Monday, March 30, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: The Sabizi (Fate Core)

The Greenfolk: Sabizi

The human tribe known as the Greenfolk, or Sabizi claim to have no true homeland.  At the center of
their culture is family and the Dance.  They once had lived what they call the Greenlands, but those lands were lost according to Sabizi songs long before the Ursyklons came to conquer Orphos.

The Sabizi's Greenlands were close to the Jade Lands, where the Tengu nations rule.  The Sabizi Aliphair ancient historian recorded dozens of songs on the loss of the Greenlands.  According to the songs, the Sabizi had been brought to this world as slaves a hundred thousand years ago.  The Nagaorochi settled verdant, tropical lands.  The Sabizi were chattel and livestock for the Nagaorochi.

The Sabizi were forbidden from writing.  They developed a complex language through dance, something the Naga saw as entertainments between the dark rituals they performed.  Over time, the Sabizi and their secret dance became the basis of the language Sabi, which remains one of the most unique among the nine human tribes.

The Nagaorochi would overreach however.  In their long war with the Tengu, the Naga grew more and more desperate.  They prepared to call forth their dark goddess, the being between the spheres that had promised them Orphos long before the Ursyklon had come to claim it.  Naf'yiggra, they called, intending to slay the Jade Emperor and his armies that had routed them.

Instead, the Greenlands sank beneath the sea.  Those few Sabizi who escaped the sinking of the greenlands mourned the loss of their home, and celebrated the fall of their ancient masters.

To the Sabizi, all Sabizi are family.  All are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers.  In the aftermath they roamed the world, coming to form their wandering caravans.  The Jade Lands never permitted them to enter.  Their wanderlust kept them from remaining still or becoming part of one of the many ancient cities or empires humans had established before the coming of the Ursyklon.  Even after the Ursyklon came, the Sabizi were permitted, even encouraged by the Ursyklon to travel.  Their complicated dances, long songs and exotic entertainments seemed to nonthreatening to them.

The Sabizi continue to travel via caravan, although many do settle places throughout the Maru Sea.  In Othebea, a Sabizi became the first to rule that nation by Othebes's command.  In Ith, Sabizi can be seen plying their wares, always able to provide divination and other arcane sorceries their people excel at.  Although welcome sometimes as travelers, others do mistrust them.  Tales of Sabizi highwaypersons haunt many inns.  Others claim some of the most cruel pirates and thieves of the Maru sea to be of Sabizi descent, even boldly claiming the Patrizo to be of Sabizi origin (although there is no merit to that claim).

Sabizi Naming Conventions

Male sabizi have the last name of Sardhu, while female sabizi have the last name of Ama'Ka.  Those sabizi who identify with neither gender use the last name of Taan.
Naming order for Sabizi is usually First Name, Caravan Name, and Last Name.  Caravan names often change in the lifetime of a Sabizi; if they are not traveling, they will instead adopt the name of the city or place they live in for their caravan instead.  Caravan names tend to vary greatly; sometimes they are a color (Red, for the Red Caravan) or are named after who claims to own the caravan (Saban, for Saban's Caravan).

Sabizi Male Names: Kamlo, Tanior, Ferza, Durrig, Manfri, Orchilu, Motshan, Stochelo, Saban, Tomabi
Sabizi Female Names: Aliphair, Asena, Dika, Yorani, Jorenia, Flonica, Durrig, Majaris, Okan, Syeira

Examples: Yorani Cruxi Ama'Ka, Durrig Cruxi Sardhu, Ferza Red Sardhu, Dika Saban Taan

Sabizi Stunts (for use with Fate Core)

Sabi Dancer: You must know Sabi to learn this stunt.  You know the secret language of the Sabizi, and communicate via dance.  Without any words, you can communicate to anyone else who knows the Dance.  To others, it appears to be nothing more than a beautiful dance.

Caravan Singer: You can learn a song after listening to it at least once, instantly adding it to your repertoire.

Traveler's Purse: You have no problem paying for food or coming up with quick coin when you enter a new town.  So long as you are just traveling through a town, you can use Burglary instead of Wealth for paying for things.

City of Curses: Icons: The Prophet of Winds

Aspect: The Wind That Watches
Quote: "I can see the Path, all the twists and turns... it has already happened, and it will
happen again."

For the Tengu her name is held in reverence, but amongst the rest of Crux, she is a mysterious master of ninja and menial laborers.  The birdfolk rarely share any of their secrets, including who or why the Prophet is at the center of their community.

Common Knowledge
The Prophet of the Winds is the holy high priestess of the Tengu.  Like everything else, they tend to avoid talking about her.  The Tengu hold her in high regard, like the Church of the Twins and the Archbishop or the Ursyklons and their Archdruid.

The Tengu are everywhere to be found in Crux.  They take up menial labor for pay lower than even Android crews.  Tengu run foodstalls and other tiny shops are scattered throughout the City of Curses.  The Prophet seems to be queen of a empire of tiny exotic shops, low-paid labor or foreign wanderers that seem incapable of speaking any Tomish or Othish.

But there are urban legends.  That the Tengu can move throughout the city swiftly, that they can access secret portals to a mysterious spirit world they only know of.  Or that Tengu Ninja move from rooftop to rooftop, sometimes stealing, other times slaying political enemies of the birdfolk.  There is even some who claim that the Prophet of Winds is a child, but can see past and future so clearly that she knows all that will or could happen if asked.

Not all things could be true of the Tengu or their Prophet.  But the Tengu always refuse to share anything with "Gaijin."

Some Ursyklon archaeologists claim that the Prophet of Winds first appeared in Gruudl ten thousand years ago.  If true, that makes her on par with the Prince for mythic immortality.  The first true notice of the Prophet comes from fifty years ago, when Tengu started to appear in public.

The Prophet's influence on trade was the first thing felt in the city.  Despite competing with workers, the cheap labor presented by the Tengu boosted the economy.  Further, it led to open trade with the Jade Lands through Tengu merchants.

A more subtle influence the Prophet has presented is acting as a intermediary for some of the more hostile factions within the City of Curses.  Although it hasn't always been of use, the Prophet's agents often appear before conflicts begin to the rich and powerful.  They are information brokers, potential negotiators, and if true, assassins for hire.

But the Prophet has yet to directly speak with non-Tengu.  The bias against gaijin appears to still be strong among her and her people.  The Prophet herself, however, keeps an open eye for those who might prove themselves not simply be more of the same violent foreigners her people have come to regard non-Tengu as.

The Prince never has explained why he's helped to protect the Tengu, but most in the city believe he has long used them to help keep his criminal empire in charge.  The Prophet and the Prince both act like mysterious figures, so they sharing a equally enigmatic alliance makes sense.  So long as the Prince continues to think them of benefit, he doesn't let anyone interfere with the Tengu's homes in his city, despite what others might want to do.

The Archwitch has long respected the Tengu in the mutual way that only those in two minority communities could.  Despite the Prophet's warm relations with the Prince, the Archwitch has always hired Tengu to help where she couldn't afford even her own people.  Their labor and other efforts have long make the head of the Church of Shraxes feel at least assured of the Tengu's aid, if properly motivated.

Despite being a potential trade in Crux, the Spice Khan has a pleasant rapport with the Tengu traders.  The Maliphi trade as much with the Tengu, often using Crux as a place to negotiate agreements for shipments happening on far further shores.  So far, the Spice Khan has made a decent profit selling her spices to the Tengu in exchange for goods for her people.  But, new goods from Othebea and Ith threaten the fragile trade between Tengu and Maliph.  Should things grow more desperate, she might be forced to reassess her Tengu trade agreements for something more lucrative.

The Archbishop has long been a source of frustration to the Tengu.  The popular church of the Twins has drawn many young Tengu to 'turn Crow.'  Their betrayal and the Archbishop's unwillingness to recognize the problem, has long vexed the Prophet and her people.  The Archbishop is more than willing to shatter their worship of the winds if it will increase the size of his own flock.

The Tengu are discriminated against like androids, but even then, they are one of the most vocal about distrusting androids in the city.  The Tengu see them as machines and mockeries created by gaijin; all the Tinkerer hears is racial slurs by yet another group.  The Tinkerer doesn't return the racism, but she is always clear to point it out when the opportunity arises.

Foreign workers acting in the shadows unnoticed: to the vampires of Crux, this raises alarm bells.  Long have they lobbied the Prince to break up the Aerie-Towns so that the Medama and the Walridr might find a way to keep them under control.  But the Prince keeps them at bay, his words keeping the vampires from doing what they long to do: to contain and use the Tengu without interference by the so-called "Prophet of the Winds."  They understand how to operate from the shadows and fear what the Tengu might do to them if left completely unchecked.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: The Rails of Crux

Technologies in Crux are something I've neglected to be precise about.  Crux, City of Curses is based on 1830s era tech, although some are more or less advanced.

