to the cause, and a century of activity is not enough atonement to the Black Lion's mind.

Sha'a Oka's charisma draws in many followers, especially young Lunars who aren't satisfied with the slow strategy the Pact tends to favor. He is happy to teach them, but he expects them to devote themselves to the Caul crusade. He spends very little time with his followers, as he has much work across the vast island, and he prefers to train them by placing them in important positions in the campaign. For many, it is an education in war, but he also has jobs for schemers and spies, such as infiltrating Faxai to sabotage or steal, and he has work for mystics in forcing alliance with the local spirits or Fair Folk. In the rare time he does spend with his students, he speaks rarely except in brief grunts of approval, despite the fiery speeches he gives his assembled forces. Conversations take persistence, and even then, he rarely seems to be paying his full attention to them. Students that want more personal attention are often better suited to other local shahan-yas.

The greatest followers of Sha'a Oka are the four Lunars he has entrusted to guard the shrine-cities of the Caul, each a shahan-ya in their own right. They are his most trusted disciples. Third Daughter of the Leaves is 300 years old, but burns with no less fury against the Dragon-Bloods than the day she Exalted. She wields deadly witchcraft against the Realm, and she deeply admires Sha'a Oka's total commitment to the cause as well as his wisdom and mystery. However, her allegiance is to the cause, not the Black Lion. If a more powerful general came, she would change her allegiances without a second thought.

Skathra Venomchild is barely a part of the Silver Pact, but is one of the few close friends the Black Lion has. They have a shared strangeness compared to other Lunars, for Skathra embraces an ecstatic madness in their worship of Luna, which leaves them in the best place to empathize with the incomprehensible experiences Sha'a Oka had on the Caul. Few others see the warmth and humor Sha'a Oka shows to Skathra, and no one else has been nearly as kind or understanding to them. Skathra adores violence and terror, and they are happy to wield them against the Realm if it helps their friend.

Sandswept Garda-Empress leads the hawkfolk clans of the city Sekima, harrying REalm forces across the Caul. She is driven by a personal hatred of the Realm, and therefore has been made Sha'a Oka's second-in-command. She is far, far less patient with the inexperienced, young and naive than the Black Lion is, and she is very quick to judge his followers.

Lintha Haquen Fia-Shaw Flowers Unbending in the Storm is the scourge of the Imperial Navy and Sha'a Oka's envoy to a branch of the Lintha family that lives on the Caul. Her loyalty is unquestionable, but she disagrees strongly with the Black Lion over the value of alliance with Leviathan. She thinks the benefits far outweigh any grudge over his past inaction. She doesn't want to undermine her shahan-ya's authority, but is secretly working on a number of undersea joint ventures with Leviathan and his school, away from the Caul.

Many of Sha'a Oka's other students have gone on to become close allies. Enemy Ghost of the Black Wave Reavers first studied war under him, and the Reavers are promised to Sha'a Oka's service, should he ever need them. Lukha Palash of the Bronze Tide has never met the Black Lion, but is a strong supporter of his ideology.

Next time: Leviathan, the Great Whale


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Sadwhale

Leviathan was famous in the First Age as a master of the sea and a hunter of extreme skill. He rarely bothered to set foot on land, preferring his spirit shape, but when he did, his body was a seven foot masculine ideal, covered in muscle - at least since his Exaltation. He's trans, y'see. His failure to save his Solar mate during the Usurpation shattered his confidence. He assumed his orca spirit shape and fled from the world, making himself a home in the now-sunken ruins of Luthe. He stood watch over the city and any Lunars that sought refuge there, but he refused to take part in any of the Pact actions against the Shogunate. He convinced himself that the vigil over Luthe would erase the failure of his past, though he was unable to admit to himself how much his courage and pride had been broken by that very failure. This lasted through the fall of the Shogunate, the Great Contagion, the Fair Folk crusade and the rise of the Realm.

It was only when the Realm began a Westward expansion that Leviathan finally stirred from sunken Luthe. OVer the centuries, he had finally found the will to act, and when the usurpers trespassed on what he considered his own sacred domain, a thousand years of hate and rage broke free of the depression that had controlled him. The Realm's fleets have lamented the beast Leviatha, scourge of the West, ever since that fateful day, a century ago. Luthe has moved into a war footing, turned into the unattackable headquarters of the Western Silver Pact. Leviathan has finally been recognized as a shahan-ya and has begin to recruit followers to his banner. He speaks of grinding down the REalm until the Blesed Isle itself can be invaded and the Imperial City sieged. While some of the younger Lunars aren't sure what to think of him, the First Age elders mostly welcome the return of such a potent ally.

Despite this, Leviathan has few political allies compared to other shahan-yas of his age, and he's still trying to form connections. He's invited Western shahan-yas and even those beyond to attend his councils in Luthe, but he struggles to shed his quiet, hard-to-read manner. The most prominent rejection he has received is from Sha'a Oka. While Leviathan respects all he's heard of the Black Lion, the feeling is very much not mutual, as Sha'a Oka despises the admiral for his centuries of doing nothing. Leviathan's standing offer remains, but his wounded pride is likely to complicate things. His closest ties are to the other Lunars he remembers from the First Age, such as Raksi, Ma-Ha-Suchi and Ul the Burning Eye. These ancients are spread thin across the world, however, and tend not to like each other very much, which makes the value of his old friendships highly variable. He knows he'd probably be best off aligning himself with just one elder shahan-ya, but he's hesitant to alienate the rest.

The past century of recruitment has drawn young Lunars to Leviathan from across Creation, strengthening the Pact's Western bulwark against the Realm. He welcomes veterans especially, but he has neither the desire nor the temperament to be a good teacher to the inexperienced. He shares what he can of war, the First Age and the oceans if asked, but he tends to turn his students over to his more senior followers for training and leadership. His real power lies in being an orca the size of Godzilla and commanding Luthe. Luthe is more than just safe from most Realm attacks due its underwater nature. It is also home to armies of aquatic beastfolk, artifacts dredged from the sea floor and other valuable resources, which Leviathan is happy to share with any follower that will use them against the Realm. He's not particularly concerned about the political divisions of the Pact, even if he probably should care more, and he doesn't mind if his followers also pledge themselves to other shahan-yas.

Swims in Shadows is a shaman and storyteller who was one of the first Lunars to join Leviathan's cause, eager to support the legendary elder in blocking the Realm from heading Westward. He's not broke ties with his old shahan-ya, the sorcerer Aqadar, but he frequently travels to Luthe to listen to Leviathan and obey his orders. Years of service have made him Leviathan's right-hand man, but he is now being pressured by Aqadar to broker a formal alliance between the two.

Kumo of the Black Wave Reavers is a political follower of Leviathans after he was rescued from imprisonment on a Fair Folk-controlled island by a Circle of Leviathan's students. He's never been to Luthe himself or even met Leviathan, but he owes the elder a debt of gratitude and agrees with the old Lunar's strategy of bleeding the Western operations of the Realm slowly. However, Kumo is careful to avoid discussing Pact politics with the other Reavers, as Enemy Ghost is a student of Sha'a Oka.

Gjalla the Tusk is a Lunar from a small walrusfolk enclave near the Blessed Isle, and she got wealthy working with smugglers that wanted to evade Realm taxes. She has no particular ideological problem with the Realm, but working against it to help Leviathan is considerably more profitable to her than anything else she's found to do. Luthe also serves as a sanctum more useful to her than anything she had ever imagined. Now, she wears moonsilver finery and her family is safe in the spires of the sunken city. She finds Leviathan unapproachable and terribly boring, but she's friendly both with many of his followers and the beastfolk that make up Luthe's population.

Next time: Amatha Kinslayer nee Cynis Amatha

Cynis Is The Worst

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Cynis Is The Worst

Amatha Kinslayer was born the daughter of Cynis. The Cynis. She quickly learned to survive in the Dynasty, as she didn't Exalt, and she was instead quickly married off to the Peleps matriarch's son when she came of age in return for political concessions. Her husband, delighted to have the chance to actually be the dominant partner in a Dynastic marriage, had her locked away in his country estate, taking her out to display as a trophy for parties. Amatha fled this life, spending years evading her husbands agent through the South. She was finally cornered in the glass towers of Chiaroscuro by her sister-in-law, the leader of the search. It was there that she Exalted. She emerged wearing her sister-in-law's face, announced that Cynis Amatha had escaped, and ordered the search to continue.

Ever since, Amatha Kinslayer has been a thorn in the side of the Realm, infiltrating its satrapies to spead chaos before fleeing into the desert again to evade her pursuers. She has caused uprisings, sponsored coups and encouraged nepotism and incompetence to the point of total breakdown, and she's loved every second of it. Her goal is to destroy the Realm's economy, topple House Cynis first, then the rest of the Dynasty, and then to spend the rest of her life lounging on the Scarlet Throne with a glass of wine and a wicked grin. She killed her husband a century ago, but before she managed to flee, she had borne him a daughter. She had shown her daughter far more affection than Dynastic society liked, and she still monitors her child's pursuits. That child is now an elder Dragon-Blood, and she views her grandchildren with deeply mixed emotions.

Amatha has always had a knack for politics, and she has used her successes in fighting the Realm to earn the admiration of her peers in the Silver Pact, but she still struggles to overcome her Dynastic birth. Few openly question her loyalties, but it is hard for many to overlook her blood ties to the Realm. A handful of Southern shahan-yas, mostly younger ones such as Smiling Zamisha or Blood Nail, maintain ties to her, but many older Lunars refuse to acknowledge her as a shahan-ya still. It'd be pragmatic for her to fall into line with them, but Amatha's pride and anger at her poor treatment drive her to all kinds of tricks and cruelty at councils.

Amatha lacks the broad experience and prestige of the older shahan-yas, but her extremely deep and intimate knowledge of the Realm means she draws in followers who want to infiltrate the Dynasty. She is afraid she lacks the temperament to be a good teacher, but she masks her fears with jokes and bravado. Her training tends to be hands-on, throwing students into the deep end of trouble. She brings them into the heart of the satrapies for jobs of infiltration, sabotage and murder. Subverting satraps, intercepting tributes or sabotaging legions gives her students a chance to hone their skills in espionage and their knowledge of the inner workings of the Dynasty. Her personal style is reckless, wild and audacious, and Amatha encourages her followers to be similar. She prefers the ones who are unpredictable, capricious and confident. Students who are not can still learn much from her, but it's rarely a smooth experience.

Nida is a young Lunar, new to her power and the Pact, but her wit is sharp and she's eager to spread chaos in the satrapies. She's a street rat, barely 20, but what she lacks in experience and sophistication she makes up for in talent, which matters a lot to Amatha. The two often work to start opposing trends against each other, then sit back and watch as the societies they deal with tear themselves apart over the conflict. It's proven far better training for Nida than any kind of formal schooling, and Amatha enjoys the playful rivalry she and her student have formed. She is willing, even eager, to let Nida oppose her politically in the Pact, valuing the chance for her student to gain experience even over her own goals.

Trasenji Yilean was once a pandit, one of the Varangian astrologer caste, until he was too open about his horoscope-fixing and got banished. As an outcast, he started a criminal empire among his fellow criminals and undesirables, and his ambition in doing so earned Luna's touch. Amatha recruited him into the Pact with the promise that he could enjoy both the spoils of crime and the downfall of the Realm. Trasenji looks on his shahan-ya with a mix of respect and jealousy, and he fantasizes about using her teachings to rise up and overshadow her as a new shahan-ya in the Pact himself.

Strength-of-Many was a slave, and he has very little interest in the ancient vendetta of the Silver Pact. He has no grudge against the Dragon-Bloods as a whole or even much of the Realm. Rather, he finds common cause with Amatha against House Cynis specifically, fighting against their slave-taking missions in the South. He's an experienced warrior, more peer than student to Amatha, and his cause is simple: end all slavery, everywhere. He often trades favors with Amatha's other students in exchange for assistance in undermining the Guild and slave-taking kingdoms.

Next time: Rukhsara-Who-Remembers, Shahan-ya Reborn

The Inheritor

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: The Inheritor

Rukhsara-Who-Remembers was formerly Mashaha-Who-Remembers, one of the greatest lorekeepers of the Silver Pact. Her memory stretched back millenia, encompassing many things even Raksi had never learned. However, she was always a jealous, suspicious woman, and even as she lay dying, she refused to share her most precious knowledge. When she died, it was thought her lore was lost forever...until her Exaltation passed to a young shaman of the Northern Kathaashi clan. Rukhsara is the name she chose after her rite of passage, an ordeal so harsh that she Exalted during it, becoming both Lunar and earning a body more satisfying to her as a woman. (She is also trans, y'see.)

Rukhsara is burdened by memories not her own. She thought she was going insane until the Lunars found her and offered her friendship. Now, she knows that her memories belong to her past life, and she has devoted herself to mastering her own mind, that she may recall the millenia of knowledge of Mashaha without losing herself in it. Since her Exaltation, Rukhsara has been the witch-queen of the Kathaashi. Over the past few generations of guidance and supernatural aid, she has turned from a marginalized clan to a powerful force, reclaiming the relatively fertile lowlands that had been taken from them by neighboring satrapies. Now, Rukhsara wants to fortify her new dominion so she may protect her clan from whatever the Realm sends to take it back. Other voices, within both her clan and her school, urge her to more aggressive action, as they believe that conquest will most improve the lives of the Kathaashi and weaken the Realm.

Rukhshara, now approaching a hundred, is well respected within the Pact. Even among much older Lunars, she is never interrupted. However, respect doesn't mean they like her. Those that knew Mashaha and endured her petty rivalries and treacheries are careful with Rukhsara, afraid she may retain those traits as well as those memories. The most prominent shahan-yas to seek the wisdom of Rukhsara-Who-Remembers are Raksi and Aqadar of Fajad. Each is a master of sorcery, and they correspond with Rukhsara using magic, offering their teachings in exchange for the secrets locked in her mind. Raksi is shockingly respectful, largely due to a centuries-past romance with Mashaha, while Aqadar is much colder with her, and Rukhsara is pretty sure he only sees her as a walking library.

While they have never met in person, Rukhsara has a lot in common with Third Daughter of Leaves. Both are consumed by the memories and passions of their past lives, and the pair have become close friends despite never being in the same location. They discuss their past lives, occult knowledge and Pact politics by use of sorcerous spells to communicate. Third Daughter is working to subtly encourage the younger Rukhsara to pursue open warfare against the Realm.

Rukhsara has led the Kathaashi since Exalting, and now she has a number of young student Lunars as well, guiding them with aid from the vast lifetime of Mashaha. In exchange, she expects them to aid the Kathaashi in some way - lead them on raids, make valuable steel weapons for their warriors, bless their lands with sorcerous power. While Rukhsara has deep knowledge of many fields, she also knows her own wisdom and perspective are limited. She debates her followers about the best ways to pursue their needs, her needs and the Pact's needs, valuing their opinions highly. She is especially concerned for her people's future. She is trying to decide if the best way to secure the safety of her clan is to conquer other peoples and rule over them at the cost of surrendering their own culture, or to withdraw from the Realm at the cost of surrendering their ancestral land.

Tholamai is a warrior-poet, fierce and wise, who sought out Rukhsara after hearing tales of the young-yet-ancient teacher of wisdom and magic. She wasn't quite what he expected, but he's stuck around. He values her knowledge, yes, and he respects the struggle she has with her memories, but more importantly, he's part of her family now. Tholamai has fallen in love with Rukhsara'a grandson, Urakur. Rukhsara, for her part, is deeply invested in Tholamai's life as a result. She prizes his combat and strategic skills, but she's also deeply interested in messing around with his domestic life with her grandson, as she loves her family deeply.

Echo-Prince Piyo seeks Rukhsara as something like a god, though he believes that life amongst the Kathaashi is not suitable for her high station. She was drawn to her wisdom and sorcerous power, and Piyo believes that she should be a god-queen, ruling from spell-made towers attended by retinues of enslaves demons. Piyo is a smuggler herself, a criminal mastermind covered in macaw feathers, and she advocates for anything that might increase Rukhsara's dominon or status, even if it would harm the Kathaashi. Rukhsara has no particular love of Piyo's misplaced ambition, but she thinks the woman's thieving skills are valuable and that, with care and experience, the Echo-Prince could be made into a useful ally.

No Trouble Zhang is a shaman and explorer who has very little interest in Rukhsara's actual policies. Rather, he's happy to support her in exchange for the knowledge of the Wyld and Fair Folk she shares with him. Zhang spends most of his time in the bordermarches of the North and beyond, hunting for lost artifacts or fae monsters that could be turned against the Realm. When in creation, he spends most of his time protecting mortals, and particularly the Kathaashi, from the predations of the Winter Folk, so that their strength may be turned against the Realm.

Next time: Selected other shahan-yas.

And The Rest

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: And The Rest

Among the dozens of other shahan-yas out there, we have...Aqadar of Fajad, whose tower rises in the very heart of a Realm satrapy. He is a self-centered, arrogant jerk, but his mask of cold calculation hides a fury unmatched by even most other Lunars. His grudge is very old, born from the Shogunate-era massacre of his people and the murder of their clan god. He ignores the Realm satrapy around him, because the Fajadi are not his people and he really does not care what happens to them. Of course, any Dragon-Blood entering his tower is killed quickly, and any concerted effort to drive him out would cause him to free the behemoth Pyrevein from its prison under the ower. Aqadar is a believer in long, laborious preparation and overwhelming overkill. He has been researching sorcerous lore for centuries, that he might destroy the Realm in one fell swoop. He has few followers, both because of his ruthless obsession and because of the dangerous of getting to his tower, but he will happily share his full sorcerous knowledge with anyone willing to contribute to his work.

Tayan Silver-Crowned is the warlord-queen and shahan-ya of the Shadow Fang Vanguard. She started out as a low-ranking Shogunate officer before her Exaltation, and she made a name for herself in the early Pact by using her knowledge of Shogunate tactics to blindside the Northern forces of the daimyos. Today, she continues to pursue the strategy of irregular warfare that the Pact uses, and she's brilliant at it, but her firm belief in a clear chain of command and military discipline have made her break from the Pact. Shge only accepts followers who will offer perfect obedience, though to them she offers peerless training in military theory and several martial disciplines, plus the chance to be part of a regimented Lunar force unlike any other today.

Tayan is still advised by her own shahan-ya, the First Ager Feather Drenched in the Blood of the Fallen. Feather barely survived the terrors that slew her Solar mate during the Usurpation, and she hates above all the Sidereals. She is one of Creation's foremest experts on the abilities, methods and particularly the vulnerabilities of the Sidereal host. This knowledge is valued by both the Pact and Vanguard, but Feather rarely takes students, for she has extremely high standards when it comes to talent and requires her followers be ruthless in order to further her own war with Heaven. Many support her when she does bother to shopw up to Pact councils outside the Vanguard, however.

Sublime Danger was a thief, bandit and mercenary in the First Age. She lives for challenge, traveling throughout the East with no fixed headquarters. She raids Lookshy and the Eastern satrapies not out of any actual belief in the Pact's war, but because she wants to test her own martial skill. Sublime Danger doesn't care at all about the Usurpation or vengeance on the Dragon-Blooded or Sidereals - she just likes a fight. She is a master of Thousand Blades STyle, an esoteric martial art of the First Age, and she wears wings made from the daiklaves she has claimed from countless foes. She accepts only students that share her daredevil nature, setting them against dangerous challenges to test their limits. She is very interested in the return of the Solars, and particularly wants to find her own reincarnated mate, so that she can demonstrate her superiority in any field he may choose to dedicate himself to. Sublime Danger really, really wants to show her dominance over her mate, y'see.

Tanisa Ring-Eater and Seven Obsidian Leopard are a pair of shahan-yas that work together from Mount Namas, north of the Dreaming Sea. Tanisa is a calculating, seren master of intrigue who works within the nations of the Dreaming Sea to sabotage diplomacy and busines dealings from the Realm. Leopard is a powerful, brooding necromancer and mystic who is quite knowledgeable about the Sea's mysteries. For centuries, the two agreed on all things, but a schism has grown between them since Prasad emerged from the Realm. Leopard believes Prasad is but an extension of Realm imperialism, and thus should be ground down by his army of horrors, while Tanisa believes that they can guide Prasad into opposition to the Realm and Lookshy, thus splintering the Dragon-Bloods even further.

Ul of the Burning Eye is a First Age elder that was once a terrifying champion of the Pact. In more recent years, however, he hwas withdrawn from active battles against the Realm to focus on his more long-term plan: total and complete genocide of the Dragon-Blooded. He plans a second Great Contagion, carefully engineered with sorcery and the aid of disease spirits. This one will not kill just anyone - it will only wipe out those that bear the blood of the Dragons. Which, I should note, is a huge proportion of Creation's mortal populace. Ul accepts students who come to his Southwestern island, encouraging them to embrace his slow, stoic approach. He views the Realm as a mere diversion from the true aims of the Pact, which he envisions to be wiping out the Dragon-Blooded in their entirety.

Next time: Friends and foes

Dealing With Other People

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Dealing With Other People

Obviously, the Silver Pact is both fully aware that other Exalts and powerful beings are out there, and while they consider their vendetta to belong to them alone, they aren't going to give up allies or ignore potential problems. The loose nature of the Pact means that they have, at best, a broad consensus on any of these other groups, however. Individual Pact members may have wildly different opinions due to personal experiences.

Independent Lunars that reject membership in the Pact are free to do so, and the Pact expects its members to not harm them or otherwise turn them against the Pact if possible, and to welcome them if they change their minds. While these Lunars do not get the full benefits of Pact membership, they tend to have peaceful relations with the Pact, mostly made of exchanged favors or alliances of convenience. When conflict happens, it tends to be over personal problems or individual feuds. Competition over territory or resources can cause grudges, as can conflicting agendas, inadvertant mistakes or just not liking each other. Without the shahan-ya councils to resolve these problems, tensions between independents and Pact Lunars can get rough, as can those between independents themselves. When the Changing Moon merchant Hibiscus Cutter slew one of Yena's Daughters to defend his caravan, Yena Bone-Breaker swore vendetta gainst him, killed every member of his trade company and only spared him in deference to Pact rules.

Some independents are former Pact Lunars who've left it. Doing so does not have the same harsh penalties as banishment from the Pact, though it's rare for someone to leave without some inciting incident or feud that may continue to complicate relations. Because of the loose nature of the Pact, leaving it is not really a formal matter, and indeed an independent may be viewed differently by different people. Many believed Ma-H-Suchi left the Pact when he went into seclusion, but others continued to see him as a shahan-ya. Lilith was a prominent member of the early Pact, and while she left it behind along with her human life, many still count her among its ranks.

While the Dragon-Blooded successor states of the Shogunate are the greatest foes of the Silver Pact, only its greatest extremists believe that all Dragon-Bloods are their enemies. Those Dragon-Blooded societies that neither claim descent from the Shogunate nor engage in imperialism are usually seen as different, though they may not be fully trusted, and they can on occasion be allies. Individual Pact members have occasionally dealt with groups such as the Wanasaan and the Forest Witches, though rarely for long-term alliance. Lone outcastes can be allies, valued for their power and ability to infiltrate the Realm. Some have even join Lunar Circles or the school of a shahan-ya. This often draws skepticism or opposition from other Pact members, but rarely to the point of violence. In River Province, the Grass Spiders have proven to be very useful allies, allowing assassinations that do not risk revealing Lunar involvement and causing a Wyld Hunt. The Seven Storms Brotherhood are a contentious (but not especially important) issue for the Southern Pact. Some feel that the bandits could be a valuable ally against the satrapies, but others find them too volatile and unpredictable to use as anything but an unwitting diversion.

Creation has forgotten the Sidereals; the Silver Pact has not. They despise the Bronze Faction, who masterminded the Usurpation and have helped to coordinate the Wyld Hunt for centuries. However, not all Sidereals are complicit in this, and some are even active foes of the Bronze Faction. Not all Lunars understand Heaven's politics enough to draw these distinctions, of course. Those that do, who are usually First Age elders, may occasionally find alliance with independent Sidereals. When the Cult of the Violet Star summoned the demon Nubkhaes into the world unbound, Raksi worked with the Sidereal Naj the Hellbinder to banish it and purge the cult. At other times, however, there have been battles between Lunars and Sidereals over miunderstandings. When the Sidereal Xaphem-Om went to the Caul to investigate if whatever magic banished it from Creation long ago could do it again, the young Lunar Bends-the-Oak mistook him for a Bronze Faction saboteur and started a fight that killed both.

The Gold Faction, newly empowered by the return of the Solars, has made diplomatic approaches to a few shahan-yas it thinks will be sympathetic, and negotiations remain in progress. Not all Lunars that know of them agree with the idea of aiding the returning Solars at all, and some of them still distrust Sidereals on principle. Even the most trusting are wary, as they know the Bronze Faction have the potential to intercept communications meant for the Gold.

For most of the Second Age, the Silver Pact has had mixed opinions on the few Solars that remained in the world. The Lunars bonded to them were often, but not always, strong allies to their mates. Others saw them as anything from potential allies to liabilities to useful idiots to throw at the Wyld Hunt to distract them. The Bull of the North's growing empire drew the Realm's attention and broke the legions of House Tepet, allowing other Pact ventures in the North to flourish, so that's a sign in their favor. On the other hand, the returning Solars have thrown every plan into chaos. They could be potent allies, but their agendas could easily conflict with the Pact's. No Lunar is about to just step aside and let the nascent Solars claim dominion over the world without a fight. Complicating things are the bonds between many individual Lunars and Solars, which have brought forth a torrent of emotions. Thus far, there is no consensus on Solars, and there may not be time to form one before action is required.

Rumors have existed for some time about the existence of deathknights, but the Pact was not able to confirm them until Mask of Winters conquered Thorns. Most Lunars aren't really sure what to make of them, and any Lunar's views on the Abyssals are likely to be determined by their own experiences with them. Complicating things is the fact that some Lunars have felt the Solar Bond come to life in the presence of an Abyssal, concluding that they must somehow be Solars tainted by the Underworld. Anja Silverclaws, a staunch foe of the Mask, was shocked to find tghat her Solar mate is, in fact, one of his deathknights. The duel was a draw, and Anja tells herself that this will not undermine her commitment to killing the Abyssal, but the truth may be more complex. The Pact as a whole has not yet fully accepted the connection between the Abyssals and Solars, but they're going to have to at some point when deciding if the deathknights can be made allies against the Realm or not.

The Silver Pact knows very little about the Infernals; most have no idea they even exist. Those that do have gained some minor rumors from bound demons or shamanic visions, but not enough to understand the nature of the Infernals or what impact they may have on the world. Encounters have been rare, but at least one Lunar has claimed to meet her Solar mate reborn as an Infernal, which is...troubling.

Exigents are too variable to easily generalize. Some Exigents have been worthy allies to the Pact, such as Bazidara, the Chosen of Amoth City-Smiter, the god of ruins, who fought alongside Ma-Ha-Suchi against the Shogunate before dying to a Wyld Hunt, and the god-admirals of Cabochon still trade with Sunken Luthe. Others are foes of the Pact, either due to service to the Immaculate Order or due to having conflicting goals.

Likewise, the Pact deals only infrequently with Liminals, and as they lack any cohesive social structure, all relationships with them are individual. Most Liminals don't care about the war with the Realm, though some will help in exchange for the aid of Lunar witches or necromancers in dealing with undead. Others have fought against Lunars who open shadowlands or raise undead armies. Withari's Child is a Southwestenr Liminal with plenty of ghostly enemies, and she occasionally calls on Ul the Burning Eye for help or refuge. Ul enjoys her strangeness and hopes to study her reanimated flesh to further his understanding of necromancy. Another, Dreams-of-Rain, was made by a Ragara sorcerer that sought to resurrect her late son, only to watch his creator die at Lunar fangs. He seeks to track down and kill the Lunar that slew his creator, and he has no problem undermining other Lunar plans or domains along the way.

Next time: Getimians, the Guild, ghosts and raksha

Ghost Alliance

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Ghost Alliance

When Getimians first started showing up and striking at the plans of the Sidereals, the Silver Pact hoped that these mysterious new Exalts could be allies. However, the more they’ve learned, the less likely that seems. Rakan Thulio, the leader of the Getimians, is known to the First Age elders of the Pact as one of the architects of the Usurpation, and even if he has renounced the Bronze Faction, not one of them would trust him. Those Pact members who have actually encountered Getimians have tried to make use of their hatred of Sidereals and their power to disrupt destinies, but largely as unknowing assets rather than friends.

The Guild’s world-spanning trade syndicate is easily the most prominent mortal group that the Pact deals with. Like the Pact, the Guild is decentralized, making it much more resilient against Lunar infiltration than nations or other organizations tend to be. Profit is its sole motive in all things, so it’s not a great ally, but it can be a useful tool. In regions where the Guild’s presence undermines the Realm’s power, the Pact ignores it or even supports it actively. Where its activities serve the Realm, or its slavers and drug dealers encroach on Lunar dominions, the Pact acts against it and ruins those responsible. The First Golden Door Consortium, which runs caravans from Nexus to Greyfalls, prospers because its primary shareholder, Guild factor Miral of Cho-Holuth, has made a deal with Ma-Ha-Suchi’s student Ranotis to trade information on Realm and Lookshyan purchases and troop movements in exchange for safe passage. Ranotis has discovered that Miral has also been suborned by the Greyfalls satrap Cynis Verheen, so he now feed the woman false information of his own, to turn her into an unwitting triple agent.

The Pact deals frequently with the gods and elementals of Creation, both in their own territory and Realm satrapies. Spirits can offer miracles or blessings to Pact operations or dominions, and Lunars can protect spirits from the Immaculates or other threats, or intervene when a god’s cult or domain is under threat. However, when spirits exploit mortal communities, Lunar shamans may step in to intercede on behalf of the mortals or cast down gods that won’t resolve things peacefully. This is most common in Lunar dominions, but some Lunars just don’t like spirits mistreating or neglecting worshippers. Many shamans and witches maintain long ties to specific spirit courts, working to indebt the gods and elementals so they can call on them later. Aqadar trades favors with the spirit courts of Fajad, dedicating large amounts of energy to covertly opposing the Immaculates in suppressing their worship so that they will assist his sorcerous research. Smiling Zamisha maintains relations with the clan gods of the Eskari by subduing or killing any spirit that contests their place as chief gods of the people. Gods associated with Luna’s own spirit courts, who tend to hold dominion over things like tides, purity, illness, nocturnal habits or dreams, are actively sought out as allies. Some shamans feel spiritually elevated by this, while others hope to use the shared affinity for easier bargaining. Such gods include Tethys on the Untrammeled Path, god of the lost, Merevin the Fever-Dream, and Kama-Soth, bat-god of the lunar eclipse.

Ghosts hold a number of positions in the shadowlands and Underworld, and many have reason to work with Lunars. Ancestor spirits with prominent cults are similar to gods in their concerns and interests, and often even more invested in protecting their worshippers due to the blood ties between them. Weaker ghosts are often threatened by Underworld denizens – more powerful ghosts, monsters, deathknights or Liminal ghost-hunters, for example – and want protection. The undead may lack the sheer power of gods and elementals most of the time, but their ties to the living are often excellent leverage. Lunars may consider ghosts whose descendants dwell in their dominions to be part of their flock in general, as well. Wake, a Lunar living in the ancestor-worshipping Touman Clans, has many old friends among the clan ghosts, defending them as much as she does the living Touman. Further, Lunars have long been the premier necromancers of the Second Age, with some trading with the ghosts of the Underworld for secrets. Seven Obsidian Leopard treats with ancient ghosts for their service and to learn the history of the Dreaming Sea and its secrets, offering up gifts of either his own blood or that of Dragon-Blooded prisoners in exchange. Smiling Rat makes dark pacts with the ghosts of victims of the Realm, offering them a chance to use their power and even their unlives to fuel the dark magic he would turn on their killers.

The Silver Pact watches the Fair Folk carefully, ever since the invasion that ended the Shogunate. They won’t let such a thing happen again. They infiltrate the courts of fae princes who have enough power to threaten Creation, using spycraft, sabotage and murder when they must. When Prince Ravel-Soul of the Lapis Lazuli Court discovered the Ophion Megalith, a First Age weapon long lost to the Wyld, Bhagaval Iron-Hand convinced three rival courts that the prince would use it against them, and he took advantage of the ensuing conflict to irreparably damage the Monolith. However, not all fae need to be enemies. Working with them is never easy or safe, but Lunars have bargained with the Fair Folk or bound them to service. Klesamra Lotus-Seed recruited around six Southern courts of the fae to the Pact’s aid by promising them a tithe of souls from captured Realm citizens…but doing so caused massive controversy and ultimately led to Klesamra being censured by a council of shahan-yas.

Besides these world-spanning powers, the Lunars often deal with local noteworthies. While any regional power may be of little concern to the Pact as a whole, individual Lunars or schools active in their sphere of influence must take them into account. The Eastern Pact has varying opinions on the Confederation of Rivers, a mutual defense pact and alliance of non-aggression in the Scavenger Lands. Ma-Ha-Suchi says it is nothing but an adjunct to Lookshyan hegemony and wants to undermine its limited power and destroy the alliance. Sublime Danger, on the other hand, believes that a stronger and more independent Confederation would be a potential counterweight to Lookshy’s interests. In the Dreaming Sea, Tanisa Ring-Eater and her followers work to undermine diplomatic ties between Volivat and Ysyr, so that her agents in Prasad can more easily steer the Prasadi against the Realm. This goes against Seven Obsidian Leopard’s plans, however, as he’d rather see Volivat and Ysyr crush the Prasadi Dragon-Bloods. He has secretly made an agent of the sorcerer-prince Ahaz of the Palace Couril in Ysyr, using his influence in exchange for teaching him magic. In the Southwest, Sha’a Oka welcomes the aid of the Lintha pirates under his follower Lintha Haquen Fia-Shaw Flowers Unbending in the Storm, and the guerrilla Ten Stripes encourages Lintha piracy against satrapial interests as well. However, Lunars outside the Realm’s sphere of influence, like Lukha Palash, actively hunt Lintha raiders to protect their own dominions from pirates.

Next time: Lunar dominions

Does Whatever A Spider Can

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Does Whatever A Spider Can

Lunar dominions are societies that Lunars have turned into weapons against the hegemony of the Dragon-Bloods. The Realm’s power extends far beyond its actual borders, as satrapies send out raiders to get enough resources to meet their tribute demands, while neighboring nations raid each other for resources to sell at the lucrative Realm markets. Exiles migrate from the satrapies to conquer new lands, diseases spread from the Inland Sea cities with travelers, Immaculate missionaries destroy old customs in order to spread their religion. Dynastic or satrapial businesses force locals to buy goods at markups or face terrible violence or enslavement. These all cause resentment, which Lunars can use to forge a society into a resistance. Some dominions are military staging areas against the Realm, others are strongholds meant to lure in legion forces and defeat them defensively. Others lie beyond the Realm’s influence, gathering strength for the eventual day when the Pact moves against the Dynasty in force. Many of these areas are blessed by the Lunar Charm Boundary-Marking Meditation, which allows the area to have three qualities designated, such as ‘fertile,’ ‘menacing’ or ‘isolated.’ The listed domains may have their qualities given in sidebars. If one of these qualities is noted to support an action, it counts as an applicable specialty, and if a quality opposes an action, it causes a minor penalty. The territory’s master can deny enemies these benefits or exempt allies from penalties. Because Boundary-Marking Meditation has a size limit, a dominion may have multiple distinct territories within it.

The Mountain of the Spider King in the Northern Threshold is all that keeps the scenic Black Shale Road from being a delight to travelers. It towers over the road in the far North, and it gets few visitors, despite overlooking a busy trade route. Guild members offer up a silver tithe and are careful about their movement of slaves along the Road to maintain its use between Whitewall, Gethamane and Grieve. Independent merchants often pay much lower rates, though they also risk death if they offend the Spider King. The Mountain is a warren of caves and tunnels, natural or man-made, ranging in size from large enough only for a crawling children to enough for an entire town. Within the caves, Aum-Ashatra the Spider King makes his home and watches over his people. Few Realm merchants can ever get their goods past Black Shale Road, and many favor longer but safer routes as a result. Other merchants, unable or unwilling to travel the White Sea, must pay the Spider King a tithe for safe passage or risk being killed as an example.

While ancient, Aum-Ashatra retains his youthful vigor. His face has been hardened by the centuries of trouble he’s seen, but he still smiles easily. His presence lights up the room, and he is fond of small jokes and pranks when he has the chance. However, centuries of leadership and war weigh on him, and when it comes to defending the peoples of the Mountain, he has no time for humor. When he holds court, he uses his favored granddaughters as his mouthpieces so that he can maintain an expression of total impassivity when making judgments. He is most typically found in his six-armed hybrid form, his skin nearly as dark as the Mountain’s stone. When he chooses to walk unnoticed, he takes on his ever-youthful human shape, with only the venom dripping from his hollow fangs to reveal his true nature. Aum-Ashatra has declared himself a protector of the lost and downtrodden, making the Mountain a refuge for travelers in need and a bulwark against the Realm.

Aum-Ashatra’s people have absorbed the virtue of hospitality, and they offer food and shelter to refugees, war orphans and other unfortunates that arrive on the mountain. In exchange, Aum-Ashatra extracts whatever favors his guests might provide to aid the Mountain or harm the Realm. Many that have nowhere else to go decide to stay, getting adopted into one of the many families of the caves. Aum-Ashatra is a proud Pact member and shahan-ya, taking his duties very seriously. It is rare that the Spider King is without a Lunar protégé being tutored in spying and intrigue while helping to defend the Mountain or fight the Realm. In the Northern councils, Aum-Ashatra remains aloof from any matter he deems local or petty, saving his words for the decisions he sees as truly vital to the destruction of the Realm.

The Mountain dominion was established some two centuries ago when Aum-Ashatra and a handful of followers, Moon-Touched children and mortal bandits pledged to him settled in the caves. Their descendants make up most of the people of the Mountain, though refugees and exiles seeking shelter have contributed over the past two centuries as well. Food is a constant problem. The locals tend edible fungi in the depths and go out to hunt, fish and tend foothill crops, but these are inconsistent at best. The tithes paid to the Spider King by passing merchants and the spoils of raiding Realm caravans are traded to local neighbors and bandits in exchange for food to supplement local supplies, plus any other goods the locals can’t produce. When these are not enough, especially in harsh winters, the Mountain sends out raiders to pillage the food that their neighbors will not trade to them. At these times, the mandate of hospitality becomes contentious, and the Mountain locals sour on refugees and exiles sheltered within. Crime within the Mountain is harshly punished, with minor offenses resulting in branding, exile or swift execution. More major offenses are punished with slow poison or being cast out naked into the snow. The Mountain is dark, well-defended and labyrinthine.

The Spider King’s spouses have always been those whose wit, determination and will impressed him. Their descendants form the four families of the Mountain. Each family is self-ruled, electing a chief to address its needs and problems to the Spider King. His lineage is strong, and any spider-folk descendants are considered family elites, sought out for their wisdom, which the locals believe is greater than normal humans, and favored in chief elections. The Ariha are the eldest of the families, and they work the mushroom farms of the black shale caves, using the crop to secure a place for themselves as wealthy merchants. The Tehraihn are warriors, seeing themselves as the first line of defense for the Mountain and earning their wealth by raiding. The trappers and artisans of the Vezhetra create the wares that are sold in Mountain markets and the traps that guard the caves. The newest family are the Shasai, who serve as diplomats and mediators among the other three. Outsiders living in the Mountain must seek adoption into one of the families, which means tests to ensure they aren’t spies or Realm sympathizers. The life of an adoptee is one of hard labor, but they get a warm bed and meals, which can sound amazing to many of those that seek the mercy of the Spider King. The Mountain does not keep slaves – captives are taken only for interrogation or ransom, and any others that surrender are either killed or allowed to flee. The spiderfolk of the Mountain are notable for their extra limbs and functioning spinnerets.

Sidebar: where do beastfolk come from? Beastfolk are humans with animalistic mutations. A bearwoman might have a bear’s head, shaggy fur and sharp claws, while a centipede-man might have multiple limbs, a chitinous exoskeleton and venomous fangs. Beastfolk can occur due to Wyld mutation or divine blessing, and it’s usually heritable by children, though the mutations may diminish or disappear over multiple generations of interbreeding with normal humans. Some cultures are prejudiced against beastfolk, but they are human in all meaningful senses of the word, and they can Exalt. Lunars may transform normal humans into beastfolk, primarily by use of the Charm Beast-Soul Crucible Awakening to create a sacred testing ground that will bless those who overcome its trials with traits of the Lunar’s spirit shape. Further, the children a Lunar has while using the Charm Hybrid Body Transformation (which turns you into a beastfolk/furry hybrid shape yourself to gain access to their mutations) will inherit the mutations. Also, in the Deep Wyld, it is possible for couplings between humans and animals to possibly yield beastfolk. I have no idea why this was even mentioned.

Anyway. Each of the Mountain’s four families oversee a section of its tunnels that lead into the upper reaches, making their homes in the rock. Their cavern-homes are blocky, square and utilitarian in design, meant as a final line of defense if the enemy takes the Mountain. Each home has at least one escape tunnel linked into other, hidden evacuation tunnels. Despite this pragmatic approach, a local home’s interior is deeply personal to the Mountain people, and most decorate with colorful stones, fish scales and battle trophies. Beneath the home-caverns are the underground markets lit by torches, where the locals sell their goods, primarily wool, leather, wood, meat, fish and fur, plus anything the warriors have plundered from raids or the local tinkerers have remade from looted goods. The markets also serve as meeting halls, and they are the only place in the Mountain with taverns or baths, dug deep to reach the sulfur vents that heat mountain springs. The lower tunnels range from a hundred yards above ground to deep below it, and make up most of the obvious entrances to the Mountain. They are an unmappable maze of passages, full of deadly traps. Few of the locals ever go there, for the traps can’t tell friend from foe, and so many have been made that even Aum-Ashatra doesn’t know where they all are. The Mountain is also home to cat-sized giant spiders, originally domesticated by Aum-Ashatra himself. They hunt the rats in the middle regions as well as any other vermin that threaten the storehouses. Larger feral spider breeds can be found in the lower tunnels, which further discourages exploration.

The Realm’s first interest in the Black Shale Road was during the time when the sorcerous empire of Bagrash Kol tnreatened their Northern satrapies. The legions intended to use the ancient road as a supply route in case of war. However, Aum-Ashatra, then living in disguise among the Dynasts, caught wind of this and retreated to the Mountain, establishing it as a defense against the Realm’s movements. After years of losing scouts, supplies and caravans along the Black Shale Road, the Realm figured out where the raids were coming from. They’ve sieged the Mountain several times, and it’s always been a protracted and bloody affair that has never actually succeeded. Even when the Dragon-Bloods defeat the locals in the field, they’ve never forced Aum-Ashatra out of his lair. Travelers often see the Mountain as a place of safety, as the low tunnels seem like easy refuge from the weather, but the traps and spiders make them far more dangerous than they look. In winter, the locals build fires in the cave mouths to lure in travelers. In battle, Aum-Ashatra favors misdirection and feints, using feigned weakness and traps to disorient and divide his foes. He only enters battle personally when the Mountain’s warriors face Dragon-Bloods or when he wants to spread tales of the terrifying six-armed god with death-dripping fangs.

Arisahvta, chief of the Ariha, is a stern woman who always seems disappointed. She is young but brilliant, the handpicked successor of the last chief after managing the family food reserves well during a famine. The Ariha remain unsure of her, though, for she is a sharp-tongued woman with a hot temper and little patience for those that can’t keep up with her. She especially dislikes refugees and adoptees, as she thinks hospitality is an unneeded drain on already tight resources. Quicksilver Razor Edge is the spider-man chief of the Tehraihn since he slew a Dragon-Blood in combat, albeit at the cost of a foot and three arms. He now suffers chronic pain and shortness of breath from his many injuries, and his enforced retirement has given him a new view on life. He trains his children to be the greatest warriors the family’s ever seen, developing new and terrifying tactics to use on Realm soldiers. Ix Tzel is the greatest of Aum-Ashatra’s Lunar students, a proud and wise savant who educates the locals when not serving his shahan-ya. It has taken him years to achieve his trusted rank, and he is jealously vigilant against any threat to his position. While he isn’t openly unfriendly to other students, he subtly works against those he’s decided are unworthy.

A few days west of the Mountain is the satrapy Tantara, sheltered in the bay. Much of the white-towered city is abandoned and overgrown, but it’s been remaking itself ever since the Imperial Navy established a presence in the port a few decades back. It is used as a base for anti-pirate operations in the White Sea, so that shipping can more safely bypass the Mountain. Today, herring fisheries and Guild traders thrive in the lower city, and new construction has started to sprawl along the shore. The past year has seen much of the Navy retreat to the Blessed Isle, though, and so businesses have suffered and piracy increased. The three princes of the city and its satrap, Sesus Magel Shireen, argue a lot over how best to protect the merchant traffic and the city itself while still meeting the Sesus demands for tribute.

Spray is the largest and oldest of the fishing villages in the cliffs above the White Sea, where the small communities worship a group of seabird-gods. The fisherfolk have been given the protection of the Spider King as long as they maintain their end of his ancient bargain with them, providing a trade outlet for the Mountain. More than one village has been razed in retribution for selling information to the Realm, though, and others have been torched by the Imperial Navy for piracy, either because of their own raiding or because they harbor White Sea pirates like Broken Spear Mokraj.

High in the mountains, higher than even the Spider King’s people often go, are the Skyborn nomads, who tame immense flying eels and herd mountain goats. The Skyborn descend from the twin children of an avian god, and they are adapted to the high altitudes enough that they get sick if they go down too far. Aum-Ashatra has taken advantage of them through very one-sided trade deals, knowing that the mountain herders have very few trading options. Their divine ancestor has grown quite angry about this and has begun petitioning the nearby Immaculates to aid his children.

Next time: Skandhar-Bhal, the Valley of Enlightenment

The Kung Fu Priests of Peace

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: The Kung Fu Priests of Peace

Skandhar-Bhal lies in the Chiasa Savara mountain range of the North, impenetrable in winter and dangerous even in warmer times. There are few paths, but for those that know where to look, glyphs in the stone and white flags mark a trail through the mountains. Following the path is dangerous, between the ice, snow, blizzards and white leopards. Caves and crevices along the way show paintings of the moon falling from the sky and are full of makeshift graves. At the height of the trail, hidden by the misted mountains, is the green valley. Beneath the plant-coated upper slopes are a few brightly-colored homes among farms, pastures and streams. White stone buildings dot the valley floor, facing inwards towards a circle of temples around an ornate stupa-manse whose silver tower nearly reaches the heights of the mountain peaks. The valley is a verdant, fertile one full of farms, meadows and trees, its air echoing with the sound of bells strung between buildings.

Legends claim that long ago, before history, the moon grew weary one night and fell to Creation in its sleep, or it became frustrated with Mela and hurled a piece of itself to ground in the North to spite her, or it wanted to hide from a great battle and so it set its heart down where it could never be found. Whatever the truth, a stone did fall long ago from the moon, crashing into the mountains and creating the valley. Heaven sent nine powerful gods to guard the Moon-That-Fell. They led a group of lesser spirits to Skhandhar-Bhal, finding worship from wanderers that stumbled into the rich valley. Their disciples made a sacred village around the fallen stone, and the valley became a settlement of hermits and sages, united by the desire to pray and to learn. Some eventually left the valley, marking the path and spreading its legend that future pilgrims might find it. New ideas and new people flourished, bringing knowledge of architecture, agriculture and other practical skills in an atmosphere of communal learning.

Today, the Moon-That-Fell is enclosed in the great stupa, tended to by one of the valley’s monastic orders. The egg-shaped stone is nearly ten feet tall and over five feet wide, shining a beautiful silver that reflects even the faintest of light with a glow like the full moon itself. Centuries ago, anyone could gaze on the Moon-That-Fell whenever they liked, but it is now kept locked behind ornate silver doors, except during come of age rites or special festivals. The valley’s Lunar master believes this helps conserve its great and numinous power, encouraging the locals to view Luna’s relic with proper reverence.

