Player Characters


Art after the fall

I have just begun GMing a short post-apocalyptic campaign using the Mutant: Year Zero system. Before adventure begins the system requires the PCs – who play mutants – generate their safe haven, which is called the Ark. This is a brief description of the Ark from which the PCs will begin their adventure.

Zone location

The near zone

The Ark is in the middle of a giant collapsed city, which is bisected by a winding river that was no doubt once a beautiful sight, but which has turned into a deadly, torpid sewer. The Ark is north of the river, a few kilometres away from a pair of towers that face each other menacingly across the width of the river. Stories and legends warn the PCs not to cross the river, or even to go close to it – but for now these stories are irrelevant, since as much as possible the PCs avoid even venturing too far from their Ark, let alone to the far side of that stinking ditch.

The Ark

The Ark is an old football stadium, its bleachers still largely intact and its entryways roughly boarded up and barricaded against the dangers of the Zone. Sometime during the collapse a blimp crashed into the stadium, and the ripped and torn fabric of the blimp has since been stretched out and converted into a partial roof over the stadium, stretching over the fantastic arcing sculptures that formed the original design of the stadium roof to turn the whole structure into a kind of giant tent. The People live in evacuation tents and simple makeshift shacks around the edge of the pitch, with the pitch itself devoted to a few patches of poor quality farmland to grow potatoes and pumpkins. Some people also live in tents and improvised structures on the bleachers, the lower parts of which have been torn up and long since used for firewood or building material. The tunnels and walkways under the bleachers where fans once congregated in between games have been converted into storage spaces for scavenged food and weapons, extra living space, and mushroom farms. Near the entrances they have been hastily barricaded in hopes of slowing down attackers who breach the entryways. The bosses have also carved out their domains in these dark spaces, usually in corporate boxes overlooking the pitch, connected to bars with windows looking out on the blighted zone. They and their closest sycophants live here, lording it over the People however they can.

In the center of the pitch is the old gondola of the fallen blimp, which rests now under the central arches of the stadium. This gondola is the residence of the Elder, who grows sick and weary of this world and rarely ventures out. A straight path leads from the entrance to the gondola across the pitch to the tunnel by which the Home Team used to enter the grounds. If one follows that tunnel to the changing rooms of the Home Team one will find the area has been sealed off and turned into the Dawn Vault, where relics of the Ancients are stored and the Chroniclers live their careful secluded lives.

The Bosses

There are several gangs in the Ark, but it has not yet descended to the anarchic state in which all people must pick sides and pick up axes, so there are also many independent individuals, and the bosses, though they jockey for power, have not yet fully stamped their authority on all the People. Nonetheless, some bosses are becoming increasingly active in jockeying for power, and some actively speak against the Elder. Some key bosses are:

  • Pieces, a bureaucrat who has repeatedly foiled the plans of the other bosses, either in defense of the Elder or in the furtherance of her own convoluted interests. No one trusts Pieces, and often she is infuriating, but she also has a unique power to sequester resources, and some say she alone still holds influence over the Elder as he slides into senescence.
  • Jared, the hated kingpin who rules his minions with viciousness and spite. Nobody wants to deal with Jared, but some number of the People recognize his leadership style may triumph, because he is willing to cross any boundary, and trash any tradition, in the pursuit of power
  • Bloody Jack, the revolutionary, a PC, who alone thinks of the future, and preaches visions beyond the hard scrabble of daily survival. Bloody Jack commands only a small faction, but she is also more willing than other bosses to take risks outside the Ark, and may yet be able to unite the independent forces amongst the People in pursuit of a new vision. The other bosses watch her, and act against her schemes where they can.

The bosses in the Ark have set up their lairs in the old bars and rooms in the levels under the bleachers of the stadium, laying down barriers to block hallways and building throne rooms in old abandoned changing rooms. They gain power by asserting control over a section of the higher bleachers, and grabbing the pure water that flows there. As the Elder weakens and food supplies run low, the power of the bosses grows, as does their conflict, and the independent members amongst the People begin to think about which boss to side with when the food runs out.

Population

The Ark has a population of 174 people at the beginning of the campaign.

Water Source

The Ark’s water source is the Tarp itself, the covering of battered blimp-cloth that drapes over the roof of the stadium. Every morning mist condenses on this tarp and runs down to drip into the high bleachers, and when rain falls it drains across this tarp and onto the bleachers. Here the People have set up a complex system of buckets and plastic containers to catch the water, which they run down to large vats held under the bleachers on the higher levels. Some bosses have sectioned off parts of the bleachers for their own use, giving them control of pure water, but other areas are free for anyone to grab water to trade for bullets and grub. No one has developed a perfect method for catching this water, and some runs down the bleachers onto the grounds itself, where it is captured and used to grow food in the scrappy allotments around the central Gondola of the Elders. The bosses hoard water and watch those farms greedily, knowing that one day they will need help, perhaps in a dry spell, or after a heat wave, and the boss who cuts the best bargain will gain control of the Ark’s only renewable food supply. Other bosses – and some independent folk too – run missions into the area around the Ark looking for food from the Old Times, but this food is growing rare, and as the easily accessible remains of the ruins dry up everyone in the Ark begins to worry about where their next meal will come from and what they will have to pay to get it.

But at least they have fresh, rot-free water.

Development levels

At the start of the campaign the Ark is in a state of crisis, forgetting its past, with no hope for the future and little food. Only its defenses are in any kind of reasonable state, and even those need work. Its development levels are:

  • Food 2
  • Culture 2
  • Technology 2
  • Warfare 6

The ability to barricade the entrances to the stadium and the open area around it make it a highly defensible Ark, but the barricades are makeshift and in reality there are not enough People to guard all the doorways. The Ark needs brave souls to venture further afield, scout out the threats it might face, and bring back weapons, food and new tools. If someone does not act soon, the People will descend to barbarism and worse. The crisis will soon be upon the Ark, and the People cry out for help.