The Rails of Crux
In the 1750s Othebea unveiled steam engines, the end result of finding nonmagical means to avoid
arcane magic.  Teleportation, conjuration and other means were all under suspicion.  But any artificial means that could replicate them Othebeans pursued vigorously.  The Othebean Crusades had been fought to constrain magic after all, but it did mean a significant lag for commerce and industry.

The advent of railroads in Othebea (and Ainesia to a lesser extent) led to the creation of steam engines.  Until arcanists and artificers in Crux tackled the problem, most steam engines were dangerous.  Boiler plates were known to explode, limiting their usage and leaving them with lethal reputations.  The Esoterium Machina in Crux created a new foundry in the city's Iron District, combining alchemical metallurgy with steam engines to create reliable, safe locomotives.

By the time Ith had won its independence from Othebea, the steam locomotive had started to become a staple transport, although it still only connected major cities around the Maru Sea.  Ainesia started adopting it as well, with Othebea perhaps having the most complex network of rails.  Ithic artificers continue to combine machinery and the arcane, while Ithic businesses grow from the increased mobility of the rails.

In Crux, a few rail lines converge, but none yet connect.  Each rail line is owned separately by different private interests, none of whom see reasons to even attempt connecting their various lines.  Only the rail that connects Crux with Ithspan carries passengers for instance.  The rail from Boilport is exclusively for metals, while the line from New Goodthorn carries coal and cattle.  All of these goods are sold in the Grand Bazaar in Crux.

Radical entrepreneurs often speak about uniting the lines, as do some Ithic senators.  But no one sees anything short of a new technical innovation or something equally shaking to be able to change the current situation- others suggest the creation of new railroad companies by the Senate, and bypassing the current lines altogether.

Perhaps the advent of the Aether-Train might change all that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

City of Curses: Yorani's Ball 3

Here is part three of a Crux short story about of an old witch, Yorani Cruxi Ama'Ka, a boring ball, and what happens to make it not so boring.

Part One | Part Two

The word Sabizi made them flinch.  Outsiders call us all sorts of names.  Names like the Greenfolk ogda'epona, which means something like dancing wanderers.  Others spit at our name.  But we Sabizi know what that word means.  Sabizi are all family.  And Sabizi know better than to cross a brother or sister.
are the nicest, or the Ursyklon word for us,

All Sabizi are brothers and sisters.  The two Azuro-masked children stared in horror at me.  They were losing control of the situation.

"Yes.  You mock my name."  I twirled as I approached the stage.  Even if it were just for a minute, feeling this young again felt amazing.  "I am Sabizi.  I know the dance, I remember the song of the Azuro, and I grow tired of your mockery."

The Azuro-masked boy stammered something in my direction.  I didn't bother waiting to for him.  If it was important, it could say it.

"No.  You got to have your little stunt, and you've done a great job of continuing the tradition of making others think of us as thieves and rambling roustabouts."  I felt part of dress slip off one shoulder.  I suppressed a cringe.  Of course the spell didn't care that fifty years also was three or four different sizes of dress.

I adjusted my movement a bit.  I decided I could enjoy this last spell without giving the poor boy a show.  It reminded me of the angry medusa in Boilport, back when I'd grown a reputation with my adventuring crew before the War.  The damn monster never expected a blind, naked witch.

That threw the Medusa off, right up until it's head came off.

I opened my palm.  Adanya's eyes glowed black.  Then a tangle of black tentacles swallowed the Azuro-masked boy.  He struggled, but his gun clanked to the ground uselessly.

"They used to be harder."  Adanya observed.

"They didn't see it coming."  I laughed.  I looked over stage, wondering if it was just the two of them.  A girl was crying.  I stepped onto the stage, looking over my handiwork.  The spell continued to restrain the boy.  Near my table, the girl I'd burdened with my advanced years just watched me in horror.

I didn't think old age was that bad.  I shook my head.  Then I paused.

"Well damn it."  I looked at the woman on the stage.  Still cowering behind her bodyguards, the Voice looked nothing like I had expected.  "Why didn't you do anything about this?"

I waved at the pair of them.  The Voice just shook her head, trying to smile.  It clicked in my mind.

A fake.  The singer wasn't the real Voice.  The singer and I exchanged a look.  We both knew it.  The Banker had been too cheap to even get the Voice to actually attend this affair.  A fake.

Well, that meant this had to be the height of the affair.

"Dear, don't ever fake the Voice again.  Its bad business, you understand?"

"Its- you don't-"  The girl stopped herself, realizing she'd said too much.

"Whatever, dear.  Listen to your elder on this: real art isn't faked."  I turned to the audience.  "That's it for the show, kids.  And yes, that's the most excitement you are going to get."

A pair of fighters finally arrived to contain the situation.  After a few words, the two Azuro-masked intruders were hauled off in the fashion on those with muscle for brains can muster.  I looked for Durrig.

I felt my older years pour back into my body.  Creaks returned.  I regretted taking them back.  Not that I had a choice; the spell would end one way or another.  My black hair returned to its gray-white.  My skin crackled.  Bones and muscles returned to their previously geriatric state.

I continued to track down my grandson.  At first, I blamed it on old age.  Or perhaps the incident caused people to interrupt me.  But after ten minutes of looking and searching, nothing.

I couldn't find my grandson at all.

"Durrig?!"  My chest hurt.  Adanya gave me a worrying paw.  "Where is he?"

Was all of this a distraction?  The ball, the explosion, the Azuro masks- I stared at my table, where it all had began.  A single Azuro mask laid there.  I gazed down at the mask.  Under it was a slip of paper:

"Azuro!  Azuro!; 
Why did you take the small children?
Azuro!  Azuro!
Why did you make our sweet boy die?" 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

City of Curses: Yorani's Ball 2

Part 2 of a short story in Crux about an elderly witch, Yorani Cruxi Ama'Ka and her boring night at the Banker's Ball.
First Part | Part 3

"Well, at least something interesting happened."  I struggled to my feet.  I remembered it not taking so long, it felt a eternity to execute the action.

"You wanted a party," Adanya purred.  "You think they've been hiding here or are they going to make a daring entrance?"

"Ugh."  I shrugged.  "5 wands that the idiots drank invisibility potions."

"Ropes of climbing.  Been awhile since I last saw them."  Adanya leaped onto the table.  Her eyes glowed with a bit of purple.  I remembered that look.

A crowd of people had circled around the dark mess left behind by the photographer's explosion.  I didn't join the young people gawking in horror.  I've seen enough dead bodies.  No, I anticipated the arrival of the people looking to make a distraction.

"Rich leeches of Crux!"  A voice boomed from the stage, materializing next to the Voice.  She wasn't stunned, but her people were quick to put themselves between her and this new threat.

I squinted at the figure.  A skinny man in stained overalls.  He wore a light blue mask.  The eyes looked like they were crying, tears painted in teal streaming down the left cheek.  Azuro.  I hadn't seen an Azuro mask since I was a little girl.  The man acted like he had authority.  He derived it from the shotgun in his arms.

"For too long have you fed on the poor!"  The man sounded young to me.  Maybe twenty?  Idealistic and his Sabizi accent was familiar.

"Dang.  I really wanted to see ropes of climbing."  Adanya moaned, disappointed.

"You owe me five wands."  I told my familiar.  I tried to warn whatever security the Banker had here.  My voice didn't carry.  Frustratingly, it was drowned out by the crowd and the young bravados working for the Banker.

A trio of young Gunslingers rushed the stage.  Probably eager to prove themselves in front of the Voice.

"No!"  I tried to get my voice to carry.  I wish I had some magic to help me with that.  Wind magic never was my forte.  "He isn't the only one here!"

Another flash of light.  I lifted a hand to mask the bright shock as the three young fools were knocked unconsious by the flash grenade.  Adanya hissed, annoyed as well.  Young people, they never listen.

A second Azuro joined the first one.  This one looked like a slip of a girl, her clothes more rags.  It reminded me of days long gone bye, taverns and others long gone.

"See?!"  The first Azuro's voice boomed.  The crowd muttered, starting to grow quiet with fear.  "That's right.  I've got people invisible, all over this room.  You are all going to listen to me leeches, you better listen well.

"Revolution is coming, and we are here to mourn those you tread over.  We don't want to hurt any of you.  So.  You all are our prisoners until-"

"Oh please, that's the worst kind of kidnapping speech."  I spat.  Everyone in the ballroom turned and looked at me.  I stood up, my knees wobbling.  Twins-damn it, can't old age let one witty retort go without reminding me of it?  "No, little boy, you do not get to wear a monster mask and play revolutionary."

The Azuros barked laughter at me.  "Ma'am, please.  We don't want to hurt you."

The young woman in the Azuro mask leaped down toward me.  She cartwheeled across the floor.  A pistol materialized in her fingers as she tumbled in my direction.  Another Sabizi.  How many of the greenfolk had been duped into this little show?