That master is the Full Moon named Vanamaithri Mirror-Soul, who traveled the valley in search of enlightenment long ago. They had become sickened by their own bloodlust, seeking new clarity in the frozen heart of the North. They studied under the ascetics of Skandhar-Bhal for years, finding calm for the first time since their Exaltation. In time, they became a teacher, imparting what they’d learned over their long life as philosophy, history and martial arts. Formally, Vanamaithri doesn’t rule the valley, but is looked on by the locals as both a spiritual and temporal leader with a special connection to the Moon-That-Fell. Even the nine gods cannot contest them. They live openly as a Lunar, often walking among the temples in their great tortoise spirit shape, and they are said to teach more with silence than others could with a thousand words. While they have lived quietly for centuries, they now prepare to return to the world as a warrior, leading the fighters of Skandhar-Bhal with them.

Several monastic orders make their home in the valley. The Order of the Moon-That-Fell are the acolytes of Vanamaithri and the most prominent, practicing rigorous martial arts training, but each of the nine gods has their own temple of devotees as well. Shining Horse’s acolytes tame horses and train them to navigate even the treacherous foothills. Jade Eagle’s monks care for the dead, returning their bodies to the sky and preparing their souls to reincarnate. Scarlet Doe’s followers must be total pacifists, learning to speak without breath and move without sound. Other, lesser temples have risen and fallen through the centuries, with some worshipping local terrestrial gods or ancestral ghosts who have submitted to the nine celestial gods, and others emerged from schisms in the larger orders. The temples began as a ring of shrines to the nine gods and the Moon-That-Fell, but they have since expanded into towering viharas, covered in bronze idols of their patron gods and many colorful prayer flags. Lesser shrines and temples form a second circle around them, varying in size and wealth. Only monks live in the temples, but they employ their lay followers as cooks, gardeners, crafters and guards, though the more martial monks provide most of the security the valley needs, which isn’t much. The spaces between temples are used as training yards, sacred gardens and uncultivated fields. In theory, the monastic orders exist in harmony, but friction between members can escalate into monastery-wide conflicts. These disputes usually start with low-ranking monks arguing over crop allocations, drunken slanders or personal feuds. Most orders then close ranks around accused wrongdoers, preventing the easy resolution of personal wrongs.

The nine celestial spirits and their divine retinues jealously guard their roles as the gods of the valley. Those terrestrial gods that refuse to acknowledge them as superiors were long ago driven into the wilds, and the temples name them devils and forbid any dealings with them. Rural families will occasionally form secret bargains with these gods, but this is dangerous. If their ceremonies or shrines are discovered, they will be shunned by the community, unable to access the temples or trade with the more pious valley people. The Order of the Moon-That-Fell worship Luna directly, taking Vanamaithri as their prophet. They emphasize the danger of violent emotion and the importance of self-mastery to achieve true calm, with acolytes confronting their darker passions to better understand and live in peace with themselves. They are the greatest martial artists of the valley, though they’ve rarely seen true battle. More often, their training is used to withstand the dangers of the mountains or to look for lost or dead pilgrims.

The Silent Acolytes worship Scarlet Doe and are led by her daughter, Ceryneika. Their philosophy is built on empathy, teaching that enlightenment comes from learning to feel with a heart that encompasses all Creation, becoming divine by understanding it. They harvest local plants and animals to create medicinal and entheogenic compounds, and they also tend to the sick and injured of the valley. This calling tends to draw them from monastic isolation, which makes the Silent Acolytes more worldly than the other orders. The School of Pale Sky tend to the dead under the guidance of Jade Eagle. They chant prayers for the deceased and anoint them with herbs, laying them out on the peaks for carrion birds and scaveners. This frees the soul, they hold, to Jade Eagle’s guidance to the next life. They also deal with the valley’s ghosts, communing with them to aid them in resolving whatever ties them to the world still. They also exorcise malevolent ghosts or those that want worship over the nine gods. The lesser order of the Silver Dragon Temple are a syncretic offshoot of the Immaculates, though at this point they share little but symbology. Only the initiated may read their centuries-old Immaculate texts, all original, that they brought to the valley. The Silver Dragon monks hold that these should be read metaphorically, not literally, and they also take an active role in the farms and mines of the valley. They record successful innovations and share practical wisdom with new generations. While they believe the harmony of elements in the valley brings them closer to enlightenment, they still hold themselves apart from the lay people and expect appropriate reverence. The valley is hidden, sacred and peaceful.

While most residents of the valley are monks, many put off their monastic vows until late in life, and others serve the temples as lay people. Over the centuries, pilgrims have become farmers or crafters and a community has formed. Secular residents live further from the center of the valley than the monks do, and the large white stone homes each contain multiple generations of family. A shallow mine in the northeastern part of the valley is used for metal to make tools and silver for bells, and the warm summers and short winters allow self-sustaining agriculture despite the mountainous surroundings. The locals mostly eat barley, vegetables, duck eggs and meat, yak and goat meat and dairy, and fish from the highland streams and lakes. The monastic orders may have dietary restrictions – Scarlet Doe’s monks, for example, are strictly vegetarian. Local cuisine is simple by design, both for spiritual reasons and because spices aren’t really a thing the valley has access to. The locals have little need for money, either. They don’t trade with the outside and they have neither industry nor merchants. Locals give most of their produce to the temples, which redistribute goods as needed. Each household also keeps a share of produce to trade for services that can’t be stockpiled or to repay debts.

There is no official hierarchy, but it is generally understood that the monks are more divine, capable, wise and smart. This is especially true of abbots and other ranking monks, most of whom have been monks since childhood rather than entering later in life as most do. Some families give children they don’t need to work the crops or do tradework to the temples as acolytes. Daily prayer is a duty of all people at the many shrines in the valley. (There are even shrines to the Immaculate Dragons, built long ago by heterodox Immaculate pilgrims and schismatics.) The silversmiths make prayer bells to commemorate each new birth, inscribing them with the child’s name and prayers to gods or sages that the parents hope they will emulate. Skandhar-Bhal has no formal laws or judiciary or even police. Petty crimes like slander, brawls or theft are seen as symptoms of a straying mind, one that requires remedial (and heavy) reeducation by the community and hours of public prayer. Culprits of worse deeds are usually confined to a cell in a monastery and given food and educational scrolls plus the company of monks until the monastery’s leader decides to release them. Leaving the valley for any reason is discouraged, and children are taught that the outside world is a dangerous place of chaos and unenlightened people. The few pilgrims that show up rarely do anything to disabuse them of this idea, as they are usually driven to escape the outside world for similar reasons, thus reinforcing the belief that the valley is a blessed paradise and that the only reason to leave is to spread enlightenment to outsiders. Proselytizing monks that venture out from the valley are tasked to keep its location a secret from any that might harm it.

Dancing Ceryneika is Scarlet Doe’s god-blood daughter and leader of her mother’s temple. She is nearly 50 but still looks like a young maiden – and often acts the part, impetuous and reckless. She is ruthless against any behavior she deems violent or aggressive, whether drunken brawls or extended feuds, and is skeptical even of the martial arts training that the other orders practice. She encourages people to discipline their children for participating even in competitive games, lest the play inspire an aggressive mindset. While fighting to enforce her views would go against them, she and her monks have other means to make their point, such as refusing medical treatment to the aggressors of fights.

Agallai Stone-Blessed is the closest Vanamaithri has to a rival for leadership of the valley. She is a Dragon-Blood descended from a renegade Dynastic heretic who helped found the Silver Dragon Temple. She has never been interested in becoming a monk, and instead she keeps the peace of the outer valley, traveling its borders monthly. Old and young alike refer to the aging Earth Aspect as Grandmother Aga, seeing her as an equal in wisdom and ability to the monks despite her worldly life. Even she doesn’t realize how many of them would follow her every order if she asked it, which could destroy the valley’s respect for the monastic leaders.

Jade Eagle is a god growing bored with peace. He is a hunter with nothing to hunt, and he’s developed other things over the centuries to keep his dissatisfaction at bay. He will head out for weeks at a time to gossip with other gods or fight passing air elementals, and many of his fellow gods see him as unreliable or even a troublemaker. While the valley’s mortals revere him as warrior and psychopomp, many are also uneasy with him. His temple is a safety valve for those that don’t quite fit in, training them as survivalists and scouts to hunt for dangers in the mountains. Jade Eagle is a close friend of Vanamaithri, and he’s long been concerned that the Lunar allowed himself to become too pacifistic and unemotional. On the other hand, he also worries about what might happen if his youthful bloodlust took him over again.

Next time: The Touman of Medo

Touman Sam

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Touman Sam

The Touman Clans are the remnant of the empire of the Touman Prince, the high water mark for the power of Medo. The empire was defeated by the Imperial legions, and thousands of Medoans fled north to escape the Realm. They crossed the White Sea and carved out a place in the far North, becoming a terror to the tundra nomads and frontier cities alike. Eventually, the traveling Touman met Wake, a Lunar from the South who saw them as kindred spirits, also far from home. Wake joined them as their divine champion, and the clans grew in power and ambition. As the years passed, they were no longer content to raid the White Sea settlements, turning their armies towards the conquest of the city-state Carnelian.

Carnelian, seated on the Huldoth River estuary on the shore of the White Sea, is quite wealthy. Silver, jade and gems flow like water for its merchants. Once, they used this as a shield, using trade and favors to maintain peace with their neighbors. The Touman changed everything, raiding and looting the area in a storm of blades. Most Carnelian aristocrats fled, and those that remained opened their gates to the invaders in the hope of mercy. The clans claimed the city-state for their own, with all its luxuries, and have lived there ever since. While they have changed since conquering Carnelian, the original political structure of the clans remains mostly intact. Each of the clans is led by a knez, a leader elected for life from among the last knez’s offspring by their kin. The voivode, elected from the clan that bears the Touman Prince’s bloodline, holds council the knezi and makes decisions on matters bearing on all clans. Voivode Sangerel, the current leader, leads from the palace of what was once Carnelian’s richest aristocratic family, while the knezi have claimed the palaces of lesser families. It has been 20 years since conquest, and the Touman now stand divided. The rich and powerful are now wealthier than they have ever been, and they want to stay in Carnelian. The poor and marginalized want to return to their nomadic life, but haven’t the resources to depart alone.

Wake is not of the Touman, and she is not their ruler, but she has been part of their lives for decades. She is a Full Moon originally from the South, and she spent her early years fighting the Realm, but fell into despair at the losses her battles inflicted on her people. Her time with the Touman has been a respite from that. She joins them on the hunt, drinks and feasts with their nobles, spars with their children, all while completely refusing to take any authority over them. And yet, she is terrifying in battle and will not hesitate to wield her full might to aid the Touman. They welcome her as a friend and divine ally, and she has known many of their current leaders since they were children. While she does her best to avoid political entanglements, the knezi and voivode are careful not be seen opposing her, for fear of losing status. Ambitious warriors and leaders seek her favor, and once she supports a raid or war, few can argue with it. Several canny Touman clansfolk have advanced their causes by manipulating Wake. While they have occasionally made efforts to syncretize worship of the Lunar into their native faith the past few centuries, she resists any but most quiet veneration, as she doesn’t want religious authority, either. Her spirit and her willingness to fight the Realm have at last been rekindled, but her closeness to the Touman Clans has made her uncertain, causing her to delay her decision over whether to get the Touman to fight the Dynasty or to seek out a new people to lead. The vanishing of the Scarlet Empress is forcing her hand – if ever she can strike, it must be now. Sooner or later, she’ll have to get the Touman to abandon Carnelian and raid the satrapies across the White Sea.

The Touman are a loud, lively people. They wear brightly-colored, flower coats of fur trim, and their wagons are painted with scenes of their history, though most now sit outside the walls, unused in years. These aren’t realistic images, but artistic impressions with many bright colors and stylized forms, covering everything from Medoan origin myths and legends of fleeing Medo to meeting Wake or conquering Carnelian. Social life revolves around the Meets, communal parties and festivals that can last anywhere from one evening to several days. Drinks are frequent, deals are struck over rich meals and dancing and wrestling are both common, used to keep social disputes from escalating to violence. While the Meets were once held in large tents, they are now hosted in large Carnelian estates. Voivode Sangerel regularly hosts Meets for her knezi, plying them with drink and weed.

Carnelian, on the other hand, rose from the collapse of the Haywain Kingdom, which formed after the Great Contagion. While the other city-states of the kingdom fought each other, Carnelian focused inward and thus survived the internal strife that tore apart the others. Carnelianer culture focuses on the cycle of seasons, marking winter with bonfires and dance festivals about the spirits of wood and flame and spring with circle dances and processions honoring the gods. The wealthy enjoy hotboxing imported marijuana in closes chambers, then coming out to eat smoked and pickled delicacies. The Touman have brought change to them, and now colorful fabrics in flowing designs are highly fashionable, while artists are inspired by the stylized look of the Touman wagons. The Touman, on the other hand, have begun incorporating Carnelianer celebrations into the Meets and eating a lot of smoked fish and pickled vegetables.

Touman religion is focused on ancestor worship. On death, the body is burned and the bones interred by the whisper-priests to ensure their spirits will watch over their descendants. Living Touman offer prayer and sacrifices to the ancestral ghosts, who give counsel, blessings and spirit negotiations. Not all Touman become ghosts on death, and the ones that do most often are the ones whose families had the wealth to afford great sacrifices on their pyre and a stately interment. Still, with the shifting of clan fortunes, even the poorest Touman might have a long line of ancestral ghosts to call on, while a newly wealthy clan might not. The bones are carried on the journeys of the clans in grand, ox-drawn ossuaries, now interred in the temples of the old gods of Carnelian, both to honor the fallen and to claim dominance over the Carnelianer pantheon. The ancestors are no less drawn into the politics of wealth division among the Touman, as they are motivated by concerns for their kin and the tending of their bones. They counsel the knezi still, but where the ancestors formally spoke as one voice, they may now propose diametrically opposed futures even within the same clan.

While no god is revered as much as the ancestors, the Touman do worship spirits of the lands they’ve passed through. Most are short-term syncretisms, lasting only while in a god’s territory, but some minor rural deities followed after them, abandoning their old cults or bringing them with them. Most of Carnelian’s native gods have made similar bargains with the Touman, barring a few holdouts that hate the conquerors too much to ever do so. These have had their cults forbidden, and if they grow too forceful in their discontent, Wake sometimes gets involved personally. The Immaculates have sent missionaries to Carnelian, and they had some success before the Touman conquest. Wake led a warband to tear down their shrines, and her hatred of them has informed the Touman views on the Order. Their occasional efforts to return to Carnelian have not succeeded, and Wake managed to defeat a recent Wyld Hunt with the aid of a Touman honor guard when they came to drive out the Touman ancestor cult and the Lunar Anathema rumored to lead it. However, it was not done without great losses, and the Immaculates continue to send occasional missionaries that force Wake to keep a low profile to ensure they don’t realize she survived.

The Touman, traditionally polyamorous, had some cultural confusion when they began pursuing marriages with Carnelianers, for both political and romantic reasons. The Carnelianers saw polyamory as immoral, demanding strict monogamy, which broke from Touman tradition but allowed the clansfolk to consolidate social and political power after the conquest. These families became the new wealthy elites of Carnelian, taking the merchants’ profits into their own coffers and deviating sharply from the Touman traditions of clan-controlled wealth. Today, wealthy urban Touman demonstrate physical strength in sport rather than combat and buy Guild slaves rather than taking them in raids. The eldest children of their marriages are now coming of age, and they form the face of Carnelian’s societal division. Some want to remain and live in privilege, while others yearn for the nomadic life of their people’s legends. Touman whose traditionalism or poverty kept them from adapting and taking advantage of Carnelian’s wealth increasingly grow dissatisfied with city life and the growing gap of rich and poor. Where once they were warriors, scouts and horse breeders, they now have little to do in the cities. Rather than be free and equal, they must serve wealthier kin, which is an attack on both their honor and their purses. Old warriors hate seeing the offspring of rich nobles flaunt unearned prestige and money, yearning to return to the steppe and the equality it had for all Touman.

Voivode Sangerel dreams of empire, hoping she can rival the old Touman Prince. She pushes the knezi to support her aims for war with Thetra, the largest and richest of the city’s neighbors. She argues that those elders unfit for battle and those who are uninterested in further glory can stay home in their palaces, leaving the front to younger warriors seeking to prove themselves and claim their own wealth. Sangerel’s plan would be good for everyone (except Thetra, of course) and so it frustrates her endlessly that the council won’t commit. After all, are not their children and those of the poor alike raised to prize glory in battle, freedom and wealth? Are they not being kept from their chances to actually earn those things?

Every Touman traces their lineage back to one of the ancient clans that emigrated from Medo in centuries past, finding their place in society via their place in the clan. Each clan has its own unique culture and traditions, and while the knezi serve the voivode, they still pursue the disparate agendas of their clans. For most Touman, clan is determined by birth, though it is not unknown to adopt foreigners, orphans or children that just can’t fit in at all with their birth clan. The Diamandri trace their line all the way back to the Touman Prince, and so they rule by virtue of royal blood and political skill. For generations, all voivodes have been Diamandri, and the duties of clan knez are basically subsumed into that. The clan’s prestige is backed by immense wealth, and they have claimed the best of Carnelian’s manors as well as married heavily into the mercantile and aristocratic Carnelianer families that stayed. Young Diamandri are raised to lead, to trade and to be diplomats. They are traditionally trained to master the horse, bow and spear as well, but the family’s total adoption of city life means they’re not really as good at that any more, for the most part. Some of the new generation ride out regularly to raid and fight bandits, but others hardly leave the city.

The Fiaratan hate the idea of settling down, seeing Carnelian as an early grave. They despise the urban lifestyle, which they are ill-suited to temperamentally and wealth-wise. Most are semi-nomadic, living outside the walls to tend horses, cattle and sheep from the tent-cities just beyond the wall and in more distant pastures. They maintain the Wolf Market just outside the east gate, where they and other rural Touman trade in meat, wool and various crafts to merchants and city folk. Wealthy urban Touman tend to see them as backwards, parochial and stubborn, though useful travel guides and guards. Among the other rural and poor clans, however, the Fiaratan are revered as keepers of the traditions, and their master animal breeders and crafters are held in high regard for their mastery of traditional craft secrets that would otherwise be lost. Politically, the Fiaratan speak for a coalition of rural clans, taking the distaste of the city Touman as a badge of honor.

The Five Arrows occupy a middle ground, embracing both urban luxury and steppe exuberance. They fight, drink and celebrate wildly, no matter where they are. They are masters of mounted combat and archery, and they make an effort to get their kids out on horseback each summer to learn the old ways. While they respect their ancestors, like all Touman, they also hold Wake in special esteem as their patron, going as far as to model their fish-scale armor on her carp spirit shape. They honor her at every celebration, and their political goals are rarely any different than hers. They largely accept Wake’s desire not to be worshipped, but they have pledged to follow her no matter where she goes.

The Nevaz are sometimes said to be Touman in name only. Their ancestors were not Medoan, but neighboring allies of the Touman Prince and refugees picked up on the long trail north. Many clans have foreign blood, of course, but the Nevaz have not assimilated into Touman culture. Their clothes and mannerisms are strange, their accents unfamiliar, and they worship foreign gods as well as their ancestors. This often makes them distrusted and outcast among other Touman, and some make a living in the poorer parts of Carnelian as crafters, actors or peddlers, or work outside the city to maintain the herds. They are more comfortable with new things and less traditionalist than many clans, embracing all kinds of foreign art and craft as well as tactics. Nevaz shamans oversaw much of the negotiation with local spirits during the trek to the north, and their knowledge of many tongues is useful as adjuncts to Diamandri diplomats. They are heavily intermarried to the common people of Carnelian, who find them less foreign and objectionable than most Touman, if still invaders.

The Whisperers are the most prominent clan of the priestly lineages. They were ancient even in the time of the Touman Prince, and they tended the ossuary carts on the trip north. Today, those carts are abandoned outside the walls, and the Whisperers instead maintain the opulent temples where they have re-interred the bones. They teach their children history, funerary rites of both themselves and any enemy rites they know, and rhetoric and oratory. This is both to deal with the stubborn dead and to convince the living to obey the ancestors. A few coat themselves in silver and jewels, having become rich as intermediaries with the dead Carnelianers, but their clanfolk consider them heretics for selling their gifts for coin.

Minor clans include the Avakhorana, who are royal in that they are descended from a heroic ancestor that married the prince of the city-state Lausche in the early diaspora. They have often claimed the voivode should be of their clan, but when they finally contested an election a decade ago, the fighting decimated them. The survivors live outside Carnelian, trading and intermarrying with the rural clans, sometimes even the Fiaratan. They still resent their treatment and spread dissent against Sangerel and the Diamandri. The Iron Flame are renowned for producing medicine and strong beer, and they’re one of the few clans to listen at all to the Immaculate missionaries. They have few ancestral ghosts and they greatly recall the maladies set upon them by angry gods over the journey north, so they can see the appeal of the Order. Monks that stop by the area typically stay with them, and they have begun to adapt the Immaculate prayer calendar into their worship along with the worship of their few ancestors. There are no living Kuchinte, but their ancestors remain. Many of the ghosts are lorekeepers and storytellers, sharing their wisdom in exchange for worship from other clans. Others gain reputations for impartiality, for they lack living ties, and serve as arbiters for interclan disputes. Their practice of adopting foreign ghosts into the clan has become more common since arriving in Carnelian, getting them access to local secrets and lore, plus connections to adoptees. However, it’s also caused conflict among the dead, and there is currently a religious schism going on among the ghosts regarding certain tracts being spread in the Underworld and a trade war between the ghost merchant Fallen Rings and her living descendants.

Sangerel was a competent warrior during the conquest of Carnelian, but it was in administration that she outshone her fellows, earning her way to voivode. She has since dedicated herself and her not inconsiderable charm and intellect to cementing Touman power and wealth in the area, spending much of her time on visiting and parties with other Touman elders, Carnelianer nobles, Guild factors and so on. She dislikes the insecurity of steppe life compared to the luxury of the city, and she wants to expand Touman control of the area to preempt any efforts by neighboring city-states. She also works tirelessly to fight the rising sentiment that the Touman should return to traveling, especially with Wake, whom she is very close to.

Batbayer is the newly elected knez of the Five Arrows, after the death of her widely admired mother. She is very ambitious and tired of living in her shadow, having spent years raiding the neighboring peoples to earn glory, wealth and the loyalty of Five Arrows warriors. Other knezi still see her as inexperienced, though, and so she has been currying favor with Sangerel by throwing herself in behind the plans for conquest. Ganzorig, on the other hand, is the sick knez of the Fiaratan. He rose to power on his oratory skills and he is still a powerful speaker. He represents all the rural clans, advocating loudly for a return to the steppe and decrying Carnelian’s wealth and luxury as a poison to the soul. He rejects all middle ground, seeing his power as rooted in his extreme militance, and he fears dying insignificant and forgotten. Old age and infirmity have weakened him, but he refuses to abdicate to a younger knez.

Gerel is a knez that died on the journey north, but his ghost remains knez of the Whisperers. It’s unconventional but doable. He has become darker in undeath, sure, his heart is cold now, but he is still wise and eloquent. He died before they ever reached Carnelian, and he doesn’t really understand city life, despite his best efforts. He works hard to mend the rifts dividing the Touman, living and dead, and mediates as best he can between those that want to stay and those that want to leave, but his own bias makes it hard. Ambitious and progressive Whisperers are unhappy, arguing that if their undying knez will not retire to one better suited for the times, he must be taken out by force. Qori, knez of the Nevaz, is a diplomat and translator who married into one of the less prestigious Carnelianer merchant families. His standing at the council has made him a favorite of the Carnelianers, who see him as a sympathetic voice and advocate. He’s made quite a bit of money off that. He’s not liked by the other knezi, though, and it would not be unthinkable for one of them to have him murdered.

Iarda White-Glvoe is the high priest of Carnelian’s city father, the Queen of the First Vault, who is a proud god that refused to submit to the Touman. Iarda has led her cult underground, negotiating with Carnelianer nobles and gods alike to turn them against the Touman. She is a hero to the common people opposed to Touman rule, and her firebrand rhetoric has made her following grow immensely – faster, in fact, than that of the god she theoretically serves. Tearshape Love, the local Guild factor, is a fae-blood and the most successful slaver in the region, having made tons of money off the Touman conquest. Her supply of slaves has dwindled slowly over the years, but she figures that war will mean refugees, who are easy prey, and so she pushes the voivode to expand as much as she can.

Neighboring Thetra is Carnelian’s greatest rival in terms of power and wealth. The two cities have a shared cultural root, though Thetra has far more temples and shrines. The priests seized control when the Haywain Kingdom fell, clinging to power ever since. They are wealthy patrons of the arts, and the dockside markets are always busy. When the Touman invaded Carnelian, Thetra took in the fleeing nobles and merchants in exchange for their submission to the city’s rulers. A decade ago, a war to take back Carnelian failed against the might of the Touman horses, and today, Patriarch Tmolan is preparing more diligently than the last priest-king, preparing a strong navy and bargaining with neighboring cities and Guild factors for support before making a move.

The Touman sacked the ports of Solida and Snow Bay before they conquered Carnelian, and continued to raid them under the last voivode. Under Sangerel, this has evolved to demanding tribute. Either way, the two cities and their surroundings have been unable to recover at all, and the common folk struggle with poverty and famine, while even the rich are losing a lot of money. Banditry is common as the peasants grow desperate and mercenaries look for work while waiting for new wars. In the countryside, villages do their best to fortify. Several would happily set aside old rivalries with city-states like Thetra to fight the Touman, while others see little option but swearing fealty.

The Pale Steppe is the home of those Touman that refused to settle in or near Carnelian or who have since left. They still live as nomads, but their reduced numbers mean they are less able to raid, which has made their lifestyle less sustainable. They receive occasional aid from city Touman who want to leave Carnelian, but Sangerel and her supporters see them primarily as a pawn in her expansionist agenda.

Next time: Iscomay, Empire of the Bear


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Fangs at the Gate: BEARS

The empire of Iscomay is guarded by great wooden forts. Every few years, they build new ones along the Northeastern taiga to mark the new borders after their recent expansions and annexations. Behind the painted walls, the skies are filled with auroras and the land with standing stones, centered around the fertile glacial basin of Oma Valley. While many Iscomayari live as farmers in the sheltered lands, many more live in the scattered walled cities, nearly none more than a century old. Iscomay has changed quite a lot in a relatively short time, and it is unclear if their old traditions will survive – or if Iscomay itself will survive its own imperial hunger.

The Oma Valley sits along the shores of the Fang Lakes and the Northeastern forests. Centuries ago, the geomancers of Iscomay raised great pillars along the dragon lines of the region, redirecting the Fire and Wood Essence into the Oma Valley. Generations since have farmed the warm, fertile soil that resulted. The rivers are thick with trout and salmon, the woods full of wild game. While the neighbors may fear winter, Iscomay never does, and its rulers are eager to use their wealth of food as leverage. Many of their cities began as forts or outposts, and their capital, High Sila, is far from the oldest Iscomayari city. It has, however, been the royal seat of power for nearly 200 years. Its markets are full of food, stone and wood to feed the expansion, and many of its citizens, especially its scholars and artists, are from nearby nations, attracted by the wealth and safety. Others did not get a choice.

The House of Siladar has ruled Iscomay for centuries. They claim descent from the Shogunate’s Dragon-Blooded daimyos, though there’s essentially no truth to it. Instead, they are a Moon-Touched dynasty, descended from the Lunar True Voice, an ancient culture hero of the Iscomayari and a shaman. Most do not have the supernatural gifts of their early line and can be distinguished from normal people only by a tendency towards heavily muscled builds and being particularly hairy, though occasionally someone will be born with actual magic powers. Under their rule, Iscomay has become an empire, spreading its influence through the Northeast. The Siladars made treaties with their neighbors, trading them food for iron, gems, jade and slaves. As they grew rich, they built up more and more military power, and began aggressively conquering their weaker neighbors. After a few years of bad winters, they were even able to coerce their more potent neighbors into becoming tributaries, subduing resistance with bloody campaigns. Now, Iscomay is a powerful empire and many of its trade partners are independent in name only.

Conquered territories are incorporate as imperial provinces. The local prince or governing body are removed or executed, and a loyal governor is installed. The governor oversees administration and law in the province, including taxation, which is typically of food or resources rather than money, the consolidation of military power, and the enforcement of Iscomayari law and religion. Iscomayari geomancers hunt out demesnes in conquered territories so they can expand and empower the geomantic network that ensures the good climate of the Oma Valley. Building new manses is slow, however, and often lags far behind the Empire of the Bear’s borders. In recent years, Iscomay has allowed several nomadic peoples to shelter in the valley for the winter in exchange for tribute, which is often taken from the ransacked caravans of foreign traders.

While Iscomay’s wealth is their primary leverage, their army is not weak. It’s made mostly of elite janissaries, foreign-born slaves raised from childhood to serve the Siladar ruler and paid well for their loyalty. As the largest military force in the region, they’d be likely to win most conflicts even if not backed by Iscomayari mystics. However, the current rise in insurrection, banditry and foreign raids in response to Iscomay’s high taxes and oppressive traditions has overstretched their resources. Raising taxes to support a bigger military is aggravating the very problem it’s meant to solve. The military is largely organized geographically, with each province having an assigned bey whom all janissaries report to in the region. The janissary forces are infantry, cavalry and a river navy, all trained in multiple weapons. After a 25 year term, a janissary may retire with a military pension and a grant of farmland, often in a newly conquered territory. Janissaries are raised from childhood in Iscomayari culture and beliefs, trained to see the monarchs as their parents and the rest of the House of Siladar as their stern but beloved family. Their training is harsh, disciplined and socially isolated from the rest of society, with militant khojas serving as chaplains. Despite this, the importance of the janissaries to the empire’s growth and their prestige has resulted in great ambition among them and a certain amount of unrest, especially in their leaders. So far, janissary ambitions are focused on the interests of their children, who are born free rather than as slave-soldiers. Many of these children have earned high rank in the empire, with several marrying into the House of Siladar itself. This increased influence over the government is only pushing the current janissaries to try to claim more themselves.

The laws of Iscomay are codified in the Book of the Bear, written 300 years ago by shamans recording the epic traditions of the Iscomayari. Scholar-priests known as khojas assist the people in applying the Book to their everyday lives and make religious rulings on its nuances and interpretations. There is no formal hierarchy of khojas, with standing and authority determined by how other khojas regard them as well as the opinions of the community. Becoming a khoja requires tutelage in the Book from an established khoja for several years followed by a rite of passage in which the aspiring khoja must enter a bear’s den and commune with the totemic beast without being harmed. Many khojas are highly selective about their students, taking only those from powerful or wealthy families or those who show exceptional talent as mystics or geomancers.

The actual religion focuses on a local pantheon of gods, some of whom were worshipped before the Book and others added over time by decree of the khojas, headed by the Bear Avatar, the divine embodiment of all bears. The small gods are worshipped directly in most cases, but the Bear Avatar can only be worshipped through bears, which the Iscomayari name as his earthly emissaries and their culture’s totem. In the weeks before winter, they leave offerings of rich food, wine and water at bear dens, to feed them in the lean months. The Book of the Bear has many laws about when various spirits can be petitioned and for what. The laity can pray to them directly, but the khojas interpret the rules. Besides spiritual matters, the Book and thus the khojas govern all kinds of other topics, from dietary law to etiquette and decorum to contract law to agriculture and more. Iscomay imposes these laws on all territorial holdings, expanding the influence of the khojas as the empire grows.

Iscomay has highly sophisticated urban architecture due to the powerful geomantic tradition founded by True Voice. Nobles and merchants may live in buildings up to five stories tall, and even these are dwarfed by the Siladar palaces. Rural or poor Iscomayari have smaller homes, though many of the cities have started to replace poorer districts and slums with sprawling tenement complexes. When building their palaces, forts and madrasas, the Iscomayari consider it lucky to have a khoja ritualistically entomb a bear’s body under the foundation, that it might lend its strength to the stones. Their art is heavily focused on sculpture and carving, with miniatures showing bears, plants or traditional and historical scenes being common as decoration, whether from bone, wood or porcelain. The homes of the rich have elaborately carved facades showing allegorical stories from the Book of the Bear and military triumphs. Stelae in the city centers are engraved with sacred laws so that any citizen can read them, and wealthy nobles, janissaries and merchants are often interred under stone pillars carved with their lineage and deeds.

Iscomayari fashion tends to be lighter than other Northeastern peoples, largely due to the supernatural warmth of the valley, though as the Empire of the Bear has expanded, heavier garments have come into fashion for travelers. Pelts, claws and fangs of bears may only be worn by the House of Siladar, and the strict religious laws about when bears can be hunted means that only a minority of them actually bother to wear them. The meat of bears is also reserved for the royals, and only after strict ritual purification before eating. For the most part, Iscomayari nobles and rich merchants eat pork, mutton, goat and horse, supplemented with the many crops the valley produces. The poor usually don’t eat much meat except for pork. New dishes and spices are brought in from the provinces, with the wealthiest of course getting them first.

The teachings of the Book of the Bear were first laid out by True Voice, the No Moon who started Iscomay’s rise to power. 500 years ago, the people that would become the Iscomayari were meager farmers in a small valley, sheltering in caves for a long, hard winter each year. True Voice was of their people, a young khoja who Exalted. She used the lore of the Silver Pact and local spirits to teach the Iscomayari the secrets of geomancy, founded the House of Siladar and made the Empire of the Bear as a weapon against the Realm. She left Iscomay centuries ago, content with its development and focusing on dominions closer to the Realm. Despite her familial ties to the rulers, she feels no real affinity to her old homeland, having found deeper connections in the Pact. Now that the Realm is on the brink of civil war, though, she has returned and is planning to unleash the Iscomayari against the Realm’s forces alongside the other cultures she’s shaped. There’s only one problem: the House of Siladar has grown rather beyond her initial designs, and pushing it from its imperial ambitions to wage war on the Realm has proven much more difficult than she’d expected. While she cites ancient precedent she’d put in the Book of the Bear in anticipation of this, she has found that the interpretations favored by leading khojas are very different than her initial intent.

High Sila is a sprawling cosmopolitan city, where diplomats and Guild merchants buy Iscomayari luxuries in wealthy markets and treat with the House of Siladar. The child-emperor’s palace is full of courtiers and nobles that hope to sway the empire to their ends, while the khojas gather in beautiful madrasas to debate theology and advise the people. The river docks are always busy with merchants and naval ships, and foreign artists and philosophers have thronged to the city. Their foreign ways often disturb the khojas, and while heretical views have been driven underground, the monarchy is too busy expanding to notice the theological firestorm that may be brewing. The old capital, Karaqa, dates back to the first days of Iscomay, but has gone largely unused since then. The royals and most of the government deserted it for High Sila long ago, thanks to its more central location, forcing hundreds of commoners to come with them to work the fields. The unused old capital has become a home to squatters, criminals and bohemians, turning it into a sybaritic paradise of sin, publicly decried but privately enjoyed. The nobles want to reclaim it, but no one can agree on how to do so. The army is preparing to begin a city-wide purge of squatters to make way for peasant farmers relocated from elsewhere in the Empire. Karaqa is sprawling, dilapidated and crime-ridden; True Voice wants to claim High Sila as territory as well, but has yet to convince the local mortals and spirits to allow it.

Burdock is a ruin now. Twenty years ago, the king of the Iscomayari demanded extra tribute on top of its monthly grain quota, and the ruling council of the nation, already strained by the demands and their own angry people, failed to deliver. That fall, the crops failed and famine came, with merchants showing up to sell food at massively inflated prices. Those who could leave did. Those who couldn’t died. Iscomay picked up the pieces, integrating Burdock into itself, but the territory is still literally haunted by the ghosts of those who starved as well as remaining an awful place to live right now. The most crucial colonial holding for foreign trade is probably Spur, a city on the Fang Lakes coast. Centuries ago, Iscomay conquered it and drove out its tyrant, the raksha Meliash of the Emerald Mask. Now, it carries Iscomayari goods across the lakes and into the White Sea, bringing back all kinds of goods of the North, like ivory, furs and slaves as well as Haslanti mechanisms, feathersteel and rare magical goods. Rumors persist, however, that Meliash never left, and in the wake of several failed tax rebellions and the oppressive faith of Iscomay, the city’s more rebellious people have adopted their once-feared faerie queen as a symbol of defiance.

Storm’s Breach is a mining colony in a Fang Lakes estuary. It sends silver and gems back to High Sila, and it is very cold and plagued by bad weather, an unintended result of the Iscomayari geomantic engineering. The miners are largely the poor and dispossessed, who have taken on harsh labor to survive, but few are happy about it. A Northern Guild factor has come in to talk to the mining town’s leadership, promising them a better life if they will help the Guild gain control of the mines.

Ajurai Siladar II is the current emperor, still a child but with more potent Moon-Touched gifts than seen in the entire last generation. He is always followed by his familiar, a grizzly bear, and has strange insight into the spirit world. Despite his power, however, he is a naïve child, heavily influenced by his councilors, personal khoja and court in all matters of governance. He is unaware of how the many interests are manipulating him to maintain the expansion of the empire, and also unaware that True Voice wants to use him to turn the Empire of the Bear against the Northern satrapies.

Habja is the most renowned khoja of High Sila and Ajurai’s personal religious tutor. She is a fat, jovial and very strong woman who is extremely traditionalist in her interpretation of the Book. She urges the emperor to reform the lax enforcement of religious dogma in the newer colonies, and while she has many allies in court that share her zeal and social conservatism, she also has many enemies among the more liberal courtiers and the moderates that fear the crackdowns might weaken the control over the provinces needlessly.

Bey Isipho Spear-Grace is the commander of High Sila’s janissaries. She is a lean, scarred woman of dark skin and hair, and she was a respected captain even in the time of Ajurai’s mother, though she is remembered more for her historical deeds than her modern work. Despite her high rank, her ambitions have largely been overshadowed by the frontier province beys whose forces actually expand the Empire. Hers mostly put down rebels and bandits – far less prestigious. Her children and grandchildren, who are generally high-ranking ministers, merchants or khojas, have their own ambitions as well. Isipho schemes with her son Najukkan to place his wife, the royal cousin Wawarai Siladar, on the throne.

The khoja Qismai is controversial. He is a fiery preacher with impeccable knowledge of the Book of the Bear and good judgments, but his interpretations are often sharply different from consensus. He has condemned many aristocrats, even Siladars, for failure to care for the common people. He also favors a militaristic reading of key passages, though, that aligns with many powerful courtiers’ desires. Qismai’s relationship with Habja is contentious, and they rarely agree on anything except on the topics of imperial expansion and enforcement of religious law on the colonies. Habja’s enemies at court seek to cause a wedge between the two to prevent Habja from gaining Qismai’s popularity with the common people.

Nearby Sulat rebelled against Iscomay over taxes, murdering their governor and tax collectors in a mass uprising. They are now run by a descendant of their old royals and started to rebuild. Emperor Ajurai’s council disagrees on whether the rebels should be taken down with overwhelming force or if it’d be better use of time to expand into more profitable lands and leave Sulat to itself. The Urma nomads, meanwhile, have sheltered in Oma Valley for winter for decades now in exchange for tribute. For the rest of the year, they hunt and gather in the forests of the Northeast. Prior chieftains were happy to gather their tribute with fur trapping and raiding caravans, but the current leader, Spear of Evening, believes the Urma should keep their wealth for themselves and has begun secretly raiding Iscomayari merchants and military supply lines. Sulat has approached Spear in an attempt to recruit the Urma as protectors.

Dazul, on the shores of the Fang Lakes, are ruled by a demon bound in an obsidian idol. Its advice has brought them more wealth in the last few decades than any of their mortal princes ever did. The aristocrat exorcist-priests commune with the demon while ensuring it cannot escape its prison. They trade ivory, ambergris and silver to Iscomay in exchange for food, but their exports have recently lost value to Iscomayari expansion into regions that have the resources they’ve traditionally traded.

The Everwood’s alpine wilds have a prominent place in Iscomayari folklore. They are said to be home to man-eating beasts, deadly ghosts and bear-slaying witches that use unclean magic. They are also home to bandit gangs, though many of those fall prey to the inhuman perils of the wild forest. The khojas have long forbidden logging or hunting in the Everwood, though some merchants and aristocrats have found khojas that disagree and made ventures into the woods. Between the dangerous beasts there and the thick wood, they’ve had little success without even taking into account any theoretical mystical dangers.

Next time: The Nameless Lair of Ma-Ha-Suchi

It really is kind of silly how much they call it the Nameless Lair

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: It really is kind of silly how much they call it the Nameless Lair

The Nameless Lair of Ma-Ha-Suchi lies at the heart of his dominion, a treacherous and dangerous Southeastern jungle meant to cull the weak and temper the strong. It is just at the southern edge of the Scavenger Lands, but north of the wealthy Southeastern empires. It sits as a bulwark against Realm expansion from their coastal satrapies into the Southeast, though it also is known to raid its neighbors. Attempts to broker peace with the Changing Moon has historically been difficult, though he is a skilled negotiator and not against peaceful relations…on his terms.

The people of the Tangle, as Ma-Ha-Suchi’s domain is known, are the Chante-Sa, who live in the bright foliage and hunt it for meat, fruit, roots and greens. Survival isn’t easy, despite the plentiful resources, thanks to huge beasts, toxic plants and unstable ground. Even the Chante-Sa must be cautious and skilled or else they will die; invaders have even more trouble. The Chante-Sa shunned Ma-Ha-Suchi after their first encounter, centuries back. They saw him as a monster to avoid. In his efforts to sway them, Ma-Ha-Suchi turned to their gods, the Three Mothers. In exchange for driving off a swarm of soul-eating monsters that’d forced them out of their ancient temple-demesne, the Threefold Womb, and wounded them with unhealing scars, the goddesses proclaimed Ma-Ha-Suchi their champion and prophet, the Hand of the Mothers. The Chante-Sa have since accepted him not only as their god-king but their family, the beloved Undying Uncle.

Ma-Ha-Suchi now nurtures the Chante-Sa into warriors and leaders, ready to survive and fight the Realm when required. He governs with a strong hand and protects the Chante-Sa from any attempt by outsiders to enslave them, invade them or steal their resources. He does so with the aid of the Three Mothers still. First is Gap’Inan, the Hungry Mother, who claims the bodies of the dead and makes art from bone and vines. Second is Chuwe’Inan, the Lavish Mother, whose beauty is as bright as orchids and jungle frogs, but whose transfixing power can be lethal. Third is Mahni’Inan, the River Mother, whose turbulent waters both drown and nourish.

The Chante-Sa are divided into three bands – the Band of Bones, the Flower Band and the River Band – each of which claims one Mother as their patron, though all worship the trio together. They have always been more like three related peoples than one people, united largely by proximity and religion. Ma-Ha-Suchi has tried to unify them by fostering common laws and customs, but some divisions remain. Each band is led by an inan, a leader chosen by the band’s favored god. The inan assembles a council of advisors to delegate authority over various matters to, though specifics vary. The inan’s appointment by the Mothers invests them with spiritual authority, but not exhaustively. The priests and shamans may contest the inan on religious matters. Ma-Ha-Suchi and his beastfolk followers are respected but not slavishly obeyed. The Hand of the Mothers is equal to the inans, but not superior.

Depending on the land, a band will hunt, gather, fish and farm small plots around their settlement. They raise a wide variety of grains, tubers and fruits, and use both animal hides and plant fibers for clothing, with garments varying based on local needs and band traditions. Worship of the Three Mothers is via communal prayer, offering up sacrifices ranging from beautiful flowers of the Tangle to great beasts taken in the hunt. Chante-Sa art is mostly religious, heavily focusing on music, dance, mystery plays and religious tattoos. Funeral rituals involve eating the dead, that the living may gain some of their experiences and Gap’Inan can see the soul into the next life. They do not eat the flesh of outsiders, which would be a terrible blasphemy, punishable by death or exile.

The Band of Bones are cave-dwellers, also called the Gap. They revere Gap’Inan over all else and live mostly in the caves on the eastern edge of the Tangle, where they have made elaborate towns carved into the cave walls. The caves are generally on foothills hidden by the jungle, though the towns extend under the earth. They are kept safe from dangerous beasts by the cave networks, which are illuminated by bioluminescent fungi, insects and vine roots that come in from the roofs. The walls are decorated by skulls painted with a special mixture that causes the glowing fungus to grow on them. The Band of Bones are heavily isolationist and avoid the other Chante-Sa when they can. They come out to tend small terrace farms and to forage or hunt, but they fiercely ward intruders away with ambushes of javelin and poison dart. Even other Chante-Sa are driven off unless vouched for by one of the Gap.

The Flower Band, or Chuwe, take Chuwe’Inan as their chief god. They live in the central Tangle, where the giant siti-moi glowers grow. These blossoms grow to the size of elephants, and the Chuwe artisans use secret techniques to turn the bright petals and sepals leather-hard. The thorny vines of the flower are as thick as tree trunks and form giant tangles that protect the hidden Chuwe villages. The Flower Band know the jungle itself better than the other bands, and they are the finest herbalists and hunters in the Tangle. They use hidden northern and southern paths to trade petal-leather, furs and other goods with neighboring tribes or even Threshold merchant trading posts. These traders also serve as guides in the surrounding lands, though they will only lead people through the Tangle proper with permission from the inan or Ma-Ha-Suchi.

The River Band, or Mahni, pray to Mahni’Inan above all and make their living on the western edge of the Tangle via the river known as Mahni’Inan’s Blood. It has a strong red color due the mud of the banks. The river is said to be the menstrual flow of Mahni’Inan, while the mud is castoff from her womb. For the Mahni, the river water and mud are the raw stuff of creation. They build their homes from mud and make elaborate, labyrinthine pottery with it. Their houseboats move up and down the river to hunt and fish, gathering in small port towns on the banks. The people of the ports supplement their farms and fishing with hunting and gathering and also raiding the people outside the Tangle. The River Band are the most populous of the trio, providing the most warriors to defend the Tangle and raid for Ma-Ha-Suchi. They also feed most of the Chante-Sa, trading their surplus to the Band of Bones for metalwork and the Flower Band for medicine and foreign goods. Mahni warriors are often arrogant, lording their importance over the other bands, which does not make them well-liked.

Before Ma-Ha-Suchi, the three bands fought all the time over…well, just about anything. As one of his first acts as Hand of the Mothers, Ma-Ha-Suchi instituted the Blood Seasons to bring peace. Every fourth new moon, the bands gather and each inan declares how she’s going to provide for the people, then names four champions from her band who will go out into the world and enact her will. That squad then heads out to perform seven tasks proclaimed by the Three Mothers by the next full moon, ranging from slaying great beasts to gathering rare herbs from the Threefold Womb to raiding neighbors for valuables to pranking Ma-Ha-Suchi. Whichever squad manages the tasks first wins the season for their inan. If the Flower Band wins, it is the Season of Flowers, and the Flower Band lead the people, which usually means increased trade. If the River Band wins, it’s the Season of Storms and lots of raiding happens. If the Band of Bones wins, it is the Season of Bones and the Chante-Sa focus on construction and infrastructure. If none succeed, the eldest beastfolk lead the Season of Hunts, mounting a major organized raid with all three bands to attack Realm satrapies.

The Nameless Lair proper is a huge, blocky thing of gray stone, draped in vines and moss, at the edge of a lake in the jungle. It was a minor First Age fortress once, its name long lost. Now, it is home to the goatfolk and wolf-folk that serve Ma-Ha-Suchi. They practice fighting constantly, singing and praying to the jungle gods. It is both Ma-Ha-Suchi’s capital and home, and he has converted a former planning chamber into a meeting and audience hall, albeit a rarely used one. It is hung with tapestries and moonsilver artifacts to impress visiting Pact members. The barracks have been made a fairly luxurious communal living space for Ma-Ha-Suchi’s students and Lunar visitors, but his own chambers are plain and ill-cared-for, meant to just be a dark, quiet place for him to be alone. The catacombs in which the beastfolk champions are entombed after death, as are any fallen students, are no less grim. The Chante-Sa consider the place a location of holy terror. It is approached only in direst need, when they must ask Ma-Ha-Suchi for aid directly. He doesn’t resent their petitions or stop Lunar visitors, but he has no patience for any other trespassers. Realm legions sent to the area rarely make it through the Tangle, but more than one Wyld Hunt has reached his doorstep, forcing him to come out and fight in its defense.