Help the Bosses do not give. What are the People to do?

Save

Save

Awoken!

 

Standing at the limit of an endless ocean
Stranded like a runaway, lost at sea
City on a rainy day down in the harbour
Watching as the grey clouds shadow the bay
Looking everywhere ’cause I had to find you
This is not the way that I remember it here
Anyone will tell you its a prisoner island
Hidden in the summer for a million years

Things have not gone well for Australia’s Aborigines in the 70 years since the apology. Not because the government did or didn’t do what they had to do but because in the years that followed Australia became a banana republic. The world moved on from the oil age, and by 2077 Australia was a relic of a bygone era, a nation of miners and farmers in a world of virtual business and infinite energy. Successive governments, held in thrall to the big resource companies, rich farmers and an agrarian socialist rump, consistently missed the chance to seize on the enormous wealth of the Lucky Country: they missed the solar boom that made energy virtually free for everyone; they missed the asteroid mining industry that jump started a new decade of economic expansion but left terrestrial resource economies staggering in their own dust; they missed the chance to profit from the growth of offshore arcologies and the new Green Revolution. By 2077 the nation had been reduced to a corrupt kleptocracy, a rump of hard scrabble miners and farmers in the interior scraping by where and how they could in the wreckage of the resource economy, while on the coasts a cheap service industry bloomed around elite corporate arcologies and gated holiday homes while the advanced industry of the early millenium moved offshore and disappeared. Cities crumbled, migration slowed, the smartest young people left, and Australia floundered, a land of 1950s ideas squatting in the shadow of 2050s neon.

Then came the Awakening, when the ancient spirits of the world’s First Nations were ripped from their aeons of slumber and returned to the earth. The Awakening rolled over Australia’s Aboriginal people like a wave of enlightenment, affecting them more perhaps than any other indigenous community. Everyone and their Aunty knew someone who had discovered new powers, and the old tribes found themselves surrounded by powers and spirits they had not known since the Dreamtime. It was pure, too, in a way that signified some ancient difference in this ancient people: While the Awakening tore through the bodies of white people on the coasts, ripping them apart and reconstituting them as Orcs, Trolls and Elves, almost no Aboriginal person Awoke as a metahuman. Instead they just … Awoke. Shamans, mages, adepts … every tribe and family suddenly found themselves suffused with the knowledge of the Dreamtime, and the spirits of that time walked the deserts and scrublands where once stockmen and mining companies had their way.

Jayden Roose Awoke in this time, and found answers to questions that had always bothered him. Jayden was a knockabout man, a typical country bloke making his way in this new rough and ready world. He left school … sometime back then … and since then has worked where and how he can: driving cars and trucks for mining companies, helicopters on the big stations, pearl diving in the summer and sometimes working as a tourist guide or a hunter when times were lean. He worked offshore at the crumbling, rusting gas rigs, and then in the dry season moved to Darwin to work as a security guard at clubs and brothels, sometimes mixing in with gangsters or providing private security to the shadier visitors to that wild northern city. Over time he became better at these security jobs, an almost supernatural sense of danger working to protect him even in gangland ambushes or when tense negotiations went wrong. He also found a natural affinity for working with knives, and despite only peripheral involvement with criminal gangs and martial arts teachers across the Top End he found himself an expert in knife fighting, faster and deadlier than almost any non-augmented man around him, even people with many years’ more combat experience. People put it down to his natural affinity as a sporstman, but he was never sure.

In between his knockabout jobs Jayden returned to his tribal home in an inland town, and in those long months of furloughed time he would play a lot of footy. Here too he excelled compared to his peers – people wondered how he could leap so high for the marks, and why he was never seriously hurt no matter how hard the collisions or how vicious the tackle. With his almost prescient ability to judge others’ movement, his seeming immunity to damage, and his powerful leaps, he soon became a valued player in the wild scrubland melees of local pick-up footy matches, and in the local league that his team routinely topped. People said he was just a natural … but he always wondered. And then he Awoke, and discovered that he was an Adept, some kind of spirit-walker who had always had some connection to a deeper well of spiritual power, something he never felt or believed but suddenly understood fully and could use to his advantage. Suddenly he understood how his life had been blessed with the foreshadowing of this power, and he also realized that he had been guided in his travels, to some extent, by a mentor spirit. Wherever he traveled he was never too far from that symbolic Northern bird, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, and now he understood that that feeling of assured confidence he had walked with was not just his own youthful arrogance, but a greater power that had selected him to watch over. His sixth sense for danger, his ability to dodge that backstab or that unexpected kick, to duck just when that man opened fire as the drug deal turned south … it wasn’t just luck, or a steely eye – something soared above him, and in those moments he saw everything around him as if from a great height, through steely predator’s eyes. He was blessed with the mentor spirit of the wild raptors of the North, walking on ground newly sacred, bearing an ancient power in his long black limbs.

This ancient power that Awoke in the Red Centre soon began to tear Australia apart. The spirits of the Dreamtime were back and many of them were angry. Australia’s sclerotic political system, so insufficient for the task of grappling with the 21st century, was completely incapable of dealing with the Sixth World. Connections between states and cities frayed, long-standing political truces collapsed, and the distant lands of the Top End and the far west began to spin away from central control. The lands that Jayden knew from his youth reverted to a wilder, more primal state, and his people began to return – many against their will – to a way of life that some had long pined for, and just as many had forgotten. For Jayden, part of his tribe but not close to it, used to wandering the byways of both tribal and corporate culture, it was all too much. He took one more journey, and this time he ended up in New Horizon, watched over now by the city’s sea eagles, hungry for work, dislocated and looking for new things. New adventures in the shadows now not of a crumbling colony, but a collapsing megalopolis…