She stopped in front of me.  Despite the somber mask, I could hear her giggling under the mask.  "Grandmother, just sit down.  Don't want you to get worried, 'kay?"

I shook my head.  I paused, then in Sabi I used a tone a voice I had only used with my children when they were very young.  "I am Yorani Cruxi Ama'Ka, Girl, and I will not be humored like that.  Do you need a lesson in respect from an elder?"

Taken aback, the young Azuro girl flinched.  Then she kicked me in the chest.

Excitement.  Right.  This was much better than the boring ball before.

I crumbled to the ground, clutching my chest.  That hurt.  No respect for her elders.  I coughed.  I thought I could hear Durrig in the distance yelling.

"Lady, you're old, and you're rich.  Shut up, and we don't have to be any rougher."  The Azuro girl looked down at me.  Looked down at me.  "Don't let yourself get hurt over this, it's justice.  Maybe you'll learn something about what really goes down in this town."

"Plea-please..." I let fake tears stream down my face.  I didn't want to trick the idiot little brat, but clearly she didn't know how far out of her league she really was.  "I'm sorry... it hurts..."

She paused, then offered a hand to me.  I took it.  I smiled.

"Idiot.  Onodyiana!  Fey Lady of the Everthorn!  I beseech thee!"  My witchcraft sizzled into life.  This girl and her friends knew nothing about magic.  I figured as much when she kicked me.  Those without magic seem to think it doesn't have anything to do with pain.

Magic is pain.  My worst hurts all were magical.  Old age, childbirth, even being stabbed, all of that pales in comparison.  That's what makes it so addictive to those of us burdened with sorcery.  Ecstatic pain courses through every spell we cast.

So I also knew how to work through the pain.  Enough to lay a curse that the Azuro girl playing villain never saw this coming.  Black energy crackled between us.  Nothing permanent, but a lesson she would remember.  I traded years with the young little brat.

My body shifted and melted.  Fifty years disappeared.  The girl on the other hand, gasped in pain.  She fell over.  An old woman's voice creaked out of her.

"My..."  Her hair crinkled, fading from shining black to gray.

I felt great.  My dress flopped awkwardly.  Oh well.  I heard bullet shots ring out.  I waved a hand, moving fast.  Faster than I had in years.  Magical shields deflected bullets.  I giggled.

My voice sounded young too.

"Idiots.  You don't fucking kick a Sabizi witch, even if you wear silly Azuro masks."

Monday, March 23, 2015

City of Curses: Yorani's Ball 1

Here's part 1 of a new short story, about Yorani Cruxi Ama'Ka, a very old witch and wealthy woman whose boring ball gets upended...

Part 2 | Part 3

"Ugh."  I hoped the wine would make the boredom go away.  Instead, I remembered how it never agreed with me anymore.  Oh to be young and able to drink again.  To really drink, to swallow and gulp, not this prim and proper sipping non sense.

"Grandmother I don't understand why you still go to these things, if you find them so boring."  Durrig gave me a pitying look.  Poor boy goes to the university, you would think they might've taught him something.  Still doesn't know how to control his mouth.

"It isn't like I have a choice, Durrig."  I put the wine on the table.  "Why does the Banker insist on such cheap wine?  At least get something exotic, like what the Spice Khan serves."

Durrig sighed.  "Grandmother-"

"I have to make the regular appearances, Durrig."  I put a hand on Adanya.  My feline familiar let out a purr.  She was bored too.  Poor thing.  Fifty years together and we still never differed on the opinions of parties.  I wonder if the long-furred blue-and-black cat missed being able to party like the young debutantes too.  "Can't afford to not be invited.  Have to say my greetings to all the old money, check on who is doing what- besides, I also have to see what young debutantes you've decided to chase after."

Durrig's cheeks blushed red at that.  "Tha-that's-"

"Oh c'mon."  I put an elbow on the table.  "I've seen more than a few fetching young ladies here.  Don't you want to share that old Sabizi charm, eh?"

Durrig got up from his seat.  "Um- I'll go refill our drinks I think."

I gazed down at my mostly full wine glass.  The boy didn't even bother to pause before fleeing.  I tried not to groan.  More boredom to grind me into dust.

"Adanya, why did I give up adventuring again?  At least the catacombs were never this... this..."

"Chokingly prissy?"  She supplied.  She let out a yawn.

"I suppose."  I looked around the ball room.  A dozen older aristocrats sat at tables like me.  The wealthy and powerful, all probably tired and half-asleep.  The young folk all were mingling, chattering out of their own kind of boredom.  "I do hope something happens."

"At least a new band is about to play,"  Adanya observed.  "Perhaps something not-so-blah?"

I patted the old familiar with one of my wrinkled hands.  A scar on one knuckle reminded me of a fight with a zombie so long ago it must've happened to someone else.  When did wrinkles come?  When did it become painful to comtemplate standing up?

I looked up at the stage Adanya had mentioned.  A quartet had set up.  They started to play, very soft and beautiful music.  It stirred me, I felt the hurts of being old fade for a moment.  Then she walked onto the stage.  Ah.  The Banker skipped on paying the right kind of price for wine, but had obviously paid a heavier price.  The Voice stepped onto the stage and I wondered how much the Banker had to pay for it.

She wouldn't ask for money.  Whatever she had asked for, the Banker paid it.  A heavy cost, perhaps some union leader had been let free or maybe the Voice talked the Banker to donating to some charity.  Whatever it was, it made me smile.  One thing to make this abominable boring ball interesting could be done with anything, even if it was just a single song sung by the Voice.

Adanya and I both got to our feet.  It hurt, and things popped that always surprised could pop, but I stood up anyway.  The Voice began to sing the first word of the song.  I could see Durrig on the otherside of the room, his arms around a young lady in red.  Good.  The music did what I couldn't do about his libido.

Of course things were going along just fine.  That way I never suspected that the photographer would've exploded.  Screams followed the spray of blood and flashing light.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

City of Curses: Aerie-Towns, In Depth (Fate Core)

Aspect: Atop Windswept Towers

Connected To: Havershill (below it), Perdition Hill (to the North), North Crown (to the Northwest); Spirit World (numerous gateways)
Most Significant Icon: The Prophet of the Winds
Well Known For? Isolated Tengu Villages
Notable Sites and Locales: Yashi's Cafe; The Prophet's Temple; The Tengu Bazaar;

The rungs on the rope ladder up are nerve-wracking.  

The tall towers of Havershill are almost as high as the Skullmount or Perdition Hill; the fall would surely shatter my bones.  I didn't dare look down.  One must climb the spell-bound heights of Havershill's towers if one wishes to see the Aerie-Towns.  The height is only one way the Tengu ghettos keep themselves from mixing with the rest of the city of Curses.

As I cling to the ropes, I remember what I've read about the birdfolk.  A Tengu once claimed her people had lived atop Crux's buildings since the Ursyklon first conquered Necruxa ten thousand years ago.  There is little to substantiate that claim.  But just as unlikely are those Tengu who claim to remember those days before the City of Curses spread to the Cross and the Lock rivers. 

Reaching the top of the tower, my gaze shifts.  Hundreds of Tengu glide from rooftop to rooftop.  These are not barren ceramic tiles.  No, tents of all colors flap in the cold winds.  Gardens hang over to the streets fifty stories below.  Ravens, Crows and other birds nest near the tents.  Perplexing is the lack of straight lines in the makeshift rows and streets the Tengu's tents form.  Spirals, they always form spirals.

Dark eyes glare at me from Tengu in green robes.  Others move away.  I try to smile.  They have a singular word in the Aerie-towns for non-Tengu: Gaijin.  They have other slurs and words they spit at those who dare to intrude on their homes.  But there are places in the Aerie-Towns gaijin like me are welcomed, or at least tolerated.  I enter the Tengu restaurant, flashing my wands as I take a seat.

Later I would learn that there were stairs as well.  

Cruxite History
The Aerie-Town's origins are a contested matter to non-Tengu.  Some word from Tengu suggests the aerie-towns have existed in one form or another for thousands of years.  But most histories written on Crux on begin to mention the Tengu fifty years ago.  Even then, the first aerie-town observed in Crux came into being only ten years later.

The Aerie-Towns never were contested.  The Tengu appeared one day.  Surprised, owners of the buildings below tried to have them evicted, only to find that the Prince had decreed all the rooftops in Havershill as belonging to the Tengu.  The Prince and his organization have never explained why they gave the rights to the rooftops to the birdfolk.

Attempts to harass the Tengu ended with disappearances.  No one ever found the bodies.

Tengu Memories
The Prophet was the first Tengu to visit these lands.  Nations, people, faiths, all of these are dust on
the wind.  Her soul first gazed upon the Skullmount, and when she saw its war with the strange race from the sky, she knew her future was fixed up this place.

