Player Characters


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.

 

If the Autumn Bridge shakes in your bellows

Your every breath will be your last

For you must dredge the waters till the Just give up the Dead …

The sands of waters will make you clean

And you will hear the whispers beyond

I recently started playing in a short Malifaux campaign, with my regular group, that is intended to be a light-hearted relief from the dark and intense worlds we usually play in. You know you’re up to your neck in sinister gaming when Malifaux is light-hearted relief. The Malifaux RPG, Through the Breach, is an interesting and entertaining port of the Malifaux miniatures battle game to role-playing, and so far it has been a lot of fun. I am playing a character called Penitent Benny.

Were you seeking absolution?

Were you seeking absolution?

Penitent Benny was born in prison to a convict family, and has lived his whole life in prison, on the mundane side of the Breach. He was born before the Breach was opened, and in the world of his youth he was legally entitled to amnesty and freedom when he reached the age of 21. His whole teenage life in prison was lived in breathless anticipation of release at 21 into a world he had only ever heard about through rumour and prison gossip, but at 20 his one hope was snatched away from him: the Breach reopened, and the Guild discovered a sudden need for convicts to mine for soulstones in the new world. Benny’s release was cancelled and all children born into prison were doomed to stay in prison until they were fetched for labour beyond the Breach. Benny’s hopes for freedom destroyed, he was forced into the world of the adult prisons, and spent the next 10 years in the most brutal depths of the system, awaiting transportation.

With the reopening of the Breach many things changed in the world, and new religious movements formed. One of these, the Penitents of the Breach, saw the opening of the Breach as a consequence of humanity’s moral failings, and the use of soulstones as an abomination. They traveled the world scourging themselves to try and close the Breach through penitence, taking the whole world’s sins onto their own backs; and they also raided prisons and freed prisoners, in hopes of destroying the means of producing soulstones. Those prisoners they freed were killed or forcibly converted, and one day Benny found himself liberated to face this choice. Like most of his fellow prisoners he chose penitence, and for the next five years he too traveled the world, scourging himself, raiding prisons and “liberating” their inmates. But as time passed he found himself drawn to the Breach – his faith in penitence wavered, and in place of hatred he found a strange yearning for the mystical Breach. Eventually he left his Penitent sect, and traveled across the world to the Breach, looking for work on the other side. It is at the end of this journey, passing through the Breach, that Benny’s adventures began. Stepping onto the platform at Malifaux station, he felt himself a man reborn – purged of all the sins of his old world, scourged and free in the world whose existence had robbed him of his youth, and which had loomed threateningly over the last 15 years of his life. Repenant and scourged, Penitent Benny stood ready to face this new world and make himself anew.

Penitent Benny is a tall, powerful man in his late thirties, completely incapable of hiding his past. He dresses in leather chaps and wears only a harness over his torso, leaving most of his upper body bare to the elements. He is covered in prison tattoos, already fading, but over these tattoos are another layer of penitent tattoos, carved in complex lines in sepia and black. These tattoos are complex patterns of masks, tomes, crows and rams. His back is covered in a huge tattoo of a two-headed ram, carved in exquisite detail by one of the master tattooists of the Penitents and overlaid with subtle patterns of masks and crows. His back ripples with old scars, the visible and permanent marks of his many years of scourging, and the rest of his body bears the scars of years of hard prison life. His face is plain and scarred, topped by a mohican of red and a shaved skull decorated with subtle sepia tattoos. His prison number is tattooed on his arm and behind his ear, and past owner’s names on his inner thighs. Penitent Benny wants for nothing because he needs nothing, and has never known riches. He travels light, carrying only two bowie knives strapped to his harness, and a long and vicious spear that has a ring of rat’s heads hanging from coloured threads near the blade.

Despite his ferocious and outlandish appearance, Penitent Benny is blessed with a modicum of charm, rough and blunt though he might be. He speaks in the portentous semi-poetic absolutes of the fervent believer, and has the confidence of a man who cannot fall further, but will not bend or buckle. This gives him powers of leadership in moments of strife and conflict, though he is not the kind of man one would send to haggle over the price of beans, nor would one entrust one’s daughter to him. However, in a land of struggle and death, people naturally look to a man of Penitent Benny’s character and appearance for inspiration and leadership, and in his own rough and uneducated way he can sometimes provide it.

