Going Back In Time

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: The Unbidden
Part 1: Going Back In Time

Our trip through the monsters of the nWoD has taken us out of 2nd edition and, indeed, out of the past decade. We're heading back to 2009 and the release of...what is technically the only Night Horrors book for Mage, The Unbidden, because for some reason Intruders, the giant book of Abyssal monstrosities, is not actually a Night Horrors book. Technically. Technically. Also I guess it only contains Abyssal beings rather than the full gamut of mage foes. There's also Left-Hand Path for other particularly bad kinds of wizard. That's also not a Night Horrors.

The Unbidden starts off with a section on Mages, then into weird critters and mage-like beings, then to magical objects of power and danger, then on to magical diseases and transformative conditions, and finally magical places. We'll be taking our trip through it, and it's been forever since I've read this book so I don't remember which bits are good or bad, so that'll be fun.

We also get a big sidebar on that the themes of this book are magic-as-weird-living-thing, hubris and hamartia. Hamartia being the act you do when the pride of hubris drives you to do a stupid thing. Essentially, most of the problems in this book are, to some degree, the fault of wizards deciding they can handle something and then doing some extremely stupid shit.

Next time: Extremely Bad Ideas

Name It And Claim It

posted by Mors Rattus Original SA post

Night Horrors: The Unbidden
Part 2: Name It And Claim It

Asshole Wizard Count: 1

Brother Ben, AKA Brother Father and Benaiah Clover, is an evangelist and leader of a Christian cult/evangelical church named the Golden Quorum. And he's a Scelestus, which is to say he's made deals and wields power from the Abyss, which is the vast anti-reality hole between the human world and the Supernal. Short form? The Abyss is horribly bad for everyone. It's not evil in a moral sense only because evil is a thing that is real and exists, and the Abyss is representative of everything that cannot and must not exist trying to displace and replace actual reality. Anyway. Ben was an abused child who spent a lot of time locked in his family's attic in the dark because his dad was an asshole. His dad was a mage called Thorn, a cocaine and heroin addict who helped run a smuggling ring of stolen magical artifacts. His mom abandoned the family when Ben was five, largely because having a kid around would make it harder for her to get drugs.

Thorn locked his son in the attic when drunk or high, largely because he figured the kid was easier to deal with if locked in an attic with some food and a flashlight and maybe some comics. So, not so much active hate of his son as being a completely awful parent. Anyway, Thorn's underground artifact dealing got him into trouble often, and he stored broken, cursed or evil artifacts...in the attic, where, again, he locked his son to keep the kid out of his hair while getting fucked up. So Ben grew up mostly trapped in an attic with evil artifacts, some of which tried to convince him to kill himself and the rest of which were often haunted or just creepy as fuck. Eventually, this drove Ben to find ways to drown out all their voices and ghostly wails, and he found the solution in an old book, a bible with entirely blank pages. As Ben began to imagine words on the pages, words formed there. He'd imagined a story about a prince seeking vengeance on his cruel father, but the story that appeared was about Jesus leading a revolution against God.

The item Ben found, which he calls the Blank Bible, always twists the stories imagined into it to a Biblical form. Ben would imagine stories, and the Bible would twist them to Biblical parables. It's probably the only thing that kept the kid relatively sane and functional. It kept him going until he turned 15. He hid the Blank Bible in his pants one night when his father let him out of the attic, set up a trap to distract the old man and removed the cloth from a weeping painting. The noise of it became deafening and it froze Thorn in place, allowing Ben to smash a ghost lamp over his head, releasing the ghostly flame inside into his father's ear. The man fell, clawing at his own face while Ben left the house. This was all before Ben Awakened as a mage himself. Possibly that was due to his father being a wizard, his being so close to magic items all the time or just chance. Ben took to magic easily, though, as a way to realize his imagination and the tales of the Blank Bible.

Ben developed his own kind of Mage cosmology, believing that the world was Fallen from God's grace (rather than any magical ideal), and that enlightenment and power were found in the dark, in pain and torment and suffering, as his own life had been in the attic. To gain more magic, which he saw as God's power, Ben decided to start fucking with the Abyss - what better test against the darkness? He never even realized he was tainting himself and becoming Scelestus as he focused on Abyssal power in his quest for God's nature. He just decided you had to smash through Hell to get to God, and that's what he wants to evangelize. Ben's a well-put-together, charismatic kid, coming off both as humble and insanely proud simultaneously in his weird vision of God and Christ. He's not always good at personal space, which some appreciate and others find offputting. Behind the charisma is need. Ben craves affection and people liking him, having never even really had company as a kid. He's desperate to be praised and admired.

When that doesn't happen, Ben's kindness and earnestness ends immediately. He becomes cruel and vindictive, finding the areas that will hurt most for him to comment on and exploiting them so that he can be, if not loved, at least seen as a superior. If doing this can make someone realize how amazing he is, he can shift back to the kind evangelist, but he's fine either way. His actual behavior, in either case, rarely changes much - he's still all smiles and touching, even when he's carving someone a new asshole with words. This and his carefully cared-for attractiveness (in a preppy kind of way) means that many have trouble thinking of him as nasty even when he's being cruel as hell. His nimbus (read: magical aura visible to mages when he's doing magic) is all flashing lights, swords clashing and the rolls of thunder, plus the smell of ozone and blood. He believes these to be symbols of his holy war and the quest for Heaven.