Many of the Chante-Sa’s most ancient rites revolve around the Threefold Womb and the blessings the Three Mothers grant there. Ma-Ha-Suchi gave them a new way to serve alongside him and earn prestige, the Path of the Mother’s Hand. Any Chante-Sa may walk the path by going to the Threefold Womb and undergoing brutal combat testing, exposure to the elements, the consumption of poison and hallucinogens, sleep deprivation and starvation. At the end of the Path, those who survive are transformed. It is spoken of as a sacred death and rebirth in which Ma-Ha-Suchi is both psychopomp and doula, pulling them screaming from the Threefold Womb and splitting their soul’s caul so they do not smother, then giving them a place among his beastfolk. They are no longer of the band of their birth, having been reborn to a higher calling. Those who gain victory by resourcefulness, keen minds and determination are reborn as goatfolk, their skulls gnarled by great horns. Those who succeed by raw might become sharp-clawed wolf-folk. New beastfolk are brought into the elite beastfolk ranks to learn the ways of Ma-Ha-Suchi’s champions and their duties. The goatfolk are often called on as arbiters, planners, strategists, crafters or shamans, and every inan has a goatfolk advisor that gives policy advice and speaks to Ma-Ha-Suchi on their behalf. The wolf-folk are elite hunters, feeding the Chante-Sa in lean times and guarding the Lair against intrusion. Most outsiders who deal with the Chante-Sa deal with at least one of the beastfolk, either a goatfolk diplomat that speaks for an inan or Ma-Ha-Suchi or a wolf-folk warrior. The untransformed Chante-Sa that accompany these champions wear decorations and helms made from beast skulls, never revealing their faces, which leads many to believe the Nameless Lair is exclusively populated by beastfolk. The Nameless Lair is isolated, well-defended and terrifying, while the Threefold Womb is uplifting, holy and arduous.

Mahiya is a deeply spiritual woman who has risen swiftly in the Flower Band thanks to her keen eye and good taste in picking sacrifices to Chuwe’Inan. The goddess likes her and has spurred her on to ever more aggressive trade deals in order to obtain the luxuries both crave. Her husband, Red Cat, is an excellent merchant that apprenticed with the Guild for several years. Their combined skill makes them nearly unbeatable when trading with their neighbors, and some, especially among the River Band, resent them for their ability to make everyone else come out behind. There may or may not be a plan in the works to violently recoup their losses.

Aan Jandar is the inan of the River Band. He grew up during famine, and he has never forgotten the hunger that made his body weak. His childhood malnourishment means he’s no good at fighting, but he is an excellent strategist and his raid plans have ensured the band’s prosperity. However, his obsessive focus on survival and victory makes him bad at diplomacy, and despite his council’s advice, he’s done little to deal with grievances or resentments against other bands. Some of his advisors now conspire to get Mahni’Inan to replace him with one of their number before the feuds of the River Band destroy the peace.

Greenheart leads the Band of Bones due to her wise judgment, philosophical nature and thaumaturgical skill, a blessing granted to her by the Hungry Mother. Under her leadership, the Gap have begun increasingly numerous and daring raids on the neighboring nations, bringing skulls back to Gap’Inan and wealth to adorn their caves. This has caused problems with the River Band, who see the Gap raids as infringing on their traditional dominance and wealth access.

Uakka, a goatfolk shaman, is among the eldest of his kind. He is famous for his cunning and wit in dealing with the supernatural, mediating conflicts between the Chante-Sa and the Tangle’s lesser spirits, such as jungle gods, elementals or fae. He occasionally gets Ma-Ha-Suchi’s Lunar students to help out with more powerful spirits. He takes few students himself, and many goatfolk dislike when he takes River Band shamans as acolytes. They whisper that he is more loyal to the River Band that birthed him than to Ma-Ha-Suchi.

Six Day Storm is a scarred and deadly wolf-woman hunter and charismatic commander. She has been entrusted by Ma-Ha-Suchi with the defense of the Chante-Sa against outsiders and with planning raids on the Realm’s forces when the Season of Hunts comes around. She takes spouses from the warriors that serve her, and rarely has fewer than seven husbands at any given time. Despite her skill, she has been banned from returning to the Threefold Womb for some long-ago insult she gave to Chuwe’Inan, and she still holds a grudge over that.

The Vuloth are woodworkers of great skill as well as apothecaries, and they are one of the oldest trading partners of the Flower Band, offering their wares for petal-leather and plants. A number of prominent Vulothi have actually intermarried with the Chuwe. Occasionally the River Band raids them, especially now, under Aan Jandar. Mahiya has tried to negotiate peace with her fellow inan and the Vuloth, but so far, Aan Jandar has been ignoring her entirely. Immaculate missionaries have reached out to the Vuloth to offer assistance against raiders serving the hated Anathema Ma-Ha-Suchi.

Amajul was once the site of a powerful civilization north of the Tangle, but now it is a ruin, it’s peoples driven off by the raiding of the Chante-Sa. Only wild beasts and spirits dwell there now, in the empty ziggurats, plus the occasional traveler daring enough to stay in old ruins. Nearby Point Sunder is a major trading post for the merchants of the Threshold, a gate to the Vaniwayan River that heads to Prasad and the Dreaming Sea. It is often a target of Chante-Sa raids as a result. The local Guild prince and leader of the Gilded Peacock Consortium, Luvali Faja, has had the outpost fortified by mercenaries and an Exigent champion at great expense. Other merchants that seek to travel through it must now pay high protection fees, as the Gilded Peacocks seek to recoup their investment as well as protect their Prasadi trade.

Next time: Mahalanka

APE LAW, Part the Second

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Fangs at the Gate: APE LAW, Part the Second

Mahalanka lies in the deep Eastern forests. It is built around Sperimin, a mass of First Age metal and glass, jutting even over the forest canopy in its highest towers. In ancient days, it was a metropolis, and even now, it is a place of ancient wonders. Travelers rarely see it, however, for Mahalanka, the City of a Thousand Golden Delights, is closely guarded. It is the home of the devil-empress Raksi and the Thousand Fangs Army, and it is the center of her Thousand Fangs Army Total Control Zone. Even the Realm dares not trespass on her distant stronghold. Sperimin did not truly fall until the Contagion, it should be noted. During the Shogunate, it remained a hub of scholarship, if lessened and battered by internal strife. Raksi and Ma-Ha-Suchi seized the city after the Contagion, to use as their base against Lookshy and the Realm. When the dispute between the two became violent, the battle laid waste to the city, which was already crumbling from old and decaying infrastructure. Raksi drove Ma-Ha-Suchi from Sperimin and claimed the ruins as her domain, raising Mahalanka from the wreckage.

The city is a place of glory and terror, like Raksi herself. It is a sprawling metropolis on the banks of the Turquoise River, with great swaths of farmland carved out beyond its borders. The deforestation only makes the ruins of Sperimin stand out even more, though many of the overgrown towers are toppled and broken in the middle of the many-storied new city of wood, brick and sandstone. The construction is no less sophisticated than Nexus or the Imperial City, with massive stepped cisterns providing running water and wastewater sent to irrigate and fertilize the fields. The broad and even roads extend into the forest, moving goods to markets and storehouses. Some of this is highly sophisticated engineering, but sorcerous might also plays a role. Infinitely flowing fountains drive waterwheels and mills, while the foundries and glassblowers use bound fire elementals, and sorcerous wards repel disease and vermin from the crops.

On the street level, Mahalanka is vibrant and thriving. Residents and visitors crowd the streets, dressed in vivid patterns amid elaborately decorated facades and merchant-packed plazas full of all manner of goods. In the evening, red paper lanterns with traditional black and silver markings light the streets. Large extended families live in farmhouses, tenements and manors, depending on location and social class. Groups of elders run these families, arranging marriages and jobs for the youths. Even participating in Raksi’s transformative, mystical trials requires the approval of the family elders, unless personally invited by the Lunar god-queen. Those who pass the trials leave their birth families to join the elite beastfolk caste that rules Mahalanka, but most retain some ties to their blood kin. The city runs on a mixed economy, with the bureaucracy taking a share of all grain, textiles and ore, which they collect and redistribute as needed, but workers also earn wages to spend on luxuries or extra staple goods. Mahalanka itself is prosperous, decadent and sorcerous, and Raksi maintains a number of other territories throughout the Total Control Zone.

A low wall surrounds an irregular area of greenery at the heart of the city. Here, among carefully tended parks and fenced off wilds, are the arcology-towers of old Sperimin. The tallest are over a hundred stories tall, but most are broken in at least part, and even the intact ones bear the scars of the ages. Vines crawl through their shattered windows, and guano-covered balconies are home to doves and mospids. The greatest of the towers is the Silurian Highvault, where the masters of the First Age studied sorcery. This is Raksi’s personal laboratory and vault of secrets. Its lower levels are full of bound spirits and guardian automata, with terrible winged monsters watching over its many balconies. In the upper reaches, which only Raksi and a few trusted followers may access, the witch-queen performs her greatest sorceries and hides her mightiest artifacts, the greatest of all being the Book of Three Circles.

The nearby Halcyon Spire was once Sperimin’s chief and most luxurious residential district, and it is here that Raksi dwells in unimaginable splendor. Apefolk attendants and foreign slaves wait on her constantly, providing for her every desire. She feasts on delicacies and watches ever more intricate entertainments by the finest actors, dancers and acrobats. Glass cabinets display art objects and war trophies, and the Hall of Scarlet Triumphs is home to the jade panoplies of a dozen slain Dragon-Blood champions. Raksi’s most honored guests, her followers or visiting Lunars, stay in the guest quarters in the Sanctum Concordant, full of glass-walled art galleries and concert halls that once drew audiences from across the East. Ancient automata maintain a handful of suites in the finest luxury, but the rest of the tower is dust-caked, revealing the many footprints of visitors exploring the forgotten halls.

North of the Devil-Queen’s Garden, as the old city is known, is the Paper Fortress, where the wealthy and powerful beastfolk families live in compounds around the fortified government buildings. As the river gets nearer, these give way to the tenements of lesser officials and government workers, as well as the shops, restaurants and markets that serve their needs. Scattered throughout are the academies, courthouses and ministries. At the center of the Paper Fortress is the Chancery Tower. Its upper reaches are largely collapsed, but the lower areas are used as a meeting place for the Golden Fang Triad, the three chancellors to whom all ministries report. They handle all major government matters, reporting only intermittently to Raksi, who prefers a hands-off approach to rule. Of course, major or willful errors may draw her sudden and terrible wrath.

Dread Arbiter Eskrin Fal is the high judge and chief enforcer of Mahalankan law, and she also oversees the academies, religious affairs and civil examinations of the city. She is a passionate legal scholar who is often frustrated by Raksi’s random whims, and she’s done her best to constrain the effects they can have by codifying and reforming the legal code without actually contradicting Raksi openly. She is rigorous in enforcing criminal law and rather less willing to take bribes than past Dread Arbiters, which makes her rather unpopular, so she is always surrounded by bodyguards and poison tasters. Beloved Guardian Jakun Qobal oversees commerce and finance as well as the welfare of the people, ranging from festivals and public works to the daily dole of necessities. He is a young minister that studied the archives of Sperimin under Raksi and now seeks to apply First Age political and economic theory to Mahalanka. He would like to replace both slavery and paid labor with bound demons, abolish families for a planned society, and more. His agenda goes against the conservatism of the other two Triad chancellors, though, as well as their subordinates, who argue that they risk undermining both ancient traditions and battle-readiness against the Realm. Thousand Fangs General Feroz Kutari is old now but still directs the Army and serves as chief spymaster for Raksi. He is a logistical genius, spending much of his life tinkering with the structure and operations of the Thousand Fangs Army to maximize efficiency. He’s often mocked by the apefolk soldiers, however, who call him the Toy Soldier General, unaware of the many counterintelligence officers he has planted amongst them.

The Thousand Fangs Barracks district houses the standing army, centered on the First Age tower known as Devil’s Maw Citadel. Once a school of military history, a stone fortress has been built around its base over the centuries. Here, the apefolk train to join the officer corps by studying leadership, strategy, tactics and weapons. Several additional compounds sprawl out from it to house the thousands of non-beastfolk soldiers as well. Around these barracks, tenements house both the longstanding military families and all kinds of shopkeepers that cater to them. Off-duty soldiers party in the teahouses and plazas at all hours, blowing off steam between jobs. Jobs might include training, guard duty or patrols and raids at the borders of the Total Control Zone.

The Smoke-Coils form the heavy industry district, which ring with noise from sunrise to sunset. The many workshops, tanneries and mills produce all kinds of goods, from weapons to furniture to glassware to paper and more, both for use in the city and export through the Total Control Zone. Wagonways keep it connected for transport of raw materials and finished goods. Other nations would be astounded by how productive the district is. The immense strength of the apefolk laborers allows them to carry loads and use tools that ordinary mortals would need teams to manage. The oldest part of the district is centered on the Grand Axis, a fallen tower repurposed even though it lies at a 90 degree angle. The windows are now doors, the old floors are walls separating businesses, and ladders provide access through the structure. Centuries of construction around the tower have built up on its sides and upper surface, in some places entirely concealing the original structure. The tenements are more dense around the industrial buildings than anywhere else in the city, to house both the workers and the service industry that caters to them. Further, this is where the government offers housing for the poor, indigent or unemployed, as the noise and stench make those who have the power to choose want to live anywhere else. Thanks to the poverty and stress, crimes of passion and desperation are far more common here than any other part of the city.

The Roaring Market is the chief commercial district, covering most of the waterfront near the Smoke-Coils. The original Roaring Market is a massive public square, displaying all the goods of the Total Control Zone, from the ironware of the city to the batik of nearby Umbergrove to the cacao of Ixcoatli and other treasures of the Dreaming Sea. The district is full of other plazas and bazaars, most specialized in specific trades or merchandise. Tenements, hostels and manors are home to the many social strata of the district, from simple hawkers to merchant princes to mercenaries.

Beyond, snaking between the tenements, is the Road of Idols, where the apefolk build their shrines and temples to the gods. Here, altars to pretty much any god worshipped in the Total Control Zone can be found, from the eternally-disemboweled harvest god Xachapal to Chain Sky of the lapis lazuli mask to Sogame, the blind forge-tender. It is also home to Mahalanka’s own gods and their temples, like the ancient city father Leshka, the deified hero-apeman Sagarin Rabul who is the war god of the Thousand Fangs Army, or the cat-god and granary guardian Amber Agunda. However, there are no shrines to Raksi. She demands worship in person and rarely visits the Road of Idols, after all. When she does, it is usually to get the gods to do something for her, like increase crop fertility, bless the military in war or similar. More rarely, she might intervene in the temple power struggles just to remind the spirits of who is really in charge.

The paved roads fan out from Mahalanka, and while the largest head through the forest to the rest of the Total Control Zone, most lead to the satellite towns that form Outer Mahalanka. Each has its own small government offices, temples and barracks, plus a wall or palisade for defense. Roads fan out from them to the farming villages, logging camps and mines. Warehouses, wainwrights and stables in the outer towns are almost always busy, fueling the city’s constant need for goods and food. Only a small proportion of the Outer Mahalankan population are beastfolk, largely the leaders of the ministries and garrisons. Most extended families have blood ties to at least one apefolk, though, and they often visit to see their old kin and receive gifts and celebration to honor them for their proximity to the devil-queen, both beloved and feared. While the towns and villages may seem interchangeable to outsiders, they have very strong local identity. Shattergreen, birthplace of Thousand Fangs General Kutari, holds a yearly festival in his honor. Kutri is home to the raksha Daughter-of-Pox, who toils endlessly to count specks of dirt and soil as penance for some ancient offense against Raksi. Yevane loves ghost stories about the First Age ruins outside it, making a good bit of money by charging outsiders for the privilege of scavenging a site that they long ago took anything useful from.

Technically, the Thousand Fangs Army refers to all of Raksi’s beastfolk. In Mahalanka proper, almost all of these are apefolk, between those who pass Raksi’s trials and their children and descendants. Other types of beastfolk are more common in other parts of the Total Control Zone, and while rarely seen in the city, they are given equal respect. Apefolk form the city’s elite caste, with each wearing an elaborate badge that denotes role and rank, whether soldier, bureaucrat, scholar or priest. Mahalankan law allows any beastfolk to punish non-beastfolk at their discretion for all kinds of crimes, including disobedience to lawful orders from beastfolk. These punishments can be cruel and flamboyant, as a way to enforce authority, but this is slightly mitigated by the fact that if Raksi finds out and decides a punishment is excessive, she will inflict the same fate on them. Raksi has a number of testing grounds for aspiring apefolk through the Total Control Zone – nearly every demesne or patch of Wyld In her domain has a testing site, in fact. Each has its own unique trial, from the trap-laden, darkness-filled labyrinth of the Death Pits of Bhaga to the crocodiles and mosquito swarms of Oju Bog to the maddening riddles of the Oracle of Six Torches.

On passing their trial, new apefolk leave their families to be adopted into one of the city’s apefolk clans. Most still favor their birth families, of course, especially because the family elder’s permission is needed to take the trials. Even within the Army, though, there is a caste system. Apefolk elevated by the trials are seen as more capable and driven than those born to the role, and receive preferential promotion over their peers. Born apefolk must go to great lengths to prove themselves equally capable.

The Total Control Zone comprises a grand empire of numerous Eastern cultures brought under Raksi’s command. The main thing they all have in common is the power of Raksi in their lives. Almost all of the cultures within the Zone see her as benevolent to some degree – a culture hero that shares wisdom, a judge that mediates disputes, a witch-queen that uplifts the worthy as apefolk champions, a goddess whose magic ends famine and drought. However, Raksi also loves the role of the monster, and she uses the terror she causes to teach the cultures under her. To some, she’s a flesh-eating devil that loves to eat sinners and liars, while others speak of her cursing men to the form of beasts or cursed spirits for breaking her law, and others warn their children that they will be given to Raksi for misbehaving. Swearing oaths by the Queen of Fangs is common practice, for few are fool enough to break such a vow.

In times of danger, the peoples of the Total Control Zone may petition Raksi for aid. There are strict rules about these requests, which require that a clan or kingdom send a single messenger to Mahalanka, who must present themselves at the gates of Old Sperimin for audience. Apefolk ensure the petitioner receives food, water and any medical care needed after the hard journey, but they have only one hour of audience to make their plea. Some petitions are ignored, while others Raksi gives to her students to deal with. Sometimes, however, she leaves Mahalanka personally to solve the problem, living and walking amongst the people. In one such trip, she pulled the River Raksi from the dry earth to end a drought, and in another she awakened the ancestral statues of the M’nenda to defend them against slavers, and in another she raised the city Kivyat to the sky when floods threatened it. She never asks any payment, for what can mere mortals give for such a wonder?

The Sky Runner nomads, led by the apefolk chief Cunning Finds Iron, hunt and trap monkeys, deer and other beasts and raid their neighbors for slaves, which they sell to the Guild caravans on the western edge of the Total Control Zone. This has caused a number of conflicts, especially with the Red Scars, Get of the Tigress and Devil Braids, who have forsworn slavery at the command of Raksi’s lieutenant, Dark Eyes. Then you have the Endless Branch, led by the shaman Jaciral, who was maimed in her youth by a demon accidentally loosed by one of Raksi’s less skilled students. Raksi, in a brief fit of compassionate whim, blessed Jaciral. She would never walk again, but she can now loose her spirit to travel invisibly. She has never revealed this gift to her clan, which makes her knowledge and foresight mysterious to them. Jaciral is grateful for the gift, and so she urges worship of Raksi, which has complicated dealings with the clan gods.

Zanzannec is a wealthy city-state that has long traded ivory, salt and gems to Mahalanka but only recently became a tributary after a mass pandemic. They were inducted into the Total Control Zone as the price for Raksi’s aid, and a rebellion by newly transformed apefolk ousted their old government and installed Piradu Sarap as the new governor. Now, Piradu has been challenged by Talarai Gom, a lesser royal cousin of the old regime who has successfully passed Raksi’s trials and is now rallying popular support in preparation for a petition to Raksi for restoration of the throne. Then there’s Yellow-Eyed Rock, where the apefolk exiles and deserters gather. It is an eerie, Wyld-touched place where they can find shelter from pursuers. The local shaman Thunder Wisdom has brokered peace with the local Fair Folk, but even he can’t prevent the Wyld mutation among the exiles. The eldest can barely be recognized as apefolk any more, with their bodies encrusted in crystal, calcified into living stone or dissolved into somewhat amorphous sand.

Raksi’s influence is not limited to the Total Control Zone. The Court of Thorns’ spirits, such as the blood-weeping Nemaxi, the many-wolf-headed Lykarrit the Guide or the wood elemental Drinks-the-Day, rule over the Gharan Forest. The trees choke out the light and the wolves and bears menace travel, but a caravan the bears Raksi’s sigil may pass unharmed, for the Queen of Fangs has subdued or befriended the most powerful gods of the court with her power.

Oloqui is a tributary of the Ixcoatli, but near enough to the Total Control Zone to trade with them and raid them. The city’s serpentfolk governor has encouraged increased raids in order to meet the Ixcoatli demands for tribute and slaves. However, the raitonfolk lieutenants stationed there are very wary of the strength of the Thousand Fangs Army, and they think negotiations with Raksi are the wiser decision.

Next time: The Eskari of the Burning Sands

Nomad Power

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Fangs at the Gate: Nomad Power

The Eskari are camel-riding nomads from the savannas of the Burning Sands, known for their herding of goats, camels and yeddim. However, they have only become nomads in the last few centuries; before, they lived in the city-state Eskaridam, a major trade center and place of learning. Eskaridam resisted the Realm’s diplomats, uniting the local cities and clans into a military coalition, but when the Realm broke the alliance in the field, they burned Eskaridam to the ground in a show of force. This convinced most of the others, including the last independent Varangian city-states, to submit as satrapies. Only a handful of Eskari families escaped the purge, using spirit gifts and thaumaturgy to survive in the deserts. As nomads, they became herders and gained renown as camel masters. They learned how to live with the sands, moving from water to water. Today, a single Eskari community is made of a few interwoven families and their herds, with about 500 people and three times that many camels. That’s about the maximum number still able to pick up and move quickly, allowing them to not deplete the resources they depend on.

The Eskari are matrilineal, focusing heavily on the family. This usually centers on one mother and her one or two husbands. When two Eskari of the same sex marry, one takes on the matron role and the other takes on the lesser role of husband, with their families negotiating heavily over which will be which. Mothers, or mamas as the Eskari call them, organize the household duties and serve as primary decision-makers. They arrange their sons’ marriages, prioritizing wealthy connections and prestigious families. Men are expected to herd, raid and tend the camels, with two-husband households alternating which tends camels and which takes care of the home. If a mama dies, her eldest daughter takes up the role. If no daughter is available, a sister does it, absorbing the family into her own. Extended families, made of the families of female descendants of common ancestry, are overseen by the eldest woman in the family and her husbands.

The heart of Eskari culture remains the flight from Eskaridam. Fear of the Realm’s persecution runs deep, making them fearful of settling down in one place. Even those clans that don’t wander can’t really escape the fear that the Realm will destroy them, and Varonikh settlements tend to be heavily fortified, while the Vevyehn exclusively settle in riverside towns so they can be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. The idea of finding “a new Eskaridam” is often spoken of, though it is not agreed on what such a paradise would be like. The Dzhenifa believe it can only be found by augury, while the Vevyehn believe their territory is it, and the Tezelyke believe the clans must reclaim old Eskaridam. For many, the quest for a new Eskaridam is a religion, and founding it a sacred duty, while opposing the Realm is a holy crusade.

Herding is central to Eskari life. Unmarried youths and married husbands weave camel and goat hair into fabric for clothes and trade, and when a woman marries a second time, the first husband passes this duty on to the second. Camel, goat and yeddim milk is drunk and used to make butter, yogurt and kashk. The meat of all three animals is a delicacy, but they are only slaughtered for celebrations or specific seasons. Yeddim meat is heavily spiced to avoid the gamy scent. Flour and both purchased and wild plants are used to supplement this diet. Storytelling is their primary art form, with each clan having favored genres and topics. Historical stories about Eskaridam are part of all of them, though enough time has passed to cause significant variations. Also popular are the “Zamisha stories,” cautionary tales casting the Lunar Zamisha as a folkloric devil whose torments can only be avoided by the clan’s customs and taboos, often based on embellished but true events. Physical art is primarily jewelry, ornate mantles and pottery, as these can be easily transported, though the less nomadic clans also sculpt stone and weave tapestries to depict oral history.

Modern Eskari religion has changed a lot since leaving Eskaridam. Each clan claims patronage of a specific tutelary deity, venerating them with secret rituals and receiving unique divine gifts. Some of these gods came with them from Eskaridam, like Damet, the cat-headed god of granaries, the well-goddess Nyozun or the many-handed market god Loksha. These have taken on new roles in the new Eskari, with Nyozun now blessing efforts to find oases and Damet overseeing the herds. Others were encountered after leaving, such as the fierce wind god Glass Razor. Each clan worships the tutelary gods of the others, for the most part, as patrons of the Eskari as a whole. Each clan also offers propitiation to Smiling Zamisha in an effort to ward off her evil, but none claim her as patron.

Smiling Zamisha is a Lunar, a Changing Moon trickster and member of the Silver Pact. She found the Eskari only after they’d gotten used to herding. She was born in a Realm satrapy, Exalting during an insurgent raid she was leading against the satrap. She fought fiercely, but her newfound power was no match for the Wyld Hunt that was sent to put her down. She barely escaped alive, thanks to a Silver Pact envoy that showed up just in the nick of time, and she wept to learn of the mass crucifixions of the members of her failed uprising. That made her a strong supporter of the Pact’s cause, and she will do anything to destroy the Realm. She came to the Eskari in the guise of a cruel desert spirit, becoming a part of their folklore and cautionary tales. They claim she takes wicked children as well as dishonest and cowardly people, slaughters livestock and drains springs. She sends dreams and visions to the Eskari mystics and thaumaturgists, and she uses stolen shapes to speak to the clan leaders. All of this deception and malice is to turn the Eskari into a weapon, moving them from simple herders to deadly raiders that could cut off Southern trade with the Realm. She has pushed their resentment of the Realm and militarized their culture, allowing more martial leaders to take over from the traditional rule of clan elders. While Zamisha often leaves the Burning Sands for other Pact duties, she always returns to bedevil the Eskari and maintain her myth. She has successfully turned them into a raiding culture that hates the Realm, and now she seeks to unify the clans as a conquering horde that will flow out of the desert and cleanse the South of the Realm.

Seven clans comprise the Eskari, each overseen by a matriarch. They serve as a loose confederation headed by a gyula, an elected leader from among the clan matriarchs. The gyula directs Eskari military campaigns, passes judgment over clan disagreements that can’t be reconciled normally, declares laws and may overturn matriarchal decisions if they are deemed against Eskari interests as a whole. In theory, the gyula holds the job for life. Most, however, abdicate if they feel too old to lead battle, and unpopular gyulas can be pressured to resign by the matriarchs. The gyula’s court travels with her between the various clans, along with her family and entourage. When the gyula is elected, the clan matriarchs arrange political marriages between her and a husband or wife of each clan matriarch. These spouses, called kundus, remain married both to their matriarch and the gyula, binding their interests. Gyulas traditionally prize shamans and priests as kundus, using their wisdom and skill as emissaries to the gods of the clans. Sorcerers and thaumaturgists are also highly prized. Kundus wield great political power, and some abuse their access to Eskari leaders to serve their own agendas. Smiling Zamisha likes the kundus as a concept, seeing them as easily manipulated. She often visits them with visions or prophecies to deliver to the gyula, and occasionally takes the form of respected young women in Eskari communities. This has sometimes caused a younger-than-normal gyula to be chosen because they manifest the mark of Zamisha somewhere on their body, like a birthmark that looks like a cat’s eye.

In older times, the gyula was a temporary position chosen during wartime, and the kundus were a council separate from her that met with the matriarchs to discuss matters of import to the people. When resources were low, the gyula and her husbands would assemble war bands to raid. Generations ago, when Zamisha first began to subvert the Eskari to her service, a gathering was called and a gyula chosen to lead war on the Realm merchants and their escorts. There has always been a gyula since that day. Every so often, the Eskari discuss returning to the old council system, but there is little real desire to do so.

The Dzhenifa clan are superstitious and wary of bad luck and witchcraft, so they put a lot of faith in their augurs. Their children are named based on the omens around their births, with additional names gained based on other omens during their lives. Pursuing work in line with these omens is traditional, and opposing them is dangerous but not forbidden, unless your bad luck hurts your neighbors. These traditions trace back to ancient intermarriage with the Varangians, but today’s Dzhenifa refuse to acknowledge any kinship with these hated foes. Their matriarch is Dzhenifa Olanka, who has long argued that only their augurs can name the site of a new Eskaridam, whether that means building it or seizing it, and the other clans must unify around this decision. She has convinced most of her clansfolk, though the augurs have yet to reach any consensus on where a new Eskaridam should be. She aggressively lobbies Gyula Zita via their shared husband, Dzhenifa Magan, but if she can’t convince the gyula, she is willing to go to war with the Leila clan to replace her. The tutelary god of the Dzhenifa is the wind god Glass Razor, who blasts the land with dry, dusty wind unless propitiated, and who wields his winds against the foes of the Dzhenifa. They acknowledge the power of other spirits, and they are quick to worship or propitiate any local gods whose domains they get involved with.

The Leila were the first clan to attack the Realm after fleeing Eskaridam, and even now they struggle to make up for the losses this caused them. They are few in number, and they prize martial skill and hatred of the Realm above all else, believing any Eskari that lacks either trait to be honorless. On the rare cases that they capture Realm holdings, they raze them to the ground and move on rather than attempting conquest and having to deal with counterattacks. They are one of the most nomadic clans, heading northwest in the summer to take slaves and cattle until they piss off Varang enough to be forced to flee southeast again to avoid retaliation. Young warriors attempt to use the raids to make a name for themselves, often by counting coup on Varangian warriors or stealing cattle in broad daylight, even if it kills them. They prioritize glory over survival, after all. The raids occasionally push Realm expeditionary forces into going after them, often through Varoniikh territory. Gyula Zita is of the Leila, a young warrior trained by Zamisha herself. She has led the Eskari in increasing aggression against the Varangians, and she speaks of building Eskaridam on razed Varangian land. She is eloquent and powerful in battle, and most of the Eskari support her, especially the Leila, who believe she will lead a resurgence of their clan. The Leila matriarch, Leila Kamila, wants to see her replaced, though. Not with herself – she’s too old. She wants her daughter Borbala to become gyula, scheming to humiliate or kill Zita. The tutelary god of the clan is First Flint, a lesser murder god of the group known as the Bloody Hands. Once a minor spirit in Eskaridam, he is now the Leila god of war and revenge. He encourages brutal terror tactics against the Realm’s satrapries, such as killing civilians. Other clans consider him even worse than Smiling Zamisha and avoid his priests.

The Razhiin are the least insular of the clans, encouraging their women to marry non-Eskari in order to bond with their neighbors. A few small foreign clans have actually been swallowed up by them entirely. Most notable of their related peoples are the snake-handling Echidis, whose growing war with the Varangian city-state Urim threatens to drag the Razhiin in as a whole. The intermarriage practice has caused all kinds of chaos as traditions grow and conflict, and sometimes the foreign influences win. After marrying with the Blue Ashak, who consider goats unclean, the Razhiin have ceased to herd goats, trading them to the other Eskari for camels and yeddim. The Kazhur princess Gift-of-Water convinced her wife, a former matriarch, to start worshipping the goddess Sundog Woman. Other clans, with the exception of the Vevyehn, tend to see the Razhiin as less and less Eskari and listen to them less and less. The matriarch, Razhiin Logare, has become wealthy from dealing with the Guild and contracting her warriors out to protect their caravans against both bandits and other Eskari. Her kundu husband, Razhiin Agostan, is a skilled spirit-negotiator who specializes in getting goof weather and arguing against Zita’s aggression. He has few allies among the kundus, except for Vevyehn Janos, whom he has started an affair with. The tutelary god of the Razhiin is Olomu, who joined the clan during their wanderings. She encourages openness to other people, but discourages worship of their gods. She does not have a good relationship with Sundog Woman of the Kazhur, as you might guess.

Szonia is a clan that has little contact with other Eskari due to their far southeastern home. They are self-sufficient and aggressive, seeing their fellow clans as having diverged from the path of true Eskari. For them, the Realm is a distant memory, and its place in their culture has been taken by the “Eastern Realm,” as they call Prasad. They both fear and hate it, raiding its westernmost tributaries and merchants. They also raid a number of other peoples of the area, including the Kazhur, which has caused problems with the Razhiin. The matriarch, Szonia Idoska, is more of a diplomat than a fighter, and she’s been negotiating with the Prasadi tributary Seven Wells, offering to end the raids in exchange for them ending all aggression against the Eskari. The clan doesn’t really want to, but the counterattacks from Seven Wells have been growing too damaging. The god of the Szonia is Nyozun, the Eskaridam god of wells. Today, she blesses Szonia’s efforts to find oases in the sands and the foothills of the Summer Mountains. The clan is not fond of Zamisha and finds the widespread propitiation of her by other clans rather worrying.

The Tezelyke are the lorekeeper clan, preserving crafts and skills that would otherwise be lost to time and the new ways. Mothers teach their daughters how to make bricks in kilns, how to make beer, how to tend fields – skills they have little use for as nomads, but which must be preserved for the new Eskaridam. The priests of the Tezelyke say prayers to the dead gods of the old city and the artists seek to make elaborate sand paintings of the city at its height. For the growing Tezelyke revanchist group, however, the true purpose of the clan is not just memory but reclamation of Eskaridam from Varang and the Realm. Their war parties gather under charismatic leaders to raid the Varangian settlements alongside the Leila. Tezelyke Morikhaad, the matriarch, is a strong traditionalist, refusing to listen to any dissent against the gyula and suppressing the revanchists, whose fixation with the old city goes against Vita’s ambitions of a new one. However, her rule has been challenged by Tezelyke Eszter, a young but charismatic Eskari woman who speaks of reclaiming the old city with the aid of its city father, Falcon’s Dream, who she says is sending her visions. She is making up her stories, but she does have a divine patron – the mirage god Hafatun, whose cult was destroyed by the Immaculates and who desires vengeance enough that he sacrificed himself to turn Eszter into his Exigent. The god of the Tezelyke is Vilyat of the Agate Eye, the Eskaridam god of courtrooms and tombs. The revanchists reject him, though, in favor of Falcon’s Dream, which has caused much internal strife. Falcon’s Dream is a fabrication of Eszter, which is why Vilyat has been unable to find the god at all.

The Varoniikh are only seminomadic, living in the hills and mountains. They are militant isolationists, and their settlements are equally town and war camp, barely hospitable even to other Eskari. They often raid the merchants using Bluecoal Pass. Their lands are dangerously near to Varang, so their camps are often attacked when the Varangian astrologers say it’s a good time for war. Southern merchants have started bribing the astrologers to arrange for more raids in order to clear out the Varoniikh. The matriarch, Varoniikh Sebest, is devoted to fighting Varang and the Realm soldiers that help them, even if it means reckless action. She overcommits her forces often, even as the clan takes losses it can’t afford, and while her aggression makes her popular, some of the clan, even in her own household, speak of desperate measures to save the clan from her. Damet, the cat-headed granary god, is the tutelary deity of the Varoniikh. His blessing prevents herd parasites and sets wildcats to hunting the vermin of the clan’s storehouses, as well as sending them to aid the raiders.

The Vevyehn are the least nomadic Eskari, living in riverside towns year-round and relying on agriculture and fishing while their kin travel with the herds. Unlike the Varoniikh, they welcome both other Eskari and outsiders alike to their vibrant markets, which deal in many goods but especially iron. The rivers are rich in iron sands, which supply their renowned blacksmiths. They consider the gathered ore their birthright, and their warriors are more and more often clashing with the iron harvesters of nearby Jasper or Guild expeditions. They say their lands are the new Eskaridam, encouraging the other clans to live there and share the bounty. Their wealth makes their towns excellent targets for bandits, though, and raids by rival peoples like the Paliq, who burned the towns Puraval and Old Nezhek a generation ago. Other Eskari also sometimes dislike them for cultural or religious reasons, such as their sedentary nature. Matriarch Vevyehn Ruz has little power by Eskari standards, as political authority in the clan belongs largely to town leaders, and she mostly arbitrates disputes between the towns and represents the clan to the gyula. She opposes the gyula’s militarism as a threat to prosperity, and most of the Vevyehn towns agree with her, but the other clans do not. The god of the Vevyehn is Loksha, the many-handed god of markets. Since Puraval was burned, the god has relocated to the town Nezhek-of-the-Lapwings, where many Razhiin also live. The Razhiin refuse to worship Loksha, though, which has caused a lot of tensions between the clans.

The Varangian city-state Haqad was an ally of Eskaridam against the Realm, but betrayed them when the astrologers predicted defeat, choosing to become a satrapy. They have been enriched by land that belonged to Eskaridam, and so they are the most prominent symbol of the Realm to the Eskari and other local peoples. The clans hate Haqad, but their military power and the local Imperial garrison have proven to be nearly impossible to beat.

The Kazhur frequently raid and steal from the Eskari herds, but they’re seen as trading partners more often than enemies. Their customs demand repayment for stolen property if the owner confronts them, and the Eskari have found doing so to be less dangerous and more profitable than fighting off the raiders. The Razhiin are heavily intermarried with the Kazhur, but they’re not the only ones to marry them due to this unusual trade arrangement. When the Kazhur raid during lean periods, however, or against herdsmen that don’t know their customs, violence is still very possible.

Dying Eskari often volunteer to have their ashes scattered on the edges of the Sands Where No Man Walks, in the hopes that their ghosts will help contain the monsters within. Angry ghosts lure in the unwary with illusory oases, and swirling ash-storms formed from mass deaths by fire aim to kill the living. Vulture-headed phantoms devour ghosts too weak to flee them. All of these spill of the ancient shadowland at the center of the Sands, where a great tree of smoke rises, its branches said to house the palaces of dead gyulas. In the rare times when an Eskari shaman dreams of a relative’s ghost caught by the predatory spectres of the Sands, their friends and family may mount a quest to brave the Sands to free them.

Next time: The Bronze Tide

Murloc Noises

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Fangs at the Gate: Murloc Noises

In the far Southwest, the Cinder Isles are a vast expanse populated by many maritime nations. In the easternmost, however, they share one great fear: the Bronze Tide. Many diverse peoples once lived on the Gray-Eye Peninsula, in the eastern Cinder Isles. The wine-loving Mygdons, the Issyks with their complex dancing reels, the gold-adoring Yensei and more lived there, trading or hiring themselves out as mercenaries for the islands, or raiding them. Nations rose and fell, fortunes came and went. 50 years ago, however, the trade and mercenary work essentially ended for the mainlanders, and their coastal city-states swelled as inlanders sought refuge. Not all came asking aid, either – some came to conquer.

So close to the Wyld, the mainlanders often dealt with Wyld incursions. Sometimes, strange beings would come to trade, sometimes to destroy. However, when Spear-Empress Bhadri returned with a cloak of green, twelve dread companions and a near-infinite army, all the old defenses failed. They were mightier than any Wyld force since the Contagion itself, and they came to conquer, subduing, infiltrating or suborning all in their path. The Spear-Empress never bargained, and even the Exalted were unable to stop her soul-devouring legions. Her territory spreads from the world’s edge, getting closer to the coast each year. The enslaved peoples work the land and harvest Wyld-tainted crops, though the raksha prefer to feed on the humans themselves. The seas seem like they will prove no problem for Bhadri, whose forces have impossible crafts captained by the Fair Folk. However, the coasts still remain largely unconquered, and some of the cities of the interior have managed to hold her off, either by clever strategy or terrifying bargains made with Bhadri’s companions. Rather than be conquered, many nations have ceded their lands to the Spear-Empress’ horde and headed north, towards the coast.

Some of these left their gods behind them, confident they could find new ones. Many spirits and ancestors followed their people, while others fled to Heaven or the Underworld, or died defending their lands from the Wyld – or worse, got mutated beyond recognition. Initially, the mainlanders fought each other as the first targets of Bhadri sought to conquer other lands to replace their lost ones. When the Fair Folk showed no sign of slowing, however, they reached a tentative peace, uniting to sweep over the islanders as the Bronze Tide, a massive war-fleet that devours cities and leaves only ruins in its relentless surge away from the Spear-Empress. In the chaos, the warrior Lukha Palash has rallied his people, vowing to lead them to safety on the islands by conquest if necessary. His speeches pleased Luna, and so he Exalted as the great god appeared before him as an omen, a great cormorant with bloody talons. Now, the Changing Moon is both a war-chief and god-king to the Bronze Tide, leading every battle. He is young, eager and vicious in battle, but he is no fool. He has surrounded himself with the leaders of the peoples of the Tide, seeking their wisdom. His enemies fear the bright blue plumage that marks him, for they know he has no mercy.

The peoples that comprise the Bronze Tide have been loosely related to each other for centuries, and after the Contagion, most were slaves to the Empire of the Forty-Fourth Immortal, whose collapse has still not been recovered from. Therefore, while they are separate peoples, they have many similarities. They tend to wear elaborately patterned clothes, with varying caps by the people, from the wolf-ear hats of the Mygdons to the raiton-feather caps of the Issyk. They use heavily detailed metalwork, often with iconography of mythic heroes and great beasts. Traditionally, they have been pastoral shepherds and cattle-herders, with war-slaves working the farms to grow barley, wheat, tubers and other crops, which were supplemented by raids on each other and the Cinder Isles peoples for goods and food. The herds have largely been abandoned for the fleet, and owning cattle or horses is now a gigantic mark of status. The different peoples have always been prone to fighting each other, with personal or family vendettas spiraling out of control to become full-on wars. Powerful and charismatic leaders can unite them for a time, but their persistent resentment of foreign rule, dating back to the Forty-Fourth Immortal, ensures that these alliances rarely last. Even now, while Lukha Palash is important to the Tide, the mainland chiefs are ready to splinter off or jockey for power if he dies. Rivalries and feuds are in abeyance for now, but they still sometimes flare up, and Palash must carefully rein in the various factions and separatists.

The Tide have left very little standing in their wake. Most of the city-states they raid now lie in ruins, burned and broken. The Bronze Tide warriors are practiced at psychological warfare, and as they approach each port, they stream out onto the decks, brandishing their weapons and being as loud as possible to unnerve defenders and civilians. Damaged ships and injuries are costly, and while they don’t fear a fight, they prefer the enemy to break as quickly as possible. Defenders are mercilessly slaughtered and the leaders of resisting city-states killed, but civilians are often enslaved, especially crafters and shipbuilders. Those that are not taken as slaves are allowed to flee. The city is then burned, to reinforce the cost of resistance and leave no place for the survivors to linger. The refugees that head for nearby territories are a message: you may be next. Only a few city-states have had the power and skill to withstand the Tide. Some have used pure combat might to do so, while others dug in and were able to wait out a siege until the Tide moved on. It's easier, after all, to find a softer target. In these cases, the Tide flows around the city and ignores it. Resisting nations have not been conquered, at least, but if the Tide doesn’t come back for another go, it will only be a matter of time before Spear-Empress Bhadri arrives.

While the Bronze Tide’s power spreads through the Cinder Isles, most of their people still live on the mainland coast. Outsiders see them as a conglomerate, but it’s really more like a hundred different nations loosely held together by common need and a shared foe. Leaders emerge in battle, but when they die, there’s always another to take their place, which only enhances their reputation for ruthlessness. There are hundreds of cultures within the Tide, and communication between them can be slow and unreliable, so each tends to govern itself individually. They’ve had to reconcile old conflict of law to prevent infighting, which Tide leaders work hard to stop, as many were old foes. Now, they focus their aggression on other nations and the Fair Folk. They celebrate their individual cultures, with none standing over the others, in part due to the careful influence of Lukha Palash and his advisors. While Lukha is a Mygdon, he chooses to acknowledge all traditions and participates in any rituals he is invited to, not just the Mygdons’ own.

The past 20 years have seen increasing unity and syncretization of some customs. The Issyk practice of bringing offerings of milk, wine, honey and water to sacred places is now widespread as a way of approaching new gods, especially since so many cultures had to leave theirs behind. The gods of the Bronze Tide see the expansion as a chance to increase their power, driving out the gods of conquered lands and usurping their cults. Sometimes, they will take on the name of a defeated deity to make this easier, and other times they will try to get the conquered people to switch to their traditional worship. Gods that cannot subdue the local deities may negotiate a truce and merging of cults. The storytellers and artists of the Tide work not only to keep the memories of their homelands alive, but also to remember the places they have been and the peoples they have conquered. The ballads of defeated foes are part history, part boast, and some artists even integrate the styles of their defeated foes into their pieces, though the elders don’t agree on if this is good or not. Some say it celebrates their triumph, but others argue that it is foolishly celebrating an aspect of a culture they burned to ash.

The Mygdons have been driven from their wealthy city-states, and their martial traditions are growing in importance. Old rivalries between Mygdon cities have fallen to the wayside before the threat of the Fair Folk, but they simmer below the surface, and some former princes resent Lukha for usurping their authority. The Issyk claim to have dwelt in the valleys of Mount Ulim since the First Age, worshipping the strange wild gods. Their diaspora has caused large social upheaval, as their homes are now lost and their gods fallen before the Spear-Empress. They now live at sea, despite having no seafaring traditions, and their shamans have made pacts with many minor gods forced from their homes by the Fair Folk, starting a new pantheon. The Pelith are famous as poets and equestrians, and their clans are stubbornly independent, never before uniting. They fear Lukha Palash, as in ancient times, they were driven from their homes by swan-headed nobles, and their hatred of the beastfolk runs deep…but their fear of Bhadri is greater, and they will work with a devil today to escape her annihilation. Tomorrow, who knows? The Yensei are merchants and metalworkers, renowned for gold embroidery, filigree and ornamentation. They do not much like the Mygdons, who have long been their rivals, but they have accepted Lukha’s command from necessity. They often complain, though, that it just had to be a Mygdon, didn’t it.

Lukha’s council is hand-picked to keep him aware of what’s happening with the fleet and its people, to advocate for them and to advise him on strategy and the movements of the Spear-Empress’ forces. Currently, ith as six members, but the composition shifts as advisors gain or lose favor or must tend to other responsibilities. The storyteller Jural Three-Trees is a great scholar who was sent to recruit Lukha to the Pact by his shahan-ya, Skathra Venomchild. Lukha took the offer but refused to abandon the Tide, and Jural was won over by this dedication. He mentors Lukha on the Fair Folk and Pact politics as well as strategy, and is also Lukha’s lover now. Jural has his own plans for Bhadri, as Skathra takes pleasure and gains power from eating fae alive, and so Jural has full plans to drag Bhadri to the Caul in iron chains…though having witnessed her strength firsthand, he’s unsure he is actually able to do so.

Leja is an outcaste Dragon-Blood of the Mygdons, a shipwright and admiral who oversees the fleet’s logistics and repair. While her service is deeply important to the Tide, she’s also a problem on the council. Bhadri defeated her years ago, and even more than the physical scars, she is still wounded by the loss of her husband and children in that battle. She is surly and erratic, an alcoholic and can’t remember the last time she got a good night’s sleep. Even when the Tide stays in one place for a time, she remains aboard her ship, Kiara’s Bane, to keep watch for Bhadri. In her dreams, she sees her eldest son as a changeling warrior leading the Fair Folk legion, thirsting for her blood.

Sufek is a bard of the Issyk whom Lukha relies on to use his perfect memory for affairs of state. Sufek sees himself not only as an Issyk historian but the historian of the Tide as a whole. He is a clever politician who has often written vicious, anonymous poems to undermine his rivals or those that question the Lunar’s authority and decrees. The hot-blooded nature of both Lukha and Sufek is counterbalanced by Parav, a Yensei strategist who serves as the council’s voice of caution. She is not a coward by any means, just smart. She is near seventy, and before the Fair Folk came, she was an active raider who had more war trophies than any other. Her tactics have been key to several victories, but beyond her battle skill, she also has many valuable contacts among the nations of the Bronze Tide, making her very influential.

The city-state Argidos of the great lighthouses and statuary, is directly in the Tide’s path. Its ruler has sent messages begging aid from its neighbors, but so far there has been no response. Fifty years ago, the Argidosians warred on the neighboring isles, hiring a fleet of Mygdon mercenaries to siege ports for them. The Cinders have long memories, and most of their neighbors are more than happy to let Argidos fall to buy time for their own defense.

The islands Melanthes and Ipera have long been at peace, joined by a narrow sandbar during low tide. They are lush, wealthy islands with great resources, having long traded with the Mygdon to supply them with lumber for ships, and even intermarried with them. As the Bronze Tide nears the islands, some Mygdons argue that conquering them is wrong, for they are blood kin.