Jayden is an unprepossessing man. Simply dressed, with dark skin and the typical wide, cheerful facial features of an Aboriginal man, he looks like nothing special or especially imposing. He moves with a certain unaffected grace, and acts with the confidence of a man who knows he can get out of any spot no matter how tight, but years of rough work and rough sleeping have cleansed him of any belief that he is special or unique or that any great fate awaits him. He is uneducated, simple, rough and pure: what he wants to do he does, and he associates only with people he cares about. He has little care for money and few ideals, though he will not do anything especially criminal or immoral unless the target of his wrath is another, worse criminal. He wears rough jeans and simple linen or cotton collared shirts, usually under a stockman’s coat that is old, dusty and lined with kevlar. He carries a wicked knife that has carried him through many fights, and somewhere inside that coat a plain pistol with no pretensions to grandeur or any kind of Street Samurai heritage – but which has seen more than its share of blood spilled. Laconic, relaxed and simple, his manner puts those around him at ease quickly, and his relaxed, easy style and languid grace hide a deadly seriousness of purpose when the fighting starts. Why be a man of many words, when a few strokes of the knife can tell the whole story? And why waste words on strangers, when a warm smile and an easy hand can smooth over any awkwardness? With this unpretentious and uncomplicated style, Jayden will make a new life in New Horizon – or die trying.

She'll tear your heart out, and store up the pain for next time

She’ll tear your heart out, and store up the pain for next time

With the Spiral Confederacy campaign rolling to a close my regular gaming group is about to embark on a new campaign in a setting called Undriel, using a variant of World Of Darkness rules with Ars Magica type magical system. Undriel is high fantasy with a strong flavouring from Irish folklore. This is my character for the new campaign.

Xenobia was born the second daughter of a noble family in Garias, that rich and fated kingdom on the shores of the western isle that is rumoured to have had a long dalliance with dark magic and the Fomori. The particular name of her noble family is of no matter, because she has been cast out from them. Raised with the expectation that she would marry young, promised to a much older man in a marriage of convenience and politics, Xenobia rebelled against her gilded cage and ran away from home in her teens. Tricked by a handsome, mysterious older man from a lower-ranked family, she was lured into eloping with him with promises of adventure and love. Finding herself alone in his remote and cold mountain castle, she slowly began to lose her confidence and her happiness, as he set about systematically degrading and debasing her. Finally she discovered that all of the abuses and cruelties he visited upon her were part of a great ritual, in which he intended to break her innocence and then sacrifice her life on a dark altar to some great evil. At the last she slew him, but the backwash of dark magical energies released in his ineffectual and incomplete ritual washed over her and cursed her, soaking into her so that she suddenly became magically endowed.

Unfortunately this magical awakening was not a pleasant one. Stillborn in a dark ritual interrupted by murder and flight, her magical powers manifested themselves as necromancy and death magic. Xenobia is cursed so that she cannot easily cast any magic that is not based on death, fear, pain and darkness[1] – she is an unwilling necromancer. She can destroy flesh, conjure the spirits of the dead to fight for her, shroud herself in shadows and drive her enemies away in fear, but in order to heal an ally or to conjure a light spell she must suffer the pain in her own flesh. Over time Xenobia came to understand this curse, and during her sojourn in the lonely tower she crafted two magic items to help in her work. One, the burnt eye socket of her cremated former lover, stores damage or essence that she drains from others, that she can use it to restore wounds or injuries in herself or her allies; the other, a battered necklace of emerald, stores the pain she causes to others as a flash of light inside the gem, which she can then call upon the next time she casts a non-necromantic spell. By unleashing this stored pain she can, for that one spell, avoid the penalty of her curse. But if she does not harm others, she cannot store their pain, and must instead suffer that pain herself.

Xenobia has long since been cut off from her family, but she has retained the resources her dead lover had hoarded to himself, including his tower in the remote mountains of Garias. She carries herself still as a noblewoman, dressing elegantly and in the latest fashions and always acting with the etiquette and formality her status demands of her. Those who spend time in her company might notice that she lacks some of the airs and accomplishments of her fellow noble ladies, having missed finishing school and the finer lessons of court life while she wrestled with her curse and the awakening of her powers. Xenobia is also scarred, one side of her face permanently damaged by fire; every moon she casts a spell to renew the perfection of her appearance, and uses make up in the latest courtly fashions to ensure she remains perfect in form. When she casts her dark magics that scar briefly shows through the transformed flesh, revealing the ugliness beneath her courtly demeanour. However, aside from those times when she must hide away to recast the spell, Xenobia is to all outward appearance a normal minor noblewoman. She is pretty, young, slim and small, physically unopposing and apparently mostly harmless. This apparent weakness enables her to insinuate herself into positions where her rougher companions might not go – and belies the ferocious, destructive and unsettling nature of the magic that she carries into battle with her.

Xenobia travels the lands of Undriel seeking a cure for her curse, and a renewed purpose to carry her life forward now that she has been cursed with magic. Will she find that purpose, or will the dark nature of her magic overwhelm her, and draw her into the same evil that consumed her ex-lover? Only the Gods can know …


fn1: Manifesting in game terms as a 3 point flaw that causes her to suffer wounds, increased difficulty or greater spell use costs if her spell does not have one of these features, with the costs growing with the essence cost of the spell.

Save

Naevia contemplates a Scourging

Naevia contemplates a Scourging

My group has started a Fate short campaign that we’re calling Magica Romae, a campaign set in the Roman era with light magic. I missed the first session, in Gaul, with undead; my character joins on the second. She is Naevia the Holy, once a Vestal Virgin who finished her 30 years of service with distinction, became a patrician landowner in Rome, and now is traveling to Gaul with her retinue on some kind of secret business, probably in service of the Vestal Virgins.