Penitent Benny’s class is Criminal, and he focuses on stealth and melee combat. His primary expertise skills are in medicine and wilderness skills such as tracking, so his character vision doesn’t quite match his pursuit, but this is of little matter at this stage in our campaign. Benny’s Resilience and Tenacity are terrible, indicative of his inability to remain penitent or to avoid the lure of the Breach. He survives primarily on his Cunning and his Might, and although he isn’t stupid he doesn’t really care to think things through so much. Penitent Benny likes to fight and to make strong declarations. Subtlety is for prison administrators and accountants, both of whom are best found at the bitter end of Penitent Benny’s well-used spear.

Penitent Benny is an ideal man to carve out a new world in the wilderness of the land beyond the Breach. He does not look back, and has nothing to lose, and what he lacks in bravery or toughness he makes up for in brashness and aggression. An ideal ally to have in front of you, but no one to rely on when the chips are down, because he has never known anything in life except thinking about himself and staying alive from day to day. Unfortunately for our little group of outlaws, he is the only one with any charm or leadership ability. To what ugly scourging will Benny attempt to lead his little band of misfits …?

Because of reasons, Drew and Pops don't pay their hotel bills

Because of reasons, Drew and Pops don’t pay their hotel bills

I don’t know what you’re doing here
When there’s murder on the street
I appreciate your concern
But don’t waste your time on me
I’m ashes on the water now
Somewhere far away

Dedicated Retribution Unit 471 (Involuntarily Demobilized), known colloquially as the Druid, is my character for an upcoming cyberpunk campaign. The Druid (who introduces herself as “Drew”) is a Solo on the path to recovery from a serious period of cyber-psychosis, who has formed a deep and tortured relationship with an ex-cop called John Hartigan. As a Solo she specializes in rifles and handguns, but her real fascination is cyberware:a fatal obsession that has seen her humanity degraded to the point that she has little remaining human warmth, or sense of her own worth. But this is during a state of recovery: during a particularly unfortunate corporate expedition she probably went cyber-psychotic, and was only saved for experimental purposes. Only Hartigan’s misguided mission to honour his dead daughter gives her any social connection at all.

The Tunguska Extraction

Don’t be surprised when daylight comes
To find that memory prick your thumbs
You’ll tell them where we run to hide
I’m already dead
It’s a matter of time

Things went wrong for the Druid in Tunguska. At the time she was working for a small New Horizon corp, a simple riflewoman in a squad sent to extract a geophysicist from some second-rate Russian mining interest. They spent a few days preparing in Vladivostok and the Druid, over-estimating her long-forgotten Russian, went cruising the fleshpots of the harbour looking for new cyberware to add to her increasingly humanity-rending collection. Some shady guy on the docks sold her what she thought was a simple adrenal boost, but either she misunderstood his explanations or he lied, because it wasn’t…

The Druid near the end

The Druid near the end

Unfortunately the extraction went badly wrong. Near the mining complex a Siberian separatist uprising had broken out, but the Druid’s corporation had not been notified by their informants. The team hit the complex well, secured their target, and were on their way out without major incident when the corporate troops detached to suppress the separatist movement turned up to support their colleagues at the complex. With reinforcements the raid went wrong very quickly, and the team soon realized they were trapped and facing extinction. The team leader selected an escape strategy that would require a small team to stay behind and hold a blockhouse while the rest fled, meaning certain suicide for the team; the Druid was selected for this team. During the blockhouse raid the Druid activated her contraband Russian implants, and … something happened… from that point she remembered nothing until she woke up in  a high security hospital, being questioned by a polite but persistent doctor. Accounts and video footage obtained by this mysterious doctor suggested that her team had bought the squad enough time, and the mission had been a success. While no news on the fate of the others in her suicide squad was available, she had somehow survived, and the video footage suggested she had done so in a brutal and disturbing way. The doctor told her that her new cyberware had induced psychosis but that they had a new treatment to reverse the process, and they wanted to try it on her. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t tell her who he worked for, and before she could agree or disagree he revealed that the treatment would require removing all her cyberware. She killed him and fled the facility, taking all her cyberware with her.