Tenai is one of the few cities to defeat the Bronze Tide. Their high walls and many temples remain whole, though the slaughter of the battle has opened a small shadowland in the fields. Tenai took heavy casualties in the defense, which lasted three days, but in the end they turned back the ships. They’ve spent the last year picking up the pieces, watching for the Tide’s return. Unfortunately, they’re looking in the wrong direction – it is Bhadri they should fear.

Sayfar is a city-state that has, for the past century, ruled a petty empire that, in its height, controlled nearly a quarter of the Cinder Isles. It overlooks a broad cove full of triremes and its promontory is nearly impossible to attack. The locals claim descent from ancestors beneath the sea, and their oracles can gaze through time as they dance to exhaustion. When their navy stopped the Tide in early battles, some of their subjects used the battles as a chance to break free, only to find the Tide waiting to overwhelm them. Only a bare handful of Sayfar tributaries remain loyal, hoping their combined fleets will have a better chance than going it alone.

Spear-Empress Bhadri is a terrifying raksha queen, calculating and ruthless. She cannot end her pursuit of the Tide, for it is not in her nature to end a hunt that is not yet complete. She is a terrible monster, calling forth hobgoblin armies from the earth itself and sending her enemies into mad panic. A shrike always perches on her shoulder, tearing apart the souls of those she kills. When she throws her dread ash-wood spear, bladed with sapphire, those in its wake shrivel and crumple like leaves. Bhadri has twelve companions, and the book presents two of them as examples.

Prince Zalak of the Wave-Cutter Chariot is a warrior-admiral, dreaded by the Bronze Tide. She rides a mare made of living fog which can run on land and sea alike, and her three-bladed ivory-and-pearl daiklave calls forth monsters from the deep. She is capricious and fickle, but her loyalty to Bhadri is unbreakable, for Bhadri defeated her in a duel and forced from her an oath of service. If not her for her occasional wanderlust drawing her from her ships, she might be even more terrifying than the Spear-Empress.

Prince Gelyb, the Song of Fire, is a poet-blacksmith that exists only to burn that which is ugly and impure from this world. He is controlled by envy and vainglory, and his miraculous skill in crafting is amazing. When his fellow hunters rest, he sings into existence pavilions and fortress of cold flame and sweet smoke, which last a night and a day. When he attacks the Tide, he calls crimson flame around his fists, burning their ships to ash.

Next time: Sunken Luthe


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Atlantis

Luthe exists in the sunless depths of the Western ocean, its light entirely provided by dim glowing seaweed. Once known as the City of a Thousand Gods, its diamond domes were shattered centuries ago, and its spires snapped as the sea consumed it. Luthe teeters on the precipice of an undersea abyss, even deeper than it sits now, and each year a little more is swallowed. The cataclysm that sank the city killed almost all of its populace, though a few survived in air-filled chambers. Over the centuries, the sea-dwelling beastfolk have refilled it, recreating the city underwater. The first immigrants sought the protection of its walls and its Lunar (nominal) king, Leviathan. Now, it is one of the great economic and cultural centers of the sea floor, drawing in more and more. The original survivors have largely interbred with the beastfolk to the point that they can no longer be distinguished, though the city does still have a tiny handful of air-breathers. For most of its history, Leviathan has had little attention for rulership, doing nothing but to defend it from outside threat. The Luthian Council rose up to govern in his absence, originally made from elders and clan leaders from the early immigrants. Over time, it has gone from an informal assembly that mediates disputes and enforces peace to a full formal political body that dictates and enforces Luthian law.

Membership on the council continues to largely belong to the original families. Each councilor can name their successor, with appointments able to be overturned by a three-fourths majority vote of all Luthe-born citizens, in which case the council nominates and votes on a new member. The most notable time this has happened was the appointment of Leviathan’s Moon-Touched daughter, Blood-Dimmed Deep. Her lineage has extended her lifespan quite a bit, and she has now consolidated quite a lot of political power. However, things have been complicated by Leviathan’s recent decision to get back into running things. He’s allowed the council to retain formal authority and seeks, as a matter of principle, to avoid undermining them, but in practice he effectively holds a veto to them and can overturn their laws by decree. He has instated mandatory military training for all citizens and expanded the standing military without even consulting the council, and some of the councilors are annoyed by this, though Blood-Dimmed Deep supports her father’s agenda and has prevented any real questioning of his decrees.

Luthian culture mixes that of its many disparate underwater clans and peoples. This mingling and the safety of the city have led to a flourishing of art, philosophy and literature, with almost every citizen engaging in some form of amateur creative work. Depictions of Luthe’s history are popular, along with fantasies about what it was like before it fell. Most immigrants and peoples still worship their ancestral gods, though a few practices have become widespread. Many Luthians also worship the gods to which the many sunken First Age temples of the city are dedicated, often syncretized with their own traditional deities. Leviathan is widely worshipped as a guardian deity as well. Food is pretty much any kind of seafood possible in the West, almost always raw, plus foods prepared from kelp, algae and similar. Physical wealth has little sway over Luthians, and the currency of the city, the deben, exists solely in the form of credit and debt. It’s based on a First Age coin that hasn’t circulated in centuries, and only a few merchants will convert foreign coin to the deben and back.

The most valued trade goods for Sunken Luthe are those difficult to make underwater, such as glass (often knapped to make knives and spearheads). Iron, bronze and other corroding metals have no real value, though gold jewelry is favored by the wealthy alongside ivory, shell and precious stones. Plates of lead or gold are imported from the surface to be used as writing tablets, though most people just etch seashells and scrimshaw. Clothing is practically worthless, and most Luthians go naked save for bags and belts to hang things from. The new war footing has shifted much of the local economy to the manufacture of weapons, armor and materiel, with Leviathan spending from his vast hoard of debens to pay for it all.

In the First Age, Luthe was a marvel of engineering and power, but it is now fallen into disrepair. Leviathan is not a craftsman and doesn’t especially care about recruiting them. He sees value in weapons and battleships, but he has no particular need of art or statues against the Realm. Thus, he allows the Luthians to chart their own path, merely watching over them and not even beginning to consider rebuilding the city to its old standard. In the meantime, they rebuild Luthe in their own image, created a new city entirely. Sunken Luthe is aquatic, fortified and martial. The Luthian language is a unique sign language made from mixing the tongues of the various beastfolk immigrants, designed to communicate underwater. Some beastfolk use other means, such as the sonorous language of the whale and dolphinfolk or the flickering light-speech of the anglerfishfolk and some jellyfishfolk, but even they usually learn Luthian sign language.

The Drowned Quarter is the largest of Luthe’s ruined areas, which the new inhabitants prefer to the intact ones. The intact areas, after all, have stairs and useless doors and corridors that just get in the way when swimming, while smashed buildings give walls but are more easily refit. Leviathan rarely visits the Drowned Quarter in person, though he watches over it and is proud of the Luthian resourcefulness in making it their own. The buildings are overgrown with kelp and coral, braided between the walls to separate them into small pods that serve as homes. Once the pod is tethered to an old wall, the locals add rooms as needed, with homes growing from and on stalks of titan kelp. The choice of coral, kelp and how closely to rely on the crumbling marble is purely aesthetic choice, though coral comes in more colors. The coral tunnels cross the quarter, lit by glowing algae for those that can’t see in the dark. The main tunnels have high ceilings for the whalefolk, while some offshoots become so narrow that only cephalopodfolk (with their soft bodies), Lunar shapeshifters and tiny tetrafolk may pass. Tetrafolk are never larger than human children, and they perform most of the maintenance on the coral and kelp, paid for by the council. At the center is the Palace of the Luthian Council, a massive structure encrusted with living red coral, which both impresses and defends. It is the headquarters of both the council and the Siaka Guard, a battalion of elite soldiers led by Blood-Dimmed Deep that serve as both army and police force.

The Sunken Hall, once the Hierophant’s Hall, used to be a meeting place for the priest-kings of Luthe in the First Age, and it dominates the geographic center of the city. Huge statues still line the building, but time and water have worn away all identifying features. The Silver Pact’s members assemble here, where no Realm spies could ever hope to blend. Several of its halls and wings are intact, and the Western Pact meets most often in the war room, which has a grand artifact map of the Western ocean. The black jade map is outdated, depicting the ocean as it was at the end of the First Age, but its power to track the movement of fleets makes it invaluable nonetheless. The Hall is most often used by Leviathan’s followers and students, though occasional shahan-ya councils are hosted there. Leviathan attends all meetings, sometimes letting others speak but most often dominating. He occasionally invites members of the Luthian Council to attend, either to discuss politics of the city or his plans against the Realm. Most often this is his daughter, both because they’re related and because she commands the Siaka Guard. She argues that Luthe should shift to open war, but Leviathan and the rest of the Western Pact are sticking to the attrition plan for now. While Blood-Dimmed Deep supports her father at the Luthian Council, she is personally very frustrated with him.

The Thousand Temples, also called the Temple District, was intended to be seen from airship, laid out in the form of a map of Creation at the time of construction, with roofs and monuments colored to distinguish terrain. Temples to the Celestial Incarnae line the cosmos-gardens at the eastern edge, and most of the temples still stand, if in some disrepair, although Leviathan has personally destroyed all temples to the Elemental Dragons due to his rage at the Usurpation. Mantafolk create intricate kelp wreaths for the malachite altar of Baxishun, Lord of the Surf, while pale fish swim through the orrery of Pallian-Azar, Prince of the Star of the Golden Door, and hymns can still be heard in the pagoda of the dead god Urquan, lord of storms and functional talismans. Luminescent coral encrusts the most-used temples, like stars in the dark ocean. The temple to Luna, broken in the Usurpation, has long since been rebuilt as the Shrine of the Drowned Moon, encrusted in coral and with its dome pierced to create entries for the congregants to swim through. Any Lunar may pray there, and Leviathan can be found meditating on nights of the full moon. A family of anglerfish-folk tend the temple as priests, descendants of the long-dead student of Leviathan called Monanki the Sage, who began the temple’s rebuilding. The see tending the shrine as their sacred duty, though they dislike Leviathan himself for driving their ancestor from Luthe for some long-forgotten offense. Despite the best efforts of the Luthians, the western border of the district slowly falls into the abyss a bit more each year, and some temples have already been lost to the deep dark. Most believe this is due to oceanic pressure and time, but the truth is that, in fact, the deep-sea fissure the Temple District is falling into leads to the Wyld, where the local Fair Folk court crave the echoes of worship that still suffuse the lost temples.

The Poet’s Court was once a sacred ballcourt, but the arena has been repurposed by the Luthians as a recital hall for poetry, which is key to Luthe’s artistic culture. Poets recite their verses in the dozens of beastfolk dialects of the city, occasionally accompanied by tonal noises, grunts and body movement. Listeners eat sea grapes and drink hallucinogens that invoke synesthesia. Sometimes the stage is used for theater, but most consider that highly unorthodox entertainment. The court also hosts a market every so often, organized by the lionfish-folk Pterois family. Visitors there can buy anything from kelp biscuits (easily made, but hard to perfect) to whalebone weapons to shell decorations to even the occasional First Age artifact salvaged from the ocean floor ruins.

The Haven of the Air-Breathers is made primarily from the few domes and towers that survived the crushing depths and those that Pact artificiers or other residents have cleared of water. These structures house the few non-beastfolk that make their homes in Luthe and form stopping points for the orcafolk and others that have to occasionally surface for air. (While the orca is Leviathan’s spirit shape, he doesn’t need to breathe air, having long since mastered the seas entirely.) Visiting Lunars may also live in prepared, sumptuous quarters if they don’t feel like spending their entire visit in aquatic shapes. A number of means purify and renew the air in the Haven, varying by structure and status. A Silver Pact envoy might have a blue jade mandala constantly refreshing the air, while a dolphinfolk slum probably relies on poor-smelling alchemical filters devised by the original inhabitants when the city fell.

The Outposts are a number of small underwater settlements outside Luthe’s walls, connected to the city via the deepways. The deepways are a maze of coral tunnels. Some of these places gather resources to trade in the city, like the mining colony Knifetooth Trench or the fishing village Lophia, while others are sources of low-income housing for those too poor even for the slums of Luthe or the more bohemian sort of artist. The Siaka Guard patrols the Outposts for dangers, though their forces focus most on the settlements that pay them bribes.

Blood-Dimmed Deep, warrior queen, is one of Leviathan’s Moon-Touched orcafolk children, the leader of the Siaka Guard and a major member of the Luthian Council. While her lineage gives her great status to many Luthians, she hates the idea of having authority simply because her father is Leviathan, and she has gone to some effort to demonstrate her worth by physical power and strategic skill. She is effectively a member of the Silver Pact and Leviathan’s school, though her passion for open warfare has little following with her fellow students. She has obeyed so far, waiting for the chance to make political allies that agree with her aggression.

Inanja is a genderfluid anglerfish-folk poet, one of the most influential cultural figures in Luthe. They are of the family that tends the Shrine of the Drowned Moon, and their hair is anglerfish lures while their mouth is all needle teeth. Inanja abandoned the temple upon coming of age, which the family is not happy about, but their many artistic patrons afford them a life of luxury anyway. Luthe’s elites and even the Silver Pact Lunars love their poetry performances, as does Leviathan, who often attends recitals.

Gevan Batahul is one of the few fully human-looking people of Luthe, though he is no airbreather – he’s a Water-Aspect Dragon-Blood, and thus the only member of his family able to leave the air-filled domes freely. He’s an esteemed businessman in the city, a legal savant and a known fixer for criminals. He offers up his services to anyone, for the right price – which seems to vary, as even the poor can call on him. The Silver Pact tends to view him warily, though he’s never even heard of the Realm or the Usurpation, but Leviathan ensures Gevan’s safety. Even the mighty Lunar king has uses for the fixer.

Lady Forever-Drowning, the ghost of one of Luthe’s old priest-kings, has become an object of worship now. She has spent decades in the Temple District, praying to all of the thousand gods of the city, until the beastfolk discovered her. After years teaching them the names and ways of Luthe’s gods and guiding them in the city, she has come to be worshipped as a goddess of wisdom herself, an intercessor between the faithful and the gods that dwell above the waves.

The Hollow Court is a spirit court nearby led by Storm Father Halid, youngest of the West’s storm mothers. They meet in a great mother-of-pearl hall under the sea, attended by beastfolk shrine maidens and water elemental slaves. Halid is a clever, ambitious spirit, but an impatient one, working with a small circle of other sea gods to increase his power in the bureaucracy of Heaven. To aid this, his court has made a deal with Leviathan, raising up storms against Realm ships in exchange for the sacrifice of captured sailors. It’s mutually beneficial, but if Fakharu, the Censor of the West, were to discover it, he would be enraged.

Galbadan is a settlement hidden inside a ship graveyard in a kelp forest. Here, the ghosts of dead sailors mingle with the local beastfolk that shelter in the hulls, many of them exiled from Luthe for their crimes. While most Luthians know of Galbadan only as a trading partner in flint, glass and sculpture, those who know more can hire assassins, ghost spies, poisoners and many other kinds of criminal there.

Dolaron, a small island satrapy, is descended from the First Age inhabitants of Luthe that got out of the city during the collapse. While their oral history has been mythicized over time, their demonization of the Dragon-Bloods is clear, which has made the satrap Peleps Nahini’s work difficult. Leviathan works to weaken the Realm’s hold there, sending his followers to sabotage Realm ventures and support the natives. The satrap has recently become aware of this covert activity, though, and has started purges against anyone she thinks might be even slightly involved.

Obsidian was built huge, but not to impress humans, as Luthe was. Rather, it was built for the massive scale of the Spoken, the ancient and extinct Exalted of the Niobrarans. Today, the beastfolk that live there, as varied in species as those of Luthe, almost seem to disappear against the black, alien spires, which have neither doors nor windows. Sometimes, patterns of blue light appear on the spires, writing in the ancient Niobraran language. The priests claim they see omens in these words, inciting religious riots and upheavals, some of which spread beyond their community. While the Siaka Guard and even sometimes Leviathan have gone out and repelled every attempt by Obsidian zealots to conquer the Temple District of Luthe, their apostate faiths have sometimes become popular in Luthe, especially among the poor.

Next time: The Caul

Avon Cauling

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Avon Cauling

The Caul is a strange place, born from the dream of Gaia of her lover, Luna. It mixes real and unreal, sometimes with wonder, sometimes terror. For the Lunars, the Caul is their sibling, the eldest child of Luna, and it appears to them in dreams to send strange and cryptic messages in the wind of Sekima’s ruins, the waters of Melilune or the crackle of fire in Houshou. But the Caul is also sacred birthplace of the Dragon-Blooded, who worked with the Lunars of the First Age to anchor it to reality, lest the dream be lost. For a time, it seemed they had failed, for the Caul disappeared from the world, only to return 500 years ago or so. The Realm and its mighty Empress moved to seize the island as their religious duty. No wonder, then, that the Lunars fight so fiercely, with the Realm forts on their sibling-island, with the Immaculates sending zealot warriors to their sacred land, with the Dragon-Blooded pilgrims going so they might bear more heirs for the usurpers.

The Caul is sacred, but now it is a place of war. Every Lunar on the island is part of Sha’a Oka’s army, so high is he esteemed by the Pact and so sacred is the Caul. Even if they only serve in some token way, none would dare to shirk the duty. Still, the war rarely takes the form of open field maneuvers. That is not Sha’a Oka’s method. Instead, he fights on a thousand fronts, jabbing and prodding and using guerrilla maneuvers to make for an offensive that never quite goes away and often heats up. Lunar raiders haunt the roads between Faxai and Garianghis to make the Dynasts feel unsafe the moment they leave their forts, signposts go missing or become overgrown quickly to lead legions and convoys astray. Only rarely do the forces of Sha’a Oka and the Realm meet in number on the field, especially to siege Realm cities – but they did five years ago, when the Empress vanished.

So far, barring a few successes, the Realm defenses have held the Black Lion back. Before his most recent (and wildly successful) offensive, the Dragon-Blooded controlled most of the pilgrimage road between the shrine-cities. Sha’a Oka has only recently stripped them of all but one of those cities, Faxai, but Faxai’s walls have never been breached. Between the veteran outcaste soldiers, the mercenaries and the martial orders of monks, even the absence of the Imperial legions has not wholly removed the defenses of the final shrine-city. Each of the others, though, is now controlled by one of the Black Lion’s generals. Some welcome guests to aid them, while others prefer to work alone, though they grudgingly allow the Pact customs of hospitality. Even Third Daughter of the Leaves, though she has barely spoken to anyone since taking Garianghis five years back, has ordered the turtlewolves to allow Lunars into the city if they are persistent enough about it.

The Caulborn, as the people native to the Caul are known, have always lived in the wilds of the island. They descend from Western and Southwestern fisherfolk originally, and they know the Caul better than anyone – possibly even better than the Black Lion does. There are countless Caulborn clans, with rituals and taboos based on local geography, feuds and disagreements over the order of sacred stories. No one can be really sure how many Caulborn there are, and outsiders have a lot of trouble telling the clans apart without spending a lot of time among them. Most clans are matrilineal, with multiple generations working together to raise their children in common, and they can be found just about everywhere on the massive Caul. They range from the hillfolk called the Uroa, who carry their hearth-fires on their backs each day and rekindle a high flame each night, to the Zeryesh forest-folk, who wear only peat and mud in summer, to the Sukba of the outlying islands who raise their children in lagoon shelters so they learn to swim even before walking, to the Caligo, who ride giant apes into battle atop massive war-howdash, and more. Men and women usually live segregated from each other, meeting only during labor (which is not divided by gender, but by ritual) and for meals.

The Caulborn speak a local language unrelated to the major Threshold tongues, with many regional dialects, often so different as to be mutually unintelligible. Most that live in Faxai, Asura or the other ports speak Seatongue at a passing level, at least. Further, among themselves, Caulborn women speak a secret language, spread across the entire island continent in about six dialects. The men once had their own secret language as well, but they traded it away for a god’s aid during a famine centuries back. Most Caulborn are so insular it barely matters – they don’t speak to outsiders at all unless forced. They tend to be evasive and noncommittal when they do speak, except among those they have ritually named their kin, which may happen for reasons ranging from saving a life to sharing shelter in the rain, or among those rare people born on the Caul to outsiders. With these, they are direct, though unless they consent to leave the outside world behind and join their true kin, even they are held at arm’s length – not quite outsiders, but not Caulborn. The exception is primarily those Caulborn that live in Faxai or are otherwise separated from their clan. They are often cut off from their traditional ways, and while they try to follow their traditions and taboos as best they can, many can’t freely do so without fear of punishment by the Immaculates or other clans. Others never had the chance to learn the traditions in the first place.

Most Caulborn worship the Caul itself, treating gods and spirits as aspects of the land rather than full divinities of their own right. Much of their faith revolves around observation of key taboos, with each clan having their own, which are said to ensure the vitality and purity of the Caul and to avoid the dangers of the wild. The Amoda reject the sun, waking up and working by night. The Tancoli never speak the names of living clanfolk, only dead ones. The Sukba will not walk over the footprints of any animal. It is universally seen as dangerous to talk to yourself in the wild lands, or to talk to something you aren’t sure is a person, because the Caul is always listening and it can be unpredictable. Almost all clans also hate the idea of burying the dead, favoring sky burials or sea burials. The island’s ancient architecture is sacred, and even so much as leaving a mark on it is a blasphemous desecration. These marks wander and change, sometimes without meaning, sometimes with malice. The Yazi speak of Ragara Dolara, who carved his name on a pilgrimage marker despite warnings. For the rest of his pilgrimage, his name repeated itself on many surfaces, at first identically and then increasingly jumbled. His personality suffered similar erratic shifts as it did, and while he persisted in the pilgrimage, when he reached Melilune, he found his reflection holding a sharpened stone blade. Without a word, he cut the double’s throat, carved nonsensical symbols into its flesh, then vanished into nothing.

The Caulborn tend to have little love for Dragon-Bloods or the Realm. Only pilgrims who have progressed on their quest through the shrine cities receive any true respect and openness, and those who finish the pilgrimage through the Way to Feng-Yi are considered kin. Caulborn often act as guides for pilgrims, at first evasive and standoffish but gradually opening up over the course of the pilgrimage, as the Dragon-Blood further ties their Essence to the Caul. Traditionally, the Realm has been lenient with the Caulborn compared to other satrapies, and that’s only grown stronger since the legions left. Imperial decree forbids enslaving the Caulborn, largely to ensure they keep working as guides, and also restrains the Immaculates on the island. The monks must permit them their less blasphemous rites and may only proselytize in Faxai and along the pilgrimage route, for fear that the Caulborn will willingly serve the Lunar Anathema. However, not all observe these laws, especially since the Empress disappeared, and monks have long suppressed most Caulborn rituals in Faxai proper. Missionaries have even started to visit the nearby clans.

Few Caulborn deal with Lunars, and most Lunars leave them alone. At best, they are seen as honored denizens of a sacred place, and at worst, acceptable collateral damage. Newly arrived Pact members are often warned to treat them with respect and without cruelty, but not all obey. Sha’a Oka is almost universally revered by the Caulborn, but other Lunars are feared or hated for their actions, such as Third Daughter of Leaves, who seems to have no compassion for the locals whatsoever, or Jaguar Lai, who got killed by the Yazi clan’s poisoners after accidentally violating a major taboo while trying to gain their favor. Others, like Lintha Haquen Fia-Shaw Flowers Unbending in the Storm, just don’t put in the time or effort to have good relations with any Caulborn clans. Some Lunars rally the Caulborn to their cause, while others spend years among them to study their rituals and taboos in an effort to understand the Caul. The martial artist Roaring Storm was made kin to the Caligo after defending their stone ape-idol from the Immaculates, while Nuljan Wasp-Tongue stole the shape of a Zeryesh child and has spent years among them studying their witches’ curses. A few clans have permanently allied with the Pact or sworn themselves to specific Lunars, like the Ninga hawkfolk that are family to Sandswept Garda-Empress. Some do so from hatred of the Realm, while others revere Lunars as avatars of the Caul, such as Skatha Venomchild’s cult.

Most of the prominent Caulborn clans that work with the Pact are those transformed into beastfolk by Lunar blessings. The Kongar lionfolk have lived alongside Sha’a Oka longer than any others, descended from the first Caulborn to meet him after his return to Creation. They do not worship him, but they say he is divine. They call him the Soul of the Caul, recording the strange omens that precede his coming in a complex ideographic script unique to them. They are skilled metalworkers and carpenters with many settlements in the Caul’s jungles, most notably the city Morovath. The Ninga hawkfolk of the Pass of Sekima have been surrogate family for Sandswept Garda-Empress since she arrived. They live in the mountains in shelters of woven branches, leaves, wood and cloth, living and hunting in common. They speak a keening, twittery language that can be heard for miles around, though some words and phrases are forbidden at specific times or seasons. Sandswept Garda-Empress lives among them as a living goddess-matriarch. The Yamalu boarfolk lost their Lunar patron, Paren Thorn-Tusk, to an Immaculate spear, but they continue to follow her teachings about war. Young boarfolk train with the spear and shield from youth, hoping to be chosen by the clan leader in the games of strength, wits and courage. Their traditions actually predate Paren’s warrior ethos, and their taboo against meat-eating and the reverent silence that follows songs are very old indeed.

Other beastfolk live on the Caul, but are unaffiliated with the Pact. The toadfolk of Guchol swamp are xenophobes, dragging all trespassers into the water to drown, while the Enisi sturgeonfolk are total pacifists who live in lakebed monasteries. The nocturnal Amoda mothfolk chart the movement of the stars and deny the existence of the sun. Some of the beastfolk clans say their nature is from a divine blessing, while others were twisted by the Wyld. Some speak of legendary springs or of witnessing great beasts that transformed their ancestors. Luna’s touch is heavy on the Caul, and miraculous, spontaneous transformation is not unknown.

Morovath, the City of a Thousand Faces, is set in a hidden valley that few outsiders have ever seen. Like the moon, it shifts through phases by night, reshaping itself. The full moon sees it with tall, gleaming spires that shine with an inner light, while new moon Morovath is a dark, forbidding place of light-eating cloisters. Between the two extremes, the city districts shift between light and darkness. Shining turrets rise with the waxing of the moon, until at half-moon the city is perfectly divided in half, and as the moon wanes, the towers dwindle away like shadows in the light, and the city’s glow fades until only the edges shine. Morovath serves as Sha’a Oka’s headquarters, based from the Palace of the Moon’s Light, a massive shining-stone ampitheatre where his generals debate strategy, which can be loud and argumentative given how many Lunars from different cultures get involved.

In the First Age, Morovath was a bustling city ruled by Lunar and Dragon-Blooded princes, broken by the Usurpation. When the lionfolk rediscovered it, it was an empty shell, but it has grown cosmopolitan in a way few other places on the Caul are, with over a dozen clans making their home there, plus the Lunars and any Moon-Touched children they bring. Today, Morovath is self-governed, with the locals meeting in the Forum of the Waxing Peace to handle disputes and talk about matters of import. On the rare occasion that these issues cause strong feelings, the Forum fills up and the shouting becomes deafening. By Sha’a Oka’s decree, the lionfolk maintain the peace, and others use them as arbitrators. They often serve as the voices that convince others, due to the respect the other clans hold for them.

Morovath art and culture change with the moon. As the light and architecture wax and wane, the locals change their outfits to better blend in or stand out. The same songs are sung at all times, but the performance of them changes drastically by the phase of the moon, such that a battle anthem at full moon might be a dirge as it wanes. The city has been on a war footing for centuries, and it has many smiths and weaponmakers. It also has many shrines and temples to Luna’s many aspects, which often double as armories and training grounds. Every blade, arrow and teaching of the city is marked by the blessing of Luna. The Dragon-Blooded know there’s a city out there in the jungle, but have never managed to figure out its exact location. The jungle is a big problem for their efforts to do so, as sorcerous workings turn aside their scouts, move the trees about to cut off paths or call down insect swarms. Morovath is hidden, martial and ever-changing. None of the shrine-cities are Lunar territories, as claiming them could interfere with the sacred geometries and would make Sha’a Oka very angry.

When the Dragon-Bloods hold the five shrine-cities, they may take the sacred pilgrimage that opens the Way to Feng-Yi, ensuring their child will Exalt. For the Lunars, the cities are equally important, as they are the fivefold heart of their sibling-land, though no one actually knows what would happen if a Lunar were to complete the pilgrimage with all five cities under Lunar control. The Realm has barred the Pact from Faxai since the island returned, see, and during the Shogunate, the wars kept the Pact from reliably holding all five cities. No surviving First Age elder can remember what any pilgrimages of that ancient time might have done. Faxai is a thorn in the Pact’s side, as the Realm seems to be impossible to remove from it. It is a city where all buildings must be elevated on pillars, for it is home of the Earth Shrine, where all pilgrimages must begin. With the Great Houses withdrawing to the Blessed Isle, the defense of Faxai has been left to zealots and outcastes, and yet they endure. Some Lunars have tried to take the city, but even with the defenders diminished, their might is formidable in unity. Sha’a Oka himself has not laid siege to Faxai, keeping to his own schemes.

Plant-choked Garianghis is built around the Wood Shrine, overgrown by an immense tree that has essentially eaten the shrine. It was the last city taken back by the Pact, and it is now controlled by Third Daughter of Leaves and her monstrous, chimeric turtlewolf beastmen. Dragon-Blooded pilgrims must pass through the shrine’s gate in dreams, and Lunars that sleep in the city see it as a sacred gateway of the Caul’s own dream, seeing it as it was in the first days of Creation. Luna is said to walk the dream-Caul each night, and many Lunars travel the dream in hopes of meeting them again. While reclusive and inhospitable, Third Daughter of Leaves does not forbid them, though she has no interest in the dream herself. She’s more interested in obscure rituals she thinks might be able to tap into the city’s power to imprison the Dragon-Blooded of the Caul in eternal nightmare.

Every night, Houshou burns itself to the ground. Every morning, it reappears unharmed. Few Lunars live there, though its commander, Skathra Venomchild, can endure the flames, as can a few other Lunars of extreme vitality. Most, however, live in stone structures outside the city, made by the Realm during its occupation. Some Realm refugees still live in these structures as well, and hunting them is considered a fun sport by Skathra’s students. The Pact visits Houshou the least, on average, for even those that can withstand the flames are unnerved by Skathra. The ancient order of Caulborn monks that guard the gates of the Fire Shrine are also creepy, if less so, for each has burned alive each night for years, only to return unharmed, and they have long since come to terms with both the pain of mortality. Caulborn and foreign pilgrims alike have been known to seek them out for their wisdom.

Sekima is a ruin, long since destroyed. Like Dragon-Blooded pilgrims before them, however, the Lunars that enter its ruins begin to remember a life lived in the city at its height. Unlike the memories of the Dragon-Blooded pilgrims, the Lunar memories are malleable, and they see evidence of each other’s passage in the city. The changes they make are usually small – a tea house changes ownership when a Lunar seduces away the heir, or a ceremony’s words change when a Lunar suggests new methodology. Sandswept Garda-Empress intends to use the memory of Sekima as a weapon, and she has spent more time in it than any other. The deeper her ties grow to the people of memory-Sekima, the more she lays her plans against future pilgrims. If she succeeds, the memory of Sekima will become a nightmare of aggression and unwelcoming thoughts.

Melilune is a city of reflections, its spires showing in the lake beneath. In the new moon or eclipses, Lunars may freely pass into the reflected city, though it extends no further than the city boundaries, with the streets folding on themselves to turn any visitor back in if they try to leave. They may speak with the living reflections there, left behind by pilgrims to the Water Shrine. Fia-Shaw is the commander of the city, but she spends too much time at sea, chasing the Pact’s foes, to actually hold it. Instead, she has given it to her student, the seer Vidatha Riverfisher, who has lived in the reflected city for years, learning the secrets of every Dragon-Blooded pilgrim ever to pass through.

The Caulborn know the shrine-cities as well as any, even the Silver Pact and Realm agents that held them. The Urave fishers explore the caves of Melilune, taking blind fish and pale crabs, and often tell stories of the reflections that live in the water. Caulborn that head to Sekima meet friends and lovers in its memory, with some families living both in Sekima-that-is and Sekima-remembered. Houshou is viewed warily by most, but the ashes of the city are sacred and potent, used for tattoos and medicine. Garianghis is home to the Dreaming Grove, a Caulborn cult that seeks the future and enlightenment in dreams of the city, though they have been barred from entering by Third Daughter of Leaves. The Faxai Caulfolk must be subtle to avoid Immaculate attention, but they perform quiet midnight rituals that echo into eternity.

The wilds of the Caul are immense, full of diverse plant and animal life in a myriad of environments. Along the pilgrimage road, landmarks tend to be reliable, but in the wilderness, things get difficult to navigate even at the best of times, shifting when no one is looking or leading travelers astray. No journey in the wild lands is ever truly safe, and only those that understand the ways of the Caul can reliably get where they want to go. Even then, none of the paths are really trustworthy. The Caulborn always travel with a bag of seeds, casting them ahead as they go, and sometime stopping to wait for an hour or more to consider how the seeds fell before moving on or changing their path. Travelers that don’t listen to them are often swept into sudden rivers, caught in ancient temples of deadly traps or suddenly transported a hundred miles away.

When the Caul vanished, it took not only its mortals with it, but also its spirits. Elementals have come and repopulated the place in the centuries since it returned, springing forth from the land in far greater numbers than any other place in Creation. Yu-Shan’s efforts to establish a terrestrial hierarchy of gods there has been less successful, in part due to bureaucratic infighting over the continent’s destiny and in part due to the Silver Pact ousting any Yu-Shan gods they find for fear of their reports giving the Bronze Faction actionable intelligence. Gods are by far the minority of spirits on the Caul. The Wyld’s presence is felt in sporadic bordermarches in the wilds, which raksha have come forth from and set up their courts, but if any of them are truly potent, they have kept themselves hidden. Shadowlands seem nearly impossible to open on the Caul, though some ghosts haunt the night, mostly Caulborn but with a few Realm ghosts in Faxai or along the pilgrimage road. Unbound demons wander the wilds, having slipped free and found refuge in a land that isn’t quite fully Creation. The wild and untamed gods of the island can be dangerous to unwary Dragon-Bloods, for they have no fear of the Immaculates, unlike most Threshold spirits, and thus are more likely to escalate conflicts. Lunars are usually less threatened, and the Pact has often forged deals with the rogue pantheons and feral gods against the Immaculates. Others, however, especially the Fair Folk, have no love for the Lunars, and in their territories, the land grows even more hostile and trackless.

Next time: Other dominions

Everywhere Else

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Everywhere Else

The Black Winter Boneyard is an icy shadowland, dangerous, inhospitable, and full of undead monsters created by the necromancer-Lunar Smiling Rat. The icy zombies eternally patrol the borders, accompanied by ghostly raitons that fly back to their master at the center of the shadowlands to report on anything that gets spotted. Those that move past the zombie perimeter discover phantasmal beasts, skeletal siege engines and terrifying monsters pulled from the Underworld. Smiling Rat's warren at the heart of the shadowland is where he studies necromancy via asceticism and self-mortification. Every since the schism that turned most of the Northern Pact against him, he has few students, but he is more than happy to teach any necromancer that comes to ask, even if they aren't part of the Silver Pact.

The Shattersea Bastion is a chain of Shogunate fortresses across a number of rocky islands along the north shore of the White Sea. The port they once guarded is but a ruin now, where no living creature lives. The assassin Shadow-Rending Razor lives in these desolate islands at the head of a cult to Luna's aspect as the Bloody Huntress. Her students make pacts with moon-gods from the courts of Luna, calling on their dark blessings when they head forth to spread chaos and terror through the North. The nearest mortal settlement, a fishing village on the island of Ironfell, has no idea the school is even there, though they worship many of the same gods that pact with them.

New Dakuo, in the Northwestern foothills of the Saber River valley, is the oldest and most settled of the domains of the Shadow Fang Vanguard. After the Contagion, a renegade force of the Shogunate's Bitter Justice Legion helped a group of Lunars defend the city of Dakuo from FAir Folk, and the survivors made a pact to protect the region's mortals together. Today, the city of New Dakuo has high walls that overlook the diminished shadowland of the old city, and it's essentially a fortress, its people trained to fight for the Vanguard. Roads lead to small outlying fort-towns, where Dakuin soldiers fight bandits, wild beasts and each other in war games against other Vanguard domains. As part of the pact, the Lunar Rises-With-Fire and the eldest local Dragon-Blood serve as paired rulers, and the local Vanguard officially exempt the descendants of the Bitter Justice Legion from their vendetta against the Shogunate's inheritors. There's just one problem: Rises-With-Fire was recently killed by a Wyld Hunt, and the young Vanguard member that's tried to take over, Exquisitely Violent Axe, has found that the Dakuin are not very welcoming.

The Eye of the Killing Storm is a sacred city where the horse nomads of the Southeastern steppe meet to feast, negotiate and worship their patron, the Lunar Blood Nail. The Killing Storm, as they call themselves, have long raided the southern satrapies of Prasad and other neighbors, but Prasadi expansion has escalated the conflict. Now, it is not only the Prasadi soldiers that fight the Killing Storm - the monks of the Pure Way have learned about the Eye and plan to end its worship of an Anathema.

Mount Namas has been home to spirit courts of war and death since before human history, and in the First Age, it was home to a massive city of many names. The city was destroyed in the Shogunate's wars, plunging much of it into a shadowland. After the Contagion, the land was taken over by Tanisa Ring-Eater and Seven Obsidian Leopard, who got past the few FirsT Age defenses not dismantled by the Shogunate. Leopard still spends much of his time with the death gods on the mountain peak and the ghosts in the shadowland ruins. Tanisa prefers to live among the peoples in the foothills, who believe that Mount Namas is where the souls of the dead gather to ascend to an eternal afterlife as stars.

Luz Liura sits on a rocky plain in the Burning Sands, a small island of green thanks to a bordermarch that contains a circular river, with neither source or end. In the circle is the domain of Klesamra Lotus-Seed, the central palace-city surrounded by mud-brick villages staffed by her hermit crabfolk kin and hobgoblin servants. Klesamra has made deals with several fair folk of the South, which has caused great controversy. Three raksha nobles - Tethian Lion-Eye, Vespania of the Singing Wind, and the Red Tatterdemalian - have temples in Luz Liura and serve as Klesamra's agents. At her call, they and their minions raid the Realm's southernmost satrapies, spreading terror and devouring souls.

The Fortress of the Fulgurite Spire is a twisted fort-city in the islands west of Bluehaven. This is the home of Ul the Burning Eye and his thousand komodo dragonfolk servants. Each season, Ul unleashes new disease strains upon the people of the Fortress, though his sorceries and pacts with the local disease gods prevent most fatalities and help cure the sick once his experiments are over for the season. Ul extends his magical protections to visiting guests, but intruders are assaulted by the full power of his biological warfare. Despite its nearness to the Realm, no Imperial legion or Wyld Hunt has ever successfully assaulted the Fortress. Besides the ancient weapons and sorceries defending it, the fortress is also mobile, turning into the wind and lightning of a storm and arcing dozens of miles away to reform on a new island.

Star Jasmine Pavilion sits on a mountain over the Western port of Eldaj, wreathed in flowers, with great domes and turrets. This is home of Wings of Ivory, a shahan-ya renowned for his mastery of medicine, music and etiquette. He lives as a god to the Eldaji, occasionally going out to perform some act for the locals such as curing a plague, driving off pirates or raksha or negotiating with a neighbor. Otherwise, he remains in his manse, living in total luxury, with his every whem cared for his ternfolk retinue. Wings of Ivory has never cared about the war with the Realm, and indeed, he haded West because he wanted to get away both from the Wyld Hunt and the pressure from other Lunars to get involved. Today, he is enraged that Houses Peleps and V'neef dare to bring the conflict to his lands, and their captians are quickly learning to give his islands space, and plenty of it.

Next time: Playing a Lunar

How Am Lunar

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: How Am Lunar

Lunar character creation differs from Solar and Dragon-Blood chargen rather more than they differ from each other, because Lunars are attribute-based rather than ability-based. Also, they only have three and a half castes - Full Moon, Changing Moon, No Moon and Casteless. When making a Lunar, you also choose their spirit shape, which is their special animal self, and their Tell, which is a distinctive physical trait that is present in all forms they take. This can be a scar, a tattoo, a hair coloring, a subtle supernatural trait like a giant shadow, or even a mutation, though it doesn't give you anything free - if your Tell is a mutation, you paid for the mtuation with background points.

Each Caste has three possible Caste Attributes. Full Moon have the physicals, Dexterity, Stamina and Strength. Changing Moons have the socials, Appearance, Charisma and Manipulation, and No Moons have the mentals, Intelligence, Perception and Wits. You pick two of these to be your Caste Attributes. Casteless do not get Caste Attributes at all. You then pick two Favored Attributes of your choice. At least one Caste or Favored attribute must be in your primary dot-spending category (Physical/Social/Mental) and at least one must be in your secondary...unless you're Casteless, in which case only one Favored has to be in your primary and that's it. Lunars get increased points to spend on Attributes compared to other Exalts, and are almost certain to have at least one at 5 dots. They do not get decreased points to spend on Abilities, but will be focusing much less on them in general because their Charms are based on Attribute scores, not Ability scores, so it is usually less important for them to raise their Abilities a lot.

You also choose if you have a Solar Bond. At chargen, you may decide one of three things: 1. You definitely have a Solar/Abyssal/Infernal bondmate. Or 2. you definitely don't have one. Or 3. you let the GM decide. Any of these is legitimate; certain Lunar Charms care about your bondmate if you have one but generally speaking it's not a huge deal to have or not have one.

Lunars, like Solars, have a Limit Trigger, though theirs are somewhat different. Beyond all this, their chargen is pretty much the same as everyone else so far. Why, though, would you want to be Casteless? Well, among other things, costs. Lunars pay less to raise their Caste and Favored attributes, but in exchange for only having Favored, Casteless Lunars pay less than normal for all non-Favored attributes, both with chargen points and XP. Lunars begin play at Essence 1, like Solars do, at least by default.

Besides the normal merits available to everyone, there's some new ones for Lunars only!
Heart's Blood (1-4 dots, Story): This gives you access to additional animal shapes at chargen. Without it, all you have is your spirit shape. One dot gives you around six relatively weak animal shaoes, comparable to 1-dot Familiars, and two to three stronger ones, comparable to 2-dot familiars, all from a single biome. Two dots gives you 12 to 24 weak shapes, about six stronger ones, and one or two very powerful animal shapes, comparable to 3-dot Familiars, all from a single biome. Three dots is the same as two dots, but you get another 2-3 strong or very strong animals. For an extra dot on top of whatever you picked, you are no longer limited to a single biome.
Stolen Faces (1-5 dots, Story): You have access to additional human shapes at chargen. Each dot gives either five human shapes of no particular significance, such as a farmer, local bandit, dockworker or street urching, or a single human shape whose social, economic or political status is valuable, such as a Dynast, a Guild merchant-prince, a revered elder or a favored member of royalty.

Lunars also get some options for normal merits. A Solar mate can be taken as a 5-dot Ally, for exampl;e. You may also define an army given by Command as being beastfolk, which costs an extra dot but gives them Might 1. Moon-Touched Retainers cost two dots, and shahan-yas are usually 3-dot M<entors if they like you a lot. You can also take Silver Pact Backing.

Then we get a bunch of new supernatural merits, to represent possible mutations!
Antennae/Snaketongue (1, Innate): You must have the Enhanced Sense (Smell) Merit. You can use your antennae, snakelike tongue or similar to sense people by scent. You ignore all penalties for being unable to see characters in Close range as long as you can smell them.
Bioluminescent (0 or 3, Innate): For zero dots, you glow equivalent to a Glowing-level anima banner, and can suppress this for a scene with a miscellaneous action. For 3 dots, you can also make a blinding flash once per scene with a Presence roll against the Awareness of anyone in Close range. Anyone that fails is blinded for a turn.
Bounding Legs (3, Innate): You get +2 to all jumping-based rolls, but this applies to combat movement only if you jump at least one range band up or down.
Burrower (2, Innate): You can dig via spadelike paws or similar. You get +2 on feats of strength related to tunneling or excavation, and you can take cover even in completely open terrain by using Athletics to dig into the soil or loose earth, gaining Light cover and concealment for stealth. Tunneling is too slow to do in combat, however, and if you want to move you have to get out of your foxhole.
Carapace/Shell (2, Innate): You must have Unusual Hide 2+. You have bulky armor of bone, chitin, shell or similar. You double the soak bonus from Unusual Hide, but it counts as armored. You also get Hardness based on your Unusual Hide rating. However, you are always considered to be wearing medium armor, and get a -1 mobility penalty.
Centaur (2, Innate): You must have Extra Limbs. You have a horse-like lower body or similar. You always get the benefits of fighting mounted and may make impaling attacks with lances. If you are ridden by someone, you give a +2 Speed Bonus. However, your Extra Limbs can only be used to boost movement actions. Because they're legs.
Constrictor (3, Innate): You have clinging tentacles, a prehensile tail or similar. You lose no rounds of control in a grapple when attacked, but you still lose them if you take damage. You may spend a round of control to drag your foe even if you don't restrain them. (This is actually really good, easily one of the best of these.)
Deadly Weaponry (1, Innate): You must have some form of the Claws/Fangs/Hooves/Horns merit. Yours are especially dangerous, gaining one of the Balanced, Chopping, Disarming, Flexible, Piercing or Smashing tags. If you have 4-dot weapons, you apply two tags instead.

We get a sidebar noting that natural weapons are not considered unarmed for Martial Arts, but may be compatible if the GM says they're close enough to a style's weapons, such as claw-like talons for Tiger Style or spear-like tusks for White Reaper.