The Aerie-Towns have always been near the city.  We long lived on the cliffs and high places near the gaijin.  Never too many of us.  The Prophet ordered us to be unseen: for nearly nine thousand years we watched from our perches without being seen.  Our towns were something gaijin never even dreamed of.  It surprised them to find us.

They were primitive gaijin.  They tried to enslave us, but found only shadows.  The first of us became draw to the ranks of the gaijin, joining their Legions.  But we kept to the shadows.  The Path continued, and the gaijin seemed content to be ignorant of it.

We noted this.  The Gaijin of the city of curses are like most.  They are ignorant of their place in
history, unable to see the Path.  The winds push them, but they do not glide upon them.  Graceless.

In the last four decades, the towers of Havershill rose.  Tall, they were almost as tall as the
skullmount's clocktower.  Their vast height held a great vantage point, and one closer than the mountains or cliffs we had been living in.  The Prophet moved us to these towers.  Furthermore, she demanded we live openly.  We took down our illusions and magicks.  Our poorer folk took menial tasks within the city at large.

We pretend to be servants where the fake-men cannot be bought.  We do what others will not.  We listen.

We see everything the gaijin do.  Such ignorant and greedy fools they are.

Notable Locales
The Prophet's Temple: You do not walk into the Prophet's Temple.  The Tengu themselves do not know where it lies: only that it is not on this plane.  Through a cloud above the Aerie-town, one must glide into, but only when one is show the proper winds.  Without the Prophet's guidance, one will never enter the Temple.  The gateway opens to a mist-filled part of the Spirit World, a garden long-tended to by the Prophet and her closest acolytes, the Yamabushi.  Able to walk easily between the spirit world and the real, Prophet's Temple is a massive structure that would unnerve most non-Tengu.

The Pagoda is well-furnished, in a ascetic style unfamiliar to those in the Maru Sea.  Its rainbow-colored tiles cover a very humble and modest series of dragon, lion, turtle and raven statues.  Next to it is a small koi pond and very trim garden.  A series of paths can take travelers away from the Temple, perhaps to further reaches of the spirit world.  Such things the Tengu know better than those not of their Winds.
Aspect: Sacred Shrine of the Unseen

Yashi's Cafe: This Tengu Restaurant caters specifically to both Tengu and non-Tengu.  Thus it has two menus, the open one non-Tengu who climb the stairs see, and the secret menu Tengu can ask for with the correct word.  Yashi serves food toned down and geared for non-Tengu.  Tengu on the other hand, come to the restaurant to eat a bit of food, and most of the time, learn about how gaijin move and talk.  Yashi herself is a fat old Tengu, who doesn't care what anyone thinks about her.  She never speaks a word of anything other than her native tongue- but seems more than able to help customers and take their orders.
Aspect: "Don't Order The Chop Suey"

The Tengu Bazaar: For Tengu Shinobi, Ninja, Samurai and others, their own Bazaar is of utmost interest.  Supplies gathered here rearm and supply them, even if ninja or others are supposed to craft their own tools if needed.  Guns, poisons and a wide variety of illicit goods can be found in the Tengu Bazaar.  More than a few would be considered banned or restricted if found in other parts of the city, but the isolation of the small series of bazaar tents helps prevent interference from gaijin.  The Tengu clans here use Ithic dollars, but other coins of all kinds can be used, including favors from one clan to another.
Aspect: Ninja Shadow-Marketplace

Aerie-Towns Location Stunts
Blessing of the Kazi: When in the Prophet's Temple, a Tengu can spend a fate point to receive a blessing from the Kazi themselves.  On their next Tengu roll, they receive a +4 bonus.

Shadow Shopping: When in the Tengu Bazaar, Tengu of good standing receive a +2 on any Wealth roll to purchase or acquire weapons.

Diner With a View: When in Yashi's Cafe, diners can easily see things they didn't see quite before, in the city below or with the person sitting across from them.  Diners in Yashi's Cafe gain a +2 bonus on Notice rolls to discover, so long as their target is in the city below or is a person in Yashi's Cafe as well.

Flash Fiction: The Bomb in the Plaza

“May you live in interesting times."

I'm in love.  And my skin is burning.  I can feel it melting.

We were going to meet here, in the plaza.  I had spent all day dreaming about it.  And now I can feel my body dying from the shrapnel in my chest.  I can't feel any pain- just hot metal.  I remember hearing how if you can't feel any pain, that's a bad sign.  The nerves are cut off.

We were about to meet.  That's the cruel joke of it all.  That's when the bomb took us.

Electric purple hair glowed from his head.  Artificial skin glimmered as he saw me.  I tingled.  Texas looked at me, his artificial eyes full of the same feelings I had.  A bot, Texas preferred to look like some extra in some music holo.  A body had been made mostly of shiny plastic and smooth purple steel.  He didn't like to brag.

He loved to brag.

I was in love with a machine.

My could see bone.  My legs.  Fire.

A purple shard of metal in my chest.  Sobs gripped me.

The bomb didn't let us have anything resembling a last moment.  I almost touched his lips to mine.  We both hadn't said a word.  You don't need to say words sometimes.  Sometimes, you just know.

A hair's breadth from each other, then thunder came.  Lightning struck out.  Fire.

But no pain.

The last moments confused me.  I could see Texas.  I couldn't see his face.  That robotic facsimile of humanity that I couldn't forget.  I wanted to touch him.  I wanted to say goodbye.

Then black started to flood my vision.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a pile of wire and pieces.  A glowing purple eye blinked at me.  It lost power and flickered out.

No tears came out.  I wanted them to.  Maybe they were gone too.

Then just black.  There isn't anymore.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: Coins and Currencies

Currencies in Crux
Most precious metals and gems can't be alchemically reproduced, but the ease of finding them through planar travel or conjuration has long made them not the most reliable basis for currency.  The first coins on Orphos came from Rruk, before its devastation.  Ursyklon spurned coins initially, but even they adopted the practice of using them.

Othebean Banks first emerged in response to the Ithic Dollar and the various combating Ainesian
currencies.  Arcane magic made markets collapse during the Othebean Crusades.  Magically replicating the silver or gold in the coinage introduced large economic stresses.  Those who used coins didn't trust gold or silver in that age.  Othebean Monarchs, vigilant against such arcane manipulations, banned the use of gold or silver as the basis for currency altogether.  The Othebean Banks emerged to facilitate the use of a new standard, one that helped solidify Othebea's place in trade.

The Adamantine Standard made use of the fact that Conjuration magic couldn't replicate it.  Further,
planar excusions to find more of the material were just as hard as ones on Orphos.  Adamantine proved difficult to find no matter the world, magical interference or manipulation.  It became a bedrock standard for Othebean currency.

The base unit for Othebea is based on the weight of a whole Pound of pure Adamantine.  The Adamantine Pound is then divided into twenty Shillings.  Each Shilling is then divided again into twelve Swords.  Any coinage below a Pound is an alloy of Adamantine, blended with electrum or steel.  Since only highly skilled and magical smiths can separate or combine the adamantine with other metals, producing counterfeits is hard work.

However, the use of adamantine limits the number of actual coins that can be in circulation.  Lowering the content in the coins has often been used to free up money for the Othebean crown, albeit a risky one because it often lowers the value of the coins in the process.  The Bank of Othebea has taken to producing copper and steel swords instead of adamantine alloys, as well as banknotes representing pounds, to help with this problem.

Othebean coins are easily found throughout the Maru Sea.  The use of copper and other nonadamantine metals has caused the rise of various counterfeiting outfits.  Because the Othebean Pound is highly regarded in trade, its value attracts attempts to counterfeit it.  Othebean agents always look out for ways to catch such efforts, even devoting an order of Paladins to the matter.

The First Sorcerous Congress adopted the Salish adamantine-milled Dollar.  Used as tender throughout the Ithic City-States, the Dollar adopted was based on 451 grains of Adamantine.  Unlike Othebea, different city-states have their own mints and currencies.  The federal government of Ith issues coins based around the dollar.  The Sphinx, which is worth ten dollars; the Wand, worth a fourth of a Dollar; the Cent, worth 1/100 of a Dollar; and the Half-Cent, worth half a Cent.

Ithic coins and banknotes differ from Othebean ways other than just denomination.  Because each are printed or minted by local banks, those who print them tend to add cheap, yet effective arcane additions to their higher-value currency.  Ithic Standard & Loan enchants Sphinxes with illusion spells that make counterfeiting harder; in Ithspan, divination runes on banknotes scream aloud when the banknote is stolen; in Southern Ith, coinage often is marked with runes that burn the Unsorcerous if the touch them with their skin ("A wand for a mage, not one without the gift.")

Wealth in Ith tends to be controlled by monsters, such as Dragons or Liches, whose banks help form the basis of much finance.  They rarely deal in raw coinage, using a credit exchange between themselves.  Their banks, however, hold their hoards.  This major change from past collections, has resulted in massive bank vaults, like the Vault Imperialis in Crux.  Hoards of adamantine, gems, gold and silver, as well as other stored goods, make the potential strength of Ithic Banks vast.  But international exchanges, especially between Ainesia, Othebea and Ith, continue to undervalue the Dollar versus the Othebean Pound.