Vestal Virgins are a group of six women, recruited between the age of 6 and 10, who are charged with maintaining the sacred Fire of Vesta, and who are punished brutally for allowing it to be extinguished or for sullying their virgin status. They served for 30 years, and after retirement could own property and vote, unlike the majority of women in Roman life. During their service they were charged with many tasks and entrusted with many responsibilities, and enjoyed a reputation for purity and trustworthiness. Naevia was selected at 8, served to 38, and is 42 at the time of the campaign; she has spent the last 4 years since her retirement building up political connections and power in the city, and maintains a connection to the College of the Vestals and to the other Vestal Alumni. It is through these connections that she finds herself on a mission to Gaul.

Naevia, being a Vestal, has magical powers related to healing, protection and divination, though she deploys them sparingly and as much as possible avoids using them for her own benefit. She prefers to exercise temporal rather than supernatural power, and is usually accompanied by a retinue of servants and bodyguards who act on her behalf. In Rome she usually travels incognito, avoiding public displays of her presence, since people who recognize her will tend to make a big fuss at her presence. Naevia is a short, slender woman with tumbling dark hair and somewhat coarse features, marred by childhood illness, but she has a rich, commanding voice and the natural charisma of a woman used to being listened to. Her eyes are remarkable: deep violet pools with a strange power of fascination over lesser people. Naevia is not an actor or a seductress – she deals with people honestly and in the frank and direct manner of a woman entrusted with many spiritual responsibilities and great wisdom.

Naevia does not usually have to deal with others, though, for her extensive retinue deal with most daily irritants. While traveling in Gaul, her retinue consists of the following people.

  • The Lictor Curiatus: Naevia’s chief bodyguard, Rufus Faustus Varro, a dour 30-something pleb elevated to lictor status and entrusted with guarding dignitaries on foreign duties, is an old friend of Naevia’s from her travels in the latter half of her period of service. He is only a little taller than her, squat, heavily muscled and heavily scarred, dressed in traditional Roman field armour but armed with an outlandish German axe. He seems to spend much of his time lazing around, drinking wine and directing the guards, but he also appears to be Naevia’s confidante and final executor of her will. It is rumoured that he is her lover, but he scoffs at such rumours – after he has soundly scourged the fool who uttered them.
  • The Illyrian Scourge: Naevia’s retinue includes four bodyguards, freed gladiator slaves originally from Illyria, who are fiercely loyal to her and Rufus Faustus Varro. These four men are whip-thin, lean, tall, blonde-haired men with wild eyes and fast fists. They never speak, and it is generally accepted that their tongues were removed before they entered Naevia’s service. Rumour has it that she personally imposed upon the authorities to pardon them of their crimes and put them in her service; darker rumours suggest witchbonds they cannot break. There is little point in asking the Scourge their opinion, since they cannot speak and are quick to do violence to those who impugn their vestal sister.
  • The maid: Known only as “the Greek”, Naevia’s maid accompanies her on all her travels, and is never far from her side. The Greek is a luscious young woman from Greece, a lascivious creature made entirely of curves, tumbling dark hair, and flirtatious looks and touches. Aged perhaps in her late teens or early twenties, the Greek is everything Naevia is not: wanton, cheerful, sexual, and extremely shy. She is also rumoured to be Naevia’s preferred assassin, the tool Naevia uses on unsuspecting local lords to work her most vicious wiles, trained in some cruel Macedonian fastness in all the secret tricks of poison and blade. Challenged on such stories, the Greek will demur and blush, and hide behind her indulgent mistress. How could one so innocent and shy be mistaken for anything except a simple maid?
  • The accountant: Lazy, wine-sodden, cynical old Gnaeus Paterculus Flaccus, known to one and all as Flacco, is rarely far from Naevia’s retinue and almost never at her side. He cares for her money and worldly affairs, keeping careful track of her holdings and earnings, helping her to buy oddities and trade goods during her travels, and keeping her informed of the latest machinations of the councils to which she is not invited. Flacco has a penchant for young boys, though none would consider it a weakness, and is rumoured to have bedded the serving boys and slaves of almost every noble family in Rome and its most important satellites; whether he does this for his own pleasure, or to maintain a complex web of spies and eavesdroppers, is a matter of much debate. Certainly though, everyone agrees that over his long life he has elevated those of his boy lovers who served him well to positions of high status, while those who disappoint or betray him have inevitably disappeared. Darker rumours suggest that in amongst his books and ledgers he keeps another, secret ledger that records the fate of all those who serve him. But how could such a silly old accountant accrue such power, and why would he end up in service to one as noble as Naevia the Holy?
  • The Hag: Known universally as just “her”, the Hag has her own wagon and supplies, and attends Naevia’s retinue almost as if she were wilfully pursuing the younger woman, rather than a servant. Sometimes she and her blind dwarven manservant, Puggus, will disappear for days, rejoining the retinue at some later point and giving no account of their deeds. Naevia and the Hag almost never speak, meet or even make eye contact, and for much of their journey together Naevia appears blissfully ignorant of her presence, but occasionally they will draw together for counsel and scheming. Rumour has it that the Hag is an old and disgraced vestal virgin, who was sentenced to be buried alive for her transgressions but was somehow rescued by a young man who she subsequently ate. Others say she is Naevia’s grandmother, or actually a Siren or Medusa who has joined Naevia’s retinue for her own reasons. Some whisper that Naevia needs the hag as a tool to cast dark magics, which are outside of Vesta’s pantheon but almost certainly within Naevia’s power. If anyone knows the secret of the Hag, they do not speak of it. Only a fool would meddle in the affairs of such a sinister crone.

This retinue, and a few hapless slaves dragged along for the duration, came as far as Gaul with Naevia. Unfortunately they were separated in heavy weather, and attacked by Gauls. When the adventure starts Naevia is a captive of these Gauls, and her retinue struggling to catch up and free her. If only fate would deliver unto her some heroes who could free her, and help her in her secret mission …

Beyond the stix ...