Echolocation (3, Innate): You must have Enhanced Sense (Hearing). You can echolocate, which allows you to "see" via hearing out to Short range, ignoring all penalties for blindness, darkness and poor visibility or similar. However, you can't get color or fine detail, and solid obstructions such as walls block it. You may alternatively take this so it's only usable underwater, in which case it extends out to Medium range.
Enhanced Toxin (Varies, Innate): You must have Venomous or Poisoned Body, and can take this multiple times. Each time, you get a bonus to your natural toxins, such as blinding Crashed foes, causing Crashed foes to lose Willpower and go insane due to hallucinogens rather than dealing damage, paralyizing crashed foes so they can't take move actions, making your poison extra potent so it lasts longer, or causing your poison to also spread a flesh-rotting disease. AMost of these cost 2 dots each, except hallucinogens, which cost 1 because they reduce your damage output.
Entangling Limbs (3, Innate): You have grasping tentacles, hair or similar. You can flurry while grappling, and if you use a savaging attack to deliver a gambit, it's slightly easier.
Extreme Adaptation (2, Innate): You must have Tempered by the Elements. You have thick blubber, a hump to store water, or similar. You get +2 to rolls against environmental hazards or poisons in the environment you are adapted to, and also reduce the damage of applicable environmental hazards.
Fins (1-5, Innate): You get a bonus based on the merit rating to all movement rolls while swimming and ignore difficult terrain from poor swimming conditions. However, you get half your bonus as a penalty to all land-based movement, and at 3+ dots, all land is difficult terrain for you.
Frightening Voice (2, Innate): You have a predatory growl or cry, allowing you to ignore penalties for flurrying threaten actions with attacks.
Imposing Features (2, Innate): You have a majestic crest, plume or similar. Anyone that can see you has no Tie towards you gets -1 Resolve against your instill rolls to create a Tie towards you.
Inhuman Visage (3, Innate): You must havE Hideous. You have distracting facial markings or an unreadable face, giving you +1 Guile. This bonus is removed against anyone that has spent at least a full season interacting with you or has a specialty relevant to understanding your mood. However, you get -1 to all rolls to instill positive Ties towards yourself or convince others you're being honest.
Ink Sacs/Smokescreen (2, Innate): You can fire off a spray of ink, smoke or similar. Once per scene, when you make a disengage check, you can release this, and if successful, any enemy opposing your check is blinded until they clear their eyes as an action.
Long Reach (3, Innate): Your limbs are unnaturally long or extendable. Your unarmed attacks or one of your natural weapons gets the Reaching tag, letting it attack at Short range by paying Initiative and taking a Defense penalty.
Lure (1, Innate): You have a glowy lure, bushy tail or startling markings, allowing you make Larceny-based distract cambits at Close range, and whoever you are boosting with the distraction gains additional Initiative.
Musical Voice (1, Innate): You have an inhumanly musical voice, like a songbird, snake rattle or trumpteing elephant. You reduce all penalties to your influence rolls from noisy environments, and your voice counts as an exceptional instrument and ignores all multiple target penalties for Performance-based inspire checks made through song. However, you get a penalty to disguising your voice or mimicing the voices of others.
Natural Missile (2-5, Innate): You have acid spit, hair darts, a frog tongue or similar. It is a light weapon that is either Archery (Short) or Thrown (Short), your choice, Bashing and Natural. You may freely add the Subtle Tag, upgrade it to Lethal for oen dot, or extend its range to Medium for 2 dots.
Natural Shield (2, Innate): You have bony plates, enfolding wings or similar. Your unarmed attacks or a natural weapon gain the Shield tag, and you ignore the DEfense penalty for flurrying a full defense action.
Night Vision (2, Innate): Your eyes are adapted to darkness, halving all penalties for darkness or low light.
Pheromones (1 or 3, Innate): You have pheromones. For 3 dots, anyone in Close range gets -1 Resolve against your inspire checks to make a specific emotion, chosen when you take this. For one dot, this only works on a single species.
Prehensile Tongue/Trung (2, Innate): You have a trunk, tongue or similar that is a fully functioning limb, though an offhand one. It has light weapon traits, with the Bashing, Brawl, Disarming, Flexible, Grappling and Natural tags.
Serpentine (4, Innate): You have a snake body instead of legs. You ignore all penalties for being prone, but get a penalty on jumping-based movement actions.
Silent Movement (3, Innate): Your movements are muffled by some natural trait, giving a penalty to detect you purely by sound.
Slippery (2, Innate): You secrete slime or mucus, giving +2 to oppose grapples or rescape restrains, but a penalty to establish control of grapples.
Spinnerets (3, Innate): You can spin silk like a spider. Silk is exceptional equipment for weaving, climbing, making rope traps, swinging around and similar, as well as lifting or suspending heavy obects, and you can use them for this to make Craft-based feats of strength using Stamina or Craft to determine if you qualify for them. You may also make ranged web attacks. They are light weapons with the Bashing, Thrown (Short), Disarming, Flexible, Grappling and Subtle tags. If grappling outside Close range, you can only take restrain and drag actions, and the thread can be severed with a minor gambit to end the grapple.
Thermal Vision (1, Innate): You must have Enhanced Sense (VBision). You can sense heat, making your bonus dice from Enhanced Sense into successes when using vision to detect something notably hotter or colder than the surroundings, such as an assassin in pitch darkness or a concealed zombie in a human crowd.
Toxin Sacs (2, Innate): You must have venomous. You gain additional venom doses per day based on Stamina, and if you Join Battle with no doses left, you immediately gain one.
Vibration Sense (1, Innate): You must have Enhanced Sense (Touch). You can sense vibrations, applying your Enhanced Sense bonus to all rolls with any sense to detect concealed characters within Medium range on the same surface as you, or four ranged bands if they are Legendary Size.

Next time: Castes and caste powers.

It Me, Lunar

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: It Me, Lunar

Full Moon Caste Lunars are the bright light that pierces the dark, revealing unspeakable horror. Monsters may hide in the shadows, but the Full Moons hunt them down and drag them into the light of Luna's judgment. They are hunters and warriors without peer, the ultimate survivors, whose bodies are empowered by divine fury. No matter what shape they wear, they tear through their obstacles with power and grace. When the Lunars remade their castes, they knew there would be plenty of battle and bloodshed, and so they made the Full Moons a caste of warriors and killers, whose might, speed and endurance could defeat any foe and stop any attack. The Full Moons are often amazing combatants and generals. Those who choose to take this caste are often hunters, warriors, athletes, assassins, nomads or otherwise whose lives depend on physical power. Others strive for its warrior ideal as revolutionaries, generals or zealots. Many Full Moons have spirit shapes that reflect physical skill and ability or ferocity. Often they are predators, but they are no less at home in the bodies of prey animals of great size, endurance or fearlnesses, such as the aurochs and elephants. Their Caste Mark is a silver disk, and their anima banners begin as a steady and constant glow of white or silvery light around them that grows brighter and fiercer as they spend more Essence. They are associated with summer, the element of fire, the color white and the Maiden of Battles.

Changing Moon Caste Lunars are ever showing different faces, much like the moon itself. They are tricksters who master the lessons of Luna by never being the same, trimphing over their foes with honeyed words, mysterious lies and pure animal magnetism. They are seducers, silver-tongued devils, inspiring leaders or tricky masters of lies and disguises. They slip through guards in the skin of beasts or trusted allies, infiltrate courts, whisper to their foes and turn them to friends. Their cunning, ingenuity and charm are no less deadly than blades. When the Lunars remade their castes, they knew it'd take subtlety and subterfuge to undermine the power of the Shogunate and Sidereals. Thus, they made the Changing Moons a caste of spies and tricksters to madden their foes and spread chaos wherever they went. Some are envoys, others sneak-thieves and spies. Those who choose their path are often diplomats, con men, chieftains or artists, or people drawn to divine trickery, like criminals, dissidents or misfits. Often, their spirit shape is a beast that symbolizes grace, beauty or cunning, such as cats, dolphins, birds or weasels. Their caste mark is a glittering silver crescent. Their anima banner shifts between bright silver, dark blue and shadowy purple, changing ever more rapdily as its grows in intensity. They are associated with spring, the element air, the color purple and the Maiden of Serenity.

No Moon Caste Lunars are the darkness that hides mysteries. No one knows where the light of the moon goes on the new moon, and the shamans of Luna are seekers of such knowledge, uncovering the wisdom hidden in the dark. They are lorekeepers and storytellers that pass on wisdom, mystics that intecede with spirits for humanity. They travel the world and beyond, guide chieftains and princes. When the Lunars remade their castes, they knew they would never recreate the full glories of the lost First Age, so instead, they made the No Moons into mystics, shamans and witches to plumb the darkness of the Age of Sorrows and unearth the wisdom they would need to survive. They are sages, healers and sorcerers. Those that choose this path are often savants, philosophers, monks or seers. Others seek forbidden wisdom, having been heretics, visionaries or crafters whose curiosity outweighed their caution. The spirit shapes of the No Moons are often those that symbolize wisdom, mystery or the otherworldly, such as serpents, owls, raitons and beasts of the ocean depths. Their caste mark is an empty circle that glitters with silver light. Their anima banners are veils of dark blue and purple, with silver around their edges. As their intensity grows, the blues and purples become darker and the silver brighter. They are associated with winter, the element water, the color blue and the Maiden of Secrets.

Casteless Lunars know that the full moon, new moon and all phases between are the same moon, each an aspect of Luna's glory. Thus, they have total protean potential, the freedom to decide what they will be. All Lunars Exalt with a caste, and while they may quickly receive the moonsilver tattoos that let them choose one, the Casteless period is always meaningfull. Some choose to remain Casteless even to the end of their lives, embracing its truth, or simply are not found by the Pact or refuse its gifts. The CAsteless are no single archetype - they are whatever they choose to be, lacking in focus yet able to contain all. Their anima banners and caste marks are inconstant, changing with the moon in colors of blue, purple, silver and white, more vibrant and intermingled as their power is spent. They are associated with autumn, the element wood, the color gray and the Maiden of Journeys.

Lunar anima banners are similar to those of other Exalts. Once they reach Glowing level, however, their Tell becomes immediately obvious to anyone looking at them. At Burning, objects that come in contact with their anima may be left damp or warped, as if left exposed to the night air for days.

All Lunars Can
Full Moons Can
Changing Moons Can
No Moons Can
Casteless Can

So, shapeshifting rules! Before they can take a shape, a Lunar must consume its heart's blood in a special ritual called a sacred hunt. Lunars may enter a human or animal shape they have as a miscellaneous action, which requires them to commit 4m until they turn back. This can be flurried, but not with attacks. They may revert back to their true human form reflexively. Charms may refine or expand this ability. Lunars can only take human and animal shapes, not those of anything else, even magical beasts. What is the difference between an animal and a magical beast? A magical beast is anything that has intrinsic supernatural power, such as the ability of a fogshark to swim through mist. Beyond that, generally speaking, animals are those creatures which could plausibly exist in the real world, possibly in some prehistoric time. (Or giant versions of these; you can be a giant spider, after all, even if the square-cube law would disagree.) If a human or animal shape is mutated somehow, you gain those mutations while in that form, but it costs additional motes to take the form based on how many dots of mutations it has.

Taking on an animal shape perfectly duplicates whatever animal you hunted (plus your Tell) and has special effects:
Normally, Lunars cannot take the form of animals with Legendary Size or Miniscule Size without an appropriate Charm. However, even without those Charms you can still gain the shapes of those animals, or even have them as your spirit shape - you just can't use their form until you learn the appropriate Charm.

Taking on a human shape perfectly duplicates your prey's form; you cannot be told from them unless your Tell is spotted or an effect like Eye of the Unconquered Sun is used against you. However, human forms do not alter your stats in any way - you may appear to have huge muscles, but gain no Strength. You may be very beautiful, but you do not gain the poise and self-assurance to use a high Appearance value you don't actually have. You also gain none of their knowledge, memories or magical powers. You lose any mutations you would normall have unless granted by Charms or your Tell.

To gain a form in play, you must perform a sacred hunt. To do this is simple: you declare your intention to take a specific human or animal's shape, then you hunt down and kill your prey. There is no minimum time requirement ofr the hunt, but you must declare your intention first - you can't sacred hunt someone you didn't declare a hunt on before the fight started. OThers may help you, but you must strike the killing blow yourself, either via an attack or indirectly by traps, poison or so on. Once the prey is killed, you may drink the blood that flows from their heart or nearest analogue to gain their form. When you perform this to take a human shape, you must form a Tie towards that person when the hunt ends, if you didn't have one already. You do not need to keep this Tie, but it reflects that taking a human form is not done lightly or without emotion. The GM may choose to elide over combat when it would not be meaningful or pose an obstacle. Charms may give alternative mans of sacred hunting, but all require preemptive declaration of intent. If you sacred hunt another Lunar and kill them as part of the hunt, you gain all human and animal shapes they possessed. If you hunt them via a Charm that does not require you to kill them, you take only the form they were in when the hunt ended. This is true of any human or animal that is able to shapeshift into other shapes as well, such as certain Moon-Touched.

Next time: The Tell and other complications of shapeshifting

Tell Me About Lunars

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Tell Me About Lunars

The Tell is a distinct mark that appears in any form a Lunar takes. This could be a tail, a blinded eye, a prominent scar, a strong scent or an independently moving shadow. If the Tell is not appropriate to a specific animal form, it will shift into a more suitable appearance that is still identifiable, like an eyeless form getting distinct eye-like markings instead. The Tell naturally conceals itself, however. Trivial characters cannot notice it, and anyone also has to make a fairly difficult Awareness check, though if they've detected the Tell before they get bonus dice. Success means you notice the Tell, and if you've seen it before in a different form, you can tell it's the same person. On a failure, you can't roll again until the Lunar shapeshifts, unless they behave really inconsistently with the shape they're in and you know enough to be able to tell. The Tell can never be fully hidden except with the Charm Subtle Silver Declaration, and at Glowing anima or higher, it is always obvious. If your Tell is a mutation, its concealment doesn't keep folks from noticing your tail, mind. They still notice your weird mutant tail. They just can't tell it's identifying you as Steve the Lunar With A Tail.

When a Lunar goes into animal form, any equipment they're wielding, wearing or carrying that can't be used in that animal's shape vanishes into Elsewhere. This includes almost all artifacts, but moonsilver armor will reshape itself for any form you take, as well some specific other artifacts. Banished items return once you enter a shape they can be used in. Animal shapes also cannot perform Martial Arts, and any Martial Arts Charms that are active when you enter an animal shape immediately end. Shapeshifting cannot heal damage or injuries. If you lose an arm in one form, all shapes you take will lack that limb. Changing shapes requires you have enough space to accomodate you. If you're in a space that can't fit what you want to be, you must flurry your shapeshifting with a feat of demolition to make room for it, and if you fail or the feat is impossible, you can't shapeshift into that form. If you are inside another character somehow, you can't shapeshift into something larger than them or otherwise harm them by shapeshifting inside them, but you can attack from inside them which is likely to be damaging enough.

So, the Solar Bond! In the First Age, some Lunars forged soul-deep bonds with Solars. Not all Lunars have Solar mates, but those that do can always tell when they meet their mate. They instantly recognize the Solar as their bonded mate, forming a minor Tie towards them with an emotional context chosen by the player, if they don't already have one. Lunars can have any kind of feeling towards their mate, but it is always passionate. If your Tie to your Solar mate is fully eroded, either voluntarily or by social influence, you form a new Minor Tie towards them in a context of your choice at the end of the scene. Many Lunar Charms give bonuses when used to protect your Tie to your Solar mate or act in accordance with it. Taking them as an Ally is likely the best way to ensure your Solar mate is a positive figure in your character's life - otherwise, the Solar shows up in the way the GM decides, and may well be an enemy. If your Solar mate dies, they still count as your mate for purposes of the bond and all related Charms until you meet their next incarnation. The Solar Bond works equally with Abyssals and Infernals. This is the sum total of rules for the Solar Bond.

Moonsilver tats! When the Lunars remade their Castes, the moonsilver tattoos were invented as a way to protect themselves and allow them to determine caste. When a Casteless gets tattoos, they choose their caste and align their Essence with it, gaining the caste's powers and attributes, and from that point on, using the caste's XP spending chart rather than the Casteless one. Tattoos can take pretty much any form you want, aesthetically. On top of fixing your caste in place, they also grant total immunity to Wyld exposure and shaping magic that would alter your body, such as petrification or being turned into a duck. You can commit one mote to your tattoos to make them invisible as long as your anima is at Dim. These are not artifacts, and they don't give Evocations. There is no roll required to tattoo a Casteless Lunar in most situations, though a Craft or Occult roll might be called for if you're doing it in really tense situations, like while fleeing the Wyld Hunt. There is no XP cost to learn how to tattoo someone with moonsilver, either - all you need is the moonsilver and a brief lesson on how to do it, which the Silver Pact offers to any interested Lunar.

Where Solars get Solar XP and Dragon-Bloods get Dragon XP, Lunars get Lunar XP. As with those, this can be spent on anything but your native Charms, and as with those, you can get two different 2 XP drops - the Expression Bonus and the Role Bonus - each session.

Expression Bonus
Role Bonus

Lunars suffer the Great Curse in a similar way to Solars. They have a Limit track, and when it hits 10, they enter Limit Break. As their Limit rises, they are haunted by dark passions and become aware of how easy it would be to embrace monstrosity. This is purely roleplaying until they break, however. Lunars can gain Limit by:
Lunars can lose 1 Limit by accomplishing a legendary social goal, and they reset to 0 after a Limit Break.

Lunar Limit triggers are usually situations that relate to their anger or rage, but not always. Examples include:
You destroy, abandon or sacrifice something precious or valuable to you.
Someone insults, belittles or deliberately frustrates you.
You give advice, guidance or wisdom that is not heeded.
The immorality or sins of others hinder or defeat you.
A foe exploits your mercy or compassion.
You must endure deprivation, poverty or extreme physical hardship due to a foe or in order to achieve a goal.
Someone you want to pay attention to you rejects, humiliates or deliberately ignores you.

A Lunar in Limit Break is overtaken by a Monstrous Urge. This can happen immediately or be delayed to dramatic moments, as per Solar Limit Break. All Monstrous urges compel the Lunar to behave in a certain way as though they were a Defining Intimacy. If they allow the Lunar to treat influence as unacceptable, the Lunar must do so. Once the break is over, the Lunar's Willpower resets to be equal to their permanent rating. Each Urge lasts either one scene or one session, but can be ended early by a specific condition. Once it ends, the Lunar's Limit resets to 0.

Monstrous Urge Examples
Avaricious Hoard-Beast Craving: You pick a type of object you value, crave or want, such as currency, artwork or drugs. You seek these out whenever possible for the rest of the session, taking them whenever you can. No matter how much you get, you always need more. If someone tries to part you from your hoard, you must defend it violently, and you will use force to retrieve any that is stolen. This ends early if you harm someone you have a positive Tie towards as a result of it.
Bellowing Tyrant Proclamation: You fill with pride. Anyone you can perceive must be made to acknowledge your authority or superiority. Those that do not or who fail to make it sufficiently explicitly must be convinced to do so. This can be verbal berating, challenges to duels or competitions, flaunting your power or wealth or loudly declaring your Lunar nature - all that matters is it has to make them submit. This lasts for the rest of the session, but ends early if you suffer a significant defeat or setback as a result of trying to prove your superiority.
Enraged Behemoth Rampage: You go into a fury at the slightest provocation for the rest of the scene. If a physical obstacle is in your way, such as a locked door or the guards of a noble you want to talk to, you will attack the obstacle until it gets out of your way. If you experience an unpleasant sensory stimulus, you will lash out at it until it ends. You may refrain from physically harming someone or something if you have a positive Tie towards it, but instead will attempt to intimidate them into obedience. This ends early if you see that your actions cause an NPC you have a positive Major or Defining Tie towards to fear or reject you.
Laughing Devil Spirit: You reveal harsh truths by destroying the illusion of stability for the rest of the session. You do this by intervening in the lives of NPCs to spread chaos, cause problems, encourage conflict and so on. If you have multiple potential victims, you will start with those whose power or privilege gives them the greatest sense of safety or stability. This ends early if your interventions accidentally create a notable obstacle to your or your group's goals.
Sinner-Devouring Judgment: You embody divine retribution for the rest of the session. If you witness someone doing something you deem immoral based on your Principles or violating the customs of a culture you belong to or have a positive Tie towards, you must punish them. You choose what form that takes, but it must be a severity at least equal to that of the violation, and it must come quickly. This ends early if someone you want to punish convinces you that your actions have violated one of your Major or Defining Intimacies.
Stalking Barghest Omen: Your predator nature fixates on someone fo the rest of the session. You pick an NPC that is present or nearby, and you devote yourself to pursuing and observing them from a distance, with as much stealth and subtlety as possible, making them fear whatever pursues them. You may not directly interact with them except to menacingly reveal yourself at suitably ominous or dramatic moments, but you may indirectly intimidate them by leaving hints or signs of your stalking. If they evade you, you must pursue them. If the GM rules it is unlikely or boring that you'll find them, they may have you pick a new NPC to stalk. This ends early if the person you are stalking confronts you and either beats you in combat or causes a significant setback or complication for you.
Terror-Spreading Cruelty: You become a cruel monster for the session. You pursue all goals in the way most likely to terrorize as many people as possible. If you fight off a bandit gang to protect a people, you must inflict as much pain and fear as possible and likely will leave their mutilated corpses as a warning. If you seek a prince's favor by training their soldiers, you will browbeat them and demoralize foes, such as by spreading rumors of their terrifying might through the area. This ends early if you are confronted by a significant foe that wants to defeat you due to the terror you've spread.
Untamed Primal Hunger: You pick a sort of living creature, such as a species of animal, any and all animals whose heart's blood you lack, Dynasts or so on. You are driven to hunt and devour your prey completely for the rest of the session, or the rest of the scene if there's enough present in the scene to make it narratively engaging. You don't have to kill them before trying to eat them if you feel like it. If someone tries to stop you from hunting or attacking your prey, you will violently subdue them. You may refrain from harming people you have positive Ties to, but it must be a Tie to a specific person, not just a group they belong to. This ends early if someone you have a positive Major or Defining Tie towards is harmed as a result of your actions or your failure to protect them because of your obsession.
Vainglorious Siren Promenade: You crave worship for the rest of the session. Everyone you see must adore or obsess over you. Those who do not, or fail to do so sufficiently, must be won over by whatever means you choose, sch as artistic performance, gifts, seduction, lectures, healing people, destroying things or so on. This ends early if your attempts to win over a dangerous foe give that foe an advantage over you or your allies.

Next time: Charms


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Charming

Lunar Excellencies are pretty much directly between Dragon-Blood and Solar ones in power. They function on the Solar model of being gained automatically most of the time, but they are normally limited to giving dice equal to your Attribute. However, a stunt allows you to add in a second Attribute to that – so they go from ‘about as good as a DB’ to ‘about as good as a Solar’ with a stunt, which should be fairly simple. Strength Excellency can also increase Withering damage before soak applies, and the Stamina Excellency can raise soak before damage is rolled. While these rolls can’t benefit from stunt bonuses, description as per a stunt still les you raise your dice caps with them. Lunars automatically get any Excellency for a Caste or Favored Attribute they have at 3 or higher or for which you know at least one Charm. For all other attributes, you get the Excellency if the attribute is at 5 or if you know two Charms for that attribute.

Lunar Charms are limited in what they can boost by attribute, not ability. This is much more flexible, not least because they can be freely combined with Martial Arts and Evocations with much greater ease than Ability Charms would be able to. They also have two new keywords: Protean, which means the Charm gets increased power when used while in certain human or animal forms (but never your native human form). Totemic, which means the Charm can be learned with a different attribute than normal if you have a certain spirit shape, which may reduce the cost to learn it or have different requirements you find it easier to meet.

Before any attribute charms, though, we get the Universal Charms, which have only Essence prereqs. These primarily alter your shapeshifting abilities. These range from Chimera-Soul Expression, which alters your spirit shape by chimerizing it with a second animal, giving it six dots of free mutations based around that animal, which automatically apply to you whenever you use Hybrid Body Transformation as well. Both animals are considered your spirit shape for purposes of Totemic Charms. (Mutations are defined now as any Innate or Purchased merits, mundane or supernatural, which alter or improve your physical body.) The aforementioned Hybrid Body Transformation turns you into a furry when activated. You pick six dots of mutations based on your spirit shape, and you gain those while the Charm is active in your true human form. Other examples include Life of the Hummingbird, which lets you drink blood from an animal or human you kill outside the sacred hunt, temporarily transforming into the target’s shape until you choose to leave it. At Essence 2 you can repurchase this to make it work by drinking the blood of a living human or animal. Many-Faced Moon Transformation lets you alter your form’s appearance in a lot of ways, no matter what form you’re in – you can make it taller or shorter by about ten inches, alter your weight up or down by up to 10%, change or remove your sexual characteristics, change skin tone, eye color or hair color and length, add scars, whatever. These changes are permanent but can be reversed by using the Charm again.

From here, we get into Appearance Charms. Lunar Charms are divided further into topic, because each attribute covers a shitload of topics. First up for Appearance: Heart’s Blood. Each Attribute gives at least one new way to gain forms. Appearance’s is Heart-Drinking Allure. You can sacred hunt a human who has a Major or Defining Tie of love or lust towards you or your current shape. If you do, you may conclude it with a voluntary act of physical intimacy instead of murder. (Physical intimacy is redefined in a sidebar, encompassing literally any form of intimate contact – a passionate hug or kiss counts, even if platonic. You can sacred hunt people by being a supportive friend whom they love and are comforted by. Which is kind of manipulative, but that’s a thing for Lunars.)

Appearance: Influence! We get stuff like Glance-Oration Technique, which allows a Lunar to communicate an influence attempt or a single sentence entirely through body language, denying the Resolve bonus for having no common language. Reflection Gazes Back lets a Lunar persuade those who wish to understand them, reflexively targeting anyone that rolls to read their intentions with an influence roll to threaten, seduce or instill a Tie of fear or desire, with a bonus based on 1s the foe rolls. Divine Paramour’s Embrace lets a Lunar roll to seduce a single target. If that target chooses to let it happen without resistance, it automatically succeeds and the Lunar can transfer Willpower to the target based on the strength of the target’s Intimacy for the Lunar after a minute of physical intimacy, and once per story if used on your Solar mate, it also removes 1 Limit from them. At Essence 3, you don’t even need the minute of intimacy – it just transfers automatically. Hunted Stag Mastery lets you make a reflexive Appearance persuade or threaten roll when ambushed, either being too sexy or too scary to attack. If you succeed, the ambush automatically misses unless the attacker spends Willpower to resist, and if the attacker resists with Willpower, they still attack but you get a cost refund on this Charm.

Perfect Fear Scent lets you emit fear-causing pheromones, making anyone that can see or smell you get a Resolve penalty against your threaten checks or against fear-based Charms that use Appearance, and also gives a penalty to attacks on you or attempts to speak against you. In predatory animal forms, you can use this reflexively if you win Join Battle. Inchoate Horror Embodiment lets you make an Appearance-based threaten roll against a target and appear to them in a way that aligns with their strongest fear-based Tie, though you do not learn what that actually is if you didn’t already know. You get a refund if the target has no one they fear enough to have an Intimacy about it. If you are in a shapeshifted form that already matches this fear, the cost to resist your influence increases. Divine Terror Avatar invokes the fear of your foes. Anyone with a Tie of fear towards you or your current shape cannot attack or make threaten rolls against you, and neither can trivial foes. In combat, in any turn they don’t move away from you, they lose Initiative, and if most of a battle group’s members have a Tie of fear against you, they get a penalty to rout checks when they can see you. This fear can be resisted via Decision Point and an Intimacy of equal or greater strength to the Tie of fear towards you, but can’t be resisted while Crashed.

Appearance: Subterfuge! Subtle Silver Declaration is able to be picked up by anyone, as it only needs Appearance 1, and it causes your Tell to be utterly invisible at Dim anima to anyone who has never seen it before, even if they use magic like Eye of the Unconquered Sun. At Glowing anima, your Tell still requires a roll to notice, with a penalty if they’ve never seen it before. Shifting Penumbra Stance lets you roll an Appearance-based special disguise check to shroud yourself in a coruscating nimbus, and anyone that can’t beat you with an Awareness check can’t tell any details about your identity or what sort of being you are, and those who do can still only tell that you’re a Lunar, but nothing else. One of the Herd lets you, whenever you are in Short range of a group of four or more people, such as a mercenary company, a Dynast’s servants or a wolf pack, behave like them in order to prevent anyone from telling you apart from the other group members unless they can perceive your Tell. This ends if you take overt action such as Joining Battle or blatantly using magic. If your spirit shape mimics the appearance of another animal, you can learn this as Manipulation rather than Appearance. Fickle Lady’s Shifting Star means that when you use the Charm Essential Mirror Nature to disguise your anima as that of another Exalt type, any attempts at divination or scrying will give false information if the truth would contradict your disguise – to all Sidereal divinations or spirit Charms that identify things, for example, you appear to be exactly what you have disguised yourself as. Only magic that directly contests disguise can reveal you, rather than these indirect methods.

Moon-in-Well Emanation lets you meditate on the reflection of your true human shape. You pull it into existence as an immaterial god that is physically identical to you but reversed left-to-right. It shares one Minor, one Major and one Defining Intimacy of your choice with you, and you can give it memories related to those if you want. If not, it has no memories whatsoever. It shares your stats, healthbar and innate Merits, and has Essence somewhat lower than you. It can materialize and can teleport back to you if you’re near a mirror and may enter mirrors as a living reflection. The first time you use this, you and the GM also design some spirit charms for it, and it gains more as you get more powerful and as you use it more. All spirits made by this Charm get the same set of spirit charms, though their memories do not carry over to each other. While it exists, you cast no reflection. If it dies, you get your reflection back a week later or when the current story ends, whichever comes first – or a season, if it was killed by magic that can permakill spirits. You can’t use this while you have no reflection.

Appearance: Warfare! Wolf Devours Shepherd causes you to become so imposing that enemies who try to command battle groups that can see you get a penalty based on your Appearance, and if they fail to give the command properly, they lose Initiative and the battle group gets a penalty to acting. If your spirit shape hunts in groups, you can learn this with Strength. Victorious Beast-King Spirit makes you glorious, so those who fight beside you become braver; whenever you land an attack, you reflexively make an Appearance-based rally or rally for numbers check, too, with a bonus based on the attack roll. Again, if your spirit shape hunts in groups, it can be learned with Strength. Pride-Scattering Approach can be used when you or an allied battle group attacks an enemy battle group that can see you, and it boosts the damage roll and penalizes any rout checks the attack causes. If you’re shapeshifted into a person or animal the majority of the target battle group’s members have a Major or Defining Tie of fear towards, the penalty is worse. Again, Strength is possible if your spirit shape hunts in groups. Silver-Maned Warlord Glory gives a bonus to your Appearance-based command rolls based on your anima banner’s strength, gives allied battle groups a bonus to rout checks based on how strong your anima banner is, and once per scene you can expend your anima to reset your ability to make a rally for numbers check, as your argent glory calls back even the most distant remnants of your forces. Strength for group hunters again.

Next time: Charisma.

Charismatic Lunar Tricks

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Charismatic Lunar Tricks

Charisma: Heart’s Blood! Debt of Borrowed Skin lets you perform a sacred hunt to gain a human’s shape by performing a serious or life-defining task on their behalf. Your target must agree to you doing so and must consider the value of your task to be equal to their heart’s blood (on top of any compensation they offer), in addition to it being difficult enough for it to count as serious or life-defining for you. They need not, however, know or consent to you gaining their heart’s blood, and they can’t renege later. If you fail to accomplish the task or abandon it, the sacred hunt is a failure and you can’t gain the target’s shape via this Charm for the rest of the story, but other sacred hunts can still work.

Charisma: Influence! Beast-King Dictates lets you reroll failures on a persuade, bargain or threaten roll because of your natural authority, and you reroll all 1s first if you’re in a human shape that has a superior position to your target in a formal or informal social hierarchy. Herd-Strengthening Invocation lets you talk about or give a performance on a custom of a culture you have a Tie towards, with the specifics depending on the Tie’s context – if positive, you reveal the merit of the custom, while if negative, you speak against it in order to piss the crowd off at you. (Note: customs don’t have to be of nations or cultures – they can be for smaller groups, like a god’s cult or a specific gang, and the game specifically says a clever Lunar can spread customs to take advantage of later.) Any audience members that belong to the relevant culture are treated as having a Principle embodying the chosen custom until you stop committing Essence to this charm, with intensity equal to your Tie. This provides the benefits of having the Intimacy defensively, but cannot be exploited by others offensively. They aren’t forced to obey it, but if they violate the custom they lose this benefit. The Charm also ends if you lose your Tie to the culture.

Untamed Soul Unity lets you make a Charisma-based instill check to turn an animal into your temporary familiar (or that of anyone else you choose that’s present) and give it a Major Tie of loyalty to you (or the person you picked). It becomes a familiar permanently if this is raised to Defining before the story ends, and it can’t be used on animals that’d be 3-dot familiars or are someone else’s familiar already. If you give your Solar mate a familiar, it immediately forms a Defining Tie, and it can be 3-dot. Beast-God Idolatry lets you make an object depicting you or one of your shapes, imbuing it with an influence roll to instill a Tie towards whatever it depicts which affects anyone that sees it for the first time, for as long as you keep the motes committed and for several days after. Creation-Spanning Passion lets you instill someone with a Tie towards you or strengthen one that exists already that has a context that matches or reciprocates one you have towards them, with a bonus based on the strength of your Intimacy. As long as both Ties are Major or Defining, you share dreams with each other at night, and each player can ask the GM a question about the other’s location, condition or emotions. You can conceal information from each other to require a read intentions roll to get the answer. The dreams end if you and they go over a month without interacting in the normal world. If used on your Solar mate, you share dreams no matter what the Tie strengths are. (Note: this still works if the context is you hate each other.)

Moonstruck Reverie Trick lets you whisper dreams of love to someone, making a special Charisma instill roll against a sleeping target. If you succeed, you pick a trait someone might have, like a physical feature, ethnicity, social class or profession. The next time your target meets someone with that trait, the person they meet automatically makes a Presence-based instill roll with bonus dice based on your Essence against your target, without being aware they’re doing it. If they succeed, the target gains a Major Tie of love towards them, though the victim decides if it’s romantic or platonic. At Essence 3, you can repurchase to make this persistent, causing it to recur if the first attempt fails for several additional viable people. Culture Hero Empowerment lets you pick a custom of a culture you have a Major or Defining positive Tie to, ritually picking a member of that culture to be its guardian or enforcer. All other members of that culture instinctively recognize that person’s position, and their social influence benefits from any positive Ties towards the culture. Further, that person also gets a boost to Resolve against influence contrary to the custom, gets a bonus based on your Essence you read intentions, profile characters or case scenes to detect transgressions of the custom, or to influence checks to convince those who have violated the custom to atone or accept punishment, or to convince others to help punish transgressors. Also, you can freely bless them with another Lunar Charm, Shining Moon-Child Mark, that makes people feel about them the way you do. Once per story, when one of your blessed culture heroes takes on significant risks to punish or prevent transgression of their custom, you gain Willpower and lose Limit, as does your Solar mate if they rule that culture.

Charisma: Warfare! Vengeful Beast Triumph can be used when an allied battle group routs or takes Magnitude damage, allowing you to reflexively rally or rally for numbers with Charisma via your sheer presence, and stealing Initiative from the enemy that damaged or routed them. This can be learned via Strength for Lunars whose spirit shape hunts in groups. Rampage-Unleashing Provocation lets you make a Performance-based instill roll to send an ally into a frenzy via taunts, music or chanting. If you beat their Resolve, they get a bonus to Resolve against fear-based influence and a bonus dot of Strength, but cannot flee or surrender without spending 1 WP to end the frenzy. Exalts you target can reflexively activate any one Simple Charm that causes a berserker rage, like Relentless Lunar Fury or the Solar charm Battle Fury Focus. Wild Fury Awakening lets you make a Charisma roll call up a battle group of animals of a species whose heart’s blood you possess from within several miles, which shows up after a few rounds. Relatively weak animals such as squirrels or cats form a Size 3 battle group, while predators or mighty beasts like tigers or yeddim form a Size 2 group, and superpredators like river dragons or tyrant lizards form a Size 1 group. Their Drill is average, except for pack hunters, whose Drill is elite. They follow your actions in battle, and if not commanded, attack your foes and follow you in pursuit of new ones. Commanding them outside of battle requires social influence. Summoned animals are never familiars, magically enhanced or animals that have Major or Defining negative ties to you. If you use this while in the form of the summoned beasts, you get a pool of successes to spend on command rolls targeting them.

Charisma: Territory! Boundary-Marking Meditation lets you claim a territory with size based on your Essence. You must physically travel the majority of it, and any mortal communities there must accept your presence and acknowledge that they have no ability or desire to drive you out. Any supernatural beings in the region, including other Exalts, must either consent to your claim or be forced to submit in battle or similar. Also, if the territory is already claimed by another Lunar, you can’t take it unless they let you or they die. You pick three qualities to describe the territory; any action taken by anyone in the territory that is supported by a quality is treated as having an applicable specialty, and any action opposed by a quality gets a minor penalty. You never suffer penalties from this and you may reflexively give that immunity to others, or deny them benefits. Story events may remove qualities, and once per story you can change a territory’s qualities or replace lost ones with new ones that apply. You can only have a number of territories based on your Essence. This can be learned via Wits, too.

Dream-Shrouded Wilderness lets you whisper a dream into the land as a Charisma-based instill or persuade roll, binding it into your claimed territory. The first time any given character sleeps in your territory each story, they are hit by the influence roll via a dream. This ends if you go more than a season without visiting the territory. King-of-Beasts Sovereignty lets you enchant a region to pick an animal species that lives there with a Charisma roll, as long as they would be 2-dot familiars or below. All animals of that species in the region get a Minor Tie of loyalty to the region’s mortals, or a Major tie if it’s your claimed territory. So long as they are treated well, they will protect and aid the locals. They return to the wilds at the end of the story, though individuals might remain based on events. Even those who leave will not harm the natives unless provoked afterwards.

Living World Embodiment gives each of your territories a virtual healthbar. When you take Decisive damage within your territory, you can shunt half the damage to the territory’s healthbar, and you can deal damage to it to prevent botches or Willpower loss to disease. Damage to the territory manifests in the form of withered plants, barren land, diseased animals and so on. Its wound penalties apply to all Survival rolls to forage and find shelter in it and to Craft rolls to make things from its natural resources. It heals one level of damage per month, or per week if enhanced by the Lunar Charm Moon-and-Earth Blessing, but while it has wound penalties it loses the bonus successes granted by that Charm. While in your territory, whenever you would heal a level of damage, you may choose not to in order to heal a level of damage to the territory, which the GM may rule can also be used to heal blights, infestations or curses on the land. You can also, if the territory is undamaged and blessed by Moon-and-Earth Blessing, forgo healing to increase that Charm’s effects to bless the land further, causing massive supernatural fertility.

Next time: Dexterity

Army of Me

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Army of Me

Dexterity: Heart’s Blood! Nest-Raiding Slyness lets you perform a sacred hunt to get a human or animal shape by breaking into your target’s home or den while the target is in it, escape without being captured and do something to reveal the extent of your intrusion, like stealing an heirloom, leaving a calling card or similar, such that the victim forms a negative Tie towards you, or whoever they think you are. If you are captured or retreat to avoid capture, your hunt fails and you can’t use this Charm to gain that shape for the rest of the story, but other hunts can be used. Emerald Grasshopper Form lets you shapeshift into animals with the Miniscule Size merit, and if you have one of those as your spirit shape you can learn it via Wits. Tyrant Mouse Dominion lets you shrink any shape you are in to Miniscule Size, including any clothes or moonsilver artifacts, while any other equipment is banished elsewhere for the duration. This gives +3 Evasion against larger foes without the Tiny Creature merit, or +2 Evasion against Tiny Creatures. It also gives a penalty to Awareness rolls to notice you, lessened against Tiny Creatures. Against any non-Miniscule foes, your Withering damage has a strict cap and your Decisive attacks deal no damage (but can still deliver poison or similar). You can’t grapple foes without Miniscule Size or oppose grapples of non-Miniscule foes, and your Strength is 1 for feats of strength without boosting from Charms. If your form would have Tiny Creature or Legendary Size, you lose those for the duration. Again, if your spirit shape is Miniscule, you can learn this through Wits.

Dexterity: Offense! Finding the Needle’s Eye lets you flex and bend your limbs from unexpected angles, rerolling 1s on an attack and ignoring a bit of Defense from cover, weapons or Full Defense. With Dex 4+, you can even attack through full cover, though it boosts your foe’s Defense. If you are using the tail, tentacles or similarly flexible appendages of an animal form, you ignore additional Defense. Needle Quill Panoply lets you harden a strand of hair, feather or similar body part into a projectile which you may use for bow or crossbow ammo or throw as a dart. A repurchase at Dex 3+ lets you pay Initiative to also reflexively reload a crossbow or similar Slow-tagged non-flame weapon. Octopus-and-Spider Barrage lets you make a ton of Decisive attacks at once, reflexively swapping weapons if you feel like it. When used in any shapeshifted form that has more than four limbs, each attack that hits increases the damage of all further attacks. Which stacks.

Dexterity: Defense! Nimble Squirrel Evasion lets you dance around enemy attacks, causing them to lose Initiative whenever you dodge a Decisive attack from them, with extra loss if you’re in a Tiny or Miniscule form. Flowing Body Evasion causes your body to melt around an attack, making it pass through you. This lets you apply Evasion to undodgeable attacks (but not ambushes) and boosts Evasion against normal ones, and if the attack hits you anyway, you can reduce the damage by spending Willpower, with any non-gambit attack that deals no damage being considered dodged as it passes through your body. If used against a source of uncountable damage, you autododge it and, if it’s recurring damage, you become immune to it for the scene as it keeps passing through you harmlessly. Ferocious Guardian Beast Stance lets you reflexively defend other for the scene, and it makes it so any foe attacking the person you’re defending is considered slower than you for several Lunar defense charms that care about that.

Dexterity: Mobility! Graceful Crane Stance shapeshifts your bones lighter and improves your footing, allowing you to stand or run on any surface, even if it’s too weak to hold you normally or too narrow to normally balance on. Spider-Climbing Attitude shapeshifts your body to allow you to maintain grip even on sheer vertical surfaces or even ceilings, as long as you keep using it or end your turn on surfaces you can stand on. If your spirit shape can climb sheer surfaces, such as a spider, this can be learned via Wits. Shifting Octopus Trick lets you become malleable and flow out of non-magical bindings automatically, plus get a bonus to escape magical bindings or enemy grapples. The bonus is increased in an animal form with the Contortionist merit. Shifting Many-Legged Stride alters your feet and legs as you move, adapting to any landscape. You ignore non-magical difficult terrain and make gambits that would impede your movement harder. In any animal form with a Speed bonus, you also get a bonus to enhanced move actions or further increase gambit difficulty.

Dexterity: Subterfuge! Snake-Finger Style gives a bonus to picking pockets, picking locks, cheating at cards, poisoning drinks or any other similar action that could be boosted by perfectly precise, fluid movements, and lets you shapeshift your fingers briefly to remove all penalties or increased difficulty for having no equipment. If your spirit shape is Tiny or Minuscule, you can learn this with Manipulation. Elusive Prey Approach lets you sense a foe’s blind spot, reflexively attempting to enter concealment when you dodge an attack. Flashing Steel Reversal lets you make a disarm gambit against a slower foe with Larceny and, if you succeed and have a free hand, you can reflexively ready the stolen weapon; at Essence 3+, you even break their attunement to artifact weapons you steal and can attune them yourself. Silent Swooping Owl completely controls your body’s actions, causing you to be perfectly and completely silent and undetectable by hearing no matter what you do.

Dexterity: Swarm! Cunning Anglerfish Decoy lets you remove a hair, shed a tear or spit, transforming the cast-off tiny body part into a clone of your current form, with nonfunctional duplicates of all its equipment. Your clone has no true intellect or agency and can’t do anything that needs a roll, but is a realistic imitation of you. It reverts if it goes beyond Medium range from you, and it has your Parry, Evasion and Guile. If hit, it vanishes in a flash of silver light, and superhuman or magically enhanced senses allow Awareness rolls against its Guile to tell it’s fake, as can talking with it for a few minutes and making a read intentions roll. You may reflexively attempt Stealth even without a hiding place when you use this, with those who fail opposing you believing you’re the fake copy and it’s you. Lunars with Tiny or Minuscule spirit shapes can learn this with Manipulation or Wits.

Thousandfold Wasp Dance lets you vomit up a swarm of Minuscule creatures whose heart’s blood you have, which heads out to a location within Medium range, forming an environmental hazard for anyone within Short range of its center and forcing people to spend Initiative to move through it as if it were a battle group. You can move it around on your turn as a move action. Foes with a weapon like a firewand can make a very difficult gambit to disperse the swarm. If your spirit shape is Minuscule, you can learn this via Wits. Ant-and-Starfish Trick upgrades Cunning Anglerfish Decoy to let it make fully functional clones that have personhood and agency and acts independently. If human, it uses your stats; if an animal, it mostly uses the animal’s statblock, and it can’t be Legendary Size or Minuscule. It always has your Tell, healthbar and Intimacies, with a Defining Tie of loyalty to you that cannot be weakened or altered, and it must remain within several miles of you. It has no motes and can’t use Charms or shapeshift, but has functional (but mundane) equivalents to all your equipment, which dissolve if taken away from it for more than a scene. It is impossible to tell it’s a clone with a read intentions action without magic or superhuman senses. You can touch your clones to absorb them and gain all of their memories; if the Charm ends without doing this or the clone is killed, you do not gain its memories. As with the original Charm, you can learn this with Manipulation or Wits if your spirit shape is Tiny or Minuscule.

Hungry All-Consuming Cloud lets you transform into a swarm of Minuscule creatures, losing Minuscule Size and instead gaining a bunch of bonus health levels that vanish once damaged, gives you a swarming attack as a light weapon with Lethal, Brawl, Flexible, Grappling, Natural and Piercing tags, whose attacks hit anyone in Close range of you with a single attack roll. (Grappling as a swarm lets you grapple a lot of folks but you can only restrain, savage or release.) You can’t Parry, but you get an Evasion bonus and halve minimum damage from Withering attacks and slightly reduce Decisive damage, except against Flame or Siege weapons or effects able to hit the entire swarm. You are immune to grapples unless they have magic to grapple your entire swarm-body. Human-sized or smaller foes get a penalty to oppose your rushes and disengages or to disengage you, and must disengage to move away from you even at Short range. If your spirit shape is Minuscule, you can learn this via Wits.

Locust-and-Starling Legion lets you turn into a battle group made entirely of clones of you. Your Size is based on Essence and gives a bonus to your attacks and Withering damage as well as your Soak and Magnitude, your Magnitude is base 10 regardless of your normal healthbar, and your Simple Charms are not compatible with area attacks which, remember, you can make because you are a battle group. By yourself. Unlike most battle groups, you have neither Drill nor Might, your Initiative is not unchangeable, and you can make Withering or Decisive attacks using the same rules as Hungry All-Consuming Cloud to attack multiple targets. You can’t benefit from command actions or Charms that specifically boost battle groups. Your Magnitude is separate from your healthbar, representing only harm to your clones, not you personally. You don’t make rout checks when you lose Size, but instead make an Integrity check to keep the Charm active; on a failure, it ends and you take 1L that can’t be prevented. You can only use this once per scene, and only in a form that isn’t Legendary Size or Minuscule. If your spirit shape is Minuscule, you can learn this with Wits.

Next time: Intelligence


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: MY MIGHTY MOON BRAIN

Intelligence: Heart’s Blood! Blood Geas Binding lets you bind any promise a human makes to you or swears a vow for you to witness. If they break the oath, you feel a sudden spike of rage to let you know and gain their shape as if you had sacred hunted them. This cannot seal oaths specifically made to easily give you a shape by breaking it. Also, if your Solar mate is an Eclipse that uses their anima power to seal an oath, you can use this on that oath cheaper and even use it if the oath was not made to you or for you to witness.

Memory-Drinking Meditation causes you, when you claim a human shape, to gain one of their Ties to a person at Minor, which you must know about beforehand to gain. While in the victim’s shape, you gain all of their memories related to that Tie, revealed as they become relevant, and you can introduce facts using these memories as if you had a relevant Lore specialty. This ends if you ever lose the granted Tie. An Int 5, E3 repurchase lets you gain all the victim’s memories, and you can gain animals’ memories without need for a Tie. You don’t have eidetic recall of all of these memories, only having the prey’s memories to rely on, and it gives no skills. Stolen Voice Echo lets you also steal language knowledge this way, which at Int 4 and Ess 3 you can gain permanently. Lessons in the Blood allows use Memory-Drinking Meditation to go into XP debt to learn a spell, a Martial Arts Charm or a number of thaumaturgical rituals your victim knew, as long as you meet all normal prereqs for it, and you may use their memories as a tutor for other spells or Charms they knew. The first time you use this Charm ever, you don’t go into XP debt – you just get the new power free.

Intelligence: Knowledge! Inevitable Genius Insight essentially lets you combine all the skills for Knowing Things. You can use the most relevant of Bureaucracy, Craft, Investigation, Larceny, Linguistics, Medicine, Occult, Socialize, Survival or War as the basis for a bonus to Lore checks and can use specialties in the used ability as if they were Lore specialties for introducing facts, and apply them to your roll as well. Dreaming Wisdom Revelation lets you go vision questing, read entrails and otherwise perform divinations to make an Intelligence roll and build a pool of foresight points with the result. You can spend these to reset your limit on introducing facts if doing so upholds a Defining Intimacy or benefits your Solar mate, to gain sorcerous motes or Craft XP, to boost Investigation, Lore, Medicine or Occult rolls, to boost Resolve, to retroactively use the Charm Devil-Pleasing Chiminage, the Charm Heaven-Darkening Eclipse or the Charm Moonlit Apothecary Cauldron and have the relevant offering, contingency or medicine on hand, to automatically succeed at introducing a fact. You can use this only once per story, and obviously you need to know a Charm to use it retroactively.

Tale-Spinning Mastery lets you tell someone a folk tale, legend or story to raise their stats or skills in a fraction of normal time, with a bonus if you learned the story in play or introduced it as a fact and it directly relates to what yo’re raising for them, but you can’t raise their traits above yours. An E3 repurchase lets you do this to multiple students at once. Moonlit Cauldron Apothecary lets you roll Lore or Medicine to introduce a fact about the location of a medicine or substance that is a cure for whatever disease or poison you have diagnosed, allowing you to go there and get a single dose of cure. Such a cure is rare and nearly unique each time, and using it allows an instant roll to treat the disease or poison at considerably lower difficulty than normal or considerably faster than normal. Flesh-Sculpting Art lets you sculpt flesh as if it were clay, rerolling 1s on surgery checks and ignoring all penalties for lacking tools, as well as letting you do an hour’s worth of work in a minute and never causing damage with surgery, no matter how intrusive. Further, you can do surgery beyond the limits of mundane medicine, such as cosmetic surgery, making pouches to smuggle contraband or so on, though you can’t give mutations.