Drew and Pops

Tell me I’m mad
How should I know
Tell me I’m mad
I have been here for so long
Help me paint a picture
They say it’s a lie
Tell me I’m mad
You’re a fine one to decide

The company – the Druid did not know who they were, but assumed they were her own employer – sent a freelancer after her, an ex-cop called John Hartigan. Given explicit instructions to bring her alive to their facilities, rather than kill her, he was forced to confront and capture her in her capsule hotel. However, somehow during this confrontation she managed to convince him that she was not cyberpsychotic, and that he was being misled. Hartigan is highly skilled at killing cyberpsychotics but has no cyberpsyche training, and is in no position to judge her state of humanity – probably the real reason he made this judgment is that Drew reminded him of his recently deceased daughter, and triggered a protective instinct from a misplaced sense of guilt. He broke his contract and the two fled, entering the world of the street to escape her pursuers. Since they fled, Drew and Pops (as she calls him) live in a complex world of flight, risk and temporary roughhouse jobs for money. She is driven by simple motives, to escape from the people chasing her, because she thinks they want to experiment on her psyche, and also because although she can no longer activate that mysterious Russian cyberware she can’t find any evidence of its surgical removal – she wants to get it back, so she can again experience whatever joy it was that led her through slaughter and terror to escape from that blockhouse. In the meantime she will help Pops find the people who killed his daughter, and kill all of them – horribly but dispassionately. Dispassionately, because the Druid has no feelings except lust for more cyberware, and a desire for the world to slow down to how it was when that Russian ‘ware boosted her. She can often be heard muttering “too fast, too fast!” to herself, as she tries to cope with the mundane pace of a busy world. If it doesn’t slow down …

The trafficked girl

Alone in the city at seventeen
With the hollow and the lonely
The drowning and the drowned
I was made to feel worthless
The wretched and the mean
Beat me up like a weapon I can’t run away from or find a way round

Drew grew up as the only daughter of an Inuit crime lord, not a particularly high calling in gangster culture, living in a traditional Inuit community inside the arctic circle in Sibera. Sheltered from the ugly world of the gangster family she inherited, she was supposed to grow up outside of the cruelty and bitterness of gangster parents who smuggled alcohol to their Inuit brethren, and Inuit children to Russian parents rendered infertile by Russia’s environmental disasters. But her parents’ crime gang fell into conflict with a larger Russian mob, and they were completely destroyed. To avoid execution they sold their own children, and before she could even properly learn Russian Drew found herself a child of a corporate family in New Horizon, the vast island arcology in the Pacific that controlled all political, economic and military activity on the Pacific rim. Here she lived a troubled life, rebelling against the world she didn’t understand, until at 16 she went into debt for a set of $500 rippers. The lure of cyberware, the exhilaration of falling away from a humanity that was always more trouble and pain than it was worth, drew her away from quiet arcology life to a world of crime and brutality. Early brushes with the law brought her into contact with a kindly older policeman who set her up as a riflewoman in a corporate squad, and over a few years her addiction to cyberware blossomed. Too much, too soon … but good for the men and women of the Tunguska team who fled while she fell into madness…

Inhuman, cold, deadly

The blue pain
Fades to a point where it doesn’t fade
It stayed
Blue
Stirred her red coat heart to this strange engine

The Druid is stranded on the edge of humanity. She has only one interest in this world, the boosted clarity of the life of cyber, but she is near the point of tipping back into cyberpscyhosis if she installs much more of it. She is a unique person on this earth, someone who came back from cyberpsychosis – but she doesn’t feel like she has come back. Her anchor to this world is Hartigan, possibly the only person who has ever shown any genuine interest in her as a person, and as a result she has a deep and ferocious loyalty to him. Through his kindness she has regained the ability to feel some kind of human connection, but it is weak and always fighting the desire to fall back into the cold and undemanding emptiness of cyber. Drew’s efforts at the Tunguska extraction have earned her a reputation. It is not enough to make her recognizable in person, but people know the name “the Druid.” If Solos hear that name they will respond with rumours of her legend:

Oh, you mean the Tunguska Rifle? I heard she died there.

or

She pulled those corporate dreks out of the fire in Tunguska, right? I heard she had to chill real deep after that

or

Yeah, she’s the Tunguska heroine. Had a friend of a friend worked with her, said she’s colder, deadlier and more barren than the steppes in winter.