Ben's Scelestus nature is unknown to all of his allies - and to himself. He's pretty sure he's no more Abyssally tainted than average, despite actively reaching into the Abyss for power. That's part of his job, after all, and it couldn't possibly taint him, right? He's in active denial about both this and his own extremely low self-image. He refuses to acknowledge that he hates himself most of the time, but personal failures, even on the level of knocking over juice or forgetting his keys, cause him to spiral out of control and become deeply depressed. He's also a virgin and deeply in repression about his own sexual desires. He's never so much as kissed anyone and it's getting to him because he is, at most, just past his teen years. He believes that he cannot express his lusts except in marriage, and can't conceive of anyone who might marry him given his quest except, possibly, an equally driven mage.

The Blank Bible's text cannot be read by most people. It manifests text only to those with whom it shares a sympathetic connection, and because of its nature, that means they share some connection to the Abyss. Anyone else who tries to read this text finds it meaningless scribble in some alphabet unlike any other. This is actually a magical language, the Low Tongue, which is kind of the Abyssal version of the High Speech. If translated, the text is essentially a string of curses against reality. Despite this, the Blank Bible is not an Artifact in the sense of Mage's Artifacts - it's magic, sure, but it has no powers beyond manifesting text and teaching the Low Tongue...though even those that learn it can only use a spoken version - written Low Tongue is not really a useful thing to anyone. Even Scelesti.

Ben believes he murdered his father. He is wrong. Thorn survived the attack, though it scarred his face heavily and the scars can't be healed by magic. The event drove Ben's father to clean himself up and seek out some form of redemption. He feels intensely guilty and has been hanging around Ben's church in an effort to get close enough to ask his son for forgiveness...or, well, he was originally. He didn't expect his son to also become a mage - and he can sense the darkness in the boy. He wants to save his son and has no desire to harm him, but he has no idea what to do. He knows he has to act, and he will act soon - but he has no idea what action he's going to take. He can feel Ben on the brink of damnation, and he's afraid he'll have to put the boy down. Ben's bodyguard doesn't help. Some say he's the Devil in human form - but Deacon Thrush isn't. He's not even really trying to take over Ben's little cult. He's just far more aware of the Abyss than Ben is and wants to help the boy end the world. He's been going behind Ben's back to create an army of cultists and likeminded wizards that'll help once Ben realizes his calling. Not out of any malice or rebelliousness, of course - he just knows Ben's not comfortable with fame and being a cult leader just yet. He needs someone to pave his way. And that's what Thrush is for. He's planning to recruit maybe half a dozen more wizards to bolster their cabal (which remains largely ignorant of Ben's Scelestus nature or Thrush's plans) and to expand the cult to another dozen members who would die at Ben's orders.

Ben is a Matigos and does not belong to any of the Pentacle Orders. He's charismatic and manipulative, but otherwise relatively average. He's an excellent public speaker, investigator and sneak, with decent skills in a brawl. He's also quite persuasive and good at lying and reading people. He has a destiny - and it's not a good one. Thrush thinks that destiny is to destroy the world, and it's certainly possible. (Fortunately, Destinies in Mage are not set in stone - they're just things the universe makes it easier for you to achieve.) He's also quite a powerful mage, despite his youth - Gnosis 5. Magically, he specializes in Mind and Space (as expected for a Mastigos) with his secondary skills lying in Prime and Forces.

Ben has also self-developed a Scelestus Legacy, currently unnamed. He's able to, once per day, sense the Vices of others and their Morality or equivalent. (To make this work for 2e, just swap in Integrity or equivalent, it honestly works out okay though it refocuses Ben's Legacy less on morality and temptation and more on mental stability.) This understanding takes the form of brief visions revealing whatever traits are being sensed. He can also touch someone to cause a scourging, invisible flame to consume part of their body, dealing Aggravated damage that increases the higher their Morality is and causes them to see visions of Hell. Were Ben to learn more Forces, he'd also be able to leave a brand on his victims for a scene, removable only via magic, that would make them easier to track due to the scent of burning flesh. This...could also be made to work for 2e with Integrity swapping out for Morality again, but it'd be harder, because the logic behind this is 'Scelesti hate the righteous;' the refocus would make it more 'the Abyss is shocking and painful to people whose minds and souls have not been broken.' Which, to be fair, fits. Ben has not yet developed the Legacy's 3rd attainment, but it would focus around the idea of pain as power, allowing Ben to turn harm he suffers into a bonus to his mental and social stats while wounded and would let him reduce wound penalties. With enough Life, he would also be able to make the wounds impossible to see (though still present) and also boost his physical stats the same way. This would translate well enough as it stands.

Note, I can't speak for the balance of Ben's nameless Legacy, but it's also unlikely to be used by PCs, given it requires you to be a Scelestus.

Next time: The General of the Abyssal Army and the rest of the Golden Quorum