Intelligence: Mysticism! Crossroads Walker Entreaty gives a bonus to Resolve and Guile against spirits and fae (which are officially defined here as any Fair Folk and native Wyld creatures such as buck-ogres or manticores, but not humans or animals mutated by the Wyld) and requires these beings to hear you out peacefully as long as you and your party remain peaceful and inoffensive unless they pay Willpower. If in a human or animal shape that a spirit or fae has a Major or Defining positive Tie to, they must instead enter a Decision Point to resist and use an Intimacy of equal or greater strength. Devil-Pleasing Chiminage lets you make a Lore or Occult roll to introduce a fact about the location of something rare and unique that will be an especially pleasant offering to a specific spirit or fae, which you can then go get and use as exceptional equipment on a bargain roll with that spirit or fae that also counts as a Major Intimacy supporting your influence for a single a roll. At Essence 2+, if you or your Solar mate gives the offering personally, it instead counts as a Defining Intimacy and costs more to resist.

Raiton’s Dark Auspice causes your wisdom to shine in the Underworld, giving a bonus to all bargain and persuade checks with ghosts permanently and causing any ghost whose body you gave a proper burial or similar funeral rites for to treat you as if they had a Major Tie of friendship to you, as do any ghosts whose heart’s blood you took in life, though those don’t realize why – they just feel an inexplicable liking for you. If the ghost has reason to oppose you, their virtual Intimacy is only treated as Minor, and they can suppress the Intimacy with Willpower if you attack them or threaten their Major or Defining Intimacies. Lunars get to be good at the Underworld now. Sharing Luna’s Gifts lets you anoint a willing living being with your blood, giving them up to five dots of mutations reflecting an animal whose shape you have. PCs go into XP debt, and NPCs can only be blessed once per story, and this Charm doesn’t require you to hurt yourself if used on yourself. Also, this works on any living creature, they just have to be willing.

Swarming Locust Punishment causes anyone that breaks an oath you sanctified with Blood Geas Binding to get attacked by bees or other vermin and insects. These are not a combat threat, but do cause a minor environmental hazard in any wilderness they travel through, which they may only avoid by remaining in one place or traveling an area devoid of animal life, causes a penalty to all attempts to navigate wilderness, forage, find shelter, track people in the wilds or hide tracks, and requires a Stamina roll each night to keep the animals from disturbing sleep, preventing Willpower gain and the reduction of fatigue penalties. If this lasts for three nights in a row, they gain the Obsession derangement at Minor or increase it one step, fixated on finding and killing their animal tormentors, which persists even after the curse ends. The curse lasts for several weeks or until you choose to end it or a condition you set to end it is met, whichever comes first.

Cage of Horn and Sinew lets you trap a spirit in a nearby animal, as long as that animal isn’t a familiar or magically enhanced. The spirit remains imprisoned for several months or until the animal dies, whichever is first, but controls the animal’s body while trapped inside it, using all of its stats. While the spirit retains its memories and Intimacies, its intellect is reduced to that of the animal, though the GM may rule this improves over time. The animal’s body will not allow it to commit suicide. Once freed, the spirit gains a Defining Intimacy reflecting the animal’s nature and their experiences inside it, and the animal gains one of the spirit’s Defining Intimacies if it’s still alive. It may, at the GM’s whim, become God-Blooded. You may use this when you incapacitate a spirit via Demon-Drinking Howl to trap them in an animal for a year and a day rather than permakilling them; this also causes the spirit to form a Defining Tie of gratitude to you for your mercy, which they can’t erode until freed. Spell-Rending Talon lets you make a Decisive attack while at Initiative 12+ to cause any damage you do to count as successes towards distorting a spell the person you struck is benefitting from, without it counting towards the terminus of rolls to distort.

Beast-Soul Awakening Crucible lets you find a sacred place in the wilds, either a demesne or the Wyld. You spend five days working there to build a testing ground by meditating, performing rituals, bargaining with local spirits, etching occult glyphs and so on. This becomes imbued with your spirit shape, and any mortal that successfully completes the trial there gains six dots of mutations reflecting that animal, chosen by you when you use this. If you have Chimera-Soul Expression, you instead pick two sets – one for each animal of your spirit shape – and successful mortals get whichever best fits their personality and the nature of their triumph. These mutations are hereditary. The nature of the trial is not chosen by you, but instead emerges from your spirit shape and the land’s Essence, with you and the GM working out what form it takes. Failure always has heavy consequences – not necessarily death, but maiming, curses, Derangements or similar are possible, and anyone that fails can never try your testing grounds again. If you end this Charm before the story ends, the testing ground loses power, but otherwise, it becomes permanent at the end of the story, persisting even beyond your own death. Testing grounds may be destroyed by building a manse over them or permanently shaping the Wyld they are within into Creation via magic such as Wyld-Shaping Technique.

Heaven-Darkening Eclipse lets you use Lore or Occult to introduce a fact about an ongoing spirit Charm or spell effect, introducing a method by which it can be undone, which is opposed by the creator of the original effect. You and the GM, if you succeed, work together to determine how you can end the magic, which requires effort directly related to the effect’s strength. This cannot reverse Instant-duration effects or anything put in place by an Essence 10 being, and if you break an effect, its user becomes immediately aware. A repurchase at Int 5, E4 lets you pay an extra cost to use this to permanently end a Terrestrial sorcerous working or temporarily suppress a Celestial or Solar working long enough to accomplish a major task. Insidious Lunar Transformation lets you feed someone your blood (which requires a gambit in combat) to roll Intelligence against their Stamina. Success turns them into an animal whose shape you possess, which functions as Lunar shapeshifting but forces them to use the lower of their own or the animal’s pools and values, though they retain their intellect. This lasts for several days or until they meet a condition you set to end it, whichever comes first. You can permanently transform mortals or animals with low Willpower.

Intelligence: Crafting! Many-Phase Insights lets you gain Craft XP as if you completed a basic project when you introduce a fact relating to a Craft ability, when you provide medical treatment using equipment or medicine you made, when you navigate the wilderness using tools you made or use such tools to withstand hardships on a journey in the wilds, or when you tattoo a Casteless Lunar. Brilliance-Drinking Approach lets you gain Craft XP as if you completed a basic project when you take the shape of any human with a Craft rated at 3+ or whom the GM rules is a professional artisan; the GM may rule that animals capable of significant crafting also give this reward. If the person has Craft (Artifact) or (Geomancy) at 1+, you instead get a reward as per a major project. If you have Demon-Drinking Fang, you also gain these rewards when you destroy a spirit capable of crafting. Beast-Slayer’s Art gives you a bunch of silver Craft XP when you use the remains of an animal, monster or bestial spirit as an essential component of a major project, once per project. A beast’s remains can only be used for one project.

Inchoate Wonders Realized lets you draw on the formless potential of your crafting legend to temporarily render a partially-completed or partially -repaired artifact usable for the rest of the story, once per story. You can keep working to complete it while using it, and it need not match its precise capabilities once completed. If it is rated 3+, you and the GM should design a single Evocation the completed artifact may have, which you and your Solar mate can awaken without spending XP. Also, you can gain Evocations from it normally after that. Quenched in Legend lets you gain Gold XP when using an artifact temporarily usable via Inchoate Wonders Realized to uphold a Major or Defining Intimacy, achieve a major character or story goal, complete a legendary social goal, do something with the artifact that causes someone to form a Major or Defining Tie towards you or it, anyone awakens an Evocation from it, or once per session its wielder gets a 2- or 3-point stunt using it. You also get additional Gold XP at the end of any story where someone uses the artifact to uphold a Defining Intimacy, accomplish a major character or story goal, or achieve a legendary social goal.

Shifting Skin Raiment can be used whenever you make clothes, armor, jewelry or another worn object via a Major Project enhanced by Beast-Slayer’s Art. You may reflexively use Sharing Luna’s Gifts, imbuing the object with up to 5 dots of mutations reflecting the nature of the beast whose remains were incorporated into the object and paying some Gold XP. Anyone wearing the object can spend Willpower to gain those mutations for a scene. This does not turn the object into an artifact – it’s just a magic item with no artifact dots, and cannot sustain any Evocations.

Intelligence: Warfare! Dauntless Tactician’s Reversal lets you reveal your secret plans to defend against a foe’s plans. When an allied battle group makes a rout check, you can spend Initiative to boost their roll, and if you succeed, your secret counterplan gives them a bonus to Defense and soak until the end of next turn. If your spirit shape is a pack hunter, you can learn this with Stamina. Silver Lion Supremacy draws on the mystic power of your beastfolk legions or other magical forces, giving you a bonus to a Strategic Maneuver roll based on the highest Might of any allied battle group, and if you stunt via describing how the superhuman abilities of your forces help your plan, the bonus is better. Again, can be learned via Stamina if your spirit shape is a pack hunter.

Intelligence: Sorcery! Cloaked in Moonfire causes your shifting anima to preserve your sorcerous power. While at Glowing or higher, you do not lose sorcerous motes on turns where you don’t gather new ones. Cosmos-Rending Fury invokes your primal Lunar rage, allowing you to reflexively use a Shape Sorcery action with free full Excellency to start casting a spell if you win Join Battle. Which is pretty goddamn potent for a battle sorcerer.

Next time: Manipulation


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Moonipulation

Manipulation: Heart’s Blood! Argent Trickster’s Rook lets you sacred hunt a human by challenging them to a game of chance of some kind and convincing them to stake their shape as a wager. You don’t have to convince them you can actually take it, and you can use vague language, metaphor or half-truth. Your own wager must be something the target would consider equal in value to the theft of their form. If you win, which you can cheat to do as long as you don’t get caught, you gain their form and the hunt ends. Your target must be playing to win. If they win or they catch you cheating, the hunt fails and you can’t try this hunt on them again this story, though other hunts still work.

Manipulation: Influence! Fox-Tailed Trickster’s Grace lets you make a Manipulation-based instill roll against all witnesses that belong to the relevant culture when you violate a custom or social norm. Anyone that it succeeds on will rationalize a reason not to punish, reprimand or think worse of you for it, and cannot form or strengthen negative Ties towards you or weaken positive ones based on your transgression. Resisting this requires a Decision Point and a Major or Defining Intimacy. It will not, however, prevent legal consequences, just the social stigma. A Manip 3, E2 repurchase lets targets choose not to even try to resist the roll, and you know if they decide to do this. You can pay Willpower to give them a bonus to their attempts to convince others to ignore violation of the same custom or argue against the custom within the next few days.

Uncertain Sky Ambiguity lets you make a special Manipulation-based instill roll with a bonus. If you succeed, targets doubt the truth of a specific fact of your choice, and that doubt can be leveraged as a Major Intimacy for the rest of the scene. Anyone presented with direct evidence of the fact’s truth can resist this without Willpower spending, and anyone with an Intimacy about believing the fact can treat it as unacceptable influence (so a Tie of loyalty will keep someone from doubting if they serve the Tie’s target, but you could make them doubt if they heard an order correctly). Wayward Pariah Infliction works similarly, but instead makes the target believe they’re secretly distrusted and scorned by other members of a culture they belong to, temporarily reducing the effects of positive Ties towards members of that culture or the culture proper, and giving a penalty to influence and read intentions rolls against members of the culture, all of which last until a member of the culture convinces them they’re welcome in it. If you’re in a human shape that belongs to that culture, they get a Resolve penalty against your roll.

Commanded to Fly can be used when you are hit by a Psyche effect or other mind-affecting curse. It still works, but you add a stipulation or condition to the thing it compels you to do, equivalent to an inconvenient or serious task. The condition can’t directly contravene the control, but can make it harder for you to do or later the intended outcome. However, it can’t be a condition that’d let you ignore the influence as unacceptable. You may use this once per story. Coyote-Laughing Hilarity lets you oppose someone’s influence roll with a Manipulation roll. If you win, your reaction convinces all other affected targets that the original person’s intent was sarcastic, ironic or humorous, inverting its effect. Thus, an instill roll accusing you of misdeeds builds positive Ties as it is taken for praise, while an inspire roll to calm a crowd angers them. The influence still affects you as normal if it lands, however, unless you use the Charm Whispering Silver Serpent. Whispering Silver Serpent convinces you that one of your lies is actually true, and for the rest of the scene, all read intentions or profile character checks can’t reveal any evidence you lied, nor can mind-reading. This can even contest lie-detecting magic such as Judge’s Ear Technique, forcing a roll between you and the user.

Manipulation: Guile! Anemones Conceal Clownfish is quite nice, because it lets you boost an ally’s Guile when you see them getting targeted by something that opposes Guile. If used to boost your Solar mate, you also give the Mute keyword to any Essence they spend to boost their own Guile. Forgotten Self Wisdom lets you conceal part of yourself by taking the form of another. When you assume a human or animal shape, you can suppress an Intimacy that is not compatible with impersonating that shape. While suppressed, it cannot be detected by any means except people extrapolating from your behavior, can’t modify your Resolve or justify persuade actions against you, and can’t be used in Decision Points. You can use this multiple times to suppress multiple Intimacies at once, but it ends if you change shape again, and if you end it and then in the same scene use the Intimacy you had sealed to boost your Resolve or in a Decision Point, you can’t use this Charm again for the rest of the day. Labyrinth of the Beast can be used when you successfully resist with Guile and the other character rolls at least one 1. The other character believes they succeeded, but instead of the truth, you reveal to them an animal drive of your choice, such as hunger, aggression or lust, and they ignore you for the rest of the scene unless you draw their attention by your actions. If you are in an animal shape, you can use this even on a successful read intention check from another character if it had a 1 in it, and they see you just as a normal animal.

River Reflects Desire works like Labyrinth of the Beast, but the victim sees what they most desire to see. A merchant prince might see you as someone who can be bought, while an Anathema-hunting monk might think you both know the true identity of the Anathema and want to help. Silver Mask Subversion lets you replace your own personality and Intimacies with those of a human whose shape you take on and whom you have a Tie to, or an animal shape. Your Intimacies are replaced by theirs for the duration, or a set the GM rules are appropriate to the person or animal in question. You can act against your normal Intimacies freely without penalty, but can’t use them defensively, either, and they can’t be detected by read intentions checks and so on. You retain your memories, but they distort to fit your new identity, and any that can’t be made to fit are repressed for the duration. You may still act on your true motives, but your altered memories or Intimacies may change how you do so. You are not aware you are a shapeshifter, and cannot voluntarily shapeshift, but you can still use Charms, Evocations and spells, though you may be surprised by your ability to do so. You can define a condition that will end this Charm if met, such as hearing a phrase or a certain amount of time passing. You can’t otherwise voluntarily end it until the story ends or you witness a threat to your Solar mate or one of your true Major or Defining Intimacies.

Manipulation: Subterfuge! Falling Leaf Distraction lets you use special voice harmonics to captivate people, making a special Manipulation-based instill roll that ignores multiple target penalties. Anyone you succeed against is drawn in by your speech, and for as long as you keep speaking, which you may do reflexively, they get a penalty to Awareness or Investigation checks opposed by Larceny or Stealth, except against you. This cannot be resisted with Willpower unless failing such a roll would threaten a Major or Defining Intimacy. In an animal shape, you instead distract anyone that can see you with unusual or cute antics. Night Sky Burial hides your crimes as blameless events, boosting a conceal evidence check. Anyone that fails an Investigation roll thinks they succeeded but discover clues consistent with your choice of: a crime of opportunity committed by petty criminals or undesirables, the actions of wild animals, a crime committed by spirits, fae or other inhuman beings, a freak accident of nature, or the actions of someone with authority over either the victim or investigator. A repurchase at Manip 5, E2 lets you mislead investigators even if they don’t fail the roll, causing them to find both the false clue and the real evidence you left. They know the two don’t match but can’t tell which is fake. You may use this additional effect only once per story.

Candle-Eating Rat Trick lets you swallow the light. When you spend at least 5 motes with the Mute keyword and your anima is Dim, you extinguish all lights other than anima banners out to Medium range, or a single light source within Long range, your choice. Magical light sources relight after the scene ends, but mundane ones must be relit normally. You may do this only once per scene. If used with the Charm Clouds Cover Moon to keep people from noticing the extinguishing is not a normal, natural event, you only need one activation to cover all of the lights. If your spirit shape is Tiny or Minuscule, you can learn this via Dexterity. Reflection-Shattering Stroke can be used when you incapacitate someone with a Decisive attack while their reflection can be seen on any surface. You prevent the victim from dying, instead killing their reflection before their eyes, causing them to gain a Defining Tie of fear towards you or your current shape. Mortals permanently lose their reflection; Exalts and supernatural beings regain it when the story ends. You can pull the slain reflection into the world with a Willpower, creating a mirror-reversed corpse of your victim with mundane replicas of any equipment they were carrying. Detecting the reflected nature requires a Perception check with a sizable penalty.

Inchoate Self Realization can be used during any scene where you are not present. You reveal that a human or animal present is actually you, retroactively gaining its heart’s blood via sacred hunt. This can only be used to replace narratively unimportant characters who are not Exalts or spirits of any kind. So in a court, you can’t replace the prince or vizier retroactively, but one of the guards is fine, or a nearby dog, as long as it’s a form you’re able to take. For the rest of the scene, no one can roll to read your intentions, profile you or spot your Tell – your mere presence is proof you deceived them all. Only Eye of the Unconquered Sun or similarly potent magic can reveal your deception. This is all your skill at infiltration – the GM may rule it’s implausible if, say, the scene is one where the guards of a Dragon-Blood fortress are strictly on the lookout for shapeshifters, and require you to make a Manipulation check with difficulty based on the quality of their precautions, with failure meaning you can’t use this Charm, and success meaning you have to explain how you got in. you may use this only once per story. An E5 repurchase if you have the Charm False Moonrise Phantasm means you can use this Charm even if you’re already present in the scene, revealing that the person who seemed to be you was actually someone you’d passed off as your perfect duplicate at some point in the last round and you are someone else per the normal rules for this Charm. This can be used to evade an attack even after damage is rolled, but doing so requires a Manipulation check as above.

Next time: Perception

Seeing The Moon

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Seeing The Moon

Perception: Heart’s Blood! Face-Taker’s Gaze lets you sacred hunt a human by stalking and observing them over the course of at least a week, during which you must spend the majority of your time watching, until you discover one of their Defining Intimacies, either via read intentions actions or observing and reaching your own conclusion. Once you do, you can complete the hunt by forming that Intimacy yourself and raising it to Defining. This counts as the Intimacy needed to take a human shape, and once you take a shape with this, you can’t voluntarily weaken the new Intimacy for the rest of the story. If you guess the Intimacy wrong, the hunt fails and you can’t hunt them this way for the rest of the story, though other hunts can also work. (Mostly this means you guessed wrong and didn’t confirm via read intentions, but certain deceptive magic can also do it.)

Whispering Heart Revelation lets you sacred hunt a human by discovering a secret of great importance to them, one that would be a serious or life-defining task to get them to reveal. Once you discover the secret, you may conclude the hunt and take their form. However, if you are wrong about the significance or truth of the secret, the hunt fails and you can’t hunt them this way for the rest of the story, though other hunts still work. A form taken this way is retained permanently, even if the secret is later revealed, but a single secret can only be used to take one person’s form, even if that secret applies to many people.

Perception: Senses! Sense-Sharpening Change lets you alter your body to improve one sense. You pick a sense, and you reroll 1s out of all Perception rolls using that sense for the scene, plus reduce penalties for over- or understimulation of that sense on all rolls, even non-Perception rolls, such as penalties to vision from darkness or blinding light, though not fog or distance. Stricken Calf Sense gives you a predator’s sense for weakness, allowing you to reroll 5s and 6s on diagnosis rolls and perform diagnoses instantly, or alternatively to get a bonus to detect concealed characters or track characters if they are suffering from any ailment you’ve ever diagnosed before. Sense-Borrowing Method lets you make a Perception roll against the Resolve of an animal you can see to telepathically link to it. You may meditate to experience its senses instead of your own, using your dicepools and Charms but its sense-enhancing merits. You can’t ride the senses of familiars or magically enhanced animals except for your own familiars, for which this Charm is free and can be used indefinitely, even if you can’t see your familiar when you activate it. With an E2 repurchase, you can pay Willpower to also use this on humans or magically enhanced animals, while a third purchase at Per 5, E3 lets you ride the senses of spirits or fae.

Blood on the Wind lets you sense the blood of your prey, boosting tracking rolls based on 10s and allowing you track even characters using Traceless Passage or similar track-concealing magic. If in an animal form with the Keen Nose merit, you also get a bonus based on your quarry’s wound penalty at the time they passed through the area. Watchful Spider Stance lets you go into a meditative trance to greatly magnify your senses. For as long as you meditate, you can see in all directions at once as if every part of your skin was an eye, and you can see clearly out to a mile away. You can make hearing and scent-based Perception rolls out to several miles, with a massive range boost for very strong scents or very loud noises, and you get a large bonus to touch- and taste-based rolls. If in your claimed territory via Boundary-Marking Meditation, you can make scent, hearing or sight-based rolls to perceive anything in that territory via its geomantic flows, regardless of distance or obstruction. This Charm ends when you stop meditating. This can be used while hibernating via Bear’s Sleep Technique, which reduces your sensory range but negates the normal Perception penalties of hibernation. A repurchase at Per 5, E4 lets you use this Charm even while not meditating if you have at least 10 motes committed to Sense-Sharpening Change, during which it lasts for a day.

Perception: Scrutiny! Understanding the Herd makes your read intentions or profile character checks also reveal what culture the target belongs to on top of normal information, and any Tie they have towards that culture, though if they’re in disguise your results are based on the disguise unless your roll beats their disguise check. If you aren’t familiar with the culture, the GM will give you some useful information about it, like ‘he’s from a nomadic society that follows mammoth herds,’ and if the GM doesn’t have any info in mind already, you can instead introduce it as if your roll was also a roll to introduce a fact. With a repurchase at Per 3, E2, you can use this Charm on someone whose culture you know already to determine their social, political and economic standing in that culture, and the nature of their position in it, as well as if any characters present hold authority over them and any Ties the target has to those characters.

Shadow Hunter Insight can be used at any time within several days after profiling a character or reading their intentions without them being aware of you. You get a bonus to Join Battle against them based on their rolled 1s and 2s, and if you act before them on the first round and attack them, you also add that as a damage bonus. Secret Sense Intuition lets you sense those that hunt you. Once per scene, when someone you are unaware of comes within Short range, you roll to read their intentions, and if you succeed, their presence and location are revealed to you on top of the normal results and you may reflexively make an influence roll against them, which they get a Resolve penalty on. If you fail, you only know someone is nearby. If you have the Charm Perceiving the Hidden World, you can use this to detect immaterial beings within Short range even when not using that Charm.

Preception: Mysticism! Shed Divinity’s Nectar can be used whenever you defeat a spirit or fae using the Charm Spirit-Drinking Fang (which normally kills them when you do this). You can pay Willpower to instead absorb its Essence into yourself. For one story (or your next use of the Charm, whichever comes first), you gain a Major Intimacy reflecting the victim’s nature and purpose, a number of Mutation dots based on its abilities, and its Cult merit if yours is lower. Once the story ends, you may choose to either destroy the victim permanently or vomit it up alive. Divinity-Stealing Whisper lets you make a Perception-based Occult roll at a bonus when in the presence of a spirit or when in one of its temples or sacred places, which can be boosted by hearing-related magic. Success lets you eavesdrop on prayers to the spirit, identifying one desire or goal that the spirit’s worshippers must desire its aid with. If you determine the spirit has no intention to do anything about it somehow, such as via read intentions rolls, you may choose to intercede for them. If you accomplish the desired goal and at least the majority of the worshippers recognize this, you steal the spirit’s Cult merit, gaining it for yourself. If the spirit’s Essence is at least equal to yours, you only steal a single dot of Cult, which cannot raise you higher than the spirit’s original Cult rating. (They still lose the dot if you can’t gain it, though!) If you know the Charm God-Body Consumption, you may use it to gain the spirit’s Eclipse Charms as if you’d killed them.

God-Body Consumption is as close as you get to sacred hunting spirits. When you permanently kill any character with Eclipse-keyword Charms, you may activate it to temporarily gain any Eclipse Charms you meet the Essence prereq for, committing 3 motes per Charm stolen. You have a limit based on your Essence for how many spirit charms you can have at any one time. You can permanently learn these Charms with XP, releasing your mote commitment to them, and once learned they don’t count against your limit. The first Charm you learn permanently is free. If you have Charms that can perform non-lethal sacred hunts, you may trigger God-Body Consumption when you gain the shape of a god-blood, Eclipse Caste Solar or other magically empowered human to learn their Eclipse-keyword charms, too.

Next time: Stamina

I Will Survive

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: I Will Survive

Stamina: Heart’s Blood! Hero’s Heart Challenge lets you sacred hunt a human by challenging them to a physical contest of some kind, like a race or a wrestling match. If you win, you may end the hunt and claim the opponent’s form by accepting a Major Tie of respect towards them. If you do not consider them worthy by accepting this intimacy, you cannot take their form this way, but it does count as the Intimacy required to take a human shape. You can cheat to win if you aren’t caught, but your opponent cannot throw the match. If the opponent wins or catches you cheating, the hunt fails and you can’t take their shape with this Charm for the rest of the story, though other hunts will still work.

Stamina: Defense! Impenetrable Beast Armor lets you temporarily sprout hide, scales or bone plates to increase your soak against a Withering attack or Hardness against a Decisive one. Steel Paw Style permanently lets you use Stamina in place of Dexterity for parries when you’re using a medium or heavy weapon, an unarmed attack or a natural weapon, due to your unshakable toughness. Unmoving Auroch Defense greatly increases your body’s density for an instant, preventing you from being physically moved by any means. This can’t stop gravity-caused falls, but any knockback or knockdown, sure. It also significantly increases your mass in that instant, which is normally not a problem but may introduce issues if you’re in soft mud, standing on a tightrope or similar, and it temporarily suppresses Graceful Crane Stance’s effects.

Invulnerable Moonsilver Carapace causes you to grow a shell of moonsilver that counts as artifact armor and has resistance to soak reduction effects. It shapeshifts with you and can be fused to any artifact armor you’re currently wearing to use the best of either armor’s traits and give this Charm’s benefits to your armor, as well as releasing the armor’s committed motes into this Charm for the duration. You can repurchase this to gain Evocations for your carapace, based on your personality, spirit shape and caste. This can be left up indefinitely at E3 and can be activated reflexively when you use Deadly Beastman Transformation. Moonsilver Thew Exertion amplifies your mass for an instant in a grapple, rerolling failures on a control roll or to oppose a grapple. Your mass is so great you can oppose the grapples of Legendary Size creatures, though you can’t clinch them yourself. As with Unmoving Aurochs Defense, your mass increase may create complications. Weapon-Trapping Body Dominion lets you clash an attack with Resistance, causing your flesh and blood to trap the enemy’s weapon in your body if you win, disarming them until they make a difficult gambit to get it back. If they attack with a Natural or Worn weapon, their limb is instead trapped inside your skin as a grapple which you get a big bonus on. This Charm is incompatible with any armor except Invulnerable Moonsilver Carapace.

Stamina: Endurance! Bear Sleep Technique lets you go into a healing hibernation state, massively increasing your natural healing rate. During hibernation you need neither food nor water, and with Stamina 5 you also do not age. You may hibernate until fully healed or for a set period of time, your choice. You are largely not super aware of what’s around you and get a large penalty to all Awareness checks to detect external stimuli, which can only be enhanced by Excellencies. However, some stimuli, such as being slapped in the face, can be detected without a roll. If you detect external stimuli, you may end the Charm early. Halting the Scarlet Flow lets you, once per day, heal a small amount of non-aggravated damage each turn for several turns by shapeshifting the wounds away. This ends if Crashed and cannot be used outside combat.

All-Consuming Crucible allows you to eat nearly anything, as long as it is mundane and is either alive or was alive at one point, even if it is normally indigestible. You also get a bonus against ingested poisons, and you may eat any amount of food without harm. Eating something very fast, such as to dispose of a corpse, is a Stamina-based Athletics or Survival roll. At Stamina 5, you can eat any mundane material, period, though feats of demolition may be needed to break larger things into small enough pieces to swallow, and you are immune to mundane ingested poisons. Rabid Beast Bite lets you cause an enhanced form of infected wounds with your unarmed or natural weapon Decisive attacks which can affect Exalts, or alternatively transmit any disease you are currently suffering from instead. Behemoth’s Inhalation Prana lets your lungs swell, inhaling any vapor but air within Medium range, even magical ones. This can clear fog or smoke, prevent poison gas from harming allies and so on, but you suffer the normal effects of inhaled substances. At Stam 4, E2, if you roll well enough on a resistance check to negate an inhaled poison entirely or otherwise totally avoid harm from whatever you breathed in, you can then exhale it at a foe in Medium range as an unblockable Decisive attack that does nothing on a hit except expose them to the substance and does not reset your Initiative. If in an animal shape of Legendary size, your range with this Long for both inhaling and exhaling.

Plague Rat Prana lets you retain within your body any disease you conquer. If you successfully roll to resist exposure to or overcome a disease, you remain a vector for its contagion but suffer no ill effects, and you may transmit it with Rabid Beast Bite. You may choose to lower its Virulence based on your Essence, to a minimum of 1, when you expose someone to it, this allowing you to spare allies or innocents. You may expel a disease you carry entirely, removing it from your body as a miscellaneous action. Poison Blood Prana lets you turn your blood into a vicious spray of poison when struck. After you take Decisive damage, you may use this as an unblockable Decisive counterattack with Stamina, getting a bonus based on your wound penalty Success exposes your foes to an internal poison you developed with one of the prerequisites, but does no damage and does not reset your Initiative. If you know the Charm Acid-Spitting Attack, you may instead turn your blood into acid, dealing minor Aggravated damage that ignores Hardness and reduces your foe’s soak and Hardness for a bit. In a venomous or poisonous animal shape, you may instead use the animal’s natural poison with a bonus to duration, and if your spirit shape is venomous or poisonous, you may learn this via Wits.

Form-Shedding Sacrifice lets you reduce incoming damage when in a stolen shape by sacrificing your ability to use that shape ever again as a Crippling effect. You revert to your true human form and lose that shape forever, but you reduce damage taken based on your Essence. You cannot sacrifice your spirit shape or true human shape. You may also reflexively use the Charm False Death Technique when you use this to split off a false corpse of the lost shape (or some part of it, if that shape had Legendary Size) and reflexively roll to go to ground and hide. Storm-Swalloing Technique lets you inhale weather, ending any precipitation within Medium range by inhaling the clouds. This can end supernatural weather such as the spell Rain of Doom, though the GM may rule it exposes you to one interval of the weather’s harmful effects or a unique poison or environmental hazard. Weather made by ongoing magic will not recur in the cleared area for the rest of the scene. You can also reflexively use Behemoth’s Inhalation Prana when you use this, and like that charm, in a Legendary Size form, the range extends to Long.

Stamina: Berserker! Relentless Lunar Fury lets you go into a berserk rage when you take Decisive damage, reducing wound and crippling penalties and gaining Initiative when you take further Decisive damage. You retain your mental capabilities and can be tactical, but may not withdraw, use social influence for anything unrelated to combat or stop fighting until all enemies are taken out or have fled. Ending this Charm early sends you into Crash, setting your Initiative to -3 if it wasn’t lower. In an animal shape with the Berserker merit, you also get a bonus to all rolls with Physical attributes. Enraged Ratel Persistence turns your wound penalties into a bonus to Resolve, and if Relentless Lunar Fury is active, you treat any fear-based influence or influence that would make you stop fighting as unacceptable. Sleeping Tiger Wakes lets you use Relentless Lunar fury in response to a threat or insult to one of your Major or Defining Intimacies or to your Solar mate, and if outside battle, you immediately roll Join Battle with a bonus.

Next time: Strength

The Strength to Carry On

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: The Strength to Carry On

Strength: Heart’s Blood! Terrifying Predator Consumption can be used when you perform a sacred hunt against an animal or human with a Tie of fear towards you or your current shape, allowing you to take their shape when you nonlethally take them out or accept their surrender. Towering Beast Form lets you shapeshift into forms of Legendary Size, with all the benefits of Legendary Size, but any turn you don’t make a Decisive attack or spend at least 8 motes on offensive magic, you need to pay motes. (Outside combat, you pay motes each hour.) If your spirit shape has Legendary Size, you can learn this with Stamina. Stalking Nightmare Hunter lets you sacred hunt via dreams. You pick someone you’ve either damaged with a Decisive attack or successfully threatened within the past week and who has a Major or Defining Tie of fear towards you or one of your shapes. The next time they sleep, you appear in their dreams in whichever form they fear they most, making a Strength roll against their Resolve. If you win, you take their shape, and they gain no Willpower from that night’s sleep. You can only use this once per story against any specific target. Mountainous Spirit Expression lets you give any shape you are in Legendary Size temporarily, with all its benefits. Clothes and moonsilver armor rescale to fit, and any equipment not compatible with your new size goes Elsewhere until you shrink back down. If your spirit shape is Legendary Size, you can learn this with Stamina.

Strength: Offense! Deadly Claw Blow lets you make attack rolls with Strength instead of Dexterity when using heavy weapons, unarmed attacks or natural weapons due to your insane strength, but this only uses your natural Strength – anything that gives bonus Strength dots or replaces your Strength score doesn’t help attack rolls. Tiger Claw Swat forces foes back with the insane strength of your blows. On a successful block or clash against a foe attacking from Close range, you knock them back one range brand and send them prone. Last Warrior’s Unity embeds your weapon into your hand, making it impossible to disarm but also meaning you can’t use the hand for anything but swinging that weapon around. If you go into an animal shape unable to normally wield the weapon while using this charm, the weapon goes Elsewhere until you turn back unless it is moonsilver, which assumes a compatible form and can merge even with limbs normally unable to wield weapons, such as a scorpion tail or an eagle beak. While they can be used in animal forms, these moonsilver adaptations are not natural weapons.

Kraken-Arm Lash causes your limbs to grow into muscular tendrils that coil around someone, allowing you to grapple out to Medium range and, if you hit, drag the foe in Close. You can then immediately choose to end the clinch with a throw two horizontal range bands in any direction if you want, Dhalsim. In an animal form with the Infinite Grasp ability, this Charm has its cost reduced against slower foes. Deadly Beastman Transformation upgrades your Hybrid Body Transformation, giving it a bonus to all Withering damage, feats of strength and movement actions based on Strength, a bonus to Soak, and a bonus to what feats of strength you can attempt. However, while it is active, you get a minor Defense penalty that can’t be negated and you become dissonant with any artifact you are not normally resonant with, and neutral with any artifact you would normally be resonant with.

Claws of the Silver Moon forms a silver nimbus of claws around your limbs, making your unarmed or natural attacks get Artifact stats in human forms and enhancing natural attacks in animal forms, as well as letting you boost feats of destruction with whatever attack you enhanced. Unarmed attacks that use this Charm are not normally compatible with Martial Arts except at the GM’s discretion. You can repurchase this Charm to gain Evocations for your claws, which are based on your personality, spirit shape and Caste. Nightmare Scar Memento causes anyone who suffers a crippling effect you caused to count as having a Minor Tie of fear towards you until it fully heals, and you get a bonus to threaten rolls against them. Getting a magical prosthesis counts as full healing for this. If your spirit shape has a threaten or intimidate dicepool, you can learn this with Charisma instead of Strength.

All-Devouring Tyrant Maw can be used when you establish a clinch with at least 5 rounds of control, and it lets you distend your jaws and eat your victim. In Legendary Size forms, you can eat anything less than Legendary Size. In animal shapes larger than a human, you can eat any foe smaller than a human. In human-size or smaller shapes, you can eat only Tiny or Minuscule foes. In Tiny or Minuscule forms, you can only eat Minuscule foes smaller than your current form. Eating someone means you suffer none of the normal penalties for clinching, but your foe still does – they can’t attack anyone but you and may suffer other restrictions the GM feels appropriate. You cannot perform normal grapple actions on them except to release them by spitting them up, but on each turn, they suffer a dangerous environmental hazard from your digestive fluids. If this takes them out, you may spare them by spitting them up or kill and digest them, spitting out any indigestible equipment. You lose no rounds of control against them when attacked, but do when damaged. If damage reduces your rounds of control to zero, a hole opens in your body for them to escape through and you take a level of Lethal damage which you can’t avoid. If you shapeshift into a form too small for the foe to be in, you reflexively spit them out before you do so.

Strength: Mobility! Impala Leaping Approach powers up your legs, allowing you to jump two range bands up as a move action and land on any horizontal surface nearby or grab onto a vertical surface; this may require an Athletics roll. If you don’t, you suffer fall damage as normal. When you use the Charm Spider Catches Sparrow to attack an airborne foe, you can reflexively activate this to attack a foe at Medium rather than Short range above you. If your form is able to fly, you can use this Charm to ascend two range bands as a move action once per scene. Mighty Behemoth Leap goes even further. You can’t be within Close range of any foe when you use it unless they are trivial or Crashed. You jump several range bands in any direction, even up, and take no fall damage, with a minimum of 2. Enemies in Close range of where you land fall prone if they fail a Dodge check against your Athletics check, and any Crashed or trivial foes in Close range of you when you leap automatically fall prone. On landing, you can reflexively make a Decisive attack on a foe in Close range, with a damage bonus if you knocked them over. In an animal shape with the Leaping Pounce ability, your attack is unblockable.

Strength: Feats of Strength! Fortress-Smashing Charge lets you Kool-Aid Man through walls, allowing you a reflexive feat of demolition to destroy an obstacle in your path when you cross range bands, with a bonus. You can’t use this more than once per range band of movement. In an animal form with the Deadly Charge ability, the bonus doesn’t count as from Charms. Terrible Steel-Rending Talons gives a bonus when making a disarm gambit once per day, and if you hit, you destroy mundane weapons. If it’s an artifact, you instead make a reflexive feat of demolition that strips attunement if it succeeds, and enough successes also break the artifact and require repairs. If you use Shell-Crushing Atemi to unattune the foe’s armor, you can reflexively use this at reduced cost to try to damage it as well. Unyielding Brute Will lets you automatically succeed at a feat of strength to maintain a structure’s integrity or hold something still, such as holding up a roof or catching a charging bull. You ignore the Strength requirements for it, and can even prevent uncountable damage by, eg, catching a falling mountaintop thrown by a behemoth. You can’t do this if you took a move action this round, but you can maintain the Charm at reduced cost for successive turns, up to the entire scene, so long as you don’t move. This can only be used once per day, but you can keep maintaining it as above and it only counts as that one use. If in an animal form with Legendary Size or the Beast of Burden merit, you can maintain the Charm free as long as you don’t move. If your spirit shape has Beast of Burden, you can learn this with Stamina.

Next time: Wits


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Witticism

Wits: Heart’s Blood! Moonlit Path Guide lets you perform a sacred hunt on a human by taking them on a journey of self-discovery, traveling with them for at least a week. The journey must have some element of danger to it, and the prey must undergo a moment of major change or character development by the end of it, such as raising an Intimacy to Defining and then acting to uphold it, forsaking a person, group or ideal they had a Defining Intimacy to, accomplishing a legendary social goal or similar. At the end of the journey, you gain their form. If you abandon them before the journey ends or it ends without danger or character development, the hunt fails and you can’t gain their shape via this Charm for the rest of the story, though other hunts may still work.

Wits: Resolve! Moon Follows Sun Assurance causes your positive Ties to your Solar mate to be impossible to weaken or alter by social influence except by your Solar mate, though you may voluntarily weaken them as normal. Once per story, when you form or strengthen a positive Tie to your mate, you gain Willpower, which can take you over your cap, and if your Solar mate forms or strengthens a positive Tie to you while in your presence, they also gain 1 WP once per story. Chain-Breaking Fury can only be used when obeying a successful influence roll or a Psyche effect, which you must not have resisted with Willpower, and it brings you into conflict with a Major or Definining Intimacy or any Tie to your Solar mate. This lets you enter a second Decision Point, giving another chance to resist, with the same requirements and costs as the first time. If you resist, you instantly form a Major Tie of rage towards whoever influenced you. You may use this only once per story.

Laughing Into the Teeth of Madness masters your own nature, allowing you to use the Charm Resisting the Lure of Madness not only to boost Resolve against Derangements or Psyche effects and to resist derangements, but also against any shaping effect that would alter your body, mind, soul or destiny. This even works against unresistable shaping effects, allowing you a Willpower roll to weaken the shaping, preventing you from being altered in any way that would prevent your shapeshifting or use of your Charms and, if a transformation would be permanent or fatal, you get a condition that will break it, though you may need a Lore, Medicine or Occult roll to learn what that condition is. Alternatively, this can be used against any effect that would force you out of a form you’re in, such as Eye of the Unconquered Sun, causing an opposed roll which you get a bonus on. If you succeed, you negate the effect and are immune to it for the scene.

Nightmare Beast Soul turns your spirit shape into a nightmare guardian of your dreams. You get a bonus to Resolve and Guile against anything that targets you while you are sleeping. Further, if anyone enters your dreams by magic, you can pay Willpower to manifest your spirit shape as a divine nightmare creature, forcing an opposing Willpower roll you get a bonus to. If you succeed, your spirit shape destroys the intruder, forcing them out and negating their magic’s effects entirely as well as making them lose some Willpower. They take damage if they don’t have enough Willpower to lose. Shadow-Mind Meditation lets you create an independent consciousness within yourself formed from your skepticism, anger and bitterness. It shares all of your Defining Intimacies when formed as well as any Tie you have towards your Solar mate, but it has its own unique Major and Minor Intimacies, which must be either negative Ties or Principles based on pessimism or skepticism. This requires four hours of meditation to invoke, either awakening or suppressing the shadow-mind. It has the same overall identity as you and shares your memories, but while it is active, its Intimacies replace yours. They may be changed normally, but it gets a bonus to Resolve against any instill rolls to create or strengthen positive Ties or optimism-based Principles, and you may not voluntarily form or strengthen such Intimacies while it is active.

Dark Premise Duality gives your shadow-mind a different set of Mental and Social Attributes from you, reallocating dots between Social Attributes and Mental Attributes (but not from a Mental to a Social). If this lowers it below the prerequisites for any of your Charms, you can’t use those Charms while it is active. You can learn Charms it qualifies for but your normal stats don’t, but can only use those Charms while the shadow-mind is active. Excellencies are gained or lost as appropriate as well. Beast-Mind Metanoia can be used when your Resolve is beaten by an influence roll to momentarily reduce yourself to the animal intellect of a shape you possess for a moment. You retain the ability to understand language, but your vocabulary and ability to parse complex ideas may be drastically reduced depending on the animal used. If the GM rules the influence is too complex for your beast-mind to understand, you may reject it as unacceptable. If your beast-mind lets you understand some but not all of the influence, instead it may have divergent or unintended effects. You may use this only once per story. In an animal shape, the cost is reduced if you use it to invoke the mind of your current shape.

Wits: Animal Ken! Pack Instinct Affirmation causes all animals to feel kinship with you, equivalent to a Minor Tie of loyalty. Your social influence never gets penalties for multiple animal targets and they never get Resolve bonuses for lacking shared language. This has no effect on familiars or magically enhanced animals. With Wits 3+, you can spend Willpower while in an animal shape to increase the virtual Tie animals of that species have to you to Major unless they are both nontrivial and have reason to defy you, such as hunger, rabies or magical influence. Blessed Moon-Beast Empowerment enhances one of your familiars when activated. The first time you use it, its XP cost for usage is waived, and you regain any spent XP from it if an affected familiar dies. If you have moonsilver tattoos, they spread across your familiar as well with all the normal benefits they grant, and if you conceal yours, you also conceal the familiar’s. The familiar may take your place in a sacred hunt, giving you the shape of its prey when the hunt ends. All non-familiar animals are treated as if they have a Minor Tie of reverence towards it, or a Major tie if they are the same species as it. It gains a Defining Tie of loyalty to you, and no influence can make it act against this Intimacy except yours.

Erudite Beast-Mind Expansion lets you grant a familiar intellect far beyond its nature, allowing you to use Nature-Reinforcing Allocation (which usually just boosts animal training rolls) at an added XP cost to raise your familiar to human-level intellect, allowing it the capability of abstract and complex thought and knowledge of all languages you know, though it can’t speak them unless its anatomy allows it. It gets five-die pools for Diagnosing Ailments, Investigation, Read Intentions and Strategy, and its Willpower, Resolve and Guile are permanently boosted. Already intelligent familiars instead get a permanent boost to any dicepools for Intelligence-based actions or actions beyond the mental capability of normal animals, to a max of 14 dice, and get boosted Willpower, Resolve and Guile. The XP cost is waived the first time you use this, and if your familiar dies, you get back any XP spent enhancing it.

Locust-and-Titan Menagerie lets you change the size of your familiars. When within Medium range of a familiar blessed by Blessed Moon-Beast Empowerment, you can use Mountainous Spirit Expression to give it Legendary Size or Tyrant Mouse Dominion to give it Minuscule Size. Witch-Beast Ascendancy lets you teach a familiar you’ve uplifted with Erudite Beast-Mind Expansion how to use sorcery, making a Terrestrial Circle sorcerer with an 8-die Sorcery pool and one spell, which you must also know, as its control spell. You may now improve its Sorcery pool with Erudite Beast-Mind Expansion and teach it new spells with Nature-Reinforcing Allocation as if they were magical abilities, though you must pay the XP cost of any sorcerous workings it performs. If your familiar dies, you get the XP you spent on this Charm back, and you can buy this multiple times for different familiars.

Wits: Navigation! Lodestone Reckoning Manner lets you spend a scene planning a course to make a Survival roll with a bonus, banking all successes. You can spend these to boost Survival rolls on the journey to forage or find shelter or Sail rolls to navigate hazards. You may use this only once per journey, and unused successes are wasted. A repurchase at Wits 5 improves the roll bonus and lets you use this instantly without need to plot a course. The successes (and any Charms that improve this one) are available whenever you travel, but you can only use the Charm this way once per day. If your spirit shape is migratory, you can learn this with Perception. Moon-Cloaked Wanderer allows you to spend Lodestone successes to cover tracks, boost Stealth rolls to evade guards or foes, or to boost Larceny rolls to circumvent manned obstacles, and with a Wits 4, E2 repurchase, you can even boost those rolls for allies. Again, migratory spirit shape lets you learn this via Perception. Wyld Migration Formation lets you and your friends ignore the effects of Wyld exposure and similar environmental shaping effects when traveling a course plotted by Lodestone Reckoning Manner, and your limit on how many people you can protect automatically includes all mounts as well. Again, migratory spirit shapes can learn via Perception.

Wits: Cache! Desert Basilisc Diadem lets you partially absorb hearthstones, socketing them into your skin itself to gain their benefits as if they were in an attuned artifact. Those that enhance weapons boost your unarmed attacks and natural weapons, if appropriate, and those that enhance armor boost your natural soak. This is compatible with anything that transforms parts of your body into weapons or armor. Absorbing or removing a hearthstone is a miscellaneous action, and you can have an amount at a time based on your Essence. If you conceal them with clothes or similar, they can only be noticed by people who have spotted your Tell this scene. Radiant Basilisc Jewel causes a greater hearthstone to manifest from your soul. You pick one that expresses some aspect of your nature. It counts as socketed via Desert Basilisc Diadem, but doesn’t count towards your limit and cannot be removed. You always get increased mote recovery equivalent to an attuned greater demesne. The GM may veto stones that’d be overpowered if made this way, such as the Gem of Incomparable Wellness.

Magpie’s Nest Resourcefulness lets you make a Wits check to reveal you had any mundane item you need at the moment as long as it could theoratically be concealed on your person this entire time, with the skill used based on how you retroactively acquired it, and the difficulty based on its Resources rating. If you succeed, you have the thing and it counts as exceptional equipment. On a failure, you still have it, but it is deficient in some GM-determined way, such as giving a minor penalty or falling apart at the end of the scene. If you have a relevant Craft, you gain crafting XP as if you’d completed a basic project. This can be used only once per scene. Moon-and-Sun Panoply lets you attune to artifacts your Solar mate is attuned to without disrupting their attunement and reduce the attunement cost to zero. You and your mate cannot have your attunement broken. If your mate is resonant with the artifact, so are you for any Evocations you and they share. The first time you use this on an artifact, you make a Wits roll against its rating, and successes automatically awaken Evocations your Solar mate already knows, giving them to you for free. If you made the artifact for your mate, you can also gain Evocations your mate does not have yet, giving them to both you and your mate for free if you both qualify. This can be used only once per story, though once used on an artifact, you can use it on that artifact again freely without counting against that limit.