Usually, the Druid just introduces herself as Drew, to avoid incredulity at the contrast between her legend and her physical form: a tall, skinny, slightly gangly girl, dressed in whatever is the latest fashion, tottering on high heels and carrying a couple of shopping bags from classic brand shops, long tangled hair and heavy make-up, all the accoutrements and seemings of harmless femininity. Inuit heritage, cyber skin, eyes and hair mean that her racial background cannot be identified or pinned down – to white people she is Asian, to Asians white. Ambiguity is at the core of her being. Anyone who speaks to her for any length of time will soon see that there is something wrong: her social skills are disjointed and robotic, she lacks any desire or ability to interact socially and behind her eyes there is no soul or deeper personality – the ghost has been nearly completely consumed by the machine. Her femininity is worn like a mask or a shield, as unnatural as the awkward conversational pieces she uses to appear like she cares. Her cyberaddiction has worn her down to a shadow of a person, a few simple impulses wrapped inside a metal-adrenal shell. In place of feelings, Drew is driven by professionalism, loyalty, and a fierce devotion to Hartigan. Beyond that is an empty predator’s will to live, a woman stripped back to animal instincts and out of touch with her soul and her body. Hartigan is the only anchor she has to this world – and she lacks the social dynamism to treat him with more than a distant contempt. The Druid’s fate is marked: she will die, in some pointless gun battle or wasted moment of sudden bravery. Until that day, she is on borrowed time. If the corporation she escaped from don’t find her, or Hartigan, some incidental enemy will; or that brittle humanity will snap, and her comrades will have to kill her. For now, Hartigan has convinced himself she is still human, the phantom of his lost daughter; but at some point he will realize he is tethered to a monster in waiting, and cut her loose. Until that day, she is a cannon on a leash … and that leash is very tenuous … would anyone team up with the Druid? — Note: all quotes at sub-chapter heads are from various songs by Marillion.

Cog 11 is the gnome rogue I am playing in my new 13th Age campaign, the Eroding Empire.

Cog 11 (“Cog”) is a cold-hearted, selfish and anti-social wretch. Orphaned (or abandoned) on the edge of the Wild Wood when he was very small, Cog grew up as a wildling, a member of a small group of children who roam wild in the woods. No one knows why, but the Wild Wood seems to attract such hapless children, and they are somehow able to survive on its fringes. They wander the forest in small bands, eating what they can find and sleeping where they will. They often sneak into outlying towns and villages, stealing anything that is not nailed down and generally getting into trouble. Usually multi-racial and multi-national, these bands evolve their own language from the mix of whatever is in their group. They are rumoured to sometimes steal civilized children to join their gang, but this is unlikely. Some are rumoured to be cannibalistic, but this is also likely a lie. Certainly they live hard, desperate lives and very few become old enough to leave their group behind for better days: most fall prey to the vicious beasts of the forest, or are abducted by the vicious beasts of the human world.

Cog 11 was treated well when he was a child by a wood elf resident of a temple complex on the outskirts of the Wild Wood, and subsequently met this wood elf, Lithvar, again, joining his adventuring group. This early memory of being well-treated made Cog 11 (foolishly) over-inclined to trust priests. When he was still a child, but one of the oldest members of his wildling band, he was offered shelter and succour by a priest from a mysterious organization called the Watch. Trusting this priest too much, he left the wildling band to become a Disciple of the Watch. He spent the rest of his childhood in the Watch.

The Watch is a vile and sick cult that believes the world is empty of gods, and runs as a machine of clockwork, its mechanisms hidden from the eyes of mortals. The Disciples of the Watch believe that free will prevents humans from understanding the full glory of the machine, and aims to destroy free will in all mortals, cast down false idols, and restore the machine of the universe to perfection. They believe that humans can be programmed, and that only a very small and elite number of humans should have any free will – these people would then guide the machine and “operate” all other humans. They have a monastery in an obscure place near the Wild Wood, and abduct sentient creatures of all race to conduct “reprogramming” experiments. Disciples of the Watch do not have names, only functions and numbers: this is the basis of Cog’s name.  For 5 years Cog 11 was a devoted Disciple of the Watch, but he slowly uncovered their darker secrets, lost faith, and fled. Usually people who attempt to leave the Watch are treated as defective parts, captured and subject to hideous reprogramming before being discarded, but Cog 11 was able to escape from the Watch – he is probably the only person ever to do this.

Lost and alone, Cog 11 joined a mercenary company called the Black Company, which is famous for its cruelty and deceptions. He worked as a scout and spy, learning to fight and all the tools of spycraft. He was with the Black Company for several years before abandoning it on a whim to join Lithvar’s group.

Cog 11 lost all his faith in humanity while he was a Disciple of the Watch. Although he has shaken off the Watch’s teachings about the evil of magic and the non-existence of other Gods, he cannot relinquish the idea that mortals are mere machines without souls, capable of being reprogrammed and to be viewed only in terms of their usefulness. He takes joy only in his work as a scout, and in killing living things. Although he could perhaps be mistaken for handsome, this complete absence of empathy coupled with his rough manner and lack of social graces makes him almost completely unlovable and without charm. He has no sense of humour and his language skills are one-dimensional and functional, the consequence of growing up as a wildling. The only kindness he has ever experienced was a few precious weeks with Lithvar when he was a child; he has never experienced the bond between family members except when he watched people grieve over relatives he had killed; he has never experienced a woman who was not forced or paid; and his only experience of comradeship has been in battle with paid killers. He is thoroughly isolated from the normal emotional life of ordinary mortals.