Beyond the stix …

I’m all alone
Matter and shadow
In the darkflow
Treading deep waters
Searching for the shore
Waiting for the dawn to come

– Catechism of the Tomb Masters of Duat

Duat is a small desert planet on the Frontier. Its two big oceans frame one huge continent that appears to be all sand and stone. Only along its huge fresh water rivers can one find any flora or fauna. The rivers, especially the huge delta close to the southern ocean, serve as the source for almost all life on the Planet and are the wellspring of its civilization. Duat is a tomb planet: Many powerful kings and emperors from wealthier neighbouring planets choose it as their burial ground. Artefacts prove it has played this role for millennia. The religion of Duat is ancient and deeply connected to a concept of the Afterlife that is shared across several star systems, and the people of Duat see their planet as a gateway to the Underworld and their Gods as the gatekeeper and guardians of this sacred realm of shadows.

Duat always had great Architects, Stonemasons and Artisans, but also lots of slaves. These slaves were residents of other planets who had been sentenced to death, as well as locals who couldn’t raise their status, rebellious slaves, or political dissidents. However, like all slave systems this arrangement eventually crumbled. About a millennium ago the locals revolted against the out-world lords. In the struggles a local queen rose to power and rallied all of Duat under her Banner, as she was believed to be sent by the Gods. She was said to rule over the living, where the Gods rule over the dead and the spirits. After a long and costly war, she was acknowledged by the out-worlders as the Queen of the Dead – showing how little the ones who chose this planet as their graveyard know about its people.

And so Duat got its first queen and rightful leader in written history, and the dynasty of the God-Monarchs began. Under the rule of the God-Kings and God-Queens the tech-level rose quickly and slavery receded until only off-world prisoners and local pariahs were categorized as slaves. After Duat reached a certain Tech Level through its own efforts, and with a little help from artifacts from off-worlders, the Confederation decided to establish contact. In a short period the now frontier-planet has changed a lot, under confederate law. The God-Queen is a just some kind of mascot in the eyes of the Confederation. But her worshippers still would rise against all of the universes at her command. Nowadays Duat is still famous for its architects, stonemasons and artisans. It is also considered highly fashionable and a sign of great status to get one’s tomb built in the Deserts of Duat. The tombs along the Rivers are only for Queens and Kings, but more tombs have been opened inland and the funerary business is now thriving. With the opening of the space ports lots of grave robbers rushed to Duat to try their luck in the old pyramids – to collect sowme rare artifacts. Those who get caught face the death penalty by local law.

There are rumors that the sudden Tech Level rise – as well as some of the astonishing architectural designs of some tombs – was influenced by some very powerful AI, which hides in one of the many hidden tombs (which is also why there are quite some confederated sponsored “grave robbers”). Others suggest that the rebellion of the original slave queen was fomented by Confederacy spies, and that certain magical traits of early priests of the afterlife who worked in her service may actually have been the work of Confederacy psions. Of course, this was all millenia ago now, so no one knows anymore what happened. But is it not a good thing that slavery was ended and a planet uplifted?

Recently the queen disbanded her esteemed Queensguard, which was a big surprise for all on- and off-world, and was taken by the Confederacy’s leadership as a sign of her commitment to intergalactic morals.

Bleeding across the sky
A purpose that’s gone awry
A dubious reckoning
Don’t fade away

– Motto of the disbanded Queensguard

Ahmose Inhapi

The Queensguard

The Queensguard

Home Planet: Duat

Sex: Female

Age: Unknown

Height: 186cm

Weight: 75kg

Éyes: Green

Hair: Black

Ahmose Inhapi was born on Duat just around the time the confederation laws were fully enacted and uplift completed, even though she certainly looks younger than that. She was born an orphan, her mother died giving birth and her father a month before. Her family had traditional positions as servants and guards in the household of the Queens and Kings. Her grandfather would often tell her stories about life before the confederation made contact, about the glories of a free world and the rightful place of their God-Queen. Her grandma on the other hand made sure to point out that all is better since the Confederacy uplifted them and made them wealthy.

Her parents were proud and famous soldiers with a fine reputation among the court. She followed their footsteps and she entered the queens-guard at a very young age, after she served as a servant in her childhood. However, a few years ago the queen sent her guards out, to explore the universe and bring knowledge and warnings of danger back to Duat. They are officially disbanded, but the truth is they were never released from their oath, neither that taken to the queen, nor Duat and surely not to the Gods.

At the gates of the underworld ...

At the gates of the underworld …

As one of those guards dispatched to the universe, Ahmose had to make a choice of directions. Others of the queens guard joined the confederate military, some servants joined big corporations. Ahmose decided to learn all about and connect to the world of rogues, Pirates, thieves and smugglers. She joined a pirate vessel to get off world and get to know space. She spent a lot of time with the crew, tried to connect to get all the contacts and information she needs. But once she decided that she had learned enough about travelling in space to make it on her own, she left the Pirates. She won’t serve someone else except her queen! So she decided that, if she wants to keep her journey going, she must be captain of her own vessel. But from her time with the pirates she knows that, to explore the universe, you need a crew you can trust.

Now, it s time to get herself a ship and a crew…

Tyrant, Lancer and captured Rev-heads en scene

Tyrant, Lancer and captured Rev-heads en scene

One of the members of my regular gaming group is thinking of running a one-off set in the world of Mad Max, probably hacking the Fate rules. I don’t know how the Fate rules work but I’m very excited to consider gaming in Mad Max’s crazed world. So here are a few ideas for character classes (or archetypes, if that’s too narrow a concept) that might make sense in that world. They’re designed in terms of what might be thier core attributes, skills and types of special powers or feats. The archetypes are all based on people you meet in Mad Max 2-4, and examples are given in square brackets after the archetype name.