Wits: Territory! Secure Den Prana lets you make a Wits check to secure an enclosed space for a number of people based on your Wits and Essence. This den cannot be found by casual observers at all, only those actively seeking it out, and they must beat your roll with a Perception check. Attempts to track people to the den or otherwise indirectly infer its location get a penalty. You and those you reveal the lair to can find it unhindered, of course. If you have a relevant Craft, you gain crafting XP as per a basic project. If you know Magpie’s Nest Resourcefulness, you may use it to retroactively have made a den, though this has a penalty to the roll, and the cost to use this Charm is reduced if in a territory you’ve marked via Boundary-Marking Meditation. Hungry Mouse Mandate sets the vermin of your territory against foes. You make a Survival check in an area you’ve claimed with Boundary-Marking Meditation. Whenever unwelcome characters travel in it, one of their group must make a Survival roll against your roll each week. Failure means that a member of their group will get an automatic botch on a Medicine, Investigation, Sail, Survival, Stealth or War roll due to interference from local wildlife, as long as the roll is made in your territory. Further, they get a week-long penalty to any influence rolls targeting animals in the territory and Survival rolls to tame them, though any character using magic similar to Friendship With Animals Approach is immune to this penalty. After a number of botches based on your Essence, the group becomes immune to further botches for the rest of the story, but not the penalty.

Next time: New Martial Arts

Ten Thousand Feet Kick Many Asses

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Ten Thousand Feet Kick Many Asses

Centipede Style is a style based on speed. It uses fast flurries of blows to wear foes down and quick footwork to evade and outmaneuver their attacks. Once the many strikes send an enemy reeling, they have created the perfect moment to grapple the enemy, lock up their movements, strike at a weak spot or use the deadly venom that Exalted masters of the style are able to call on. Centipede Style schools are most prominent in the East, often rivals with Snake stylists or syncretizing the two styles together. It is also found through the South and West. Centipede unarmed strikes are a mix of punches and kicks in quick succession, and the style also wields fighting chains, hook swords, iron boots, seven-section staffs and tiger claws. It is compatible with light armor and relies on Athlerics and Dodge to enable its signature speed and mobility.

Blurring Scurry Prana gives a bonus to a movement action and, if successful, also boosts Evasion. Further, if used for a rush and you use the reflexive movement to reach Close range, you get a boost to your attack next turn against that foe. Motion of Myriad Legs lets you make a bunch of Decisive attacks against one enemy that ignore Hardness but do less damage individually. If at least one does damage, the foe’s onslaught does not refresh next turn. Terrestrial keyword reduces the number of attacks and the damage. Chitinous Centipede Shell increases soak and Hardness based on Athletics or Dodge, and for Solars extends its duration to a full tick rather than a single attack. Centipede Form causes your limbs to leave afterimages due to your massive speed, boosts your Evasion, boosts Decisive damage and grapple contrl rolls if the foe has an onslaught penalty when you attack and lets you ignore the normal penalties of flurrying an attack and move action. It can be autoactivated when you land a grapple or Decisive attack against a foe with an onslaught of at least -2.

Hundred-Leg Embrace can be used when you land a grapple or are hit by an enemy grapple, causing your limbs to twist and coil for easy movement. You get a bonus based on the 10s in your roll and you foe gets a penalty based on 1s. If you successfully resist a grapple, you can use the Ninety-Nine More technique (unless limited by Terrestrial, which does not allow this). This lets you take 1B to dislocate your grappled limb in order to gain leverage, reflexively making your own grapple attempt on them with a bonus based on your successful resistance of theirs. Tenacious Centipede Technique lets you ignore some wound, crippling and fatigue penalties on attacks, grapple control and movement actions, and also your Evasion if not limited by Terrestrial. If you have no such penalties, you instead get a bonus to Withering damage and grapple control rolls. Venom-Dripping Mandible lets you make a Decisive attack wreathed in poisonous Essence, poisoning the foe with a bonus based on their onslaught penalty. If used during a grapple to boost a savaging attack, you can give up rounds of control to boost the poison duration.

Agony-of-One-Hundred-Hells Technique lets you, once per scene, make a Decisive attack that causes extreme pain, turning the foe’s onslaught penalty into additional wound penalty until their onslaught refreshes and causing poisons in their system to deal instant damage. If used to boost a savaging attack, you can give up rounds of control for more poison damage. Numberless Blows Technique lets you unleash your anima when using Motion of Myriad Legs, paying additional cost to gain anima limbs that increase how many attacks you can make and their damage. If at least two attacks before the final deal damage, the final attack is unblockable. If at least three do, it’s also undodgeable. If at least four do, it is an ambush. If used in a savaging attack, you can give up rounds of control to deal additional damage. Terrestrial keyword can only use this against Crashed foes and can’t cause ambushes, while Mastery keyword lets you only have to pay for non-Excellency Charms once to boost all the attacks involved.

Falcon Style is an acrobatic, aerial fighting style that uses leaps to deliver powerful blows and likes to jump off high places. On top of its midair attacks, it also makes a lot of grappling attacks to lock foes in submission holds or throw them around and prepare them for follow-up. The techniques are showy and flashy, and many Falcon stylists fight before crowds of admiring onlookers, whether they are heroes or monsters. This is lucha libra. It’s the lucha libre style. It is most common in the South, but iconic masters of the style have spread it elsewhere as well. Its unarmed strikes use all four limbs plus headbutts, and it is compatible with the cestus, iron boot and tiger claws, plus medium or heavy improvised weapons that deal Bashing damage. Unarmed attacks boosted by Falcon Style charms can be stunted to deal Lethal. It is compatible with light armor and also relies a lot on Dodge and Athletics for mobility.

Falcon Takes Flight gives a bonus to disengage, rush or rise from prone as long as you describe it with jumping or flight, and also can be activated after attacking to use a reflexive move away from the foe without need for a disengage check as long as you directly up. Mastery improves the bonuses if you’re heading upwards or have done so that turn already. Swift Talon Strike can be used when you go to Close range and attack a foe in the same turn, giving a bonus to the attack and the damage or grapple control roll. If you moved downwards to reach Close range, the bonus is better, especially with Mastery. Raptor’s Fatal Descent lets you make a Decisive attack on a prone foe or one a range band below you (which is your movement for the round as you jump down). You get a damage bonus and the foe loses Initiative based on your 10s. You end the attack prone but suffer no penalties for this; you just can’t use this again until you stand up. Mastery means it doesn’t count as your movement to jump down. Falcon Form involves a wide, wing-like stance and gives a bonus to grapple control rolls and the number of rounds of control you can spend on throws and slams. It also lets you make jumps up one range band without a roll as your reflexive move and reduces falling damage, as well as boosts Defense against foes under you unless they have the Reaching tag. You can autoactivate it when you roll really well on a movement or grapple control roll.

Grasping Raptor Clutch can be used when grappling to simultaneously make a restrain or drag action and a Decisive savaging attack, throw or slam, with the cost of the Charm refunded if the foe is taken out by this. However, Terrestrial keyword forces the normal flurry penalties on this. Talons Greet Prey gives a bonus to Defense against a Close-range attack once per scene, and if it misses you can counterattack with a grapple, which gets a bonus based on the foe’s 1s. Hare-Killing Death Dive lets you do a hurricanrana as a special grapple gambit with a bonus. If you succeed, the foe goes prone and you steal Initiative from them on top of the normal grapple effects.

Neck-Piercing Hook lets you hook your grapple foe’s neck and throw them in mid-air with a leg, throwing them to Short range. When they hit, they have to make an Athletics check or they take additional damage. At Essence 3, you can throw out to Medium range but the extra damage is reduced. Terrestrial caps the extra damage. Raking Talon Kick lets you make a spinning double kick the turn after you throw or slam a grapple foe (or after you do so reflexively). You make a Decisive attack which gets a bonus from the rounds of control spent on the throw/slam, and if you stunt this by describing how you use the surroundings to make them vulnerable or for leverage, it is a surprise attack. You can reflexively use Raptor’s Fatal Descent, ignoring its usual restrictions. The damage bonus is capped for Terrestrial. Doom Plummets Down can be used as a finisher when you have 5+ rounds of control in a grapple. You throw the foe into a hard surface and make a reflexive Decisive attack. Any stunt bonus is also applied to the damage roll, and if the initial throw was Decisive, your attack is made before Initiative resets. You can reflexively use Raking Talon Kick on it. If you threw your foe past Close range with Neck-Piercing Hook or similar, you reflexively jump to Close range of them when using this, but it’s your movement for the round. Mastery lets you reflexively rush or disengage the foe if you hit and automatically succeed, without it counting as your movement. Terrestrial can only use this on Crashed foes and the initial throw must be Decisive.

Next time: Laughing Monster and Swaying Grass Dance


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: BEHOLD MY LAUGHTER

Laughing Monster Style was created by the raksha warrior-saints of the Court of Flayed Sinners, distilled from the devoured dreams of many thieves, scavenger princes and oathbreakers drawn in by the rumors of the treasures they guarded. Their rule of false virtue was ended by the Lunar shaman Juven Fifth-Summer, who tore their prince’s face off and pried the style from him, using its secrets to set the raksha against each other until none were left. Laughing Monster wields impetuous power and wicked humor, using misdirection and confusion to humiliate foes. Its practice involves erratic breathing exercises, rolling dance and meditation to destroy the ego. Juven taught it to his allies in the Silver Pact, but the esoteric style has also spread to several dojos and secret societies as well. It is seen as a style of criminals, revolutionaries, lunatics and tricksters, for it is as erratic and unpredictable as the Wyld where it was born. Its unarmed strikes are a mix of open-hand slaps, elbow strikes and sweeping kicks. The style is compatible with the staff, war fan and whip, and unarmed attacks boosted by its Charms can be stunted to deal Lethal. It cannot be used with armor. Dodge is important to its evasion, and Presence or Socialize are both useful for its tricks, as is Occult for its more esoteric practices.

Furiously Stalling Destiny boosts Evasion against a single enemy, and your first attack against them on or before your next turn gets a damage bonus (or an Initiative bonus for gambits). You can stack bonuses against the same enemy, but if you attack a different foe, they are lost. Mastery lets you use it after an attack is rolled against you, while Terrestrial limits how often it can be stacked. (It is also very confusingly worded.) Deeper-Into-Trouble Technique gives a bonus to Decisive damage, and a further bonus if the enemy has a negative Tie towards you. Also, anyone you damage with this attack becomes enraged, gaining Willpower if they attack you on or before their next turn and take you out or Crash you, but they get a penalty to attack anyone else until they hit you, and they can’t get the Willpower if they attack anyone else first. Laughing Monster Form is a constantly shifting stance that feigns confusion, making it appear as if you have many illusory arms. These give a bonus to Disarm and Distract gambits, and any time that successfully dodging an attack makes an attacker at Close range lose Initiative, you can make a Decisive counterattack with damage based on the Initiative lost, which ignores Hardness and doesn’t reset you to base, or a Disarm or Distract gambit counterattack that works as normal but gets a bonus. If Terrestrial keyword is in effect, you have to pay Initiative to use the counterattack. This can be autoactivated when you provoke a nontrivial foe to Join Battle against you with an influence roll or when you dodge someone and their Initiative is sent below yours.

Inauspicious Moment for Attack lets you make a clap that sounds as if echoed by 98 hands, taking on a stance of ill omen and clashing an attack against you with a Distract gambit that gets a bonus. If you win, you count as having dodged the attack, and whoever benefits from your Distract gambit can reflexively make a Decisive attack on your attacker. On foes suffering from Unitary Being Forge, you can instead clash with a Decisive attack, using the imp’s damage bonus for its damage and ignoring Hardness, which doesn’t reset you to base and still gets boosted by anything that boosts Distract gambits. If terrestrial, either counts as your attack for the round and can’t be used if you’ve already attacked. Subtle Hammer lets you make an exaggerated feint, then reverse it into a deathblow. Once per scene, after a successful Distract or Disarm gambit, you can reflexively make a Decisive attack on the same foe, with damage based on your gambit’s roll that ignores Hardness and doesn’t reset you to base. If this takes out the foe, you get back the gambit’s Initiative cost. Mastery gives the attack a bonus while in Laughing Monster Form. Thieves Fall Out lets you make a single Decisive attack against two foes in Close range of each other, dividing your Initiatve between them evenly for damage. If you hit both, you disrupt them and they stumble over each other as long as they remain near each other. For the rest of the scene they get a Defense penalty and lose Initiative each turn when in Close range of each other, and you gain the Initiative they lose. You can instead use this to make a single attack on a battle group with a damage bonus, and the battle group gets the same penalty for the scene but loses Magnitude instead of Initiative, and you don’t gain Initiative.

Friendship-Dissolving Venom can be used when you successfully dodge an attack, redirecting it to another character in range of the original attack. It is rerolled, with all bonuses and effects on it maintained, against the new target. Any Initiative a Withering attack would grant to the attacker goes to you, and if you have any damage bonuses against the attacker from Furiously Stalling Destiny, they apply to the redirected attack as well. If the redirected attack beats the target’s Resolve, they also form a Minor Tie of outrage towards the attacker, or strengthen an existing negative Tie to them. Any positive Ties towards the attacker are suppressed for the scene, and you reflexively make a Manipulation-based persuade roll to convince the victim to act against the attacker’s interests in some way. The cost of this Charm is reduced if both attacker and redirect victim are under the effects of Thieves Fall Out and within Close range of each other. Terrestrial can only use this on Crashed or trivial foes, and Mastery lets you boost the redirected attack with Laughing Monster Charms.

Unitary Being Forge can be used when you make a Decisive attack against someone with a negative Tie you are aware of, and gives a bonus on the damage roll. If you deal damage at least equal to their base Resolve, you draw the Intimacy forth in the form of a quasi-material imp, whose appearance makes the Intimacy’s nature and intensity obvious to all viewers. This is a mental shaping effect. The imp remains by the victim’s side automatically, remaining manifest for a scene. While it is manifest, the victim loses all benefits of the Tie but not any negative effects, and halves their base Guile as the imp reveals their true feelings. Once per round, you can have the imp give a bonus to a Decisive attack’s damage against the victim, no matter who made the attack. The imp can be destroyed by a gambit, but it has Defense equal to your Guile and requires magic that can touch the immaterial. If destroyed with magic that can permakill spirits, the Intimacy it represents weakens by one step. Shuffling the Pieces lets you grab an imp created by Unitary Being Forge within Close range, twisting it around your weapon or fist. Its bonus damage can no longer be used, though all other effects remain. The imp may still be attacked or destroyed, but you are considered to be protecting it via Defend Other. You may release the imp via a Decisive attack, embedding it into the mind of whoever you hit and getting a bonus on the damage roll. If you attack someone other than the original victim and do damage at least equal to their Resolve, the Intimacy the imp represented transfers from the original victim to your target as a mental shaping effect. If this would be opposed by a Major or Defining Intimacy or is fundamentally incompatible with the target’s sense of identity, they instead gain a Minor Derangement chosen by the GM. Either way, the imp dissolves. If Terrestrial, you instead only give the target the Intimacy at Minor and reduce the original victim’s by one step.

Dancing Wind-Monster Transformation lets you pay an extra cost when activating Laughing Monster Form to dematerialize, fading into a cloud of madness and mocking laughter. Allies within Short range get the benefits of Laughing Monster Form, and you can use Reflexive and Supplemental Laughing Monster Charms to boost their attacks or dodges. You may attack dematerialized beings within Short range, or material foes afflicted by Unitary Being Forge by using the imp to strike them. You may use Shuffling the Pieces to grab imps out to Short range, dematerializing them, and can discharge them via the attacks of allies within Short range. Any enemy that can strike the immaterial can attack your entire cloud-form, effectively treating you as one range band closer than you actually are. You rematerialize and end this Charm’s benefits if there are no nontrivial foes within Short range of you when your turn ends, and to dematerialize again you have to reactivate Laughing Monster Form. If Terrestrial, you can still be struck by material foes but get increased Evasion against them if they don’t use magic that can strike the immaterial.

Swaying Grass Dance Style is capoeira. It is a style that resembles a dance more than a conventional fighting art, as it was invented by rebellious slaves that disguised their training as traditional dances and religious celebrations. The original Swaying Grass Dancers of legend used their art to overthrow their masters, and its skill has become renowned. It is unpredictable, relying on misdirection to maneuver around foes, evade them and set them up for devastating kicks. Some dancers use it solely to fight, but others honor its origins by covertly teaching it to the oppressed and enslaved, spreading rebellion. Its unarmed strikes are primarily kicks and knee blows, though it also uses punches, elbow strikes and headbutts. It can wield batons, iron boots and knives, and unarmed attacks enhanced by its Charms can be stunted to deal Lethal. It is not compatible with armor. Performance and Dodge are both vitally useful skills to Swaying Grass Dancers.

Jubilant Battle Proposition lets you Join Battle with Performance, and this also counts as a dance-based inspire check against everyone that can see you, with no penalty for multiple targets. If you’re in an environment that conceals your footwork, such as tall grass or dark water, you get a bonus. If you use your first turn to attack someone whose Resolve failed to stop your inspire roll, it’s an unexpected attack even if they resisted with Willpower. Mastery makes it an ambush if it would already have been unexpected. Reed-Breaking Banda can be used to cause foes you deal enough damage to, Withering or Decisive, to fall prone if they fail an Athletics check, or to waive the costs and penalties of a smash attack. If a foe hit by this attack rises from prone or disengages on their next turn, you steal some of their Initiative. With Mastery, it also makes your unexpected attacks or attacks that stunt how your environment conceals your footwork penalize the roll, and ambushes make it autofail. Sweeping Meadow Awareness Practice reduces onslaught and unexpected attack penalties to Evasion, and makes your successful dodges reduce the Initiative cost of this style’s Charms, disengages and gambits until the end of your next turn, removing the Perilous keyword from any Charms whose Initiative cost drops to 0. Terrestrial caps the penalty reduction. Swaying Grass Dance Form boosts Evasion due to rhythmic swaying and fluid movements and removes penalties for fighting while prone. It also boosts Decisive damage on surprise attacks and attacks on prone foes and removes the Initiative cost of attacking with improvised equivalents to style weapons. It also lets you use Performance instead of Athletics for rushes and instead of Stealth for establishing concealment. It can be autoactivated when you beat a nontrivial foe’s Resolve with a dance-based Performance check at Close range.

Rolling-with-the-Wind Method lets you match a foe’s rhythm. After being hit by an attack but before damage is rolled, you can activate it to reflexively disengage, reducing the damage of the attack and moving one range band away after damage is rolled, which counts as your movement for the round (or next, if you’ve already moved). Terrestrial caps the damage reduction and prevents you from using this Charm if you’ve already moved. Teeth-in-the-Grass Strike gives a bonus once per scene to a Decisive attack or a distract gambit due to a high-low feint, and if you beat their Resolve with the roll, it is unexpected. The first time you do this with a distract gambit in a scene, it’s an ambush. Mastery gives a bonus to damage to surprise attacks or gambit rolls. Whirling Rhythm Revolution lets you, when you successfully rush, disengage or make a dance-based Performance roll, also make a reflexive Decisive attack that doesn’t count as your attack for the round, with a discount to any Excellencies or Swaying Grass Dance Charms used on it. Terrestrial removes the discount and makes it count as your attack. Grass-Reaping Posture allows you, while in Swaying Grass Dance Form, to use Whirling Rhythm Revolution to attack a foe in Close range if they try to rise from prone or fail a disengage check from you.

Inescapable Tumbleweed Prana makes a successful rush allow you to move one range band towards your foe whenever they move away from you until the end of the scene, though you lose this benefit if you attack or rush another foe, move away from the target or are Crashed. You may use this to rush from concealment, and the reflexive move does not break stealth. Serenading the Reed causes you to hear a mounting music and move to it, achieving perfect battle rhythm. You get a bonus to Evasion, larger if there’s actual music playing, and if you dodge the attack and it has fewer successes than your bonus, the attacker resets to base. Alternatively, you may activate this to use the Serval Leaps From Tall Grass technique, reflexively clashing an attack from Close range with a Decisive attack, with a bonus if music is playing. Terrestrial makes Serval Leaps From Tall Grass count as your attack for the round, and Mastery lets Serval Leaps From Tall Grass clash an ambush against you.

Next time: Sorcery.

Raksi’s Back

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Raksi’s Back

Raksi’s Tutelage is one of the new ways to learn sorcery. She is happy to train Silver Pact students in a curriculum that she has created based on her vast trove of First Age sorcerous knowledge, the best in all Creation – if, y’know, filtered through the lens of Raksi’s own interests and experiments. She guides her students with careful study and critique of First Age texts, hallucinogenic vision questing and mystic trials, revealing the gruesome power of sorcery.
Scar-Strengthened Will (3): You have endured the worst Raksi has to offer and not broken. You get a bonus to Resolve against any fear-based influence and any social influence conveyed via spells or sorcerous workings.
Sage of Three Circles (4): You have studied the Book of Three Circles with Raksi, and its knowledge is rooted in your soul. Once per story, you may cast a spell you don’t know, as long as you meet all prerequisites for it. Afterwards, you may learn that spell without need for a mentor or source. The GM may rule that some spells are not in the Book, primarily those invented in the Second age, well after it was written.

The Jasmine Gems of Mishiko is a method of learning sorcery granted by the ghost of the Moon-Touched sorceress Mishiko. She appears to her students in the dark minutes of twilight, between day and night, in the form of a young girl shaped from moonfire. She is tied to Creation by jasmine-crystal flowers which grow at random in strange places, such as the tombs of ancient shamans, the sites of difficult births, the vistas that inspire an artist’s first work or a tree that once sheltered a great sage. Each gem-flower is a sorcerous relic and a conduit to Mishiko’s ghost. Mishiko is a gentle, wise woman who delivers her teachings in the form of poetry, parables and uncomfortable observations that spur her students on to discover and explore. Many young Lunars find the gems come to them as if by fate, though some elders speculate other forces at work.
Cryptic Insights (2): Once per story, you may confer with Mishiko when you roll to introduce a fact, getting a large bonus and removing the need for an applicable Lore background by drawing on her poem-prophecies.
Evocations (0): You can draw forth Evocations from your gem-flower as if it were a 3-dot artifact. They may grant greater communion with Mishiko or draw on themes of mystery, discovery and questing to enhance sorcery.

Root-Lore is a secret language, encoded in the trees, herbs and flowers of the world, which imparts subtle lessons and secrets to the deep mysteries of Creation. Not all herbalists or apothecaries can understand these lessons, and initiation into the sorcery of root-lore requires patient study of the plantlife of the world and a deep insight into the truth. This reveals secret wisdom from flower petals and draws power from roots and herbs.
Merits: Greenfriend (1): You are friend to all plantlife. Wood elementals, sentient plants and similar are treated as if they have a Minor Tie of affection towards you.
Ever-Blossoming Mastery (2): When you cast a spell that creates or manipulates plants, wood or associated spirits, its cost is reduced slightly. If it’s your control spell, once per day you can also reduce its Willpower cost.
Esoteric Botany (3): Once per week, you can get a bonus based on your Occult on a Survival check to forage for plants, a Lore check to introduce a fact about them or a Craft check to make medicines, poisons or similar from them.

New spells! Terrestrial first: Blood Lash lets you draw out some of your own blood as a deadly whip, and you halve your wound penalties when using it. The whip gains extra powers as your wound penalty rises, such as letting you reflexively threaten foes after damaging them at -1 (with your wound penalty being a bonus to the roll), spending motes to attack at Short range with the whip at -2 (which can drag foes close to you if you grapple with it), or once per scene spend motes to vampirically drain health from foes with a Decisive attack at -4. As a control spell, you always have large, dark, prominent veins, and you can control the movement of any blood you shed until it dries, which counts as exceptional equipment if it’d somehow be helpful, though blood is not, like, very strong on its own. This works at any range, but you don’t have any blood-based perception abilities normally. If distorted, the whip congeals, deals Bashing instead of Lethal and loses the Flexible tag. Also, your wound penalty gets treated as lower for its powers.

Flight of Separation turns you into a flock of birds, which you can guide to a location within ten miles. The flock has your normal stats as a whole, but you can only move and dodge. It gets an Evasion bonus, because it’s a flock of birds, but the bonus is lost against AOE effects, and you get a bonus to disengage and withdraw. You can end the spell reflexively at any time to reform, and it ends automatically if you reach your destination or are taken out. Unlike most spells, you can hold this one uncast once it’s ready, but as long as you do, you get a penalty to everything until you cast it, which you can do reflexively at any time, though you must reflexively disengage if any foes are in Close range, and if you fail, the spell is lost. As a control spell, you can speak the language of birds and understand them, and all birds and bird-like spirits are treated as having a Minor Tie of fondness to you. Distortion makes the birds fly in different directions, which means the caster must roll Integrity each turn to control the flock’s movement and takes Bashing damage on failure as parts of their flock fly away; outside of combat, this roll is once per mile of flight and the flight is at half speed that mile if it fails.

Peacock Shadow Eyes makes your eyes blaze with many-colored flame, making an Occult roll against the Resolve of someone in Medium range. Success sends them into a trance, giving a penalty to their Resolve. They may still act, as if they are sleepwalking, but have no memory of the time in the trance and rationalize away the effects of any influence used on them during it as their own emotions. Attacking or otherwise harming them frees them immediately. Blind characters and those with no eyes are immune. If their suppressed memories would endanger a Major or Defining Intimacy, they can spend Willpower to resist this Psyche effect and regain their memories, but any social influence remains in place. The spell is subtle but noticeable – those with Resolve higher than your roll (including the victim, if you fail to beat their Resolve) can make an Occult roll to notice your blazing eyes and tell you used some magic; otherwise, they think it’s just a trick of the light. If this is your control spell, your irises are constantly shifting colors, and you treat your Appearance as one higher on influence rolls to inspire fascination with yourself or influence rolls against victims of this spell, but you get a penalty to disguise. Distorted, the target experiences cryptic flashbacks of their time in the trance, and after several days can spend Willpower to regain their memories.

Celestial spells: Cloud Trapeze lets you weave up a barge of clouds that can lift you and several tons of cargo and willing passengers in Long range. It flies at a decent clip, especially with a strong tailwind. If you need to steer it around perils, you use Occult to do it. In combat, you can move it and everything on it one range band as a miscellaneous action, which counts as your movement. The passengers are immune to bad weather, extreme temperature and other perils of aerial travel. Anyone within it is concealed, causing a penalty to vision-based rolls against them from outside, but it is transparent from the inside, so no penalty to looking out. If it is high enough to be around other clouds, it requires an Occult or Survival roll to even notice, or else use of weather-predicting magic. You must remain aboard it to control it, but you don’t need to constantly focus on piloting. If you get off, the cloud lands, deposits all contents as safely as it can, and then dissipates. As a control spell, you increase its capacity and speed, and when you are in Medium range of mist, fog or a body of water, you can make an Occult roll as an action to shape water vapor into a solid bridge, ladder or similar that spans one range band. Distorted, the cloud becomes opaque from within and transparent from outside rather than the other way around.

Insidious Tendrils of Hate lets you spend two hours feeding your malice into a fire until it turns green, then cast a symbolic link to your target into the fire, such as part of their body (hair, blood and nails count) taken within the last three days or an object of personal significance to them. Once you complete this ritual, smoke surrounds the target no matter where they are, seeping into their body and soul. You make an Occult roll against the Resolve of the target and anyone in Short range of them. Anyone affected becomes paranoid and hateful, suspecting the worst of all people. This functions as an inspire roll to create hatred, but it cannot be resisted with Willpower and it lasts several days. Anyone affected treats any Major positive Ties as minor and suppresses all Minor positive Ties they have for the duration. As a control spell, you exhale subtle wisps of smoke from your mouth and nostrils, and you get a bonus to all rolls to inspire hatred (including this spell’s roll) and any influence rolls leveraging hate-based Intimacies. Distorted, whoever is targeted for the distortion can resist the inspired hatred with Willpower, though their Ties remain diminished for the duration.

Prince of the Fallen Tower creates a shimmering door of foul water, from which a 20-foot-tall ogre covered in rusty chitin and sores emerges – one of the sealed Princes of the Fallen Tower. The Prince is largely not intelligent, but it obeys commands faithfully and has a Defining Tie of loyalty to you that cannot be weakened or altered. If summoned into combat, it Joins Battle immediately. You may have only a few Princes summoned at any one time based on your Essence. As a control spell, you can pay extra Willpower to summon a Prince permanently and have it not count against your limit. It gets an additional Charm on top of its normal statblock at the end of each story. You may have only one permanent Prince at a time, but if it dies, you can summon a new one, which retains any bonus Charms its predecessors had. Distorted, the Prince loses access to its Corrupting Touch Merit and Glory-Blighting Corruption Charm for one scene. The Princes are extremely tough, exceptionally strong, amazingly ugly and very dangerous combatants who can destroy wood, stone or metal with a touch and whose unarmed attacks ignore some soak and Hardness from mundane armor and deal Aggravated to wood- or earth-based spirits. They can corrupt artifacts they strike, making them difficult to wield until repaired, and are very good at breaking things. They treat any influence that would make them stop engaging in destruction as unacceptable influence – even their summoner’s orders. Also, they have Legendary Size.

Thorn of Cold Rebuke lets you breathe out an icy mist that turns into an ice javelin, which you throw at a point within Long range, where it explodes as an unblockable Thrown-based Decisive attack with a bonus, which hits all characters within Medium range of the impact point and deals damage based on your Intelligence, ignoring Hardness. Battle groups take extra damage. For several hours after, the area is filled with an eerie cold as a minor-damage environmental hazard, and exposed surfaces freeze over, becoming Difficult Terrain and giving a penalty to balance-related rolls. Bodies of water freeze into icebergs and ice floes as naval hazards that damage ships that fail the roll to avoid them and immobilize them in ice. These ice floes can dam all but the widest rivers. You may choose to wield the spear instead of throwing it, and it’s a decent weapon; at any time you can spend your entire turn to make a Decisive attack that shatters the spear as above. As a control spell, the effects last several days, and all spirits of water and wood are treated as having a Minor Tie of fear to you. Further, when you wield the spear, it is exceptional equipment for intimidating such spirits.

Torrential Cascade lets you sing a meaningless song that evokes the Storm Who Drowned the world, causing a churning water pillar to form around you, drawn from nearby water sources or clouds. The pillar collapses into a massive wave covering a 90-degree arc in any direction out to Short range as a minor-damage environmental hazard. Any battle group damaged by the hazard must immediately check for rout, and any mundane structure less than a range band high (and any similar objects) take uncountable damage at the GM’s whim, as the wave uproots trees, crushes buildings and washes away fields. Anyone caught in the wave gets a penalty to all rolls but resisting the hazard and starts to drown, though succeeding against the hazard lets them reach air long enough to take a breath that round. You can sustain the spell each round after casting with a Shape Sorcery action at no cost, causing the wave to move forward one range band, to a max of Long range. Anyone that failed the roll against it last round is dragged with it, and if it has caused significant structural damage, its damage goes up by one each subsequent round due to debris. Some structures may be too sturdy, in which case it redirects itself in one or more different directions at the GM’s discretion. Once it reaches Long range or you stop casting or get Crashed, the wave collapses, drenching the ground, and any earthen surfaces it crossed become Difficult terrain until they dry. The GM decides what happens to other surfaces. As a control spell, you can guide and shape the wave as it moves, causing it to change direction or avoid obstacles that would normally block it, or to avoid harming certain characters or structures. When you feel strong emotions, nearby bodies of water become agitated and roil furiously. Distorted, the wave flows harmlessly around whoever distorted it and anyone else in Close range of them for its duration. This can be done even if the distorting sorcerer is engulfed in the wave already.

Next time: New artifacts.

Armor Eye

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Armor Eye

Eyebright is 3-dot moonsilver lamellar armor. In the years after retiring from soldiery, Ophione became old and blind as she lived with her kin, but she never became less alert. When her village sheltered some travelers, she sensed in them a wrongness, and she Exalted fighting off the disguised bandits when they attempted to strike. While she loved her people, the village offered little for her renewed strength and passion. While traveling the world, she met the Dragon-Blood prince Anandra of Brass, whom she thought honorable and well-intentioned, so eventually she signed on as a captain under him. Anandra had Eyebright made for Ophione, that the Lunar need not be blind in his service. In battle, Ophione was Anandra’s strong right hand, and likewise in his court in the Dreaming Sea area. However, his life was much shorter than hers, and while she was his logical successor, she had no interest in rulership, and left Anandra’s land to once more be a wanderer. After her death in a fateful duel in which she slew her Solar mate, the East Wind Prince, the armor Eyebright vanished for centuries. It reappeared after the Usurpation in the armory of Thousand-Swords Oravan. Since the fall of his Silver Principiate, it has passed through many Lunar hands, and currently it lies in the Southwestern vaults of the Three Devil Princes, who await a worthy bearer for it. The armor is a coat of moonsilver scales reinforced by pauldrons and vambraces, and its most noteworthy features are the seventy-seven star sapphires, each the size of a robin’s egg, that sparkle across its surface. Each is an eye, its star shifting to follow the attention of the bearer. The armor has two hearthstone slots.

Eyebright can see in all directions, giving a bonus to any sight-based rolls to oppose Stealth and removing all penalties from visual impairment to its wielder’s actual eyes, such as blindness, though not from any impairment that also would affect the armor’s eyes, such as fog or darkness. Eyebright’s Evocations rely heavily on the wielder’s understanding of foes, measured by Insight. Your Insight into a foe is equal to the highest value of any of their Intimacies you know of which is relevant to the fight for some reason.

Enfolding Sentinel’s Prescience gives you a bonus to Join Battle based on the highest Insight you have among all foes present. If resonant, you also reroll all 1s until they stop showing up. Heart-Evading Sidestep boosts your Defense against an attack based on your Insight into the attacker. Knowing the Hunter’s Soul enhances the Charm Ever-Wary Fox Technique, letting you reflexively read the attacker’s intentions to learn an Intimacy related to the attack when you succeed on a Perception roll enhanced by the Charm, and if resonant also gives a bonus to the roll involved. You learn it free when you use Ever-Wary Fox Technique to successfully detect a concealed foe.

Sapphire Warrior Intuition lets you gain Initiative when you successfully defend against an attack by a foe you have any Insight into. If resonant, they also lose Initiative. Thousand-Eyed Sword Dancer reduces onslaught penalties to your Defense against attacks from foes you have Insight into, and reduces the power of attacks made by battle groups you have Insight into. The capstone is All-Seeing Awareness Stance, which causes the star sapphires to blaze like tiny suns. At the start of each turn for the rest of the scene, you reflexively aim at any one foe you have Insight into. Further, you ignore environmental penalties to detect foes you have Insight into, and get a bonus to all rolls opposing their concealment and disguises. If resonant, you also get a bonus to Evasion. Further, this Charm can be reflexively activated whenever you detect a concealed foe using Ever-Wary Fox Technique.

Far-Ranging Eye is a 3-dot moonsilver infinite chakram. It is a circle of moonsilver inset with seven jewels, and it was not made as a weapon but as a vow. Ojun of Qamad was a prince of some power and ambition, but he trusted too easily and asked too few questions about his generals and advisors. He was torn from his throne and abandoned in the savannah, where he discovered courage, resolve and ferocity he had not known he had. When he returned to Qamad, he was a hardened Lunar survivor, made strong by his exile and Exaltation. None speak of the dark day of vengeance he wrought, except to say that he tore seven jewels from the ancestral crown of Qamad before placing it on his cousin’s head. He swore to stand better vigil over Creation than he had managed over Qamad, and he forged those jewels into Far-Ranging Eye that he might always remember the cost of his failure. Later, in the hands of the outcaste Dragon-Blood Ahta Najit, the weapon was a tool of justice, always vigilant for guilt and crime. For the hero Starless Shadow, it was a shield against assassins. Today, the weapon has passed into legend, last seen in the treasure hall of Highroost, a falconfolk clan that has fallen into chaos and internal war.

Wielders attuned to Far-Ranging Eye get its first evocation free: Eye-of-Strife Meditation, which causes a prismatic Essence lens to appear in the chakram, focusing your attention on truth. You get a bonus to an Investigation roll involving evidence of violence or a tracking roll to pursue someone you hit with the chakram in the past few days. Blinking Eye Omen gives a bonus to Join Battle as the chakram vibrates in anticipation of violence, and you treat your Initiative as higher to determine if you are vulnerable to ambushes on the first round. Razor Vigil Meditation lets you reflexively aim at any foe you have a Major or Defining Tie of suspicion or distrust to or whom you’ve ever witnessed making a surprise attack against you or someone you have a positive Tie to. If resonant and E3+, if both conditions are true, you instead take two reflexive aim actions at them. Soul-Piercing Lens lets you hold up the chakram and look at someone through it to pierce their defenses. You instantly make a read intentions or profile character check with a bonus against someone in Medium range, and if you succeed, you can use Razor Vigil Meditation against them for the scene even if the conditions are not met and can track them with Eye-of-Strife Meditation as if you’d hit them.

Reflections on Adversity cannot be bought with XP. It is gained free when you find evidence of a previously unknown plot against you or someone to whom you have a positive Tie. Once per day while sleeping, you can make a Perception check against the Guile of someone you successfully examined with Soul-Piercing Lens that day. Success reveals a valuable piece of info about them, such as a forthcoming plan or a piece of their history. Razor Rends the Veil enhances Soul-Piercing Lens; when it is used against someone using magical disguise, concealment or other sense-deceiving magic, you can roll Initiative using the gambit rules against them as an unblockable, undodgeable attack. If you succeed, the effect hiding their nature ends. This cannot negate shapeshifting, resplendent destinies or instant- or permanent-duration effects. If used against effects that enhance mundane disguises, such as Perfect Mirror, it does not retroactively negate their bonuses but will end any effects above and beyond the usual effect of a successful disguise check. If resonant, the cost to perform this gambit is reduced.

Seven Eyes Cyclone can only be learned if resonant and is the capstone. You throw the Eye in an arc as it glints madly, seeking out thieves and traitors. To use this, you must have Initiative 12+, and you make a Decisive attack against a number of foes within Short range; if there are concealed foes in range and you haven’t picked out your maximum targets, the chakram can attack the concealed foes, though they get a Defense bonus. The GM picks which hidden foes get attacked. The attack damages all targets, and any concealed targets must make a Stealth check to oppose any damage they take; failure means they lose concealment. You can use Razor Vigil Meditation for the scene against any foe struck, even if its normal conditions are not met, and you may use Reflections on Adversity against any of the foes struck that night.

Next time: The Hundred Rings of Hadam-Ul, Nightbane


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: SNAKE CHAIN

The Hundred Rings of Hadam-Ul is a moonsilver dire chain, 3 dots. Its creation is due to an immense serpent that swam the oceans of Creation and the Wyld, belonging to neither and terrorizing both. It was a thing of uncertainty, its size shifting almost randomly. Sometimes it was enough to blot out the sun, other times small enough to fit any crack. No net could catch it nor harpoon could pierce its flesh, and even names could not pin it down. The beast was and is without name as result. At last, the Lunar Hadam-Ul, a patient if not particularly famed warrior, tracked the behemoth for a hundred days and nights, testing its power and observing its ways. Every day, he dove into the depths, grappled with the beast and tied a single knot in its body before it escaped. With the hundredth knot, Hadam-Ul tied its head to its tail, for the one thing the beast could not escape was itself. He respected his prey, knowing it was suffering eternally and unable to die, and so he forged the serpent into a dire chain, transforming each knot into a ring of moonsilver. The spirit of the serpent resides in the Hundred Rings now, eager for the chance to hunt again. It has two hearthstone slots.

Attunement to the Hundred Rings gives its first Evocation free. Serpent Ornament Embrace lets you change the rings to any smaller size you want, allowing it to be hidden as a necklace or girdle, and then restorre it to full size reflexively. Scathing Torment Coils lets the rings extend razor spines into folks you grapple, allowing for a nasty counterattack when your grappled victim attacks anyone. Prey-Seizing Span lets the chain stretch out, grappling foes up to Medium range and making it easier to drag them around or allowing the chain to do useful stuff that a thirty-foot chain could do. Silver Python Spiral makes your throws do extra damage and hurl people further due to the chain's momentum. Sun-Swallowing Maw can only be learned if resonant, and it lets the chain expand and grow massively, giving a huge bonus to grapple and letting you grapple Legendary Size foes. Living Moonsilver Vice can also only be learned if resonant, and it awakens the serpent in the chain, allowing you to release it into battle as another character that fights for you, grappling foes on its own and able to use the chain's Evocations through its own attacks if you pay for the charm costs yourself.

Nightbane is a 3-dot moonsilver powerbow. When the slave Copper Turtle Exalted, Luna came to him in the form of one of the plague-stricken victims his physician master had left for dead. She told him where he could find a cure for the pestilence of the land and freedom from slavery. That night, he killed his master, and a week later, he returned in the shape of a jackal to tear his master's spine free of the corpse. He fashioned the bow from moonsilver and his master's bones, creating a tool of purification that slew all manner of evil, driving plague and slavers from the land. When the Contagion struck, Copper Turtle had become an esteemed shahan-ya, and he gave Nightbane to his finest student, to travel south while he went east to fight the disease. Neither survived. The Pact was too late to retrieve the bow, which was looted by a scavenger prince along with lots of other valuables. Over the centuries, the bow has finally ended up with the Guild, despite the Pact's best efforts to get it back. It now sits in the Guild's headquarters in Nexus, wielded by an Exigent champion as a tool to cure the diseases of ranking Guildsmen. It has a single hearthstone slot.

The wielder of Nightbane gets a bonus to all diagnosis rolls and to Craft and Survival rolls to create or gather medicinal substances. Argent Panacea Arrow can be used to shoot someone without harming them as a gambit that weakens a disease or poison within the target. Hundred Devils Purgation gives a damage bonus against fae and creatures of darkness, and permanently causes the bow to also give a bonus to Awareness rolls to detect fae or creatures of darkness and Survival rolls to track them. Fallen Moonbeam Judgment lets you get the Hundred Devils Purgation bonuses against anyone you witness acting against one of your Defining Principles. Nightmare's End Arrow lets you shoot someone's soul as a gambit, targeting one of their negative Ties or a Principle contrary to one of your own. If you succeed, you get rid of that Intimacy entirely because you shot it. If resonant, this can alternatively be used to reduce the effects of Derangements. Curse-Breaking Quarrel can only be learned if resonant. It lerts you shoot someone as a gambit to break a curse or shaping effect on your target. Divine Huntress Curse can only be learned if resonant, and it lets you make a special attack against fae, creatures of darkness or people you witness acting against your Defining Principles. It gets a damage bonus, and if you take the foe out or do a lot of damage, you permanently turn them into an animal of your choice that isn't Legendary or Miniscule Size.

Night's Sweet Whisper is aset of 3-dot moonsilver panpipes. Allia the Songbird was an independent Lunar through the Shogunate who worked to protect the people of her small, isolated village rather than take part in the Silver Pact's war. Queen Nabira of Many Hands made the panpipe from moonsilver and the bones of angyalka demons for the shaman in the hopes of earning her gratitude, but while she succeeded, Allia still refused to join the Pact. When the Fair Folk came during the Contagion, Allia's village was one of the few places spared. For seven days and nights she played Night's Sweet Whisper without stopping, and the song was so beautiful that no Wyld creature would dare harm her or her birthplace. The fae passed, but Allia was not happy just to save her people. She left for the edge of Creation, doing anything she could to stop the fae. She helped the Silver Pact, Dragon-Bloods, Sidereals and mortals without prejudice. For all of her effort, she only managed to save the tiniest fraction of lives compared to those the Fair Folk slew. She survived, but despair claimed her, and she returned to her village to live out her time in seclusion with her kin. She left the panpipes with Nabira's apprentice, Snow Devil, for her friend had died to the raksha forces. Since then, shamans and artists of the Pact have taken up the song - as have some outsiders, for it would not honor Allia's independence to forbid its use by those Lunars.

The panpipes are an exceptional instrument that give a Resolve penalty when used to make influence checks with Performance against fae, and when used by a Silver-Voiced Nightingale stylist, they can be used to deal Agg to fae. Moonlit Serenity Paean gives a bonus when using Performance to persuade someone not to harm you or someone you have a positive Tie to, with a bigger bonus if they are fae. Nightmare-Soothing Melody boosts the Lunar Charm Crossroads Walker Entreaty, preventing fae from attacking ot trying to harm you as long as you play the pipes and take no other non-reflexive actions, even if they paid the Willpower cost to start hostilities. Refrain of the Gentle Moon lets you use Performance to inspire peace with a bonus, and also drain your targets' Initiative for as long as you play. Cold Iron Cadence boosts the Lunar Charm Battle Anthem of the Lunar Exalted, increasing allies' soak while you play and bolstering positive Ties to groups that allies fight for as well as rage-based Intimacies, and further boosting damage against fae. Beast-Heart Harmony gives a bonus to rolls made with the Lunar Charms Wild Fury Awakening and Pack-Calling Cry, and the natural weapons of animals called by those Charms count as iron against fae.

Edge-of-Chaos Hymn improves the Lunar Charm Harmony-With-Reality Technique, letting you roll Performance instead of the normal roll and letting you use it outside your territories if it would benefit a group you have a positive Defining Tie towards. It also lets you lose Limit by stabilizing the Wyld for communities you have a Major or Defining positive Tie to. Lullaby for the Damned lets you make a special Performance-based gambit against a fae in Long range, turning it into a harmless shape for a year and a day. It retains its intellect, Essence and Charms, but its memories of anything before the transformation are hazy dreams. It gains a Defining Principle of belief that it's always been what you turned it into, and a Defining Principle of nonviolence, with any incompatible Intimacies suppressed for the duration. Weak fae or those that prefer this life may be transformed permanently.

Next time: Phaessa and Deinon, the Ichneumon Blades, Seven Furies Caged


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: MOON SWORDS

Phaessa and Deinon are a pair of 3-dot moonsilver short daiklaves. In the Northeastern forests of Ashbloom was once the First Age city of Logerion, where dwelled the Lunar savant Knows-the-Horizon. She was drawn there by the wise birds, beautiful palaces of living wood and joyful Solar queen. When the city was burned in the Usurpation and its queen slain, Knows-the-Horizon fled into the woods, seeking out the Lunar mystic called Opal Heart, whose teachings gave her solace over the loss of her beloved high society and a chance to study the wilderness spirit courts and Luna’s mysterious cycles. In recognition of the lunar cycle, Knows-the-Horizon made a pair of blades, calling down the minor moon-gods Phaessa and Deinon. She rediscovered the key to the Midnight Sky Gate and returned it to the Court of the Silver Chair, and in exchange the gods allowed themselves to be bound into the blades that now bear their names. These swords were wielded against the Shogunate, and when Knows-the-Horizon fell in battle, the Pact took them up in her name. The curved blades resemble the crescent moon, and etchings on each reveal lost scriptures of Luna in an ancient First Age tongue. While they are identical in form, they cannot be mistaken for each other, as Phaessa shines brilliant silver-white and hums with intensity, while Deinon has a darker, tarnished light and moves with a constant whisper. The blades have two hearthstone slots.

Depending on which blade is ascendant, the swords are either waxing, waning, or neither. While waxing, Phaessa is dazzling and gives a bonus to threaten and to Withering damage. While waning, Deinon is bewildering, giving a bonus to stealth and to Decisive damage. The blades become waxing when you take a foe out and waning when you cause an Initiative Break. They can only be one of the two at a time, and they stop being either at the end of any scene. If resonant, they become your choice of waxing or waning when you Join Battle. If you only have one of the blades, it can only benefit from the state associated with that blade – when wielded singly (such as if you get disarmed of one), Phaessa can’t get any benefits from waning and Deinon can’t get them from waxing.