It isn't a trusted coin.  Despite any wealth to be found in Ith, only further development may yield an increase in its value in the markets.

The Maliphi have no specific single currency of their own.  Each Khan maintains their own adamantine coinage.  Most of these are known as Khani.  Specific Maliphi coins are unique in their designs and weights. There are rarely other denominations; often goods or commodities are used for large exchanges.

Some Maliphi Khans have adopted foreign currencies instead, relying on foreign banks for more stability versus the internal problems within the Maliph Khanates.  The lack of a single currency between Khanates, the vast differences in adamantine content and the use of commodity goods as currency, adds instability to local economies within the Khanates.  Often these lows spur on slave raids or internal conflicts between Khans.

Unlike other powers, the Maliphi rarely separate banking, mercantile and political powers.  The ruling Khans often are also the wealthiest persons in their khanate.  Although this centralizes their wealth, it also prevents the rise of competition.  It causes stagnantion.  Worse, it makes some of the Khanates inflexible to sudden change, in that so much of their wealth is tied to specific individuals.

Maliphi Slavers and Pirates result from lack of stability in their own currency.  Being the most abroad traveling, their exclusive use of Othebean coins speaks volumes.  Trusted because, unlike the Khani, its exact nature isn't nebulous.

At the Revolution, Ainesia went from a hundred different currencies to one.  A single new currency, one based on Revolutionary values.  After a dozen iterations, Empress Krasnysang's rise force the Ainesian Government to settle on a single solution.  The main denomination for Ainesian currency is a banknote, the assignot.

The Assignot's value is controlled completely by Krasnysang's government.  Within Ainesia itself, prices are set by committee.  Although highly experimental, it has remained a stable way for Ainesia to create infrastructure.  The assignot is divided into a hundred Obles.  Theoretically based on the Adamantine Standard, the paper lacks the secure aspects of currency made from adamantine alloys.

Within Ainesia, the use of foreign coins is outlawed at large.  Even then, most tend to trust the Othebean Pound over the assignot.  Ainesia still has been able to make their currency as secure as other currencies, a concern they continue to experiment with.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

RPG Musing: Lost In the Woods

You didn't want to go.  But you wound up at summer camp anyway.  You're 8, and this is your first
time at Summer Camp.  Your parents insisted you would learn something from the experience.

They didn't expect the monsters to come either.

It started when something attacked the dining hall the third night.  It ate three counselors and ten campers.  You just started running when your counselor screamed to run.

So you and your fellow campers fled deeper into the woods.  The cellphone the Counselor had didn't work.  It had battery power, but no signal.  Worse, the messages the phone had you didn't understand.

Your counselor just remained quiet about it.  

Now you and your fellow campers are stuck in the wilderness.  Each night you can hear the monsters coming.  But they aren't what's going to kill you.  Trees, the cold, the rain, the animals- the Wilderness doesn't care if monsters are coming for it.  You learn this the hard way.

Nature will kill you if the monsters don't.  

Lost In the Woods, an idea for a RPG where you play summer campers lost in the wilderness.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

City of Curses: The Provost-Oculi (Fate Core)

Associated Icon: The Chancellor
Aspect(s): Eye of the Chancellor; An Eye For Talent; "Ever Consider Getting An Education, Kid?"

Agents of the Chancellor, the University and the Esoterium Machina, Provost-Oculi recruit, observe and test potential admissions to the Esoterium Machina.  Sometimes they admit them into the University of Crux, others they arrange specific tutelage within specific fields.  They also look out for the Esoterium's interests, keeping an eye out for potential new sources of research or intrigue.

The Provost-Oculi predate the current university, having established themselves during the Othebean Crusades as a secret order helping to protect knowledge from destruction by the Church.  When Esoterium Machina founded the current iteration of the University, the Provost-Oculi became known for finding potential students.  Diviners, Rogues and anyone with an eye for talent.

All Provost-Oculi are gifted with an Robe of Eyes, and a golden gear representing their standing within the Esoterium Machina.  Their signature robes and open allegiance to the University draws interest, intrigue and trouble to them.  Most Provost-Oculi perform wonders in the name of the University, demonstrating the knowledge to be found there.  Those they find of interest, they do their best to convince to journey to the Skullmount.

The Provost-Oculi are also the eyes and hands of the Chancellor.  They conduct exclusive University business.  Sometimes they carry objects of dark import for research or act as the Chancellor's proxy for particular matters.

In recent years there has been a bit of a schism within the Provost-Oculi's numbers.  The Sundered Star and its cult have members within the Provost-Oculi, influencing them to further their dark cause of bringing forth things from the void.  Other Provost-Oculi disagree with the antediluvian pursuits of their compatriots.  To them, knowledge has limits.  Admitting that is dangerous for their careers, as many within the Esoterium Machina would call that cowardice.

Magic Item Extra: Robe of Eyes
Function Aspect: "I Saw That!"
Trouble Aspects: Expensive Item; Easily Blinded

This robe is covered in magical eye patterns.  These eyes aid the wearer when worn, extending their sight.

Robe of Eyes Stunts
See Everything: The Wearer can see in the dark all around them.  They also can see any Invisible creatures or objects in the same zone as them.
Eyes, Eyes, Eyes!: The Wearer can add 2 shifts to a successful Investigate roll when trying to Overcome any hidden Obstacles.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: The Visconti

The Gold-Vampires, or Visconti of Crux's Blood Quarter.  Another kind of vampire, in addition to
my myriad of "other" vampires in the City of Curses.

Aspect: Nothing Glitters Like Gold!
Invoke: Whenever using magic that manipulates metals or when underground.
Compel: When presented with a chance to increase one's own wealth or to preserve it.

Lord Visconti's charity had no limit in the old days.  His estate always helped others.  Their home,
their wealth, their servants, all of them were open to anyone who could ask.  With such kindness, one must ask how could Visconti become cursed?  How could such a line be befouled?

Sometimes sugar and honey disguise the poison underneath.

Visconti's dark secret, one he shared with his wife and three daughters, abused the basic right of charity so many praised him for.  At the end of a tired road they would enter his humble manor.  His wife and daughters would cater to the weary travelers.  Visconti himself would go out of his way to help his guests.  Did they need fresh horses for tomorrow's travels?  Granted.  Another course of the delicious dinner meal?  Why not!  The best wines, the kindest words, the most expensive of entertainments.

Then in the night, Visconti and his family would eat their guests.  A pie here.  A stew there.  Leftovers sent to the larder.  No matter the cost in gold, Visconti delighted in devouring human flesh the best.

It was the night his daughters tried to strike a cunning wisewoman of the Sabizi that would curse his soul.  Visconti broke the rule of guest right, and all Sabizi know that better than others.  Nomads and travelers, they respected the host who never violated his guests.  To break guest right, that was the worse crime.  When Visconti ran to save his screaming daughters, the wisewoman cursed him.

"The Caged One curse you, Visconti."  She spat.  "You hunger so dearly?  Then never stop hungering."

Since that day, the Visconti and their bloodline have never stopped hungering.  They hunger for pounds of flesh, as well as more gold.  Although Visconti cannot create more gold out of magic- such gold fades, loses its luster and becomes what it once was.  Even with genuine gold, silver, gems and adamantine, a Visconti still hungers, their bellies and eyes still craving.

Their hunger makes the Visconti's eyes tear up in hunger.  Instead of saltwater, blood pours out from their eye sockets.  A constant drip of blood, down their cheeks, the scent only making them more hungry.

Visconti Extras 
Gold-Vampire: This stunt costs 2 Fate refresh, but grants the Visconti the ability to cast major spells so long as they fall within the flavors of Earth, Gold and Greed.  In addition, the Visconti gains access to the skill Visconti, which they can use in place of Sorcery to cast spells, any sort of knowledge on wealth or economy, and in place of Athletics for dodging acts so long as the Visconti is touching earth or stone.
Drawback: Gold-Vampires always thinking about eating people, making it harder for them to think clearly.  Visconti take a -2 on using the Clever approach.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

City of Curses: The Skullmount, In Depth

Aspect: Knowledge is Power;
Connected To: Old Crux (via the East Gate), Old Crux (via Bellamy's Stair), The Catacombs
(Underneath), Port of Crux (via elevator crane), The Blood Quarter (underground);
Most Significant Icon: The Chancellor of Crux University
Well Known For? Education; Arcane and Scientific Research
Notable Sites and Locales: Bellamy's Stair, Scrolls and Bones Tavern, The East Gate Bridge, The Clocktower, The Deepstair

At the center of Crux is the city's most well known landmark.  I walk up the east gate, but the Skullmount has at least three other ways into it.  The east gate connects the Skullmount to Old Crux, across a bridge that connects with an ancient tower.  As I walk through the gate, it feels smaller than it should be.  The ironoak doors are covered in a dozen different wards.  Even then, a pair of guards stand ready.