  • Road Warrior [Mad Max, Furiosa, Warrior Woman]: The quintessential loner good at everything. A capable driver not great at stunts, the Road Warrior is also a capable melee fighter and shooter. The Road Warrior’s primary trait is her level of comfort on moving vehicles: for a Road Warrior the moving back of a car is as stable a platform for combat as the solid earth of the desert, and she suffers no penalties or disadvantages fighting atop a moving vehicle – the only way to shake her loose is to change the momentum of her car. Because the road warrior has to make it in a wild and dangerous world on his own, he has to be good at a lot of things and often isn’t the match of his opponents at any one of them. He makes up for this with a healthy reserve of cunning and luck, as if the world had a narrative that favoured him …
  • Rev-head [Warboys, Hedgehogs, the Rock Riders]:Rev-heads are the quintessential stunt drivers of the Fury Road. They aren’t great fighters or shooters, specializing in only one form of attack, but this is because their main job is delivery – they get the Road Warriors and Polecats where they need to be. Rev-heads are also technically adept, because they need to fix their rigs on the run.
  • Polecat [Polecats]: Masters of acrobatics and close-fighting, the Polecat forms the boarding party of the wasted future. There is no vehicle too hard for them to get a purchase on, no high-speed chase that can confound their acrobatics, and no height or speed that can scare them. They don’t shoot, drive, speak or think: they leap, they smash, they grab.
  • Lancers [Warboys, some of the hedgehogs, crew of the tanker in Mad Max 2]: Lancers are the stalwarts of the convoy, the men and women at front and back whose job is the gunnery and long-range attack. Masters of heavy weapons, rifles, crossbows and spears, they don’t aim to get in close and fight, but to lay down the heavier defenses of the convoy so that the Polecats can get in and get the prize. Although they aren’t great drivers or athletes, they have a remarkable talent for escaping car crashes, and when they have the enemy in their sights they don’t feel the rough and tumble of the road …
  • Fliers [The Gyro Captain]: Fliers are rare and valued heroes of the future, patrolling the skies rather than the road. They can’t fight but they can fly, they have no fear of heights, excellent perception and an acuity for technology and the weather. Those little gyro-copters aren’t particularly stable either, so Fliers tend to have a great deal of luck…
  • Scamp [The Feral Kid]: People grow up early in the wasteland, and they don’t all get ahead by fighting and killing. Some make it through luck, wits, stealth and cunning. Most of the wasteland’s thieves and spies don’t make it to adulthood, which is why the majority of the ones you see are feral, scuttling kids. They can’t fight, but good luck catching them, or even seeing them …
  • Breeders [The Wives]: Breeders are rare gems in the wasteland, humans of perfect purity and beauty who are somehow immune to the corrupting effects of the Collapse. Perfect in every way, their genetic advantage isn’t just reflected in exceptional beauty: they also have better senses, and their minds are unaffected by decay and deformity, giving them a rare insight into the true nature of the world. They are highly sought after by every community in the wasteland, and they know how to use their beauty to deceive, distract and confuse. Breeders can be male or female!
  • Tyrants [Toecutter, Humungus, Aunty Entity, Imortan Joe, the People Eater, the Bullet Farmer – my, there are quite a lot of these aren’t there!]: Tyrants are the leaders of the wasteland, so-named because there is no nice way to rule in a world without water, food or mercy. They know what makes men and women tick, and they know how to use it to their advantage. They may not be great in battle, or even able to to fight at all, but they have a remarkable ability for channeling others’ cruelty and ambitions to their own ends. Through intimidation, inspiration, cunning and plain old good luck they get everything they want every time … until their luck runs out.
  • Organic Mechanic [The Organic Mechanic]: The doctors of the future, though there is almost nothing in the future that they can prevent or treat, except physical injury. Lacking the bedside manner of modern physicians, they make up for it with a refined taste in cruelty and an ingenuity for the use and misuse of human frailties. In addition to rough and ready methods for preserving the injured, the halt and the lame, Organic Mechanics also have a remarkable talent for jury-rigging primitive cybernetics and bio-enhancements so that their charges can keep fighting and dying. Why waste good organics? Or any?
  • Tech-heads [Master, Mechanic]: They can’t fight, they’re probably physically deformed, and they aren’t usually very pleasant, but you can’t go anywhere without them, so there they are in every messed-up community and hole in the ground between here and the salt flats. Give a tyrant a mechanic and a pool of water, and she’ll have a “community” built on cruelty, pig-shit and petrol within a month.
  • Brutes [Blaster, Rictus Erectus]: Possessed of the two greatest physical attributes one can enjoy in the wasteland – excessive physical strength and dim wits – the Brute is the last line of defense of every tyrant and petty dictator ever to rule the sand. Once the warboys are done, the rev-heads are burning and scattered, and the forces of disaster are closing in, every corrupt has this final suicidal mutant giant to deploy as he or she scuttles out the back door. Slow, stupid, impossibly loyal and invincible – what’s not to like?

In this list I haven’t included Savants like the children in Beyond Thunderdome or mobile archers like the Vulvalini, either because they don’t seem to be playable or because they’re really just the name for a specific clan of other types of characters. But I think this makes for a fairly comprehensive list of mad archetypes for a mad world. Have I missed any …?

Really? That's the only camera?

Really? That’s the only camera?

If you are going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance

– Inuit proverb

Drew stared, blank-eyed, at the doctor. He was watching her intently, probably thinking his expression meant something to her, but to him he was just the same as all the rest. A man, not old enough to be distinguishable by the patterns of his flab and baldness, not young enough to be noticeable for his physique or style. Just a man. The same as the one she refused to speak to yesterday? She wasn’t sure. The white coat didn’t help. In any case, she had decided to speak to this one, so she needed to appear affable.

Drew put on her affable face. He spoke.

“Let’s start with your name. It isn’t actually DRU, is it?” He pronounced her name separately by each letter. Cute.

“No. That isn’t how you say it. It’s Drew.”

“But that isn’t your actual name is it? You can’t call yourself after your unit designation.”

“How do you know my unit designation?” She arched up, suspicious. How much did these people know about her?

“It was on your lapels when we found you. ‘Dedicated Retribution Unit 471.’ But that’s not your name, just your designation.”