Cog 11 wears worn and cheap black leather armour, is festooned with wicked-looking knives, and carries a small shortbow. He has few possessions, and no distinguishing features. He is lean, thin and wiry, with no facial hair, very pale blue eyes completely lacking in humanity, and blond hair. But for his height and the clear signs of sociopathy, he is non-descript.

Some 13th age details are below.

One unique thing

Cog 11 is the only person ever to escape from the Watch alive, and he knows all their secrets

Icon relationships

The archmage (Negative, 1): The archmage is implacably opposed to the Watch, and anyone who was ever a member of the organization is a potential enemy of this icon. However, the Watch is a tiny and largely irrelevant organization, so a negative relationship with the archmage is unlikely to be strong

The High Druid (Conflicted, 1): Although the Wild Wood seems to somehow support wildling bands, the denizens of the wood also prey on them, and the High Druid does not seem to approve of them. Those who grew up in wildling bands see the High Druid as a kind of intolerant, capricious and violent father: loving, but not to be trusted and perhaps not fully aware of its own mind on the matter of their continued existence.

The Dwarf King (Negative, 1): The Dwarf King has a tenuous relationship with the Watch, though no one really understands why or how close they are. Escaping from the Watch with its secrets would not have endeared Cog 11 to the Dwarf King, though again the inconsequential nature of the Watch precludes any negative relationship with its patrons from being very strong.

Backgrounds

Burglar (5): years of sneaking around breaking into settlements in the Wild Woods has made Cog 11 excellent at breaking and entering buildings, and the Watch further honed these skills to its own purposes

Wildling (5): years of staying alive in the wilderness has taught Cog 11 how to survive in the wild, how to sneak and climb and a little bit about how to identify and avoid animals.

Black Company (3): Cog 11 never got involved in old-fashioned ground combat, but his time in the Black Company taught him how the military works, and his role as a scout and spy meant he often was involved in formulating attack plans – he thus has a good military sense

The Watch (2): Cog 11 was taught about machinery by the Watch, so he understands how even quite complex mechanisms work, is able to make basic clockwork machinery, and so on. This time also gave him a corrupted understanding of theology and humanity, though, so it might serve as a penalty on his attempts to understand how human interaction works …

In stillness a silent weight
Pausing as the minutes each evaporate

A desire to leave a scar
To raise a voice from within the dark

Decaying, cascading, existence falls apart
Around me, within me
So I must leave my mark

This is a sacrifice
To prove that I was here
This is a sacrifice
To prove I was at all
And when my voice ceases to be
Will the echo still ring loudly?
And when there’s nothing left of me
Will my memory still go on?

A flicker, transitory state
An echo of an instance that burns a way

A moment, a shard of time
A solitary thread that threatens to unwind

Decaying, cascading, existence falls apart
Around me, within me
So I must leave my mark

(Bragg’s last lament, recorded sometime near the end)

Carlass grunts. The battle has moved and left her, shattered and useless, in its wake. She struggles to raise her head, blinking away tears and fresh blood. The demon that broke her is now facing Captain Breaker, its slender waxen form incongruous against the great dark bulk of the Ogrun. But Breaker is already done, his heavy armour smashed where the demon’s lance tore through it, his arm and chest slicked with thick red blood, now congealing on his hands in amongst the soot that he had used for disguise. The fiend is silent and swift but careful, moving with infernal grace as it prepares to deliver the killing blow, and Breaker has a desperate, hunted look on his face: he knows he is done for, that he cannot run and he cannot win. Just behind this butcher’s tableau the Fire Monk, Shara-jin, stands amongst a pile of murdered Ogrun, her whip dangling uselessly in one hand, looking shocked and confused as if she still has not caught up with the pace of the battle. The anti-magic manacles on her wrist glow with power, and it is clear that she desperately wants to invoke Menoth’s grace, but even Menoth has abandoned them in this dark hole. Shara-jin, too, is covered in blood, listing on one twisted leg and breathing heavily with the pain of her wounds. Near Shara-jin are scattered the remains of their employer, Katrina; her upper body lies on the pile of slaughtered Ogrun, staring slack-jawed at the ceiling, and shreds of the rest of her decorate the charnel pile, some still twitching. Behind them the mysterious Rhulic dwarf, Anya, charges in to attack the demon. A whirling dervish of tightly-contained murder, she runs lightly across the Ogrun bodies, sword in hand, preparing to strike the demon to its flanks as it focuses on Breaker. On the far side of the battle field Alyvia is crouched over her gun, desperately reloading. Her anti-magic manacles also glow, as forgetting their presence she briefly thinks to invoke some deadly charm, only to feel the first sting of their potent restraint. The gun-mage is now just a pistolleer. And no pistolleer will mark this beast. Alyvia’s face is streaked with livid tracks of some vicious whip, one arm moving delicately with pain. She will not last once Breaker is done. None of them will.