They look bored to me, though.

The campus is dominated by a massive building, on the highest part of the mount.  The Clocktower, the most accurate of it's in Ith.  Storied buildings, all bustling with students of all classes.  Even martial students can be seen, all moving in lines and crowds from one lecture to another.  

There is much here to describe, yet so much to be seen!  The sights and smells of parchment, rune, 
artifice and ink pervades the air.  Familiars of all kinds wander about, their masters studying while they look for other things to occupy their time.  You can even hear beautiful chants in the air, as Bards practice their own musical arts.  If it can be known, you can find it here.

No one knows when the Skullmount first appears.  It predates Ithic history and Crux itself.  But ever
since its first discovery, there has always been a place of study atop it.  The oldest site of the University can be accessed through the Deepstair under the Clocktower.  The Skullmount itself is riddled with catacombs, ancient temples, ruins and other sites.  So much lies under the University, it has never been mapped or fully accessed.  Without knowledgeable guides, the vast labyrinth can cause anyone to be lost.

There have been a series of universities.  Ursyklon sources reference the university when they first
landed near Crux at Gruudl.  Referred to at the Skullmount even then, Aetherblooded had the run of the University at that time.  Known as the Library, it would become the beloved home for the Archmage Ith when he first visited Crux.

The Tomasi Empire's adoption of Crux as a capital preceded the first Great Fire of the University.  The ancient Library went up in ruins.  Rebuilt afterward, the newer Universitas Esotori Machina expanded the institution's focus.  Many Tomasi Summoner-Legionnaires would study at the Universitas.  It became a critical site of the Empire, known for educating the imperial royal family and best arcanists.

When the Empire fell, the Universitas was a abandoned for almost five centuries.  The years left it open.  Buildings collapsed or sunk deeper into the Skullmount itself.  Outside cults of various kinds entered the catacombs and other ancient sites within the skull.  Refurbishing the catacombs, descendants of these squatters are still found within the catacombs.

The dark era prior to the Othebean Crusades saw a surge in activity at the Skullmount.  A new institution grew from the ruins of the Universitas, the first University proper.  It grew, teaching anyone from the Maru Sea who proved themselves worthy.  The dark arts, black magic and other practitioners that graduated from this university helped to incite the Othebean Crusades in the first place.  Othebea, fearing what might happen if such magic were left untended, sought to stop the University from continuing to seed the Maru Sea with such spellcasters.

Othebea didn't shut down the University, but the Archbishop of Crux placed very heavy restrictions on them.  Stifled by such limitations, the University and the Church of the Twins often clashed over what they could and could not teach.

The Great Fire, at least the third the Skullmount had experienced, precipitated the Darkness.  Protests
followed when Othebea tried to block rebuilding the University.  A new organization came into being dedicated to the creation of new university, according to the faith of the Machine.

The first thirty members of the Esoterium Machina faced persecution throughout Ith, their "University of Letters" seen by Church authorities as Witchcraft or worse.  But the Esoterium Machina succeeded to bypass the Church.  Wealthy donations and alchemical patents built the new University of Crux.  The Chancellor of Crux University as a position was born, primarily to help recruit nongovernmental funds for the University.  Despite the Church's (and the Prince's) efforts to block the Esoterium Machina, the University was rebuilt.

Since then, all knowledge has been welcome at the University.  It formed the center of revolution when Ith revolted against Othebea.  The Destreza sword school moved onto the campus, Ursyklon professors joined the Archaeology and History departments and the University pursued innovation after innovation.  From the University would come advancements in firearms, alchemy, Spellcraft and even household objects.

University Departments
Archaeology:  the lost riches and history beneath Crux makes the Archaeology Department constantly busy.  Ursyklon archaeologist crews examine finds from Gruudl, while others explore the abandoned temples and complexes deep within the Skullmount itself.  Its a museum, lecture hall and archive all wrapped together.  Ursyklons and others use a variety of magic and science to uncover secrets from the past.

Finds first made by the Archaeology Department go into research and development by other departments.  Alchemy, necromancy, transmutation and others uncover the keys to relics and wonders discovered by the archaeology department.  Sometimes new discoveries are made, other times insights are gained into arcane secrets.  And other times, things are found that were never meant to be rediscovered.

Necromancy: The Dark Hall glitters from the onyx in its bricks, each one a rectangular skull.  The
Accordances of Ith forbade certain forms of necromantic practice.  Volunteer cadavers for necromantic study arrive at the Dark Hall, through its lower doors and elevator crane access to the Port of Crux.

Vivisection and anatomy work at the Dark Hall have always drawn the ire of the Church of the Twins and others.  But the Necromancy department has devised many alchemical answers to various Necromancy-based ailments and monsters.  Others, like the Vampires of the Blood Quarter, accuse the Necromancy Department of being opportunists and providing tools that will own led to their own persecution.

And others question the use of dead Androids in certain capacities.  Especially the Voice, who sees such university research as immoral.

Alchemy: A squat building, the bricks are burnt black and warded to contain possible explosions.  The work here supplies firearm innovations, as well as makes practical tools used in other parts of the University.  The potions employed by Necromancy, Transmutation and Abjurations are created in the Alchemy Building.  Research here furthers technology and innovation.  Gunpowder and explosives are part of the research too.

This makes the Alchemy Department very profitable for the University of Crux.  The sale of various
alchemical goods and devices helps fund the university.  Adventurers and others in the Crux take advantage of this, while others find ways to abuse it.  Addictive substances, some recreated from the ancient ruins beneath the University, also are created in the labs of the Alchemy department.

The Skullguard: The University of Crux has its own police department, but they do not report to the
Chancellor.  Instead they are servants of the Archbishop.  Stationed throughout the Skullmount, the
Skullguard have sole jurisdiction over it- leaving the City Watch and Metropolitan Police out.  Because they are in the pocket of the Archbishop, most of the faculty rankle at the Skullguard's intrusions and investigations.  They aren't afraid to lie or hide things in order to avoid Skullguard scrutiny.  The Skullguard themselves are lightly manned, most coming from Fighter or Ranger classes- they don't inform anything to the Archbishop, nor do they help members of the Eagles and the Crows.  Even if they did help them, how could anyone prove it?

Memorable Skullmount Locales
The Deepstair: Underneath the Clocktower, the Deepstair connects to the ruins of previous iterations of the university.  The Deepstair also is the first section most archaeological crews have to venture through before entering any of the labyrinthine catacombs.

The Scrolls & Bones Tavern: Near the East Gate, this Tavern and its dormitory have long been a welcome sight to students on Campus.  A comfy place, the Tengu Barkeep keeps an open mind, often hiring students for entertainment or as servers.  He has a preference for songs written by the Voice, and refuses to stock any papers published by the Publisher.

Bellamy's Stair: Named after Isgora Bellamy Medama, this secretive stair is carved into the skull at its southern side.  Narrow without rails, most of the faculty tend to inform students that it is off limits. Bellamy's Stair isn't guarded by any Skullguard, although they do try to patrol it.

The Clocktower: The first marvel created by Nikola Ripley, the Clocktower (due mostly to being on the highest point on the Skullmount) is the highest point in all of Crux.  It is also the most accurate, using planar clock measurements and self-correcting clockwork to adjust itself.

Location Stunts
The Sum of Knowledge: If you are a student of the University, and you attempt to Discover while using Knowledge at the University, you gain a +2 bonus.  If you are adding details (not creating an aspect, but just adding new details or truths to whatever it is you are researching), you gain an automatic 2 shifts to the roll if you succeed.

The University Laboratories: If you are at the University of Crux, and trying to produces Alchemical Goods, you can attempt to avail yourself of the superior laboratories in the Alchemy building.  If you succeed at a Crafts roll of Difficulty Fair (+2), you can add the Laboratory-Made aspect to any function aspect of any potions, elixirs or oils you make.

The Infirmary: While at the University of Crux, you can admit yourself to the Infirmary.  If you do so, you can immediately justify recovery for any physical consequence.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: Tengu Mockers (Fate Core)

Inspired by thinking on the crossover between Tengu and Lycanthropes, +Mik McAllister's comments got me thinking on what happens with Tengu and contracting a form of were-bird-ness (that's a technical term).  So, I ended up with this after musing on it.  The Mockers, loosely based on Cherokee myth of sorts.

Tengu: The Mockers

Tengu, as a whole, refuse to acknowledge lycanthropy.  In the Jade Lands, there is little to no actual record of Lycanthropy.  Spirits and others sometimes take over the body, but unlike the lycanthropy of the nations of the Maru Sea, the Spirits can be excised.  If true, it might be significant about the nature of Lycanthropy.  Perhaps it hasn't penetrated the Jade Lands, or maybe the nature of the curse is tied to a specific region.