She sniffed. “Same thing. Anyway, everyone calls me Drew.” Threw a huffy kind of shrug at him.

“Very well Drew. But that’s not your actual name. I would like an identity by which I can refer to you, something that speaks about your place in the world. So can you tell me your name?”

Clearly, Drew thought, they must be going around in circles here. Why are people so stupid? “That is my name, and I think it tells you everything you need to know about me. I’m Drew. Nice to meet you. Who are you?” She arched an eyebrow in what she hoped was a pointed manner.

“Hmm. Let’s make a deal, okay?” She recognized daddy-talk, or big-brother-talk, like he thought he was going to con her with some false authority. Did he not know what she was? She was used to authority, she carried 35 rounds of it in a bullpup-configured light assault carbine, or 10 rounds of it in a high-powered FinnArms Stalker. Not-yet-middle-aged corporate doctors did not carry authority, they carried a badge. “You tell me your name, and I’ll tell you mine.” Smug face, like he’d just pulled the biggest con of the century.

“Drew. Pleased to meet you.” Humour! Zing! She wanted to hold out her hand for effect, but the plastic zip-ties kind of threw that out the window. Also, she was getting a little sharp here, she needed to dull it down. So probably just as well. She made sure to slur her next words. “‘N who’re you?”

As usual, her sass drew a sigh. What is it with Men Of A Certain Age not being able to handle a girl who talks back? Pindicks or something. “Drew … that’s not your name. I want to know your real name, so we have something solid here, you know?”

She sighed too. “Okay Doc. I had a real name, but it died, alright? When my friend ‘Lenie died and all I had left of her was her bracelet, I took it down to the ice. You haven’t been to the ice, right? It’s there on the shore in late spring, still there but all slushy and mashing against itself, makes this kind of grating sound. I threw ‘Lenie’s bracelet into the ice and when I said goodbye, and when I did I threw my name away too. Since then I just used whatever name was useful, but when I joined the squad they all called me Drew, so Drew it is.” She turned plaintive little girls eyes on him, just for a moment. “Can you please just call me Drew?” She asked in a small voice.

“Okay … Drew.” He sat down again. “Nice to meet you.” Brotherly wink. Sure you mean it doc, sure. “So, I want to ask you some questions, first, about what happened at Tunguska.”

“I don’t know!” She blurted, almost too quickly. “I got shot. Or something.” Slumped back, huffy. What had happened?

For the first time, the doctor turned on the screen on the wall. Grainy footage appeared. He shuffled it. Angles changed, vision cleared. There was the tower she’d been sent to. She’d been inside, level 3, but the tower she could see was a mess, level 3 up was a smoking wreck. A body hanging out of the window must have been … was that Armoured Angel, their heavy weapons guy? Were her whole team dead? Maybe not, because she could see a gaggle of corporate troops at the base of the tower, in that classic huddle of squaddies getting ready to storm a room. She didn’t remember any of this…

The doctor hit play. This was drone footage so there was no sound, but she saw the guys geeing themselves up to go in, then a charge went off and the door came open. The first guy moved to enter the door, but blew back, shot maybe. Then the screen went kind of blurry and the men started falling down. The screen paused.

“How did you do that?” the doctor asked her, sounding kind of impressed. Do what?

“I’m not there,” she pointed out reasonably. “What are you talking about?”

He rewound a little. “You’re there. Can’t you see?”

“No, it’s just kind of misty.”

“That’s blood and smoke. Here, let me slow it down.” He switched to freeze frame. Moment by moment, she watched the men’s deaths unfold. First the guy who’d been barrelling for the door, blown back by a single shot in the face. Then the man on the left of the door, vision still obscured by smoke, fell back in confusion, fell over. On his other side, the demolitions guy died in a flagrant head shot. Whatever was shooting them was carrying something small but very powerful. But the third guy went down from the thigh, looked like a lot of blood from a deep cut. The fourth guy was just starting to react, maybe, and he didn’t die, went back as if he’d been tripped, and his gun ripped away. Three more of the team went down in an arc of auto fire from that guy, one of them their heavy weapons support, hit by maybe five or six bullets in the chest and head. Now that the smoke was clearing Drew could see a kind of figure moving through the dust and smoke, small and lithe, carrying that guy’s assault rifle in one hand and rippers extending from the other. It was hard to see in blurry drone footage through smoke, but there was definitely a ghost figure in there, moving through the cadre. They fell apart behind her, like a piece of ocean-caught maguro being sliced carefully open by an expert chef.

Was that … her?

Behind her, three men burst out of the empty doorway and headed away. She recognized Jesus’s slight limp, Ragged Jerry with his shotgun, and Magnum, huge and hulking but obviously badly hurt. Magnum maybe paused to look back at her but they obviously weren’t messing around, they were lighting out for the hills.

It was her. How had she done that?

“I … ” she watched in confusion.

“Let me play it again.” The doctor hit shuffle, it went back to the start, she watched herself butcher her way through the team again. This time she definitely saw herself in that small, lithe figure, but she was moving so fast.

The Russian Gear. She’d bought it in Vladivostok before the mission. Told no one. It … itched … in her for a few days, then settled down. Of course she hid the operating scars. None of her team knew about it. But they must know now, after they saw that.

“Are they alive!?” she demanded, tearing up. Magnum had dragged her out of that shelled tank back in the Indo zone, kissed her face and cried when they got on the AV in Calcutta and saw the size of their payment. Ragged Jerry always beat her at cards and sneered, but always volunteered for her team. And Jesus, always laughing and joking and looking sidelong at the future like it was just there, waiting for him to grab it and make it stand still …

“As far as we know they got away from the zone before the response was organized. You were the only captive.” The video played on behind her, a classic tableau of last-ditch defending. Taking cover, using up ammo, charging, getting knocked down … except it all happened at breathtaking speed, and finished when she fell, exhausted, to one knee, and just sat there shattered as they smashed her in the head with their rifle butts.