Carlass’s face sinks back to the dusty floor, and she swoons briefly. But her anger resurges, and she struggles back to the hellish reality. Her flesh briefly responds to the ever-familiar spark of rage, tries to knit itself together, to regenerate, but it is done. Every one of her kind knows of this moment, when their special regenerative powers hit their limit. Days of starvation, exhaustion, running and hiding, the constant batterings, have worn out even her prodigious powers of regeneration. When first a Trollkin is wounded, the skin heals itself in an instant, eagerly and without asking; push it too soon within a day, and it will respond sluggishly but willing enough; when need calls a third time, the body will drag itself back from any indignity, though the effort is a screaming horror; but after that, well, that is enough for any life. Carlass’s body is done. She tries to raise herself on one arm but finds it shattered – when she does not know, she thought the demon just pierced her chest with one clean strike but now as she feels the knitting fail and tries to take stock she realizes that she has been ravaged: it gutted her from navel to sternum, her arm is smashed on its whole length, and blood is pouring from one leg that cannot move at her will but seems to twitch with a pointless energy all of its own. When did this even happen? It was a moment, a blink, a shard of time, and her whole life was wrenched from her.

Still, wounds that would send a human straight to Urcaen do not carry the same weight for one of her kind. There is yet time. There is always time, is there not, to suffer a little more? It is the curse of her kind. She rolls a little, shifts and grits her teeth against the waves of pain that come rolling in over the broken reefs of arm and ribs. Under here somewhere … yes … there … an arm that still works. She drags it out in tortured shifts and starts that feel as if they take an eternity, and pushes herself upward, blinking back tears of agony, half onto her knee.

Carlass grunts. What had seemed like an eternity was just a few heartbeats. Alyvia has loaded her gun and is about to fire, Breaker is still alive, and Anya the Rhulic dwarf lies sprawled on the pile of Ogrun, blood spreading across her robes from a deep blow in her side, a stunned expression on her face. The demon stands over her for a moment and then flicks back across the battlefield to Breaker, moving with lightning speed and purpose, crossing the space in a blur so fast and otherworldly that it would make a human sick. Breaker is ready, pitiful little scimitar in hand, but he still has that expression – he has seen Anya go down, and he knows his time has come.

It is now or never. Carlass wants to make one last booming call, but her breath is coming weak and in stuttering gasps, drowning in the blood that fills her chest and bubbles from her nose and mouth, and anyway she cannot see clearly enough through the blood and broken bone to make a mark for her voice. Her rebellious mortal flesh will not even respond enough to heal her voice, her most precious of gifts. She cannot call; but a fell-caller is not just a booming voice to shatter stone and bone. A fell-caller is also the keeper of her people, guardian of the secrets of Dhunia. Now is the time to call upon them. She pushes herself up a little more, so that she can be seen above the pile of Ogrun corpses, and coughs a great gout of blood over her chest. Sucking in a pained breath, she raises her voice in a thin, keening wail, and calls forth in her orator’s voice:

You, demon, hoy! Hear me! I, Carlass of the Scharde Kriel, I am your last mark. I curse you. I curse you with the wrath of Dhunia! With this blood and flesh of Dhunia’s I bring down upon you her rage and her vengeance! Know that I was your last mark, and that with my death you invoked the curse of all of earth’s children. You will never see the surface, and you will never know the sun, for you are doomed by Dhunia!

And then she collapses. She does not know if the demon even heard her, though she thought she saw it twitch a sideways glance at her. The Fire Monk heard her, she knows, she saw the dawning horror in her eyes. As death’s dark tendrils reach up to her, Carlass whispers

Avenge me, Fire Monk

and then her voice, too, is beyond use. All her flesh has given in. Now she wishes Hrif were here, but he is far gone and lost. She cannot call on their special bond, because these manacles bind her magic from use. Even if she could call him, he is far from helping her now. She is alone. She has failed her new Kriel just as she failed her last Kriel; and just as she was not there to see how her last Kriel ended, so too she will not know how it is for this strange patch-work Kriel she had so recently made her own. She has failed again. Nothing is left of her tribe or her flesh … will even her wrath endure?