Or perhaps, the Tengu refuse to acknowledge it, somehow thinking it will make it less true.

But in Crux, Tengu have proven to be just as susceptible to lycanthropy as any other group.  But for the Tengu, there is a greater danger, something far more wrong to their kind.  A particular specific form of lycanthropy can cause them more harm than any other.  Tengu biology reacts badly to it, becoming something else.

When infected by the Curse of the Wereraven, the Tengu react far differently than any other race.  They change completely, losing themselves to it.  The Tengu lose their past lives, their own identity.  Their affliction causes them to walk in the realm of spirits, turning ephemeral.  Dark spirits, the Tengu become Mockers, something worse than bearing the curse of the beast.

Mockers lose more of their physical selves, being more air-spirit than living people.  They feed on the sick, old or dying.  Their calls can be heard when they hunt; Mockers rarely can be seen, always perching invisibly over their victims.

Mockers are one of the reasons why Tengu view gaijin as corrupting.  Although no other race has such a reaction to lycanthropy, Tengu see the affliction as a sign of the overall foulness of the gaijin.  Some Tengu attribute this to some ancient broken bond or some other myth that may or may not be true.  Other Tengu ignore it, possibly hoping that it will be forgotten if not acknowledged.  A few others, though, see the Mockers as the hand of the Demon Wind.

Ephemera, unseen and life-devouring, Mockers are hunted by their clan-mates among the Tengu.  Those few Mockers who survive become more and more vicious creatures, dedicating themselves wholly to insulting the name of the Tengu.  Mockers seem to embody what the Tengu fear most of the Demon Wind, invisibly trying to make the world drift toward a darker age.

The last thing Mockers' victims hear are their own worst fears, whispered in their ears.  A final mockery of what they hold dear, before their souls get ripped out.

Aspects: Life-Draining Laughter; Raven-Headed Mockeries
Skill: Mockery
Mockery is the main skill of the Mockers: it covers their flight and their ability to mock their victims with their own memories.
A Mocking Skin: A Mocker can't be seen without magic or the right charm.  They are invisible.
Take the Soul: A Mocker can attempt to eat the soul or spirit of a victim.  They whisper mocking tones, using mockery to attack a target's mental stress.  If a Mocker spends a Fate Point, the subject must make succeed on a Will contest against the Mocker's Mockery or take the serious consequence Soul Drain.

Skinwalkers and Lycanthropes: The Moon-Cursed

Ach.  The original Skinwalkers article I posted for Crux I re-read, and didn't like.  It doesn't carry the
Art copyright: Me.  
weight it should.  Skinwalkers and Lycanthropes deserve better.  This is a rewrite, possibly changing my canon a bit.  Lets get into it...

Cursefolk of the Beast-Blood:
Lycanthropy, the curse of the moon.  In Crux itself, Lycanthropes have been banned from the city limits since the city's founding.  Wolf-Mother Worshippers claim Lycanthropes were cursed as a punishment for their crimes against nature.  The Church of the Twins has long claimed  demons caused Lycanthropy, corrupting the innocent and emboldening those who oppose law and community.  Others, like the Church of the Machine, have no opinions other than curiosity.

Lycanthropes born with the disease have been around for as long as civilization on Orphos.  If Ursyklon records are to be believed, it even existed on other worlds.  But they have no answers for how or why their curse exists.  It just does.

Most lycanthropes in Ainesia and northern Necruxa hide their condition.  They still are often hunted for their affliction, despite what they do to mitigate it.  As such, north of Maliph, lycanthropes and skinwalkers live in secret societies.  Each underground community has traditions of callsigns, codes and ways of showing familiarity without revealing their true natures.  Most communities have Moonhunters, skinwalkers assigned the task of maintaining that secrecy.  Lycanthropes unable to control their natures or criminals among their own number are hunted by the Moonhunters and slain.

Skinwalkers are blessed to Lycanthropes.  When a lycanthrope has children, there is always a chance the child will be born lycanthrope like their parents.  Skinwalkers are born without the curse, yet retain some of the abilities of their ancestry.  They can shift their form, becoming more beast-like to gain advantage.  The law in most places that ban Lycanthropes does not see a difference between those without the Curse and those with it.  To take the shape of beast by moonlight often is all that is needed to call for a skinwalker's head.

Worse, Skinwalkers sometimes also have Lycanthrope children.  Some are born with the Curse.  Despite this, skinwalkers love their families and communities.  They protect them.  Their insular nature sometimes makes internal conflicts dangerous, as some clans of weretiger or werewolf might clash over territory.

The Curse's Symptoms
The Curse for Lycanthropes is dangerous to those around them.  Only Skinwalkers are immune to its effects.  If scratched, biten or having ingested the blood of a lycanthrope, the affliction is carried to the new subject.  There are many folk remedies, but most cannot cure Lycanthropy.  The Archdruid herself knows some of the secrets to curing it, but even then it is known that to cure it, one must have it treated within three days of contracting it, or else you bear it for the rest of your days.

Once every full moon, Lycanthropes shift form and shape.  The Beast takes away self-control.  But not only those three days can unleash the Beast within.  Lycanthropes discover losing control over their emotions at anytime can cause the Beast take over.  The Beast is the only term they apply to it, as most tend to forget what happens when the Beast is in control.  It is a literal Beast: it attacks, eats and acts like a crazed animal.

All Lycanthropes have an allergy of silver.  It cause their flesh to burn, and often is held as the best way to deal with them.  Even skinwalkers have a bit of an allergy to silver, their skin is sensitive to it.

The Curse also scares animals, especially domesticated animals.  They notice the scent of it.  It startles them, although some wild or feral animals are attracted by the presence of the Curse.  Fey also are attracted to those who bear the Curse, often able to control them too.  In a bit of mad whimsy, fey lords and ladies like to keep were-beasts for pets.  Or so the tales claim.

Despite the persecution by some faiths, Lycanthropes and Skinwalkers are just diverse as others in their religion.  Some worship the Summer Rose, finding control in her teachings on protecting others.  Maliphi worshippers of the Summer Rose invite lycanthropes and skinwalkers openly.  Others are welcomed by the Singer of the Song, whose followers oppose the idea of treating afflicted lycanthropes as personas non grata on principle.  The Church of the Lupa The Wolf-Mother perhaps has the biggest appeal to skinwalkers in particular, sometimes harboring skinwalkers or even recruiting them despite local legal entanglements.

Cruxite Lycanthropes
What follows are some of the groups of Lycanthropes in Crux.  Crux's own laws on lycanthropes are murky.  The Prince's famous decree of "Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Lycan to Live" not withstanding, skinwalkers are exempt in Crux where in other places they would be included.  Some skinwalkers are members of the Prince's own enterprises.  But even then, Skinwalkers in Crux are never open about who or what they are.  Fear of being targeted or even accused of Lycanthropy alone keeps their communities somewhat isolated.

These are not all of those in Crux, just the groups of Skinwalkers and Lycanthropes of interesting note.  Because of their secrecy and the nature of such things, they might fade away or splinter into rivals.

The Rats of Poorfellows
Don't repeat this.  This is a serious warning.  You don't talk out loud about the rats in Poorfellows.  Ever... they are very protective.  So protective that if you do talk, your body is liable to go missing.  No one knows who are wererats either.  Filth and squalor help them hide.  They steal things from the Tinkerer, they take the dead, they even try to incite fights between the gangs... The rats aren't the power in Poorfellows, but no one knows where they nest.  Even then, do you know how many rats are down there?
Aspect: Too Many Rats Below

The Summer Wolves
The Crusaders of Othebea came in many different stripes.  One sect of Crusaders worshipped the Summer Rose, but all were werewolves.  Aye, the Summer Wolves.  They still work within the Church, albeit never being very open about their true natures.  I've seen them though, at night.  They've long fought with the Medama in the Rose Quarter.  Surprised to hear that, eh?  Rooftops in the Rose Quarter are protected at night, and the Summer Wolves are responsible for that.  They are also members of the Eternal Order of Eagles and Crows, or at least the Eagles protect them when others ask questions about them.
Aspect: Wolves of Rose and Rooftop

The Bloodbats
We were first brought 'ere by the Inculti.  Promised us a place, and the colony settled in the Blood Quarter.  Yeah, some of us are Dhampr.  More 'n that.  Down 'ere, no one touches us.  We are the muscle the Vamps ask for.  So we enjoy the gig.  Some in the colony try to start new branches, eager little shits.  You hear about them, between the Eagles hunting them or the Demon's Orphans flaying them alive.  We enjoy our little hole.  You never see us, but we know you're here.  The Blood Quarter falls under our juristriction, not the Metro, not the Prince's watch.  When you are the muscle, you also are the law.
Aspect: Law of the Blood Quarter

The Lost Children
Yes its a secret.  The Archdruid doesn't like word getting out that Ursyklon can contract lycanthropy.  She does her best to contain it.  But even she can't stop some of our people from having it.  The Lost Children were founded long ago, and we'll be around long into the future.  No, we don't do that sort of thing.  Any lycanthrope is welcome to join us, and we welcome to the family.  We're more of an monastic order- we teach control.  We find homes, provide excuses and help.  Anything about the Archdruid using Lost Children for other activities... that isn't true.  Now.  How can we help you and yours?
Aspect: Home of the Lost

The Portspawn
Werecrocodiles.  That's why the port authority stays clear of the Spice Khan's barge.  Not only that, true.  But the port is crawling with them.  The Portspawn, some call them.  They protect the Spice Khan's smugglers, but not just that.  They are the big guns she hides from the rest of the city.  I've seen Patrizo or Demon's Orphans try to steal one of ships.  A trio of Portspawn ate them.  Ugh.
Aspect: Munch-Munch-Munch

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Keepers: Srady's Penny, Part 2

Session Report 8 of the Keepers of Crux.