Unsheathe the Crescent Moon is gained free when you drop someone to slower than you with a Withering attack while waxing or take out a nontrivial foe with a Decisive attack while waning. When you successfully rush, you can make the blades waxing, and when you successfully establish concealment, you can make them waning. If resonant, you can pay anima to use this; if this makes your anima Dim you become waning; if you remain above Dim you become waxing. Moon-Crossing Cloud Mobility gives a bonus to rush or oppose a disengage when waxing and a bonus to disengage or oppose a rush when waning. Selenic Psyche Reinforcement gives a bonus to Resolve or Guile. If resonant, you can also now meditate to talk to the gods in the swords and they can speak to you in dreams; their knowledge is limited by what you know and the experiences of past wielders and their time in Luna’s spirit court, so they’re mostly good for advice on possible tactics. Phaessa is fierce, determined and disdainful of obstacles, while Deinon is subtle, patient and prefers to come at problems from unexpected angles.

Silver-and-Shadow Regalia gives a bonus to Appearance-based command and influence when waxing and to Stealth when waning. Ranging Moonbeam Strike lets you shoot moonbeam lasers. They’re Withering if waxing and sets foes on fire for Decisive damage if the attack Crashes them, and they’re Decisive if waning and also cause an instant cold-based environmental hazard that gives a penalty for several rounds based on its damage. Luna’s Blaze Sears the Wicked permanently upgrades several Lunar Charms. You can now use Claw That Rends the Veil with the blades, while waxing you can flurry Argent Guardian Yantra with an attack without penalty, and while waning you reduce the cost of Demon-Drinking Fang. Chiaroscuro Conflagration Crescendo can only be learned if resonant and can’t be learned normally. You get it free when you perform an agreed-on task for the gods in the blades, typically related to purification, revelation or mending. It can only be used when you either become waxing after taking out a foe with a powerful Decisive attack or waning after crashing a foe and gaining a lot of Initiative. Once activated, whenever the swords become waxing, you are surrounded by a tower of black and silver fire in your image, reflexively threatening all foes that can see you and allowing you to spend anima for a bonus when you do, plus anyone that is hit by the threaten loses Initiative and anyone afraid of you or hit by the threaten gets a penalty to attack you or defend against your attacks, and battle groups get a penalty on rout checks you cause and can’t use Size against you. Whenever the swords become waning, you are engulfed in a vortex of light and shadow, reflexively attempting concealment, and you can spend anima levels to boost the roll. Further, you ignore Stealth penalties of any kind, don’t need a hiding spot unless you’re in a completely open area that is brightly lit, and you increase the penalty to Defense against your unexpected attacks.

The Ichneumon Blades are a pair of 4-dot moonsilver slayer khatars. When the gaze of the fae lord Prince Balor shattered the legendary lance Eternal Talon, the Lunar called Okopa the God-Slayer gathered all the fragments she could. She was not able to get enough to remake the lance, but she used what she had to forge the Ichneumon Blades…and found that what she had created had, to her horror, none of the nobility of its forebear. It had drunk deep of Balor’s poisonous Essence, and now the blades knew only sadism and icy chill, their hunger for blood and pain utterly insatiable. Each blade is a long, thin moonsilver spike, its edges jagged and made to maim. They are attached to elk leather bracers embossed with runes and reinforced with moonsilver rivets. Okopa may not have liked the weapon, but many of the Silver Pact have adored the blades for their ability to turn their malice on the Dragon-Blooded. Their last wielder was a young Lunar, and with that wielder’s death, the khatars’ location is now unclear. Each blade has a single hearthstone slot, for a total of two.

The Ichneumon Blades suffer no Defense penalty for making piercing attacks. Silver Wasp Sting causes a shard of the blade to embed in the victim of your attack, increasing their wound penalties until it is surgically removed. You also get a bonus to piercing attacks made with this Charm. Wicked Mother’s Eye gives you a bonus to Awareness, Survival, Investigation and Socialize rolls to notice, track or understand people you’ve embedded blade spikes in. Whispering Wound Infestation lets you give a derangement to someone who has a shard embedded in them, with its power growing the more shards are in them. Also, victims of these derangements have to roll Willpower or lose Initiative when they try to fight you. Argent Brood Eruption lets you make a shard you just embedded in someone explode into spikes, damaging them and reducing their mobility. These shards are much harder to remove than normal.

Wasp-of-the-Labyrinth Trick lets you turn anyone who you kill while they have shards in them into a zombie that obeys you. Ravening Swarm Consumption lets you make a special Brawl attack to cause all shards inside someone to impale their vitals, modelled as a magical disease that is stronger the more shards are inside them. At Minor, it increases wound penalties and makes the shards harder to remove without magic. At Major, it also deals damage whenever the shard disease causes Willpower loss, and the penalty for shard removal also applies to magical attempts. At Defining, the shards deal damage in any scene in which the victim is active at all as well, and surgery to remove them is impossible without magic. Even with magic, they deal more damage than normal when removed. This disease can kill Exalts, and you become aware whenever anyone infected with this dies, allowing you to raise them as zombies with Wasp-of-the-Labyrinth Trick and give them a simple order, no matter how far away they are. If you give no orders, they mindlessly attack any living being they meet. If the shards were boosted by Argent Brood Eruption, they also deal damage to the victim every day.

Penumbra Gleam is a 4-dot moonsilver thunderbolt shield. War-chants of the Pact still sing of the raksha Maja of the Starling’s Song. She was a relentless warrior, obsessed with perfection, and when she led her forces against the world, she danced through her foes, perfectly striking them and wasting not even a single motion. She named herself Equal to the Sun, sure no one could match her. Her fall came at the hands of a group of Lunars, young but loyal to each other. Umrita Dal snuck into her war camp and stole her fabled mirror, which his sister, Antarim Iron-Wise, made into a shield. Maja had trained before her mirror until her every move was perfect, but the mirror remembered her mistakes, and once the shield was made, it was given to the warrior Hundred Thunders. He fought Maja, confounding her with images of her errors and failures, and in the end, Maja surrendered, having lost all pretense of perfection. Since then, the shield has been carried by many of the Silver Pact. It is often given to the young, especially those that need humility, for the shield reveals the flaws of anyone it reflects, especially the wielder. Giving the shield to someone is seen as either a sign of confidence or a rebuke, but it is a loyal and excellent defense, and it always betters its wielder, even if it is not pleasant. It is a gently curved pane of moonsilver polished to mirror perfection, and strange images sometimes show on it briefly, especially Maja’s shadow. It has a single hearthstone slot.

The wielder gets the first evocation free, as Maja’s shadow appears on the surface of the shield and speaks only one word: “Strive.” Meditation in Silver lets you practice with the shield and bring your reflection to life to critique you, allowing you to make an Integrity-based instill against yourself to erode a pride- or bravado-based Intimacy or strengthen a humility- or frustration-based one towards yourself. You also bank a number of Reflection points, which you can spend to get a bonus to Melee attacks or to reduce Initiative cost of full defense. Flawed Strike Mockery lets you steal Initiative and gain Reflection when you block attacks with the shield. Broken Sword Echo lets you make a special counterattack when you block an attack, reflecting their failure in the shield as a Melee-based roll against Resolve to give them an attack penalty against you and a Minor Tie of self-loathing. Fault-Finding Defense lets you give a damage penalty to an attack that gets past your Parry. Silver Phantom Phalanx lets you spend Reflection to get a Parry bonus by showing the foe illusory reflections how you might defend, tricking them. Symmetry of Violence lets you call forth a reflection of your attacker, clashing their attack with an attack that uses their Initiative instead of yours to deal damage. You can spend Reflection to boost the attack or to copy Charms your attacker used on it.

Next time: Seven Furies Caged (for real this time), Death at the Root and Weirdflame


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Fangs at the Gate: ANGARMOR, or possibly ARMANGOR

Seven Furies Caged is 4-dot moonsilver articulated plate. The Lunar Blood Nail in his youth was renowned for his rage against the Shogunate and his recklessness, refusing even to wear armor against the Wyld Hunt. His lover and Circlemate, Amareq Winding-Glory, decided this would not do and that Blood Nail needed protection. By the time Amareq finished the armor, it was stained red with blood, both that of Blood Nail and his victims. Amareq saw that the armor had drunk deep of his lover’s rage and become a monster itself. The Lunar and armor together slew many foes, whose skulls hung from its spikes. Blood Nail became a shahan-ya early in the life of the Realm, as young Lunars sought his aid in mastering their own rage. Blood Nail freely lends his students and allies the armor, so long as they vow to further his goal of open war with the Realm’s satrapies. Lunars who will not must trade favors to access Seven Furies Caged. The armor is a jagged, bestial design. Some say it is crude, but others remember the skill Amareq needed to craft it and the sharp moonsilver spikes that grow from its helm, pauldrons and gauntlets. Some of the plates are discolored by fragments of jade or splinters of bone that got caught in the armor from dead Dragon-Bloods while Amareq made it. It has two hearthstone slots.

Seven Furies Caged increases soak and hardness as your wound penalty goes up. Jubilant Loss of Control lets you use your wound penalty as a Join Battle bonus and a bonus to attack and damage if you win Join Battle and make a Decisive attack on the first turn. Harnessed Fury Mantra improves the Charm Relentless Lunar Fury, increasing your Strength when you use it and giving a bonus to feats of strength based on your wound penalty. Invincible Berserker Approach gives a Hardness bonus, and if you are sufficiently damaged, it can even be used while Crashed. If you take no damage, you reflexively make a Presence roll to threaten your attacker with a bonus based on your wound penalty.

Unrelenting Destroyer Fury gives a bonus to attack and damage against anyone that’s damaged you since your last turn. Blood Moon Ascendant can only be used while in Relentless Lunar Fury, and it lets you roll Stamina+Strength to gain Initiative, with a bonus based on your wound penalty. Seven Vengeful Fangs causes the armor to roar as it is struck, its spikes growing to impale the attacker. When you use the Lunar Charm Knife-Biting Attitude, you can make a Decisive counterattack based on the Initiative you gain from it, and if Relentless Lunar Fury is active, you can even do so while Crashed. Bleeding Behemoth Rampage improves the Charm Frenzied Desperation Strike, causing the armor to force your body to move even when it can’t. This gives a bonus to the Charm’s damage and your Initiative if it hits.

Death at the Root is a 5-dot moonsilver grimcleaver (read: fuckoff battle axe). During the First Age, the master Lunar geomancer known as Shu Ri-Li the Dragon Line Shepherd used the Crook of Earthly Harmony to raise up mighty towers that went into Yu-Shan, pagodas that sealed off shadowlands and gemstone jungles. When the Usurpation came, his life’s work fell to the hands of the Dragon-Blooded traitors, and in his fury, he snapped the green jade crook and refoged it as the handle of a massive moonsilver blade. This, Death at the Root, was wielded against the usurpers to deny them the power of geomancy by maiming the very dragon lines themselves, allowing Shu to destroy irreplaceable geomantic and sorcerous infrastructure rather than see it used by the usurpers. The axe is a weapon of immense power, and perfectly suited to Pact tactics. Many Lunars have wielded it – Seventh-Born Moth used it to break four of the five manses that purified the River of Tears, rendering its waters salty once more, and Black Heavens Magister used it on the Four Winds Throne in Greyfalls, shutting down the Realm Defense Grid for an entire season. However, the Wyld Hunt that came for him seized the grimcleaver from his corpse. Fortunately for the Pact, it didn’t long remain with them due to the efforts of Hajkal Pra, who broke into Ledaal Purun’s sanctum-manse, using the axe to sunder the wards in the manse on the way out. The axe is frequently traded between Pact Lunars as repayment for favors. It has three hearthstone slots.

Death at the Root can be used to destroy hearthstones without need for the normal prerequisites or examination period required, and its user gets its first Evocation free. Sever the Flow lets you slam the axe into the ground to unleash a shockwave that disrupts a manse or demesne, suppressing its magical nature nearby for the scene, including its mote recovery for its owner, the owner’s ability to sense Essence use in the disrupted area, and so on. Welling Sap Strike lets you gather Essence from the dragon lines after a Decisive attack or use of Sever the Flow, which forms a corona around the axehead and increases its Withering damage for the scene. World-Breaker’s Blade lets you apply the damage bonus from Welling Sap Strike to Decisive attacks as the axe blazes with many-colored energies. Dragon’s Egg Cracked lets you make a gambit to destroy a hearthstone and break its owner’s attunement to the associated demesne or manse. If you’ve used Sever the Flow on the associated area, you also get an attack bonus and bonus to the gambit roll.

Dweomer-Cleaving Edge upgrades Spell-Rending Talon, removing its cost when used to enhance a chopping attack with the axe. It also lets you hit someone with the axe to counter the spell they’re casting, stripping sorcerous motes based on damage dealt. Cutting the World-Root lets you pay extra when using Sever the Flow to make it last several days. It is learned free when you successfully use Sever the Flow against a greater demesne or manse or when you use Dragon’s Egg Cracked to destroy a greater hearthstone. If resonant, you can use Sever the Flow at a key point in the manse or demesne to shut the entire thing down, not just an area within it, and break any Linked-keyword hearthstone originating from it.

World-Soul Harvest lets you pay extra after using Cutting the World-Root to steal the area’s energies, making a duplicate of its hearthstone grow in an empty socket on the axe, which shatters if removed. It is Steady, even if the original was not. Broken Circle Ruin lets you use Sunder the Flow on sorcerous workings to negate them (for Terrestrial workings) or suppress them temporarily (for Celestial or Solar). If a Celestial working incorporates a demesne or manse, it can be permanently negated. Manse-Razing Strike can only be learned if resonant and can only be used on a manse or demesne that has been completely suppressed by Cutting the World-Root. You can make an extended Craft (Geomancy) action to completely destroy the site, cutting off the terrain or architectural features most vital to it. It’s not easy and takes several days but you can just destroy the manse. You only get one shot per location, though – fail, and you can’t try it again, ever, at that spot.

Weirdflame is a 5-dot moonsilver devil caster (flame pistol, remember). After the Usurpation, the shamanic crafter Saint of the Sands fled into the Wyld, building a palace-forge there. He fought the Wyld, capturing the Fair Folk and feeding them to his forge-fires to make his vengeful weapons. Weirdflame was the last of them, built from the twisted chaos-ruins of the forge itself. Since the Saint’s death, it and the rest of his arsenal have been scattered across and even outside the world, wielded by many, both Lunar and not. Few of these weapons can match the infamy of Weirdflame, however, whose flames burn with Wyld power, tainting all they touch with the chaotic energies. Eight-Eye Weaver wielded it to burn down satrapies and transform soldiers into monsters, while the witch-king Kurzimund used the weapon as a tool of fear, turning criminals into grotesque creatures. Weirdflame is gaudy, its barrel a moonsilver spiral shot with veins of chaos and a grip of mother-of-pearl. Its flames burn in a rainbow of colors, not all of them natural to Creation. As far as anyone knows, it still lies sealed where its last wielder, Four Pines Sage, placed it. Still, its fires call out for a master. It has a single hearthstone slot.

Weirdflame’s wielder gets the first Evocation free. Spark of Madness lets you pick a derangement. While the Charm is active, you have it at Major, but Weirdflame loses the Slow tag and no longer requires ammunition. Wyld-Flame Crucible lets you shoot someone as a gambit, transforming them with morphic flame. You can make them Hideous and terrifying, causing anyone to assume they must be a fae, demon or similar if they fail an Occult roll, you can turn one of their limbs into a grotesque thing, giving a penalty to using it, or you can melt away their face and make them impossible to recognize by scent, sound or voice without use of magic. These are all shaping effects, and the only one you can stack on someone more than once is the limb-twisting one. You may develop new transformations to be used with this Charm with XP. The Moon in Flames lets you shoot someone with Weirdflame to activate Sharing Luna’s Gifts without having to hurt yourself or to apply Insidious Lunar Transformation without having to hurt yourself, and any Evocations that enhance Wyld-Flame Crucible also apply to Insidious Lunar Transformation when used this way. This is gained free when you fail a roll against the Derangement gained via Spark of Madness.

Mad-Fire Ultimatum gives a bonus to a threaten, instill or inspire roll to torment or outrage someone you’ve warped, and it causes a derangement of hysteria for a few days if it hits. Twisting Ash Brand makes Weirdflame shoot multi-colored smoke that clings to a foe as you aim at them, making it easier to use Wyld-Flame Crucible on them. Ruined Phoenix Crucible makes Wyld-Flame Crucible’s transformations last way longer, especially mortals, and you can commit Essence to make them last indefinitely. Wyld Nightmare Inferno lets you summon a Wyld-flame vortex by shooting upwards, causing a powerful environmental hazard, which you’re immune to if Spark of Madness is active. Damage dealt by it makes Wyld-Flame Crucible easier to use, and if enough damage is done, you can just straight up apply its effects without a roll. The hazard cannot be extinguished by water or fire-suppressing magic of any kind, but ends when you get Crashed.

Next time: NPCs

Elder Lunar Highlander

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Fangs at the Gate: Elder Lunar Highlander

A small note, first: several of the Lunar elders have Essence 6 Charms. Well, an Essence 6 Charm, generally. These are explicitly not more powerful than Essence 5 Charms, but rather meant to show the unique and idiosyncratic signature abilities of these elders. They are legend-defining but not actually more powerful than what PCs can get access to normally.

Hata Mor is not an elder. He is a young Lunar who, as a child, was taken as a Guild slave alongside the rest of his village. He was taken from his parents and sold by the Guild factor Rodikhar of Nathir to the prince Blossoming Vine as an arena fighter. The prince was willing to pay anything to have his gladiators be healthy and strong, but was not concerned with their actual personhood, seeing them as less than his dogs. When a queen with a taste for bloodsport came to visit, Hata Mor was thrown into a deathmatch that left him dying on the sand. He managed, barely, to crawl out of the arena, and he tried to bind his wounds – and in doing so, Luna came to him.

That night, he escaped slavery, though he rejected the Silver Pact emissaries that came for him.He knew very little of the Realm and didn’t care much about it when he had far more pressing targets at hand. He also needed no mentor, for after a life as a slave, he wanted not even a benevolent master. His vendetta is simply against Blossoming Vine, the prince who believes him dead, and Rodikhar, the Guild factor that sold him. Hata Mor knows they deserve none of the respect he has for his fellow gladiators, and rather than give them swift deaths, he plans to humble them and tear their lives apart before their eyes, destroying all they have built. He moves among the elite of the kingdom, spreading unrest and stoking the ambitions of Vine’s rivals as well as undermining Rodikhar’s business by using his own trade group, the Hidden Stonefish Company. Only when both fall into utter despair will he allow them to die.

Hata Mor is Casteless, Essence 2, and his spirit shape is a stonefish. His Tell is a mottled facial birthmark. He’s not particularly tough, but he’s fairly strong, can read people well and is pretty good at social influence and punching people. He also has a claw strider familiar named Reave and has a wide array of human shapes from across Vine’s kingdom, plus a number of city animal shapes and a few Eastern predators, most notably a bear, wolf and panther. He has a Defining Principle of “I am my own master,” a Defining Tie of hatred to Prince Blossoming Vine, a Defining Tie of hatred to Guild factor Rodikhar, a Major Principle of “I value safety and certainty,” a Major Tie of compassion to fellow slaves, a Major Tie of gratitude to Luna, a Minor Tie of companionship to Reave, a Minor Tie of enmity to the Guild and a Minor Tie of pride to the Hidden Stonefish Company.

Lilith can barely recall her youth – it’s all dreamlike to her, sharp but fleeting imagery of the fields of Erya-Duat, a fertile land in the Southern deserts, of the hunt against the vulture-strix when she Exalted by strangling the beast as it tore into her with its claws, of racing across the night sky with her Lunar mentor. More than anything else, she remembers her first sight of the Solar Andamani of the Scarlet Field, resplendent in red and gold, of the warmth that filled her with his smile and of how her mere appearance melted his icy demeanor. In that moment, she remembered the passions of many past lives. Their love burned hot and fast, and for a time it consumed them entirely. They stayed in the hidden gardens of Ilyamun, danced in the ballrooms of Malachite’s Dawn, spoke together to the Deliberative, even rode to war in the same chariot to fight the House of Shards.

In time, however, their love grew cool, and their troubles more frequent. They quarreled, they had their lies and betrayals – and yet, to the end, their bond never broke. When Andamani was slain in the Usurpation, it shattered Lilith. She fled the first Wyld Hunts and joined the nascent Silver Pact to get revenge. She stayed with them for some time, advising them on matters of war and society, but she could not remain. Too much reminded her of fallen Andamani, of the relationship that had been part of all facets of her life for a thousand years. She tried to lose herself in the battles with the Shogunate, but no matter how many she killed or how many rebellions she sparked, her wounds remained as raw as the day he died, and every dealing with people was salt in them. It was easier for her to retreat into herself, to become just an owl, with its innocent needs, rather than to be a human. Over time, her battles against the Shogunate and her works with other Lunars or even spirits grew further and further between. She spent more and more time as a beast – and eventually, she stopped changing back.

Five years ago, however, Andamani was reborn, along with all the other imprisoned Solars. Lilith sensed his return on the wind, her heart tied to him by their bond. She now pursues rumors of the Solars among both mortals and spirits, hoping to find her eternal love again...even if she’s not sure how she’ll react to him. However, she also pursues meaning among the other Lunars, as well. She knows a few surviving First Age and early Shogunate-era Lunars still, and while she is not yet ready to recommit herself to the Silver Pact and its duties, she’d happily renew those old friendships and her old vendetta against the killers of Andamani. In human form, Lilith is a lean, dark-skinned woman who wears ancient moonsilver mail, concealing her silver hair under an owl’s-head helm. Still, she rarely takes on her own form, preferring animal shapes, especially the owl. She is typically quiet and unspeaking, not because she is shy but because she only ever speaks when she has something important to say. The more time she spends around humans, though, the less exaggerated this trait tends to become.

Lilith is Casteless, Essence 6 and has a white spotted owl spirit shape. Her Tell is white feathers in her hair. She is very tough, strong and good at tracking and sneaking. She’s a poor commander but an excellent strategist and socialite, for all that she’s not used the skills in ages, and she is very deadly with her moonsilver powerbow, Queen of Winds, or her moonsilver direlance, Nyx. Her moonsilver armor is named Silver Strix, and she is a master of White Reaper Style. She has whatever animal shapes you feel like giving her and a ton of human shapes from ages past, but has only a very few human shapes from modern societies, taken only in the last five years. She has a Defining Principle of “Life’s only constants are loss and grief,” a Defining Tie of ambivalence to Andamani, a Defining Tie of wistful nostalgia to the First Age, a Major Principle of “Isolation in the wilderness eases my pain,” a Major Tie of loyalty to fellow Lunars, a Major Tie of loathing towards the Shogunate and its successor states, a Minor Principle of “I wish I could turn my back on the past,” a Minor Tie of curiosity to the Solar Exalted, and a Minor Tie of reverence to Luna.

Lilith’s unique Charm is Waking Dreamer Fugue. When she uses Silver Mask Submersion while in an animal shape, she remains able to shapeshift into other forms, but retains the Intimacies of the form she used the Charm in. If she enters a human shape, she can simulate human behavior, but will be extremely weird and likely get treated as if she’s mad or possessed, because she’s still got the mind and Intimacies of an animal. Also, the cost of Silver Mask Submersion is reduced when she’s in her spirit shape. So basically, Lilith is really good at being an owl.

Next time: Ma-Ha-Suchi, Raksi


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Fangs at the Gate: GOAT WAR

Ma-Ha-Suchi is known to the Realm, Lookshy and much of the Eastern Threshold as a warlord and monster whose beastfolk reavers pillage and raid without care. To the Chante-Sa bands around the Nameless Lair, he is a divinely appointed ally and leader, a champion that they love. To the Silver Pact, he is ambiguous, with some seeing him as having been withdrawn too long to have any use against the Realm while others find his beliefs questionable or infeasibly idealistic, and others think his power and vision will shake the world and lead to greatness. He is a master manipulator and excellent infiltrator as well as a culture hero, and while he may now favor intimidation as his main tactic, that’s purely his own choice rather than because he is unable to use other methods. He is terrifying in battle as well, giving orders without pause even as he enters into killing battle-rage. Most often, Ma-Ha-Suchi is seen wearing his hybrid form, which he finds most comfortable after the past few centuries. He rarely has reason to wear a fully human shape, save when he wishes to travel among the Chante-Sa unnoticed.

Ma-Ha-Suchi is a Changing Moon, Essence 6, and his spirit shape is a chimera of goat and wolf. His Tell is a voice that rings like silver bells. He is one of the toughest fighters around, extremely hard to put down, and very good at both military leadership and social stuff. His horns are his deadliest weapon, and he favors using them over any kind of artifact, though he wears moonsilver lamellar named God-Bone Raiment. He is rarely without a decently sized group of wolf-folk elite guards, and may also be accompanied by one of his Lunar students. He has many animal forms, most of them from the East, and a large number of human forms, but most of them predate contemporary societies, save for the few he has traded from the Chante-Sa or taken from captives of nearby nations or the Realm. Ma-Ha-Suchi has a Defining Principle of “I doubt whether this struggle has been worth it,” a Defining Principle of “I will raise up a new Lunar Realm where I’m admired and respected by all,” a Defining Tie of hatred to the Usurpers, a Major Tie of paternal protection to the Chante-Sa, a Major Tie of unreliable partnership to the Silver Pact, a Major Tie of bitter loathing to Raksi and her followers, a Minor Tie of respect to Luna, a Minor Tie of loyalty to the Three Mothers, and a Minor Tie of possessiveness to the Nameless Lair.

Ma-Ha-Suchi’s unique Charm is Blood Moon Warlord Prowess. Once per day, when he wins Join Battle or enters combat after successfully enacting a Demoralized stratagem, he can use Thousand Throat Howl for free, and any affected enemy battle groups must check for rout, while allied battle groups get a Might bonus against any affected characters. Thousand Throat Howl is a really expensive Charisma Charm that lets you basically attempt to terrify everyone nearby and force them to flee your presence. So he’s focused heavily on being big and scary.

Raksi has learned from the Usurpation. She knows that life is full of traitors and betrayals, that only strength and fear can be trusted to survive. This is the central belief she has built herself around, and she has become much stronger and far more feared than she ever was as a First Age philosopher. While her peers may mourn the fallen state of Creation, Raksi adores it and what it has taught her. Her skill as a sorcerer is legend, and anyone passing through Mahalanka or the Thousand Fangs Army Total Control Zone in general may well witness some of the most powerful sorcerous workings made since the Usurpation, depending on what Raksi’s whims have set her to lately. Besides her millennia of study and skill, she wields the Book of Three Circles, which holds the writings of history’s best sorcerers and has mighty arcane powers. Besides sorcery, Raksi is also known for her knowledge in many fields, such as demonology, artifice, economics, geomancy, math, philosophy, political theory and plenty of obscure metaphysical fields. Few can equal her scholarship, and most of the ones that could match her in conversing about these topics are her enemies, which she feels a bit bad about. It means she has fewer interesting conversations, after all. Raksi assumes human shapes as though changing clothing, rarely staying in any one shape long. She never reveals her true form, but every follower, guest or servant is expected to recognize her no matter what shape she’s in. If they don’t spot her Tell, her bearing and haughtiness are generally enough to tell them.

Raksi is a No Moon, Essence 7, with a chimpanzee spirit shape. Her Tell is that her wrists bend backwards. She’s moderately tough, particularly for a nerd, and is excellent at scholarship, crafting and strategy, but a very poor administrator and commander. She’s not a terrible fighter but doesn’t use any real artifacts, even armor – she relies more on her sorcery and servants to protect her. She is almost always attended by at least one Second Circle Demon and a small squad of blood apes or other First Circle Demon combatants that hang out dematerialized until needed. She also usually has a guard of elite apefolk warriors. Raksi has a wide variety of shapes, both of Eastern animals and hundreds of human shapes. Her two control spells are Death of Obsidian Butterflies and Demon of the First Circle. She is also able to tap into the Book of Three Circles to get a bonus when casting spells that exploit facts introduced in the same scene or to counter any spell – she counts as knowing all spells for the purpose of counterspelling, and if she counters a spell she can trap it in the Book, then use an entire turn to cast it herself once, even if it’s a Solar Circle spell.

Raksi has a Defining Principle of “I must be feared,” a Defining Principle of “Only being the most powerful can keep me safe,” a Defining Tie of unrepentant delight to herself, a Major Principle of “There won’t be any clean or pretty victories in our vendetta,” a Major Tie of hatred to the Usurpers, a Major Tie of respect to those who are not afraid of her, a Major Tie of ownership to her dominion, a Major Tie of disdain to Ma-Ha-Suchi and his followers, a Minor Principle of “I don’t care for the petty details of governance,” a Minor Tie of pride to the Thousand Fangs Army, a Minor Tie of wonder to Luna and a Minor Tie of ownership to the Book of Three Circles.

Raksi’s unique Charm is Witch-Queen’s Midnight Crown. Whenever she successfully makes a Shape Sorcery roll, she gets a very large Soak and Hardness bonus until her next turn and gains Initiative. She loses the soak and Hardness if she attacks or makes a move action, however, and the Charm is not compatible with armor. It also fails while she’s Crashed. Basically, Raksi doesn’t wear armor because she has this instead. She is an artillery piece who you face down while she’s supported by her apefolk armies, her demon servants and her powerful magic, and your job is to force her to not be able to stand there and cackle at you while casting.

Shadow-Rending Razor was not born to be an assassin. In the dying days of the Shogunate, she was an Immaculate monk that traveled the land to help people, no matter what their problems were. She did her best to help fight the Contagion, but eventually resigned herself to having to only comfort the dying, even as she herself became infected. Luna came to her in a flash of religious epiphany, and she was inspired by her visions during Exaltation to gather survivors into a utopian society dedicated to compassion, community and independence. The Silver Pact reached out to her to help fight the Shogunate, but she refused, as she loved her community more than she valued the vendetta. Instead, she earned her current name by fighting the Fair Folk and the undead risen in the wake of the Contagion. Her commune lasted several decades, despite the apocalypses…until the newly formed Realm came, with their legions and Wyld Hunt, to tear the place down.

Razor’s people fought beside her, and while she survived, they did not. Enraged, Razor joined the Pact, her fury driving her to bloodthirsty quests against the Realm and its Northern satrapies. When she took a near-mortal wound facing a member of House Jerah, she took shelter in the Shattersea Bastion, an old First Age ruin now occupied by scavengers and pirates. Preaching to them, she made a new cult to Luna in her aspect as a hunt-goddess. Today, Razor is a cult leader and assassin, preaching Luna’s love for the outcast and renegade and training both her cultists and Lunar students in infiltration, murder, theology and medicine – both her own doctrine and Immaculate doctrine, to better understand their foes. Minor moon gods and spirits sometimes visit for offerings or festivals, but the cult remains relatively small, kept stable in numbers mostly by shipwrecks or occasional outcast refugees.

Razor’s goal and theology are identical: The Realm and any other usurper state whose legitimacy is based on the false doctrine of the Immaculates must be torn down to pave the way for Luna’s cult to control the world. Her assassins destabilize the Realm’s control by murdering those in key political, cultural or economic positions of power in the satrapies or, occasionally, the Blessed Isle. Her true shape is a tall, muscular woman with light brown skin and a shaved head. She wears monastic robes, and were it not for the fact that they are dark black and she has moonsilver tattoos, she’d be easily mistaken for an Immaculate monk. While she is stoic, she misses the peace and simplicity of her mortal life, and her hobby is beekeeping, which helps her get away from the worries of being a shahan-ya and assassin-slash-cult leader. Sometimes she heads out to travel the land, hiding in temple ruins she once worked in or wandering the satrapies in the guise of a healer.

Shadow-Rending Razor is a Full Moon, Essence 5, and her spirit shape is a greater noctule bat. Her Tell is fangs. She’s pretty tough and exceptionally sneaky and good at survival, while she’s middlingly good at most other things. She is an exceptional unarmed combatant, but not a martial artist. She is often accompanied by mortal assassins and can take on a great number of Northern and Eastern animal forms, including a great cat, a hellboar, an ox-dragon, a river dragon and a tyrant lizard. She also enjoys being a number of smaller, less tactical animals. She has relatively few human shapes, mostly satrapial or Realm officials. Her chief artifact is a moonsilver chain shirt named Five Hundred Verses. She has a Defining Principle of “I long to see Creation at peace,” a Defining Tie of zeal to Luna, a Major Principle of “Some crimes are too severe to forgive,” a Major Tie of scorn towards followers of the Immaculate Texts, a Major Tie of familial love towards her cult, a Major Tie of hatred to the Realm, a Major Tie of camaraderie to the Silver Pact and a Minor Tie of friendship to Ma-Ha-Suchi.

Next time: Swift Wayward Whisper and Vanamaithri Mirror-Soul


posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Squirrelfriend

Swift Wayward Whisper is of the Kaiyet, a group of nomads in the Peran Valley. She is a Lunar who is Silver Pact but works with no shahan-ya, instead serving as a courier and spy who will cooperate with any Pact Lunar that needs help. She has been all over Creation in service to the Pact’s war, though she heads home as often as she can – which may be seasons or years between visits. She loves her family, and they accept her new self, both Lunar and a woman, though they grow further from her wider world each day she spends away fighting Immaculates or hunting arcane secrets. Whisper is a very moral Lunar, though her impatience often gets her into trouble. She will step in to intervene in any injustice she sees, from ending wrongful imprisonment to humiliating nobles or monks that seem too arrogant to burning tax records, but this can often have unforeseen consequences. When an angry noble raises taxes to make up for lost revenue or a satrap sends in soldiers to suppress rebels, Whisper stays with the people to defend them and champion them, even if it means she has to call in favors from her elders. Whisper is a tall woman, bigger than her sisters, and less diplomatic. She has angular features and long hair, tending to dress in airy fabric that lets it blow around her face in the breeze. She collects clothing from the lands she visits, to better blend in and also to better embrace her nature as a woman despite her male upbringing.

Swift Wayward Whisper is a Changing Moon, Essence 2, with a gray squirrel spirit shape. Her Tell is that her shadow moves on its own. She’s moderately tough for a young Lunar, good at survival and knowing folklore or using social influence, but less so at reading people or sneaking around. She wields a whip and a longbow, neither magical, and has no real artifacts at all. She has a diverse but small number of animal shapes, most notably an Eastern grizzly bear, a snowy owl and a black mamba. She has a small handful of human shapes from societies across Creation. She has a Defining Principle of “I can’t do nothing in the face of injustice,” a Defining Principle of “I want to see new places and meet new people,” a Major Tie of devotion to the Silver Pact, a Major Tie of opposition to the Realm, and a Major Tie of love to her blood kin.

Vanamaithri Mirror-Soul was born in the early Second Age in the East. The village elders predicted that they would lead a life devoted to balance and harmony, and they grew up as a mediator, honored for wisdom and for being neither male nor female. Devoted to living up to their birth prediction, Vanamaithri attempted to be calm and to have compassion for all life, repressing anger and all negative emotion. Exaltation ended this. The Essence fever clashed with their calm manner, demanding them to speak their rage, and so Vanamaithri fled their home, afraid of their new rage and seeking answers in the Silver Pact. Under their shahan-ya, they fought across the Southeast, combating the Realm and becoming a legend, whispered of in fear by Imperial garrisons and Wyld Hunts alike. This violence served the Pact well, but it did not make Vanamaithri feel very good. One night, in a moment of clarity, they found themselves sickened by the scent of blood on their hands.

Vanamaithri followed rumors that led them to Skandhar-Bhal, where they sought Luna’s guidance. After years of meditation, prayer and training with the valley monks, they devoted themselves to peace and forswore the rage and violence that had defined their Exalted life. They became once more a mediator and a teacher, taking on the name Mirror-Soul. Now, Vanamaithri prefers to wear their true human shape most, a thin and androgynous one with brown skin and long, straight hair. They prefer loose robes in natural colors and a minimal amount of silver jewelry. They also often show off their moonsilver tattoos, leaving their back and left arm bare.

Vanamaithri Mirror-Soul is a Full Moon, Essence 4, with a giant tortoise spirit shape. Their Tell is two missing fingers on the left hand. They’re exceptionally tough and strong, a skilled commander and good theologian who is talented at reading people, but only passingly good at social influence or strategy. They’re an excellent unarmed fighter who forgoes artifacts entirely, favoring use of Crane Style martial arts. They are typically accompanied by monks of the Order of the Moon-That-Fell and possibly a god or two from the valley. They have a small library of mountainous animal shapes that they use regularly, plus others from the East and Southeast that rarely see use. They don’t often use other human shapes these days, though they have many from their youth. Varamaithri has a Defining Principle of “Teach and protect all who ask for guidance,” a Defining Principle of “I seek enlightenment in balance and harmony,” a Defining Tie of selfless devotion to Skandhar-Bhal, a Major Principle of “I will not become a monster again,” a Major Tie of reverent gratitude to Luna, a Major Tie of brotherhood to the Silver Pact and a Minor Tie of grief to the Realm.

From here, we now get a bunch more animal writeups! Badger covers all kinds of badger species. They dig, they live in underground warrens solo or in groups of up to 15, and they mostly eat earthworms, insects or the eggs of ground-nesting birds, but will eat fruit, mushrooms, roots, dead bodies and small animals if given the chance. Some even eat venomous snakes. Badgers sometimes live and hunt alongside foxes, coyotes or raccoon dogs symbiotically, and humans hunt them for meat and fur. They’re small, pretty weak, but good at digging, sniffing and hearing. They also are decent grapplers for their size.

Beetles and Cockroaches come in thousands of varieties, if not more. They can be found practically anywhere except the oceans and the farthest North. Some are hated as vermin, while others like rhino beetles are trained by Dynasts to wrestle each other. Many of them, though not all, can fly. They’re Minuscule, so they’re extremely weak except against other Minuscule creatures, against whom they can deal a lot of damage. (But not take it.) They are pretty sneaky, though!

Butterflies and Moths are migratory insects that travel to avoid the cold, sometimes thousands of miles each year. Besides color and migration patterns, the main difference between them is that butterflies are mostly diurnal while moths are mostly nocturnal. They live in many different places, pretty much anywhere flowers can grow. They’re acrobatic and sneaky, but exceptionally weak. However, they can learn a magical ability as a familiar to shed beautiful, sleep-causing scales as a Decisive attack that cannot deal damage but causes a mild poison. Also they’re very good at hiding, even for Minuscule beings.

Crabs can be found throughout the West and in much of the water of other directions. Most walk along the ocean floor, gathering algae and other vegetation, catching fish, cracking open shellfish and fighting with their claws. Some work in family groups against larger threats. Oceanic crabs can reach immense sizes, with some growing more than twelve feet long. Crabs are generally not super tough, though, even the big ones. They’re sneaky, decent grapplers who do pretty good grapple damage, and can range from Minuscle or Tiny to normal human size. The bigger ones have pretty nasty claw damage and are somewhat tougher, but not much.

Elk and Deer (and related cervids, such as caribou) can be found in the woods of the North, East and the Blessed Isle. They run from a quarter to a half ton at full size, and they’re valuable game animals as a result. A few cultures have also domesticated them to carry heavy things. Elk especially tend to travel in herds with a rigid hierarchy based on dominance. Male elk and all caribou have antlers most of the year, using them to fight predators and each other in dominance challenges. They’re pretty tough, fast, and pretty mobile. Their antlers hit hard, especially against slower foes, and their kicks can knock people over after a rush, allowing them to trample people. They can be trained to grab and throw people with their antlers. They’re also pretty good at smelling things and at running away, and can be trained to get a bonus on rushes. Moose use a similar statline but are slower, significantly tougher and deal even more damage. A moose can shrug off some sword blows.

Next time: Frogs, Hippos, Great Stoats, Iron-Skull Devils, Jellyfish and More

My Closet Of Animal Forms

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: My Closet Of Animal Forms

Frogs and Toads are widespread. They’re small, slow and weak, but they’re pretty good at getting around by climbing or jumping or swimming, making them a good form for gaining entry into rural areas. If you get a poisonous one, you can give a weak poison to anything that bites you, which adds some survivability for a Lunar in a tiny form because…well, unlike a frog, you have a Lunar’s healthbar. A poison dart frog or arrow frog trades some stealth for bright colors and a stronger poison. You also get a sticky tongue, which is useful for grappling Minuscule foes. Frogs can breathe in water or out, and they also ignore vision penalties for being underwater, but they’re Tiny. On the other hand, they’re not bad for keeping watch if you’re already perceptive – they’re not, but their eyes see in all directions, so they get a bonus to vision rolls and especially to opposing Stealth checks.

Hippopotami are terrifying. Their only saving grace is they’re tough, but not as tough as apex predator dinosaurs. They’re very strong, they deal shitloads of damage (though they are not super accurate) and they’re good at grappling. Further, their Decisive bites cause penalties to Strength and Dexterity rolls because they crack bones, and their Withering bites tear through soak like nobody’s business. They also get a bonus to attack or rush people in Crash, because they’re huge fuckin’ bullies, and their stomps can trample fallen foes. Also, they can hold their breath for five minutes, or an entire combat scene. Hippos aren’t a Legendary Size creature, and outside of Legendary Size they are one of the scariest things you can face in the animal world – or be. This is more than useful as a combat form.

Great Stoats are giant weasels native to the East. They’re about the size of a dog and like to hunt and eat anything smaller. They change up their sleeping patterns depending on what prey is easiest to hunt, and they’re brave enough to attack larger animals, even wolves or great cats. Sometimes they get tamed to hunt rabbits or foxes, but they’re not fully domesticated at all. As animals go, they’re not super tough, but they’re very mobile, sneaky for an animal their size and very good at getting into places. Their attacks aren’t much to write home about, but they’re no worse than a random soldier’s. Their main weakness is poor durability, but they get good bonuses to attack from stealth and on a good Withering hit they can latch onto and grapple people, which they’re fairly good at controlling. They can also be trained to reflexively savage people they grapple that are Crashed. They’re resistant to fear, too! You could add a berserker merit to represent a honey badger, or give them Tiny to represent smaller weasels. They’re a solid balance between combat and sneaky, with the caveat that a weasel the size of a dog is going to look out of place if someone notices it.

Iron-Skull Devils are bipedal dinosaurs, about fifteen feet long and weighing in around half a ton. Their name comes from the bony dome on their skull, because this is a pachycephalosaurus. They’re found in herds in the East and South, plus some Western islands. Many cultures prize their skull domes as trophies to be made into helmets, but hunting them is dangerous. They’re relatively tough for a small dinosaur, pretty strong and hit hard, though they don’t have great armor. Their real thing is that they gain Initiative when they run directly at someone for several range bands and then Decisive attack them, which means that if they have mobility they can hit like a train, and if their headbutt does enough damage it does knockback and knockdown, plus also delays the enemy’s turn or even stuns them entirely. A pack of these things – and they travel in herds, remember – can bully a lone fighter into having very little time to act.

Jellyfish are extremely weak, but when it comes to aquatic forms, they’re pretty nasty in groups. They’re not super sneaky, but can deal a lot of damage to foes their own size or smaller; they range from Minuscule to Tiny to human size. Their venom isn’t usually very powerful, but it causes a pretty nasty action penalty. A battle group of jellyfish also drains Initiative of anyone nearby and gives movement penalties, so using the Lunar charm that can summon battle groups of animals at sea to call jellyfish isn’t a bad idea. Some jellyfish also glow, I guess? And they get a perception bonus while underwater and ignore a bunch of penalties to underwater perception, so turn into a jellyfish and keep watch at night!

Mountain Goats are pretty tough, but more importantly they’re excellent climbers and very good at handling the cold, so they make good forms for exploring the wilderness. Their attacks are decent but not great, but they are very good at moving around the field. Their kicks can also cause knockback and knockdown, and their horns do extra damage against slower foes. They can grapple with their horns, and their savaging attacks do extra damage, so as a combat form they’re actually decent against human beings if you can handle having poor armor. Also, they get a bonus to jumping.

Mice and Rats are weak but fast, good at climbing and spotting things, pretty sneaky and good at getting into places. Their attacks are absolutely awful, even against other Tiny foes. However, when they’re fleeing, they can take a bit of Bashing to drop their tail, gaining a bonus to the withdraw check. Obviously, you can only do this if you’ve got a tail, and they take a season to regrow, though any magic that can heal crippling effects can heal the tail. As a battle group, however, they give a penalty to all rolls made by nearby foes, so summon rat swarms at your leisure. They also have a strong nose and can be trained to track specific substances of your choice by scent, such as mineral veins or food. Caypbaras and beavers also use rat traits but aren’t Tiny and lose their swarm and tail abilities, which…actually makes them pretty useless.

Octopi range from Minuscule all the way up to Legendary size, and the big ones are pretty dang scary. They’re not super tough or good at fighting, but when they do hit, they can deal good damage and poison people. Further, octopi have good senses, can squeeze into cracks that are far too small for them, and are sneaky. Also, they’re obviously good at grappling. They can shoot ink to get a disengage bonus underwater, they’re good at flurrying arm attacks due to many arms, and their poison’s…actually, pretty weak at anything but draining Initiative. Underwater, they make for a decent sneaky combat form, since you can use your own brawl pools in place of their attack pools, but if you want sheer terror I’d go for one of the other Legendary Size critters that can be found in the depths of the sea.

Owls can fly well, have excellent senses, and are quite stealthy, but not strong or tough. They’re good grapplers, but primarily against smaller foes; they’re able to reflexively grapple Tiny or smaller foes after a good Withering talon attack. They can also divebomb people for extra Decisive damage, which isn’t too bad if you’re using Lunar dicepools instead of owl ones – their peck can do surprising damage, especially since they get a bonus to unexpected attacks when they attack from above. Their main benefit, though, is being one of the best birds for perception abilities and stealth.

Next time: Shieldback Lizards, Swans, Thunder Lizards, Walrus, Wasps

Final Sting

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Fangs at the Gate: Final Sting

Shieldback Lizards are ankylosaurs, mostly found in subtropical Eastern forests. They’re big and tough as hell, mostly solitary, and hard to kill. They can absorb an exceptional amount of punishment, and their innate armor is terrifyingly good. They’re also crazy strong, especially if they feel like knocking things over, and they deal massive amounts of damage with decently accurate attacks, and they can trample people. Their armor is also able to reduce Withering damage to 0 rather than 1 if you’re really unlucky. Oh, and they’re Legendary Size. They may not have the raw killing prowess of the apex predator dinos, but they’re one of the best tanking forms out there.

Swans are…well, not much. They’re not very tough or good at fighting, they aren’t sneaky – they are good at scaring things, but that’s about it. They gain Initiative when they threaten foes or are disengaged from, though, so that’s something. Also they’re good at defending their mate and children, and have decent perception abilities, especially underwater. They do get a minor dodge and mobility bonus when in water, but generally speaking I don’t think they’re very good for much as a Lunar.

Thunder Lizards are Apatosaurus and similar dinos. They’re gigantic, the biggest land animals in Creation, and they travel in small herds, mostly by the Eastern or Western coasts and wetlands. They are exceptionally tough and tanky, with terrifying strength and good senses. Their attacks aren’t very accurate, but they hit like trains. They can also crack their tail like a whip, allowing them to flurry threaten and tail slam actions freely. They’re Legendary Size, and they also have a tendency to stampede, so if you are dealing with a battle group of them, they basically get to deal automatic damage to every foe nearby. I’d prefer the shieldback for defensive combat forms, but the thunder lizard is good if you want to terrify people on top of it.

Walruses are pretty tough, especially for a non-Legendary Size animal. They’re good at survival and pretty strong, fast in the water, and able to tank pretty well. Their attacks aren’t very accurate but hit very hard, especially their tusks, which deal extra damage to slower foes and bypass a good bit of soak. They also become tougher in battle groups, as their blubber forms an effective shield wall, and they can reflexively roar to call other walruses to fight with them nearby if wounded. In a walrus-rich environment, being a walrus means you can call on allies to jump your foes, which is nice. They’re way more mobile in water than on land, and very good at defending their young and at hearing noises. Good tank form for aquatic use.

Wasps and Bees are…wasps and bees. They’re weak but easily ignored, though as Minuscule things go, they aren’t sneaky. Rather, their virtue is the ability to deliver venomous stings relatively safely – they’re very accurate, but their damage is awful against any non-Minuscule foe, barring that venom, which does only minor damage but causes a decent penalty. Calling on them to be a swarm for you is worthwhile, at least – a swarm battle group gives a penalty to all actions of nearby foes. While many bee species die after stinging, Lunars are noted to be able to survive it just fine, due to being Exalted, as would any other being with Exalted Healing that turned into a bee.

The End.