Poem note: Bragg’s last lament is actually the song Document by Assemblage 23, with one tiny change

I have two session reports to write, which will give the context to this little story.

Magic License: Rie 518967301

Magic License: Rie 518967301

On Sunday I played in a short Shadowrun (5th Edition) adventure, which is likely to become a campaign. I think Shadowrun is a brilliant idea, and I can’t play it without playing some kind of magic-user: the idea of playing a wizard or a shaman skipping through the shadows of a corporate dystopia is too cool to pass up for something mundane like a gun-toting maniac, so I have to do it. For this adventure I decided to make a character reminiscent of my Feng Shui shrine maiden, who I played three years ago in London and who was a huge amount of fun to play. This time I made a Gothic Lolita mage called Rie of the Fallen.

Rie is a classic Gothic Lolita girl, who happens to be a magician. She has no appreciable physical strength, robustness or skills, and as much as possible she avoids any form of exertion or physical activity. All she does is cast spells. She maintains an extremely high class and expensive lifestyle, in order to afford a wide range of expensive clothes and cosmetics, and when asked she will assure you that this is why she is a shadow-runner. She has basically no skills except magic, hiding and looking good. She’s short, a little bit chubby, a little bit haughty and suffers from the negative quality Distinctive Style, which means she can’t hide in a crowd (I wonder why?) Her magic is a mix of attack spells, investigative magic, and support magic – she is not the kind of mage who expects to be ‘running on her own, but as part of a team.

Rie is from the Shamanic tradition, though her particular tradition does not so much ally with its spirits as worship them. She is a follower of the Nephilim, the Watchers Out of Time, angels who fell from heaven after a war with god and who are popular in such diverse cultural traditions as the works of John Dee (16th century British mystic), the Angel Sanctuary manga, and gothic bands like Garden of Delight or Fields of the Nephilim. In fact she has a mentor spirit, Alexiel, who is one of the minor Nephilim.

Mentoring in an Angelic Fashion

Mentoring in an Angelic Fashion

Rie is also an active member of the Gothic Lolita scene, which in 2070 has become a little more active and shamanic than it is now – a scene like that will get very magical once magic becomes real. In the present, Gothic Lolita events often involve fashion shows and also people selling their own home-made fashion items – there is a big amateur fashion scene. Rie makes hairpieces and lockets for this scene, but uses her alchemy and artificing skills to imbue them with minor magics that might be useful. She also has contacts in this scene, and in the media and entertainment world generally, as well as some knowledge of corporate etiquette connected with this world.

As an example of Rie’s general character and style, we did a brief shadowrun on Sunday, just doing a delivery run from Denver to the UCAS. This was nothing unusual, just a couple of border crossings and a fight with two rival gangs who “ambushed” us in a traffic jam. When our Face had failed to get the two bands to fight each other, Rie realized that the fight was on, so she tapped the man in the car next to her (giving him combat sense), told him to prepare for battle, and started it herself with a manaball. She spent the entire fight sitting primly in the back of the Face’s Ford Americar, directing spells at one gang using her make-up mirror and not bothering to duck or panic. When the gang finally shot the car to shit she simply stepped out on the far side before it could catch fire.

When that battle was over and the last ganger had surrendered, Rie walked over to him, squatted down in that classic Japanese girl way, and pulled a pair of containment manacles from her pristine little bag. Lacy, of course.

Rie’s basic Shadowrun stats are set out below.


Attributes

Body 2 Agility 4
Reaction 3 Strength 1
Willpower 5 Logic 2
Intuition 6 Charisma 3
Edge 3 Magic 6
Essence 6

Skills

ACTING 1 CONJURING 1
  Con 2   Summoning 5
  Performance 5 Spellcasting 6
INFLUENCE 1
  Etiquette 4 Counter-spelling 3
ENCHANTING 1 Artisan 5
  Alchemy 4 Assensing 3
  Artificing 3 Drive 4
STEALTH 1 Perception 2
  Sneaking 4
  Disguise 4

Qualities

  • Bilingual (English and Japanese)
  • Focussed Concentration 3
  • Mentor Spirit
  • Quick Healer
  • Distinctive Style (negative)

Spells

  • Lightning Bolt
  • Manaball
  • Analyze magic
  • Detect Magic
  • Clairaudience
  • Clairvoyance
  • Combat sense
  • Heal
  • Armor
  • Trid Phantasm