Ash Wiseowl ain't going to take it anymore.
Part two of Srady's Penny continued from the cliffhanger of the last session: the Keepers faced a trio of Bounty Hunters, hired to take Ash alive.  Continuing their hunt for the lost relic known as Srady's Penny,this session would see them dive deep into the ancient ruins of a lost Ursyklon city.

Scene Question: Do the Keepers manage to defeat the three Bounty Hunters?
Three figures meet them in Tengril Square.  A man with a bronze-plated rifle.  A fat woman in the dark robes of the Black Rose.  A young boy licked his lips at them.

"Give us the halfling lass, and we'll leave you be."  The sharpshooter said, a hand on his tattered hat.

He tipped it respectfully in the Keepers direction.  "We ain't afraid to cause you harm."

The Keepers stood their ground.

"Uh, no."  Gav replied.  Ishida ran around, quickly trying to catch them offguard.  Gav started to weave a spell at the bounty hunters.

"Well then.  Okay."  The Sharpshooter gestured at the boy with them.  "Trol?  Do your thing.  Don't eat the halfling, the rest are free."

The boy smirked.  "I'mma gonna rip out your arms and eat your hearts."

Then a gigantic eidolon erupted from the Trol's skin.  A giant appeared where Trol had been standing, nearly ten feet tall.  Dark green skin covered rippling muscles.  The eidolon's maw was huge, with jagged teeth.  It looked hungry.

"Great.  A Synthesist."  Gav muttered.

Gav's wind gust knocked the Sharpshooter and the Cleric to the ground.  The Sharpshooter instead took up position prone and started firing shots, hitting Ash in the leg.  Trol turned on Gav, eager to starting munching on him.  But Pyro, ever the clever Alchemy Android, smashed a vial of sleeping gas onto Trol.

The giant eidolon-covered Trol fell over, pinning Gav.  Both were knocked unconscious from the gas.

The sharpshooter continued firing, even as Ishida tried to fend him off.  The Cleric of the Black Rose
instead touched him, inflicting wounds on him.

But a moment later, the Keepers got the upper hand: a pack of sacred wolves attacked the bounty hunters, convinced by Ash to rip them into shreds.  Both the Cleric and the Sharpshooter were devoured, Trol too.  Gav woke from the gas annoyed.

"We need to get into Gruudl.  So we need the Archdruid's permission to get there."  Ash explained.

"We need to return that painting," Gav pointed out, "Or else we just repeat what we just went through."

Scene Question: Do the Keepers get permission to go into Gruudl from the Archdruid?

"You're right."  Ash scratched her chin.  "But what's the right way to return the painting to the
Chancellor?  As toilet paper or maybe a flag...?"

Gav grunted, trying to avoid facepalming himself.  "We just return it, in fact, I'll just go do it myself.

 It'll take a little bit."

"Ok, we can talk with the Archdruid then."  Ash replied.

Professor Rill is annoyed but happy to see the painting when Gav returns it.  He reminds Gav of the
dangers of associating with someone like Ash.  But Gav tries to be cordial, more glad Rill will drop
charges instead of much else.

Gav returned to the Keepers, at least satisfied to have solved one problem.  While he was gone, the
Keepers had found a young Priestess of the Wolf Mother.  Sent by the Archdruid to aid them in the recovery of Srady's Penny, she heals Ash's wounded leg.

"Of course I can take you to Gruudl."  The Priestess and her Wolf companion guide the Keepers to a set of stone doors near the Grand Bazaar.  The tunnel within leads them into Gruudl itself.

Scene Question: Do the Keepers find where Srady's Penny is hidden?

Gruudl is a Ancient Starship Graveyard. The Keepers look across the ruins, a shining
collection of citadels and living starships long since deceased.  Based on their map, the Priestess takes them to where she thinks it starts, the site known as the Bonewall.

A long narrow corridor, the Bonewall's two walls are covered in the many bones of the Ursyklon's dead enemies.  The Keepers search the Bonewall for a sign of a door.  Pyro finds a door, and Ash is able to unlock it using a sample of her blood to get past its Blood Lock.

The verdant limestone door slid open.

The first room they found short, perfectly suited for an ursyklon's height.  It also was full of spider webs and a rather large spider.  The Keepers successfully snuck past the spider to the next room, which Ash unlocked as easily as the first.  A bit of her blood let them pass.

Once the door slid shut behind them, they could hear the spider start to pound at it.  In a small hallway, pass another door they found a large room.  Once it must've held livestock, since the mud on the ground was covered in hoofprints and as hard as rock.  A large circular, empty trough sat in the center.  There was two other exits.  One led to another hallway, the other looked like it had been chiseled out of the walls far more recently.

Ash explore the tiny alcove cut into the wall.  Gav and Pyro run into a trio of cat constructs, made of adamantine, wood and bronze.  Gav studies the creatures, curious about them.  Pyro meanwhile, discovers a series of holes in the walls sized for cats to climb in and out of.  He also ventures down the other hallway, finding a room with what appears to be a control room.  Vines connecting to a chair made from a stump.

In the alcove, Ash found an arm sized hole has been carved into the limestone wall.  Long enough for a arm to reach in, at the end of the hole was a tiny pedestal.  An ancient coin sat on it, the image of a mouse on the face Ash could see.  One could reach in for the coin, but couldn't pull their arm out with the coin.  The pedestal and hole had been carved tight enough that if you clenched your fist you couldn't pull it out.

After showing it to Pyro and Gav, Gav studied the coin with his arcane senses.  He told Ash what he thought the command words for the coin were.  Curious to see what would happen, as legends suggested that the coin might help one pass through walls, she reached in and said the first command phrase in ursyklon.

"Size of a Mouse."

Instantly Ash seemed to disappear.  Shrunken to the size of a mouse, she was clinging to the outside of the hole.  After a bit of exploring, Ash retrieved the coin.  Eventually with Pyro she found the hole that held the coin was connected to a series of tunnels, all ornately carved with romantic vistas.  Cataloging it, the found that the adamantine cats were programmed to hunt down anything the size of a mouse moving around.

The Keepers put the cats into the hallway behind a locked door.  Then they continued their explorations.  Gav experimented with the coin meanwhile, trying out the command phrase in very rough ursyklon.

"Size of a Bear."

Gav grew to twelve feet tall, suddenly taking up most of the room.  The penny became tiny in his hand.  Unlike him, Srady's Penny didn't shift size with him.  It stayed the same.

By this time, shrunken Ash and Pyro had left the tunnels they had been exploring.  They marveled at the huge Gav before them.  Atop Ash's ferret Cavi they rode out to him.  Gav looked down, then tried to reverse the process.

"Size of a Mouse."

Unlike the reverse, Srady's Penny shrunk Gav to the size of a mouse instead of his normal size.  Meanwhile, the penny landed some ways away from him.  A massive clink sound echoing around them as it landed in another part of the room.

"Drek."  Gav cursed.  "Of course it works that way.  Of course."

Then the door trapping the feline constructs cracked open.  Their adamantine teeth and claws shatter it.  Hungrily they leap through, aiming at the shrunken Keepers on the ground.  The size of mice, the cats seem the size of buildings...

On that cliffhanger I ended the session.  Part of what made this session very fun was how the dungeon had been created.  Normally I despise dungeons: when all of the information is one-sided, and there is no collaboration on the contents, then a dungeon is just a form of railroading.  Which is fine.

People are allowed to do that, as long as everyone is kewl with it.  But I dislike not giving the players information or not having their input go into something.  The map had been created by all of us.  All I did was add complications.  The characters had a map, an idea of what to look for.

So that made it one of the funner moments.

I will admit to railroading the players at the end of the session.  I added a complication to Srady's Penny, it doesn't work both ways.  Of course I added so all the players were shrunken at the same time.  But the problem enabled the cliffhanger, and more importantly, added some danger to the next session.

Next time, the Keepers face off against adamantine cat constructs, learn some ancient secrets and are confronted by something horrific from another age.