“I don’t know how I did that,” she said slowly. Looked at him. “Do you?” Don’t mention the Russians…

“No,” said the doctor, handing her a tissue and sitting down. “But here’s the thing, Drew … it’s not possible that you can hold the cyberware required to do that, and still be human. We’ve done the tests, and we have a clear diagnosis of cyberpsychosis.” He sat back, steepling his fingers like he thought this was something she might be scared of.

“Really?” She said in a small voice. She’d always cut it fine, but always thought she was staying the human side of … that. She wasn’t scared of cyberpsychosis, but she was definitely scared of what the corporations did about it. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, we are.” He sighed and did that Concerned Uncle voice that men did when they thought she couldn’t understand the gravity of simple words, and needed to be patronized. “So we don’t have many choices here, Drew. You know what happens to cyberpsychotics. But we have a treatment we are going to try on you. It’ll stop your psychosis, but we’ll have to remove all your cyberware.”

She didn’t react, looked at him calmly. Her affable face fell off, replaced with … nothing. Take her cyberware? Make her … meat? She wasn’t ever going to go back to … meat. ‘Lenie had been … meat. Back when Drew was … meat. She was not going back to that. Cattle, like she and ‘Lenie had been. She had gone from sheep to wolf. They weren’t sending her back to that.

She watched coldly as he stood up from behind the desk, so sure of his diagnosis and his corporate power. “We’ll talk again tomorrow Drew,” he said affably, “See what kind of agreement we can come to about removing your cyberware. You can’t go on with this much boosting and hope to stay human. We have to take it out.” He walked to the door, seemingly incapable of noticing the gravity of the cold stare Drew was giving him. “See you tomorrow.”

Drew knew all about Men Of A Certain Age and their feelings about how much say women should have over their own bodies. She had seen it all before, and vowed never to see it again. She watched him walk out of the door, watched as it slid shut behind him, and as she waited for the guards to come, she started calculating.

Time passed.

How do you count the passage of time when you are in an empty space? Drew sat in a tiny white cell, with a bed and a separate toilet, and waited to be dragged down a pristine white tiled hallway to another pristine white, tiled room. She had a small cot with white sheets, a tiny window she couldn’t reach, no books or screens or vids. All she could do was wait. And think.

Drew was not good at thinking. She had never counted thinking to be a particularly useful talent. Running, fighting, hiding, knowing when to give in – they were useful talents. Thinking just made you angry, so Drew didn’t usually think – she acted. But in this white room she very quickly realized action was not where it was at.

They were drugging her. Something in the food, she realized when they came to get her on the second day and she could barely fight them at all.

But she also realized there were no cameras in her little toilet (or maybe she assumed it). So after she ate she rushed in there and puked it up. She drank toilet water instead of what they gave her, and acted sluggish when they came for her. They’d put something on her cyberware that made her eyes fuzzy and slowed her boosting, but something was wrong with some part of it, because her rippers still worked. Just a bit – they didn’t come out fast and it was a lot of concentration, but she could get them out maybe one inch, which was enough to touch her zip-ties. She had noticed that there was maybe a two minute gap between when the guards dropped her trussed and sluggish into the doctor’s room, and when he arrived. And yesterday she noted 12 seconds – count them, 12 – between when he arrived and the door automatically locked.

She could feel that Russian ghost stirring in her. It was beyond the control of whatever they had stuck on her or in her to stop her cyberware. That Russian ghost was uncoiling, seething through her, demanding action.

She wasn’t resisting. They wanted her cyberware. They were going to get it.

It was the same formula the next day. Now was her third day without food, but what girl doesn’t go without food? Drew figured she had a few hours of action before she wore out, provided her Russian ghost didn’t sputter and die too soon. The guards came for her, assumed she was too deadbeat to resist, slapped her in zip ties and dragged her down the pristine white corridor. They dumped her in the chair – the one on her right took the time to give her a good feel, as he had done yesterday, while the one on her left, no doubt a good family man, looked the other way – and then left. This gave her two minutes to draw out her rippers and saw through the zip ties. They gave in in time, but she didn’t have confidence that she could secretly slice through her ankle shackles, and anyway the effort of pushing the rippers out against the cyberlock was really starting to drain her. So she waited, breathing calmly to recover her strength and trying to make contact with the Russian ghost.

She found it just as the doctor walked in. Twelve seconds is a lot of time for her Russian ghost, but she had no time to waste so she leapt over the desk and gouged his eyes out, then ducked into the hall. One last effort to push out the rippers and sever the leg shackles, then down the hallway looking for her captors. She found them in a room in the opposite direction from her cell, running into the hallway carrying electric batons. From behind her she could hear the faint screams of her blinded doctor, which maybe had alerted her two guards (if they hadn’t seen the CCTV). She was flat against the wall when they came out, and Family Man didn’t know what hit him. The other guy spent a little bit of time acquainting himself with exactly what had hit him, but she didn’t have time for the details, not here and now. Having done the best she could, she moved on, keys in hand, cyberlock removed.

She got out. It was fun, mostly, though she was hungry and strung out. Her one regret was that cyberpsych. She had been forced to leave him alive, but blinded. No time to go back.

The rest of his profession would have to make up for it.

She never found out who was holding her, though she assumes now it was Arasaka. They were probably looking at turning a nice profit from all her cyberware, and now that she knows what Arasaka is up to she thinks maybe she would have been an experimental prototype for the Full Body Replacement (FBR) troops parading around New Horizon now. No matter, she’s free, and she’s not going back into “treatment.” Let them try and take her …

 

Footnote1: This is the story of Drew’s transition from corporate soldier to renegade solo, after she was captured in a suicidal defense of her troop at the Tunguska intervention.

Footnote2: I have no idea if the opening proverb is actually an Inuit proverb – it’s just a google search result – but it suits the story so I’m running with it.

 

Next Page »