Rie owns a Honda Spirit, a wide selection of fake SINs, a Gold Docwagon subscription for one year, and various other stuff. Some of her outfits are armored with mesh-weave, and her cosmetics are very high class; it’s possible that with the next job she will be investing in some flash- and fire-proof cosmetics. She uses a traditional clam-shell mobile phone for communication, always carries a bag with her and usually has an extra bag or two that look like they contain shopping (but probably actually contain adventuring gear). Her magic is a fairly innate and antinomial thing (she doesn’t study) and she isn’t that bright, really, but she has a canny sense of what is going on and doesn’t usually miss things, even if she appears to be paying no attention. She is not pretty or sexy, but her careful attention to style means that she always draws attention. She is the very model of a modern-day wizard, walking around completely out of place and time but acting as if it is of no importance whatsoever that the whole world has noticed her difference; and far more dangerous than her weak and timid manner would imply. She also keeps her own counsel: no one will ever know what she really wants or believes.

The perfect companion on a run, she probably is not.

Hey guys, have you heard the one about the Jawa, the Ewok and the Jedi?

Using the idea of random character generation for WFRP from the previous post, I came up with this idea for a character created randomly for the Star Wars universe, using the WFRP 3 template. This character is a Tusken Guide,  a specialist role for an elite minority of sand people. Every aspect of this character class was generated randomly.

Background

The sand people know the desert and its ways with an intimacy to match the intricate knowledge of an Imperial Courtier, but when it comes to interacting with those who share their world they are as naive and helpless as babies. Prone to respond savagely to that which they do not understand, the Tusken long ago realized the need for a kind of diplomatic caste amongst their tribes. These diplomats are not dispatched to the towns and cities of Tatooine to negotiate treaties and settlements with governments; rather, they visit the markets and bars of Tatooine’s smaller settlements in order to carry out the more basic tasks of trade and news-gathering. Tasks that are basic to the social fabric of other societies are so alien to the wild and savage Tusken that they have developed an elite caste of non-raiders to discharge them. Like bards of ancient legend, they move amongst the towns and cities of the desert world gathering news, selling desert products and buying the kinds of products the Tusken need to make their desert lives easier – firearms, vehicles and very basic droids.

The similarity between Tusken Guides and the bards of interstellar legend are only superficial, however, for though they can interact with non-Tusken, Guides have little empathy with them, and in place of the easy charm of the bards of old they maintain a rigid discipline, the better to prevent their natural scorn for the trappings of civilized life from showing itself. They are neither educated nor naturally suited to the sophistication of Tatooine’s human or Jawa societies; rather, they restrain their natural temper while in the company of such people, and do their best to mimic their ways. This barely-restrained scorn for the softness of non-Tusken often manifests itself in ways that cause the Guide trouble, and of course like all Tusken the Guide must be able to defend itself and act decisively in any physical situation; for this reason the Guide remains a formidable fighter and an imposing physical presence, at least while not amongst its tribemates.

Career Details

Career Attributes: Strength, Willpower

Career Skills: Athletics, Coordination, Weapon Skill, Discipline, Charm

Talent Slots: Focus x2

Career Talent: Dilettante (once per session can use any skill as if it were trained, or employ an advanced skill as if it had been acquired)

Force User: No. Tusken have antibodies to mitachloreans[1], so no Tusken can use the Force.

Notes

I rolled up a character class that has a kind of jack-of-all trades talent but a strong physical/combat focus, and one career skill – charm – that really doesn’t fit the career abilities. Had I rolled a different career talent the two Focus slots would have suggested some kind of monk or ascetic character, but the dilettante doesn’t fit with that. What kind of character is a combat-focussed jack-of-all-trades? A pirate, some kind of bounty hunter, or perhaps a representative of a savage race. Had I rolled up Agility instead of Strength I would have chosen, perhaps, to make this PC a Jawa trader.

Of course the description here doesn’t have to represent a class at all, but could just be a unique character. Then instead of representing this as a caste of Tusken, I could turn it into a famous Tusken outsider, that has taken it upon itself to act as a social bridge between the tribes and the humans on Tatooine. The jack-of-all-trades element could even mean that the Tusken PC is to be found off-world when the adventure starts.

From this point character development would begin, with the assignment of ability scores, etc. I would be treating Fellowship as a dump stat, so even though the PC has charm skill they remain pretty poor at charming people. I wouldn’t be loading up on social or support action cards either…

fn1: haha, mitachloreans…


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